Tag Archives: parenting

Oh, we’re going to the Olympics


So far so slow. Signage very confusing at stations. 


Direct train delays, doing tube to Liverpool street and Stratford.
Herding boys is like herding cats…


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Back from festival in Dorset, off to the Olympics

Not much posting recently; we’ve been on holiday at Camp Bestival in Dorset (review to follow).
And after catching up on sleep in real beds, having much needed showers and unpacking (sort of), we’re off again tomorrow to the Olympics. The boys and I, (Bloke has gleefully opted to spend the day dossing at his parents’ with our four year old daughter as we could only get four tickets) are off to watch women’s hockey at 7pm.
I’ve now got to work out what we can take and what we can leave behind. Only one small bag for the day which can fit under the seat. No liquids, no branding, enough clothing to cope with anticipated showers, blazing sunshine and evening chill (our match starts at 7pm).
So, much like packing for last week’s camping then.
I’ll try and blog during the day, phone signal permitting…

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For your little Drama Queen – Theatrical birthday parties at Royal & Derngate

Here’s a press release from Royal & Derngate about their new birthday party idea. Rather them than me . . .

For parents looking for something a bit different for their child’s birthday party, Royal & Derngate now offers a new option – theatrical birthday parties packed with music, games and activities and with the excitement of a starring role in a mini theatrical performance!

Taking the hassle out of organising a party, the theatre considers every detail, tailoring it to suit each individual’s needs and catering for the ages of the children. Armed with the perfect party music, bold and beautiful craft materials, exquisite face paints and fabulous costumes for dressing up, Royal & Derngate’s professional team will be brimming with creative ideas and will lead the party from start to finish, ensuring each and every guest experiences a truly special birthday party.

The theatre can also provide a delicious selection of party food, so all that is left for parents to do is to enjoy the event in a safe and relaxed, family friendly environment.

Parties cost £150*, with an additional £5 per child if food is required. Parties are available for children up to 14 years, with a maximum of 25 children per party.

For more information or to book, please contact Natalie Diddams on 01604 655777 or email natalie.diddams@royalandderngate.co.uk.

*prices went up fifty quid after I originally posted this

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Transfer Day 2012 – the last of our offspring dips her toe into the school system

I’M sitting here wondering how The Girl got on at her First Morning At School. And realising what a wreck I’m going to be when she starts properly in September.

Today across most of the country is Transfer Day, when four-year-olds and 11-year-olds get the chance to visit their new classroom. Those already in the system, like our eight, 13 and 14 year olds, will be moving across school to a different classroom to meet their new teacher for September.

It’s supposed to give the newbies a little taste of school (whether it be a new primary or secondary) so when they start for real it doesn’t come as a shock. The Girl already attends a nursery attached to the school so is familiar with the basic setting. However, the benefit of familiarity doesn’t apply to all. Another little girl wandered over to me and The Girl this morning as we were waiting to go in and said: “I’m new and I don’t know anyone here yet.”

Bless her, and her anxious mum. She told us her name and Our Girl quickly dragged her off to meet the Girl Posse, all moving up from nursery and more than happy to have more females to swell their ranks. Potentially a life-long friendship made in a matter in seconds.

Transfer Day tends to be an icebreaker for the parents as well as the kids, at primary school at least. At secondary school, your 11-year-old is less likely to want you to hang around and kiss them goodbye at the gates. But at primary school, chances are you’ll come to know the other parents on the ‘gates’ rather well over the next seven years.

Most schools have an open day for new parents to give you an idea of what’s in store. There’s also a ‘home visit’ organised by the teaching staff, who come to your home in early September, before the official start of Reception Class, so they get an idea of what life at home is like. Yes, they’re checking up on you, but for good reason.

The Girl went off to sit on the carpet with her new class without so much as a backward glance, so I’m not worried about how she’ll cope. Nursery has taught her the basics required – sitting quietly on the book carpet with arms and legs crossed, going to the loo unaided, waiting your turn at the water table, hanging up your coat on a peg and ‘being kind’ to everyone.

The Girl starts school in September

There were very few wailers this morning, but the band of mums and dads hovering at the door knew that as soon as they were out of sight, they’d probably be forgotten as the excitement of the new situation and the care of the professional school staff distracted them from the unfamiliarity of it all.

Another ‘mum of many’ and I, leaving our youngest daughters in the care of their new teachers, admitted it seemed harder this time knowing that it would be our last Reception class transfer day, as neither of us have, or plan to have, any more children.

“I have a feeling it will be me in tears in September,” she said. And I suspect I may be joining her, discreetly, over a box of tissues.

I’ve never really suffered more than a lump in the throat when handing over the boys to the compulsory education system, which will consume their lives for the next 14 years. But waving off The Girl will mean I’m also waving goodbye to a part of my own life; the part filled with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers, nappies, tantrums, and the delight of having a little person who throws themselves into your arms without any self-consciousness because You Are 100% Theirs.

However, having been this three times before doesn’t seem to have made me any more efficient or organised. Somehow, somewhere between school and home, I’ve managed to mislay all the paperwork I need to fill in and the school uniform I bought at open evening.



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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 unsociable adult

My sons have been going to cricket on Friday evenings for several years now, and I still feel like the newbie.

At first I used to stay while they played, buying the younger offspring a bag of penny sweets from the tuckshop/bar and sitting on the club house step to watch the player-offspring miss catches or be swamped as they walked out to bat by the enormous pads, gloves and helmets.
It occurred to me this evening, sat freezing in the wind as the eight- year-old and 13- year-old trained, that I didn’t know a single other parent there. Not anyone’s name, or even their kids’ names.
Yes, I know a few of the coaches, but there’s a huge bunch of parents who sit together and drink and chat for over two hours every week. They all seem to know each other, probably from school or living close to the ground, whereas we live in the town centre where the neighbours are either teenagers in bedsits, students, or pensioners.
I’m not after pity, despite sounding like a complete saddo.

Mostly now I go and sit in the car and catch up on emails on my phone, or nip to the shops for whatever essential food items I forget to buy earlier.
Daughter, 4, meanwhile, manages to find new friends every where we go. She simply saunters up to the child most similar in age and asks if they want to play. Sometimes they say no. So she tries again and usually within five minutes she’s kicking a ball about or swinging upside down from railings. The boys have to do little more than produce a football to have a posse of new pals in seconds.
While they’re socialising, I’m in the car, feeling like Hilly No-Mates.

I didn’t used to be like this. When and why do we stop wanting to make friends?

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What’s more British than queuing in the rain? You won’t get me with your jubilee guilt

There are some marvellous mothers out there in Parentworld. Ones who don’t leave their offspring to get their own breakfast on a Saturday just so they can lie in. Ones who remember to do packed lunches and pick up their children from sports clubs on time.

There are Mums who during the past week have organised street parties, decorated their houses, made Union Jack dressing-up outfits and cooked red, white and blue cupcakes. Ones who remember fondly their own jubilee experience circa 1977.

I’m not one of them.

My only memory of the Silver Jubilee, aged seven, is confused. I think I remember my primary school playground in deepest darkest Devon, on a sunny day, with trestle tables, been given a souvenir mug. But then I also think I’ve seen a photo of that day. Do I remember the event or the photo?

Anyhow, lots of people were saying that we had to do something for the children to remember the 60th jubilee. Thankfully school and nursery had designated Friday as a dress-up and eat picnics type-of day so all we had to do was supply the regal dress-up and some Marmite. Yes, Billy took Marmite.

No perfect crepe paper and cardboard creations in our house I’m afraid. My mother’s talents have clearly skipped a generation. Bonnie wore a blue and white frock with red leggings, and we just about persuaded Billy into some kind of jeans and cape ensemble.

Then on the Sunday, when we’d committed everyone (“we’re going, and that’s final”) to the Delapre Park Jubliee Picnic in Northampton, it peed down all day. Nevertheless, we dragged everyone out on coats and wellies to ‘have a drive around’ with a promise of a fast-food  lunch. Broke that promise by queuing for the Delapre Abbey Cafe and only lifted their spirits by paying £2 for each them to hit a fairground-style test-your-strength-ring-bell thingy and ‘win’ an inflatable hammer.

Home to catch the capital’s chaos on TV for the rest of the bank holiday while two of the kids developed stomach bugs. God only knows how the Queen managed to stay sane, poor woman.

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Call the suncream police – my eight-year-old is SPF-free

I’m a stickler for suncream. The kids will grumpily confirm this. It’s one of the few rules of ‘proper parenting I stick to.

I’ve done too many features on sun damage and malignant melanomas to be lax on it. Cancer Research UK say a childhood sunburn can massively increase the chance of cancer in later life. How could you let them burn for the sake of a few quid on sun-lotion and greasy palms?

However, I just can’t find a suncream that doesn’t turn eight-year-old Billy’s skin into a burning rash of tiny pimples as soon as he heads outdoors.

It’s not like he’s got any other allergies. We’re lucky. No asthma, no hay fever, no food intolerance. Probably because they’ve been brought up in a house that gets vacuumed when the dirt becomes too visible to ignore and dusting only happens on cakes with icing sugar.

We’ve tried for years with a long list of brands, types, concoctions and SPF levels. Every sunscreen, even the organic, anti-allergy, mega-block types don’t do anything but make him miserable and itchy.

School ask that parents suncream their offspring before school on sunny days and they can bring cream to put on themselves. Although Bonnie has to put up with the morning sticky rigmarole of sun lotion and even the older two have to endure their mother dragging them back to apply SPF before they leave the house – very uncool. (They said today they actually don’t mind, having seen friends enduring the agony of a hearty slap when someone sees a pink neck.)

I’ve stopped sending Bill to school pre-sunscreened. I had to apologise and explain to his teacher when he went on a school trip in blazing sunshine  last week why he wasn’t armed with the obligatory Factor 30. He’s a fan of hats, has floppy long hair at the moment, will wear a coat even when it’s 25 degrees outside and comes back in the house when the sun gets too much so I’ve not had to worry about sunstroke.

This weekend, with the hot weather making us all expose far more skin than we’re used to, and an overdue all-day trip to the allotment planned,  was worried about whether it was better to go with the rash-inducing suncream or leave him without. We decided to run the risk, with the proviso he kept his t-shirt and suncream on at all times.

After a couple of hours he’d abandoned his shirt alongside his bare-chested brothers and Bloke.

When we got home, we checked. Jed had a tiny patch of sunburn on his arm which he’d missed with the cream. Doug, who spent the blazing afternoon in the Franklin’s Gardens stands watching rugby, was burn-free. Bonnie, who had soaked her dress in the water-butt and ran around in her knickers, and a liberal layer of factor-30, was similarly unblemished.

And SPF-free Billy? Not a patch of pink. Completely burn-free.

Perhaps he’s just lucky. I can’t really remember sun-protection being such a massive issue in the 70s and 80s when I was a kid, and my Mum would be horrified that I never used sunscreen over several hot summers growing up on the beaches of North Devon. The first time I ever got sunburn was when I lived in London aged 19. I’ve worn suncream every summer since and made sure the kids have too.

Not putting cream on Billy still makes me paranoid though. Especially when we checked Bloke – who had forgotten to put cream on himself. Lobster pink and stinging, all over his back.

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Bonnie’s ballet already keeping us on our toes

BONNIE, aged four, has started ballet, and she LOVES it. It’s come as a shock, as I’m more used to delivering boys to various sports fields.

With rugby, football, cricket and hockey, you just have to make sure the kit is vaguely clean and get them to the pitch on time. They have no use for you other than as clothes washer and taxi driver.

Standing in the ‘ballet shop’, the lady behind the counter could see I was struggling. After a couple of weeks ‘trying out’ her half-hour ballet class (ie, checking she wasn’t going to have the screaming ab-dabs or get bored), we were instructed to buy her official ‘uniform.’ Would a pair of tights and a pink dress-up ballet tutu do? No chance.

“Some teachers are stricter than others,” explained the ballet-shop-lady. Is it Miss [So and So] or Miss [So and So]? Ah yes, a leotard and skirt will be fine for a four-year old, you’ve probably got your own tights you can use.”

To say she’s delighted in her ballet clothes is an understatement. She’d sleep in them if we let her. The added bonus is it all cost more than a tenner less than one junior club rugby shirt.

Of course, she’s already showing prima ballerina behavior: “Where are the shoes? I must have shoes! Why haven’t I got ballet slippers?”

I was back in the shop a few days later buying tiny ballet slippers. I’m a pushover.

How long do they keep this up, all you wiser parents of girls?


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Parenting lessons are about the Nanny State, not Supernanny

EACH time I go to the doctor, I dread the blood pressure test. Out comes the cuff-of-doom, which just about fits around my chubby bingo-wing before the inevitable nurse-inflicted bruising starts.

As the air is pumped in, I try desperately to be calm. Controlled breathing Hilary, nice thoughts . . . ouch! This blinkin’ hurts!

The result is usually “a little bit higher than it should be.”

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not the most placid of people. My workmates wince at my noisiness, my sons steer me away from potential confrontation in supermarket car parks, my family eye-roll discreetly at whichever particular rant I happen to be on.

They’re used to it, so they know, that much like the popularity Nick Clegg, it will be over as quickly as it began.

Sometimes though, there are issues that bubble and fester in the back of my head without raising my blood pressure to its usual eye-popping level. They build, ominously.

One such issue is the party politicising of parenting.

This week specifically, ‘free parenting classes’ accessed via vouchers given out at Boots (hey, and make sure you spend, spend, spend while you’re in there!)

There’s even meant to be an iPad app, telling you how to change a nappy or cope with teething. *reaches for blood pressure monitor.*

Bad parenting is blamed for everything. It’s our fault kids are fat, it’s our fault they are unemployable, and our fault the country is in debt because we spoiled them on our credit cards in the 90s.

In a bare-faced attempt to look like they give a toss, the government are throwing good money at this instead of actually investing in more and better social workers and health care professionals who already run these services.  It’s a PR stunt, started by previous governments with ‘tsars’ and ‘initiatives’ that saw money disappearing into some quango or ‘facilitator’.

It’s a tricky subject, I know. We read about many children suffering neglect and abuse and how their parents had been ‘badly parented’ themselves. And they come from every social class. The courts can already make parenting orders on those whose criminal neglect sees them in front of a magistrate.

Sure Start centres across the country have been quietly getting on and helping thousands of families who really do need help. Those with post-natal depression, in abusive relationships, or whose extended families have rejected them.

But they are also seeing free services being snapped up by uber-parents; those who over-parent their offspring through the neurotic belief that they aren’t doing it ‘properly’ already, (so the State, or Mumsnet keeps telling them).

Some remember their own strict 1950s-style parents handing out more punishment than hugs, and decide to reverse that behavior towards their own brats offspring. The ones who really need the classes would never go whether they are free or not.

The truth is that becoming a parent is a terrifying and bewildering thing. With some common sense, a good health visitor with more than five minutes to spare, some honest friends with children we don’t detest, and memories about the best parts of our own childhoods, we can just about get through it. Without the Nanny State throwing away money that should be spent on services we already have.


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