Mud. Mud and books
Last week, Louis and I and my cousin and her son made our now annual pilgrimage to the Hay Festival in Wales. A whole four days of my nine year old and I gloriously lost in authors and words with no hint of an internet connection. It was wonderful. Wonderful and muddy.
But the mud didn’t deter us one bit.
Because as well as a frankly jaw-dropping and eclectic line of up of speakers and authors - Arianna Huffington, Ian McEwan, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Hieatt and Judy Dench anyone? - Hay is also the venue for the extremely impressive Hay Fever for kids, with children’s authors, illustrators, story-tellers and cartoonists inspiring and shaping young minds at every corner.
We went to comics workshops and listened to children’s authors tell rapt audiences how they get their inspiration and why they write. We delved into the science behind Star Wars, spent a hilarious hour with Murderous Maths author Kjartan Poskitt and listened to Mitchell Symons perform his wicked but oh so funny cautionary tales.
We met War Horse, went to see Michael Morpurgo talk about war, met fantasy monsters, heard tales from New York author Kate O’Hearn, saw Rob Brydon, Cerys Matthews, Sean Locke and Dick and Dom and even appeared on Friday night’s One Show (blink and you’d miss us!). We bought tonnes of books and came away happier for the experience.
If you haven’t been to Hay and if, like me, you have a child who loves reading, it is a must. Held every year at the end of May, it runs concurrently with the HowTheLightGetsIn philosophy and music festival in the town of Hay so there’s always plenty to do and see. Plus it is set in the most beautiful Welsh countryside.
What’s not to love about Hay? Well, maybe the mud. Did I mention the mud?….
Yesterday we got some terrible and unexpected news. My husband’s job has been made redundant and we’re left reeling. This has happened to us before but the shock this time is immense and the reasons - on the face of it - seem unsound.
But nevertheless, the decision stands and once again, we face an uncertain future.
We all deal with the immediate aftermath of shock in different ways. Normally I am calm, reasoned and constructive but yesterday I just flopped. Big tears, smudged make-up, puffy eyes and I’m ashamed to say, a lot of feeling sorry for myself.
But at the same time, in an effort to distract a little from what I was feeling, I posted a few pictures on Instagram and felt the warmth of a virtual hug wrap around me in an instant.
So I just want to say thank you. Thank you to each and every one of you who sent me encouraging and sympathetic messages yesterday, and thank you to those of you who are still sending them today. They mean so much to me - and to my husband.
We’re down. but we’re not out. And having you IG friends there, pinging my phone every now and then, is such a comfort. The community that I’m proud to be a part of is wonderful and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Nature in the Home…
I’m fond of this little plant. A gift from my Mum. He’s a cyclamen and meant to be outdoors but he’s doing quite well on the windowsill so that’s where he’s staying for now.
I’m glad Lou’s Nature in the Home is back. I have quite missed my pottering about with the camera, foliage and flowers in hand.
I have silly friends. Silly, wonderful, funny friends who are willing to dress up for Eurovision, dance to rubbish music and seem to have an inordinate fondness for fake moustaches and vodka.
I also have a rather full bottle recycling bin. Sign of a good party no?
Did you do Eurovision this year?
Salt in the hair
A little collage of our Easter adventures in Suffolk. We fell for Aldeburgh in a big way. Ever since, we’ve been googling house prices and dreaming of new adventures by the sea. Such big, expansive skies and an old-fashioned feel to the sea front.
I came away with a flashcard full of photographs and salt in my hair (although admittedly, that was chiefly due to the ‘fish & chips on the beach incident’…).
Suffolk, we will return.
A slice of heaven in Hope Cove
The long weekend just gone saw us pootle off once again in Dennis, this time to Hope Cove in Devon. We had a brilliant time, the campsite was idyllic - easily one of the best we’ve stayed at - and Hope Cove and Salcombe proved wonderful locations for a spot of ambling about.
Now I’m not going to lie to you. Going camping four hours away from home for two nights with a bell tent, an old camper van and one highly grizzly child is hard work, chiefly because it isn’t quite a long enough break to factor in any lazing about time, which after a long motorway drive, much tent-hefting and a lot of child-taming is badly needed I can tell you.
But walks were had, sea views were imbued, G&Ts were enjoyed in sunny pub gardens, rock climbing was reinstated as our family’s sport, the grizzly one gradually succumbed to his brother’s cheerfulness and sunset cricket matches became ‘a thing’.
Making the most of the Bank Holiday weekend and getting out there to soak up the sunshine and sea salt - that’s what it’s all about really isn’t it? But I think I might just have a bit of a lie down for the next one…
We stayed here and I highly recommend it, but don’t tell everyone, right?!
An idiot’s guide to the best camping adventures
Camping is good for the soul. It’s a fresh air tonic for mind and body. It leaves you exhilarated and relaxed all at once.
Which is just as well as camping in mid-April is B-L-O-O-D-Y freezing.
But with a propex heater, a 40-year old campervan, a double height queen-sized inflatable mattress and a bell tent, camping in mid-April is quite fun nevertheless.
Now we’re no camping experts, but we’re gradually getting the hang of what works and what doesn’t when you camp with children. I greedily absorb every blog post on the subject in an effort to improve our experiences so I thought I’d share here a few tips we’ve gathered along the way.
First and foremost is comfort and warmth.
We take enough pillows, blankets and sleeping bags to give us multiple sleeping options. Normally the boys sleep in the campervan pop-top (a fold-out boarded floor with little mattresses makes for a super cosy sleep pod) but on our most recent trip to Suffolk this Easter it was just too cold for them, so we variously all bunked in the rock-n-roll fold out double bed below or in the bell tent.
Whatever the weather forecast, we pack for a Siberian expedition, because when the sun goes down, the temperature plummets and there’s nothing worse than going to bed already cold to the core. We therefore always take hats, gloves, scarves, sweatshirts, thick socks, thermal undies and the all-important hot water bottles. Popped into the boys’ sleeping bags an hour or so before bed - usually as they’re toasting their marshmallows - and the over-tired ‘I’m freezing’ complaints tend to diminish significantly…
Next comes fripperies.
Crazy I know, surely good shelter, a good campsite and good food should come next? All I’ll say is that we drive a 40-year old bone shaker in the shape of a blue VW campervan with red polka dot curtains. Making our camp look and feel pretty is a big part of
our my camping enjoyment. And a happy mama makes for a happy family no?
So in go crocheted blankets, twinkly solar lights, bunting, faux fur throws, rush matting and wine boxes (upturned they make brilliant side tables at just the right height for the bell tent and used as a box, they house all sorts of items on the way down).
Then there’s food and drink.
Whenever possible, we try to stay at a site which allows campfires. They add so much to the camping experience, especially after dark when nothing makes me happier than seeing my boys’ exhausted but happy little faces shining in the amber glow of the fire as they clutch marshmallow toasting sticks in their grubby little hands. Plus, a campfire is a great social tool - pulling up a chair for a fellow camper and sharing a nicely-warmed bottle of red after sundown is a fine way to end the day.
However, we tend to do most of our cooking either in the van - we have a 3-ring gas burner in there - or on our little portable camping gas stove. We’ve cooked many a sausage and burger on an open fire but equally, I have fished out more than one ash-covered pizza following a slight grill imbalance so I now opt for the simplest solution; one that involves matching enamel cookware and a nice G&T balancing on a flat surface in the van as I cook.
For us, breakfasts are the most important meals whilst camping. A good, tasty, larger-than-you’d-have-at-home-breakfast is the perfect way to kick off a day of adventure and often means the boys only need a simple snack at lunchtime, then wherever we are, we gather a few provisions for an evening feast. Obviously, bacon & eggs play a significant role in our camping breakfast menus, along with boiled eggs, cereals with fruit and awesomely easy and oh-so-impressive pancakes - no-one need know its a Betty Crocker mix as you’re casually flipping them out of the campervan door right?).
Next comes entertainment.
Not every site we stay at has facilities for kids. In fact, because we prefer the smaller sites, many don’t. But fresh air and acres of green to explore tends to create its own entertainment, so as long as the site is safe and the weather’s dry, the boys tend to schlepp off and make friends and their own fun most afternoons when we return to camp.
However, wet weather camping often presents an entertainment challenge so we keep a stack of board games in the cubby box above the back seat in our van for just such days (and nights). Scrabble is our family favourite - we have one of those boards with raised grooves in it to hold the tiles firmly in place (a camping godsend), but we also play Dobble, Guess Who and take plenty of books for cosied up reading sessions. If we have an electric hook-up - and often even if we don’t - I have found the iPad, preloaded with a few downloaded Dennis the Menace cartoons helps the boys wind down after dark - but it stays firmly locked away during the day. After all, who goes camping to play on an electronic device all day (*coughs* instagram addict *ahem*).
Don’t forget the tools and gadgets.
When we first got our van, I went mad investing in all sorts of camping ‘essentials’ - some of which we now wouldn’t be without, and some of which we’ve never used (the ever so expensive boho-print windbreak springs to mind). Trial and many errors have helped us gradually work out which are vital to a successful trip and for us this includes:
- our inexpensive battery-powered lantern which beats the wind-up lantern we originally bought that runs down too quickly and has a tendency to jettison its winder at inopportune moments (usually when you need the loo in the middle of the night).
- levelling chocks - we sniffed at them initially but you only need one night camping on a sloping pitch with your knees in your chin to realise they’re a total necessity.
- a battery-powered airbed pump - again, we tried the foot pump version first. Madness, especially when you’re trying to inflate a double-height mattress in the restricted headroom of a bell tent.
- a rubber mallet. Useful for so many things, not just banging tent pegs into firm ground, for which they are essential. On our most recent trip we watched a chap bang his tent pegs in with a small woodworking hammer as his wife looked on scornfully. There was a lot of swearing.
- a comfortable mattress - ours is awesome. You can clip the two together for a double-height bed or position them side-by-side for four people to sleep on. Layer on a fitted sheet, bedspread and faux fir throw, accessorise with a couple of pillows and a book or two and you’re done.
- a ring charger - last year I spent a very wet 72 hours camping at the Hay Festival with my eldest son with neither electric hook up or electricity in the shower blocks. I realised after that trip that I need a trickle of electricity when camping to charge my phone (its my sat nav, clock and pocket camera all in one) and to plug in my straighteners. A girl can survive with dry shampoo for several days but fuzzy hair is a no-no. Not knowing the time or the route home is also a bit of a pain. A ring charger converts the 12v cigarette lighter supply in our van to amps which allows a normal plug to be powered from the dashboard. A revelation.
Choosing the right campsite.
In the short amount of time we’ve been campers, we’ve learned an awful lot about what we like and what we dislike. The list is different for everyone, but I’ve been surprised by what we’d now consider pretty important. Top of the list (perhaps surprisingly) is a campsite that is small, but not TOO small. An infamous trip to a teeny tiny campsite in Devon remains firmly lodged in my mind. Never again.
Next comes marked-out pitches. Especially important in the holidays when campsites tend to get rather full and fellow campers are invited to pitch where they like. Recently we returned from a day out to find another tent pitched where our van chocks were laid out, meaning nowhere for us to park the van (our main sleeping area) in a now half-sized pitch. Not fun.
Then there’s the need for decent facilities. Its one of the first things I check online as however nice it is to be outside and laid back, its also nice to feel clean and refreshed. An on-site washing machine is a bonus (I think back to our first trip in the van when Louis had a stomach bug and was sick into his sleeping bag…).
A ban on motorhomes or a dedicated area for them away from everyone else for us, is a good sign. They tend to be ugly, massive and have their own source of electricity which normally means satellite dishes, TVs, beer fridges and noise. No thanks. Or at least, not as the first thing I see in the morning.
An honesty shop. Not necessarily for the provisions, but for the sentiment it conveys. A campsite with an honesty shop is normally a pretty good place to stay. It implies trust, decency and community and those are good things in my book.
A site that allows campfires. For all the reasons I’ve described above. A campfire is a source of food, warmth, comfort, chat and light. After all, not much beats rising to early morning bird song and retiring to bed with campfire smoke in your hair when the sun goes down does it?
So, that’s how we do camping, but we’re always learning. Do you have some tried and tested camping essentials you wouldn’t be without? Or a site you love? If so, do please impart your wisdom!
Our hearts belong to St Ives
Oh what a glorious Easter break we had. First stop was our beloved St Ives for a week, followed by a quick pitstop back at home to pick up the camper van before trundling over to Suffolk for another four days (more on that tomorrow).
A bit of a Cornish photo overload here but I am back at work today and procrastinating wildly, so you’ll forgive the indulgence no?
We stayed once again with the Cornwall Cottage Boutique, this time in a chichi little house on Fish Street - tiny but beautifully styled and perfect for the four of us. Louis went surfing again (SO unbelievably cold on the beach, let alone in the sea the brave boy), we played mini golf, spent hours on the beach, went shopping, ate lots of Moomaid ice cream, visited St Michael’s Mount and the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth and generally had a brilliant time. It’s so nice to go back to somewhere we know well each year, somehow it’s all the easier to relax that way - and the fact that our school holidays seemed to fall a week earlier than most meant we had St Ives virtually to ourselves for the first few days. Double bonus!
Those of you who follow me on Instagram will have seen some of these photographs already but here are a few details of our cottage - it really was fab:
Thank you once again St Ives - we’ll be back (as ever).
My boy is growing up
Over the last few months there’s been a shift. It was subtle at first but now the change is monumental. My boy is growing up. And I’m nowhere near ready for it.
It started slowly. A couple of weeks after his ninth birthday in February, he gradually lost interest in our joint bedtime story, preferring to play his guitar in his room while I read to his brother in his room each evening. Bit by bit, he’s become content in his own company at bedtime, often not even raising his head from his book when I finish reading to Xav and pop in to kiss him goodnight.
There were just a few signs, but now the shift is visible, more like a rift. Right before my eyes, my boy is pulling away from me, gaining more independence and needing me a little less each day.
He barely glances behind him now as he schleps off for nights away with his Cubs pack. His beloved old monkey used to be the first thing he’d reach for when he came home from school. Now he’s often forgotten about until bedtime and more often than not, ignored even then. He used to delight in telling me all about his day, but now I hardly get a word.
This morning, he shrugged his hand free from mine on the school run, declaring “Mum, you’re so embarrassing” and I have to confess, I felt the world stop at that moment. Those four little words shot right to my heart and suddenly it dawned on me. My boy really is growing up and there’s not a thing I can do to stop it.
When he was first born I recall people urging me to enjoy the early years as they go so fast. Back then, I thought they were mad, but now, nine years on, I know what they meant. In another nine years he’ll be eighteen, off to Uni, travelling the world, driving my car, raiding my wallet and staying out all night. And I have to say, somehow, that doesn’t seem so far off at all.
So tell me, how do you let your beloved first born become the young man he’s destined to become? How do you resist the urge to smother and care for him just that little bit longer? How do you avoid being an embarrassing mum? How do you ride the storm of the months and years to come as a mum whose entire reason for being the last nine years has been to care for and love that little boy who’s growing up so fast and doesn’t need so much of the hands-on?
Does it get easier? Because today, I feel like a bit of me has broken.
Photos from top:
Louis at 3 months old | at 11 months | at 2 years 9 months | at 4 years 8 months | at 6 years 2 months | at 8 years 3 months | on his ninth birthday.
STILLS: A WEEKLY COLLECTION (8/52)
Oh dear, no post for a whole week but it’s been half term here so there’s not been a lot of time for blog posts.
We had a lovely half term. Drawing, playing Lego, heading to Cotswold Wildlife Park and finally getting a chance to visit our old favourite, the newly re-opened Oxford University Museum of Natural History (hoorah!), taking a run out in our beloved old campervan and recharging our batteries at home.
February half terms carry few expectations but always deliver lots of happy times.