Monday, 21 July 2014

London Safari: Lions and hippo and bears(kins). Oh my !!

Now I know I say that you can do the most fun things in London, but I bet you never knew you could do a safari did you ? Well please prepare to be amazed as I show you how - please be aware, I have played fast and loose with the definition of safari !

Earlier in the week Hubbie took a day off so we could have a special trip to London before the school holidays start and it all goes crazy. What we forgot, of course, was that it's already tourist season so it was still busy !

Watching and waiting 


As it was such a lovely day we decided to get to London early and watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It is something I went to as a child with my parents and whenever family visited from India they would want to go so I've seen it a few times before, but I wanted my boy to experience the brass bands, the horses and to witness what so many visitors come to London for. It was far too hot for him though, so we took a break from standing behind people holding up their cameras and iPads and found a space in the throng to people watch instead.
Real soldiers 


Once the ceremony was finished we walked to Trafalgar Square and our boy wanted to get up close with the lions around Nelson's Column. Hubbie lifted him to an eye watering height and I kept my feet firmly on the ground. Then they decided to pose next to one of the lions which is the classic photo opp that all tourists have to do. In fact I told the boy that there is a photo of me with my Dad doing almost the same pose from way back in the seventies. He was disappointingly non-plussed by this nostalgic revelation.

It's a long way up !!

My brave boys take on a lion

Then at the weekend our boy was a busy chap. He had a birthday party on Saturday morning and they had a bouncy castle !! Then we went to the launch of Totstars Academy which is the latest development for our favourite pre-school activity in Croydon. It was sweltering inside and he insisted on having his face painted so we waited for him to be painted as superman (surely that is just borrowing Daddy's glasses and taking them off ?) They new venue has a fabulous indoor football surface which isn't strictly outdoors, but looks like grass so I'm cheating just a little bit :)

Essential face painting 
Big kicks 


It was blazing hot this weekend so we decided to wash out the hippo paddling pool / sandpit that lives at the bottom of the garden. The boy enjoyed helping Daddy fill it up with the hosepipe and then had a good old splash around and blew some bubbles until it was time for bed.

Filling the paddling pool with a hosepipe

Splash !! 

I'm not sure next week will be quite so hot, so I'm glad we made the most of it :)

And... relax :) 

This post is part of two lovely linkies this week:

#countrykids with the fab Fiona of Coombe Mill:

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Point and Shoot with the lovely Em of Snowing indoors:

Friday, 18 July 2014

I tell you what I want, what I really really want...

Well, if I'm being entirely honest it's to have one day where I don't feel overwhelmed by the toddler terror in my home. The domestic terrorist if you will.

More and more, recently I'm convinced I'm having a nervous breakdown and it's all because of someone who's not even 4 years old yet. When my family jumped at the chance to have my boy over to stay last week I was relieved to have a break from him. Me and Hubbie spent the evening missing him and wondering how this was the first night we'd ever spent at home without him. I was about to pat myself on the back for finding a sanity solution when I phoned to say good morning only to be told he'd head butted someone. Before breakfast.

Sigh. Calm shattered.

In my desperation I burden anyone I meet with my frustration at my toddler:
  • The woman who made my free tea at Waitrose: She assured me it won't last and when I said could he come to live with her she smiled kindly. I think that's still a no though.
  • One of the women who works at my son's nursery: She suggested I send him to Ju-Jitsu. That's all I need, my violent toddler learning how to hit more accurately !
  • My yoga students who have grown up children - and in one case grandchildren: They advised it's a phase. Apparently they're worse later. AARRGGHHH !!! 
  • I must have been stressed as I even found myself talking to Emma Bunton (you know her off of the Spice Girls) about my errant boy. We're not mates or anything I saw her at an event and she told me her boys were the same and to hang in there. She then said my boy looks gorgeous and to give him a hug from her. I officially love her now :) 
My new best friend :)

If you are also struggling to work out if you're losing your mind or just a bit tired, I've put together a little quiz like they do in magazines. Not that I read magazines of course, I'm far too busy / stressed / tired for that kind of indulgence ! Anyway, here goes:

1. Do you wake up already exhausted to the sound of, "Mummy, can I brush my teeth ?" "Mummy, can I feed the cat ?" "Mummy, I need the toilet" ?

2. Is it normal for you to feed a least 3 other people/pets before you are fully awake ?

3. Do you regularly eat 'lunch' at 4pm having missed breakfast as well ?

4. Is a lost hat / sock / shoe reason enough for a complete meltdown (yours) ?

5. Do you cry at every single thing featuring babies, dogs or 'inspirational mottos' on facebook or in adverts ?

6. Have you used your child's full name (yes, including middle names) more than once in the last week ?

If you can answer yes to all these questions then rest assured you're probably not having a nervous breakdown, you're just being held captive by a toddler. It does improve, apparently, but I can't tell you when.

He's asleep on the sofa at the moment, so I'm going to tiptoe to the kitchen and make some tea.

Wish me luck !

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Not a lot of people know that.

My boy makes me laugh for so many reasons. He makes me laugh because he knows his name - including two middle names - and he knows Daddy's full name - he has one middle name - he even knows that the cat has two names, but if you ask him my name it's Mummy. He knows that he is 3 and will be 4, that Daddy is 41, but apparently Mummy is one.

I like the air of mystery that I seem to hold for my boy. Like when I found out that my Mother could whistle, not just a demure, 'put your lips together and blow' type whistle, but proper loud one using fingers. This was disturbing not only because I found out when I was an adult, but because I then wondered under what circumstances she has ever needed to use this macho whistling technique ! What it did was give me an insight into my Mum as a person and not just as my parent. One day my boy will also realise that there is a lot he doesn't know about me. You can have a sneak preview:

I'm not really interested in ice cream: 

At the Royal Cornwall Show the other week as we stood in line waiting for him to get his face painted I sent Hubbie off to buy two ice cream cones - one for him and one for the boy. He got back to us and handed me one of them and held onto the other one. I was wrapping a napkin around the base of the cone to stop it melting all over his hand. The boy looked at both his parents with an ice cream cone and let out a little sigh and an "Ohhhh," of sadness thinking we had forgotten to get him one. It was so sweet.

Strawberries, yes please. Chocolate spread, no thank you :) 

I don't eat chocolate spread: 

On the penultimate morning of our holiday I revealed that I had brought a jar of chocolate spread with us as well as the jam, marmite, peanut butter and honey I had so diligently packed. The boy had been out feeding farm animals with Daddy so I thought they deserved a special treat. I made them both toasted waffles with chocolate spread and fresh strawberries. As put it on the table the boy looked at it and asked, "is that for me Mummy ?" I said, "yes," he said, "to eat ?" I laughed and told him it was. He looked at Hubbie who shrugged and then they both tucked in lest I changed my mind.

Custard makes me gag:

I just can't bring myself to eat it. Whether in a trifle or in a tart. I have to ask for crumble without custard and more than once I've been given a stare of incredulity when I've disclosed my phobia of custard. Ok phobia is a bit far, I just don't like it. No, not even custard creams. I will buy ready made custard for the boys, but I don't eat it myself or lick it off my hand if it spills when I'm opening a carton of it for one of them to eat *shudders*

I have visited every city and many towns in England:

In two separate jobs I've toured the country doing public speaking and it's meant there are few places I haven't visited at least once. Of course I haven't spent 'quality time' in all of these places, but on visiting somewhere I can usually say, "yes I've been here before," and recall some pointless fact about the place that would make a stand up proud. Talking of which...

I did one of the first stand up courses in London and used to do impro

This is how I met some of my closest friends, we were all doing silly things together in after work classes. The stand up itself terrified me to my very core, but some of my fellow students have gone on to great things. I found the skills I learned from the course very useful, but getting up in front of an audience as a 'comic' was too much for me.

I was mistaken for a diamond smuggler when leaving Sierra Leone:

Ok this one probably does require some explanation. I was working for a charity that had projects in Sierra Leone and I'd been on a visit meeting children in refugee camps and villages. I'd taken small presents for the children with me in my luggage. As we were leaving the country the customs officers looked at each other quizzically and asked me to step to one side with my bag. I had to empty my make up bag onto a counter only for them to laugh as they realised I'd been carrying diamante temporary tattoos and not smuggled blood diamonds out of the country. I was relieved to say the least.
Very streamlined... not ! 

I'm quite the sportswoman:

I know I don't look it - it's not often I get mistaken for Jess Ennis that's for sure ! However, I can ski, and scuba dive, I swim most days and am a yoga teacher. I've been a regular runner for over ten years now and have taken part in a lot of 5k (and one 10k) runs. It's not something I did at school as I wasn't the sporty archetype, but I love it now that I don't have to do it.

I'd never cut my hair until I was 26:

Raised in a Sikh family it was understood that we didn't cut our hair. Me and Hubbie chose not to cut our boy's hair for the first few years of his life out of respect for my family. I'm not sure what I thought would happen if I did cut my hair, but it did mean I had the longest hair of anyone I knew at University. My hair is a fair bit shorter now. 

My rock 'n' roll hair  
Mummy is a rocker:

I've been to see Metallica a few times and used to go to Donington rock festival regularly. My favourite item of clothing, bar none, is my biker jacket and I secretly still want to be in a rock band :)

I still can't whistle like my Mum does though. That is way cool ! 

Monday, 14 July 2014

Secret spaces in South Norwood

I'm always going on about how there are lots of lovely outdoor places to play in London. I grew up in a suburb with a house and a garden where there were nice parks to play. When me and Hubbie were looking for a family home a garden was a 'non-negotiable', but proximity to open spaces was pretty important to us too. We've lived in this area for almost three years now and this weekend we discovered spaces we've never been to before practically on our doorstep.

Beautiful pond and garden

Firstly we went to an open afternoon at South Norwood station where they have a community garden that used to be a disused area behind the tracks. Volunteers have worked hard to make this a beautiful garden where children from local schools can come along and learn about gardening and grow flowers and plants from seeds.

Exploring the garden
Checking out the plants 

For those who don't have a garden it's a great opportunity to learn about gardening and growing as well as to just sit in a quiet place that is nice to look at. The event was hosted by the British Transport Police who have assisted with the garden development. The officers also shared safety tips and we met a London Transport Teddy who our boy was very taken with.

Transport Police Teddy
Reused station seats

After the station visit our boy was still itching to enjoy the sunny afternoon so Hubbie suggested we explore South Norwood Country Park. We weren't entirely sure where it was, so armed with phone maps and a vague idea of where it was we headed off. Miraculously the park is almost next door to where Hubbie and the boy go to watch Croydon play football, but it is like a little secret place hiding so much fun stuff to do. 

Fireman practice
He's the hot stepper 

As well as a picnic area and a pitch and putt they have a great kids playground for younger ones and a more adventurous one for the bigger kids. The screeches of joy coming from the park showed how much fun everyone was having. There are places to climb, to swing and to ride on and a small shop selling teas and ice lollies - what more could you ask for ?

Round and round he goes
I see no ships

There is a mini 'henge' - not entirely sure what that is about and a double swing that me and the boy had great fun riding on together. In fact a lot of the playground was being used by overzealous 'competitive dads' who were encouraging their kids to climb higher or use the zip wire. It was not easy to persuade the boy that it was time to go home for dinner with so many tempting things to play on.

Hubbie on the 'henge'
Double swing fun

Taking our boy out and about is one of the things we all love doing. Now that we've discovered a country park so close by I'll be going back in the summer holidays with my boy. Hubbie has said that on a Saturday afternoon when the football gets a bit dull he might be tempted to take him here to play golf instead :)

Jiggles on a wrecking ball (tee hee)

In a moment of silliness Hubbie decided to do a Miley Cyrus tribute using Jiggles the bear on a 'wrecking ball.'

This post is part of the fun #countrykids linky hosted by the lovely Fiona of Coombe Mill 

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

My week in pictures: Hey, Ho, Let's Go !!

David & David onstage

On Sunday evening I went with my lovely pal Jo to watch David Arnold in concert for the first time ever. He is the composer whose music you know even though you may not know him.  He composed the theme music for the Olympics, Sherlock, James Bond movies and the marvellous 'Play Dead' that David McAlmont came on stage to sing - it was electrifying !! We also spotted Charlie Higson, Mark Gatiss, Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington in the crowd and apparently Caitlin Moran was there too !

This cat is almost cooked

If you're a regular reader you will know my cat Neo. He's a sun worshipper and a spoiled old thing who has spent a week with grandma and grandpa while we were on holiday at Coombe Mill. This meant he was not allowed outside so this week he has made the most of his freedom and been in the garden as much as possible.

I am a feminist

love is...sharing chocolates

Hubbie and I don't get to go out on a hot date that often, so going to see Caitlin Moran was just a wonderful treat. The gig was sold out and I just happened to ring up one afternoon and they had two tickets returned so I asked Hubbie if he wanted to go - thinking he'd say no for sure - and he said yes !! We ate a lovely Thai meal first then went to watch her show and Hubbie was one of only around 20 men there. He wins many, many cool points for this :)

Liquid brunch

I was invited to an event to showcase the new Amazon prime summer offering for kids this week. As my boy was staying with my folks I went along solo.  On arrival they served brunch which included bucks fizz and the biggest pastries you've ever seen. I did a quick calculation of the chances I'd have to drive later and worked out I could risk a sneaky drinkie :)

Want !!! 
Yep, so doing this 

I then went onto some Christmas preview events that were just stunning. I'd love to have a Christmas table that looked like this, but I suspect with an almost 4 year old it's unlikely !!

open top bus fun
it's Big Ben !! 

We were also lucky enough to get invited to do a Big Bus Tour of London that my boy - and Hubbie - just loved it. We got up close with Big Ben and even managed to learn some stuff that we didn't already know about London from the fabulous - and very knowledgable - tour guide Phil. 

My little Michaelangelo
Now with so much going on this week we had to have a quiet day, so when it was just me and the boy on Friday I gave him a huge set of felt tip pens and some paper to do some drawing. It's a work in progress, but I will share when it's finished. This may take some time as it really is a big piece of paper and there are a lot of colours ! 

Tommy Ramone RIP

So we come to today and this morning I presented my radio show where I interviewed Andy Kershaw and I opened with the Ramones: I wanna be sedated, because Andy had worked with them in the past. I also wore my Ramones t-shirt and it wasn't until I returned home that I found out Tommy Ramone had died.

So, just like I did last week, I'm sharing a Ramones song with you for the weekend. Enjoy :)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The really great outdoors

As promised last week here is the second part of my post from our holiday at Coombe Mill  the home of Fiona - the lovely host of the Country Kids linky - and her fab family.

My boy had such a great time taking part in all the activities on the farm and we had glorious weather so we spent a lot of time outdoors every day and explored the areas nearby too. He took to being a farm helper really well and was very careful handling the animals and would greet all of them with a cheery hello and a wave. His favourite job by far, though, was when he helped drive the tractor !

Just doing preliminary tractor checks with Daddy

At the Eden Project he took the land train down with Daddy as it is a bit of a trek for small legs and it was a hot day. As a result he was a bit hot and bothered in the rainforest biome, but after a snack stop for a delicious cake and a drink he enjoyed walking along the sunflowers and listened to a lovely story which they do at regular intervals for small children. We tried to guess all the recycled objects that made up the weee man - he spotted quite a few fans and we found washing machines, computer paraphernalia and various vacuum cleaners, then I took our boy back on the land train.

walking among the sunflowers

One of the best days out was at Lappa Valley which has three trains a mini golf course and a small boating lake - as Miranda's mum would say "Such fun !" We spent all day there and honestly our boy was reluctant to come home. It is a hidden gem really and lovely Fiona called ahead for us from Coombe Mill so that we got an offer on the entry price too.

Here comes the choo-choo 

We even managed a day at the beach and went to Rock where I indulged my new obsession with Cornish slate and collected pieces of it to bring home to make a garden feature. I have no idea what the feature will be, but I'm sure inspiration will strike. The boys had lots of fun making sandcastles, burying each other in the sand and running in and out of the water. I have a loathing of sand that meant I spent more time shaking the towels to get sand off them than anything else, but I did also pick up some lovely chunks of slate too.

Serious construction work going on here 

The great thing about having good weather is that our boy was able to play outside all day and even into the evenings. He climbed things, ran around and generally wore himself out. Here he is scaling the walls of a play castle to get some rope climbing practice - that was harder than he's making it look !

And heeeave !!

So in conclusion we had a fantastic time at Coombe Mill and will definitely be back. The weather may have given us a rose tinted experience, but even on our last day where it was rainy the boy had great fun playing in the indoor soft play barn with his new friends. 

I look forward to making Coombe Mill a regular family holiday :) 

This post is part of the lovely #countrykids linky hosted by the fab Fiona of Coombe Mill 

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Playschool was never like this

Outdoor fun
In September my boy will be going to 'big school' and it is a big deal. We take a lot of time to choose schools and it is a big thing in a child's life. We will shop for uniform and shoes and he has been to meet his teachers and class mates. When we take so much care about choosing and preparing for school why is it that we don't take nursery quite as seriously ? After all it is the first experience most children will have of being cared for and learning in a new environment.

When my son not much more than a year old I went back to work and he was taken care of by my sister who is a nanny. It was paid work and she undertook it with the professionalism you would expect, but also with a love for her nephew that made it all the more reassuring to me that he was well cared for. The decision to leave work soon after was not a simple one, but it was never because I worried that he wasn't being cared for.

I was employed in a new role a few months later and the pressure to go full time meant I was looking for childcare again. My sister was not available to do the full time role and I accepted that I needed to look for nursery provision for my boy. The difficulty in this, however, was something I just wasn't prepared for. We made some mistakes that I'm going to share so that you don't do the same:

Mistake number one: We didn't shop around 

As we went to Gymboree I talked to other mums who were going back to work and who had their children in nurseries and I took a recommendation from one of them. She told me about a Montessori nursery that she rated very highly. I didn't know much about nursery, but knew enough to decide that Montessori was the was to go for us. I went to look at the one she recommended and it seemed nice enough. I didn't look at any others. I have since realised that the principles of Montessori are adopted by a lot of nurseries even if they do not specify that they are a Montessori nursery.

Mistake number two: We didn't realise that if your child seems unhappy you don't have to leave them there, you can stay. 

I talked to the owner of the nursery who was very laid back and we agreed that my son would have a trial and see how he got on. He was still not even 18 months and I was worried he would be upset, but they assured me he would be fine. I left him with them for a little while. He cried. I went outside to the car and I cried. I came back. They told me he was fine, but he looked unhappy. If I had known better I'd have asked to stay with him and play the first time and try leaving him for a short while the next time.

Mistake number three - I didn't trust or listen to my instincts 

The staff did not give me a settling in plan or any suggestions for how to make his settling in any easier. I took him again the following week and he was upset again and they told me to leave him and that he'd be fine. He wasn't. I wasn't. I talked to the nursery manager who essentially told me off for suggesting my son wasn't settling in and said he didn't need my business and if I was unhappy I could go elsewhere. A good nursery will give you a clear settling in plan and guide you on how best to help your child make a happy transition. They won't insult or humiliate you for being overly protective of your child.

Mistake number four - I was fobbed off when I asked to see nursery policies and I didn't insist on seeing them. 

The final time I took my son to nursery he seemed a bit better, but when I returned he was in a vest on the floor with the door wide open. When I asked why they said he didn't have a shirt only a jumper in his bag. I asked why they didn't put his jumper on him and they looked blank. When they told me he had taken a nap on the floor as they didn't have enough cots and only children who came every day could have a cot I left and knew we wouldn't be back again. When we came for the first look round they had shown me cots for sleeping, nothing was said about a hierarchy of sleeping that included the floor.

Mistake number five - We didn't report what we experienced 

This week there was a news story about Ofsted inspections of nurseries in Croydon that suggests nursery provision in our area just doesn't make the grade. The nursery I took my boy to was judged inadequate and;

"was censured in March, not because there had been an incident, serious or otherwise, but because staff could not demonstrate they understood safeguarding and welfare requirements."

I feel vindicated in my decision to not take him back there. I had tried to find an Ofsted report for the nursery at the time, but it was not available and I didn't know who to tell. I decided that staying home with my son was more important for his welfare and my sanity until he and I were ready for him to go to a pre-school or nursery setting a few months later.  

I don't do messy play at home

This experience informed the process when we looked for the nursery where he has been very happy for 2 years now. Me and Hubbie visited at least half a dozen nurseries and while they were nice we considered all the pros and cons. We wanted somewhere that had outdoor space, friendly children and staff and written policies. The one we chose is not the closest to us, but he has blossomed there and I trust the staff with my precious child. The staff are never to busy to talk to me about my concerns, they advised on how to help him to use the toilet instead of nappies and they have supported me when his behaviour has been difficult at home. It has been a great choice for us. 

Not all parents can or want to stay at home and take care of small children. We rely on others to help us with our beloved babies and trust that they are doing a good job. Of course there will be days when things go wrong. I have signed the accident book so many times it's not even funny. I've had to pick him up as he has had a temperature and I have been mortified when they have told me he has hit another child or said a rude word *whistles innocently*

He has also been on trips where they have taken the bus and walked to the park to feed the ducks. They have sports sessions, play outside, draw and paint, play with sand and bake cookies. He plays nicely with the younger children and has tried foods that I don't make at home. He gets invited to his friends' birthday parties and he has a different 'best friend' every week. 

It might not be for everyone, but nursery has been great for me and for my boy. His happiness and his safety are important to me. 

It's not too much to ask that those things are a priority for the staff caring for him too. 

Learning through play