Tag Archives: travel

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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Solitude is a rare treat

I HAD a little solo getaway last week. Properly alone. It was bliss. Bloke was working away, the kids went to Newcastle to visit grandparents and I went away to Edinburgh for a whole day and night.

Having been a parent for almost 13 years, and with Bloke for even longer, I’d sort of forgotten what a joy total independence can be. On a train, alone, with a book, and headphones. Luxury.

I browsed shops for seven, mad, selfish, uninterrupted hours (usually I hate shopping). I tried on clothes, drank posh coffee in a park and pootled around an art gallery.

Solitude. I’d heartily recommend it.

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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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Tripping worries me

DO school trips scare the bejesus out of you? After all these years they still terrify me. Paranoia is set to maximum.

I know it’s irrational. I know accidents are few and far between, and more injuries happen in the home than anywhere else, but I can’t help it. Coaches, travelling, peer pressure and teachers off their own territory. Terrifying.

They might still have a month left until the summer holidays, but my lot seem to be on school trips every week.

Jed’s already been to The Black Country Museum, and went to Thorpe Park last Friday. Thorpe Park, a blinkin’ theme park, with big roller-coasters. And it’s miles and miles away. He had to cycle to school alone at 7am. I couldn’t even be there to check the coach’s tyre pressures and smell the driver’s breath.

He groaned as I made him put on sun-cream before he left and failed to persuade him to wear a hat. He said the words no mother wants to hear: “Stop fussing Mum, you’re turning into Grandma.”

All day I was checking my mobile for messages. I gave in after lunch and sent a text while trying to be nonchalant: “How’s your day going?”

Brill” came the eloquent reply. Eventually. 

Next week Dougie’s off to Warwick Castle (high walls), then there’s Jed’s trip to London’s West End (at night, for goodness sake), Billy goes to Twycross Zoo (wild animals!) and Doug has a French day at Wicksteed Park (don’t even get me started). Jed’s the only one of them allowed a mobile phone. I’m going to be a nervous wreck. Thank goodness the day-trip to France was cancelled. . .

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And the family went south

WE’VE been hanging around with celebrities recently. Y’know, sportsmen, singers, politicians, actors, French aristocrats from the 1700s and the like.
And yes, they were just as dumb and wooden as you’d expect. Well, dumb and wax to be precise.
Having last visited on school trips in the 1980s, Bloke and I took our offspring to Madame Tussauds.
Things have changed a lot in recent years. Apart from the queue of tourists down Marylebone Road. I’d book in advance, but more about that later.
When you’ve handed over your buggy and manhandled your squirming toddler into a control hold,  you visit the A-List Party, where the likes of Brad and Angelina, Posh and Becks, Johnny Depp and R-Pattz are hanging around being mobbed by gangs of  schoolchildren and Japanese tourists. 
It’s a surreal sight. Lots of waiting while people in front of you pose for pictures. Lots of trying to explain to your own children that we’re not taking pictures of them with every single figure in the place.
Baby Bonnie wasn’t happy. “No like Big Dolls,” she whimpered, while her brothers were stroking wax cheeks and trying to stick their fingers up wax noses. She clung to her daddy like a limpet and only released her grip when she saw the opportunity to have a quick dance on a floor with flashing disco lights. This allowed for Daddy to be photographed with Helen Mirren, who looks like she’s ignoring a stalker.
We wandered through each room, from cinema stars to sportsmen. Billy was delighted with the very accurate Steven Gerrard, but not so convinced by Becks or Johnny Wilkinson. Quite a lot of your visit is spent saying: “oh that one’s quite good,” or “it doesn’t look anything like them,” with a lot of “isn’t he/she short?”
Bonnie perked up when she saw Tinkerbell and Shrek, while Bloke got to stand by his heroes John Wayne and Christina Aguillera.
Curiously, the photos Bloke took of me and Jose Mourinho, me and Robert Downey Jnr, and me and Justin Timberlake came out all blurred.
Jed, our eldest, was only prepared to let his cool demeanour down when he saw Jimmy Hendrix, while our middle sons embraced the whole experience, chatting with Britney, being disrespectful to George Bush and Hitler, and moaning very loudly at being too young to go through the Chamber of Horrors. Which, I must explain, is nothing like the one you’d have seen if you went several years ago. Now it’s an interactive walk-through thing called Scream with actors dressed up trying desperately to scare you.
It’s not for the under 12s, so the only one who could go through was Bloke, while I sat waiting (and waiting) with the disappointed and bored kids. Bloke said we didn’t miss much, saying the old static exhibits of serial killers behind bars had been far more memorable.
We all got into sawn-in-half black cabs for the rather cringeworthy Spirit of London ride (think Disney’s It’s a Small World ride done with Churchill and Babs Windsor).
If you were expecting the old Planetarium to be included, forget it, it’s gone. Now there is a brand new 4D-specs cinema show, featuring a (very lazy) plot with all the Marvel comic book characters. You have to pay extra unless you include it in your ticket price. It’s not quite as slick as the ones at Disney, but you do get the effects of things flying at you, with air and water sprays in your seats to add to the illusion. The boys loved it, while Bonnie shot out of her seat onto Daddy’s lap and refused to wear the far-too-big-for-kids glasses.
We were done is less than two hours, and successfully distracted the offspring from the many sweet/icecream/novelties stalls on the way round.
Now, back to the tickets. It costs A LOT to take a family to Madame Tussauds.
It is certainly worth searching online for the various combination offers, two-for-ones and late-arrival discounts. To go in half-term as we did would have cost £110 pre-booking online with a family ticket and an extra child, or £123 on the door. (£28 for adults, £24 for kids, £99 for a family of 2+2). That’s an awful lot of money for a day-out when you’ve paid train fares too. The whole shebang is now owned by Merlin, who run just about every major attraction from Alton Towers and the London Dungeons, to Legoland and Warwick Castle, which is why it’s worth shopping about for family deals. You can half the price by going at 5pm, but it does seem you need to get around fairly sharpish as things start to close at 6pm.
You can find out more and book tickets by visiting http://www.madametussauds.com. I couldn’t for the life of me find a telephone booking number.

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