A whistle-stop tour of southern England

If you’d like to know how you can tell my mum went back home to the States today, I need only say that we drove straight from the airport to a very large plate of steak and chips, spent the afternoon in pyjamas watching movies, and there was a point at which I sang along to Robbie Williams’ Angels with all these meaningful tears in my eyes. Bring on the 90’s power ballads, dudes. I have emotions. I think the next stop might be Westlife, and you can’t even stop me.

Then I looked through the photos we took during the last ten days, which made me feel a little better. So this post is essentially a camera-dump, but it’s a camera-dump with all these feelings behind it. Indulge me. (This series also serves to illustrate how very, very much I need another haircut.)

First we visited The Vyne, which is a National Trust-owned Tudor house and grounds fairly close to us. We get terribly excited about four-poster beds and the like, and Henry is very passionate about adventure playgrounds, so we all were moved. Especially when we found Henry VIII living in the gallery, the old rascal.

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Over the weekend we had Henry’s birthday party, and then his birthday trip to London a couple of days later. In between was a day for Teddy: we had his blessing at church – our equivalent of a christening – and had the most lovely time with a picnic and cupcakes and many, many family photographs. See above, re. haircut.

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A few days later we decided that on a properly hot day, we should by rights be getting sand in awkward places, so went to the beach down in Dorset. We discovered it last year, and fell in love. Henry decided to go dressed as a chimney sweep. The lesson here is that it’s never a bad moment to rock a flat cap.

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Unfortunately, this Glorious Day At the Seaside was then subtitled The Day I Got Poop, Pee and Sick All Over Me From Both Children, Thanks. Still. Look at that sky, eh?

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At this point, we felt we hadn’t yet appreciated enough four-poster beds, so we visited Highclere Castle. As Tim said, this is less of a castle and more of a large house with spiky bits on top. But it is Downton Abbey, so we didn’t quibble. You’re not allowed to take photos inside – boo! – so we made up for it by striking a number of ludicrous poses on the front lawn. That’ll show ‘em.

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Almost there, and time for a day in Oxford, which obliged us by providing pretty buildings, That Door That Reminds Us of Narnia, and the best Chinese food not very much money can buy. It’s a strange thing, being back in the city that made the adult version of you, ten years after you first arrived and with a husband and two children. I feel like I’ve seen a thousand new landscapes since then, but I don’t love this one any less.

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Still with me? Good, because here’s Henry in a blitz helmet. Coventry Transport Museum made the boys’ eyes stand out on stalks. I suppose we have a lot of that to come.

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Oh, and Teds took a bath in a sink. He is growing actual cheeks, you guys. Proper cheeks, and way ahead of schedule. I am beside myself.

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What’s that, another rendition of Flying Without Wings? I’m so glad you asked.

Miss you, Mama!

The afternoon Mr Bingley did not invite us for tea

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There are two reasons for visiting Basildon Park. One is that it’s the house they used as Netherfield in Pride and Prejudice (the film version), and I’ll take any excuse to prance around the grounds on an imaginary horse, shouting OH MR GINGER BINGLEY I ADORE YOU. Don’t even tell me you wouldn’t do this, because I know you would.

The other is the chance to put your son next to a wooden rabbit to see how astronomically he’s grown in almost two years.

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Please put away those giant legs, Master Jeffcoat, and go about your business.

I came here with my mum just after Henry was born. Apart from a moment of madness where we made him ride the aforementioned wooden rabbit – which produced the best Benjamin Button face of disgust we’d ever seen – he managed to sleep through the tour, unimpressed by chandeliers and scones the size of his head. Last week he took rather more interest in the surroundings, though for that reason (and lack of time) we only visited the grounds rather than the house. It’s one thing to climb a fence; quite another to climb an 18th century four-poster, no? We followed the trails with sun on our faces and the sounds of a four-person choir floating over the hill, and it was just beautiful until we tried to take a group photograph, when it wasn’t.

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We only scratched the surface, and they’ve worked so hard to make it exciting for children: there are miles of footpaths we never reached and an interactive ball-run exhibit, not to mention a tea-room and many more unsat-in deckchairs. There is something about a deckchair that makes me feel all lah-di-dah. It’s not quite a carriage, but it’ll do.

Oh, and in news not unrelated to these photographs, I finally have a haircut scheduled for next week. Goodbye, insane wig-head. The way I feel now, you’ll be lucky if I don’t get a buzz-cut.

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Basildon Park, Lower Basildon, Reading.

Come in the summer for the walks and scones and open-air cinema.

And then come to my house, because we’re ten minutes away!