Treasure Trails: how I spent an afternoon outdoors with my husband and children and nobody cried

I have found the holy grail of the school holidays: how to entertain a family of four for the afternoon for under £10.  And I am claiming bonus points for it being outdoors and involving some mild exercise. Please pass my crown, because I am now the queen of parenting!

I am talking about Treasure Trails – hours of family fun solving clues as you tour local points of interest and discover hidden gems – and all for the bargain price of £6.99.  You just pick your trail, download and print the PDF, and you’re off.  We chose the London South Bank trail, starting and ending at Waterloo Station.

We started by reading our mission – we were in the Secret Service trying to stop the nefarious President of Vulgaria activating an encrypted file.  The children read out each clue and led the hunt to find and solve it, whilst Mr B and I strolled behind them enjoying the scenery.

One of the joys of the trail, is that it guides you past all the iconic buildings and sights of the South Bank, as well as highlighting interesting vistas and lesser known points of interest – like the graffiti tunnel (worth a visit in its own right) and the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women (no longer a hospital, but still an amazing building). And because you’re following a trail of clues, you notice things that normally you might walk past.  Even though I’ve been to the South Bank a few times, I felt like I must have spent the whole time walking round with my eyes shut.

 

Just as we were flagging, we arrived at the South Bank Centre and took a two minute detour from the river bank to the Food Market on the other side of the building for lunch (open Fridays to Mondays in the summer – check for other times of year).  Predictably, our children chose burgers, but Mr B and I had a thorough browse before picking more exotic choices.  If you have the time, this is a great place to explore interesting and delicious street food from around the world, but sadly this is not a pastime our children enjoy. *rolls eyes*

 

Although the trail is just under 2 miles of easy walking, we spent the best part of four hours on it, taking into account stopping for lunch and a reviving cup of tea en route. This particular part of London is tourist heaven, with landmark buildings and amazing views at every point, not to mention street artists – we saw an acrobatic act, live music, people pretending to be statues, and everything in between.

And as a small bonus, once you have solved every clue, you have the de-activation code, which you can submit to Treasure Trails to be entered in a monthly prize draw to win £100.  I’m not holding my breath, but it’s nice to be in with a chance!  In the meantime, we all enjoyed it so much that we are already planning to do the Temple and Fleet Street trail.

 

south bank 11.jpg

PS Due to building works, clue 14 on this trail is behind some hoardings.  Luckily a security guard saw us and helped us out.  I’m not giving anything away, but this is what you’re looking for if it’s still covered up when you do the trail…

 

 

Top tips

My daughters are 9 and 11, which is a great age to enjoy hunting for and solving the clues.  But we were all getting a bit tired towards the end, so I would say you probably wouldn’t want to do it with any children much younger.

If you fancy the South Bank trail (and I highly recommend it), then you need to plan the best time for you.  If you love pushing through crowds, clutching your child’s hand so they don’t get swept into a sea of tourists, then a Saturday afternoon in August is the perfect time.  But if, like me, you prefer something a little more relaxed, maybe plan to do this trail at a quieter time!

If anyone needs the loo en route, you can always nip into the South Bank Centre, where the facilities are lovely and clean.  They also have a pleasant cafe on site, and if the weather is warm enough, you can sit outside.

If the South Bank is not for you, there are over 1,200 trails across the country, so it should be easy to pick a trail reasonably close to you.  Each trail is about 2 miles of easy walking taking you on a circular route.

Once on any of the trails, it’s difficult to plan when and where to eat, as you never know where you’re going.  If you know you need to eat whilst you’re out, I would recommend taking the opportunity when you get it. It also doesn’t hurt to pack a couple of snacks and a bottle of water to keep you going.

 

Dinosaur delight in south east London

It’s true I like dead people – some of my happiest days out have been spent in cemeteries – but I’ve never really been that interested in dead animals, or dinosaurs to be more specific.  So I really wasn’t expecting Dinosaurs in the Wild to be quite so much fun for adults and children alike.

If you like your entertainment to be immersive, then this is for you.  The central idea is that a company called Chronotex has invented time travel and are now taking tourists back 67 million years to their dinosaur research facility in Montana.  I loved the careful detail with which everything has been planned and executed, from the realistic laboratory set-up, to the fridges filled with samples, to the scientific notes casually left open on a desk.  In fact, it was so realistic, that my 9 year old decided to hold my hand for some of the more ‘wild’ bits of it.  In contrast, my eleven year old (no previous interest in dinosaurs) and her friend (a dinosaur officionado) were desperate to ditch the mums and tour around on their own.  And, given how well-managed it is, they were pretty much able to do so.

IMG_6648.JPGAs you move through the tour of the facility there is a mix of dinosaur models, animatronix and 3D films, which ensures you never get complacent about what you are seeing.  In each lab or zone there is a member of Chronotex’s team talking about their work, which includes everything from incubating dinosaur eggs to conducting dinosaur autopsies.  There are interactive parts (like putting on gloves and sifting through dinosaur poo) and the opportunity to ask questions and engage with the ‘scientists’ at every stage.  I have read elsewhere that the information they present is accurate and incorporates up-to-date information from recent scientific studies, which doesn’t surprise me given the level detail that is everywhere you look.

IMG_6654

This is how Chronotex have mastered time travel

There is so much to watch, listen to, read and do, that there’s no time to get bored and the tour guide keeps up the pace, moving you from one zone to the next.  If anything, we could have spent longer soaking it all up.

I also want to give a mention to how fantastic all the staff were.  It wasn’t just all the actors playing out their roles, but everyone from the man on the door to the lady in the cloakroom finding our coats, everyone was friendly, welcoming and helpful.

It is such a unique experience that the kids and I were talking about it for ages afterwards.  I thoroughly recommend it for children, adults, dinosaur lovers and cemetery geeks (me) alike!

Prices

I’ve got to be honest, it is quite expensive for something that only takes about an hour and a half (£26 for a child and £95 for a family of 2 children and 2 adults), but, although there is a shop at the end, there is no real push to sell you merchandise that so often bumps up the cost of taking children out. If there are any special offers, other than for groups and schools etc, I couldn’t find them.

Booking

Dinosaurs in the wild is on until 31st July, and tours run from 9.30am til 4.30pm Tuesday to Sunday.  You can book a date and time slot to suit on-line depending on availability.  Find out more

Getting there

Dinosaurs in the Wild is on Greenwich Peninsula, a ten minute walk from the O2 and North Greenwich underground on the Jubilee Line.  It is on a number of bus routes.  Find out more.

Cemeteries

If you’ve read all this, and still think you’d rather go to a cemetery, why not read my blog about Nunhead and Highgate Cemeteries, or my blog about Brompton.  Or follow my blog, because I’ve recently been to Kensal Green cemetery and I’ve got to tell you it was awesome!

Review: Indoors and educational – we love the Science Museum

You live in London, it’s the school holidays and it’s raining.  Every parent knows that this is a terrible combination.  Because unless you find something for the kids to do, your little angels will spend the entire day trying to (a) kill each other or (b) demolish your home.  In the worst case scenario, they may even do both.

science logoWhich is why I was particularly pleased with myself when I came up with the plan to take them to the Science Museum.  It is indoors, it is entertaining and it educational.  That is like the holy grail of parenting!  And the good news is that kids (or at least, my kids) even like all the boring train and tube travel it takes to get there.

The first thing to mention about the Science Museum is that it is completely free to enter, although there are some things you pay for such as the Wonderlab and Imax Cinema (more of which later).  There is a sign asking for donations, but the woman on the desk as we came in looked absolutely stunned when we made one, so I guess not that many people do, although it’s such a great resource that – if you’re not going to any of the paid exhibits – it seems only fair to make some sort of contribution.

On arrival, we hurried straight up to the Wonderlab on the third floor (I say hurried, but the lift was broken, so huffed and puffed would probably be more accurate).  This space is designed for young people to get real hands on experience of science, watch live experiments and listen to talks. Judging from the age ranges there, I would say it would appeal to kids from about 4 to 13 or 14.  We paid £28 for a family of four for the day (umlimited entry and exit), but if you think you’ll go more than once, it’s definitely worth getting an annual pass.

science julieAmongst other things we did in the Wonderlab, we explored the colour room (learning about the impact different coloured light has on how we perceive the colour of objects).  The girls raced each other for who could pull themselves up a rope the fastest using a pulley system.  We all had a go on the friction slides (verdict: astro-turf makes the slowest slide, and the wooden slide goes so fast it made mummy scream).  We watched dry ice whizzing over the surface of water as it dissolved, and we went to a talk about rockets.  The kids thought the talk was the highlight and I was amazed and to hear my 11-year-old talking to granny about Newton’s first and second law the next day, so I guess she genuinely learnt something.

After about two hours, it started to feel a bit relentless, so we dipped out and went for lunch.  The kids wanted to stay longer, and we could easily have gone back after lunch and there would have been plenty more to see and do.

For lunch we eschewed the pleasant looking, well-lit Energy Café which serves all the kinds of food you would expect (hot and cold dishes, pizza, salads and sandwiches) and instead went to the Deep Blue Diner.  Unfortunately this was not a good choice.  The main source of light in the diner was the light-up tables, which made me feel slightly headachy and snow-blind.  The service was slow, the portions were small, and none of us felt like the food was great.  Next time we will definitely go to the Energy Café instead.

science sea

Under the Sea in 3D at the Imax Cinema

After lunch we went to the Imax Cinema.  This is where things start to get expensive, as a family ticket was £23.  We saw Under the Sea, a 3D movie about different sea creatures and the impact of the modern world on their environment.  I’ve never been to a 3D movie before, so I jumped a couple of times as eels darted out of the screen to eat their prey, and I had to resist the urge to put my hand out and try to touch some of the creatures as they floated serenely towards me.

After the movie we visited the Exploring Space gallery as the kids were all fired up about rockets following the talk earlier.  There are some amazing artefacts, including a re-entry capsule from one of the Apollo missions to the moon, but we were all definitely flagging at this point.

We stopped for a reviving cup of tea and slice of cake at the Energy Café, before heading back out into the rain and home on the tube.  I am not sure how, but we seemed to have passed an entire day at the Science Museum, we all enjoyed it and the children even learnt stuff.

The trip was such a success that I am sure we will go back (I wish we’d bought the annual pass to the Wonderlab!) and next time I will plan specific galleries to look at.  I’m really keen to see the Winton Gallery – not only to explore mathematics, but just to see the incredible space designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.  I’d also really like to see the exhibition Wounded about the medical and human impact of the First World War.  And if there’s time, I’d also like to squeeze in the Challenge of Materials, which includes a steel wedding dress (no irony intended).  In fact, next time, maybe I’ll take a friend instead of the children because it’s packed with stuff I want to see, and then I can be completely selfish and I won’t have to share my cake either.

science maths

The Winton Gallery – made for maths enthusiasts

A couple of practical notes

  • Travel: The Science Museum is on Exhibition Road (as are the Victoria and Albert Museum and Natural History Museum) and is a short walk from South Kensington Tube.
  • Prices: The museum is free to enter and you could easily lose yourself in the galleries for the day, but you do have to pay for the Wonderlab, Imax Cinema and certain exhibitions.  Check the website for details.
  • Eating: There are a series of different cafes, but there are also a couple of picnic areas where you can sit down and eat your own food if you fancy taking a packed lunch.
  • When to go: The museum is open daily (apart from 24th – 26th December) from 10am to 6pm.  We arrived at the Wonderlab at about 11am and walked straight in, but the website does warn that there may be a queue of up to 90 minutes at peak times.

Let’s All Dance delivers a Christmas ballet at family-friendly prices

It’s not that I don’t like ballet – I absolutely do – it’s just that I don’t really want to pay upwards of £25 a ticket (and upwards of £102 on some days) if I want to see English National Ballet’s Nutcracker this Christmas.  So it’s lucky that Granny loves ballet and has diligently investigated more affordable ways to see it (thank you, Granny).

As a result, on Saturday we took my two daughters to see Let’s All Dance‘s performance of The Nutcracker at Blackheath Halls, for the bargain price of £14 for my ticket, and only £10 a ticket for Granny and the kids.

Let’s All Dance’s website describes their version as ‘kid-size’ and I would agree. Not only is it shorter than the full ballet – reflecting a younger audience’s ability to concentrate – but the small venue means that everyone is close to the stage and can clearly see the dancers – no fancy opera binoculars needed here!

Using all the original music, and with very simple staging, they beautifully recreated the ballet. There are only six dancers, but I actually enjoyed the simplicity of it, as it makes you really appreciate each dancer’s every move.  It certainly kept the young audience captivated (virtually every other chair had a little person in it sitting quietly and staring at the stage).  Although, I have to say, my favourite parts were the set pieces with all six dancers on the stage.

Afterwards there is an opportunity to have your photo taken with the dancers, which is a lovely way to get the children involved.

There are more performances still to come at other local venues (see their website for details), and I was sufficiently impressed that I picked up a flyer about other ballets Lets All Dance will be performing in 2018.

Family-friendly prices, intimate venues, and performance tailored to a younger audience – that’s ticking my boxes!

How to unravel mummy’s sanity – a guide for kids

The thing to remember about mummy is that she loves you very much, so you can try a selection or indeed all of these sanity-eroding activities and – once she’s regained her composure – she will still love you.  She may be stressed.  She may be exhausted.  She may howl at the moon and drink heavily.  But – and this is the important thing – she will still love you.

  1. Loiter aimlessly in the mornings. Mummy feels an obligation to get you to school on time, and it’s your job to challenge her compulsion.  Top challenges to her obsession with timeliness include: staring vacantly into space when you should be eating your breakfast; and playing hide and seek with your sibling instead of getting dressed.  Why not further spice things up by waiting until you’re half way to school and then announcing that you’ve left your bag at home?
  2. Never ever put laundry in the basket. Unless, of course, you have just tried something on, but decided not to wear it.  In that case, you should always put it in the basket.  A fun way to create extra laundry is to have friends over for a play date then get them to try on all your clothes and do the same.  I mean, if mummy didn’t have laundry, she would literally have nothing to do all day.
  3. Never eat vegetables. In fact, carefully pore through every plate of food looking for anything green and, when you find something, immediately declare the entire meal unfit for human consumption.  If mummy wants you to eat even one of your five-a-day, she needs to get much more inventive than carelessly chopping a few vegetables into your spaghetti Bolognese.
  4. Behave like the perfect child at other people’s houses. Tidy up.  Eat all your vegetables.  Tell your friend’s parents how much you love school.  Mummy will be completely baffled by reports of your good behaviour, but unable to tell other parents that you are actually a complete horror.
  5. Never do anything the first time mummy asks. I mean, if she’s only asked once, how do you know she’s serious?  Wait till she’s really yelling and then take the high ground by telling her you were about to do it, but because she’s shouting you’re not going to.  This might also be a good time to remind her that she should be using her inside voice.
    spirit crush 9a

    Because I said so!

  6. No matter how foul you have been to mummy, become an absolute angel as soon as daddy gets home. This will undermine the credibility of everything mummy says about you, whilst giving daddy an excellent opportunity to share his parenting wisdom.  Mummy loves hearing from daddy how her parenting could be improved.
  7. Start a fight with your sibling for no reason. The best time to do this is in the car, as that is when mummy is least able to figure out who started it and deal with it appropriately.  Mummy will be trapped in a sort of double jeopardy: she wants to turn round and conduct the Spanish Inquisition, but she doesn’t want to take her eye off the road and veer headlong into the oncoming traffic.  Honestly, next time you’re bored on a journey, just quietly lean over and give your sibling a quick pinch, then sit back and enjoy the fireworks.
  8. Save the best to last. When you think mummy really can’t take any more, when she has completely lost it and looks like she may never get it back, tearfully throw your arms round her and tell her you love her.  She will (almost certainly) forgive you (eventually) because, like I said at the start, mummy loves you very much.  And now you have laid the groundwork for starting it all again tomorrow…

 

Fetid trainers, missing gloves and mystery parcels: welcome to the average morning at my house

All those people who don’t have children, all they have to do is get up in the morning and go to work.  I bet some of them even manage to eat breakfast before they leave.  Sometimes I fantasise about the luxury of making and then eating my own breakfast!  In my house, I have already broken up two fights and emergency hand-washed a pair of school tights before 7.30am.  (For some reason we are always short of tights, even though I do more washing than the laundrette.)

So if you’ve seen me on the school run, or had the misfortune to sit in a meeting where I’ve arrived sweaty and slightly frazzled, let me tell you about a typical week in my house…

Monday:  Due to the unseasonally cold weather, my youngest daughter says she would like to wear her gloves to school.  She watches me search all the usual places gloves might be.  Then she watches me painstakingly empty The Cupboard of Doom, in which all things that haven’t been put away in their rightful place generally lurk.  There are many interesting and useful items in The Cupboard of Doom – some of which have been ‘lost’ for months – but my daughter’s gloves are not amongst them.  After ten minutes of diligent searching, and with the entire contents of the cupboard arrayed around me, I admit defeat.  “Perhaps you could wear mummy’s gloves instead?” I suggest.  ‘Or,’ says my daughter helpfully, ‘perhaps I should wear the ones in my pocket?’ “Oh yes, darling” I say brightly.  “That’s a great idea.  Why don’t you do that?”  Grrrrrrrrr.

morning tarmacTuesday:  When I get home from the school run, there is a card on my doormat from the Post Office saying I have a parcel.  I go to the Post Office to retrieve said parcel, but have to pay £1.50 as the sender has underpaid the postage.  As I turn away from the counter clutching the mysterious package, I notice that it isn’t actually addressed to me.  There is no return address on it, or information that might enable me to forward it to the person it is addressed to, so the kindly man at the Post Office says I should keep it.  When I open it, the parcel contains a small chunk of tarmac.  There is no note or explanation enclosed.  This is definitely the worst way to spend £1.50 I can think of.

Wednesday:  We leave the house a bit late, but cleverly make up time by scootering to school at top speed.  My youngest daughter is just about to run into school when I notice that she’s not carrying her school bag.  When I ask her where it is, she looks at me blankly for a moment, then says helpfully ‘By the front door at home.’  She is resistant to my suggestion that she might survive without it today, as it contains ‘important things’ that she will need later.  So reluctantly I scooter home, collect the bag and then scooter back to school. On the scooter trip home it starts to rain.  Later in the day I phone my husband and mutter darkly about how I literally have no life of my own and everything I do is subservient to the requirements of our children.  He makes a vague tapping sound at his computer and says he’ll have to phone me back later.  He does not call back.

morning heroThursday:  Despite both daughters vigorously assuring me on Wednesday evening that they have absolutely, definitely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, done everything they needed to for school, on Thursday morning both children announce that they may have slightly, somewhat, maybe a little bit, exaggerated how much of their homework they have actually done.  In an unexpected burst of commitment to their education, neither child is prepared to leave for school until said homework has been completed.  Resignedly I take my trainers off and make another cup of tea.  I might as well be refreshed for scootering to school at top whack.

Friday:  My youngest daughter can’t find her trainers and toady is PE.  Apparently she last wore them pond wading on a school trip, after which she put them in a plastic bag.  Questions about where she might have put the bag are treated as unreasonable.  After a brief search the bag is located.  It smells like a skunk has crawled in it to die.  My daughter is upset and disbelieving when I tell her she can’t wear the trainers, even though they are soaking wet and smell like a tramp’s armpit.  Eventually I persuade her to wear her sister’s trainers, which although they are slightly too big, are completely dry, and have the added bonus that you can’t smell them from ten paces away.  I put the fetid trainers back in the bag to tackle later.  #winning

morning breakfast

After school drop-off, I have breakfast in a café with my bestie Sarah and recount the challenges of my week.  Sarah nods sympathetically, even though her week has actually been much more challenging than mine.  We both agree that the other is a total hero.  I head home with my spirit invigorated and then I type emails, make calls and generally work like a demon until school pick up – because there’s only a narrow window of opportunity before the madness starts again…

3 reasons ’70s parenting sucked

There’s plenty to love about the ‘70s.  Big hair was in (helloooo Farrah Fawcett); the Bee Gees were rocking out; and a cheese and pineapple hedgehog was all you needed to turn your party from slightly drab to the height of sophistication.

70s beegees

Unfortunately the ’70s were also the decade that gave us men with their shirts open to the navel, black vinyl car seats, and some shockingly poor parenting.  If you still think that restricting access to the iPad is the worst thing a parent can do, take a moment to remind yourself about parenting ’70s style…

  • Today, you can’t leave a dog in the car without someone phoning the police about your irresponsible behaviour, but in the ‘70s, leaving your children in the car was the go-to solution for any parent who wanted to do a spot of shopping but didn’t want the hassle of trekking their kids about with them. This wasn’t bad parenting.  It was the norm.  And by the way, if you remember fighting with your siblings for who sat in the front seat whilst your parents hung out with their mates at the pub, you’re one of the lucky ones.  I was an only child, so normally there was just me, the car radio and a luke-warm bottle of pop.
  • In the 70s, tanning yourself to a deep shade of mahogany was the height of fashion, and sunbathing until you could fry an egg on your back was the quickest way to get there. It certainly never occurred to any of us, least of all our supposedly responsible parents, that lying in the sun until your skin turned crimson and went slightly crispy might be a bad thing.  My mother was ahead of her time in buying factor 4 suntan lotion, but some mums I knew sent their kids out coated in Baby Oil.  I blame every wrinkle I have today on my parents’ remiss attitude to sun protection.
70s tanfastic

Tanfastic lets the sunshine in.  It’s not loaded up with sunburn protection like old folks and kids want. Tanfastic is for you 15 to 25 year olds who can take the sun.  Especially if you want to get superdark.  Superfast.

  • Health and safety was not really a thing in the 70s, which is why people treated it as a genuine infringement of their human rights if you suggested that they might want to wear a seatbelt whilst driving.  If you needed to take a bunch of kids somewhere, you just jammed as many of the little blighters in the car as would fit.  My husband claims he once travelled home from a party lying across the dashboard.  I don’t have any evidence for this, but it would certainly fit with my experience of a squirming mass of children travelling sardine-style in the boot of some helpful mummy’s  estate car.  I’m genuinely surprised that so many of us made it through the decade without serious harm to life or limb.
SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Everything the safety-conscious parent could want: an ill-secured car seat with a steering wheel that will brain your child in an accident

All this and I haven’t even touched on some of the lesser offences committed by ‘70s parents.  Like dressing their children in shades of brown, as if they wanted us to look like a giant turd.  Or the fact that everything we wore was a fire-hazard, because in those days clothes only came in ‘flammable’ and ‘super-flammable’.

70s brown clothesSometimes I worry that I am failing as a parent because my children don’t eat quinoa salad or read Dostoevsky in Russian, but then I remember the ‘70s and, you know what, I’m doing OK.

Thanks to Scarymommy.com for the photo at the top, which comes from a hilarious article on 70s parenting.

World Book Day: challenges for the uninitiated

All good mummies know that Thursday 2nd March is World Book Day, when little people everywhere celebrate the joy of reading.  They observe this splendiferous day by wearing costumes that their mummies (or daddies – let’s not gender-stereotype here) have lovingly hand-crafted on their sewing machine in the attic.  Or, in my case, bought from Amazon.

world book day 1.PNGBut the real problem is, no matter how much effort you put in, there is always some committed parent who has done better.  At my children’s school last year, there was a little boy dressed as Around the World in Eighty Days.  (Seriously? Are six year olds reading Jules Verne now?)  His body was an enormous globe and by some feat of technical wizadry he had a tiny hot air balloon magically floating round him.  What was the parent who made that thinking?  Don’t these people know they’re making the rest of us look bad?

In fairness, there are also a wide range of parents who are panicked into dressing their child as any character, whether it appears in a book or not.  If you see any kids turning up as characters from Star Wars, you know their mummies have just done a spot of last-minute rooting around the bottom of the dressing up box.

Before my children got wise to it, there was a happy interlude when I managed to convince one daughter to go as a witch three years in a row.  It wasn’t my proudest parenting moment, but it did have a lot to recommend it as (a) she already had a perfectly good witch costume left over from Halloween and (b) there are actually a surprising number of witches in children’s literature.

But once your children are reading books without you and start choosing their own characters, that’s when the real trouble starts.  Last year my youngest daughter wanted to go as the feline detective Atticus Claw.  I confidently ordered a tabby cat costume and requisite bandana in plenty of time, but when nothing had arrived at 4pm the day before World Book Day, I had to accept it probably never would.  I then spent two hours driving round South East London in the rush hour acquiring all the bits and bobs needed to fashion the costume myself.  It was not a happy time.

world-book-day-teacher

Even teachers are in on it.  At least, I hope that’s a teacher…

This year my youngest daughter has let mummy off the hook by choosing the main character from  ‘The Girl Who saved Christmas’.  It may not be very seasonal, but I am delighted on two counts: firstly because this is a very good book, and secondly because the main character wears dungarees and a t-shirt.  Items my daughter already has in her wardrobe!  Happy days.

My other daughter has chosen to be Storme from The Long Way Home. Not only have I never heard of it, but I’m reasonably confident it hadn’t even been written when I was a child.  Worse than that though, my daughter is insisting that there is no actual description of what Storme looks like in the book.  As a result of diligent questioning on my part, I have found out that Storme lives on a farm.  I have therefore decided to go with an outdated stereotype and send her to school in dungarees and wellies.  I’m feeling pretty confident that if my daughter is reading the book and doesn’t know what Storme looks like, no one is going to challenge her on whether what she’s wearing is right or not.

Two children demonstrating their interest in diverse books from every season, whilst happily dressed in items they already had in their wardrobe?  That’s what I call #winning.  So, to committed (and less committed) parents everywhere, I wish you well with your costume, may your children live long and read much!

 

Thanks to Barnsley Chronicle for the photo at the top.

 

Stop bog snorkelling and get bonding: parenting is a team sport!

Raising children is a journey with no clear destination and only a fairly limited and often useless map.  That is why friends with kids are invaluable.  It feels so much better to share your challenges with other people who also have no clue what’s going on.  Over the last few years I have shared so many challenges and had so much support from friends with children that we have forged bonds of steel.

gang-julie-sarah-amelia-ball

Gang of three: How we want people to think we look

We are like the Royal Marines of parenting.  No man left behind.  If you’re running late and your child needs picking up, if you have to drop one child and collect another from different parties at the same time, if you’ve lost the flipping homework book and have no idea what the little darlings should be doing, and, most of all, if you’ve had a rubbish week and need a glass of wine, WE ARE HERE FOR YOU.

gang-julie-sarah-amelia

How we actually look

And naturally, like all highly specialised crack teams, not only are we trained to control an angry seven year old at twenty paces, but we have also developed our own vocabulary, a sort of linguistic short-hand of key information.  So if you want to get with the gang, you’re going to have to learn the lingo.  Here’s a couple of phrases to get you started…

  •     Personal grooming: you always need a haircut

Origins of the haircut:  Just because you have children, you can’t let attention to your appearance slip.  Which is why it seemed perfectly credible when one of the dads slipped out of a children’s party claiming he was ‘going for a haircut’.  He returned four hours later and sheepishly confessed he had actually spent the entire time in the pub with a mate.

How to use it in conversation: Do you actually have to work late the night my mother’s staying, or are you going for a haircut?

  •     Driving skills: do a Catherine

Origins of the Catherine:  My lovely friend was so busy yelling at her kids in the back of the car, that she entirely failed to notice the rockery looming ominously at the back of the parking space.  Luckily she was alerted to its presence by the sound of her boot caving in under the pressure. (No children or animals were harmed in the making of this phrase.)

How to use it in conversation:  I don’t want you to get upset, but I may have caressed a post on the way out of the car park.  It’s more of a light graze than a full-on Catherine.

  •     Wage slave: trotter-trotter-trotter

Origins of trottering:  As part of a fulsome description of how hard she had been working, one of our friends started typing manically at an imaginary keyboard much as a demented pig in a punk band might play the drums.

How to use it in conversation:  I’d love to come for a quick drink or ten, but I’m stuck in the office trottering my life away.

  •     Coping mechanisms: Honking arsenic

Origins of honking arsenic:  We can thank autocorrect for this one.  Whatever my friend was actually trying to text was unclear, but her meaning was plain – her mother-in-law had outstayed her welcome and my friend needed rapid and permanent relief from an increasingly oppressive situation.

How to use it in conversation: Getting my kids to do their homework is draining the will to live out of me.   If I have to make them practise their lines for assembly as well, I’ll be honking arsenic.

Now you know enough phrases to seamlessly slip into our gang and act like you have always been there.  Use this information wisely and you could be joining us on our next night out.  If you’re really canny, you may even be able to persuade one of us to pick your children up afterwards…

 If you’re now feeling wistful about the joys of friendship, why not read my blog about How to be a great friend.

PS Thanks to our wonderful BBC for the photo at the top!

The great scooter controversy

If death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down, then scootering must be her way of telling you to speed up.  Freewheeling along the pavement is the most fun a woman of my age can have in public and still keep her dignity.  It’s certainly the most fun you can have whilst trying to get two grouchy children to school.  When I’m on a scooter, with a fair wind behind me and a downward slope ahead, I feel like a rock chick.  I am the queen of the pavement, and I am living the dream.

The scooter and I have history.  In our years together I have worn through two brakes, a set of foam handles and a rubber thing that snapped off and was never replaced.  So I have been resistant to suggestions from Mr B that the scooter is past its best.  He doesn’t like the way it’s battered and scratched, or that it clatters and jangles as I career along the pavement.  Mr B thinks scooters should be shiny and inaudible.  He especially thinks they should be inaudible.  So for Christmas he said he would buy me a new one.

I greeted this generous offer with the same enthusiasm as if he’d said he would set fire to my hair.  But I am a good wife, and so, with heavy heart, I trawled the scooter catalogue for a suitable option.  And after some deliberation, I decided that a new version of the scooter I already have would be the perfect replacement.

Of course, I hadn’t taken account of the fact that Mr B had already picked the scooter he wanted to buy, and it wasn’t the one I’d chosen.   So on Christmas day I unwrapped the shiny, silent new scooter that I hadn’t chosen, and I have been waiting eagerly for the children to go back to school so I can put it through its paces.

scooter-ladies

These ladies look nothing like me. Picture someone much more dishevelled

But here’s the problem.  My husband assured me, despite my protestations to the contrary, that I needed a scooter with a soft suspension (wooden footboard) not the ‘sporty’ suspension (metal footboard) of my old scooter.  But now I have it, I have found out that the soft suspension is like scootering along the top of a very large marshmallow, with the effect that the new scooter’s maximum speed is more of a ‘disappointing dawdle’ than an ‘exhilarating dash’.  Although I would have to say that this is probably a safety feature, since it is nearly impossible to use the brake on the thing.

For those unfamiliar with the engineering subtleties of a scooter, the brakes are on the back wheel and operated by your foot.  Only this one is cleverly positioned so as to make it nearly impossible to actually get my foot on it, and when I do make contact, the brake has no sense of urgency.  In fact, it seems entirely oblivious to the importance of slowing down before I hit an ambling pedestrian or darting toddler.  This certainly makes for a more exciting journey, but, overall, I would have to say that it is not a benefit.

So I am back on the old scooter, rattling along the school-run with the sun in my face and the wind in my hair.  Meanwhile the new scooter is languishing in our hallway creating a health and safety hazard for anyone who wants to go up or down the stairs.

I love my husband.  I love that he thinks I need and deserve shiny, new, things.  It’s just that the stealth scooter isn’t the one for me.  After all, if I changed something every time I’d had it a while, or it rattled a bit, I would have gone through at least three husbands by now.  And, to be honest, I’m more than happy with the one I already have.  Whoever said ‘out with the old and in with the new’ really didn’t know what they were talking about.

PS  Unless it’s a full-on hurricane with a snow-storm chaser we always scoot to school and I love it.  Both my old and my new scooter are from microscooter and they have lots of options for children and adults.