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.

 

End of an era

Well, in just over half an hour I will go and pick Anna up from her last ever day at Infants. Where did that time go? It feels like yesterday we took her for her very first day in Reception, and then husband and I went out for lunch afterwards to take our minds off worrying about her constantly until it was pick up time. And now it’s all done. That little girl, barely out of the toddler phase, has grown up so much, developed her independence, learnt to read and write and do fractions. Learnt to manage, and thrive, without mummy around for most of the day.

We couldn’t have asked for a better school, and she has loved pretty much every minute. Juniors is part of the same school, but on a different site, so moving up feels like a bigger deal than I think it might for some people. Anna is looking forward to it, mainly: “a bit nervous, but excited nervous if you know what I mean, Mummy”, and I know she will cope just fine. Better than fine, I think she’ll relish new challenges and new experiences. She is ready and eager to grow up and move on, and I’m so proud watching her, whilst also wanting to press Pause, just for a little while and keep my little girl little for a little bit longer.

Before Juniors, though, we have a summer to look forward to. She has eagerly anticipated trips planned to see and stay with both sets of grandparents, and I’ve been making a list of activities and day trips which work for a 7 year old and a 19 month old. It’s quite short so far, but actually if the weather carries on like this then they’re both pretty happy playing various very splashy games in their tiny paddling pool in our tiny garden with an ice-cream every so often.

Here’s to some lazy, hazy, crazy summer days which contain no school runs. Here’s to making the most of both children at the lovely ages they are right now. Here’s to me remembering to keep the freezer stocked with Mini Magnums and the fridge stocked with post-bedtime white wine. And here’s to my patience not totally deserting me by the middle of next week, leaving me desperate for Anna to go back to school, any school, just as long as I get some peace and quiet! Happy Summer, everyone.

summer fun

 

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.

That was the summer

It’s been a long time since my last blog, and the summer holiday has passed in a whirl with barely a chance to catch my breath, let alone do any writing. It was Anna’s first day back at school this morning, and walking through the gates it felt as though the last six weeks hadn’t happened. It definitely did, though, and has been an incredibly busy time.

We travelled to seven different European countries by train (France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Italy, Spain), in a crazy, action-packed, fun-filled sixteen days which encompassed learning (and then rapidly forgetting) how to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you in five different languages, eating schnitzel, strudel, goulash, sheeps cheese filled dumplings, mussels, pizza, spaghetti, paella, salt cod croquettes, tortilla, custard filled croissants, sea snails and a LOT of gelato, swimming in the sea, exploring Roman remains and a mountain top theme park, Venetian calle and Spanish ramblas, and journeys by high speed train, sleeper train, metro, coach, bus, taxi, boat, gondola, tram, funicular railway, trolley bus and aeroplane. We were variously attacked by vicious mosquitos, over-active automatic doors and poisonous seaweed. We watched the sun set over the river Danube, took a boat the length of the Grand Canal and ate tapas in candlelit Spanish squares. It was utterly magical, and we created a lot of very happy family memories.

There were lots of adventures back in the UK too, with trips to Liverpool, New Brighton, Speke Hall, Chester Zoo, the Museum of Childhood, innumerable playgrounds, and the Festival of Love on the South Bank. Anna completed the Magical Maze summer reading challenge at our local library and a week’s crash course of swimming lessons, baked a chocolate hedgehog cake, picked and ate vegetables from Grandad’s garden, and built a zoo’s worth of Lego animals with Uncle Matt. We had playdates with friends (ours and Anna’s!), I met my oldest friend’s gorgeous new baby boy and we said goodbye to my cousins-in-law who moved to the US a few weeks ago. We went to our twenty week scan together and Anna had her first, rather grainy, view of her new sibling. Lest all this sound too blissful, we also had no less than six increasingly fractious trips to different shoe shops in what seemed like a doomed attempt to find school shoes which fitted Anna’s feet and both mine and Anna’s practical and aesthetic requirements. After all that, the weather is so nice today that she has gone back to school in slightly-too-small sandals! There were also a few sessions with the nit comb and then a trepidatious visit to the hairdressers where, thankfully, we were declared nit-free and Anna had a hair cut which should hopefully enable her to actually be able to see her new teacher today.

So now I’ve got that back to school feeling. We waved Anna off in the playground – she and all her classmates seeming to have grown several inches over the summer – and although I’ve been looking forward to school starting and a little time to myself, I’m now counting the minutes until 3.10pm when I can find out how her first day in Year One went. 

If all continues to go well with my pregnancy (twenty-four weeks, five days and counting!) then I have a window of a little over three months to get our lives sorted out. In no particular order I have to: edit my short story, write the first draft of my third novel, get our old baby stuff down out of the loft, discover it’s been attacked by mice and/or moths and replace half of it, transform the spare room into a nursery, start taking some kind of pregnancy-friendly exercise, stock the freezer with wholesome meals to minimise our reliance on takeaways come January and make sure all our preparations for Christmas completed by the end of November so that I’m not trying to wrap presents while breastfeeding a newborn. Oh yes, and try and stock up on the naps and early nights which will soon be in short supply, whilst also spending lots of quality time with Anna in her last few months as an only child. Which all sounds perfectly do-able. Happy September everyone! 

 

Lost in Margate

This has been very much a week of two halves – summer’s last fling, and the definite beginnings of autumn.

At the start of the week, Anna and I had a couple of days in Margate, on the Kent coast, with my parents. Despite the fact that the weather very firmly decided to treat us to a preview of its Autumn/Winter Collection – complete with lashing rain, howling winds and distinctly chilly temperatures – we managed to have a lovely time. Some elements of the trip had a distinctly deja vu element to them, as I re-lived childhood holidays, eating a ‘car picnic’ to escape the driving rain, or sitting in the back seat of the car listening to my parents puzzling over the OS map, with maybe a little companionable bickering. The only difference was that instead of my baby brother (29 this week!) sitting next to me, it was my own baby.

We got hopelessly lost finding the hotel (famous last words – “It’s right next to the station, and that’s sure to be signposted…),but Anna was utterly unfazed by that or the weather, sitting contentedly in her car seat with an Usborne activity book to look at while we drove round in circles  trying in vain to distinguish grey sea from grey sky. When we finally found the hotel she was then in positive ecstasies at the never-before-experienced treat of watching CBeebies, with mummy, in a double bed. When the rain cleared slightly she and Granddad set off to explore, and came back to tell me and my mum about all the interesting things she’d seen. We ate dinner in the hotel, Anna  insisting on ordering her own food in a very grown-up little way, and then enjoying herself hugely when her sausage and mash arrived with its own miniature gravy boat. At one point it seemed as though everything in the restaurant was going to get a liberal covering of gravy, but she was happy.

One of the reasons for going to Margate in the first place was that my mum really wanted to visit the new(ish) Turner Contemporary Gallery there. The exhibition at the moment is on Curiosity, and, although not in any way aimed at children, Anna actually seemed to get a lot out of it, particularly enjoying examining some Leonardo da Vinci papers with a magnifying glass. To be fair, I think it was the magnifying glass which was the main attraction, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Miraculously the sun even came for long enough for Anna, in her wellies, to get a little while on the beach in neighbouring Broadstairs with what she grandly calls her Corsican Sand Set (or bucket and spade bought in Corsica).

Then, thanks to the high speed rail line from Kent, just a couple hours after leaving the beach we were back in London segueing dramatically from the last of the lovely summer to the start of the school year and Anna’s formal education.

She started yesterday lunchtime, and although it’s very early days so far, seems to be taking to it like a duck to water. My husband took the day off work, ostensibly for Anna’s sake, but actually I suspect to hold my hand and try to avert any incipient nervous breakdown. When we picked her up we decided to go for a celebratory milkshake at a local cafe. She talked incessantly all the way there, paused for just long enough to slurp her banana shake, and the started again pretty much nonstop until bedtime. Being a thoroughly modern child she also insisted on sending text messages to Nanna, Granddad and Granny to let them know how she’d got on. When we took her in this morning she left without a backward glance.

I can’t say I’m managing the transition with quite as much ease as she is. I’m very lucky to have a fledgling career as a writer, and  finishing my second book to focus on, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the last four and a half years as a stay-at-home mum has been the best thing I’ve ever done, and I don’t feel entirely ready to leave this stage behind. Watch this space to see how I get on…