Despite being staunchly atheist, dwindling church attendance numbers wrenches my heart. I think it’s something about these gorgeous buildings, so atmospheric and laden with history, these symbols of community and shared belief being now echoey and abandoned that gives me a mawkish feeling of the demise of ‘goodness’. AND I AM AN ATHEIST!
St Alban’s church on Grove Road (where we had our wedding banns read) was suffering and so transformed itself in to a café, The Sanctuary. It has cleared its pews (it puts them back for services still), added a coffee maker, kitchen and a handful of volunteers and, crucially, a shed load of kids’ toys.
And so, like St Peter on the gates, here is my judgement:
Chocolate and almond(flour free if that’s important to you), lemon drizzle and carrot cake. Plus Ella’s Kitchen snacks and Kettle Chips.
All the usual offerings plus a range of fancy teas. Loses a point for being a bit on the weak side. I’m a rocket fuel kinda gal
Kid friendliness 5/5
By kid-friendly I mean ‘on what scale can I keep them busy so I can chat to my friend?’ scale. This place scores top marks.
Like-minded types 5/5
This place was awash with lovely seeming women (and two kid free blokes) who were all chatting and ignoring their well-behaved kids. There were also a handful of lovely, attentive grandparents.
Overall, top marks to you, The Sanctuary. Thank you for the lovely hands-free slab of cake and for easing my aching heart by filling your church with life again.
Sometimes you need a plan for when it’s not Christmas anymore and the children are being vile and they’re tired and a bit sniffly and you’re hungover and have eaten too many Quality Streets.
We’ve spent ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ at the in-laws. They’re top notch hosts and we visit a lot so here are our favourite spots for a visit when you’ve gotta get out of the house.
MAD museum. It’s like one big marble run session with other brilliant feats of engineering and physics. Both sprogs love it as there are tons of buttons to press and things to see and admire. We all lost about 40minutes hypnotised by a Spirograph.
Because I am a wife of a swanky law type, we have access to gorgeous flats in central London at the Inns of Court so I rented a couple for us Olis and my parents for their birthdays this weekend. Here are some pics and deets of what we got up to. It’s essentially a whole lotta museums. God I love museums.
Oddly hard to find considering its height, but worth looking for and worth the 311 steps to the top. William managed it ok, Alex had to be carried. Alex also managed to do a poo halfway up it and stink out the stairwell. This is a monument to the great fire of London so brace yourself for 38529835928359 questions about the fire, how it started, how many died and what their dead bodies looked like and do we get to see the dead bodies etc. Unless, of course, your child is less morbid than ours.
This is another one that’s a bother to find (head to St P’s and ask around), but brilliant. And free. There is MASSES to see and it’s genuinely interesting: all fire, plague and cholera. Love that stuff. The cafe’s not great and there’s not much else around so advise packing a picnic.
NB: if I had a Mastermind subject it would be Museum Cafes of the World: specialist area Maritime Museums, and I reckon if it don’t sell sausages rolls, it ain’t no good and that’s my measuring stick.
NBB: Norwich Castle Café is the best, thanks for asking.
A hidden gem and a good spot for your picnic. This park is just outside Museum of London and is a captivating charm of Victorian London. It is a park that commemorates those who lost their lives in heroic acts during the Victorian era. It’s a fascinating window in to Victorian life: lots of burning dresses, drowning and factory explosions. It’s free and it’s ripe for aspiring novelists searching for inspiration.
Off on your hols with your sis? Roll with that and make her give you a lift in your mum’s car. #regression.
Crucially, you must stay loyal to being a neurotic traveller and force your super-relaxed sis to arrive three hours early for the flights. That’s a good 90 minutes before check-in. Feel suitably embarrassed.
Spend so long at the airport you know your fellow travellers better than you know some of your neighbours and you have to go to Smiths cos you’ve finished your book. You’ve read your book: a surefire sign you’re kid-free!
Fall asleep on ‘Jill’ in seat 11C.
Awake refreshed and glide through airport with ease and hand-luggage only. Waft smugly out through airport doors. Turn round. Go back inside. Haul on more layers. Hit the cold again.
Arrive at the apartment your cousin has rented for you and wander around its wonderful rooms, trailing your fingers across the walls in manner of Cinderella at the ball.
If you have any energy after your late night flight, pop out for a quick snoop around the neighbourhood. Because you are young and relevant and like a homing pigeon for what’s hot, you stumble across a bar you were desperate to go to. Accidently stay until the wee hours.
Despite the late night, wake up early: THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO. Pack a bag, pack your printed, laminated fun schedule (actual thing) and head out for coffee and apple pie.
Hunt down the Christmas Markets. Christmas markets make my heart beat faster. Cut me and I bleed mulled wine for the month of December and I like to chug it al fresco. We found the markets at Old Town Square better than the ones at Wenceslas and when it comes to Christmas markets, I know my shit so trust me on this.
Drag yourself from the trdelnik, twinkly lights, sizzling sausages and magnificent Christmas tree (it has a viewing platform- joy of joy!), and head to the Museum of Communism. In fact, don’t. It’s crap. Go to the DDR in Berlin instead.
Head on to find the thrift shops of Prague. Show your dedication to fashion by getting distracted on a short-cut by an upside-down-horse. Stop for a snifter at the Kino bar by the horse’s bum.
Now, not everyone will have a handsome actor in their family (peers down nose) but Han and I do and if you do too (secret handshake) then pop along to their film set. Try and do this once you’ve had several beers and half a dozen mulled wines: it’ll add to the confusion of arriving in a parallel medieval world where people in North Face are avidly watching your cousin Tom slice n dice baddies. Happily, Tom’s captivating and kind girlfriend was there and she’s well-versed in set etiquette (setiquette?) so ignored our refusal of hand-warmers, heated insoles and penguin jackets. She also knows her stuff when it comes to on-set buffets so she proved an excellent tour guide. Listen to your onset sage and try and hold back on nudging everyone and whispering ‘that’s my cousin’.
Defrost in town later when you pop for a ‘quick drink’. Get massively lost when you keep ending up at the Christmas tree which is where your heart is, but not the people you’re meant to be meeting…
Accidently stay out til 4am.
Wake with a hangover, but it doesn’t matter because YOU ARE KID-FREE. You can have a bath without an Igglepiggle bath toy giving you the eye and then crawl back in to bed. Crawl back out in raging hunger. Head to Café Lounge and order three breakfasts. More if you’ve got the koruna.
Belch out some room for more food as you stroll to the farmers’ market for cake, fried fish and mulled wine.
The next recommendation is hard to orchestrate but with high output: if possible, get the shits and make a dash for a scuzzy metro toilet run by a Czech grouch. Han managed to get locked in her cubicle and thoroughly recommends perching on the loo while listening to her sister gripe next door. Aim for the stars, people.
Go back and sleep. You can do that because your kids are at the in-laws.
ANOTHER COUSIN HAS ARRIVED! Wake up! Go out for supper en masse and admire their lovely faces and feel content.
Take a night-time walk across Charles Bridge and sip ginger tea as you feel superior to all the drunken stags. Because you are cool and edgy, search out a bar you’ve had recommended. It’s a bit swanky so schlep next door to the tiny hole in the wall serving becherovka and hot dogs.
Meander more. Drink more. Play a board game (it’s the best: I’ve asked for it for Christmas). Realise it’s 4am again. Bugger.
Balk in horror at the realisation that you’ve got to get to the airport on a Sunday on four hours’ sleep from a place you don’t know the address of. Recruit your progressive cousin to book you an Uber. Modern!
Rejoice in being at the airport dead early so you can read your book and hunt down Jill for a nap. Spend conscious part of flight glowing in the memory of Prague’s magic and doing happy mulled wine burps.
Happy birthday, Alex, you crazy-haired, stubborn, hilarious and happy little boy.
We celebrated your birthday with granny Rose and grumpa Ben. Your birthday falls on my favourite weekend of the year (bar bonfire night): Norfolk Heritage Weekend! All the museums are open and free! Nooks and crannies round the county are thrown open to all!
We did Yarmouth. Dodging rabid dogs and psycho seagulls, we clocked up the Tolhouse prison (‘mummy, what are gallows?’) and Fisherman’s Hospital and Museum on the Broads.
It rained. You slept under my museum-issue poncho.
The next day, we had Peppa Pig cake and went to Wymondham for a vintage car fair.
We had a picnic at the abbey and you romped around, tumbled about and clambered over gravestones and I thought I hope two gorgeous boys get hiccups on my grave when I’m six feet under. How lovely.
We all had a super day and you were well chuffed with your pirate ship present that William commandeered. Thanks for sharing your presents, dribble and cake with us all today. You are utterly adorable.
We are going on a cruise! Heaven help us! My in-laws are taking us and my nephew and I have a few anxious rumblings: what if I’m too rowdy for formal evenings? What if I get stuck next to an American at the buffet breakfast? What if I get judged for ordering a Rum Punch at 10AM?
Here’s a pic of us as I write this:
Andrew’s laughing because William is telling him that he’s going to put his armbands on and jump overboard. Ha de ha. Also, note the pre-strike arm raise. Brotherly love.
Anyway, got to go as feeling carsick and need to double check I packed the passports and enough sequined outfits. Wish me luck!
EDIT: cruise went well. No men/child overboard. Success.
I read a lot of Austen and Brontes when I was young and precocious so I had high expectations of love. I also had no experience of long term relationships and a one way ticket to New Zealand so meeting The One seemed unlikely.
And yet I did.
Picture the fairy tale: post-work drinks a few months pre-smoking ban. I was out with a friend (see Intuition post) and we were looking for a seat in the sun. We found one with a charming chap and his surly looking mate. Guess which one I married two years later? Yup, I made it my life’s work to get that miserable bugger to cheer up.
We courted and gad about until I went off travelling. He flew out to join me and we walked up glaciers, abseiled down caves and swam in lakes until he flew home and left me moping.
A few years and a ticket home later, we were in our cagoules eating satsumas on Hadrian’s Wall when we decided we were going to get married.
And so we did. We married at my parents’ house and barn danced the night away under the musty canopy of the village marquee. My dress was from a charity shop and the food was from the kebab house and the beer was Master Brew and plentiful. It was ace.
Seven years and two kids later and we are alright and I’m alright with alright because any more than that seems to lead to lonely wandering on moors or being rescued from burning beds and such like so here’s to ticking along nicely. Happy anniversary, hotpants.