Sunday, 31 October 2010

Look who I saw in Madrid...

Madrid is a city full of beautiful, fashionable, sophisticated people. Yet here, in the Plaza Mayor, was Spiderman with a paunch. In the photo he was actually holding in his gut for the ladies and they seemed quite taken with him.

It wasn't quite the sight I expected to see in Spain's capital and particularly in this square, the site of autos da fe, public trials of heretics conducted by the Spanish Inquisition....nobody expects that. (Did you notice the clever thing I did there?)

Madrid was a delightful place to visit, a manageable city with most sights in walking distance and no massive must-sees which turn some city breaks into a mad dash. You can't go to Rome without visiting the Colosseum or see Paris and not climb the Eiffel Tower, yet no-one will be critical if you just come to Madrid to soak up the atmosphere.

On our first morning we all had a lie-in and didn't venture out until noon. After ten minutes walk from our hotel we were in this splendid plaza, enjoying the sunshine, smiling at Spiderman's belly (I still have no idea why he was there) and then I looked up at the statue of a bloke sitting on a horse in the middle of the square. Apparently he is King Felipe III but I swear he was a double for Rik Mayall as Flashheart in Blackadder...woof woof! Must still be the effects of the quadruple G&T from the night before.

We said goodbye to Flash and ambled further West, stopping at the Town Hall where there seemed to be something going on. A police band were standing chatting to each other, a row of police horses were getting restless, everyone was in full regalia and a red carpet had been recently vacuumed. Be-suited security chaps were scanning the crowd and a couple of officials in helmets with pink feathers were standing guard at the Town Hall entrance. This looked interesting so we decided to hang on a while to see what was going to happen.

Fifty minutes later, as the crowd, horses and trumpeters were drooping, someone came out of the building, shook hands and drove off while the band played 30 seconds of music. That was it. Everyone packed up and the horses trotted down the street, leaving us rather bewildered and Rory decidedly tetchy as he had been moaning that there wasn't anything worth waiting for and had been proved right.

However my favourite sighting from the whole trip has to be from our afternoon in Retiro Park where, as we sat with a coffee watching the boats on the lake, this forlorn figure walked into view and sat, quite alone, on the edge of a fountain.....


Friday, 29 October 2010

Mum's Gone to Madrid - how sexy can a hotel be?

Have just returned from a frankly exhausting few nights spent in the most sensual, hedonistic hotel I've ever had the pleasure to stay in.

Sometimes minimalist hotels can lack a bit of warmth. Not so the Hotel Urban in Madrid which, though funky and chic, oozed sex from every piece of wood, slate, marble and leather. We pushed the boat out booking a suite and deposited Rory in the interconnecting standard room next door.  What an excellent decision!

Taffeta bed cover, fur throw, peacock feathers, lots of electrical wizardry to dim the lights and close the blinds; even the complimentary slippers were black. We also had some company in the form of an unusual statue (see right) which seemed to offer a rather enlightened alternative to the usual room service menu....or was it just somewhere to leave your brolly? Just watch for the splinters.

These artefacts were dotted about all over the hotel: the totems in the reception lobby were particularly well-endowed and made me laugh and point as I can't seem to be sensible and grown-up about willies in art and sculpture generally - such a philistine. 

I was just as silly in our bathroom which had glass walls so could be seen from the bedroom. Thankfully there were blinds available and the loo was in a separate, private room. The walls of the bathroom were black slate and marble, there were mirrors everywhere and the huge jacuzzi bath was positioned in a large picture window. I could sit in the bath, with the bubbles putting a smile on my face, and wave to the people looking around the Habitat shop next door. I found the blinds for that window a day later....

Whilst Rory watched Spanish Countdown and MTV in his own little pad, we got into romantic mood with a litre carton of Sangria from the supermarket (no corkscrew to hand and no bottles with screw-tops to purchase). Class. Thankfully the pre-dinner gin and tonic in the hotel's Glass Bar was huge and terribly sophisticated. Bloody marvellous!

I will be telling you all about the sights of Madrid in another post. Amazingly we did venture out ...needed a bit of air from time to time.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Mum's Gone to Spain but Spain has come to Mum

I may have disappeared for a few days but have left you in the very capable hands of Wendy from Very Bored in Catalunya. I have been following her posts for a year now because she is funny, clever and sometimes a bit rude. She also gave me a boot up the arse by suggesting I send an article to The Sunday Times which was then published. A true blogging buddy!

Whilst Trish is enjoying Madrid, the beautiful architecture, the museums, the BernabĂ©u and the fine dining (well I say fine dining, I’m sure that her son Rory will find a place that does Chip Pizzas), she has rather worryingly asked me over to do a guest post for her.

Trish is, as you may have deduced from the title of her blog, a seasoned holiday goer. If any of you don’t know, I am, as in much of life I find, a giver not a taker in that I am in the holiday business. My husband runs a Fishing Guide business out in Catalonia, Spain and we also operate a small guest house where we accommodate the visiting anglers.

My poor overworked husband has to spend his days floating up and down the lower reaches of the majestic River Ebro. With the sun on his back and his rod in his hand, he meanders down the peaceful waters in the hope that a very large fish may attach itself to his line. His eyes are sullied by the stunning mountain vistas as he is accompanied by like-minded souls (usually from Essex), the poor sod has to endure chewing the cud about the merits of Spurs and the downfall of Leeds United whilst taking the occasional sip out of his chilled bottle of Estrella cerveca. As you can imagine it’s a hellish job.

I on the other hand had it easy. As the sole employee of our guest house I was rather underworked. All I had to do was make a full English breakfast each morning for the hungry anglers, prepare some packed lunches, clean a 5 bedroomed and 5 bathroomed villa, spend a few hours filling in paperwork and queuing for fishing licences, go food shopping, visit the bodega to top up the beer supplies, prepare and serve a 3 course evening meal for up to 8 people and then clean up afterwards. A doddle in comparison I am sure you’ll agree. I’m not entirely sure why I decided to give it all up and only work a couple of mornings after having a child.

As a person whose duty it is to provide an enjoyable holiday experience, you get to really quickly hate holiday makers, especially when you are in such a close environment with them. To this end I would like to create a little list of things that should go towards making your holiday a pleasant one and not have you leaving the hated tourist.

Have manners – please and thank-you go a long way. Try to learn to say them in the language of the country you’re visiting, along with hello and goodbye. It’s not difficult, learn them and use them. Never, ever, click your fingers at a waiter unless you like the taste of spit in your soup.

Overcome language barriers – there will be times when speaking different languages causes problems. Shouting loudly and slowly in English to a person who doesn’t speak English is not a solution. Better to take a pen & paper and draw your way out of trouble or better still, carry a small pocket dictionary of the other language around with you.

Don’t complain about the food – if you want bangers and mash, or fish & chips go to Scarborough not Tuscany. Sample the local delicacies, you might be pleasantly surprised. If you are one of the anglers that had to suffer that sloppy shepherd’s pie of mine that night, you’re excused and you can complain. Sorry!

Get a EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) and travel insurance – too many people forget about getting insurance nowadays, they think that just because they are only away from home a few days and they’re in Europe it’s OK. I know from some very grave experiences that it’s not OK.

Do obey the law as you would at home – if it’s illegal in the UK, you can be pretty safe in betting that it’s also illegal in a foreign country and a lot harder to talk yourself out of.

Have respect for your surroundings – treat your holiday home as you would your own, if not better. Also consider your neighbours, those in the next hotel room, the villa next door etc.

Don’t pee in the pool – seriously, that’s just not on.


Friday, 22 October 2010

Mum's Gone to see Bouncers and Shakers

A double-bill at Spalding's South Holland Centre this week is one not to miss. Local amateur group, St Nicolas Players, have brought the 1980s back to life with Bouncers by John Godber and Shakers Re-stirred by John Godber and Jane Thornton.

I first saw Bouncers many years ago when the Hull Truck Theatre company was touring with this iconic play about four doormen policing a seedy club, Mr Cinders. St Nics version of the play had the same pace and energy, the four actors switching between a whole myriad of characters: the lads out on the pull, the girls desperate to be noticed, the Hooray Henrys knocking back the champagne. As drink takes a hold, facades peel away to reveal inadequacies, aggression, sadness and, ultimately, violence.

Lucky Eric, played with great skill by Tom Millard, punctuated the events of the evening with his speeches which highlighted the tawdry, grubby underside of life as seen by a bouncer. Judd (Rob Nicholls) was picked on by his colleagues for being a brute with no brain; as a woman he was the sad, sweating friend who was aching to be noticed and loved. Troy Melvin, playing Ralph, the lynch pin of the four bouncers, also shone as the cheesy, oily DJ in the club. Rob Callaby moved effortlessly between his different aliases and made a very believable young girl, clutching her handbag for comfort as the events of the night unfolded.

After the interval, the scene changed to a trendy cocktail bar for Shakers. Written to be played out at a slightly less frenetic pace than Bouncers, this comedy allows for more pathos and character development. The four actresses excelled at moving the audience with their delivery: measured, unhurried, breathtaking. It was difficult to believe this was the second night of a four night run rather than a performance that has been touring for months: these four girls were completely in tune with one another.

Carol, the more mature, educated waitress longing to be a photographer, was played so naturally by Jane Webb that the script just seemed like normal conversation; superb, believable acting. Acid-tongued Mel (Suzanne Webb) kept up the facade until just at the end when her soliloquy held the audience spell-bound. Suzanne and Jane, I have to say, made remarkably good men, sitting astride the bar-stools, braying and guffawing very reminiscent of French and Saunders.

Amanda Fisher was a warm, engaging Nicky, about to embark on a career as a dancer on a rather dubious-sounding cruise ship. She also played the young Liverpudlian checkout girl, queuing up to try clothes on in Top Shop for her 21st birthday party celebrations, with great humour and wit.

I was convinced at one point that Gemma Page's infectious laugh as she played Adele, the young mum struggling with the demands of motherhood and work, was unintentional; so realistic was the giggling. Gemma played all her characters with bucketfuls of energy, the lighter touch worked well alongside the other characters.

Congratulations to the two directors, Nick Fletcher and Jules Jones, for shaping these actors so well to provide a very entertaining evening. Jules in particular is to be commended for her work with the Shakers' girls, some of whom have had little experience working in the theatre: an absolute triumph!

The show continues until Saturday 23 October, 7.30pm at the South Holland Centre, Spalding. Tickets are £9.50, available from the Box Office 01775 764777 or visit


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Mum's Gone to a hotel or a villa?

Here's my guest post which was published last week on Pure I thought I'd pop it on here too and change it just a little. I'd also found some lovely photos of Rory on holiday over the years so it seemed a pity not to bring my boy back home!

 Mum’s Gone To a hotel…or a villa?

Once you’ve picked your very own spot in paradise, if you’re anything like me you will then spend forever leafing through brochures, trawling through TripAdvisor and ultimately driving yourself nuts trying to find the ‘ideal’ accommodation within your budget. With a family in tow, your needs will change as your children grow. So what are my pros and cons of hotels versus villas/apartments?


Someone else will do the cooking and washing-up….

Bliss! For me, this is the best bit about being in a hotel. However if your child is a fussy eater they will have to adjust to new foods so choose a hotel with a vast buffet selection. Even then, dinosaur-shaped chicken pieces and Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire puddings may not be on the menu.

Someone else will do the cleaning and bed-making…

This is all well and good but the maid will undoubtedly want to clean the room at an inopportune time, just as someone in your family (you know who you are) has nipped to the loo with a book in hand. Translating "I'd give it five minutes if I were you, love" can be difficult so you will spend the time dodging her or pretending to be busy on the balcony.

If the hotel has a Kids’ Club you may get some free time without them…

Your child may not be at all inclined to leave your side and play games with other children in strange surroundings: Mummy lying on a sun-bed with jug of sangria may be far more interesting. Daddy may well be feeling frisky in the sun but children have an uncanny knack of knowing their parents are wanting rid of them.

A baby pool and playground so your child can meet new friends…

Sitting on the edge of the pool gently persuading some other mother’s darling child to hand back the watering can to your child can be testing. Not every child wears swim nappies either. I remember one year the baby pool in our hotel had to be drained: it wasn't a Mars Bar sitting at the bottom of it.

The Kiddie Disco….

Love it or hate it? As a little boy, Rory adored the Kids’ discos in the hotels and I have happy memories of  getting up with him to sing The Music Man and Veo Veo ad nauseam, complete with actions. We even bought a CD of the songs one year, good grief.


There’s a sense of being at home, having your own kitchen to prepare food…

“This is meant to be MY holiday too!”

Your very own pool…

No more running out at 6am to put your towel on the sunbed. However, you need eyes in the back of your head if the pool isn’t toddler-friendly. Some villa pools are bloody freezing too.

Being on your own…

Sitting on the terrace with no people to point and stare at can be boring. I love people-watching in hotels and round the pools: the man with the lime-green zipped speedos, the French couple having a full-blown domestic, people trying to change wet swimwear under towels that aren't quite big enough.

The personal touch, surrounded by the owner’s lovely possessions…

Frazzled nerves as you yell “DON’T TOUCH!” at your curious children. Or husband. Mine once perched on the edge of a glass coffee table in a villa and it shattered into millions of tiny pieces. Thankfully his backside remained intact. I'm amazed we didn't get charged for the damage but he wrapped his cut finger in copious bandages and put a sad face on.

Extra space, separate room for children

There isn’t a counter argument to this one: having somewhere else to sit when children are asleep is a godsend. And trying to get jiggy-jiggy when there's a child in the same room is off-putting: bonking in bathrooms can get tiresome.

Of course there’s always that elusive but highly-prized animal, the Aparthotel, which can have the best of both worlds: someone to cook and clean, a kitchen for some basic cooking (a kettle and a fridge will do me), yet the opportunity is there to watch the hotel entertainers mime their way through The Lion King of an evening. Dad will still have to be sent out pronto to do the early-morning towel run but he does love a challenge!

So what do you prefer? Hotel or villa? If you have a larger family is the hotel just a non-starter?


Friday, 15 October 2010

This week I will be mostly wearing...


Don't you just love it? I won this in a competition on the Facebook page of the Iceland Today website. I could have won a whale-watching trip (please God, not again),  a woolly jumper or even a capsule of ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Instead I am the proud owner of this splendid T-shirt.

Unfortunately it is far too big for me so, unless I can do my usual and shrink it in the wash, Dougie has taken possession of it. I suspect it won't be too long before it disappears into Rory's wardrobe: something tells me I shall have to keep my eyes peeled on the next non-uniform day.

But for now I can proudly say, "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt".

Mum's Gone to Lanzarote

Not literally, more's the pity. Fiona at Pure Lanzarote asked me to provide a guest post for the blog she writes alongside her gorgeous holiday rentals.

Pop over to my post on Fiona's website to read about the villa v hotel dilemma and how it changes as your children grow up. There's also some photos there of my wee boy when he was little: where have the years gone?

I've been having a browse through her website and am quite taken with a few of the villas so a February half-term trip may well be on the cards.

If you want to tweet with Fiona then she's @Pure_Lanzarote

(By the way, Fiona is in the process of changing the teeny-tiny font on her blog so you may need your specs temporarily!)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Gallery - Favourite Photo - Iceland

For Tara's Gallery this week we have to choose our favourite photo. For me, it had to be this one, Thingvellir in Iceland, for a variety of reasons.

The Geography
The great fault line at Thingvellir (or Pingvellir), running right through Iceland and the Atlantic ocean, indicates where where the geological plates of North America and Europe are pulling slowly apart. When we visited we weren't entirely sure where the actual centre line was in this vast plain but we pretended to have our feet in different continents as we explored the national park. I remember getting all geological on the family, describing the awesome power of nature and blabbing on about the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, earthquakes and the like. Hubby frequently raised his eyebrows as the accuracy of my narrative was questionable, to say the least.

The History
This is also the place where Iceland formed the world's first parliamentary democracy, the Althing, in AD930. Dougie took over the narrative at this point, spouting forth like the geysir we had just seen, but with a great deal more knowledge than my own efforts.

The Blog
Our holiday to Iceland was the catalyst for my blog. 'Mum's Gone to Iceland' was the first post when I typed up my holiday diaries and, of course, the 'Mum's Gone to' name carried on wherever we went after that. The photo was the original header before it became all warm and pink.

The Photo
There is so much I love to look at in the photo itself: the brooding sky, the meandering river (just like in my school Geography books), the row of perfect white houses (summer residence of Iceland's Prime Minister) and my two fellas in the foreground.

The Humour
Look again at Rory in the picture.....a headless boy. Poor lad was weary and, resting on the hillside, his head drooped to his chest. Makes me laugh every time I look at him: the headless hoodie!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Life's Rich Tapestry

It's a funny old thing, Facebook. Not long ago it reconnected me with my second cousin , Toni, a blogger whose posts I had already been reading. Expat Mum and I eventually met up and our mums are now picking up the threads of our family history.

Now Facebook has been instrumental in catapulting me back to my University days. Nosing about on a friend's profile page a few weeks ago, I came across a name I recognised: Rosy Thornton. Rosy and I both went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge in the 1980s. We studied different subjects: she, Law and I, Geography. We weren't close friends as such but we had mutual friends and a shared experience of a wonderful three years that shaped us for the future. I felt a warm connection just reading her name on the screen.

I sent Rosy a message and instantly received a reply. I discovered Rosy is now a Fellow in Law at our old college, Emmanuel, and she is a published novelist. I browsed through her books on Amazon and bought two: Hearts and Minds and Crossed Wires, the first because it is set in a Cambridge College and the second because it features a Geography don. A bit of nostalgic wallowing in store for me.

I haven't got round to reading these two yet because Rosy sent me a copy of her new paperback, The Tapestry of Loveto be published 14 October, and asked me what I thought of it.

The book tells of 48 year old Catherine Parkstone, a English divorcee who moves to the Cevennes mountains in France to make a fresh start and set up her own business as a seamstress. At a gentle pace we discover how Catherine adjusts to her new life: the weather, neighbours and the relationships with her family back in England. No idiot abroad, Catherine is an intelligent woman finding her niche in the community and being respected for the way she adapts.

The novel demands to be read at leisure, with feet up, and time available to appreciate the beauty of the location and the writing itself. Rosy chooses each word with care, such that no others could be substituted: le mot juste, I believe is the phrase.

I finished the book yesterday afternoon, sitting in the garden, with the surprisingly warm sun beating down. I closed the book and felt enormously satisfied; the ending was just as it should be.

Having delighted in Rosy's story-telling in France, I'm now ready to come home, pick up the threads of my student days and immerse myself in the courtyards of Cambridge once again.


Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Here Come the Girls - Miss Italia

This is an entry for Tara Cain's The Gallery, the theme this week is "Here Come the Girls".

Summer 2009, a fantastic holiday on Lake Garda, staying in the town of Bardollino. The favourite night for husband and son was our final evening in the neighbouring town of Garda which was playing host to the regional finals of the Miss Italy contest. Despite the fact that it was starting late even my lazy son perked up at the thought and quite happily walked with us all the way to the town.

The contest was held in the open air with seats for everyone to watch, free of charge. For a good couple of hours we watched 31 Italian hotties strut up and down the catwalk. I kept thinking they would whittle them down to the final 15 or so, but the same 31 were shown in dresses, swimming costumes and bikinis. When a further round started, with clothes being added this time, the lads decide they had seen as much as they were going to, so we made our way home. For my part, I'd seen quite enough pert bottoms for one night, thank you very much!

The photo above was a shot I took but Number One Son, showing a boldness I'd never witnessed before, shuffled down to the front of the stage and muscled his way into the press corps with his little digital camera. He got some great pictures which he then posted on Facebook which increased his kudos at school no end when he returned in September. Here's a couple below!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Louis, can I be in your Over 28s?

Okay, brace yourselves. Here's me, at the charity concert in Broad Street Methodist Church in Spalding on Saturday. "Broadway to Broad Street" had songs from the shows including Les Miserables, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (in a church!), Oklahoma, Wicked, Me and My Girl and Jesus Christ Superstar.

My friend Suzanne was in the front row with her phone and managed to get some video of me doing my bit. The first verse of my song is missing but the rest is there and it's not too bad. Could have done with bringing the microphone closer on the quiet bits (light and shade, darling...light and shade) but the previous singer on the pulpit had some whistling feedback so I was a bit wary. (Stop making excuses woman, let people just watch it!) 

Friday, 1 October 2010

Cooking a curry with The Nearly Naked Chef

My husband, Dougie, is a quiet man, reserved, not one for small talk. Put him in the audience for a stand-up comedian, however, and suddenly he comes to life. You know those idiots who always shout out when the stand-up says, "Is there a ..... in the audience?". Well my man is that idiot. It usually happens when they ask if there's a doctor in the house or is anyone here Scottish: he just can't help replying. Whereas yours truly, drama queen and altogether gobby individual, becomes a little reticent.

Over the years Dougie has been in conversation with numerous comedians such as Lee Hurst and Ross Noble and recently entered into a fascinating debate with Rhod Gilbert about a man on the railroads in America whose personality changed when a metal pole entered his brain. Dougie knew the chap's name was Phineas Gage and earned himself a round of applause for being a clever bastard.

Last Thursday was no exception. We had gone to see Hardeep Singh Kohli's show, The Nearly Naked Chef. Hardeep is a Scottish broadcaster and writer who was the runner-up in the first series of Celebrity Masterchef (he's not bitter about losing out to Matt Dawson....much).  Under strict instructions from Rory and me to keep quiet, Dougie promised he would stay schtum, but I had my doubts as I knew there was a high  probability the Glaswegian comic would ask, "Is there anyone from Scotland in the audience?"  I heard a little yelp beside me as the shy, retiring husband piped up. Thankfully Hardeep was gentle with him which, considering Dougie is from Edinburgh, was rather unexpected. Hardeep referred to him as 'Doogie' throughout the evening but two women called Lisa and a cheery bloke from Newcastle thankfully helped move the focus of attention elsewhere.

We had such an enjoyable night, listening to fascinating tales of Hardeep's Scottish childhood, his run-ins with prejudice and his time on Masterchef. Whilst his gentle humour entertained us, he started to concoct a curry using ingredients suggested by the audience in advance. Having performed on the same stage myself in my am-dram shows, and having been remonstrated with vociferously by the technical staff once for using a cigarette lighter in a scene from The Witches of Eastwick, I was astonished that the Health and Safety bods would allow all this cooking on stage (though I suppose it was an electric hob, not gas!).

Dougie was first in the queue at the end to sample the vegetable curry: there was enough for about 30 people in the audience to have a small bowl. Absolutely delicious.

I came away rather inspired and yesterday bought all the ingredients for a lamb curry, the recipe for which was in the theatre programme. On a whim I decided to see if Mr Singh Kohli was on Twitter so I could follow him. He was, so I did. I sent him a tweet saying I had enjoyed his show last week and was about to make his lamb curry. Much to my surprise he tweeted back, asking me to let him know how it went. I was quite delighted he should make the effort to reply. I had another look at the recipe and became confused (it doesn't take much). Was the garam masala powder in addition to some other ingredients or instead of? Best ask the chef, I thought. Another tweet sent. Another reply from the man himself - garam masala is in addition to the other spices and worth sprinkling on the top at the end. Ta very much, Hardeep, my own personal online chef. How cool is that?

The curry was excellent. The boys both had seconds. I sent a quick tweet to Hardeep telling him the curry was a triumph. He replied with one word....'Huzzah".

ps: as requested, here's a link to the recipe: click HERE