Friday, 24 February 2012

Mum's definitely going to Sweden

It's all sorted. After many weeks of research, following my original post, 'Mum's planning to go to Sweden', transport and hotel accommodation have now been booked.

This is the first time we have planned a fly-drive ourselves. With Iceland and Canada we booked a package which is much easier but certainly not as exciting and liberating as this exercise has been. When I say 'we have planned' I have to say it was mostly me. Dougie happily allowed me to do all the nitty gritty although I did show him pictures now and again to keep him in the loop.

Armed with his credit card I had a lovely time. I also thoroughly enjoyed booking the accommodation via the hotels themselves. As we wanted to make sure we had either interconnecting rooms or, at the very least, rooms next door to each other, I found I was making contact, via email, with some fabulous reservation departments in Sweden. I feel I've made friends with Oliver, Katarina, Amanda, Elisabeth and Hanna; so efficient yet with a relaxed, personal touch.

So where are we going? Thanks to lots of advice on my previous post and from friends on Facebook, plus many discussions at home about what we really wanted to experience in Sweden, we have come up with an itinerary which should have the right balance between city and countryside, sightseeing and relaxation.

Hotel Nobis, Stockholm
We are flying to Stockholm's Vasteras Airport which isn't anywhere near Stockholm but the Ryanair flight was convenient and cheap and there is a bus link to the city centre. Have decided to stay four nights in Stockholm as there is so much we want to see there. On the fifth day we pick up a hire car and head West, staying for two nights on the shores of Lake Vattern and two nights at the southern tip of Lake Vanern.

We dithered for some time with regard to fitting in Gothenburg. At one stage it was a definite yes and then we had trouble finding rooms in the hotels we liked. The only explanation I could come up with was that Bruce Springsteen is in concert in Gothenburg that weekend. Surely that can't be the reason? Of course I then wondered if we should try and obtain tickets to see him (well, we did see Rod Stewart in Montreal) but changed my mind. In the end we realised we would be better going to Gothenburg another time and linking it with a trip north from there to see the archipelago.

So, avoiding Stockholm's second biggest city altogether, and most likely the usual marital tiff as we try to find  hotels and negotiate car parks in town centres, we scoot down the coast and spend two nights by the beach in Angelholm. This should give us time to visit Bastad and Helsingborg if we feel the urge but also the opportunity to just chill out on the sand.

Our final stop is Ystad, home of Swedish TV detective Wallender, where we have four nights, again by the beach. We are ideally placed there to see more of the Skane area and can visit Malmo too. Our hotel is only half an hour from Malmo Airport so we can fly back to Stansted from there.

What do you think? It doesn't include all of what we wanted to see but with a mixture of city, lake and beach environments I think I've got the balance about right for us.


Saturday, 18 February 2012

A conversation I wish I'd never started - No.4

Another in the series of embarrassing mother/teenage son conversations. (For reference, may I suggest conversation one, two and three)

Me: There's a song I can't get out of my head.
Son: Oh God, here we go again! What song?
Me: I think it's something about cheesy lips
Son: Cheesy lips?
Me: Well I think that's what he says. It goes, "la, la, la, la, dum-de-dum-de-dum...when I kiss you, on your cheesy lips'
Son: You've got to be kidding me!
Me: He sings funny. I can't make out the words but I'm sure it's 'cheesy lips', though it could be cheeky lips, or hips, or tips?
Son: Who do you think is singing?
Me: Sounds a bit like Cee Lo Green?
Son: Where have you heard it?
Me: It's on the radio all the time.
Son: I'll go and have a look at the playlists. So you think it's called 'Kiss you on your cheesy lips' by someone who might, or might not, be Cee Lo Green?
Me: Yup, that's it.

Son returns after exhaustive look at Radio One and Two playlists:

Son: I've found it
Me: Ooh great! What is it then?
Son: It's called 'No One' by Maverick Sabre.
Me: What about the cheesy lips?
Son: The lyric is 'cheating lips'
Me: Well it bloody well doesn't sound like 'cheating lips' to me.

What do you think?


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Gallery: Three sisters on their way to a wedding

Wedding outfits 1952, Newcastle upon Tyne
Newcastle upon Tyne, 1952

The year is 1952. The place is Newcastle upon Tyne. My two aunts and my mother are stepping out in their finery on their way to a family wedding. I give you Maria 16, Wynne 20 and my mum Eileen 18.

I know for a fact that my aunts and mum shriek and laugh when they look at this photo now; they are embarrassed and say, "What on earth do we look like?". But I adore this photo. I think it's an iconic image of fashion of the day, particularly Dior's 'New Look' shown in Wynne's outfit and my mum's fashionable 'duster coat'. Of course I've often giggled at my mum's hat. I used to think there was a bird sitting on the top of it, like a pie-vent. I've only just been told it was part of the fabric from the hat. 

I have sat and studied this photo for a long time; the detail in the coats, handbags, shoes and smiles. And look how their footsteps are matched? It's not embarrassing; it's a fabulous glimpse of the post-war era and how women then were experimenting with new styles. I love it. 

This is an entry for Tara's weekly Gallery, the theme for this week is 'Embarrassing Outfits'. 


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Au Revoir, Jean-Pierre

Jean-Pierre, our French exchange student, left on Wednesday morning after spending a week with us and, I have to say, I miss him a little.

It doesn't seem that long ago that we were waiting at the local girls' High School for their bus to arrive. There were many parents like us, a little on edge and wary, accompanied by fidgety, gauche teens. When the French contingent shuffled into the dining hall and lined up with their cases, I thought I'd spotted ours. I was about to scoop him up and bundle him into the car when Rory pointed out that I had picked the wrong one: ours had grown his hair since his photo had been taken. Once JP had been located, embarrassed smiles, enthusiastic nods and clunky 'Je m'appelle's were exchanged and so our week began.

The schools had done very well in matching the children up. We were given a French Rory: a year older than ours but similar hair, body shape and an uncanny aptitude for sitting with a laptop on his knee. He also loved to sleep late at weekends. And this French model did come with some nifty upgrades: it didn't leave its crusts and it carried its empty plate to the dishwasher.

JP ate everything I put in front of him, apart from broccoli, for which he can be forgiven. He ate beef stew, Thai chicken, chilli con carne, roast pork and Lincolnshire sausages. His Tupperware box for his packed lunch came home empty every day (unless he'd tipped it all into a nearby bin) and he enthused about its contents. He was so overwhelmed by his breakfast on Saturday morning - a bacon omelette, toast and baked beans - that he took a photo of it to show his family.

His English was excellent; honed, he told me, from years of reading English comics which had given him a natural confidence with conversation. Unlike the Burgess household who really did struggle to speak any meaningful French at all. I remembered the word for slippers, 'les pantoufles', but had no recourse to use it during the week. Thankfully I remembered the words for 'clothes' and 'wash' as JP didn't seem to have brought enough socks and pants with him.

This was JP's first time out of France, his first time in an aeroplane. He was so excited by everything. He came back from his trips to Cambridge and London in awe of what he had seen. We sat beside him as he clicked through all the photos on his camera and enthused as he showed us the souvenir he had bought: a Homer Simpson T-shirt. I slipped him an extra tenner for his London trip and he came back with....another T-shirt.

I needn't have worried about how to entertain him at the weekend. A group of French and English kids had decided to go to the cinema to see Mission Impossible 3. This worked well until they missed the bus home just as a snow blizzard hit our part of the country. Some terse text exchanges were made between me and my original son as to the value of checking timetables. They sat in Sainsbury's cafe for a while, caught the next bus and Dougie was dispatched to pick them up from the bus-stop. On the Sunday the snow was so deep that all French and English teens within a five-mile radius descended on us. They had a fantastic time playing basketball, table tennis and table football, made a huge snowman and created the following artwork in the back garden to prove that boys will be boys no matter what their nationality :

Were there are any mishaps? Only one and, thankfully it didn't involved Jean-Pierre. On their final day, when the French students were returning from London in the early evening, six of them forgot to get off at Peterborough for their connection and tootled on up to Newark before returning. I bet there were a few choice words in both languages from the teachers waiting on the platform.

Rory is now looking forward to the return visit to the South of France in March. Apparently Jean-Pierre has a 15 year old sister.


Thursday, 9 February 2012

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A few weeks ago Harriet at Is There a Plan B? reviewed a book called Making Babies as part of the new Tots 100 Book Club. The book club is in association  with Tesco. The idea is to review a favourite book and suggest another blogger you feel would appreciate it. Tesco then sends that person a copy of the book.

Harriet suggested I read Making Babies as she thought it would be interesting to hear how a mum who had a baby some time ago could relate to the book. Would I be more dispassionate because my own son was no longer a baby? Tesco have sent me a copy of the book, which I have started to read: will let you know in due course.

In the meantime, to complete my side of the bargain, I have to review a book which has made an impact on me within the last year. My choice is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I had read Hosseini's previous book, the best-selling The Kite Runner, and found it to be an enlightening, emotional story which provided me with an insight into the difficult history experienced by the people in Afghanistan.

Whereas The Kite Runner focused on the relationship between two young boys, Amir and Hassan, A Thousand Splendid Suns takes a female perspective on the turbulent events in Afghanistan from the 1960s through to 2003. Mariam and Laila's lives become intertwined and despite their struggle with violence, oppression, poverty and fear, it is their friendship which provides them with the strength to endure and fight back.

Despite what you might think, the novel isn't hard to read. The historical and political references are clearly explained within the context of a supremely uplifting narrative. What I also found fascinating was how little I really knew about Afghanistan and the political turmoil it has endured. Although we see in the news how oppressive the Taliban regime is, Hosseini demonstrates how previous ruling governments were no strangers to brutality. The end of the Soviet occupation was welcomed by the Afghans who saw the victorious mujahideen as freedom fighters. How quickly infighting spread and the country was once again a war zone.

It wasn't difficult to choose someone I thought would appreciate a copy of this book. Kelloggsville is currently recuperating after a back operation and, although she is desperate to be up and about exercising again, she knows she has to take some proper rest. So I'm hoping she will be diverted with a good book. Kelloggsville, as many of you may know, is a keen guider, a mentor of young girls in their Brownie and Ranger packs. She will understand more than most the importance of young women having a voice in society, feeling valued, possessing high self-esteem. The story of Mariam and Laila may be a fictional account but the context is real and true. In A Thousand Splendid Suns we see the individuals behind the burka. Hosseini has given the Afghan women their voice.

If you would like to try the book for yourself, it's available from Tesco: A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini 


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Mum's doing a Travel Round-up for BritMums

I've been asked to choose a selection of travel posts for a monthly Travel Round-up on BritMums, which, as many of you know, is Britain's biggest parent blogging network.

The plan is once a month I will showcase a  range of travel posts, not just from the parenting blogging circle, but from the wider travel community.

My first collection has been published today so if you would like to read it then I would, of course, be delighted. The link is here: BritMums Travel Round-up. There is a linky on the bottom of the post for anyone to add their own recent travel posts too.

As I will now have to start looking for suitable posts for next month, let me know if you have any suggestions. It doesn't matter if it's a day trip to a local venue or a proper holiday. If you're off anywhere with the kids this half-term and you blog about it, then let me know.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Mum's Gone to Stratford-upon-Avon

Mum did go to Stratford-upon-Avon, but it was in 2009 before I'd started blogging. I didn't write a diary at the time to type up at a later date but memories of a fantastic family holiday came flooding back when I was sent a press release last week about some new hotel openings for Premier Inn.

One of the new hotels is Stratford-upon-Avon North Waterways, due to open on 20 February. It looks like an ideal location, situated on the banks of the canal, a few minutes from the railway station and a short walk from the historic centre of town.

As a destination for a family break, you can't beat this part of the UK. The town itself is picturesque with plenty of tourist attractions; many, naturally, linked to the town being the birthplace of William Shakespeare. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to get away from The Bard here and in the surrounding countryside.

When we visited, Rory was 13, the ideal age to see a proper Shakespeare performance. We booked tickets to see Julius Caesar at the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) and he certainly lapped up the blood and gore. Since our visit, the Royal Shakespeare and Swan theatres have been updated so the experience should be even more inspiring. Pity they aren't doing the Scottish play at the moment as that would have been perfect for an imminent GCSE kick up the behind.

Further afield from Stratford itself is the historic Warwick Castle which has to be one of the best places to take children if you want to fill their minds with history without them noticing: the Princess Tower, Dragon Tower and Castle Dungeons can't fail to excite. I remember when we visited there was a brilliant demonstration by the castle archer who took his audience back to the Battle of Crecy when the English longbow triumphed. Living history at its best.

Or how about the Heritage Motor Centre, a few miles away in Gaydon? This was a real treat for the boys. A huge array of cracking cars, lots of children's activities and outside the main museum there's a Land Rover off-road experience, a miniature roadway for children ages 3-7 and even an introduction to driving for 15-17 year olds. When we visited in 2009 they had one of James Bond's Aston Martins which had featured in Die Another Day. The day had definitely arrived for this one.

Finally, if you fancy a decent bite to eat by the river in Stratford, can I suggest The Encore. I can only vouch for what it was like in 2009 but the food was good, in cosy but chic surroundings and, most importantly, it made me smile, because of the doors in the ladies' loos. Apologies to the lady using the facilities at the time who may have been slightly startled by my flash going off....

Shakespeare toilet doors, The Encore, Stratford upon Avon

Premier Inn have offered me a free night in one of their hotels. Quite fancy the one in London County Hall, as have heard good things about it. Any other suggestions? Dougie and I think we may have a short break in March when Rory is in France, doing his reciprocal exchange visit.