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First week

7 Nov

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It’s hard to believe that this time last week we were kicking our heels in our local playground on Clapham Common, hoping that one of the children wouldn’t fall off the play house and end up in casualty.  It seems like a very long time ago.

Since then we’ve survived our first long haul flight, battled jet lag and won, and spent five days in Disneyland.  It’s been a very, very good first week.  Exhausting but good.

Disneyland was a huge hit with the children, which isn’t a great surprise.  They’ve shown amazing levels of stamina and walked for miles with very little complaint.  As long as they’ve had regular applications of Mickey shaped food, they’ve done well.  We’ve been on countless rides, many of them twice, watched two parades and three shows, a highlight being the Playhouse Disney one, really, and travelled by steam train, monorail and horse drawn tram.

Away from Disneyland we’ve been swimming most days, eaten a huge variety of vibrantly coloured cereal, done three washes and a little bit of school work every day.   All staying in a single hotel room, isn’t ideal, especially when you’re up at 5am with jetlag, but hasn’t been as bad as I’d feared.  The adults have got loads of sleep, far more than normal and the children have been very good about going to bed.  Being utterly exhausted helps on that front. As does bribery in the form of endless Disney keyrings.

For the next few weeks we’ll have a kitchen and a car, as well as proper outside space, so life will get easier.  No more meals created only from what we can buy in the hotel shop.  I really miss vegetables.

A week in Disneyland has been a surreal way to start a nine month trip, but I guess the whole concept of a nine month trip is fairly odd.  Next week will be the start of our new normal.  I’m looking forward to it.


Jet lag sucks

5 Nov

So what do you do what you are all awake at 5am in a hotel room, because your bodies think it’s lunchtime?*

– lie quietly and say shush a lot

– plug into iPods to listen to the BFG, Famous Five and Thomas the Tank Engine (thank you Granny)

– put on shades and perform a made up rap in the dark

– get bored and start punching each other

– give in and put the TV on, the Disney channel is just as terrible in America

– wrestle on the floor

– play Ninjas, which involves leaping from bed to bed in a dangerous manner

– say calm down and play nicely a lot

– drink coffee

– eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

– play with plasticine and assorted small toys

– watch some more TV

– count down the minutes until the hotel shop opens at 7am

– race to shop to choose entirely additive free breakfast cereal *cough*

– eat said cereal

– resume Ninja game

– get dressed

– visit hotel laundry in basement to put a wash on.  A bargain at $1.25.

– roam around hotel grounds saying shush, people are still sleeping

– write postcards

– visit hotel reception to collect leaflets for places we’re not going to visit

– do a maths worksheet

– go swimming, you’ll get the pool all to yourselves

– get changed and ready for the day

– arrive at Disneyland before it opens.

*I should point out that not all of these activities are undertaken by all members of the family.

I heart Disneyland

4 Nov

I’m not a huge fan of theme parks.  I’m not really a fan of organised fun of any kind.  I don’t like the crowds, or the piped music, or the overpriced, dodgy food, or the merchandising opportunities round every corner.

But I make an exception for Disney.  Maybe it’s because I have very happy childhood memories of Disneyworld.  Maybe it’s because of the utterly surreal attractions like The Enchanted Tiki Room.  Or maybe it’s the astonishing attention to detail.

I’ve never been any where quite like a Disney theme park.  No detail is too small to be overlooked.  From the staff members’ multifarious appropriate uniforms, a particular favourite being the lederhosen worn by the attendants at the Matterhorn bobsleigh ride, to the complete absence of any rubbish, and the staff sign in the ‘It’s a bugs’ world’ area which says “worker bees only”.  Nothing whatsoever spoils Walt Disney’s perfection.  Even dull legal notices are themed.  As they’d say here, it’s awesome.  If the folks at Disney put their minds to it, they could rule the world.

The glamorous world of international travel

2 Nov

I’d forgotten how completely grim long haul travel is.  The endless queues for check in, passport control, x-rays, more passport control.  The miles and miles of windowless corridors to reach the plane.  The cramped seats that make sleeping all but impossible, even for small children, who flail and kick in an effort to get comfortable. The stale air that smells of overcooked food, the greasy hair of the man in the next seat and vomit.  The other passengers didn’t thank us for that last one.  Being woken at 1am with an announcement that we are landing in two hours, oh and would you like some quiche?  US immigration at 3am, when we avoided total meltdown with the judicious application of lollipops.  Not sure that’s what most parenting manuals would advise, but sometimes these things have to be done.  Finally, finally, finally persuading the children to sleep at 6am UK time, only for them to wake up about three hours later, because it’s way past breakfast time and they’re hungry.

But we’ve survived.  I’m sure tonight will be an improvement.  And we’ve been to Disneyland.  So it’s not all bad.  It’s pretty good actually.

Swallows and Amazons

21 Jul

My father’s always had an obsession with sailing.  His annual trip to the Boat Show at Earl’s Court was akin to a pious man’s pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, but instead of returning home with scallop shells, he’d have a sheaf of brochures for boats he dreamed of owning.  He wasn’t greedy, he didn’t want a big gin palace, just a 36 footer we could use for adventures.  Sadly for my father, my mother doesn’t share his obsession, so it never got beyond the dreaming stage. Continue reading

Can you do a deal?

11 May

I am going to buy a Nintendo Game & Watch.  A really cool electronic game like my friend has.  It’s about the size of a small walkman, has a little screen, and you press the buttons to move the monkey from side to side to catch bananas.  It’s really fun.  I’ve saved up my Christmas and birthday money, and my pocket money for weeks and weeks.  I’ve been waiting for our trip to New York, because you can’t get them in London, at least, I don’t have enough money for them in London.

I carefully count up my pound notes. “How do I work out how much it is in dollars?” “You times by two and a half” says my father. “That means I have $25.”
“Make sure you bargain” he says as he hands me $25 dollars in exchange for my pounds. “What do you mean?”

“They will ask you to pay more than they really want. You suggest a lower amount, say half what they asked, they reject it, you suggest a little bit more until you can agree.” “But, why?” “It’s just the way things are done here.”

“So can you bargain for everything in New York?”  “Not things like groceries, no, but expensive things like electronics don’t have fixed prices.”  I giggle as I remember the funny advert for ‘Crazy Eddie’s Electricals’ where Eddie yells like a madman about his low prices as he chops up price tickets with a giant pair of scissors.  You don’t get silly adverts like that in England.

Later, with my dollars safely folded into my purse, my mother and I take the long walk from our apartment to 42nd street, the best place for electronics.  30 blocks is quite a hike for a 9 year old and I smile proudly as my mother tells me how well I’m doing.

I must have heard the song ’42nd Street’ before, because I’m expecting it to be glamorous and sparkly, but it’s just a normal, dirty New York Street, full of small shabby shops.  Not like Crazy Eddie’s electronics emporium further uptown.  We go into a few, but they don’t have what I’m after.  “Try the little shop upstairs next door, Cohen’s Electronics.”

We push open a plain, battered, door on the street marked ‘Cohen’s Electronics’ and climb a narrow, rather grubby staircase to the first floor.  “Well this is an adventure, isn’t it darling?” says my mother, rather nervously I think, as we enter a small, stuffy, poorly lit room.  Around three of the walls are brown wood and glass cabinets, and in front of them, brown wood counters.  Behind the counters are three men, dressed in the heavy black suits and black hombergs of Hasidic Jews.

“Excuse me, do you sell Nintendo Game & Watch?”

“Oh, isn’t she cute?  Check out that accent!  Where are you from little girl?”  “I’m from London and I’d like to buy a Game & Watch, please.”

“What kind do you want English girl?” asks the man in front of me as he opens a draw under the counter, pulling out a handful.   He spreads five Game & Watches on the counter.  “This one please, how much is it?” I say as I pick up the brown one, the monkey game.

“Well normally, it’s $40, but for you can have it for $35 because you have such a cute accent.”  “I don’t have $35, can I have it for $20?”

“She’s bargaining with us, Solly!  Ooh, how cute does bargaining sound in that accent?  Well I can’t let it go for $20 but how about $25?”

“Yes please.”  “$25 dollars it is!  Sold to the little girl with the cute accent!”

I hand over the money and say goodbye, clutching my new Game & Watch to my chest.  As we walk back down the grubby stairs, we can hear the three men talking about my accent.  We celebrate my first bargain with a yellow taxi ride home.


This post was written for the Writing Workshop at Sleep is for the Weak.  This week I suggested a prompt “tell us about a life skill you’ve learnt and a time you used it.”

Bargaining is a very useful skill in many places in the world.  In some countries, paying full price for anything, is as alien as asking the cashier in Sainsbury’s if she can do you a deal on baked beans.

The Magic Kingdom – Young at Heart Photo Album

10 Feb

This photo represents the beginning of my love affair with Disneyland, Disneyworld and Euro Disney (remember that?).  I think I am ten, and unlike too cool for school Laura, who tagged me, I am dressed entirely in yellow, including my shoe laces, but not including my rather fetching Mickey Mouse sun visor.  I have no idea why, no doubt I thought it was a good look in 1982 or thereabouts.  I am standing with my little brother, also fetchingly visored, and Janet, our New Zealand nanny, who we will be spending this Christmas with in Auckland.  It’s been almost ten years since I’ve seen her and I can’t wait.

I had never been anywhere as magical as the Magic Kingdom before and it’s a place I still have very fond memories of.  We’ve taken Eve to Disneyland Paris for the weekend, which she was enchanted by, but I can’t wait to take all the children to the real deal in LA.  Before you say anything, Disneyland Paris will never be the real deal.  Most of the staff are French for a start.

Now, on to my tagee, who has sent me this beautiful, sparkly Christmas picture that must have been taken with the aid of a starburst filter.  This tag has an air of mystery about it. You have to guess who she is…

She will be posting her Young at Heart photo and story tomorrow, and revealing another youthful blogger for the photo album, so keep them peeled. And you never know, you could be tagged  next. . .

NOTE: Make sure you include the name ‘Young at Heart Photo Album’ in your title and post so your entry is easy to find in Google. The originator of the meme, Tara, will be looking out for you…

There are no rules as such, just keep paying it forward.

I’ve already done it behind the scenes and she’s all ready to go. And she’s primed her tagee etc. See if you can guess who it is before you click through to find out who our sparkly blogger is . . .