Category Archives: Fresh Air

Toddlers, tents and big open skies

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I write this while the boys are in the bath. A bath! No one is overbalancing into a puddle of muddy water, or shrieking about having their nappy removed in a strange cold cubicle, or opening the door to a crowd of curious onlookers while you struggle blindly into your underwear. WOT LARKS.

We are home from our camping holiday, in other words, and there is nothing like camping to make you embrace your own house when you get back. It’s so warm and comfortable and waterproof, it’s a bit indecent.

Still. There’s nothing like this, either. There is nothing like this at all.

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This little patch of Dorset is a happy place for me. It means waking up to birds, and cows bellowing so loudly you worry they’ve wriggled themselves into your sleeping bag. It’s the ruined castle gleaming across the valley and then looming, white-walled, over your head. It’s the steam train with Harry Potter compartments and jacquard-patterned seats.

It’s pale sands and paler seas. Little villages. Long heather-purpled moors. Fish and chips with salt and vinegar, so hot you burn your fingers.

Porridge over a camping stove. Rain pattering on a tent roof. Wearing a furry dressing gown with muddy wellies at absolutely every available opportunity.

We had friends come with us this year, which more than made up for the fact that we had more rain than we wanted, and that an unsoundproofed two-year-old in a crowded field is a popular kind of guy. HOLD ON HERE COME THE PHOTOS. I couldn’t even stop myself.

Eating outdoors really does make everything taste better – thanks, Enid Blyton. Holding fire on the tinned tongue though, if it’s all the same.

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We broke with tradition this year, and did the beach first. The boys insisted on carrying their own chairs, which was a-ok with us.

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Does it say something about the stage of parenthood we’re in that the reason I love the beach is because it’s so hands-off? Go on, boys! Dig yourself into ditches! Climb up sandy dunes! I sat, read a book, passed out the occasional round of bagels, dug out an amateurish speedboat, and it felt like a holiday.

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Ted, kindly stop making me want to eat you.

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TED.

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PAGING THE BAYWATCH THEME TUNE. YOU ARE REQUIRED ON SET.

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Man oh man, I do love these flinging-sand-at-the-sea, wheel-barrowing boys.

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Did someone say steam train? I believe we said steam train. I didn’t get a photo of the Hogwarts-esque compartments we sat in later, as by then our four four-and-unders had started doing things like sticking their heads out of the windows, and swinging from the lampshades. But just picture a steam train with lampshades (!), and you’ll get it.

Daddy love. What a beaut that man is.

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Spot the blue steel. That girl spent the whole holiday killing me dead. DEAD.

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Don’t we look happy? Oh, hang on, I mean sweaty. We look sweaty.

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And then there’s a castle to climb at the other end. It was a funny mixed day: hot one minute, overcast and drizzly the next. We’d already had the open air cinema cancelled the night before due to inclement weather – sob! But the thing about castles is, they’re always glad to see you.

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Don’t tell them H climbed some walls. There was a lady with a loudhailer there for miscreants like this, and she was all over it.

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And now I make an inarticulate noise in my throat.

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It turned out that we’d taken an identical photo last year, so we got to squeal some more. H’s cowlick is keeping its game strong. T’s hair…well. The devil got in it.

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It’s not the easiest thing to take little kids away to live in a tent for four days, but I always surprise myself with how much I love it. Take me back to the spaghetti hoops on a camping stove, with that ole castle just visible through the rain cloud! Alright, don’t – I’m nice and warm now – but we’ll be back next year. How on earth could we not?

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PS, I wrote a more practical guide to camping with kids on TalkMum last month: 7 ways to totally win at camping with kids (even if you hate camping). Which may be more your bag than all this gushing. Have a look!

Sea air

Hello, Friday! Another rainy – torrential – August day, and I am meeting it in shambolic fashion.

We’ve had a wonderful two days away with Tim’s mum this week, and we’re feeling the holiday come-down pretty hard. I’m sat on our saggy sofa, with rained-on fluffy hair the size of a hefty badger, wearing a pair of old glasses with the arm painstakingly taped back on (I left my normal pair in my mother-in-law’s car) and a case of spots with ambitions to pass their Grade 3 Acne exam. In short I am a living embodiment of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Eloise Midgen together, and I really don’t know why we haven’t made a cover feature in Glamour yet.

Something quite miraculous has happened in the past few days. A fog I didn’t even know was there has lifted off my head, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my children. I love them all the time, of course, but they’re hard work, especially 10+ solo hours a day. I think I’ve spent the past few weeks – or even months – in a state of low-level, continuous stress about what the next tantrum might be about or where the next mess will be made. And have forgotten to notice the dimples trying their hardest to make themselves noticed in Son 2’s chubby cheeks. And haven’t appreciated the intricacies of Son 1’s conversation, or the simple pleasure of finally being able to trust him to be safe, to watch out for his brother and himself.

I think the change of scene has helped, and so has having someone there to be a second pair of toddler-restraining hands, someone who loves these boys like I do, and me without judgement. Looking at beautiful things has opened up space in my head, and I’ve let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. There are dimples in this world! My kids are pretty cool and funny! It’s great!

Anyway, none of this is revolutionary – hey, lovely fool, did you know that too much unrelieved slogging away at home will make you insane by degrees? OF COURSE YOU DID – but apparently I have to learn the same parenting lesson over and over before it sticks. It was jolly nice to do it on the beach.

Some photos? I’m glad you asked; I’ve got loads.

Something about little boy t-shirts makes me squeal on the inside. Which is good, because we don’t get to buy any pretty dresses around here.

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Temple. There was an afternoon where I got back to our room at about 3.30pm, and the boys weren’t going to be back till SIX, and I had a hot chocolate and fell asleep and read an Agatha Christie. The whole thing made me want to cry with happiness.

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The next day we went to Arundel. Having first confused it with the kingdom in Frozen (that’s Arendelle – close!) we were delighted to find the Duke of Norfolk’s castle, a Roman Catholic cathedral and a 14th century church and museum, all on the same road. The rest of the town seemed to be pretty cottages, antique shops, cafes and a river. As town planning goes, I feel this is top-notch.

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After a couple of hours, we drove a little further down to the beach at Littlehampton. By this time the indifferent weather was brightening. It got lighter and warmer over the afternoon, while the boys paddled in water, dug in the sand, filled buckets with pebbles and generally did not need hands-on assistance. Toddler holy grail. By 6pm we were eating hot fish and chips under a clear blue sky, while I reflected that everything Swallows and Amazons had ever said about sea air was quite correct. Of course, naming one of your main characters ‘Titty’ wasn’t a decision that would stand the test of time, but how was he to know that, poor love?

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This is a terrible photo, but it’s the only evidence I was there, so I’ll take it.

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Back here now. But I know where I’m heading the next time I need an insanity prevention break.

The strawberry fields are a-calling

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We’re ten days off the beginning of the summer holidays, and I dunno how H feels, but I am raring to go. I get to be in charge of summer these days, and I’m all gleeful about it. I feel like revelling in every day this summer especially, since it’s the final hurrah before H gets swallowed up by school.

He had a day off last week, so we had a little summer trial run, and went strawberry picking. We found a new PYO farm nearer to where we live now, which turned out to be a real gem: masses of fruit and veg to choose from, a little farm shop, picnic tables and a tiny play area.

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Neither of the boys had ever been before. There are some moments that stick in your head with kids, and watching them realise that strawberries were just SITTING ON THE GROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE and we could put as many in our baskets as we liked was the best, best thing. H was all conscientious about it and only picked the strawberries that called to him personally. T went mad.

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‘ANUDDER STAWBEWWY. ANUDDER STAWBEWWY PLEASE’.

After five minutes he looked like he’d been engaging in cannibalism. If anyone knows how many strawberries a toddler can eat before you should offer to pay extra at the till, let me know. He wasn’t exactly subtle about it.

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The sun and sky did its best to ripen everything while we were there, and we accidentally got the sort of neck sunburn that makes you look like a really responsible parent.

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After that there was nothing to do but play in the sprinkler and then make the best strawberry and cinnamon torte in the universe. Some cakes are like holy things. Oh man, this one is.

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Come on then, summer! We’re wearing a decent amount of suncream, this time, and we’re READY.

How a bear does birthdays

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Ok, ok, just one more about T’s birthday, and then we’re done. PHOTO AVALANCHE AHOY, CAP’N. So help me, I cannot narrow them down more than this.

(There’s something about having a birthday midweek and then a birthday tea at the weekend that seems to make it last f o r e v e r. Lucky T. He sees any old open flame these days and yells ‘happee birthdee day!’)

We are in the middle of redoing our little garden at the minute – more about that later – so we wanted to celebrate in ways that would be fun, but also relatively inexpensive. I found this balloon wall on You Are My Fave, and it looked perfect: five bags of heavy-duty coloured balloons from Hobbycraft cost £5, and boom, done. Or should I say, boom, much late night fiddling with tape, bicycle pumps and string, done. I’ll do a quick tutorial for this later in the week, because we tried a couple of different ways that didn’t work before we found one that did.

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You should’ve seen his face when he saw it. His mouth fell into a perfect O.

The thing about being a second child is that basically everything you play with belongs to your older brother. One of the nicest parts of the morning was seeing him overwhelmed by opening new, exciting things just for him.

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We’d given H the day off from nursery, and planned to go into London and visit the Natural History Museum. First though, lunch. On your birthday you want to eat your favourite food, and the problem with this two-year-old is that there aren’t many grape-and-strawberry-yoghurt restaurants. But he does love…curry, of all things. So we found a fabulous curry house just off Covent Garden and had a grand old time. They had a children’s menu, and we introduced T to mango lassi, which as a combination of milkshake and yoghurt (two of his favourite things) blew his tiny mind wide open.

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We will pass over the Tube trains we took on the hottest day of the year. Nothing like marinating in a sardine-tin sauna, air shimmering with the sweat of strangers, hanging on to two overheated and angry boys for dear life.

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H, I bless the day you got yourself a photo face. HAHA.

It all got better once we got to the Emirites cable car. It was like stepping into another world: cool breeze, open sky, and the blue Thames glittering ahead. And I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the cable car, but you MUST. If you have a day travel card you get a discounted ticket, and it is so, so worth doing. The views are incredible, and it’s just thrilling.

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At the other side we found a few splash pads next to the O2, and what looked like a worldwide Salvation Army convention enjoying the sun and spray. The boys were desperate to pull off their shoes and get wet, so we shrugged, and saved the museum for another day. They spent an hour running in and out of the water, soaking their clothes and cooling down before we headed home. Honestly, it was wonderful.

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Then on Sunday we had some family over for a little birthday tea (I am firm in my belief that it’s pointless to plan themed birthday extravaganzas before they can remember it). Most of the food was low-prep and easily done: veg and dips, fruit and chocolate fondue, scones and jam, chips and cookies. I found these brilliant watermelon napkins and cups at the supermarket, along with cocktail stick forks, which I found far too exciting for someone who claims to be an adult.

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The cake – oh, my giddy aunt – was an unmitigated disaster. I wanted to make the cinnamon roll cake we love, but in round tiers rather than a single tray. But the layers were too dense after baking, and became even more so after leaving them in the fridge overnight. The cream cheese frosting I’ve made before with no problems went through a terrifying cottage cheese stage, where the butter refused to mix properly into the rest. Then it wouldn’t set firm. Then there wasn’t enough to cover the cake. I’ve had many a cake horror before (you know this, loves) but never one in which, twenty minutes before guests arrived, I sat in a corner deep-breathing and saying ‘he has no birthday cake. HE HAS NO BIRTHDAY CAKE’.

Anyway, it slapped together with minutes to spare. Good enough for candles. And T was thrilled. He was getting the hang of this blowing-out-candles thing by this time, and kept trying to get it done before we’d finished singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

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That’s the main thing, isn’t it? Happy boy, covered in chocolate, running round the garden with a new helicopter. The balloons are still on the wall. We’re getting through the cake by heating it up into cinnamon roll pudding. The new toys and books are well worn already. It ain’t a bad life.

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The manor house that sanity forgot

It's all fun and games until someone starts *trampling* the flowers

It’s all fun and games until someone starts *trampling* the flowers

I think we are probably the National Trust’s biggest fans. I have never in my life turned down the chance to ooh and ahh at some fancy tapestries. It doesn’t matter who lived there; I get a little vicarious thrill when I climb their staircases and imagine their footfalls on the carpet, however long ago.

We’ve been NT members for a few years, and love, love, love it. The boys and I visit our nearest places (Basildon and the Vyne, holla) probably once a fortnight at least. We never go into the houses now they’re old enough to enjoy swinging off priceless furniture and see a ‘do not climb’ notice as a personal affront. But the gardens are always large enough for a good roam around, and there are often secret trails and playgrounds too. If I’m feeling especially flash (or it’s freezing) we might pop into the tea room for hot chocolate and cake.

There are just not many places where I’m sure I can distract, entertain and manage them both by myself for an afternoon without any of us suffering a nervous breakdown. National Trust properties do it all splendidly. And there’s always cake.

Yesterday, with it being a Bank Holiday and a Daddy Holiday and everything, we decided to go a bit further afield. I’m so glad we did. We ended up at Waddesdon Manor, and frankly it was bonkers. You know it’s going to be good when the gates are all swanky with gold leaf, and a shuttle bus takes you from your car through rolling woodland to the main house.

It wasn’t really a house, either: it was a sprawling asymmetrical manor with aspirations of castledom and turrets stuck in places just for the heck of it. The gardens were genuinely, even-by-NT-standards, huge and lovely, with naked statues glamming it up round every corner. Some gardener had decided to make some giant birds out of flowers, and fair play to him. There was an aviary. There was a woodland trail. There was a huge playground built into a hill and covered by trees. It was amazing. We didn’t even get inside the house! I’m already agog about the possible state of the tapestries.

Look at it. Someone just went a bit mad, didn’t they?

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Suddenly my flowers shoved in pots seem a bit casual.

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The bird. Well, why not?

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Here are two boys plotting the best way to get in and ride the bird. *sigh*

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This turret was covered in a big lattice of trained ivy. As you do.

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Pretty flowers.

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Do you think they’d let us move in? Come on, they wouldn’t even notice.

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We ate a picnic next to an expansive carpet of flowers, made friends with the birds in the aviary, ran up and down like savages in the woodland playground, and walked till we were sore. It was fantastic. When can we move in?

UPDATE: someone has just informed me that it’s even better at Christmas; CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE; does Saint Nicholas himself descend from turret fourteen dressed in a golden cape or what.

Our other favourite NT destinations: Basildon Park, the Vyne, West Green House Gardens, Cliveden, Mottisfont, basically any of this dreaminess in Dorset.

 

Not by the hair on my piggy pig pig

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Do you remember an Enid Blyton book about a farm family? A set of happy, hardy children had their spoiled rich cousins come and live with them after something unspeakably awkward, like a divorce. One of the coiffed kids was called Melisande, and she had manicured fingernails and perfect hair and whined like a baby when she had to pitch in. Then, Enid noted approvingly, she had a moment of enlightenment where she realised that having cold baths and dirty hands was a sign of being a Jolly Good Sort. And everyone had hope for Melisande’s soul, or at least her willingness to be a Jolly Good Sort, until her parents bought a brand new farm with running hot water (cowards!), and that was the end of her transformation.

Looking back at this, I think the kids sound like judgemental prigs, and maybe it was ok for poor Melisande to want a hot bath every now and again. Probably she had it right about the 5am starts and the smell in the pig pen, too. But there’s a little seven-year-old inside me that still kind of wants to live on a farm (see also: desire to run away to a circus and to own my own island).

Today we visited one (a farm, not an island for sale, alas). It’s lambing season, and we watched the ewes waddle around uncomfortably, shooting daggers at all the hopeful people staring at their backsides. I thought that poor Duchess Kate might be able to sympathise. At least the sheep wouldn’t have to stuff their bruised selves into a Jenny Packham dress and have their hair curled before they could go home for some pizza.

There was a giant hay bale city, a ride-on train, a petting zoo, a strange moment where two old men made four ferrets have a race, and more fudge and homemade grandmother tat than you could shake a stick at.

It was marvellous. We had such terrible wind-hair. Enid would’ve been all over it.

*dies*

*dies*


yes, this is really how babies are born

yes, sorry, this is really how babies are born


What a mistake. Now they want a puppy.

What a mistake. Now they want a puppy.


all pile on

what, this is normal


he's my wheel man

he’s my wheel man


a train, a traaaaain!

a train, a traaaaain!


there is a man holding a lamb here, and I think my attractiveness meter just exploded

attention, there is a man holding a lamb here, and I think my attractiveness meter just exploded


engine driver

engine driver

Good luck, new sheep mothers. Good luck, Duchess Kate. Now go off home and put on some fleecy pyjamas (sheep, you already have this covered).

Boyhood, free-range

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Happy almost-Easter!

We’ll be decamping to parents later on today for Easter weekend. Right now, some family time: we keep forgetting to schedule Tim’s work holidays with H’s school holidays (because, apparently, with a school-age kid you have to do this?) so this long weekend is the only time we’ll have with him.

Tim and H are watching something about dinosaurs downstairs. T has squirrelled himself next to me with some Sarah & Duck, chubby forearms resting on mine. I am laughing at videos from my brothers, who are rewriting songs with rude lyrics and recording themselves singing them. This is the purpose of brothers, even at a distance of several thousand miles.

Later, we’ll get out.

The best thing about living here is how much time we spend outdoors. Living next to a busy street had its advantages – Henry’s ninja road safety skills, for one, since the alternative was getting flattened by a bin lorry – but living next to green things has made me happy. If I’d have known that before, we would have made more effort to go places. I don’t think it matters at all where you live or where you take them, as long as it’s green and outside.

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I’ve been surprised by what being out in the woods does for me. The sun falls through the trees in slanted columns. My wellies squelch in mud. I stop worrying about keeping the boys tidy and safely within grabbing distance. I feel like I can breathe easier. Is this a horrible cliche? Do I need to start hugging trees?

Actually, the bark is so wonderfully crusty and light-patterned that sometimes, I’m tempted.

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Children seem ten times more themselves in the forest. (I first wrote that sentence as ‘boys are more boyish’, but any girl of mine will be tramping through leaves and getting filthy too, thankyouverymuch.) It speaks to something instinctive and joyous in them, something that screens can’t touch. They don’t have to be quiet and they don’t have to stay clean. They’ve cautiously poked frog spawn, ridden bikes over dirt mounds, fallen into swampy mud piles and been pulled out, laughing and shivering. They are physically incapable of holding a stick without poking something or seeing a puddle without going in.

And why shouldn’t they? Learning how to get muddy – and that mud washes off – seems to be something worth knowing.

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H daren’t speak above a whisper in a room full of people, but we found a fat log balanced over a deep trench and he scrambled over it in a minute. Uncharacteristically fearless. The other Sunday we found piles of cut-down trees and made them into an Eeyore house. I kept wanting to freeze the afternoon  – golden evening light, boys in Sunday jumpers with arms full of sticks – so I could stay there even when the clouds came back.

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And that sort of wish never works, of course. But we can go back and do it again. I wish it hadn’t taken our house move to show me how much we need the mud and sun and air.

Here’s to free-range childhood.

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Jewels, grasses, chestnut shells

I am commemorating Autumn this year in the best way: by teaching the boys that ridiculous primary school song that pretends to be about autumn but is actually about jet planes and gratitude. You’re singing it already, aren’t you?

Autumn days when the grass is jewelled 

And the silk inside a chestnut shell

Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled (?!)

Oh the things I love so well

So I mustn’t forgeeeet (swaying)

No I mustn’t forgeeeeeeet (descant)

To say a GREAT BIG THANK YOU (fist pump)

I mustn’t forget

This is such an adorably dorkish song that everyone needs to learn it, so they can sing it while swishing their way through leaves on their way to nursery. I have never thought to be grateful for jet planes, personally, and didn’t know they refuel in midair (do they?), but it’s an autumn essential, so now you know. YouTube it!

Oh, and we went to pick a pumpkin on Saturday, which was brill.

You may remember, reader love, that we already had a pumpkin from Odds Farm Park. Two days after we got it home, I noticed a bit of spidery mould inside, and by the next morning it was pushing out of the eye holes like some grotesque fungal disease. Halloweenish, yes. Sanitary and toddler-appropriate, no. So that pumpkin ‘went on holiday’, and we went to Garsons Garden Centre with my brother- and sister-in-law to find a healthier one.

Garsons is a bit of a drive for us, but I really like it there. The pumpkin patch was much gloopier than last year, after the recent rains, but we’d come prepared with wellies so were totally devil-may-care about it. Teddy couldn’t decide whether he was more excited about the pumpkins or the free mud bath. Why choose, Teds? Pick both.

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We are the absolute winners of the family photo, though, aren’t we?

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Do you want to see something scary? This is us standing in the same spot, a year ago. I expect Teddy to have grown, since he’s leapt from baby to person this year, but Henry, oh, Henry. You are so much bigger now, and yet you’re still wearing that top. (Also, this photo looks like it was taken in the sixties. What kind of camera did I bring?!)

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Boy 1 loves his cousin. I tried hard to get a photo of the two of them, but they wouldn’t stand still long enough.
Finding a tree-star did the trick.

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After the pumpkin patch, there are two huge farm shops: one with fruit, veg and other food, and the other with everything else ever. There’s an expansive Christmas section where I got our special bauble for this year, and enough lovely toys and kitchenware to make your purse hurt.

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Don’t forget the mutant squash. I think that long chap is the one that can turn things to ice, and you know the two-headed monster is the one with the retractable claws.

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This sort of outing can only be rounded off with giant hot dogs and curly fries, and – luckily for us – it was.

Happy October! Wishing you jewelled grasses and jet planes in bulk.

Garsons Garden Centre, Esher, Surrey. I like Esher because Edward Seymour lived there once, but also because of the mutant squash. 

A baa-somely good day out

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I am sometimes guilty of trying to hurry my children into things they’re not ready for. (I don’t wish to point any fingers but, Roald Dahl Complete Works, I might just be looking at you.) We’ve visited so many farms and petting zoos since Henry was born, and all with the same result: animal terror, or animal indifference. No, I don’t want to feed them. No, I don’t want to stroke them. Let’s play in the playground instead.

This makes it all the sweeter when we realise he’s finally old enough to get excited about farm animals. We were lucky enough to be given a family day out to Odds Farm Park in High Wycombe this Saturday, and we all had a whale (sheep?) of a time. There were so many things to do that even Teddy, who isn’t keen on animals, was thrilled: a big barn with sheep, goats, rabbits and guinea pigs, animal shows, tractor rides, huge outdoor playgrounds, a big indoor soft play, go karts, mini electric tractors, and (during the weekends in October) pumpkin carving in time for Halloween. The best thing about all of this – as a person with tumbleweed hair – is that lots of it is indoors. Every time the rain appeared we retreated back inside to see the animals, or revisited the scary slides in the soft play area. This was bad for hair in another way, but it wasn’t wet.

Unless you had new wellies to try out. Then it was.

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Who do you think is enjoying themselves more here? It’s actually hard to say.

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SHEEP. We loved this. At other farms we’ve visited, the animals have been (understandably) skittish. These sheep are happy about everything: your camera, your face, the bag of food you’re holding, rainbows, kittens, brown paper packages, etc. Henry got right in there with hugs, and the sheep were all BRING IT ON, WE LOVE YOU.

Hiiiiiiiii.

Hiiiiiiiii.

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After the animals we had lunch in the cafe, and rioted in the soft play for a while. There were sections for bigger and smaller children, so both the boys had a lovely time. But the tractor ride was winner of the day. They were beside themselves.

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Even after all that, we had a lot of playground to cover. Sand! Water! Swings! Castles! Wouldn’t you love to be a playground designer? They have all the fun.

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I will be writing on the back of this photo ‘The Way You Were In 2014’, since it has them both to a T. Henry, wandering lonely as a cloud. Teddy, the beast.

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We visited the pumpkin tent just before going home. Jack Skellington says hello.

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There were lots of things we didn’t get to see, too. The place seems endless. Now, it’s not cheap, so I’d recommend planning a full day with packed lunch to get your money’s worth. And the loos could use a revamp. But the activities were so varied and so exciting that we’d love to go back again. Apart from anything else, we promised that sheep we’d let him know how his headshot turned out.

Odds Farm Park, Wooburn Green, High Wycombe. They were nice enough to give us a free family ticket, but our (enthusiastic) opinions are our own. I mean. Just look at that face.

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A science-y kind of birthday

Just a quick one about Henry’s birthday, before August is properly over and all my posts turn into meditations on apple crumble.

I didn’t organise a party this year, because we thought we’d be moving house in the middle of it. Then we weren’t moving this month after all (and do not even talk to me about that) but by then it was too late to coordinate everyone’s schedules. So instead of one medium-sized family celebration he had… three small celebrations, one after the other. I think he came out of it rather well.

When I asked Hen what he wanted for his birthday, he said he wanted a chocolate cake, and to see his friends. So we held a Favourite Dessert party the night before, with all his best little people, to tick them both off. For the birthday cake, I made The Cake Hunter‘s Ultimate Chocolate Cake that morning. It is an INSANELY good, easy recipe, and I will never need another chocolate cake in my life. The cake actually tastes of chocolate – this is rare, I find – and even though I’m not much of an icing fan, there’s something fudgy and incredible about the frosting. I doubled the frosting quantities, as I wanted to frost all the way around the outside (my cakes tend to need hiding), and threw on gold and silver stars at the end. It turned out pretty well.

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We put up the bunting from Teddy’s party (I will be doing this until one of them is old enough to mind) and bought napkins, pots and dessert flags from the supermarket, which has seriously impressed me this summer with its party gear. In the middle of all this flour-tossing and sugar-inhaling we had a disaster: Teddy tripped over and smashed both his lips against a colander he’d taken for personal use. Oh, it bled like the River Styx, dear readers. I was about two soaked flannels away from taking him to A&E, rambling on the phone to NHS Direct with one hand, wiping nameless gunk out of his mouth with the other. In the end it dried up all of a sudden, and he seemed totally fine. So we all changed our clothes, cleaned everything up, and ate some desserts.

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The day after was Henry’s actual birthday. First, a few presents from friends and admirers to open over breakfast.

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Then we did as birthday celebrators do, and went to London. If our great capital consisted solely of a Tube network, and all you did was ride round and round till you were dizzy, he’d still think it was the best day of his life.

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As it was, we also had Shake Shack for lunch, along with a very serious conversation about whether Shake Shack or Five Guys do the better burger. Tim and I come down on opposite sides of this divide, like poor Littlefoot and his grandparents from The Land Before Time, and I’m not sure we will ever bridge the gap. We put a lit candle in his burger, because if you can’t have a burger cake when you’re three, when can you, eh?

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PS, I love Covent Garden. There was a chap dressed up in full costume and paint as the Mad Hatter, drinking tea from vintage crockery, all SUP GUYS THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR A TUESDAY.

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We’ve been to the Natural History Museum (‘dinosaur you-see-um’) a few times now, so we thought we’d try the Science Museum this time. He loved it. A word to the wise for parents of toddlers: you need to hit The Garden in the basement (the bit for under-sixes), the cars and planes on the ground floor, and then the Launchpad on the fifth floor (with all the hands-on experiments), and that’s all. Everything else is beyond them, and will only make your feet tired. We discovered this so you don’t have to.

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Know who else was hanging out in the Launchpad that Tuesday? STEPHEN HAWKING. ACTUAL STEPHEN HAWKING. It’s seriously impolite to stare at famous people, I know, but HELLO. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Tim run so fast.

Happy belated birthday, Henny-Pen. Sorry I often call you ‘Hen’ in public and in front of people who don’t know your name. It makes you sound like a chicken. I know, I know. You can carry it off.

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