The Rabbit Hole

This is how I spent two days at home delirious, hoarse and feverish.

48 hours of this:

YouTube videos about tiny houses.

Discovering I have Amazon Prime and therefore Prime Video and therefore This is Us which is lovely but makes time and will power evaporate

I’ll just watch the first ten minutes of the next one…

Reading this EXCELLENT book that’s set in a Georgian whorehouse. Beautifully written. Very funny. Gorgeous. Bit racy. And look at the cover!

Listening to this podcast

Reading this really helpful and brilliant website which has great ideas for games to play with the children. I read it and resolved to do an Allsopp and smash the iPads and reinvent myself as a good mother. Just as soon as my fever spikes…

Toy Planning Meeting: minutes

Present

Edward. Michael. Tony. Ian. Steven. Brenda on tea and minutes.

Qualifications

All childless but two have nephews so therefore considered qualified to comment.

Minutes

Tony: Right. Welcome all. Thanks for coming to this week’s brain-storming session.

Edward: I don’t think we can say ‘brain storming’ any more. I’d feel more comfortable if we called these meetings ‘Idea Crafting’.

Tony: Right. Very good. Don’t want the Guardian readers getting wind. Let’s Idea Craft, then chaps!

All eyes to Brenda who is vigorously note-making

And you, of course, Brenda!

Brenda keeps eyes on her notebook and tightens grip on her pencil.

Michael: Just to jump right in, I’ve been thinking we need something extra special now Christmas is coming round the corner: I’m thinking buttons, songs, movements, flashing lights….

Ian: Heck yeah! Something that comes in a huge box so they’ll see it under the tree and nag to open first!

Steven: Could it play some kind of a jingle or a tune…?

Met with general murmur of approval.

Steven: It could kind of be something repetitive. Catchy. Get all the kids singing it. Maybe we could make a YouTube video that’ll go with the toy. Make it go viral.

Edward: Yes, mate! My sister is always humming Baby Bum songs! She’ll love this!

Tony: We will need to audition singers. Brenda- can you write that as an action point? Make a note to either have nauseating American woman or out of tune English man singing. Ta, love.

Edward: Hold on- won’t all the singing and lights and flashing things mean this toy will get through a lot of batteries?

Murmur of agreement.

Michael: It’ll need at least eight in to work.

Steven: And they will have to held in by whatever type of screw you don’t have the screwdriver for. That’ll need some deep consumer research on.

Tony: Brenda- action point.

Edward: And I know my nephews always fight to play with the noisiest toy so the batteries will wear out really quickly.

Tony: This is excellent

Steven: I will phone Adrian at Duracell and make them aware of our commitment to the deal we made with them last Christmas.

Tony: Action point, Brenda

Pause

Tony: Please remove last minute, Brenda. We don’t want the partnership getting leaked.

General guffawing.

Tony: Any other ideas, chaps? We’ve got to keep ahead of those competitors over at Confusico Instructo- those gits are all over Smyth Toy Superstore.

Michael: Well, I’ve been blue sky thinking about this idea for a toy with lots and lots of small parts…

Great work, buddy!

Emotional Moments

Set the scene: it’s the first day back at school after an awesome six weeks of non-stop love and fun.

Me: William. I just want to say…

William: Hold on

M: I want you to know how much…

W: I’m just…

M: …how proud and…

W: Have you filled my water bottle?

M: Yes. (Continues talking despite child watching PJ Masks over shoulder) Now you may feel sad about going back because it’s the end of the holidays and a new chapter in your life is always frightening

W: (with scorn) Not really.

M: Right. But. You might feel sad. So what we can do is draw a heart on my hand and then…

W: Why would you do that? Your heart’s in your chest. Not your hand.

M: Right. But then you draw one on your hand. And we kiss them together. So. You know. You can look at it and know I love you.

W: (doubtfully). I draw it on my hand?

M: (looking deep in to his eyes which are trained on the TV) That’s right. So we know we are always with each other.

W: It’ll be on my hand? Where everyone can see it? (Scoffs. Loudly.) I’m not doing that.

M:

I wipe a tear. He starts putting on his school shoes. I snivel. He puts his backpack on. His brother saunters in to view.

W: Y’know, mum?

M: (eyes alert, heart beating fast) Yes, darling boy?

W: I’m really going to miss Alex.

Alex:

Ashbury: non-stop knackering fun

Ashbury is a sprawling complex of hotel, golf course, tennis pitches, ice rink, soft play, swimming pools, archery halls, dining rooms, glass etching workshops and gokart tracks. It’s the only place I’ve ever heard of where you can go ten pin bowling, do candle making and then have a massage before a buffet lunch. It’s extraordinary.

The hotel is in Devon and surrounded by glorious hills and fresh air. The building is a warren of corrugated walkways and pebbledash. It’s a monstrous maze but all very practical.

Day One

We arrived before check-in (3pm) but we could still use the facilities. You have to sign up for any activities you want to do and it’s first come first served which always puts us Olivers in a spin of FoMO. And when the sign up board resembles your brain on a Monday morning, it’s all a bit overwhelming.

There is an enormous number of things you can do. I can’t even list them. Films, bowling, ice skating, tennis, golf, picture framing, jewellery making and on and on. The facilities are spread over two site: Ashbury and Ashbury Manor. We were in the former and it was quieter and calmer and smaller.

We then spent the afternoon in the soft-play and the pool which had two excellent but safe little slides in. Boys were beside themselves.

Day Two

The Wig Wearer and his dad went off for golf and for once I wasn’t worried about how I was going to entertain the kids! Our day went like this: soft-play, swings, go karts, swimming, soft-play, swings.

After six weeks of hanging off the fridge door wondering what to cook for the kids, it was a relief to know that mealtimes were included. The food is buffet style and actually way better than I thought it would be. There weren’t masses of options but what there was was well-cooked and tasty. Jack pots, macaroni cheese, lasagne, salad bar, chips, curry. Standard buffet fare. Plus the bar was cheap. Whoop!

TWW came back in time to take William for his first every try at tennis. Our son is not a natural for coordination but he really gave it a go and it was so nice to have a whole court to run about on. And watching my handsome husband patiently teach William (‘That’s it. Now next time try and hit it’) whilst also chatting golf with his dad and balancing Alex on his hip- well, that made me a bit swoony.

Day Three

TWW sloped off for another round of golf and so MIL and I took the boys up to the other site at Manor.

What an extraordinary place. Just trying to find the loos we passed an ice rink, a hall for bowls, a basketball court and two tennis courts- all indoors. The soft-play was good here too and empty so my two could charge about whilst I ignored them and my MIL went for a massage.

The bigger boys came back and joined us for buffet lunch before MIL and I went and got our craft on. All craft activities are run at cost so my hour and a half of fabric painting was £7 and I got to keep my masterpiece

The swimming pool at Manor has huge tunnel slides and all sorts but out two armband reliant doggy paddlers didn’t fancy it so we went back to Ashbury for a session.

Our evenings were uneventful because a) we had to put the kids to bed and stay in the room with them, b) we were exhausted anyway and c) the communal spaces had all the atmosphere of a dentist waiting room so we weren’t missing out really.

Day Four

As we sat chewing our way through another buffet fried breakfast, we all agreed that three nights was enough.

The boys were wrung out and we were all ready for our own (less rock solid) beds. We figured we could squeeze in one more round of swings/karts/swim before we hit the road.

The in-laws also kindly took the boys so TWW and I could go for a massage each. It was £36 for an hour’s neck, back and shoulders massage. And it was emotional. Literally. I cried. It was heaven. It was TWW’s first ever massage and he came out of it a new man: ‘Do I look different? I feel different!’

Before we went to Asbury, my MIL had warned us: ‘Don’t expect luxury. It’s no beauty but it’s great fun and the kids will love it’ which would prove to be a helpful summation of Ashbury. There’s a lot of pebble dash and brown pleather and pub carpet and golfers but more noticeable is the helpful staff, the happy children, the generous food, the brilliant activities, the excellent facilities. And the sheer size of the place means you can’t help but admire it.

The Facts

Six of us went for three nights in the summer holidays. It cost £850 which included all the pools, sports, play areas and food. Craft activities and some sports like clay pigeon shooting have a small charge.

Rooms are basic but there’s still kettles and tellies etc. The mattresses were in need of replacing but rooms were warm and bright.

Book Chat

It’s true! Everyone says it and you never believe it but it’s true! When the kids get older, they play together when you’re on holiday and you can actually.read.a.book.

It’s bliss!

I have galloped through books this summer and I’ve loved them. So here’s what I’ve been reading and I hope with all my heart that you can enjoy a similar number by a pool somewhere soon.

Excellent dystopian teen fiction. Potentially even better than Hunger Games. Loved it.

Made me really really laugh. The Wig Wearer is reading it now and keeps chuckling away and then I ask him which bit’s made him laugh and he keeps having to stop and tell me. It must be annoying. But this is a very very good read.

Have been listening to this on audiobook. TWW bought me some wireless headphones that are excellent so I listened to this book as I drifted off to sleep (trying to drown out the humming of the mozzies) but then kept giggling and laughing. Love Bill Bryson.

Love a SK. I thought the first third of this book would’ve made an excellent short story but then the rest of it was a bit of gumpf.

Another Doctor story but 100% less funny. A bit pretentious but very moving. I listened to it on audiobook and enjoyed it but think I might’ve given up on it if reading it.

Good fun. Classic Grisham.

William and I did through the night road trips to Cardiff and back with him co-piloting in the front. We listened to this on audiobook and I honestly had forgotten how funny these books are. They are brilliantly read too. Really recommend these. They are not at all dated unlike some childhood books.

Did you know…?

You can download an app (Libby) and type in your library card number and download up to six audiobooks FOR FREE. You might need a code but your local library can give you one (try your birth date and year first though as it might’ve been automatically set for you – ie, 2504 for me).

Download the app
Browse
Download!

Dutch Dallying: Why Holland is the Holiday for You

There are three things The Wig Wearer and I want from a holiday: boats, bikes and beer.

When you put these three things in Google, it gives you Holland*.

As a child, we would have our family holidays there. Every time I smell fresh water or eat mayonnaise with my chips or hear a mosquito, it takes me back to those happy times.

We’ve been before and we will go again but I wanted to share with you what we got up to because I’m convinced it’s somewhere everyone will love.

Our first week was in an Air BnB in Ossenzijl in the De Weerriben National Park- the Norfolk Broads of the Netherlands, if you will.

Will on the Floss

Where we stayed was in a great location. We hired bikes and cycled along the canal to Kalenberg. The boys delighted in cycling up and over the bridges along side the canal. As I pedalled along with Alex on the back, shouting and waving to the boats we passed, I was taken back to that same feeling of excitement on the back of my mum’s bike thirty years before.

We stopped in cafes and ate ice creams where my sister and I had decades previously. We charged about on boats and the boys bickered over who’s ‘captain’. I remember being tucked up in the bow of our family boat and the noisy engine chugging and ricocheting through the night as we motored home after supper somewhere up the canal. Now my boys munched Paprika crisps and spotted grass snakes and dangled their feet in the brown, peaty water.

Sisters
Brothers

Alex terrified the beejeez out of us by dangling over the edge and dragging his curls in the water. He certainly doesn’t get it from me.

2018
1988

One of my all time favourite views of this part of the trip was watching William pedal away furiously- his legs flying around as he and Andrew zipped along the cycle paths to Blokzijl. Alex on the back of my bike calling abuse at them as they over-took us: ‘You cheat, you smelly poos. Pedal faster, mummy! Turbo power!’

And I remembered the feeling well.

Team Oliver
Team White

The greatest discovery this year was all the excellent lidos that the area has: we cycled to the ones in Paasloo and Blokzijl and you could easily spend all day there if you didn’t have one kid who’s always trying to kamikaze down the water slides or another who refuses to go in above knee-level.

We had six days in this area and then we packed up and moved on to Alkmaar- a quick trip across the impressive road which stretches across the sea- the only bit of road I know about where a sailing boat will pass over you thanks to a naviduct.

Photo from Wikipedia as I’d left my drone at home

Despite the Sat Nav taking us the ‘scenic route’ through All the Farm Lands of Northern Holland, we did eventually make it to our next Air BnB in Heiloo. And everyone can stop looking now because we’ve found the most comfortable, well-located and aspirational Air BnB of them all. Just don’t try booking it next summer because we bagsy it.

Our hosts had generously lent us their bikes so we immediately hopped on and pedalled the 5k from Heiloo to Egmond aan Zee and the children cartwheeled on to the beach like sand-starved land lubbers.

Like Labs from a Volvo

And I truly hadn’t realised just how splendid the coastline is.

Keep running hit Norfolk eventually

Heiloo is on the outskirts of Alkmaar- home of cheese and a thoroughly lovely, moochable town and we used a day to cycle in for a scout. We visited in the familiar driving rain which we were graced with for sentimental purposes.

‘This feels more familiar’

To our slight relief, the weather improved to cloudy with bits of sun which is basically perfect beach weather so the rest of our trip was sand castles, body boarding, seagull chasing and picnicking. Our hosts had recommended Castricum’s visitor centre which was excellent and had a good cafe nearby and a stunning woodland walk. Castricum beach is clean, vast, safe and beautiful. We spent two days here- the windy one of which was vastly improved by the hiring of a windshelter seeing as I’d had to leave my new beloved one back in Blighty.

No pants. No cares.
One windbreaker. One big smile.

Six days on the canals and six days on the beach. Every day on a bike and beer three times a day. Frites with every meal and we were feeling like natives. What a joy to momentarily pretend you live in the most densely populated and yet practically designed, marvellously engineered, neat, logical, thoughtful and wholesome country in Europe. I even took a photo of this bit of road because it had right of way for bikes and a bridle way and no one huffed and even the taxi drivers respect cyclists.

A thing of beauty. A joy for cycling.

And yet there are a few things that keep you feeling very British. You may be nipping about on bikes but you’ll forget to pedal backwards to brake and then dismount inelegantly because, even on its lowest setting, the bike is too big for you.

Can’t stop. Won’t stop. Can’t rest my feet.

Or you’ll never quite get used to dangle your legs whilst you wee because you can’t touch the floor. Or you’ll feel shamed by the Dutch and their perfect English and feel flummoxed by words such as ‘slagroom’ (not a sex shop), or ‘Afsluitdijk’ (not a drunken insult), or ‘alstubleif’ (not a sneeze). Or you’ll never get used to how pasty your own children look next to the tall, blond, bronzed Dutch children. But it’ll feel really, really good to pretend for a while. And I bet you a stroopwaffle that you end up fantasising about living here- I know I still am.

*I know technically we went to the Netherlands but people always look blank when I say that and then they brighten and say ‘Oh, Holland! How lovely!’ so I’m sticking with that with apologies to my Geographer MIL.

Love in a Time of Child Rearing

You may well be raising children alongside someone you used to love wildly and recklessly. Perhaps you and that person once backpacked through Borneo together or sailed Greek islands or spoon fed each other gelato in Italian cities.

But that’s love then.

Love in a time of childrearing can look a little different. Other things now set your heart alight.

A Lie In

A true beloved might slip out of bed at the first chorus of ‘Mummy!’ and scoop them downstairs whilst you sleep on. You might stir at past 8am and come downstairs feeling like a new person. That’s the stuff that gives tingles under your pjs.

Odd Jobs

Perhaps they’ve topped up your windscreen wash. Perhaps they’ve remembered to pick up milk. Perhaps they’ve renewed the house insurance. These small acts of kindness may well give you sexy thoughts.

Shared Memories

The private jokes. The snigger triggers. The family malapropisms. The ‘do you remember’ whens. That’s glue. That’s love. That’s the chocolates on the pillow.

Stolen Moments

A beer and a snog in the garden. A quick pint whilst the in-laws babysit. A cinema trip. A tiptoe in to the bedrooms of your sleeping children and a high five shared for making such little crackerjacks. That sets the pulse racing.

It may not be red roses and candle lit suppers and the first dizzying flashes of lust but romance can live on- it just looks a little different.

Punting in Venice becomes Puttering on Canals