Tag Archives: Activities For Children

What does Father Christmas eat for breakfast? Weeto-ho-hos. (Sorry.)

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Forget personality types – this is all I want to know right now: are you a short-and-sweet Christmas person, or a tree-up-in-November person?

Mostly I like to keep my Christmas in December. I think it’s more magical when it’s extra-concentrated. Like condensed milk straight from the tin (YES). That is, until we got an invitation to have breakfast with Father Christmas at Wyevale Garden Centre last Saturday. At the end of November. But it was breakfast with Father Christmas! How could we refuse?

Of course, breakfast meant quite an early start. When we arrived at our local Sherfield-on-Loddon branch, minutes after it opened and with no other cars in the car park, we wondered at first whether we’d arrived in the right place. Awkwardly we shuffled through deserted aisles of greenery and scented candles, watching nodding Father Christmasses and tiny battery-powered trains moving eerily for an audience of no one.

‘This is, um, weird’, Tim whispered to me, while the boys tried to warm their hands on a pretend fire. It sort of was.

Then, huzzah, it turned out that we were in the right place after all. Elf-ladies ushered us and a few other families into the restaurant area, where we found a gorgeous Christmassy table laid up for us. H and T had name badges and colouring mats waiting for them, and there were crackers to pull and photo props to pose with (which they loved).

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Barely were our comedy moustaches in place when the cooked breakfasts arrived. The boys recently decided that bacon is their favourite food item in the whole world (same, guys, same), so they were hilariously excited. The staff were lovely, coming to check on us frequently and refilling our giant hot chocolates whenever we looked around.

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After breakfast came snowman cookies to decorate, with sprinkles, marshmallows and little tubes of icing. H and T were already beside themselves by this point, so got stuck in and really enjoyed it. Bacon, chocolate, marshmallows, royal icing, Elton John’s majestic ‘Step Into Christmas’ bouncing along in the background: check. ENTER SANTA.

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I am sorry to tell you, if you’re new to this parenting lark, that Christmas is where you become a wobbly sap of a human being. This is the first year both boys have been old enough to properly ‘get’ the Father Christmas thing, and it’s already melting the ice around my curmudgeonly heart. They gathered the children all together on the carpet and made them shout for Santa and, oh, oh. Look at their faces.

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Spoiler alert: he arrived.

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The lovely thing was that after he greeted all of them together, everyone went back to their tables and each family got some time to themselves: a little chat with Father Christmas, lots of photo time, and then their present (which was included in the ticket, huzzah). When it came to our turn, T whispered frantically ‘I want to show Santa my cookie!’ – then, alas, ran so hard with the plate in his hands that he dropped the cookie and broke it…twice. But Father Christmas soon cheered him up. It was ADORABLE. Is it always like this, parents?! Am I going to cry every December from now on?

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Once we’d waved goodbye to Santa, we had loads of time and space to finish eating and drinking, (re)decorating broken cookies and gathering up our things. We saved the presents to open in the car and they both loved them. Then we got to go home, still well before lunchtime, and huddle up together on the sofa all day. It felt like such a treat.

I don’t know if Father Christmas is a really central part of the festivities for you, but for me he’s never really been the lynchpin of the whole thing. My favourite parts of December tend to be Christmas trees, carols, food, nativities – though I don’t know whether that’s the adult in me talking now. This year, suddenly, I am in love with it; every little bit of it. They were so utterly thrilled by the experience that it set our December off beautifully. Even if it was still in late November. Bah (un)humbug.

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Disclosure: we were invited to try Breakfast with Father Christmas, which was jolly lovely of Wyevale Garden Centres, but (as the photos show, I hope) all the festive glee was ours. They also do a Tea with Father Christmas, if early mornings and bacon aren’t your thing. You can look up the whole schedule for December here. We’re definitely going again next year!

I prefer my summers in the key of Military Operation: don’t judge

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I am now physically incapable of saying ‘THSUMMER!’ without that Olaf-style lisp and intonation, which is a neat coincidence because we’ve also spent a lot of our time melting since H broke up for the holidays. Oof, July! Bring on the heat! Before August crashes in with thirty-one straight days of grey drizzle, that old dog!

I have poor memories of last summer, and I think it’s because I didn’t appreciate how long six weeks would feel without a plan. It rained a lot and we drifted too much. I am convinced that you need to spend your summer-with-children doing exactly what helps you maintain the most robust level of sanity. If that’s pyjamas till eleven every day, do that. If it’s TV time while you work, do that. For me, I need to get out. Plan trips, pack picnics. Plan rests, too. I want routine, even when it’s a slow and lazy one. Judging by how many times a day H asks me what we’re doing next, so does he. So this summer I have made one.

I wrote a giant list of local activities we could do in the sun or rain. I made reading charts for H (and PLEASE POO IN THE TOILET charts for T, but that’s by-the-by). I bought in pound-shop craft supplies. I coloured in my lists, because I am a nerrrrrd. Then I set up a little routine where, four days a week, we’d go on adventures in the morning, H would read with me while T had his nap, then spend late afternoons playing with toys and watching TV. On Friday we stay local, visit the library, bake if I’m feeling like a masochist, and hang around in pyjamas for a bit longer. I have been finding cushions of time to read, exercise and do bits of work (though mostly doing work in the evenings so far). We’ll probably end up switching it around when we find what works better, but that seemed like a good place to start.

I made an Instagram hashtag too, but that’s between me and my personal embarrassment.

Anyway, I’ll be posting some of what we do here, mostly so I can remember it and adjust it for next time, but if any of you are Royal County-dwellers, there might be some ideas here too.

Did I mention we now have a local IKEA, and now both boys are old enough to go into their soft play area? Not planning on abusing this AT ALL, but where’s my Kindle, no, I’m not asking for any reason, it’s cool.

On Thursday we spent the morning at Basildon Park. They set up a ball run every summer, and you can bring your own tennis ball to do it – though if you need a new one, TEDDY, it’s a frankly outrageous £3. There are a couple of stations hidden in the woodland walks, too, which persuaded them round one of the trails. We avoid the house, for now. Don’t set grubby boys loose in Netherfield, is the first rule of visiting Netherfield.

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This was strung up in the entrance hall. The lady at the desk thought I was the weirdest person ever for taking a photo, which, COME ON. This biz has Instagram all over it.

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Yes, milord.

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Hey gardeners, tell me the secret of not killing plants! TY, TY.

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Yeah, see above.

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Picnic dudes.

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Ahhhh. That’s better, isn’t it?

Keep up with us on Instagram, if you feel like it! (@makealongstoryshort) Next time, cakes. Masochism: I went there.

Wild things

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Welcome to the danger zone, where your kids are old enough to remember what you’re doing.

I always feel like we get a bit of a free pass for the first couple of years – it’s not actually a free pass, of course, but as you cry through their injections and fail to lovingly home-make their pureed food, at least you can console yourself with the thought that they won’t remember it later. Not so now. Their long-term memory cells are steaming away. We are building a childhood, between us.

There’s nothing like knowing that your children will talk about your foibles in their future therapy sessions to make you regret TOTALLY LOSING IT in a hotel room, one Spring Bank holiday when they were four and two. And, um, all the other times you totally lost it.

I hope they’ll also remember the good stuff. We try so hard. Sometimes it comes off alright.

This was a completely impromptu trip, that started on Friday night when we were giddy with weekend and bedtime and chocolate (always dangerous). One Holiday Inn booking later, we were off to the New Forest for a couple of days. The last time we went, we stayed in a magnificently weird horse-themed B&B and H looked like this.

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When we went back, I wondered why we’d left it so long. Just over an hour away, and so much of this.

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We had gorgeous, gentle sunshine on the first afternoon, and went off on a ramble through the forest. It felt wilder than our woods at home, with lots more to see. Two deer ran across the path and carried on grazing as we walked by, totally unafraid. Tim reached peak Dadness when he made two sailboats out of bark and leaves, and they set them going on the river. Then sunk them with stones. No, maybe that was peak Dadness.

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I would never in a million years think to do this. Dads are the best.

This boy. He walked four miles on both days with no complaining, getting excited about everything. ‘I thought that trail was astounding’, he said as we finished on Sunday afternoon. Then, after a pause: ‘I got that word from The Gruffalo‘.

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You can’t do the New Forest without New Forest ponies. This one was loving all the attention. Emboldened, H approached the next one when our backs were turned. And it tried to kick him in the head. SORRY ABOUT THAT, H’S THERAPIST.

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After a moderately chaotic night in the hotel, we went off to spend the second day in Portsmouth. If you’re ever wondering what to do with your Tesco Clubcard points, I can recommend times one thousand using them for a yearly pass to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. We paid almost nothing for ours at Christmas, have been back three times since and done something completely different. Today we took the waterbus out to the submarine museum, and toured the HMS Alliance (plus a couple of smaller submarines too).

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I just cannot think of anything more suited to small children than a huge iron structure filled with levers, knobs and wheels they can play with to their heart’s content. We peered through giant periscopes, sat in pilot seats in front of blinking screens and dials, and were all in a perfect lather of excitement.

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I’m not saying the best bit was when T embraced a random woman’s thigh, thinking it was me. But it was pretty hilarious.

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After a quick jaunt round the Victory, because you always need a quick jaunt round the Victory, we followed our hearts to some Nutella Krispy Kremes, and then headed home. After we’d arrived and I’d unpacked the suitcase and made them dinner, it only then occurred to me that H is off school for the rest of the week. The New Forest, a giant submarine and no school run for a week. Never mind them: that feels like total joy to me.

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This sort of weather calls for an emergency evacuation

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Gosh, is it the rain, or what? How on earth does February feel so slow you can hear the clock tick, when it’s three days shorter than your average? You’d think that all these enforced indoor days would be great for the housework, but my bathroom floor of dirty laundry and kitchen counters groaning with crusty plates have a little something to say about that. It probably has swear words in it. They’re not best pleased.

Either way, these cold, cold wet days are enough to make any sensible person start thinking overly dramatic things. Like ‘there are NO MORE INDOOR PLACES IN TOWN’ and ‘maybe I should have auditioned for Frozen, after all’ and ‘I will shave off my hair completely rather than spend another minute with fuzzy rat-head’.

At this point I usually get in the shower, because a hot shower is my most effective drama killer. (This is why I am obliged to have one every morning.) This week we did one better, and made a run for it. Only to the temple, and to Brighton the next day, but we had a car full of road trip sweeties, and it was far enough. It was a cold, cold wet couple of days, and the sea was like boiling slate. The smell is the same, though, even in drizzle. If you lived by the sea, would you stop appreciating the smell of salt in the air? Because I’m not sure I’d ever want to lose the pleasure of that first, giant sniff.

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We ran on the pebbly beach, investigated a fishing museum, winced through the pier arcades, and ate the largest plate of fish and chips ever seen. We got blown to pieces and my hair has probably never been so foolish, but it was like being freed from something. I could still smell the angry sea when I came back to the washing-up, and it kind of made all the difference.

(To me, not to the washing up. Which is – um – still there.)

Autumn love: a project for the crunchy-leaf enthusiast

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I want to do better with autumn this year. Last year was a catastrophe: pregnancy sickness, rain, dark, and a footloose one-year-old with walls to climb. Do you ever have days where you’re absolutely ready to not be yourself? I was ready for three months, last winter. I was sick of the sight of me. It was exhausting.

No more of that. When autumn’s done right, it’s intoxicating. Woodsmoke on cold air, trees flinging on their best reds, thick jumpers, hot apple crumble. The satisfaction of going out of your way to step on a crunchy-looking leaf, and then finding it’s just as crunchy as you thought it might be, and you’re the conqueror of everything. I was reading Penelope Lively this morning, on old age, and loved what she said about tiny, sharpened pleasures:

I am as alive to the world as I have ever been – alive to everything I see and hear and feel. I revel in the spring sunshine, and the cream and purple hellebore in the garden… Spring was never so vibrant; autumn never so richly gold. People are of abiding interest – observed in the street, overheard on a bus. The small pleasures have bloomed into points of relish in the day – food, opening the newspaper (new minted, just for me), a shower, the comfort of bed.

…It is an old accustomed world now, but invested with fresh significance; I’ve seen all this before, done all this, but am somehow able to find new and sharpened pleasure.

I am a fair way off eighty (someone tell my face), but this seems to me to be a highly sensible philosophy.

So I have issued myself a personal challenge – do at least one autumn love activity per week, during October and November (starting from now, I make that eight). I have in mind things like nature walks, pumpkin-flavoured baking, leaf collages, pyjama parties, and finding some outdoor exercise for myself that doesn’t involve lugging a pushchair. But that’s just me. Want to join in? Feel free to take the image above, or make your own, and let me know in the comments so I can follow along.

On Saturday we went pumpkin picking with Tim’s brother and his family. It was just the right kind of cold, and entirely the best kind of orange. We came back to chilli and cornbread and cinnamon roll cake, and it was as perfect an autumny afternoon as you can imagine.

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I’ll have seven more of these, please. Pass the apple crumble.

The original Henricus Rex

…Or H-Rizzle, as he was known on the madrigal circuit. Oh, you know he was.

BLING.

Tudor nerds unite. And let’s do it at Hever Castle, because it’s brilliant. It’s the ancestral home of Anne Boleyn, and I was certain it’d be the sort of place that would call forth the Jiggy Dance of Historical Joy I keep locked up for special occasions. I just wanted to go without splattering 500-year-old stuff with baby sick, because I thought it would probably be frowned upon. On Saturday, with my own Henricus Rex having a marvellous time at his grandparents’, the opportunity arose and I grabbed it.

It’s more expensive than your average National Trust (it’s privately owned) but oh, oh, oh.

First came the lake and the rowing boats named after Henry and his unfortunate wives.

Then the gardens, huge and immaculate and filled with little private spaces and Roman artefacts.

Then the mazes: one of yew trees, and a spraying water obstacle course that made Tim come over all Crystal Maze Contestant.

Then the castle. It’s tiny, as castles go, but riddled with spiral staircases, tiny windows set in thick stone walls, illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, long galleries and things the Boleyns had actually touched. We loved it so much, we went in twice. You weren’t allowed to take photographs, so we didn’t take…many.

(Taking turns to cough hammily in order to disguise the sound of a camera shutter will enliven any time spent in a castle, by the way.)

Emerging dreamily from under the portcullis, we were about to head back to the car when we discovered a huge and thrilling adventure playground tucked behind a hill. We tested everything, and it was all adult-proof. You’re welcome.


Other things we did with our baby-free weekend: ate lots; went to the cinema; had long baths in a funny little hotel; and slept all night and all the way till 8.30am (steady on). Tune in tomorrow for the Hunger Games verdict: I have Opinions.

Hever Castle, Edenbridge, Kent. Go, enjoy, and buy yourself a magnet in the shape of Henry VIII. You know the old devil would want you to.

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