Everyone for what (s)he likes

We joined the National Trust this summer. I know, I know, it feels like a hideously middle-aged, middle-class thing to do. But we love the beaches and cliff tops of the Penwith peninsula in Cornwall so much that it seems worth the subscription fee just for their work in maintaing and preserving those, let alone the myriad of other great things they do. Oh yes, and there was a special offer on whereby you got a set of children’s gardening tools when you took out a family membership, and I do love a freebie. I love a freebie when it’s something I have no need of or interest in, but when it’s something I know Anna will absolutely adore then I’m sold.

To be honest I thought that, living in London with no car, we wouldn’t really get much use out of our membership, other than when we’re on holiday in Cornwall. Looking at their handbook of properties, I was wrong! There are quite a few properties around Greater London or a fairly short train journey away, and most of them sound like brilliant family days out, so we’re putting a list together and are determined to make the most of our membership.

An almost six-year age gap between our children can make it tricky to think of activities which would please both of them (let alone that we’d enjoy too!) but a day out at a National Trust property can tick a lot of boxes for all of us. Sophia can watch the world go by from her pushchair or sling, crawl around and eat some grass and gravel or throw modged up banana out of her high chair in the cafe. There’s often an adventure playground or open space for Anna to run round and burn off some energy, and then some kind of child friendly activity we can do to encourage her growing interest in history. And husband and I get to experience a little oasis of tranquility in beautiful surroundings.

Our first trip was to Ham House, near Richmond in West London. Getting there in itself was a pleasure, as after taking the London Overground from Walthamstow to Richmond, we completed the journey with a gentle meander along the river.ham

The River Thames has such a different character here to in Central London. In Central London, swooping past the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Millenium Dome (or whatever it’s called these days) it speaks of excitement and bustle, but out in West London with the over-hanging trees, rushes and geese it can feel as though you’re in the middle of the countryside. I had lines from The Wind in the Willows running through my head on loop as we strolled along, and in fact the experience was so rural that, to Anna’s enormous delight, the path was totally flooded on the way back when the tide had come in, and we had to paddle ankle-deep for a few metres before scrambling over a stone wall into a (relatively) dry field.

We didn’t *ahem*actually make it round the house itself. You see, after we’d missed our connection at Gospel Oak, and then stopped for (delicious) lunch at Petersham Nurseries, we didn’t actually arrive with a lot of time to spare before we knew we’d have to head back for bedtime. But that is the joy of being members. We got to pop in for a stroll round the beautiful gardens, we’d had the fun of getting there, and we know we can go back anytime we like.

An original purpose of this blog was for me to keep a record for myself of all the little things which make life special, and so I’m going to make a serious attempt to blog about all our National Trust explorations this coming year. Apart from anything else, it might give us the little kick we need to actually go out and get visiting.

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Summing up Summer

I’m a bit slow off the mark with the obligatory summer in review post. I could blame the back-to-school rush, or the poorly catten, but I think my own disorganisation would probably be fairer.

For the past couple of years, when confronted with a six week summer holiday, I have scheduled, scheduled, scheduled in a desperate attempt to avoid boredom and cabin fever. This year was a little different. We had one week’s holiday in Cornwall planned, and I spent a few days with my parents in Liverpool right at the beginning of the summer, but otherwise we had a blank slate. I was a little bit nervous, but it turned out to be just what we all needed.

This was the summer that Anna learnt to ride a bike, Sophia learnt to crawl and I learnt the true meaning of multi-tasking. Feeding the baby her porridge, bidding on Ebay, eating my own breakfast and joining in a spirited Sound of Music singsong?No problem.

The weather wasn’t brilliant, but we had fun anyway, and spent time doing a lot of the things that just get squeezed out in term-time as weekends have so many competing demands. We had a pyjama day, took a selection of soft toys to the playground, made pizza, chilli, spaghetti sauce, butterfly cakes, chocolate cake and Smarties cookies (not all on the same day), did some gardening, started reading Famous Five, had some cycling practice, and got messy with paints and crafts. We spent a lot of time babyproofing and looking round for objects which could be dangerous to Sophia, and even more time removing the ones we’d missed from her mouth.

Mornings without the pressure of the school run were sheer bliss, and time didn’t hang heavy at all. There were days when I felt like I’d taken up a new, unpaid career in catering but generally it was a lot easier than I’d feared. There was a summer hero though. By about 4.30pm my nerves, patience and creativity would be stretched fairly thin and I still had teatime, bathtime and bedtime to get through. That was when the wonder that is Cbeebies came into its own, giving me breathing space to sit down for ten minutes and then cook tea with only one small person, who could be contained in her bouncy chair for a while, to worry about. Telly which is safe, fun, educational, perfectly targeted to young children and free from advertising is an absolute godsend, so I was more than a bit panicstricken today to learn that the BBC are thinking of scrapping it as part of their enforced cost-cutting measures. Frankly I would pay the license fee for Cbeebies alone, so I rushed to sign the petition against the cut. If you and your children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren have also benefited as much as we have from Cbeebies then I’d encourage you to do the same.

And now we have shiny new shoes, warm coats, school bags, PE kits, GBBO on telly, leaves turning colour…and the unbroken blue skies and blazing sunshine which were conspicuous only by their absence in August.

Disconnected

It started off innocently enough. Husband and I were sitting doing our annual budget. (Yes, I know it’s August, but we were quite busy round the end of last year, ok?). It struck us that, compared to the offers we continually get through our letterbox, we seemed to be paying rather a lot for our landline/broadband deal, and I volunteered to phone our provider and see if I could negotiate it down a bit.

I was told that I could get £15 off our monthly bills, but only if I closed my existing account, and opened a new one as a new customer. I was rather sceptical about this, but was comprehensively reassured that it was just a technical formality and wouldn’t affect my service in the slightest. Can you hear my hollow yet slightly manic laughter?

The next thing to happen was that I dropped my iPhone on a tiled floor and smashed it to smithereens. I felt slightly uncomfortable about being out of touch, but before you can say ‘addict’ I was on Facebook telling everyone I knew to message me on there instead of texting.

Which would have worked perfectly. Except that when they reassured me that my service would be unaffected by the change in contract, what they omitted to add was ‘oh, except for the fact that we will cut off your broadband and change your landline number without telling you that we’re going to, or giving you your new number.’

By Tuesday evening I had no mobile, no internet and although I could make landline calls, no-one knew my number to call me, and actually, most of my friends’ numbers are stored on my smashed mobile anyway. My husband joked to me that it was *gasp* like I was living in the nineties. And after picking up the remains of his dinner off the floor and applying an ice pack to his black eye he realised that it was no laughing matter.

The thing is, it isn’t like being in the nineties because habits and expectations have changed so radically. In the nineties I knew all my friends’ landline numbers off by heart, and they knew mine. When you made arrangements to meet people you actually had to turn up at an appointed place on time. Instead of a blog I had a journal. If you wanted to watch a programme but wouldn’t be in at the time you set the VCR rather than relying on iPlayer later. I’m not sure what you did when you wanted to sell some outgrown baby stuff, order a stair gate or fire guard, communicate the same message to several friends instantly and simultaneously, check the weather forecast at a moment’s notice, or alleviate the cabin fever which comes after four rainy days on the trot at the fag end of the summer holidays, but I do know I couldn’t do it this week.

Looking on the bright side, all this, preceded by a week in Cornwall, has given me a (my husband would say much needed) digital detox. Inspired by the Cornish holiday, and undistracted by blogs, Twitter and Facebook, I re-read Jamaica Inn and Rebecca. I’ve entertained Anna with making pizza, muffins and chocolate fridge cake, cycling in the park, visits to the library, weeding the front garden, getting her paints out, and reading a lot of Famous Five. I’ve entertained Sophia (in, to be fair, the usual way) by blowing raspberries on her tummy, singing the Grand Old Duke of York with appropriate back-breaking actions, and removing the cotton wool/feathers/leaves/pages of magazine/bits-of-toast-still-on-the-floor-from-yesterday’s-breakfast from her mouth on a regular basis.

And I’ve discovered that my entry for the Number One Most Annoying Thing Award is being put on hold for 30 minutes while trying to complain about your broadband having been cut-off, and being told by an electronic voice every thirty seconds to ‘try the help section on our website’. Grr. Do you have your own contender for this?