A lovely birthday present

With all the recent kerfuffle (to put it mildly) involving our neighbours, I’ve not been in the mood to post happy thoughts, or really, thoughts about anything else. This could be because I’m still seething about the whole affair, especially as our door has not yet been fixed, and since the door was broken, the lock has also, mysteriously, been damaged beyond repair.

Anyway, I need to move on, and try to ignore the annoyance I feel, and so I want to tell you about the lovely weekend away that GG and I had, courtesy of his family, as a birthday gift. When you live in a flat, there’s a limit to the number of actual objects that you can fit in. I think it’s safe to say that we have reached, or are incredibly close to reaching, that limit, and so this birthday present was especially welcome.

On my birthday, we were presented with a card containing details of Bridge House Hotel in Wilton near Ross On Wye where we would be staying on the last weekend in June, and also enjoying a lovely dinner. The gift also included free babysitting from my mother in law, so how could we refuse!

Ross On Wye sign

We were blessed with a very lovely weekend, weather wise, and enjoyed every minute of it. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Ross On Wye before, and I really liked it. I was surprised by the number of independent shops in the town centre, being accustomed as I am to Cardiff and it’s identikit city centre. We had a lovely cream tea in a little cafe/gallery, and also managed to buy a Christmas present while we were there – how efficient was that!

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After checking in to the restaurant’s bed and breakfast, we decided to go out rather than waste the rest of the afternoon by hanging around the local pubs, and so we went to Hereford, another place I’ve not been before. There was a fair on in the castle grounds which we visited. Lots of lovely examples of handmade items for sale, such as glassware, garments, woodwork and some hand made goats milk soaps. I bought a soap for my mother in law to say thank you for having the kids, and asked if I could take a photo of the stall as the detail in the decoration of the soaps was phenomenal, and I really wanted to share it with you all. The stall holder grudgingly allowed a picture to be taken, after I promised that I had no plans to copy her soap designs myself. After that, I didn’t feel that I could ask if I could share the picture on my blog, as she seemed very touchy about it. A shame, as it would have been some free advertising for her, and I don’t feel very inclined to return to buy any more. She has a website, and after looking at it, I’m surprised (given the visual¬†attraction of her soaps) that she has no pictures on immediate view. However, that’s her business, and her loss.

Hereford bridge

We had a good wander around Hereford and then made our way back to the restaurant, where we enjoyed the most sumptuous dinner, mostly produced with local ingredients as well, which was a bonus. I’ll not describe each and every course, as I’d be here a while, but here’s a photo montage of the meal that I made earlier!

dinner montage

Yum yum!

After a truly scrummy breakfast on the Sunday morning, we were having too much fun to go straight home, so we decided to visit Hay on Wye. I’ve not been for a good few years, so it was lovely to go back. We made a few purchases; a haematite bracelet for me from Satori (to try to ease the pain and stiffness in my hands that the doctors can’t explain), GG bought the original, much scarier version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and we also bought a couple of things from the food festival with which we were lucky enough to have coincided our visit.

After this, it was time for home (with a slight detour en-route due to GG’s notorious lack of direction!) and we arrived just after the first drops of rain had begun to fall. A lovely time was had by both of us, and if my in-laws would like to repeat this present next year for our birthdays, it would be more than welcome!

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Thinking back to Salzburg

It’s almost a year since Maria and I went to Salzburg for five days, at the end of November last year. I can’t believe that the time has gone so quickly.

I was looking through my photos of Salzburg and, as I have nothing particularly illuminating, educational or thought provoking to say today (when do I ever?!) I thought I’d share some of them with you. I apologise if I repeat any that I posted last year, but I love these views and I enjoy sharing¬†photos that I love with my friends.

Salzach road bridge, lit up by night

Salzach road bridge, lit up by night

The Untersberg as seen from the Hohensalzburg fortress

The Untersberg as seen from the Hohensalzburg fortress

Some of the many stalls at the Salzburg Christmas markets

Some of the many stalls at the Salzburg Christmas markets

Sunset over the mountains

Sunset over the mountains

View over the Salzburg rooftops

View over the Salzburg rooftops

Salzburg panorama from the Hohensalzburg fortress

Salzburg panorama from the Hohensalzburg fortress

I hope you enjoy them too. I always enjoy looking at views, and these ones especially bring me pleasure as they bring back such happy memories of our trip last year. We neither of us wanted to come home, and would have been quite happy to have sent plane tickets for our family and friends to join us, had we the money to pay for them all.

I really hope to go back one day, possibly with Maria again, and maybe in the summer so that we can enjoy a different season in Austria. The weather wasn’t really good enough to do any of the tours and really appreciate the surrounding countryside, so I think that if I went back I’d definitely like to look into doing a couple of trips into the mountains and to the lakes.

Relay For Life and positive response from fire fighters

Yesterday the children and I spent some time with two other members of the committee for Cancer Research UK Relay For Life Cardiff. I think I’ve mentioned that we’re all volunteers doing this event organising, and I think that we’re doing really well to stay positive despite what have been a succession of problems in the organising of our event in recent months. However, next year will be easier!

Anyway, we decided that yesterday we should visit some fire stations with the aim of trying to persuade firemen to take part in Relay For Life. We went first to Whitchurch Fire Station who, due to the short notice, didn’t think that they could help. However, they did point us in the right direction for people who wouldn’t be so tied up with other charitable works, and then they swept my boys away and into a fire engine, much to their delight! They were allowed to press the sirens on and off, and then were invited to open the main doors to the fire station! I think it really made their day!

After this we went to Central Fire Station which I think is the main fire station for Cardiff. Once again we were welcomed warmly, and here we received a very encouraging response. The fire fighters we talked with seemed very positive that they could get together a team for the event, and also a girl from the Fire Safety Unit was enthusiastic and promised to try to bring a team as well! And then, once again my boys were ushered away to play in one of the fire engines, and this time they were invited to have a go with the water hose! They quite literally bounced out of the fire station and back to the car!

Finally we visited Esporta fitness club in East Cardiff who were, once again, very enthusiastic. They took some posters to display as well as some flyers to offer to their members. They also said that they would try to organise some spin bikes to be at Relay For Life. This would be great as it would really reenforce our healthy living message that we hope to promote. We were told that Esporta sent a team to Race For Life, and so they were very likely to be able to send a team to Relay!

All in all, we had a very positive day, which was great after all the difficulties we have had to negotiate recently!

Aren’t children taught the value of money any more?

I came across this article¬†the other day¬†on the BBC news website. It really struck home with me, especially the part about pocket money. I remember vividly receiving 50p per week pocket money when I was about the same age as my older son. The reason that I remember this was because I went through a phase of loving toffee. My favoured brand were sold in a supermarket in Bromley (probably Sainsburys) for 51p per packet. Spot the problem? On approaching my mother for a raise of one penny a week to cover the cost of the toffees, she suggested that I should do without for a week and then I’d have enough pennies to cover the extra for nearly a year! And that article was talking about how

holidaying children [are] struggling to buy new games and phone credit, and [are] forced to fill their time with pastimes that are cheap or free.

Oh poor children, having to put up with the same dozen computer games for a couple more weeks and fancy being forced to limit the time spent texting, talking or surfing on their mobiles! How will they cope?!? OK, of course I didn’t meekly listen to my mother and do without (I never was a meek and subservient child!); I went to my Dad and recounted the whole sorry tale, at which point he gave me some extra pennies to cover the shortfall! (Thanks Dad!) But my point is this – my mother taught me not only to be sly and go to Dad behind her back if I wanted something (!), but also she taught me that you can’t always have what you want, and that to save for something or to go without isn’t always the end of the world. Yes, I’d love two holidays a year, heck, I’d love the ¬£35 red Converses I’ve been eyeing up in the window of Schuh every time I walk down Queen Street in Cardiff, but right now I have better things to do with my money. My children, I dare say, would love to have new Wii games every week, eat out every few days, go on the carousel and other fairground rides every time we walk near them and go to the cinema every week, but it’s just not going to happen (especially while a cinema trip for the four of us costs ¬£23 before popcorn, see my previous post).

However, I am giving my children a limited amount of pocket money each week (a little more than I had at their age, but then that’s only fair given the rate of inflation!) with which they will be buying all sweets, chocolate and extra confectionery, any extra magazines (on top of the subscription to the Doctor Who Adventures magazine which arrives every Thursday on the door mat) and any toys which they want in between now and Christmas. Now, they are blessed to have many generous relatives who, in the past, have always made sure that they have little treats like kinder eggs (Auntie Liz and Uncle Mark) and extra books and toys (grandparents) so they don’t lead quite so spartan an existence as I’ve made out. I really do strongly feel though that children shouldn’t be presented with everything on a plate. I think that my kids appreciate an ice cream in the park all the more for not having one every time we go, and they definitely appreciate the occasional trips with their grandmother to Woolworths to pick out a toy more for not having new toys every week. At the end of the day I am just trying to do the best by my children. What more can a mother do?

I apologise for two money related posts one after the other, I must be subconsciously feeling poorer than is usual a week before payday!

The costs of being a parent

Often I see articles in the media about the cost of childcare, the cost of food rising, the cost of clothes dropping (so long as we are willing to wear clothes made by three year olds in third world sweatshops) but rarely do I see articles about what ‘normal’ people feel obliged to spend on their children. Now, I don’t feel obligated to take them to Disneyworld annually; buy them the latest fashions or the latest gaming platforms, but it would be nice if I could take them, say, to the cinema without my purse screaming out in horror and my debit card developing an aversion to the chip and pin device (OK, slight exaggeration!).

Husband and children and I went to the cinema recently as a treat, after they received excellent school reports. We had decided that this would be a better option than buying them more toys, ass we’re getting near to the stage when we won’t be able to open the front door of our flat because of all their possessions, let alone the door of their bedroom! However, I’m regretting that now, and wishing that I had found them some small item which wouldn’t have taken up much room but that would have been acceptable to them (I’m thinking small diamond, mini platinum ingot?) Instead, we were fleeced TWENTY THREE POUNDS just to see the film that they had chosen. TWENTY THREE POUNDS! We were in such shock after paying out that just for four regular tickets (we didn’t even get the posh seats) that we forgot all about popcorn, sweets and drinks¬†and wandered into the screening room¬†and sat down in a bit of a daze. I remember when I was first seeing my husband and we used to go to the cinema every week, being disgusted when our local cinema raised the admission price to ¬£3! Now admittedly it might not have been quite so up to date as the cinema in Cardiff Bay, and the adverts may all have been for local venetian blind manufacturers and curry houses, but even so, in the dark all cinemas look the same, and the films are certainly no better for paying double to get in and see them! As far as I’m concerned, as long as the cinema isn’t an actual, literal flea pit, I really don’t care what it looks like, but I want the days of ¬£3 tickets in the Commodore back!

Without seeming to be a skinflint and a spoilsport, how am I supposed to get through the summer holidays without pawning all my nearest and dearest (how much do you think I’d get for you, Dad?)? It’s all very well saying that I should take them for picnics, educational walks through parks and playtime in public playparks, but you can’t do that all of the time, and some of the time at least they will want to do things like ride on the water bus, visit the cinema and the bowling alley, ride on the train/rollercoaster/space shuttle which requires a sizeable downpayment before they will be allowed to get on board. I’m not saying that I want to fill my children’s time with activities, or that we can’t have fun without spending money (although it’s getting harder in this society) and I know that it’s important for children to learn that real life goes on and there are jobs to do at home as well. However, what I want to know is, how real ‘ordinary’ people on ‘normal’, ‘average’ incomes manage to achieve a balance between demonstrating real life to their children and also doing fun holiday activities without crying into their pillow every night at the thought of their empty wallet and subsisting on Tesco Value baked beans and noodles for the summer months?

Answers on a postcard please, to the usual address (or you could leave a comment!)

Summer holiday versus the Welsh Monsoon season

It will be school holidays in a week and a half, and the long term weather forecast is not looking promising. With that in mind I’m trying to put together a list of activities which will keep my kids happy, amused and away from each other’s throats for a potential six and a half weeks of rainy housebound days. I’ve been looking online for simple science experiments suitable for four and seven year olds which can be done at home, as well as new ideas for art projects. I’m thinking about setting up a weather station. So, any advice would be gratefully received! I don’t want to make it seem like they’re still in school for their holidays, but I don’t want them to be sitting in front of the tv all the time either. Are any of you planning things to keep your children entertained through the holidays? I’d be really interested to hear from you.

Birthday (un)party and the excitement which was the return of Doctor Who!

My son (in his extremely rare wisdom which he must have inherited from his mother, or else how else could he be so wise at such a young age) decided that it would be cruel to subject his parents to the torment which is a party for¬†a large group of¬†seven year olds, and settled upon a trip as a suitable replacement for said party. He wanted to go camping in London (by Hamleys, to be precise). However, once we gently disappointed him by telling him that the London Metropolitan Police probably wouldn’t like us to pitch a tent under Eros, he asked if he could stay in a hotel for a night instead. His reason for this was, and I quote, “because I want to see whether you can get toast with jam or marmite in hotels at breakfast time”! So, not being entirely Scrooge-like in our ways, we suggested that he combine his night in a hotel with two days in Legoland. He was reasonably excited about the idea, and so, last week, off we went. It coincided nicely with school holidays as well, so we were still able to keep our weekend. (I don’t like going away for weekends as, if you go away on a Friday after work and then come back on a Sunday evening, in a strange way it feels as if you’ve missed out on your weekend altogether. I’m just a bit strange like that, I suppose!)

We were really lucky with the weather, which was dry but overcast on the first day and then sunny on the second (really didn’t want to have to carry the coats around all day on the second day, but it seemed like far too much hassle to trudge all the way back to the car!). Two days seemed a really nice amount of time to go around Legoland. We basically walked around all the first day without much of a plan, but really going where the spirit led us. The second day then, organised Husband consulted the map and took us to all the bits we missed (apart from the wet rides – it wasn’t warm enough for those, and I didn’t fancy sending two little boys back to school with streaming colds!). It worked well. I really don’t think we missed much at all. And it seemed that we had managed to take the boys at just the right age. I’m not sure how impressed my younger one would have been a year or so ago, as I think he would have been too young for most of it, but if we’d left it another three or four years, chances our the older one would have found it all too young and tame for him. I suppose as they get older the next place will have to be Oakwood and Alton Towers, although I’m waiting a couple of years for the latter, at least, until they can put up with queuing with a little more patience than they have now!

As you can see, we took plenty of pictures of Miniland in Legoland (I’ve got about another forty pictures of this bit on my memory card, but I thought I wouldn’t torment you with all of them). I’ve just put on the most recogniseable landmarks, although I also have pictures of the Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge and Canary Wharf complete with Dalek half way up one of the office blocks (I may post that later, if I do a post about Doctor Who). In case you aren’t fully aware of what a Dalek may be doing in London’s Canary Wharf, may I refer you to the last two episodes of Series Two (of the ‘newer’ Doctor Who sagas) wherein we find the story of the Battle of Canary Wharf where the Doctor loses Rose (AKA Billie Piper) to the parallel universe. My older son is a Doctor Who ‘fan’ (in inverted commas because the word ‘fan’ doesn’t even start to cover it!) and so as soon as he saw the sign referring to the model of Canary Wharf he was already scanning the area for signs of Time-Lord activity! To his credit, he spotted the Dalek straight away (which was impressive, given how tiny it was) which only confirms his obsession! This is the boy who in normal circumstances can’t see his shoes when he’s falling over them…but I’m veering off topic again. I apologise. Anyway, speaking of veering off topic, this leads me nicely on to the second part of the birthday story.

My son, being such a huge fan of the Doctor, already owns most of the available merchandise. However, this did not discourage him from asking (in conjunction with his brother who, as I’ve mentioned previously, shares the same birthday month) for anything outstanding that has ever been made in relation to Doctor Who (I’m not really exaggerating much!). So we bought him the pin-striped suit (justification – he can wear at least the trousers even if not the jacket for smart meals and family occasions), the fob watch and some of the DVDs which he didn’t already own. But then, the icing on the cake came when the BBC announced that on his very birthday they would be screening the first episode of the new series! I wish I could have shared the look on his face – it was just the definition¬†of pure joy! And so, for the week leading up to his birthday he announced to everyone he met that it would be his birthday on Saturday and that Doctor Who was coming back, in the same breath and with the same level of excitement! I’m not kidding, he couldn’t decide which he wa most excited about. Oh, I can’t resist – here’s the picture of the Legoland Canary Wharf;

Can you spot the Dalek? I’ll give you a clue – it’s black (Dalek Sek, maybe?). No? OK, I’m taking pity – here’s the zoomed-in version of the photo;

Wasn’t that a clever idea of the people at Legoland – I wonder if I missed any other references like this? As you can see from my pictures above, there was definitely no Slitheen spacecraft slicing bits off Big Ben, and neither was there a space-Titanic hovering dangerously close over Buckingham Palace. Maybe they weren’t subtle enough!

Anyway, back to my boy’s birthday. We arranged a bit of a gathering in Cardiff Bay on his actual birthday so that his older friends and relatives would get to wish him many happy returns, and he insisted on wearing his new suit and on carrying his new fob watch and his old (second version as the first wore out!) sonic screwdriver. He does a pretty good ‘Doctor’, if I do say so myself, and got quite a few glances cast his way by people passing by who obviously realised who he was supposed to be (the red Converse boots would probably have helped too!). He was even filmed by a small boy who was enjoying watching my boy save the world outside the Torchwood Hub (otherwise known as Roald Dahl Plass). And my boy was loving the attention! We even took some poster-style pictures of him in front of the Millennium Centre, as he wants to try to get into the Doctor Who Adventures magazine in the feature called “Doctor You”. I wish I could share them with you, as he is such a great little actor, but I set myself strict rules when I started this blog that I wouldn’t share too much information about my family, and that would be stepping over my self-imposed line. Sorry! You’ll just have to take my word for it that he looked great, and thanks to the blue skies with very artistic white clouds skudding across, we got some great pictures.

So anyway, to wrap up in as few words as possible (I’ve maybe written a little more than I planned in this post!) he had a great few days celebrating his birthday, loved his presents, cake and excursions, and the new episode of Doctor Who was a marvellous way to finish his day.