Sunday, 20 October 2013

Holidaying abroad - will it be worth it in the end?

With two days left of our Welsh holiday this summer, I was cooped up in Merlin's soft play centre just off the Haverfordwest bypass, with rain lashing down outside, children sweaty and hyperactive, and I took advantage of the free wifi to look at holidays in the sun for next summer.

Five minutes later, quite unexpectedly, I had actually booked a holiday, and not for next summer, but for the next half-term holiday.

For admirable but annoying environmental reasons, Tom hasn't allowed us to leave the country (by aeroplane at least) for seven years.  So these were the hasty actions of a woman on the edge - an environmental rebel.  And in just two months' time we would be leaving on a jet plane!

I then had to break the news to Tom, who was at that moment squeezing through a tunnel  full of dirty coloured balls, five metres above my head, being jeered at by a bunch of eight year olds, while in pursuit of Dolly.

Once he was safely back down on ground level and drinking a Fruit Shoot, I nervously told him that I had just booked us all a holiday to Mallorca.

He took it surprisingly well, after all, I had spent a few rainy summers regularly pointing out the unfairness of inflicting his self-denying principle on the rest of us - plus I think the Fruit Shoot had gone to his head, and he would have agreed to anything.

So we leave this Wednesday, and now I feel like my head is going to explode with all the things that I've got to do, coupled with the worry that Gove might fine us for daring to take our kids out of school for a couple of days.

International travel - and school rules, come to that - and the passport application process, thinking about it - have all changed a lot in seven years, particularly when you opt to fly with a budget airline. Gone are the days when you would simply book your holiday and get sent a ticket in the post, and pack whatever the heck sized bag you wanted with virtually anything in it.

You now have to do EVERYTHING yourself.  They don't even check you in at the airport any more - you have to do it online and print your own boarding passes, insurance documents, flight confirmation, car hire vouchers, accommodation vouchers, car parking vouchers, toilet vouchers... I'm half expecting that we're going to have to fly the bloody plane as well.

You seriously need to have your wits about you, particularly if you are taking hand luggage only.  In hindsight we should have paid the extra £60 to have a much larger suitcase in the hold, but I couldn't get over the fact that it would have cost more for my suitcase to travel than for me - so we're stuck with these miniature bags.

I've spent most of the day worrying about things like making sure all finger and toe nails are cut (no scissors allowed on flight), finding a lightweight hand bag that I can squash into my mini suitcase, buying zipped 20cm x 20cm freezer bags (heaven forbid if the bag doesn't have a zip) and tiny shampoo and toothpaste, and powdered Calpol. The whole experience is an uncomfortable mixture of irritating and surreal.

We're going to look like a family of fat giants, wearing dozens of layers of clothes at the airport (in order to keep below the 10kg weight restrictions on the bags) and carrying our tiny bags.

And there's a good chance we are going to have a really smelly week with one towel and a tiny bottle of shampoo for the whole family, plus Tom and I have no choice but to share a deodorant.  Honestly, anyone would think that they don't want us to leave the country.

Still, the excitement of digging out sun hats and flip flops, and the smell of the sun cream as I squeeze it into several 100ml plastic bottles from Primark, on this dark and wet October afternoon in Blighty, is almost too much for me.

As long as the sun shines, it will be worth it. I just hope we don't spend the week hankering after our old and trusted (and logistically straightforward) friend, Wales.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

My musical career hangs in the balance...

Tom is on guitar
My husband Tom is a very talented musician, and he plays guitar and keyboard (sometimes simultaneously) in a band. 

The band is mainly made up of other dads from Betty and Dolly's school, who are also very talented. And I am their self-appointed manager, because it makes me sound important and musical.

However, I know absolutely nothing about music, apart from that I like anything produced in the eighties/early nineties ... and James Blunt (although Tom has told me that I should never admit to this). 

Despite not having a musical bone in my body, I did write them a song once.  But this came about because I told them that all their songs were quite depressing and dark, and so they told me to go off and write them a happy song. 

I very quickly realised that writing about turmoil and tragedy is much easier, and my song turned out to be the most depressing of all. They were kind enough to put some music to it and they even performed it a couple of times in the early days, once in my sitting room, and once at the school fete. 

Being their manager involves listening to them rehearse in my sitting room every Tuesday night, drinking beer, throwing the odd wasabi pea their way, updating their Facebook and Twitter pages, and animatedly mouthing along to the songs, while fantasising that I am actually the lead singer. 

I once told them that I love singing, but that I am totally tone deaf. At that time they were desperate for a female singer, and so told me that anyone can sing with a bit of practice, and persuaded me to give it a shot. So after half a bottle of wine, I had a go at singing along.  I was never invited to sing with them again. 

But recently they set me the task of getting them a gig.  And after an awkward conversation with a pub landlord about what sort of band they were (I didn't know), I managed to get them a gig in a tapas bar.

And it turned out to be a great success, and I of course tried to take all the credit.  Now feeling like I had earned my title of manager, at the end of the night while they were packing up, I went and sat with them, and said: 

'So guys, how do you think it went?' And 'What do you think you could have done better?'

I then congratulated them, and gave them each a high five. Tom later said I sounded like a football manager doing a post-match debrief in the changing rooms.

Anyway since that night, the band seem to be taking me a little more seriously. And I am now even getting copied in on their email conversations about recording dates, and future gigs, and needing a new drummer.... so, if you know of anyone...

What will tomorrow look like?

This year h.Energy linked up with the Big Draw 2013, and invited passers-by to 'draw tomorrow' ... what will our homes look like, our clothes, our communities .. what sort of food will we eat, how will we travel. 

These are the drawings that children made, and animated there and then, in the h.Energy Marketplace in Hereford High Town - with the expert help of prize-winning eco-film maker Anita Sancha

Please take a look - it's brilliant!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: help save lives

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, and every month 1000 women die from the disease.  I know quite a few ladies who have been diagnosed, and undergone treatment, and mastectomies, and reconstructive surgery, and one amazing lady who died.

I am terrified of getting breast cancer, so terrified that I very rarely check myself for the signs, for fear of finding something.  And on the odd occasion that I have checked, it has been a very quick and approximate prod around while in the shower.

My approach is completely wrong and irresponsible, but I know that I am not alone.  Which is why Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the campaigns that Breakthrough Breast Cancer are currently running are so important.

They want to remind women that knowing their own bodies could save their lives. We just need to follow TLC: Touch, Look, Check. The earlier breast cancer is found the better the chances of beating it – which is why it is vital that women make regular checks.

You can also get involved this month by joining in with their first-ever Great Pink Bake Off (which is this Friday 18th October), or by purchasing one of the fantastic exclusive pink products from leading brands that include AVON, M&S, ghd and many more.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer's work has never been more important. They are leading the way in discovering new treatments, improving diagnosis and identifying ways to prevent breast cancer from developing at all.

Please take a look at their website, to see how you can raise awareness, raise money for vital research, and help save lives.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Coming out!

The view from here
A friend recently asked me why exactly I keep my location a secret on this blog, and at the very least I could perhaps mention which county I live in.

And I guess she is right.  Herefordshire is quite big, and so I don't think any potential stalker would be able to track me down with that still quite vague bit of information.

So there you have it, I live in Herefordshire - with the cattle, the lovely cider, and the rolling hills.

Tom and I moved here from London exactly ten years ago, and although we have never regretted it, I do sometimes miss city living.

But, it is all go here this week - because we have h.Energy - Sustainable Herefordshire Week - something which I am very proud to be working for.  

There are over 120 events all around the county: open eco homes, community food projects, loads of events for kids, renewable energy advice, pub quizzes, nature walks, a giant water-powered cuckoo clock and lots more!

A friend of mine wrote a great piece about h.Energy for the Guardian this week.

So if you live nearby, do check out some of the events - this week Herefordshire is the place to be!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The modern couple, working in the countryside...

Yesterday, with the kids safely installed in school and our rural internet on the blink again, Tom and I decided to be very modern, and do a bit of work from our favourite cafe in town.

Amazingly (for it was market day and so very busy) there was a space between two cars right outside the cafe. Tom confidently pulled up alongside the car he was going to park behind, and told me that if there was one thing he could do in this world, it was reverse park.

I was quick to tell him that he was not close enough to the parked car, to be able to reverse in tight next to the kerb.  He laughed at me and told me I was deliberately trying to put him off, and again told me of his reverse parking expertise.

So he dramatically, and a little bit cockily, began backing into the space.  He got half way in and suddenly stopped, announcing that the space was too small.  I told him it wasn't.  He asked me to get out and watch he didn't bash the car behind.

Meanwhile the 17 year old boy-racer who works in the butchers shop opposite was standing outside having a fag, and staring.

Tom finally got into the space without hitting any cars, and as proud as punch, he turned the engine off.  But he was a good metre from the kerb.  And he was genuinely surprised when I pointed this out to him.

So he turned the engine back on, and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, and holding up lorries and farm vehicles, he once again turned the engine off, convinced he had executed the perfect reverse park manoeuvre.  He was exactly parallel with the kerb, but was now a metre and a half away from it.

The boy-racer was still standing there, but now he had his boss next to him, both smirking.

Feeling that our family honour was at stake, I shouted through the window for Tom to get out and that I would park the bloody car myself.

I jumped in, revved the engine in a boy-racer-esque manner (to show the butchers that I knew what I was doing) and hastily accelerated out of the space.

As I was doing so, I loudly scraped the side of our car against a nearby post. And as if I hadn't noticed, Tom called through the window, telling me I'd just scraped the car, a little too breezily for my liking.

By then, queues of cars had gathered in both directions. I yelled at Tom to get in - he uselessly called out: 'What? Into the car?'   A farmer then approached, carrying a sheepdog under his arm, and asked if we needed help.

We were both crippled with embarrassment at this point.  In his haste to get in quickly, Tom sat on my iPad.

I (accidentally) did a little wheel spin as I drove off far away from that space, and the post I had just scraped, and the gawping butchers.  We went to the big empty car park instead (where we parked with ease) to assess the damage.  Then we decided to drive home.