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Festival fever – after Glastonbury, here’s your round-up of festivals for summer 2016 in Northants and beyond

(Originally commissioned for Northants Herald and Post)

THE British weather is as unpredictable as ever, which can only mean one thing: it’s the start of the festival season.

As the mother of all music festivals, Glastonbury, has just taken place in all its muddy glory, we bring you a round up of some of the hundreds of UK festivals in Northamptonshire and beyond and some advice for those thinking about going for the first time with the family.

camp bestival6355 [965635] If you’re travelling with babies and toddlers, festival camping can be daunting, but a couple of fun days in a festival field can be easier to handle – and cheaper – than having to fly abroad in school holidays.
You need to accept that everything might not be operating-theatre-sterile for a couple of days, but there’s little that can’t be sorted with a multitude of various wet wipes.
A travelcot may seem like a heavy thing to lug to your campsite but it will allow peace of mind if your smaller offspring are prone to wander.
Take a tent that you KNOW how to put up in advance and if possible, invest in your own small trolley or wheelbarrow. Days can involve a lot of walking and it’s easier to entice a squealing toddler into a blanket-lined barrow than an unwieldy buggy that’s lost a wheel. Pack a set of warm clothes for evenings as it can get chilly (all-in-one rainsuits for kids are worth bringing) and give loads of time to get to stages for a favourite act.
Inevitably you won’t see everything on the line-up – sometimes you’ll just need to chill out with the kids and listen from a distance for your own sanity’s sake. Letting your bigger kids off the leash to wander without you may feel like a worry, but it’s an essential part of growing up and you should make sure they have a watch and regular meeting points. Don’t rely on phones as signal and battery life are usually limited.

Rucksacks and bumbags work better than handbags, cashpoints will be on site but be prepared to queue and pay fees, and you’ll probably survive with lots of socks but just two pairs of footwear – trainers and wellies.
If you’re bringing food, but only want to cook with minimal effort, a camping stove and kettle, cereal bars, tortilla wraps and noodles weigh little and can save you a fortune on festival food. Disposable barbecues are great if allowed and packet bacon will last a couple of days in a coolbox. Tea bags, coffee and UHT milk will feel like luxuries and you’ll be glad you invested in that multipack of earplugs from Boots.

 Festival line-up for summer 2016.

 Glastonbury, June 22-26, Pilton, Somerset. SOLD OUT.

Featuring: Muse, Adele, Coldplay, Foals, Beck, ELO

www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk

 

FOLD (Freak Out Let’s Dance), June 24-26, Fulham, London.

First year of this Chic and Nile Rodgers curated weekend, with Beck, John Newman, Alison Moyet, Thompson Twins

foldfestival.com

 

Love Supreme, Lewes, July 1-3

Featuring: Grace Jones, Burt Bacharach, Lianne La Havas, Kelis

lovesupremefestival.com

 

British Summertime with Barclaycard, Hyde Park, London, July

This sees various big names for all music tastes play throughout the month, including Massive Attack, Kendrick Lamar and Jamie XX, Patti Smith, Carole King, Florence and the Machine, Take That and Olly Murs, Alabama Shakes and the Mumfords.

www.bst-hydepark.com

 

Northampton Town Festival, Racecourse, Northampton, July 2-3. FREE.

OK, so not strictly a music and camping festival, but the first year the town show and hot air balloons have been on the Racecourse for some time. A huge festival of family fun over two days.

www.northamptontownfestival.com

 

Tannerfest, Loddington, Northants, July 9.

A firm fixture on the Northants music scene, this small but perfectly formed event is a laid-back day out for all the family.
www.tannerfest.com

 

Wireless, Finsbury Park, London, July 8-10.

Featuring: Calvin Harris, Chase & Status, Jess Glynne, Disciples, J Cole, KYGO, Boy Better Know. wirelessfestival.co.uk/

 

Electric Daisy Carnival, Milton Keynes Bowl, July 9

Massive dance music event featuring headliners Avicii, Axwell, Martin Solvig.

uk.electricdaisycarnival.com/

 

Lovebox, Victoria Park, London, July 15-16.

Featuring Jack Garrett, Major Lazer, Diplo, Kano, Stormzy, Jungle, Chet Faker.

loveboxfestival.com

 

Secret Garden Party, Huntingdon, Cambs, July 21-24.

Featuring: Primal Scream, Air, Caribou

secretgardenparty.com/

Camp Bestival, Lulworth Castle, Dorset, July 28-31.

The little sister of September megafest Bestival and a favourite of our clan, this is a great place to kick off the school holidays and start festivaling with the family, and you’re quite likely to see former music stars chilling out with their own young ‘uns as well as the world’s largest bouncy castle. This year’s line up features Fatboy Slim, Tears for Fears, Squeeze, Katy B, Bananarama and Jess Glynne, with turns from Dick and Dom and Mr Tumble.

www.campbestival.net

 

Green Man festival, Brecon Beacons, Wales, August 18-21

Featuring Belle & Sebastian, James Blake, Warpaint and Laura Marling

www.greenman.net/

 

V Festival, Staffordshire and Chelmsford, August 20-21

H&P Ed is feeling very old; he attended the first one of these back in ’96. The big names are flying in for this year’s V Festival with Justin Beiber, Rihanna, Sia, David Guetta, faithless, the Kaiser Chiefs, Little Mix and All Saints on the list.

www.vfestival.com/

 

Atomic vintage festival, Sywell Aerodrome, Northants, Aug 20-21

This 1950s-themed festival features music, pre-1963 cars and hot-rods, lots of food ideas and stalls, set in the aerodrome and surrounds over two days.

www.atomicfestival.co.uk/

 

Reading and Leeds festivals, August 26-28.

The traditional after-exam-results experience for teens, this year’s line up across the two cities includes The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Fall Out Boy, Foals, Disclosure, Vaccines, Eagles of Death Metal and Biffy Clyro.

www.readingfestival.com www.leedsfestival.com

grand_finale Shambala [965632]

Shambala, Kelmarsh Hall, Northants, Aug 25-28.

This is a lovely family festival with a real eco-ethos and a huge sense of humour. Dressing up is encouraged and while the stages usually feature less-well-known but excellent musicians, they’ve brought in the 80s soul divas Sister Sledge to headline on Friday. The circus and arts fields are always amazing.

www.shambalafestival.org/

 

 

ENDS

 

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We went to the Olympics already, oh yes we did.

. . . and we’re in

LOTS of love for the Olympics eh? Us cynical old Brits might have been moaning about the fuss, the expense and the disastrous ticketing, but now the medals have started to come in for Team GB, we’re hooked.

We got back from a festival in Dorset in the early hours of Monday and on Tuesday were en-route to the Olympics in London. I’d tried to get tickets twice unsuccessfully but it was third time lucky as we booked four (the maximum allowed) to the first round of women’s hockey. Not so bad as our eldest son is hockey mad, taking himself off on the bus to Moulton each Saturday morning to start training at 9am.

Bloke had already offered to spend the day with our daughter Bonnie, 4, at his Mum’s in Letchworth, and our matches were in the evening session starting at 7pm.

So we got the train (pre-booked tickets, and a free London Travelcard came with the Olympic tickets)  at lunchtime and were surprised at how quiet the well-staffed King’s Cross Station was.

Then we walked around in a big circle trying to find the Javelin train which goes direct to the Olympic Park. It started to rain, and then we saw the sign saying the train was out-of-action.

A bloke on the gate told us there was already an hour’s wait for the next Javelin so we took the ‘normal’ tube to Liverpool Street and then Stratford. Then the wave of spectators hit us, just at the entrance to the Westfield Shopping Centre. It was heaving. I’d mistakenly thought it was wise to try and use the loos in the centre before queuing to get into the Olympic Park. Not so.

We were eventually funnelled into the park where there were few queues for the airport-style security checks. All the staff were very friendly with just the faintest and strangely welcoming hint of British sarcasm with each ‘have a nice day’. You can only take in a single rucksack per person, which gets put through a scanner along with your coat and pocket contents.

Once in the Olympic Park there’s an air of theme park impressiveness; you are actually there. The stadium is huge and while not yet open, you can see how fabulous it’s going to be when the athletics events start.

Being with three sons, their priority was to find ‘the world’s biggest MacDonalds. But on the way eight-year-old Billy, who is a little obsessed with ‘collecting stuff’ (football cards etc), temporarily distracted us into a Cola-branded ‘pin-swap shop’. Pins are enamel badges with (I didn’t realise) are sold and swapped at each Olympics. There are tonnes of them, and Billy wanted to spend his pocket money on a 2012 lanyard and two £5 badges. After a LONG time choosing we got to the till to find all the £5 and £6 pins were sold out. ON DAY THREE!

Getting in

He bought one for £7, a Cola branded one which barely mentions the games, and on the way out a kindly American ‘swap’ man, with hundreds of pins to trade, actually gave Billy a mascot pin from the 1996 Atlanta Games – FOR FREE! What a nice chap.

Our quest for the fast-food megastore was confusing. We found the huge burger bar but you couldn’t sit inside. Only on one of dozens of parasoled wooden picnic tables, all which were occupied. We perched on the end of one until the occupants got fed up and made room.

The architecture is amazing, and the telly doesn’t do it justice. The red ‘Orbit’ sculpture

The Orbit

cum lift tower thingy is stunning but you can’t go up it unless you booked tickets when you booked online for the event (which we couldn’t). The boys were most disgusted that I wanted to look at the gardens and plants around the park, which had once been home to allotments. For the gardeners among you, there’s a lot of meadow planting everywhere, mainly marigolds, daisies and cornflowers. I’m not sure they’ll look their best for long.

Riverside

The corporate branding everywhere is overwhelming. We dodged the EDF energy pimps trying to entice us into their cinema, and couldn’t be bothered to wait 40 minutes in the queue for the BP ‘free photo by the stadium’ when we could just take our own.

I couldn’t get the promised free Wi-Fi to work so Tweeted rather than blogged, and by the time we got to the Riverside Stadium, hosting the hockey, I was virtually out of phone battery.

The Riverside stadium is about a ten minute walk past lots of other landmarks, and there are food and drink stalls everywhere you turn, selling overpriced soft drinks plus beer and cider (almost £5 for a small bottle of beer). The boys rather liked the enormous ‘pretzels’ which were like big hunks of bread for £1.80. The loos were plentiful if basic, and I noticed that all the hundreds of hand dryers had white stickers placed to conceal the brand name. Ridiculous.

The Riverside is an enormous mass of scaffolding poles with seats that go rather high for those with vertigo. The pitch is a bright blue ‘water based’ one (my son had to explain) with pink borders and it worked very well with the yellow ball. It was an 80s-style dayglo extravaganza. We watched Argentina get beaten by the USA and the Aussies thrash the Germans. The atmosphere was fantastic. Everyone in the stadium seemed in a great mood and there were lots of Mexican waves. One bonkers Australian mum entertained the crowd with shouts of ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie – oi, oi, oi!’

By the time the second match started it was dark, and the stadium and all the various landmarks were all lit up against the new London skyline with an almost full moon too. It was quite magical to be there.

Leaving was easy, and the Javelin train was working well (it took six minutes to get back to St Pancras International, just across the road from King’s Cross). Sadly the train back to Letchworth was dirty and dilapidated, and the cheaper-than-usual first class tickets I’d invested in were useless as the one carriage was full and the boys had to sit on the floor.

However, it was a great day and despite my reservations I’d highly recommend you make the effort to keep trying for tickets if you have none. It’s not cheap though. Our four tickets cost £20 each. The train was about £40. Food and drink (you can’t take liquids in but there are water points) cost another £60 quid or so. And the boys were given ‘extra’ pocket money on the day, which of course, they spent on sweets . . . in WH Smith on the way home.

 

 

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Planning a festi-holiday: How to festival with family and a Camp Bestival 2012 preview

INSTEAD of searching the internet for prices of lovely sunny holidays abroad, I’m Googling levelling blocks. Not nice new swimsuits or sun-lotion, but levelling blocks.

These big cheese-shaped plastic blocks stop camper vans and caravans rolling off down a hill or all the blood rushing to your head when you have to sleep in one.

And for the fifth year in a row I’ll be spending my precious family break in a field, as we’ll be holidaying in our knackered old Japanese Bongo camper van.

Are you fired up for a home Olympic holiday, or planning to jet away to avoid it all this summer?

We had considered something different for our family holiday this year, other than our usual trip to a festival. But our bank balances never stretch far enough to take six of us abroad, and our annual trip to Dorset works so well we’re doing it all over again for the fourth year on the trot.

If you have children, or even if you don’t, I heartily recommend you look at what’s on offer at www.campbestival.net even if you feel like you’ve ‘done’ every festival or can’t face camping, let alone camping with kids.

Camp Bestival is the family-friendly little sister of the September Bestival festival on the Isle of Wight. It’s held each year over the last weekend in July after the schools have broken up for summer. The venue is the specular Lulworth Castle on the Dorset coast.

It’s a great combination of live music spanning the tastes of parents and teens, with a load of extra stuff for kids including the Gruffalo, Shrek, Dick & Dom, Mr Tumble and a Wall of Death! There’s a massive skatepark, street dance and DJs, comedy and jaw-dropping jousting. And as this year it coincides with the opening of the London Olympics, there’s a silly sports theme, which means you’ll see lots of families dressed in identical sports-related dressing up outfits. You can choose whether to join in or stick to the standard shorts and wellies combo.

If like us you have children spread in age from teens to tots, the site is contained enough to allow the older ones off the leash to go feral for an afternoon, while you wander around the kids’ field watching your younger ones test out ball pits and painting tents, dressing up stands and circus skills workshops. There’s something bonkers around every corner. You can also just opt to slouch about on one of many four poster sofas dotted around the festival site, cider in hand and watch the music on various stages.

Settling in

I’m not sure I can ever get as excited about a musical line-up after last year’s dream Friday-Saturday-Sunday offering of Blondie-Mark Ronson-Primal Scream. But there’s always something you’d like, whatever age or taste, from pop to classical.

The kids have already seen acts at Camp Bestival their mates are ‘well jell’ about, including Wretch 32, Katy B, Labyrinth, Florence and the Machine, Tiny Tempah, Friendly Fires and  Calvin Harris.

Camp Bestival’s music is fabulously eclectic, and this year is no different, with everything from chart stars (Hot Chip, Stooshe, Josh Kumra, Rizzle Kicks, Delilah) to old-skool classics (Happy Mondays, Kool and The Gang, Earth Wind and Fire, Adam Ant) and the downright bonkers (Rolf Harris, The Cuban Brothers).

There’s very little you wouldn’t let your kids see (except perhaps the comedy tent where we once, accidentally, exposed our under tens to Frankie Boyle in full-flow . . .). This year’s comedy offerings include the tax-dodging Jimmy Carr, which could be a lot of fun. Rufus Hound and Andrew Maxwell are regulars too.

“Daddy, they’re singing my song”

If you are camping, rather than coming in on a day ticket, there are several options. You can simply bring a tent, or you can actually pay to have someone put one up in advance for you. You can bring a camper van or even hire a teepee, or a Yurt, a Squrt, Cloudhouses, Podpads, Bell Tents, gypsy caravans or even a massive Airstream Trailer (if you have a couple of grand to spare). If you bring a car and a tent you can hire a trolley to drag your kit from car park to camping field. Or bring your own.

Camping with kids isn’t as bad as it sounds once you’ve got used to the idea of possibly wearing the same clothes for three days straight and eating crisps for breakfast. With six of us in the family, and no posh cooking or refrigeration devices, I usually bring a camping stove, kettle, gas lamps, wind up lamps and head torches, plenty of gas canisters, a frying pan, a saucepan, and many, many tins of beans and pouches of soup as I can, plus lots of packs of tortilla wraps, and bags of fruit. Milk is UHT and in bottles with screwcap lids. That way everyone gets something to eat or a cup of tea back at the tent so we aren’t always paying the best part of £30 each meal.

You’ll need wellies and warm waterproof coats as well as thin summer layers and plimsols. The weather, believe it or lot, is tentatively predicted to be good the last week in July, but even if we are spared the rain, it can get cold at night when you are sitting watching bands or traipsing back to tents, so blankets, coats and woolly hats are worth bringing too.

We invested £50 in a big metal garden trolley last year with pneumatic tyres. We left it at the tent during the day and took it out each evening loaded with blankets, drinks bottles, packets of tissues (for the loos) and coats, and when four-year-old Bonnie got tired, she sat/slept in it. It was a workout to get it up the hill to the site each night but well worth the effort and money.

Bonnie may only be four but she’s been to five festivals and survived. One year we did bring a pram, which was just a lightweight McLaren buggy. It got battered and mucky but did the job in the days before Bonnie could walk long distances. I’d leave any heavy or expensive, non-off-road prams at home. We were relieved when our heavy travel cot wasn’t needed to contain her in the tent anymore, and now we use two blow-up Ready Beds for the smaller two and camp beds for the older boys.

The most complicated and stressful parts of festivaling with family is the packing. You’ll need less than you think, and yet probably leave something essential at home. There are general stores on site selling everything from nappies to tent pegs, so don’t panic. Get there as early as you can and give yourself time to set up an organised camp. By the Sunday or Monday you’ll be stinking and tired and won’t care which groundsheet goes in which bag, but it would be good to remember where you put them.

Mobile phone reception at Lulworth is terrible, so be prepared to give up the Smartphone for a couple of days. Make sure you have regular times and places to meet up if you should separate and remember each child has a security wristband in case the get lost.

And most of all, enjoy it! It’s not that often these days we get to spend time with our kids without distractions and worries. You’ll probably find they pal up with the kids in a neighbouring tent very quickly and you may even get on well with other grown-ups too. The Camp Bestival website has a good forum section where you’ll find advice from regular festival goers.

Festival not as exciting as my phone

When you arrive it’s worth getting a programme as soon as possible to plan what you really want to see. You won’t necessarily get to see everything and need to factor in ‘down-time’ to let you recharge, especially if you have younger children who will get tired quickly. Don’t worry if all your normal routines go out of kilter, you’re on holiday.

There are a limited number of day tickets available if you wanted to try out the festival vibe without the camping (although make sure you book any external accommodation fast as everything will be booked up).

Adult festival tickets, including camping, cost £175 (add an extra tenner if you want to camp from Thursday July  rather than Friday).

Students pay £170, teens aged 15-17 pay £110 and 11-14s £95 (all under 18s must be accompanied by an adult and camp with their families).

Anyone aged ten or under gets in for free but you MUST book a ticket for them anyway.

Reviews of previous Camp Bestival outings can be found here (2011) and here (2010)

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The Family! in an Adventure to the Cinema to see Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists

AN altogether more expensive trip this holiday was to the cinema, to see Aardman Animation’s new film The Pirates! in an Adventure With Scientists.

This film shows off the stop-motion comedy skills of the geniuses behind Wallace and Gromit, as they take nice-but-dim Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) on an adventure that kept the attention of our entire family, aged 4 to 43. (Bonnie had to sit on my knee due to Vue’s lack of booster seats, which saw her disappear, bum-first, engulfed by the flip-up seats).

It’s obvious from the off that our ‘hero’, aided by ‘Number Two’ (Martin Freeman), Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson), Albino Pirate (Russell Tovey) and Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) are a merry if inept crew who stand no chance of winning the Pirate of the Year Award. After being humiliated by better brigands Black Bellamy, Peg-Leg Hastings and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek), Pirate Captain vows to plunder on, only to meet up with geeky failure Charles Darwin (David Tennant) in his pre-beard days.

Darwin, like the audience, spots that Pirate Captain’s beloved parrot Polly is actually a Dodo, long believed extinct.

 

Pirate Captain

The Captain and crew return to London with Darwin and his silent ‘Man-panzee’ Mr Bobo (who uses cue cards and Gromit’s trademark eye-rolling) to try and win a prize with Polly. But a psychotic Queen Victoria has vowed death to all pirates, and has plans for PC’s dodo discovery.

There’s so much to look at that there’s little doubt this will be a film you need to see over and again for the visual puns. It’s a return to form for Aardman, with sequels in the pipeline, thanks to author Gideon Defoe’s series of Pirates! books.

It’s a great family film if you fancy a trip to the cinema, but a word of warning – sneak in your own snacks. The ticket price for six of us at Vue was £30, before we’d even ‘treated ourselves’ to popcorn and drinks, which took the price up to over £65!

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A quid a kid for train to London – worth it for a wander

IS it just me, or do you feel a pressure to be some kind of entertainment impresario during the school holidays?

After the usual day or two of general slobbing about, I seem to be required to have sorted a daily schedule of Things To Do, and to be frank, I don’t really know why I bother.

We don’t ever tend to jet off on any kind ‘proper’ holiday at Easter, and usually will fit in a visit to the grandparents ‘oop North’ if possible. But that fell through last week when the 15-year-old family camper broke down and needed parts that couldn’t be delivered until after the bank holiday.

So, what to do instead?

You might avoid London in the holidays, what with the massive cost of the tourist attractions and the inevitable extra queuing due to Easter.

But it’s actually quite good fun and value for money if you just get on a train and go for a wander.

We had to get to Waterloo last week for a short appointment, and then had the rest of the day to mooch about.

Don’t be conned by the ridiculous train fares quoted online. Instead, buy from the ticket desk people at – in our case – Northampton rail station, who seem to know the cheapest way to get you around. As long as you avoid trains that get into London before 9.59am, or back home between 4.45pm-7pm, you can get an adult and four children to London and back, including unlimited bus and tube travel around London, for £31.40.

That’s £28.40 for me, a QUID EACH for Jed, 14, Doug, 12 and Billy, 8, and four-year-old Bonnie travelled completely free. The petrol, parking and congestion charge would have been considerably more if we’d driven.

If you do fancy a trip to London this week, don’t head for the usual attractions without a fist full of vouchers (you’ll find them everywhere online, particularly on transport and tourism sites, but check their ‘valid from’ dates).

Or give up the queuing and go bus hopping instead. This is a favourite with the kids, who aren’t keen on being dragged around the tube network and much prefer the view from the top deck of a London double decker. With a travelcard you can pick up any route, and if you have a smartphone you can get apps that show you where the buses go to and from wherever you happen to be.

I bribe my kids, using the power of sweets, to spot ‘interesting’ things. They spotted Ghandi’s statue, while another saw a plaque about a zeppelin crash. Poor Bonnie, desperate to join in, just kept shouting and pointing: “There’s a house! And there’s a another house!”

As long as the weather is good and you have plenty of food and drink bribes, you can also wander on foot and see lots too. We walked miles along the river Thames, from Blackfriars Bridge past the OXO Tower, along by all the SouthBank theatres, past County Hall and the London Eye, over Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament, then jumped on a bus up Whitehall (as little legs were getting tired). A great view past Downing Street, on to Trafalgar Square, then another bus up to Piccadilly Circus and then Oxford Street, where we browsed in John Lewis, used their loos and went to have tea and cake in a cheapish café.

Next time we’re going to do the river in the opposite direction, past Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre, and then nip up to Stratford to see the Olympic Park before the summer action (which we don’t have tickets for).

We were dawdling by the end, heading on the tube back to Euston to get an M&S sandwich for the train home (after the 7pm peak). We got back just after 8pm, exhausted, entertained, and for once, not feeling ripped off.

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Stubbornly getting into hot water

THERE are varying levels of cleanliness in our house, and without wishing to gender-stereotype, the boys can get rather smelly at times.

However, there’s nothing like sudden unavailability of hot water to make people realise just how whiffy they’ve become – and how reliant we’ve become on the shower.

When our hot water pipes froze over the weekend I wondered whether we’d ever be accepted into polite society again.

One of our sons has worked out that short daily showers before school keep the spots under some control, while another will only shower after sport, and there hasn’t been much of that recently due to the weather. Son three would happily go a week without a wash if he were allowed to.

Daughter will take ages over any type of washing, but is also happy to accept a wet-wipe over the face and hands if time is of the essence. Thankfully, this is one of the few areas of life she’s not too fussy about.

We didn’t realise the hot water had gone until quite late in the day on Saturday because, well, it was the first Saturday in ages we hadn’t had to be anywhere or do anything.

So were all slobbing about in our pajamas until lunchtime, and our basement kitchen taps had been working perfectly.

Our hot water pipes froze during last winter’s snow, but had thawed out after I’d scrambled about on my hands and knees for a few hours under sinks, armed with hot water bottles and a hairdryer.

Not this time. Not so much as a drip.

Now any normal person might have just called it quits and accepted that the pipes were going to stay frozen for at least 24 hours. A normal person may have just boiled a couple of kettles for a wash. A normal person might have continued to slob out for the day watching the Saints and England rugby matches on TV.

But no, I had to try to beat the pipes. We needed to have showers.

I drove to Argos and spent £40 and probably a lot more electricity on two fan heaters, and by the time the kids had gone to bed – filthy – the house was like a sauna and the pipes were still frozen.

Bloke knows there’s often little point trying to deter me from a determined quest. But he gave me a look. It said: “The kids are in bed. No one is going to have a shower tonight. The pipes will freeze again overnight. Is it time to give up?”

We turned off the heaters, made some hot water bottles and went to bed. I lay awake trying to think up a Plan B. We’d get up early, go to the Mounts swimming baths and have a shower. Like people did when their loos were still outside and baths were copper and placed in front of open fires.

The next morning, early, I woke up to the sound of running water. Hot water. Running. No need for Plan B after all.

By lunchtime everyone was clean and we were all slobbing out watching the rugby. Sometimes I think I worry too much.

 

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Camp Bestival 2011 review: Primal Scream, Debbie Harry, Amy tributes and Guardian shoulder bags as far as the eye can see

We’re just back from Camp Bestival 2011. I meant to ‘live blog’ while we were there, but the phone reception at beautiful Lulworth Castle in Dorsetshire-by-Sea is non-existent.
Which means it is a pretty good place to host a load of tech-addled parents and their phone-addicted offspring in the first week of the school holidays.

Hi Di Hi! (reads the massive sign they're leaning on)

We’re seasoned festivalers now. Helped enormously by owning a knackered rusty Mazda Bongo campervan whose seats-which-are-meant-to-collapse-into-a-bed but refused to budge on the evening we arrived. We had severe camper-envy on the distant hill on which the campervans were precariously parked.

Camp Bestival is truly the mother of all family festivals. Created by DJ and Dad Rob Da Bank and his fellow festival-loving music media workers, who have an uncanny ability to book a seamless line-up of classic bands, up-and-coming musical wizards, intelligent speakers and kid-friendly entertainers whose appeal spans generations.

We came prepared. We had a Luggable Loo in the awning and a garden trolley to cart any tired children around during the evening. The campsites had opened on the Thursday this year to allow a more leisurely set-up.

We were ready.

Friday July 29 – Priorities: Food, Carl Barat, Jon Ronson, Labrinth, Blondie.

We encountered our first long walk of many long walks from tent to site, found food, the cleanest composting toilets, kept the kids away from the queues for the fairground rides and heard a little of Jon Ronson’s book talk. We tried and failed to find where everyone had got their bright yellow Screamadelica Guardian shoulder-bags.

Castle field view

We split up late afternoon, with me taking the smaller two of our four children back to the tent for a chill-out and food bribes, while Dad and the oldest two watched Labrinth.

Back at camp we could hear ‘Sunshine’ sung across the valley in the blazing hot weather. Lovely.

We packed jumpers and waterproofs into the trolley for the night run, and got a plum spot to watch ABC and then Blondie, who did a fantastic set. We tried to explain to our sons why so many Dads were staring misty-eyed at Debbie Harry: She was hot when your Dad was your age. Sooo hot. And she’s still got it.

We headed home to the van each night knowing we’d missed lots of shows more suited to adults in the comedy tent and the silent disco but we were grateful the kids stayed up happy enough for us to watch the headliners.

Rain on Friday night didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits.

Saturday July 30 – Priorities: Find a Guardian bag, watch House of Pain, Mr Tumble, Mark Ronson, Groove Armada

What a day. A lazy breakfast and then down to see what was going on in the Castle Field.

Somehow we timed it perfectly to catch Dick and Dom getting thousands of children (and adults) to shout “Bogies” as loudly as possible.

"Daddy, they're singing my song"

Then to our three-year-old daughter Bonnie’s delight and bewilderment, the entire crowd sang “My Bonnie lies over the ocean.” Her song.

Perched atop Daddy’s shoulders, she then had a perfect view of the Zingzillas.

Her tiny mind was further blown when non-other than the iconic Mr Tumble took to the stage. And she didn’t bat an eyelid when Keith Allen wandered past with a pair of pants on his head. Best day EVER!

Back to the tent for half of us while the oldest boys were allowed a little free-rein to watch (running late) Miss Dynamite and Gentlemens Dub Club. We heard The Wonderstuff and Eliza Doolittle back up at the Hill.

Back down for a fat burger and chips, in time to feel the ground shake for House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around.’ Into position for Mark Ronson, who opened with Dave of the Zutons for his original rendition of Valerie, in tribute to Amy Winehouse. It was the first of two versions of the song by Ronson, who also included a cover of Winehouse’s awesome, melancholy ‘Back to Black’, performed by Charlie Waller of the Rumble Strips.

It was a scorching set by Ronson and the Business International and guests, including the Bike Song, Somebody to Love Me and Bang Bang Bang. And this wasn’t even the headline act.

We’d been looking forward to Groove Armada but technical hitches (lack of sound and the big screens) led to us getting bored and restless and heading back to camp.

But we did get a couple of bright pink Guardian bags that day. £1.50 for the paper and the bag came free! Bonus!

Sunday, July 31. Priorities: Find the corn on the cob van, walk the Dingly Dell trail, see Sound of Rum, Wretch 32, Katy B, Nero, Primal Scream and the fireworks.

By now, we’re all knackered from so much walking and so many late nights, but somehow all still positive. The kids had made friends with neighbouring kids on each side, and were happily kicking footballs at each other and clambering over better vans than ours.

In the morning run up to the site we spent £2.50 three times on identical copies of the Observer, just because we wanted the new bright green bags, emblazoned with Primal Scream’s anthemic song title ‘Get Your Rocks off.’

We had a wander and settled for lunch in the kids field to be treated to a troop of Indian dancers and acrobats doing daring deeds and telling a sad traditional story of a princess and her suitors.

Pauline Black and The Selector were Ska-ing up the main stage with relish, and we settled into our tried and tested spot to the right of the stage for Wretch 32. Only a short set, including an out-of-character cover of a Script song. He pulled it back with storming versions of Unorthodox and Traktor.

Katy B's in there somewhere, rubbish photo

Newly orange-haired Katy B, who was the breakthrough act at Glastonbury, proved her vocal dexterity with an energetic set including Easy Please Me, Katy on a Mission and Perfect Stranger.

We’d have liked her to do more, and she could have, because dubstep duo Nero were a no-show, having already had their place in the pecking order elevated. Bah, losers.

Their slot was stirlingly taken on by beatboxer extraordinaire, Beardyman (who as far as we could see had no beard). A sublime set, clever lyrics and amazing visuals. Son 2 turned to his Dad and said: “You have to buy his album, so I can nick it off you.”

Then it was the big one. What we’d all been waiting for, either to reminisce about life before kids to the soundtrack of the Screamadelica album in full (us) or see what all this Primal Scream fuss was about (the kids).

What a soaring, hands-in-the-air, Bobby Gillespie rock-god worshipping experience it was. By the time they reached ‘Come Together’ it was as though the whole field could solve all the worlds’ problems just by singing. Incredible. The kids totally got it. Eldest son hasn’t taken off the t-shirt which cost him all his weekend cash.

Settling in for Primal Scream

The evening, and the festival, was topped off by a truly awesome fireworks display from the top of the castle, which had animation projected into it while a booming soundtrack accompanied the visuals.

The kids were still buzzing with excitement by the time we got back to the tent (Bonnie was asleep in the trolley on the way back). Our airbed may have acquired a puncture but we slept well, and when it came time to try to get the seats back into postition to pack the van and drive home, they slid into position effortlessly. Obviously good karma.

Mr Da Bank is, we agreed, a Top Bloke for putting on the best Camp Bestival yet (and we loved the previous ones too). Many thanks to all who came together to make it a festival experience to remember.

No fallow year either: next year’s Camp Bestival is already scheduled for Thursday 26th to Sunday 29th July 2012. Book early!

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Heartsick for the seaside

DAUGHTER, aged three, is crying loudly, and refusing to get in the car without a fuss.

I want the sea,” she wails. “Don’t want to go home, want the sea.”

We can’t take the sea with us,” I explain, “the sea lives here and we live. . . (in my head I say “about as far away is it’s possible to be from the sea”) . . in Northampton. You like Northampton, it’s where your toys are.”

She buries her face in my shoulder, still weeping, but grudgingly allowing the sand to be brushed from her feet. I know how she feels.

If you’ve grown up near the seaside, and then left for pastures not-so-green, you may also get an overwhelming sense of glee when the opportunity arises to get some sand between your toes. Beach sand, not the builder-grade,
suspicious-lump-infested sand of a municipal playground. 

We love the sea. Not your foreign holiday beaches (which we haven’t experienced that much), but the often under-rated, sometimes sunny seaside of the North Sea, English Channel and Atlantic coast.  

Even when it’s raining, there’s some deep pleasure for me in standing on a beach, jumping up and down until a pool of water seeps through the sand. Staring out over a vast horizon, squinting at boats and endless, repetitive
waves. Not so much of that when you have four children in tow though.

Over half term we visited my parents who live just outside Newcastle, where they returned to in retirement after 30-odd years living in Devon. Each time we visit, we go to the sandy beaches at Tynemouth, Cullercoats and Whitley Bay.

Beaches? In Newcastle? I hear your skepticism. But these are beautiful places, they Hoover the beaches each morning with great big machines. The council flowerbeds were full and well-tended. The sea, despite being around the corner from a major port, is crystal clear.

We went for three days, and two of those we spent at the beach. One day was windy, and we went rock-pooling with nets at St Mary’s lighthouse, then had tea and cake at the Rendezvous Cafe, a 1930s icon, hardly altered in decades,
which has massive windows looking out to sea.

The following day, when we were meant to be driving home, it was scorching and we couldn’t resist going for a paddle. Bonnie insisted on wearing her swimsuit and it seemed her complete joy made her immune to the chilly water.
Despite the sun, and the half-term, and the provision of lifeguards, it was hardly busy. It was bliss.

Billy dug holes. Jed and Dougie kicked a football about, skimmed stones, threw wet seaweed at each other and dug more holes. Bonnie and I paddled, paddled some more, and buried our feet. Only the inevitable five-hour drive home could drag us away.

If you usually use your family holidays to jet abroad, and think that the British seaside is just pebbles, tacky arcades and run-down guest-houses, you’re missing out. Forget Newquay and Blackpool, look at Widemouth Bay, near Bude, on the Devon/Cornwall border, Putsborough, Croyde and Instow in North Devon, Old Hunstanton and Heacham in Norfolk or Studland Bay in
Dorset (though Dorset is getting Londonified).

Accept that your car is going to get filled with sand, pebbles, bits of seaweed  and possibly dead crabs. Pack a few old towels, some suncream, spare clothes  and shoes and download a tide-times app on your smartphone. Enjoy what being an island truly offers us – the seaside – even if living in Northamptonshire does mean it takes hours to get there . . .

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We’re all going on a festi-holiday

SEEING as we’re all skint, and booking an overseas family holiday seems a thing of the past, we’ve started planning this year’s Festi-Hol.

Blessed with an oversized family and an ageing Bongo campervan, our trips away in recent years have included one of my big dislikes – camping.

However, throw me at a festival and somehow the discomfort and hassle seems to lessen. Slightly.

Add a few bottles of cider and some brilliant live bands at sundown and I’m yours for the duration. I’ll even bring my own supernoodles.

The mother of all family festivals is Camp Bestival in Dorset, which drew us in a couple of years back with promises of Mr Tumble, Zane Lowe and Florence and the Machine.

Combining the weekend with a few days exploring beautiful Dorset from a windy campsite, we felt we’d killed two birds with one stone. The kids slept in a tent, played on beaches and ran around at a festival being either cool and detached, arty and dancy, or just watching mesmerised from the comfort of a pram (depending on their age).

This year we’re tempted back to Camp Bestival as they appear to have booked headline acts specifically with us in mind: Blondie, Primal Scream, Mark Ronson, Wrench 32, Katy B, the Gruffalo and Mr Tumble. Add in the skatepark, comedy tent, zoo in the woods and fellow families-in-the-same-boat, and it’s already sounding better than a week in Majorca.

If you’re nervous of festi-holling with kids, then do your research. We used to do the festival circuit regularly pre-parenthood, and some we’d avoid. While Glastonbury does cater well for families, it is dauntingly huge. V, Reading and Leeds are not really aimed at a junior audience, and you tend to see more than you bargain for at the more rock or dance music festivals.

Some of the family festivals offer payment plans, but charge extra for boutique camping, parking and camper passes.

If you don’t have a campervan, the festival experience isn’t too hideous. You can park up and transfer all heavy tent stuff to a pull-trolley (most festivals will hire you one), and the toilet facilities are much, much better than they used to be.

As long as you’re prepared to carry a few packets of tissues and wash with wet-wipes for a couple of days, sleep badly, eat far too many chips, and bribe your children with over-priced ice-creams, it’s a great experience. There’s so much to see, as well as people-watching the wild dressing-up outfits and the Boden-clad Yummy Mummies who get their nannies to watch the kids while they pretend to like poetry.

Finish your weekend with a visit to Monkey World or the Tank Museum, and a festi-hol can tick more boxes than your average family trip ever could.

Family-friendly festivals for 2011

Larmer Tree, July 13 – 17, near Salisbury. 5 days £197 adult, £158 aged 11-17, £127 5-10, day tickets available. Line-up Joolz Holland, Imelda May, Seasick Steve, Asian Dub Foundation.

Camp Bestival – July 28-31, Lulworth Castle, Dorset, Adult £170, Ages 11-17 £85, under 11s free, Line-up Blondie, Primal Scream, Laura Marling, Mark Ronson, ABC, Katy B

Womad, July 29-31, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, £135, £70 aged 14-17, under 13s free. Line-up: Very much world/jazzy

Guilfest July 15-17, Stoke Park, Guildford, £120 , aged 12-15 £70, under 12s free. Line-up Razorlight, James Blunt, PIL, Peter Andre and Erasure

Beautiful Days, August 19-21, Devon, adult, £110, 14-17, £60, under 14 £30. Line-up Big Audio Dynamite, Cater USM and founders The Levellers

Latitude, July 14-17, Beccles, Suffolk, Adult £170, £5 for 5-12 year olds. Line-up, The National, Suede, Paolo Nutini, Waterboys, OMD, Paloma Faith

Bestival – September 8-11, Isle of Wight, £170, aged 13-15 £85, under 13s free. Line-up The Cure, Primal Scream, Magnetic Man, Grandmaster Flash, loads more names

Shambala, Aug 25-28, Kelmarsh, Northants, £119, 15-17 years £79, 5-14 years £29, under 5s free, no names, no advertising, no sponsors, good fun.

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Top tips for holidaying with kids

The only way to endure camping

YOU’VE waited all year for this moment and now it’s here, you’re not quite enjoying it yet.

 

Yes, holiday season is here and anyone with children is frantically writing lists, buying up first aid kits and worrying about passports.

That’s before the little darlings have even got to being sick in the car/train/ferry or needing a wee just after you’ve left the service station.

Holidaying with kids is hard work. But with a few simple tips your break might just end up being the relaxing family break you need.

  1. Packing: Make a list of everything you use on a daily basis. Then halve it. Then halve it again. Think of things that it would be uneconomical to buy or hire once you get there, like car seats, travelcots, listeners and buggies. Luggage charges on flights now make it very difficult for families with young children. A pack of nappies is heavy. A few in your hand luggage isn’t. Other countries do sell nappies. If you have older children, share items out like spare socks, water bottles, books and their toys in a backpack they are responsible for.
  2. Food and drink: If travelling by car, don’t overload them on sweets as soon as you’re five minutes from home or you’ll be smelling sick for the rest of the journey. Give treats in moderation, when bribery keeps the peace. Don’t forget drinks, and don’t believe them if they tell you they don’t need to go at scheduled stops. Packing a few sandwiches and fruit for a journey will save you a fortune too.
  3. Embrace technology: We played I-Spy and Count-the-Green-Cars. They play Fifa 2010 and Super Mario on their games consoles, listen to MP3 players and watch in-car DVDs. Make sure everything is fully charged before you leave. And leave them to it.
  4. Make a first aid box. Just to keep your mind at rest. A plastic tub with a lid containing Calpol sachets, headache pills, antiseptic cream, antihistamine, a bandage, sling, plasters and antibac wipes goes on holiday with me.
  5. Swimming: If you know there’s a pool or beach, take trunks, cossies, goggles and armbands, and do not ever assume someone else will watch your children.
  6. Weather: This is the tricky one. I always over pack for changeable conditions. Thinner waterproofs and layers is lighter than carting your winter coat with you. Unless you are going skiing.
  7. Shoes: Again, try and keep it light. Wellies, Croc-style slip ons or flip flops, something everyone can walk in and if you can squeeze them in, something nice for you for evenings.
  8. Beware of airport restrictions: You may think you can persuade them otherwise, but security staff at airports will make you dump the eight cartons of baby milk and juice you’ve just bought, only for you to have to buy it again at the other end. They will even take baby bottles from your screaming tot and pour it away. Take powder and mix bottles with fresh water once through the barriers. Hot water should be available on flights.
  9. Essentials: Whatever age your children, carry baby wipes, something to draw/write on, a small ball, Top Trumps, a mobile phone and your sense of humour. Holidays are meant to be relaxing, so don’t try to stick rigidly to a schedule or panic because the eggs aren’t organic. Break the usual rules a little.
  10. The Stupid Family Game: If you don’t have one, you should. Ours is “Guess Person Who?” and is based on the traditional game where someone thinks of a person and the others have to ask questions to guess who it is. Ours gets very silly, and usually takes at least an hour before everyone gets bored or falls out.

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