We didn’t plan a ‘proper’ family holiday this year for lots of reasons, but we did decide to have a staycation. My mother-in-law very kindly lent us her flat while she was on holiday herself, so that we had the chance to have a change of scene and to escape from all those niggling little domestic tasks which can oppress you at home. She only lives on the other side of London, and we’re all obviously very familiar with her flat, but nonetheless we were amazed at just how much of a holiday it felt.

For a start, London is a big old place, so when you’re starting from North West rather than North East there are all sorts of places which suddenly seem like a viable day-trip which we wouldn’t normally tackle (especially with a super-active toddler who is allergic to sitting still!). We also decided that there would be No Cooking. That meant the children probably didn’t eat quite as healthily as usual – for breakfast for instance, instead of porridge with fresh berries we bought one of those Kellogg’s variety packs and let them choose one each day. Blissfully, we were a short walk away from a huge Waitrose, and so picnic lunches were sorted by stocking up on dips, falafel, baguettes, cherry tomatoes and so on, and dinners were things like filled pasta parcels with a handful of frozen veg  thrown in and some grated cheese over the top for the children, and delicious ready meals for us. And, of course, there was the obligatory daily ice-cream which seemed to happen whatever we were doing. But it was only for five days, so hopefully won’t do too much harm in the long-term, and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed a proper break from the seemingly endless rounds of food preparation which constitute my normal days at home. And actually, I do really love cooking, so after a bit of a rest I’m now full of renewed enthusiasm for getting back into the kitchen and trying some new recipes as well as some old favourites.

London never ceases to surprise me, and it did so again on the first day of our staycation when we headed to Ruislip Lido. Just a short journey up the Metropolitan Line, but this artificial lake, beach, children’s splash park, playground, woodlands and miniature railway felt like another world. It was created by the local council in the 1940s as a sort of post-war  public morale boost. Hard to imagine public funds being spent on anything so frivolous today, and yet, actually, creating opportunities for families to have fun together and get active in the fresh air without having to spend any money is every bit as important today as it was then. Needless to say, our children absolutely adored it, and we had huge fun too. Just one of those relaxed, carefree days when everyone is in a good mood and everything goes right.


The next day we headed off to Kew Gardens. I’ve been before, but the last time was when Anna was a baby. It’s wonderful, but it takes nearly two hours from our house, and isn’t the cheapest day out in the world (although it is incredibly good value), so it isn’t a natural choice for an ordinary weekend day trip. We did the treetop walk first as that was what we’d all been looking forward to the most, but I didn’t actually love it as much as I thought I would. It was impressive, but I didn’t quite get the Enid Blyton Magic Faraway Tree sense I had been hoping for. What do you mean, I’m too idealistic? It wasn’t helped by Sophia’s grumpy and clingy mood, which just seemed to get worse, until we realised that she was in some sort of pain, clutching at the side of her face and head, and refusing her food. We couldn’t decide if it was teething or an ear infection, but administered good old Calpol anyway. It was like a miracle. Twenty minutes later she was transformed into the happiest little baby you could hope for, playing and running around with her sister. And that was actually the best bit about Kew for me. The wonderful sense of space and peace. Even on a sunny day in the school holidays it didn’t feel remotely over-crowded, and sitting on a tree-shaded bench watching the children play, and breathing the scent of sun-warmed roses as Sophia toddled up and down a tiny slope ‘whee-ing’ each time was wonderful.

girls in Kew

The next day it was another National Trust day as we headed to Fenton House in Hampstead, another favourite place of ours. We only ventured into the house to use the toilets (ahem) but spent hours in the glorious gardens and orchards.

anna apple

Sophia was entranced by the discovery that apples grow on trees, and spent ages painstakingly collecting windfalls and moving them from one part of the orchard to another.

apples 1

We followed it with a walk on Hampstead Heath and another playground trip, before having ‘grown-up’ afternoon tea in Burgh House, another Hampstead gem. We have often had tea and cake in the cafe there, and last time we were in, Anna’s imagination was caught by the lovely cake-stands on the tables of people having afternoon tea. It’s only available if you book in advance, and we hadn’t that day, but we promised her that at some point we would have afternoon tea there, and last Saturday was that day. It really didn’t disappoint. The staff were wonderfully friendly and helpful, and our tea of cheese scones, fruit scones with jam and clotted cream, chocolate cake, lemon and blueberry polenta cake, macaroons and home-made pink lemonade was spectacularly delicious. Even though Sophia, appetite fully restored after feeling poorly the day before, kept snaffling half the food off my plate, much to Anna’s amusement.

We finished off  our staycation with a day walking along the river from Twickenham to Richmond, via Eel Pie Island, a gorgeous riverside pub for lunch, a rowing boat ferry, Ham House (yep, National Trust again!) and Petersham Nurseries. I can never believe that this area is in the middle of London. It feels so incredibly tranquil and rural, and the Thames has far more in common with its Oxford self than its Westminster or Docklands incarnations.


Lots of quality time with my lovely little family, lots of ice-cream, lots of peace and quiet and greenery all felt like just what I needed. Husband is back at work today, and Anna is playing at a friend’s house, and Sophia is having a long nap in her cot. It’s been nice to have a bit of time to myself, and a chance to blog, but I’m starting to miss them all now!


National Trust: Speke Hall

The lovely thing about National Trust membership is that you don’t have to commit to a whole day out if you don’t want to, there are so many lovely places to just dip in and out of.

One of these is Speke Hall in Liverpool, ten minutes or so drive from where my parents live.

A couple of weeks ago Anna was staying with Nanna and Grandad by herself and they went for a full day out to Speke. Anna is fascinated by history, and she loved looking round Speke Hall itself, a beautiful Tudor Manor house, and spotting the priest’s hole and spy holes which tell of the owning family’s Catholic faith at a time when that was persecuted. She also loved the new Childe of Hale trail which celebrates a local hero – the Childe of Hale, John Myddelton, was an astounding nine foot three inches tall. And, being seven she also thoroughly enjoyed the woodland adventure playground complete with zip wire, and the millionaire’s shortbread in the tearoom afterwards! I wasn’t there, but I may as well have been because I’ve heard all about it!

This week, Anna is off in Cornwall with Daddy and Granny, and Sophia and I have come to stay with my parents for a few days. Apart from some very welcome cosseting following Sophia’s frightening experience we didn’t have many plans. It was such a lovely day today, though, that we decided to pop into Speke Hall this morning.

Sophia’s interest in historic houses and historic figures is perhaps understandably at a pre-embryonic stage, so today we headed straight for the playground for smaller children. Sophia busied herself clambering up the ladder and whee-ing down the slide, and then we went and played ball on one of the open grassy spaces with beautiful views across the Mersey estuary.IMG_4590

After a stroll through the pretty orchards and walled kitchen garden, an increasing grumpiness and sleepiness (from Sophia, rather than my parents) indicated it was probably lunchtime and nap time, so we headed for home. We’d only been there for an hour, but to my mind little excursions like that are what add up to making family membership of the NT so worthwhile, and there’s no sense of guilt that you haven’t ‘made the most’ of your admission fee.IMG_4589

Incidentally, down in Cornwall my husband has taken Anna to St Michael’s Mount (National Trust), and they’ve been walking on the coastal path (National Trust) and are off to the beach this afternoon (National Trust!), so we’re definitely getting good value for money.

And now it’s a lazy sunny afternoon, and I’m gazing out at my dad’s beautiful garden, having a chance to blog whilst my parents entertain Sophia. Earlier we had lunch in the garden, with tomatoes plucked from the vine literally seconds before eating, and the obligatory Magnum to follow and possibly, just possibly, I am allowing myself to relax fractionally.


Writing it out

When she was about ten months old, and just at that ‘pulling herself up on the furniture’ stage, Sophia slipped, lost her grip on the edge of the sofa and fell over backwards, banging her head on our wooden floor. I was sitting on said sofa at the time, and I reached forward to scoop up my sobbing little girl. As I laid her against my shoulder I felt her go all floppy. When I looked at her, she had lost consciousness. Still holding her, I sprinted across the room to grab the phone and call for an ambulance, but by the time I got there she had come round and was crying again, so I phoned my good friend and neighbour instead.

She rushed round, her own daughter in tow, and between us we agreed that Sophia didn’t seem ‘right’. She didn’t greet my friend the way she normally would, she was quiet, and frighteningly pale. I decided it was better to be safe than sorry, and took a taxi to A&E. A few hours, a lot of kind NHS staff, and a leaflet on care following head injuries, later and I was reassured that she didn’t have concussion. It was a frightening experience, but I thought no more of it until a couple of months later when I had left both children alone for a few moments while I started tea, only to hear mingled screams which had me dashing out of the kitchen in record quick time. Anna had been trying to pick Sophia up, and she had somehow slipped backwards out of her arms, banging her head on, you’ve guessed it, the wooden floors. Suddenly our beloved original Victorian floorboards didn’t seem such a good idea, and I fervently wished for shag-pile throughout. I picked Sophia up to comfort her, and was standing in front of the hall mirror when I saw in the reflection the colour drain from her face, her eyes roll back in her head, and she passed out. She came round again almost instantly, but it was another trip to A&E to check she was alright. Thankfully, she was.

Both times, after receiving a clean bill of health, I almost wondered if I had imagined the incident. Had my anxiety caused me to see symptoms which weren’t really there? I was able to dismiss that idea in February when Sophia tripped over my stretched out legs (which she had been using as a climbing frame) and bumped her head. I picked her up, she immediately lost consciousness. This time it was a Sunday afternoon, and husband was at home. I screamed for him, and he came running downstairs, took one look at the pallid, floppy bundle in my arms and called for an ambulance. While he was talking to the operator she came round, and we were advised that, given she was now conscious and the ambulance service was experiencing very high demand that afternoon, we should just take her to A&E in a taxi.Yet again I was reassured that she didn’t have concussion, but this time the doctor I saw felt that she should be referred for an assessment by a paediatrician in case there was an underlying health issue.

In April she was diagnosed with Reflex Anoxic Seizures. These are a totally harmless form of seizure which tend to affect very young children. When they are shocked by something like a sudden pain (such as a bang on the head), their vagus nerve, which controls blood supply to the brain, temporarily constricts, meaning blood to the brain stops, the heart stops, breathing stops. When I had described Sophia as looking like death, I hadn’t been employing writerly hyperbole or maternal exaggeration. Luckily, as soon as the child loses consciousness, the vagus nerve begins to function again and everything gets back to normal pretty quickly.

We were hugely reassured that it was nothing serious, and I also felt vindicated at how worried I had been when the paediatrician described the attacks as ‘truly terrifying’.

Since April she has had two more minor episodes, but with the paediatrician’s reassurances ringing in my ears we coped perfectly well with both of them at home. Sophia is very washed out and tired afterwards – perfectly normal – and so it was really a case of giving her a bit of extra TLC and a chance to rest.

Then, a week last Sunday, my world shifted a little on its axis.

Sophia and I were on our own in the house as husband had taken Anna off to the park with her friends and their dad. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and we were both sitting at the little table in our garden, Sophia tucking into an apple for her afternoon snack.

I don’t quite know what happened. She was right next to me, close enough to touch, but she wiggled a little in her (non highchair) seat and somehow fell through the back of it, straight onto her head on the concrete patio.

She screamed incredibly loudly, and I knelt next to her and pulled her onto my lap. She immediately went floppy and lifeless. I can’t imagine I ever won’t find that experience terrifying, but I kept calm, telling myself it was just one of her attacks, and would pass shortly. We had been advised that, while she is unconscious, it is best to put her in the recovery position in case she is sick. I was just about to do so when her limbs started to twitch as though she was having a fit. Really frightened now, I laid her down on the patio. I had a sudden, sickening remembrance that she had been eating an apple when she fell, and I was scared that she was now choking on it, that these convulsions were caused by that.

The sight of her lying on the patio, eyes closed, skin a bluish grey, not showing any signs of breathing, completely still bar these unnatural seeming and increasingly feeble twitches, will haunt me for a very long time.

I tilted her head back and opened her mouth, searching desperately for the piece of apple I feared might be choking the life out of her in front of my eyes. I couldn’t see anything, but she was still unconscious – and this now felt like far longer than she had been in any previous attack. What should I do now? Start CPR? Or phone an ambulance? I screamed as loudly as I could for help, praying that some neighbours might be out in their gardens, but there was no response. I could feel time ticking away. I ran into the house to get the phone – it wasn’t on its stand, and I couldn’t remember where my mobile was. I saw it on the kitchen worktop, grabbed it, and ran back to Sophia.

Suddenly I couldn’t bear seeing her lying on the concrete any longer. I scooped her up in my arms, and ran into the house, on the phone to the ambulance operator as I did so. I opened the front door so that the paramedics would be able to get in, and laid Sophia down on the rug in the living room.

The operator was amazing, calming me down, reassuring me that help was on its way, keeping me clinging onto sanity by reminding me that Sophia needed me. At this moment I was pretty convinced that she was dead. I am in tears writing this, as the bleak, blank terror of that moment washes back over me. I pulled up her little t-shirt so I could watch for breathing and feel for a heartbeat, and to my delighted amazement I could see shallow  breaths. Not right, not normal, still horrifically scary, but there was room for a smidgeon of hope. She was still unconscious, and if her eyelids flickered open momentarily the eyes behind them were blank, and would instantly roll back again as my baby vanished  back where I couldn’t reach her.

She came round as the paramedics arrived and checked her out, reassuring me that she was in no immediate danger. For the next two hours she was technically with me, but she wasn’t my Sophia. She didn’t talk or play or move or show any interest in anything. When my husband arrived at the hospital she didn’t seem to recognise him. My fear now was that she was severely concussed, or that somehow the oxygen deprivation had damaged her brain. Then suddenly, at 6.30pm, two and a half hours after she fell, normal service resumed. She smiled at me and said my name – the first time your baby calls you “Mummy” is sweet, but nothing compared to the blessedly sweet relief of those two syllables this time. She ran over to the toys in the waiting room and began to play. I asked her where Daddy was and she looked round the waiting room until she found him and exclaimed “Daddee!” with all her usual joy and excitement.

We weren’t quite out of the woods. In view of the length of time she had been unconscious and her abnormal behaviour afterwards, it was decided she should have a CT scan and be kept in overnight for observations. Not the best night of my life by a long way, and the image of her, heartrendingly tiny, going into the adult sized CT machine is another one which lingers painfully in my mind. But finally she was declared healthy, and we were free to go. The consultant we saw that morning is fairly certain that it was ‘just’ another one of her seizures. We will return to outpatients for her to have a few more checks, but having since browsed the excellent support website for patients and families with this condition, it seems that the jerking limbs which frightened me so much, the prolonged unconsciousness and the altered behaviour afterwards are all fairly common.

I am, needless to say, hugely relieved. We are unbelievably lucky. I know anyway how lucky I am to have my two gorgeous girls, but having felt that I was on the brink of losing one of them brings that feeling into painfully sharp relief. But. But. But. I am not okay. As a parent you are always vaguely aware of the potential hell that is harm coming to your child. But now I feel I have looked right into that abyss, not in a hypothetical scenario, but right there on a sunny afternoon in my own garden, confronting the seemingly lifeless body of my precious baby and my own total inadequacy in knowing how to help her.

There is also the knowledge that for some parents, some children, some babies there isn’t that amazing wash of hallucinogenic relief when you realise it’s all alright. While I was in A&E the nurse who was with us had to dash off to a cardiac arrest. I don’t know if that child survived. For some families the nightmare becomes a hideous reality and my heart aches for them, even as I feel guilty at my own undeserved good luck. But I also feel that though we may have dodged the bullet this time, the whole experience has highlighted the agonising fragility of life and it scares me. Terrifies me. It is illogical, probably illogical, but I can’t shake the image of my little family being balanced on a tightrope of good health and good luck, and one false move could send us tumbling into the void.

Why have I written this? Mainly because writing is what I do, and I am hoping that committing the demons to paper might help clear them out of my head. If I can raise awareness of Reflex Anoxic Seizures and relieve another parent of some of the terror and panic I experienced then that would be hugely worthwhile. And I also feel that there are some lessons I have learned from this which are worth sharing and repeating.

  1. Always know where your phone is, especially if you are on your own with young child/ren.
  2. Do a first aid course. I don’t feel I covered myself in glory, and no course can prepare you for the panic you feel when it is your baby not a plastic dummy, but I did feel that somewhere in the petrified soup of my brain there were a few pieces of information on how to clear an airway and resuscitate a baby which might have been useful.
  3. Fight cuts and/or the insidious privatisation of the NHS with every breath in your body. The wonderful paramedics saved my sanity, the hospital staff were concerned and caring and knowledgable. The CT scan was carried out immediately with no thought of cost.
  4. Find a way of loving and appreciating your children and other family/friends every day, without existing under an overwhelming cloud of apprehension and fear. Alright, so I haven’t quite managed that one yet, but do let me know when you find the magic formula, I really need it.

If you think your child may be affected by RAS, then STARS are a brilliant source of information and advice – recommended by our paediatrician. Obviously it goes without saying that if you have any worries about your child, or they have had any funny turns, you should see your own doctor.

Serendipitous Summer

Ten days into the summer holidays and two children and one mummy are alive, well and on pretty good form. Still thirty-five days to go; so more than enough time for my smugness to come back to bite me on the bottom, but you know, celebrate the little wins and all that.

The previous few summers have been packed with plans for adventures home and away. We’ve had some brilliant times, but I was also left feeling a little bit like we’d missed out on time to just be. Hang out. Have pyjama days. Wake up and decide to go off on a trip impulsively because it’s a sunny day. Bake lots of cakes. Have picnics in our own back garden. So this year we have gone far more free range.

Anna is spending a few days with Nanna and Grandad in Liverpool, and a few days with Granny in Cornwall. Husband is overwhelmingly busy with his new business, but he is hoping to take a few days off at the end of August for a staycation when we will treat London as the world class, world famous holiday destination it is to people who don’t live here. The money we save on travel and accommodation will mean that we can easily afford to splash out on treats we wouldn’t normally indulge in, and that we can eat out, or have takeaways or posh ready meal/deli bits for Every Single Meal – no cooking, very little washing up!

That still leaves about four weeks free for all the other stuff. And it’s going brilliantly. I’ve had the odd pang of envy when my Facebook or Instagram feed show people off on their holidays to far-flung, exotic, sunny locations, but hey, the entire purpose of Facebook and Instagram is to engender pangs of envy, surely? And this morning, as we were on our way to the local playground and I got a text from one of our closest friends to say that he and his kids were at a loose end and could they pop over for lunch, the joy of being able to text back a resounding ‘YES’ was amazing. We had our session at the playground, popped into to the local shop to buy cheese, ham, bread, dips, tomatoes and fruit as our cupboards were totally bare pending the Sainsbury’s delivery this afternoon, and then home to enjoy the company of our unexpected guests. Nothing life-changing. The bigger girls played an elaborate game with Anna’s old Peppa Pig figures, whilst listening to a Paddington CD. The toddlers roared round the house on the ride-on toys scattering breadstick crumbs in their wake. We had five minute intervals of adult conversation interspersed with child control. I whizzed up a chocolate sauce to turn the boring fruit pudding into a much more interesting chocolate fondue. It was a relaxing, fun day of the kind we haven’t had many of in our last few scheduled-to-within-an-inch-of-their-life summers.

It’s not just today. Last week, for example, we went for a quick walk round the block, bumped into one of Anna’s closest school friends and her mum and brother, went for milkshakes at the local cafe, then to the playground where we came across more friends from school and their parents. The children ran around like crazy things, with Sophia desperately following on behind. The adults chatted, and gave into several requests for “five more minutes”, before heading home far too late to prepare the sensible fish pie I’d planned, meaning that the children (uncomplainingly!) had eggs, beans and potato croquettes for tea. A good time was definitely had by all.

I am absolutely not the most spontaneous person in the world, but I’m finding this manageable degree of spontaneity really relaxing. And there’s no denying that not having to spend half my time writing elaborate packing lists or living out of a suitcase is enjoyable as well. I love travel, and in future summers I very much hope we’ll be off on our adventures again. But for now, the stage Sophia is at and the busyness of our lives over the last few months means that chilling at home and letting our little mini-adventures serendipitously discover us feels like exactly the right thing to be doing.