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

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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.
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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.
image

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.
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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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Not waving but drowning

I haven’t been writing for weeks. Not this writing anyway, because as well as looking after the gruesome foursome over the hols, I’ve also had a whopping great essay project to complete (not finished) which seems to be consuming all waking hours and those when I should be asleep. Insomnia is a complete bitch.
I would rather have been waxing lyrical about camp bestival, Yorkshire sculpture park, Tyneside, uniforms and the hell of swapping the kids’ bedrooms rooms over, but it will have to wait. Academia. That’s a bitch too.

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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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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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We’d decided not to bother with the Olympics, but somehow we’ve got tickets

HAVING decided it was all a big waste of money, how unfair it would be not to take all of the kids and that we’d be better off watching it at home, we’ve actually got four tickets to the Olympics.

We had failed to get any in the previous ‘rounds’, but we’d had an email last week giving a last chance to fork out £20 or more per person to see early rounds of events like cycling, swimming and, er, Greco-Roman wrestling.

Bloke and I had decided that getting up at 7am on a Sunday – again – was ridiculous, and that all the tickets would go to those with faster broadband and an actual interest. To be honest, we didn’t feel was worth swapping a much-needed lie-in for.

Bloke would never turn down the chance to see weird masked figures in white bloomers chasing each other with swords (fencing), and our sport-mad boys really wanted to go, but was it really worth applying when we were limited to a maximum of four tickets, for one single event? Forking out £86 before you even factored in the train fare? Bah, Olympics-shlimpics.

Checking email much later, and quite possibly because I’m too stubborn to admit defeat, I stuck in a speculative request for the hockey, the only sport I thought we would agree on. Four tickets, when we’re on holiday anyway (and not going anywhere).

This time the computer tells you straight away if the tickets are available. After two tries, it let us have four for the earliest rounds of the women’s hockey, on a Tuesday, at 7pm. No idea who’s playing, but we’ll be there. If we can think of a simultaneous adventure for Billy and Bonnie that is.

Tickets for those who missed out previously are on sale until May 17, and if there are any left they go on sale on May 23. You might as well try, as you can always sell them back if you can’t get a babysitter. Apparently.

 

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Yo! It’s a 13th birthday treat

WE now have two teenagers. Those of you who have read my family saga for several years will be no doubt thinking the same as us – where did the time go?

And we’re also thinking: why can’t we understand a word they are saying? And why won’t they pick up the things they drop all over the floor?

Tuesday was Dougie’s 13th birthday. My cuddly little angel of a baby is now officially mumbling his way into adulthood and reminding me he’s old enough to get a Facebook account.

And my, how the tastes of teens have changed. For his birthday ‘treat’ he asked to go to Yo Sushi. Yes, a sushi bar, with a moving conveyer belt of mini dishes rolling past. A potential disaster with children, as you are charged for the plates you’ve picked.

I had visions of them all grabbing, sticking their fingers in or sniffing, and turning their noses up. Instead they were all fabulously behaved, perched on high stools, eating far more adventurously than expected and having a great time.

I’d highly recommend it just for the fun, although beware the bill – all those fun little dishes are colour coded, and while they all cost between £1.80 and £5, that deliciousness adds up. Limit your pinks and greys!

Oh, and the kids loved the dessert plate called dorayaki, but all hated the pink Mochi. It made a welcome change to one of many Pizza Hut visits.

The nearest Yo Sushi is in Milton Keynes. Perhaps we could get one closer to home . . ?

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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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Princess turns into Dirt Girl as worms become new pets

AS previously mentioned in these ramblings, our four-year-old daughter Bonnie is not absorbing the influence of her rowdy elder brothers and becoming a tomboy.

Quite the opposite. Much to my surprise and bewilderment, she can be the girliest of all girly-girls. She’ll always choose a floaty dress rather than trousers, will chat away about ‘pretty things’ with her pals, the Disney Princesses, and will pronounce, over-dramatically, “I’m scared” about everything from dinosaurs to the dark, (when she clearly isn’t).

However, she did me rather too proud at the weekend when I finally got a blessed hour or two to tackle some over-due gardening tasks.

Worm girl

Turning the compost heap has been on my to-do list for about a year, and as I shoveled the upper layers into a wheelbarrow, she spotted dozens of creepy-crawlies running, wriggling and slithering for cover.

I expected her to decide that she was scared of beasties but to my surprise she delved right in with her bare hands, gleefully collecting fat brandling worms and letting them wriggle about on her palms.

My requests for her to carefully put the worms back because they needed to be away from the sunlight fell on deaf ears – they were ‘her’ worms. They would be her friends. I had images in my head of finding dead worms in her doll’s house or chest of drawers.

I explained that to the worms, she was a giant – “I’m not a giant, giants are big” – and that she might be scaring them. Only then did she reluctantly give them up to go back into the compost heap.

That’s when she spotted the prehistoric-looking centipedes, running for their lives. She jumped, and hid behind me, unwilling to share my enthusiasm for the speedy bugs. “I’m scared of those,” she announced.

I’m keeping quiet about my similar dislike of moths . . .

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