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8 Nov

A while back, the lovely PR people from Keycamp asked me if we’d like a free holiday.  Of course I said yes, I mean you’d have to be daft not to wouldn’t you?  Where would you like to go they said.  Somewhere in the Autumn half term, not too cold, accessible by public transport, near a beach and with interesting things to do, I said.  Don’t want much do I?

They suggested Vilanova Parc, in Spain.  Not too far from Barcelona, twenty minutes from the beach by the regular bus service, local markets, five pools, a  jumping pillow and a junior disco.  Perfect I said, and off we went.

It was exactly what it said on the tin.  Apart from the weather, which was unseasonably cold, a fact I can’t blame on Keycamp.  The accommodation was spotlessly clean, had three bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, veranda, barbecue and a very welcome, welcome bottle of wine.  The Keycamp staff were cheerful, helpful and a constant source of swimming pool noodles, ping pong bats and snakes and ladders.  The parc was beautifully landscaped and maintained, had the advertised five pools, including, thankfully, one heated indoor one, two playgrounds, a restaurant at which we ate delicious rice with squid ink, and child friendly patatas bravas, a jumping pillow, a supermarket selling Dutch biscuits, and crazy golf.  Personally I think you can’t go wrong with crazy golf.

I’d never really stayed anywhere like that before.  I suppose it had similarities with some of the campsites in New Zealand and Australia, but they were a lot smaller.  This was as large as a small town, which meant I got lost a few times, but having an ATM, onsite medical help and a proper supermarket was something we never got in the Antipodes.  Mind you, in the Antipodes, we didn’t always have running water, but that’s another story.

The kids loved it and didn’t want to leave.  They made friends with other kids and sat swinging their legs on fences watching French boys smoking whilst playing football.  I can’t pretend I wasn’t faintly horrified, but that’s what holidays are all about when you are not quite a teenager.

And with the kids so busily occupied, I read three books in five days.  Result.


How much?

27 Mar

with a view like this, does it matter that the accommodation is a bit grotty?

I remember a conversation with a friend, many months ago, before we went on our trip, sitting on a park bench in the sunshine as our children climbed and swung and balanced on stuff.  If it’s not rude, she said, can I ask how you can afford all this, how much is it costing, must be at least a hundred thousand pounds.  I laughed.  She was imagining nine months of her type of holiday strung together, proper hotels next to the beach, taxis, meals in restaurants.  I won’t pretend a nine month holiday was cheap, but it wasn’t anything like as expensive as she was imagining.

We never stayed near the beach, except for when we camped.  We usually stayed four blocks back, in the highrise without a decent view, five to a slightly too small room with the youngest child on a lilo.  Or we stayed in the guesthouse at the far end of town, too quiet for most tourists, not close enough to the restaurants.  Or in the condo that was next to the beach, but the beach you couldn’t swim in because of the crocodiles.  Often our accommodation was slightly depressing, damp, cramped, with a whiff of the ageing surfer who chats up young blondes in the lift.  But we got to visit the same beaches as the people who’d spent a small fortune.  Got to see the same turtles.

We mostly didn’t eat in restaurants, except in Asia where they’re really cheap, instead we shopped in budget supermarkets and ate a lot of sandwiches.  I love food, and sometimes it was a bit sad that we weren’t eating as well as we could have, especially in Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.  But it was worth sacrificing a few decent meals for months of wonderful experiences. And we didn’t have the wardrobe for smart anyway.

We shared.  Shared meals, shared beds, shared train seats.  Nothing was wasted, or at least we tried.  We asked for deals, particularly for the children, and people often obliged.  We went in a helicopter, they went free. We rode elephants and camels, they rode half price. We didn’t do stuff that was too expensive, our bank managers thanked us.

Budget travel isn’t rocket science.  Spend your time on the internet comparing prices, book everything yourself rather than through a travel agent, ask for discounts, share your chips.  It’s often deeply unglamorous, but it’s always worth it.


How to build a den in the woods

19 Apr

Yesterday we spent all day on Wimbledon Common. It was a gorgeous sunny day but bizarrely, we had acres of woods all to ourselves. Not that I’m complaining. What did we do with our day in the woods? Build a den of course.

5 highlights of 2009

8 Jan

The lovely Kelly at A Place of My Own has tagged me, asking me to write about my 5 highlights of last year.

2009 was a good year in our family.  No huge revelations or major excitements, but it felt like we finally made it out of the long dark baby tunnel into a new and exciting world of pre-schoolers and school age children.  We got out and about, we ventured abroad, and we washed a lot of pants.  So, without further ado, my first hightlight is…

Getting enough sleep

Many years ago I was a nanny for a brief period, including caring for a newborn baby boy.  He was a ‘good’ baby, who drank his bottles when he was supposed to, slept well and rarely cried.  It was a piece of cake.  So I thought I knew what I was doing when Eve came along.  After about 10 minutes, it became abundantly clear that I was as clueless as every other new mother.  Add in a few sleepless nights and I realised that I had been deeply deluded about caring for newborns.  Nothing, but nothing, is a piece of cake when you don’t get your full eight hours.  I kept thinking, ‘if I could just get four hours, five hours, six hours without being woken, I’ll feel better’.  It took me many months to accept that I would never sleep in the same way again and for the six years that I had newborns, teethers, growth spurters and early wakers I stumbled through the days in a fog of scratchy eyes and memory loss.  2009 was different.  Gradually, without my noticing, all my children started to regularly sleep through the night and regularly wake at about 7am.  I feel different, in a good way.

Starting  a blog

After two years of reading other people’s travel blogs, I finally took the plunge in February last year.  I have enjoyed it more than I could have ever predicted.  It has become an almost daily pleasure, writing, tinkering, thinking about my blog.  It’s re-ignited an old love of words and I hope that one day I can do something more with it.

Our first camping trip

I am a fair weather camper.  I really, really don’t like being cold or wet and I’m not too good at sleeping on the ground.  As we have not been anywhere warm, like Australia, in the last 8 years, the children have never been camping.  Until this summer, when we spent a gorgeous, but perishingly cold night in a field in North Yorkshire.  We splashed in the stream, built a huge, smoky, eye-stinging campfire, toasted marshmallows and told ghost stories.  I hope we can recreate the experience on our trip, but with warmer weather and hammocks.


Last summer we had the most yodellingly fantastic holiday in Switzerland, a country I have always suspected might be right up my street.  Every cliched view I had previously held was blissfully right and we spent two weeks enjoying a soundtrack of clanking cow bells whilst hiking through flower-filled meadows, marvelling at the efficiency of their trains, swimming in lakes with picture postcard backdrops and eating a Matterhorn of cheese and chocolate.  For a rash of posts and some gorgeous photos (if I do say so myself) click on Switzerland in the category cloud on the right.

Catching crabs

2009 was the year I learnt how to catch a crab.  Goodness knows how I’ve survived so long without this knowledge, but I now feel confident in any crab catching situation.  It was a lot of fun.

Recipe for happiness

14 Aug



  • 3 small children
  • 1 slow moving, shallow stream
  • 2 cheap fishing nets
  • 1 bucket


  1. Remove children’s shoes and socks
  2. Mix the ingredients together
  3. Leave for as many hours as you like, or until the children are hungry


Repeat as often as you want happy children

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. For more pictures, click here.

Our first camping trip

2 Aug

waking up in a tent

I’ve never been a fan of campsites and have less than happy memories of cold shower blocks, stinky broken loos and being disturbed by dodgy Europop.  I do however love being in the middle of nowhere, swimming in rivers, lighting fires and stargazing.  So when I get the opportunity to sleep in the great outdoors away from dodgy campsites I jump at it, and have had some great experiences in the Australian outback, Rajasthani Desert and Costa Rican jungle.

I haven’t been camping since having children, partly because we DSC_0383haven’t been anywhere warm enough, but mostly because of my obsession with sleep patterns and my fear that life under canvas would involve tired fractious children unable to fall asleep on the long summer evenings.  But in preparation for our big trip, I decided that it was time we gave camping a try.

Last week, we were staying with my lovely sister in law in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park who asked a friendly local farmer if we could camp in his field.  It was the perfect spot.  We walked from their house for about a mile, carrying our rucksacks, until we found our field by a stream.

playing in the stream

We were in a big group of aunts, uncles and cousins, so some put up tents, others collected wood for the fire and stones for the hearth while the children had a fabulous time playing in the stream.  It was just a shame that they didn’t take their shoes and socks off BEFORE jumping in.

 We did all the classic camping activities, building a huge fire to toast marshmallows and brew tea, making plans for midnight feasts, cooking sausages, telling ghost stories and being gently kippered by the fire.  My watch still smells of woodsmoke.telling ghost stories

 The children stayed up much later than their normal bedtimes, but were really good about going to sleep when I asked them to.  Our night was rather broken with loo trips, freezing children who needed extra layers and small boys rolling off airbeds.  I’ve also forgotten how blinking cold it is at night in England when you aren’t surrounded by four walls and a roof.

However all the discomfort was worth it to wake up with three happy children (and a tired grumpy husband) with the sun streaming through the walls of the tent.  And nothing beats that early morning cup of tea and bacon sandwich (or crisps and pot noodle for the children), sitting in a dewy field while a heron flies overhead.

We walked home tired, muddy and very happy.  It’s definitely something I look forward to doing again, hopefully somewhere hotter next time.

walking home

How to light a camp fire

2 Aug


I’ve always been partial to a spot of pyromania, so when it comes to camping, I think a roaring fire is essential. 

DSC_0328First, create a hearth out of a circle of large stones

Then collect a good pile of dry sticks of all sizes and some dry grass or leaves


 DSC_0334Take a handful of the dry grass or leaves and light them.  If the ground is damp, start with a firelighter then add the grass as soon as it is burning.

Once the grass is lit, quickly add some small sticks in a little wigwam over the grass.  Continue to add small sticks little, by little, being careful not to smother the flames. 

DSC_0344As the fire builds, add larger and larger sticks, still forming a wigwam structure.  If the flame isn’t catching the new sticks, poke a few smaller ones in the gaps and blow on the flames near the bottom of the fire.

Once you have a good blaze, add large logs one by one to keep the fire going.DSC_0351

Now find two fork shaped sticks and poke them into the ground either side of the fire inside the hearth.  Find a long, straight stick to rest in the forks  to hang your kettle or cooking pot from.


 You are now ready to use your fire for making tea, baking potatoes wrapped in silver foil, frying sausages in a pan held over the white hot embers, and drying the inevitable damp socks.  Although try not to burn them to a crisp like I did. 

 DSC_0394Of course the classic use of a camp fire is to toast marshmallows.  First find a very long stick, so small children don’t have to stand too close to the flames.  Then use your trusty Swiss Army Knife to whittle one end to a point.  Put your marshmallow on the end and hold it close to, but not touching, the hottest part of the fire.  Some people like their marshmallows lightly toasted, but I like them burnt on the outside and runny inside.  Yum!  Ned eating a marshmallow