Tag Archives: Northamptonshire

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



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



Love Supreme, Lewes, July 1-3

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



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.



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.



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.


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.



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

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



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

Featuring: Primal Scream, Air, Caribou


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.



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

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



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.



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.



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.






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For the cheek-tweakers out there, a column to update you on our fab four


Bonnie, 8, Billy, 12, Jed, 18 and 16-year-old Dougie, whose childhoods were documented in local papers

MY 12-YEAR-OLD son is looking simultaneously horrified and delighted. His eyes are saying, “Get her off me!” while his mouth is showing a wide smile. His cheeks are being held adoringly by someone who could pass as his granny, but who is actually a complete stranger.

This mild-mannered mugging in the supermarket is not unusual for my children. They were once the subject of a weekly newspaper column, which detailed their early years and my often chaotic parenting. And unbeknown to them, they still have fans. Readers who saw them appear in print as chubby babies, naughty toddlers, and mischievous teens who still recognise them, although the column stopped when the paper ceased being a daily a few years ago.

“Look how you’ve grown!” beams the friendly stranger, leaving Billy unsure whether to thank her or correct her; because in his head he’s not grown enough, being one of the oldest but tiniest in his year at school.

Meanwhile the lady has moved on to ruffle the hair of eight-year-old Bonnie, now looking like a fully-formed human being rather than the wobbly toddler the reader remembered. “And don’t you look like your mum?” she asks. Bonnie has become used to this observation and doesn’t yet see it as the worst thing on earth (although no doubt that will change). I chat to the lady a little longer, filling her in on what our older two are doing and thanking her for keeping track of My Bloke’s career as editor of another paper.

As we bid our farewells to carry on shopping, Bill and Bonn start to question me along the lines of: Who the hell was that and why does she know so much about us? (They had been much younger when the columns ran and possibly thought that all children had their photos taken on a weekly basis.)

jed doug b

Jed, Billy and Dougie, the early years

We carry on the discussion back at home with the elder sons, Jed and Dougie, now 18 and 16 respectively, who make sure the younger two understand that THEY were FAR more famous in their day, as they had their tantrums, birthdays, school applications, parents’ evenings and every other form of embarrassing scenario detailed to the public at large on a weekly basis for more than a decade. Cheek-tweaking by strangers was a weekly occurrence for us, not just a one-off, they claimed.

But how would they feel now if I’d kept writing about them? My change of job from full-time journalist to university journalism lecturer meant that I didn’t really get to discuss parenting mid-range teens. It would have been just as they hit the door-slamming years, and I would have had perfect source material for a parenting column, with topics like girlfriends, puberty, under-aged drinking, learning to drive, going abroad on their own or, critically at the moment, exams. But is it fair to expose the lives of your children as a paid job?


Dougie, aged 8, baby Bonnie and Jed, at 10.

Social media would possibly have exacerbated their embarrassment even more, because ten years ago they wouldn’t have been so ‘shared’ via Twitter and Facebook, although they were online.(They don’t have their own social media open to us, quite wisely.)

Feedback was generally pretty good on the column, readers wrote letters and emails sympathising or sharing their own stories, and often it would be grandparents as much as parents who read it, because they could see how attitudes and styles of bringing up kids had changed so dramatically.

Unlike the plethora of parenting advice books, the column wasn’t there to lecture anyone about the best way to bring up kids, but to share experience and tips. Well, that was the intention anyway. I did get relatively regular letters written by someone claiming to represent the entire population of a nursing home who apparently detested me and spelled this out in no uncertain terms. Then there was the mother who wrote to tell me that she was so appalled that I didn’t give out party bags at one particular birthday that she was GLAD her children did not know mine. Ouch.

I’ve always found it curious how hate-mail tended to be from women, who you’d think would be more supportive of the sisterhood. But no, I’m afraid the most zealous critics were female. At least I can say they were engaged enough to be bothered to actually write, buy a stamp and take it to the postbox. Today we’d call them trolls.


Jed and Doug today

Is writing about your own children in advice columns over-sharing? (And yes, of course I’m aware that I’m sharing their lives again, as I’m writing this right now). Is there a difference between parenting advice columns and the ubiquitous Facebook posts of the landmark events (or otherwise) of proud parents?

OK, so I did sit up in bed and write a column for the newspaper about the arrival of our new baby daughter on the day she was born. But because readers had spent nine months following the saga of my fourth pregnancy it seemed only fair to give them the conclusion. And to be frank, I was so pleased that having a home birth had been such a monumentally better experience than going into hospital, I wanted other people to understand there was nothing to be scared of. Plus, I was slightly off my head on post-partum painkillers.

DSC_0068If there was a story in the news about a particular parenting issue, like childcare, or health issues, I’d usually have experienced it one time or another, and knew how lonely, confusing and demoralising those early years as a mum can be. Jed and Doug are only 19-months apart in age, and like chalk and cheese, so I’d had a pretty intensive apprenticeship as a working parent, at a time when you were only allowed 3-6 months maternity leave. By the time Billy and then Bonnie came along, I had four children under ten and had given up caring what people thought of me.
I just wanted to tell people all the things I wish I’d done differently. Or even, and we probably don’t do enough of this, detailing parenting tips that had actually worked.

Today the urge to write about the offspring is somewhat offset by being able to share pictures and updates to family and friends via Facebook (which I try and use just for personal stuff). I will occasionally get asked to write the odd thing for a parenting site or magazine and happily rant away on BBC Radio Northampton whenever they are short of a guest with forthright opinions on bringing up baby.

Jed is now 18, just coming up to his A Levels, learning to drive, playing rugby, going out on the town and looking at universities. yes, terrifying, I know.
Dougie is almost 17, in the year below, doing AS Levels, playing first-team rugby (his team are in the Nat West Schools final at Twickenham in nine days time, and he’s fighting to get back from his first ever injury).
Billy , now 12, has started ‘big school’, also plays rugby, and does street dance, loves to cycle like his looky-likey dad, has successfully ingratiated himself with the sixth form at school, despite being a year seven.
Bonnie, now 8, doesn’t seem the slightest bit bothered that she’s the only one left at primary school, where she does gymnastics, yoga, recorder, ocarina, swimming and unlike her brothers, has never had a bad report. She’s girlier than you might expect (so much for nature/nurture) and somehow rules the roost. They are often hilarious and sometimes idiotic and make us incredibly proud.

Meanwhile, if you see my kids out and about, don’t be afraid to give them a tweak of the cheeks. They love it, really.



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Just found missing snowdrop named after my daughter


This is galanthus ikariae Bonnie Scott, a snowdrop named after my daughter when she was a baby in 2008.
It was grown by famed snowdrop guru Jim Leatherland in Northamptonshire, and I thought I’d lost it. But buried among some overgrown hardy geranium, with a couple of flowers and its stripy leaves, there it is, nearly eight years on and still alive! 
I must split it and move it once it’s G finished flowering, this time writing down where it is!


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Review of Gaslight, starring Tara Fitzgerald, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, October 2015.

Review of Gaslight, Royal & Derngate, Northampton. (Press night performance)


By Hilary Scott

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham in Gaslight. Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham
in Gaslight.
Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

YOU usually find mention of the set design for a new theatre production much further down in a review, but in Gaslight at Northampton’s Royal Theatre the stage is the first star you lay eyes on.

With the action confined to the classic ‘one-room-in-a-period-setting’, it’s a tough job to be original.

But William Dudley and the Royal’s set-production team have created a stunningly clever Ames Room – one of those that alters your perception of the things within it – which perfectly reflects the theme of the play: manipulation of someone’s mind to make them doubt their own sanity, or Gaslighting.

The use of clever modern video projection, in a 130-year-old theatre, for a play set in stifling the stifling late Victorian age shouldn’t work – yet it does, brilliantly (except for one very ridiculous section near the end which doesn’t, and made us laugh when we should be shocked).

We had no time to leaf through the programme beforehand, which is just as well, because then we had no spoilers or expectations. This is a psychological thriller, which made the entire audience shift uncomfortably in its seats as the stellar cast messed with our minds.

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham Jonathan Firth as Jack Manningham in Gaslight. Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham
Jonathan Firth as Jack Manningham in Gaslight.
Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Tara Fitzgerald is exquisite as the vulnerable, bullied Bella Manningham, running the gauntlet in her own house between her domineering husband Jack, played menacingly by Jonathan Firth (I was two-thirds through before I recognized him as Colin’s brother), the servants, and her own sanity.

Fitzgerald stars in the globally popular Game of Thrones and I suspect a percentage of the packed audience was there to see her.

Is her encounter with her apparent saviour, the rosy-cheeked Inspector Rough (Paul Hunter), just another example of her mind playing tricks?

No spoilers: You’ll have to go and see for yourselves.

Gaslight, a Made in Northampton production, runs at Royal & Derngate until November 7. Box Office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk


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Watch Northampton Greyfriars Bus Station demolition

Here’s a video showing the former bus station Greyfriars demolition in  Northampton disappear in less than 60 seconds : http://youtu.be/D9O8RgI3S7E

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Legoland – still a poor excuse for a day out ten years on


Ten years ago we took our sons, now aged 14 and 15, to Legoland. We left feeling cold, tired and ripped off. We tried again this week with our five and nine year olds, and I’m sorry to say nothing much has changed.
It cost the best part of £100 for two adults and the car parking. It’s only the fact that third son Billy had cut out two free kids’ tickets that stopped entry being almost £160. For day tickets.
It will be OK, we decided, our youngest two love all things Lego (Star Wars and the girly Lego friends) and they hadn’t been before. It was Easter, but it was cold, and still busy.
We started at the very short train ride down the hill, and walked to the knight’s kingdom where we knew there were two ‘ entry level’ rollercoasters, suitable for ride- phobic Bloke as well as the kids. An hour later Billy and I had been on The Dragon, a not terribly scary sit-down coaster suitable for those over a metre tall. Bloke and Bonnie were still queuing for the Dragon’s Apprentice, a much smaller ride.
Billy and I joined the queue instead for lunch in the restaurant, a very poory staffed and grubby place with oversized wooden tables run, it seems, by teenagers with no sense of urgency despite a half hour queue of families waiting for tables. I felt cross and embarrassed as there were families from overseas who must have marvelled at the British inability to run, well, the proverbial knees-up in a brewery. An expensive brewery.
We moved on to Laser Raiders where we were told the wait would be 75 minutes. Not unusual in a theme park, we’ve done Alton Towers and Drayton Manor and understand they’ve only got so many seats per ride. They do have a priority queue jump system but it was FIFTEEN QUID PER PERSON! The wait was so long I actually wrote most of this review while waiting and hoped it was worth it, as we’ve been on these shooting lasers at targets rides before. The American theme parks do these well, with the Buzz Light year and Men in Black ones really standing out for value-for-your wait. Legoland’s version was shabby and short.
With some rides still under construction (the new Duplo’ land would be too young for ours anyway) and the water rides just too damn cold in this weather, we probably didn’t have the same expereice we might had we gone later in the summer.
We bought a couple of overpriced coffees and a bucket of candyfloss and headed to queue for Atlantis, a ‘submarine’ ride which let you look at real fish in the underwater aquarium beneath, but while it was the best we went on, it was still too short for a ride with an hour-long queue.

We bypassed the car driving and fire engine ‘experiences’ and headed back up the hill to the Star Wars exhibition, via ‘mini land’ which features a lot of very out of date models of country landmarks from around the world which included ‘old’ Wembley and Silverstone with buttons which were supposed to make cars and windmills and the like move, but they were mostly broken.

The Star Wars area could have been so good, but instead you walked around a museum of star wars scenes in Lego, placed behind glass or certainly out of reach. After the brilliance of the Lego computer games, surely they could have been more imaginative? Even Clone Wars uber-fan Billy was underwealmed.

We gave up another too-many quid in the shop but didn’t have to fight or bribe the kids that much to head home. Even though we had tried to be positive and give them a fun day without the older two vying for attention, they were talking more about a previous trip to Alton Towers on the way home than the place they’d just been!
Legoland is at Windsor, just off the M4. Leaving took some time as there are only two lanes to exit and some poor woman had rear-ended another car on the steep hill. Then the M1 was closed and it took three and a half hours to get home.
I don’t enjoy writing such a negative review but come-ON Legoland, you should be embarrassed how much you are charging for such a tired and old park. You have a good reputation in all your other businesses so why let this one become so dated and unwelcoming? It had very little for older kids and we were relieved not to have taken the teens. Other UK parks, just as old if not older, seem to have kept pace.
If you are thinking of a visit this Easter, for goodness sake take your own food and look for online deals or use club card vouchers, as some fellow visitors we were talking to in one if the queues did (who, by coincidence, came from Northampton). It was the first time they had visited and, as they whispered out of earshot of their three kids, it would also be their last. As all our kids have now ‘done’ Legoland, thankfully we too have no inclination to return.

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A Christmas Carol at Royal & Derngate, Northampton – Review


Four-year-old daughter settled into her theatre seat and made a pronouncement: “Ooh, this looks a bit too scary for me.”
This was before the curtain had even gone up.
Admittedly, it was a scary black curtain, which rose to show a classic Victorian street scene – only with the added brilliance of the Royal set-makers; boxes piled on boxes, upon bookcases and grandfather clocks. All moveable mini sets which characters could climb and peer through.


A Christmas Carol has been going down a storm at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate this year, and rightly so. I haven’t heard a bad word about 2012’s in-house offering – a welcome antidote to the giant celebrity-studded Bobby Davro/Denise Loose-women omnipanto next door in Derngate.
Pantomime it ain’t. The show sticks to the original Dickens classic story pretty religiously and that’s to its credit; there’s no soft-soaping of the Victorian urban setting here. Poverty, cold and Scrooge (played to miserly perfection by the considerably younger Sam Graham), grumbles and snarls his way around Christmas Eve like there’s no tomorrow, and of course, for him there might not be.
Cue the three ghosts – the Santa-like Andy Williams gives a show-stealing turn as the ghost of Christmas present as well as Jacob Marley – and Scrooge has to clean up his act for the sake of poor old’ Tiny Tim and the Cratchetts.
The cast are marvellous, and combined with a slick script and that mesmerising set, it’s a set of ingredients which leaves the audience feeling full and contented. Even the four-year-olds.


If you manage to get a ticket, do try to see it before the run ends on January 6. Box office is on 01604 624811.
I can’t guarantee any celebrity spotting on the way out though. Our Bloke saw Philip Schofield as we were leaving, although none of us – bah humbug – believed him. Turns out he was watching his brother-in-law play Scrooge.

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Seriously, do you let your parents call your university lecturer or employer? It’s time to break free

Courtesy OnlineCollege.org Hovering Parents in the Workplace Infographic

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The Girl has started school (and why half days should be abolished)


The Girl has started school.
The last of my brood of four has been slung into the compulsory education system, which will dominate her life for the next 14 years.
Surprisingly, I didnt cry, but more surprisingly, she did.
Now I’m not by nature a sobber, but each time one of our three sons started school, I found myself having a sniffle once back in the privacy of the car. This time, as she was bouncing around with excitement and settling easily, I was almost punching the air. ‘That’s IT! She loves it, and no more childcare fees!’ No lump in the throat, no fizzy nose.


The Boys and The Girl ready for school

She’s been in nursery at least a few days a week since she was three, and luckily for us the nursery is on the same site as the school, so she will continue to see the staff at the after- school club with her older brother, who is almost nine. (so I lied, there will actually still be some childcare fees, but not as much).
But because of this archaic and frankly annoying system of ‘transition’ in primary schools, where new kids only attend half days for the first few weeks, we are having to put her back in to nursery during the afternoons.
This completely threw her on the first day, and she sobbed, because she wanted ‘to be in school like Billy’. The next day she cried on the way in and wanted to stay home. All very out of character.
She fell asleep on the way home on the first two days and cried several times. This has thrown me, as the boys had to be dragged away from school and barely gave us a second look.
We have been asking her during bedtime chats why she cries but she doesn’t seem to know.
So, sticking to form, I’m trying bribery: a cry-free day might mean a nice surprise (she’s had her eye on that Lego for girls).
I think the half days are disruptive. It’s even worse for other parents. I know plenty who have had to take unpaid leave FOR A MONTH because the child needs collecting at 11.30, or 3, or dropping at lunchtime.
Plenty of reception teachers and nursery nurses think it’s unnecessary too.
Yes, there are four year olds who have been at home with a parent for four years, who might need time to adjust.
But most will have had some experience of nursery, and the routine of education. After all, free nursery halfdays start at age 3.
So why do so many schools insist on this ridiculous staggering of the reception intake?
There must be some evidence that it isn’t necessary or even in the interests of the children. I know at least two Northampton schools who have abandoned the half days and just start them full-time, all at the same time.
By all means admit them a day after the older kids if it helps, but please, just get them in and let them get on with it. Fewer tears, less confusion for them, less anxiety for us.

What do you think? Feel free to comment below . . .

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The Rescue Run 2012 – sign up now!

I’m a terrible runner, but I do have a ‘move your lardy arse’ app on my phone which occasionally pushes me around Northampton’s Racecourse for around two and bit miles.

A good friend of mine, Selena, takes the whole running thing to a new level and for the past ten years she’s helped raise thousands for our Air Ambulance via The Rescue Run, which takes place each September.

It’s not just for serious runners – although you could start training now to get a good time – it’s also for those starting out with a vaguely good intention of getting fitter or those who simply want to walk, hop, skip, jump or push a buggy around the 5K course. I opted for the walking with buggy method a couple of years ago while the rest of the family jogged.

You can raise sponsorship or just turn up on the day and pay an entry fee. You need to fill in an application form so Selena and the organisers have an idea of the numbers. The poster and forms are below:

Good luck!

2493 RESCUE RUN 2012

2493 RESCUE RUN 2012 Entry Form



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