Do I have to sit next to your children?

What the hell do you say to that when you unpack what feels like your life onto an overbooked train on route to London. 

I have done more of my fair share of travel with and without children and I know not everybody wants to play “peep eye” or dodge quavers being thrown by my one or two year old. I am the first to take my kid or kids to the corridor on a train or plane as soon as they make a noise or risk being a pest. However today they hadn’t even done anything before the lady looked at me and said more than once “Do I have to sit next to the children.” I am not sure which one of us felt more awkward. She was mortified, she was clearly looking forward to a quiet train journey with a book. I was equally concerned, knowing I was facing two and a half hours of trying to stop my kids licking her. 

Now when it comes to chaos mid travel my kids have done it all: ripped ear rings from fellow passengers. Spat food onto businessmen. Befriended air stewardesses and some stuff, well I can’t even publicly admit to for fear of the PC brigade coming down on me like a tonne of bricks. (Just imagine your two year old seeing a character from a different walk of life for the first time and deciding at the start of a flight they can’t go anywhere without holding that persons hand and letting everyone know that’s your new friend. God I love him and his innocent quest for social inclusion). On this occasion I was praying to all my travel gods that today is the day my kids play ball.  

So what do you do? Let your kids go wild to confirm every child hating suspicion your neighbour has? Or launch a full on charm offensive. We went for the later. Quiet chats. Croissants. Bananas. Eye spy. A Cbeebies relatively educational magazine. The baby flirted, smiling and gurgling. The toddler chatted and when he got fidgety we went for a walk and clambered around the empty luggage rack and corridor. (You have to let them burn of steam somehow). 

After two and a half hours we reached our destination. Exhausted but ........ having successfully coerced the woman into playing with the children. Voluntarily. For me it was a small victory, but maybe we should have just moved seats from the outset. PS the woman in question is about to become a grandparent for the first time. I bet I see her in six months and she’s the first to jump up to help me. These kids, they do that to you!

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Can you camp with a baby.....

I say yes, but admittedly I am the idiot who once took a bike to the South Pole. Still there’s a lot to be said to going back to basics. You just need to be willing to let go and chill out if the baby in question is found crawling around in the mud eating leaves. (I am pretty sure foragers would just call that fibre!)

I was brought up in the middle of nowhere, literally surrounded by fields on all sides. So city living is taking a bit of getting used to. Which is why my husband agrees to us running back to field and fells whenever we get more than a day off together.  

Of course I want to tell you camping with kids involves “chucking a few things in the car and away you go.” That is a lie. I have been lucky to do some pretty adventurous trips and I have learned the hard way that successful camping rarely happens off the back of a whimsical impulse. You need to plan. Work out what you need to take and put back anything you simply want to take. The less you take the easier it is!

We totally cheated this time out and booked a cabin in the woods near Windermere. It was April so we expected it to be chilly and yes we had a monumental thunderstorm but other than that is was glorious! So warm I swam in Windermere without a wet suit for the first time this year. (Never do that without saying where you’re going. Those lakes get deep quickly and sometimes cold water shock is delayed). 

 

The tricky thing with babies and travel can be sleeping arrangements, but if you’re camping (take an air bed) and you don’t need to worry about travel cots etc because they can’t fall far from an air bed! 

Always have a bobble hat to hand for the middle of the night. Stay near a proper camp site so you can wander over to their shop for emergency supplies. 

My kids are one and two years old so they are not yet old enough to tell me they want to be on an I pad or at their mates, until that inevitable day arrives I will milk every second of their childhood. I love that my toddler paddled naked on the shores of Windermere for hours. That our baby crawled around in tree roots try and failing to pull each one from the ground. The youngest is teething so I wandered around the woods with him in his carrier from 4am until about 6am with my Dad. I think i stumbled on one of the best views of the lake, as the sun rose we watched geese and ducks on the waters edge. Sounds idyllic? Don’t forget this experience was born out of a hysterical one year old screaming in pain! Bless him and thank god for his insomnia!  

For me fires make a camping trip so invest in a good camping fire pit. You can get small, easily cleanable portable ones and don’t forget matches and a fire lighter. (It’s ok Bear Ghrylls won’t be watching you don’t need to spark a flame from twigs). 

Live in trackies, take a waterproof and expect to sausages and beans for breakfast dinner and tea! You may smell and your fingernails will be filthy but that coupled with waking up to woodpeckers and watching my kids climb trees, throw stones and do all the things kids in those famous five books do is the most satisfying feeling in the world. Quite simply life is better when you’re surround by greenery. 

 

Hlen

 

xx

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Box like you mean it.

I boxed. I won and I am proud of it. Yet a guy, not less than 24 hours since I stepped out of the ring has just said to me: “I don’t think it’s right women Boxing. Weren’t you a bit aggressive?”

I owed it to my coach Phil Sellars and to England Boxing to go in that ring and do my best to try and do the sport justice.  My opponent Camilla Thurlow and I “went for it” because that’s wha we signed up for. She’s too accomplished and too competitive to “go easy” on. She’s one of the most game women I have ever encountered, that fireball didn’t back down. Time and time again she came back and I have the black eye to prove her right hook was loaded. Serious respect Ms Thurlow.

 

It was a boxing bout and we all knew what was involved. There is a huge team of people who make these things happen: England Boxing, Sport Relief, the BBC. There are logistics, forms and faffing around for months and months to pull these things off. It would have been utterly disrespectful of me to do anything other than give 100 percent. More importantly it would have stuck two fingers up to the girls and coach’s who slog their guts out in gyms up and down the country, sweating and bleeding for a sport they love. Dieting, getting hit in the face, doing every manner of exercise because boxing is literally so physically and mentally brutal week in week out. Year in year out. We had an opportunity to show case their sport on telly in front of millions and we went out to try and do that. 

I was far from good, I only threw two punches and attempted one or two body shots but I got the job done but I wasn’t going to waste that platform skipping around and slapping someone. I have grown up around sport so I know how much young and old get out of being active but Boxing seems to offer kids something more than a bit of exercise. All of those films that feature misfits turning their lives around and emerging victorious after a series of struggles. Those scripts are real. The boxing gyms I have seen aren’t full of kids who go on ski holidays or are destined for university. They are from all walks of life. Some walking on dodgier territory than others. Yet there they are working, training and trying. It’s inspiring. It’s humbling. It’s incredible. So maybe I have Stockholm syndrome, or maybe I have been hit in the head one to many times (I got hit so hard by a 15 year old my tooth shattered the other week, and one day a hook to the head left my legs literally shaking uncontrollably) but I really think the only question we should be asking is where can I watch boxing? Seriously go to a local show. Support your club.  Let’s credit these young people and their army of support staff with some respect. Few make money. Many take a pasting on a regular basis but there is passion in those punches for a reason. 

 

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Faux Fur. Real Fur. No fur at all.


It is everywhere. Fur. Not fake fur. Real, off an animals back fur. On our high street, in our shops and in our wardrobes.

Well mine anyway. My great Aunt was a milner and worked in fashion. Consequently I inherited a couple of real fur coats and accessories. (Some had actual heads on.) 

In 2000 fur farming in the UK was banned and I would argue the idea of wearing real fur jars with most of us. But does it? Canada Goose use the fur of wild coyote caught in trips on their jackets and they are loud and proud of it. Racoon, fox and mink are easy to find and recently retailers including Misguided, House of Fraser and other big retailers have been working with the Humane Society International to remove any real fur from stocks, after lots we’re duped by suppliers who sold real fur, claiming it to be fake.

 

 

It’s tricky for some people to tell the difference between real and fake but Phil, a textile expert in Otley Yorkshire told me : “‘real fur tapers, the strands don’t roll easily between your fingers.” And Clare from the HSI says: “if you part the fur you can often see the animal skin under the fur and if you own it burn a strand or two and you will be able to tell straight away the plastic nature of fake fur.” That is assuming you want to know the difference.

At the worlds largest mink auction house in Copenhagen marketing team argue demand for real fur is as strong as ever with demand in China, Russia and the UK. They said uk customers are less likely to want a full coat but lots want fur bobbles and trims on hats and jackets.

It’s undeniable the product is high quality and luxurious. I expected to find an archaic warehouse with old men exercising skills and craftsmenship honed over decades of skilled work. I didn’t. kopenhagen fur is a slick business, clearly confident that real fur has a big future, proof of which is the obvious investment in new show rooms and a cinema room showing school children more about the industry. They told me how proud people are of the industry and how surprised they are that so many young people want to go into fur farming, bucking trends internationally that youngsters are queuing to go into any type of farming.

They argued that real fur is a natural product, more friendly to the environment than faux fur which uses acrylic and plastic. With 35 % of plastic pollution in the ocean being from clothes the team at kopenhagen fur argue that mink is sustainable. All of the animal being used. They claim it’s no different to wearing leather. That is however where I fall off my fence. Maybe it’s out of loyalty to my farming family or maybe it’s just that they tried to pull the fur to far over my eyes. Fur farming is NOT like other types of farming. The farm we visited just outside of Copenhagen had rows and rows of wild animals in cages, never seeing Day light, never digging or swimming. Just bobbing up and down in small cages for nine months until they are gassed, skinned and turned into pelts for coats and trims. I didn’t push her on welfare or why I didn’t need to, the clean, clinical barn was so clearly wrong for one of he first times in my career I couldn’t really speak. I was a rubbish journalist, hindered by a physical reaction to something that went against everything I as a farmers daughter have been conditioned to respect: animals, nature. Life.

I can’t get stroppy about it and pretend I would NEVER wear it, I wore dog fur in Antarctica to protect my face. (It was loaned to me, the dog had died naturally in Antarctica and had completed the trek I was doing many times). Yes I have looked at those luxurious furs in the past and stroked them. Yes I have wanted one but not anymore. I confess walking through the airport on my way home everyone I passed with a fur trim made me a bit angry. Not enough to throw red paint at them, we live in a democracy everyone can choose what they like. But I know what I will choose from now on. And I know I will be heading straight to the animal shelter to donate the fur coat I inherited. (Apparently strays like fur).

 





 

 Inside one of Denmark’s biggest fur auctions   

Inside one of Denmark’s biggest fur auctions

 

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House buying is not a his and hers sport.

 

If you’re in a committed relationship and you’re looking to buy a house I suggest one of you picks it while the other plays golf. Ok that’s playing to stereotypes to subtly suggest HE should not be allowed to pick the house. BUT HE SHOULD NOT BE. Finding our seventh home since 2014 has been hectic, made more difficult by the fact we were trying to find something whilst living abroad, and we were sending my parents to view houses. Just take a moment to dwell on that for a second, would you let your parents spend hundreds of thousands of your money picking you a house? I am sure you can understand why my head has been pickled and why I have hid from this blog. I had nothing coherent to say because life is confusing me.

New builds, renovation projects, villages, towns, near schools and parks or farms and fields. The trouble with moving to a city you know nothing about is that you have to much choice. No wonder the tens of estate agents I called couldn’t help me:

ME: “Hello I am looking for a house,,,,”

Estate Agent: “Ok whereabouts?”

ME: “Errr Leeds…..I don’t know where really…..”

Estate Agent: “What type of property?”

ME: “I don’t know really, I like old. He likes new.”

Estate Agent: “Have you sold your property?”

ME: “Errrr we can’t decide whether to or not….we might not live there that long….”

Estate Agent: “Would you like some viewings?”

ME: “Errr we can’t, we’re driving across France and I don’t know when we’re coming back.”

THEY HANG UP

You can’t blame them really. 

I love old houses on leafy lanes, hubby likes new, clean and modern things and with two children under three he has a point, renovation projects are not great playgrounds. We saw great houses on busy roads, in awful neighbourhoods. Houses that smelled like a dog was dying under the floorboards and one with a teenager unwilling to leave the bedroom. Another down a lane so full of pot holes my toddler bounced out of his car seat on the way there and another so popular people were making cash offers as we walked through the door. We found a dream property with the perfect garden and ample potential but were cash buyers pipped us to the post and so we settled on the first house we looked at, only 16 houses later.

 

It’s new so he’s smug as a bug in a shiny new IKEA rug because it’s straight forward. There are no walls to knock down, no bi fold doors to add or iron fire places to dust off. Having only ever lived in character filled old houses I am sad about the lack of potential this has and I won’t let him forget that this was his pick, so I get to pick the furniture, the really old vintage stuff he hates from random reclaim yards. He owes me, well that’s what I will let him think. The truth is, he was right, this is so straightforward we can enjoy our babies while they are babies. We can spend our weekends in the park rather than a DIY shop, our kids love the neighbours and the street is safe. The house is easy and consequently domestic life is. As someone who grew up in a superb but old old house, the best thing of all, it’s warm. Never take a functioning boiler with a good warranty for granted. Oh, and never take that partner who wants to share the house shopping with you for granted. There’s a fair chance they know what you really need and how to help you get it. If I was to go back and time and do this current house buying again I would get my head out of instagram interior design accounts and listen to my hubby about what our family needs. Many arguments could have been avoided. Ps if you witnessed our disagreements over FaceTime about flooring in various flooring depots I can only apologise. 

Helen

 xx

 

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Some of my random stuff he hates..... including an antique vaulting box that my husband has tried to bin for years!  

Have baby will work. (Now and again. When it suits the family).

God I hope I don't see a baby over the next hour. The urge to grab it and put it on my boob my overwhelm me. That is assuming my boobs don't explode. I want to hang onto some dignity but I fear I am not alone.... anyone spent a night away from their breastfed bub only to be crippled by the agony of rock solid boobs?

I haven't spent a night away from my youngest yet,  and had to due to a work commitment.  Wow am I paying for it. He's still feeding two or three times a night so I am overflowing. (I don't have the emotional strength to justify time away from my child right now, it's a few hours, it was best for him and good for me, on paper. In practice I am nearly crying!) I have brought a hand held pump. I have hand expressed and there's no relief.

Oh and if the pain wasn't bad enough the embarrassment of having to ask a stranger to unzip my dress at the back to relieve the pressure of clothes on said boobs, well I am pretty sure I am headed for some sort of harassment case.

I know the baby is fine. He is nearly seven months and with my husband but this poor chest that has served me so fantastically over the last half year is taking a battering. I can't actually remember a time one bit of them didn't hurt. I would love to make an eloquent argument for and against breastfeeding but that's not my place. Decide for yourself. This wasn't meant to persuade you either way it was merely a statement of mitigation to the man I asked to unzip my dress and any babies I may stare at longingly on my way home.

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Ps no judgement here. I support you. Feeding. Not feeding. Working. Not working. You're right. Xxx

Road tripping. Babies on board.

We have covered nearly 1600 miles in the last few weeks and I could bore on and brag about the natural beauty of Cassis, the joy of French food, quirky bed and breakfasts or white knuckle walks in the mountains but you have the internet at your finger tips for an infinite number of stopover suggestions. What is, arguably, more useful are some tips on how to survive many many hours in a car with your husband, two year old and teething six month old. 

- Pack efficiently. Take less than you think you need. If you leave some room in the car you can bulk buy wine and avoid a domestic in a supermarket car park. (It's ok not many people saw me have a tantrum as I tried to wedge bottles in between the car seats and my husband tried to shove them in the bin.) 

-Don't bother with a roof box, we packed last minute and had to buy a roof box to fit everything in. As a result we could not park in underground secure car parks as the car was to tall. Had I been more organised I wouldn't have needed the roof rack, nor would I have travelled the first day with a washing basket of clean washing on my lap.

 -Travel wash. Travel wash Travel wash. No one wants to turn their knickers inside out.

 -Have a schedule but not strict ideas. If you're flexible you can go with what you fancy each day.  We didn't have a plan and just looked at places on a map each day and went where the mood took us. Granted we did a few hundred extra miles but I think there fewer arguments as we all did what we wanted rather than sticking to a plan we had made weeks earlier.

- Invest in a buggy board to fit to the back of the pram. We left ours on the side of the road by accident, another casualty of overpacking, and we really missed it. They are great for tired legs and big crowds when you want your child close by.

-Download all of the hotel booking apps you can find. We got cheap last minute deals on amazing hotels because we compared prices. A couple have loyalty schemes and reward you with free nights, we saved doing that.  (We used Hotel Tonight. Hotels.com. Booking.com Tripadvisor.) For tourist information I love Lonely Planet. For pre booking Totstotravel.com is family friendly. 

-Always have a car picnic. Made from breakfast buffets or bought in the supermarket. Mainly to keep Myler senior happy.  

-Let your husband invest in a new camera. My husband doesn't normally have the patience for my "pottering" but his camera, aka a new gadget, bought me loads of time.

-On arriving in a new town FIND A PARK we let ours run wild for a while pre and post drive. It meant they slept in the car and we could cover some miles.  

-UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ATTEMPT TO NAVIGATE. Put the sat nav on and shut up. If you want to change the settings to avoid motorways and take in scenic routes do so BEFORE setting off. 

-A lot of town centres in France have pedestrianised areas, carousels and water fountains. We started taking spare clothes in the nappy bag so our eldest could splash and run around to his hearts content. He loved it and it meant he climbed back into the car happily. 

-Get a loyalty card for fuel. Ps our car is low emission so don't add a comment to make me feel guilty.  

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Sometimes a sulking child makes a great photo.  

 Socks and hair bobbles are unlikely to survive a trip where the car is loaded and unloaded daily. 

Socks and hair bobbles are unlikely to survive a trip where the car is loaded and unloaded daily. 

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If you book a bed and breakfast with no car park and no lift expect the husband to be unimpressed. X

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If in doubt just jump.  

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Haunted hotel rooms are fun with hindsight, at the time they are hugely unnerving. 

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If they don't want to wear pants, it's easier to just go with it. 

Happy travels!

h

xx

The White City and a posh island. (La Rochelle and Ile De Re)

We read it was a city that "glows in coastal sunlight" but we arrived in rain so the limestone buildings looked grey rather than luminous. Not that we were disappointed, La Rochelle exceeded our expectations. The streets around the old port are beautiful: arcaded walkways, gargoyles, towers and turrets all frame the port. The cobbled side streets away from the port are pedestrianised and as is so often the case, in a tourist town, the further you 

go from the main drag the better and cheaper the food. 

We shouldn't have bothered with the aquarium, it's good but Ernie moaned because he wanted a toy, and there's a fantastic playground in the old port which he actually préfèred. 

After a mini domestic over our beyond budget accommodation (if we go back the ibis and the yachtman look good and in a good location) we followed some live music to a graffiti covered ruin, the live music, cheap beer, battered sofas and ceilidh made for a brilliant atmosphere maybe it was the laid  back vibe, or more likely the beer, but either way we were soon friends again. 

Evening strolls are picturesque as the turrets and towers are lit up, you can enjoy both from that playground as it doesn't seem to shut! 

On day two we headed to Il de Re, Unesco protected and once owned by England. I fell in love instantly with this chic island and it's shaggy haired donkeys. We went straight to Martin de Re and it's easy to see why this place is special: limestone buildings around a port, French shutters and winding streets make it quaint and chic in equal measure. It's posh but not pretentious and if you don't have your credit card for the numerous boutiques enjoy the coastal views from the walls and try to spot the WW11 bunkers or the scenes from The Longest Day, parts of it were filmed here.  Ps O parloir is good for food. 

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Bordeaux. A city break for toddlers!?

Busy roads, fancy shops and expensive wines don't generally make for a relaxing weekend with small children but Bordeaux bucks the trend.  The streets are clean and plenty are pedestrianiaed. There's a long wide riverside promenade peppered with Parks and the Place de la Bourse is brilliant: doubling up as public art and a public playground the water feature/mirror is free and fun. We spent hours there.

On Sunday morning we made the most of recommendations and headed to the riverside food market for oysters and champagne. Well we sat among people having champagne and oysters eating our chips.  

For us Bordeaux is a small, clean and friendly version of Paris. Easy to walk around and navigate. With plenty of quirky cafes and bars to give us an urban fix.

This time around we rented an apartment next to one of the parks, it was large and luxurious but the lack of parking or a lift meant it was reasonably priced but not very practical with prams and babies in arms.  Still you can't have everything and huge windows with ornate shutters made for some great photos. 

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My Little Lunatic in Lourdes.

He wandered, pantless, five hundred pound camera round his neck waving at anyone who looked his way. I am pretty confident my two year old Ernie, is not your standard day tripper in Lourdes. 

I couldn't put my finger on how it felt to wander through this park of pilgrimge, where hundreds of people qued to touch the wall where the Virgin Mary "our Lady of Lourdes" is said to have been seen in a cave underneath the Basillica of our Lady of Lourdes. Millions come here every year to bath in the holy water, hoping to be heeled and blessed. It's touching. Humbling. As a non catholic  fascinating. 

Whatever you believe in this place is overwhelming. Hundreds of faiths, people from all over the world, people in all states of health with any number of disabilities. Of all the craziness going on In the world it got me that there are so many people who still have faith. Faith in something bigger and greater than us all. 

I am not religious but I have faith. In people. That people are good. In a park full of some heartbreaking scenes my little man wandered around waving. Smiling and laughing. So unaware of why these people were here. He completely gatecrashed a group trying to have a group photo. Twenty people all supposed to be looking one way. Being heckled by my pantless two year old shouting: "I have Daddies big camera!" One by one the group disbanded, amused by my disruptive son. The group leader, complete with yellow umbrella for them all to follow was far from amused but the onlookers, they thought it hilarious.

Yes I am biased but this is a lesson isn't it. We can make each other laugh. Even in difficult times, when heartbreak is all around us. We, people can make each other smile.  

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Road trip: First stop, luxury, toy tractors and babysitters. I may never leave.

You could easily be wowed by the warm as a bath pool, the fine food or the grand home and views but in truth it’s the people that make La Maison de Maitre truly special. 

Soon I will revisit the emotional and logistical chaos of the last few weeks that saw us arrive at the door of this fine French home mildly hungover, after an emotional goodbye to friends, and with our underwear and crockery falling out of the car as we opened the doors. But right now I am too content, relaxed and full to talk about anything other than the positive experience we have had here.

It’s hard to fully portray the effort and energy that has gone into making this a relaxing holiday for parents in one blog. Every detail from bath toys, cupboard locks, play pens and toys is in place to distract children and reassure parents. Even the pantry is stocked full of wet wipes, calpol and cutlery for toddlers. My two year old wasn’t even interested in the mountain of tractors he was too interested in feeding the chickens and tormenting the sheep. Travel cots and play pens were strategically placed so my 6 month old could be safely with us when playing outside and in the pool. 

On our first night we accepted an invitation to have a drink with the owners Razia, Tim and their son George, who was terrorised by my two year old until the teenager had to retire to bed for a rest. The cheese was good, the trout tasty, the foie gras surprisingly edible and the wine even better. My eldest could get where water couldn’t. He is an escape artist but here he is fenced in by animals and fields of sunflowers, slides and a lilly pond (behind a fence). The garden is extensive and safe. Which meant we could relax. My husband and I actually ate, drank and talked to each other. We thought it was just a pleasant evening but in truth it served as the ice breaker that meant my two year old, the child who has never had a baby sitter and screamed so much at a creche he and I were both asked to leave, actually ran out of the door the following day to play with Tim and Razia. They looked after the children for two hours, singing, baking and playing with them. We felt guilty for handing them over on our family holiday, …… Listen to me trying to justify it! We felt guilty for five minutes, then we actually talked, and drank our coffee hot! We haven’t been on our own for months, we have no babysitters or family on hand in France, we share our bed every night with the children, we go everywhere with the kids and it was nice to have two hours to do whatever we wanted. I forgot I quite like his company. Granted we sat in the garden meters from them and able to hear them most of the time, we could even see them. But that’s not the point. They went somewhere without us and they were fine! They loved it. When they came back we were even keener to play dinosaurs than when they left. Recharged. That’s how we will feel leving this place. A few days of family time, playing in the garden and the pool until bed time. Using the local cook who provided meals, reading seven books to the children because we have no time pressure to be anywhere. Making precious memories before in the blink of an eye they turn into teenagers who don't want to talk to me. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it. Well that’s how it feels too. We found this place through the family friendly booking agency Tots to Travel. https://totstotravel.co.uk/ and it seems this place is the tip of be iceberg.

Full marks and appreciation to the Coleman family who have turned their home into luxurious haven. Thanks for having us. 

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Wannabe WAGs beware. Sport will make you grey not glamorous.

I haven’t been able to plan weekends since I got together with my hubby. I have no idea where my children will go to school, when I will be able to put a picture on the wall or if my husband will have a job in a couple of years. That’s the joy of professional sport. You may be brilliant, but if the boardroom or the fans don’t like you, or your body doesn’t do what it’s meant to, you won’t have a job. 

This weekend one team will be relegated from the Super League, it may be the team my husband plays for the Catalan Dragons. Or it may be their opponents - Leigh Centurions who will lose their slot in Rugby League's top division. When that happens dozens of jobs will be in question. The players may find other clubs, or they may not. Families who have brought their children to France from the other side of the world may be on the move, families who have never left their home town may have to look abroad for work. That is the reality facing my husband's team mates as they head into the do or die million pound match on Saturday.

One of my best friends was nearly in tears when I explained to her how unpredictable and uncertain sport is, she was traumatised by us not knowing where we will live in a few years or whether we will be able to pay a mortgage. She’s married to a fabulous man in finance so planning is paramount to them. I could pretend it is stressful but in truth I like the drama. We’re not stuck to a life plan we mapped out in our early twenties before we truly knew ourselves. We have to roll with it and play the cards our careers are dealing us. I am not married to a man who I can plan holidays with but I am married to a man who comes home in a mood because his team hasn’t done what he hoped or he didn’t play as well as he would have liked. His tantrums over his sport are worse than the toddlers. We have a freezer full of ice for his bumps and bruises, I have an apology every week for his mood swings and I generally go to weddings on my own but would I change it. Not for a second. I always thought the idea of going out with a sports man was sexy but it’s not the sport it’s the passion I love. He loves what he does and that’s what I love. One day, not far from now he will have to grow up and get a proper job: maybe a nine to five with a pension, and won’t that be boring. It’s only waving him off to arguably the toughest match of his career that I can truly say I love what he does. It is stressful and full on, it’s a game that dictates our life and our weekends but I am proud to be associated with this game. A game rooted in the north and seeped in passion. 

There will be tears from grown men this weekend and when there is don’t judge. It’s so much more than just a game.   

ps if it is a sexy sports man you’re after, I would consider a golfer. They can play that game for a long time. 

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The Value of Mum Mates

Thank heavens for friends: two years, two babies and a sea between me and my family I have had to rely on newcomers into my life for advice, guidance and at times, logistical support. 

Too many friends tell me they have struggled with anxiety and stress since giving birth and it breaks my heart, but perhaps more importantly it makes me want to acknowledge and thank the girls around me. The ladies I spend days, evenings and weekends with who came into my life because our husbands work together and who have made the last few years an adventure. United in the fact that through supporting our husbands we found ourselves here, in a country where we don’t speak the language and are far from our families.  

I came here with a three month old baby, I hadn’t read any baby books and I confess I didn’t go to ante natal classes I was winging the parenting thing. I had no clue about sleep patterns or routines. Soft play or organic cotton sheets. I learned from the ladies around me, with 16 children between me and my girls aged 10 down to three months one of us has at tried most parenting techniques. Some fail, some succeed, somewhere along the way we find a way to get the kids to share, to eat tomatoes, to use the potty and not melt down that daddy is away with work again. 

Dearest family and school friends if you’re reading this please don’t be offended, you know in your hearts how much I love and need you but you’re sadly not next door so I haven’t been able to nip round for a break and a brew. I had to call on the Australian girl who I had only known for a few weeks when my baby hit his head on the patio floor and had a black eye. “Have I broken the baby?” I sobbed on the door step as she poured me a wine trying to hide her ‘I’ve been there’ smirk. I write this not because I want to brag about my gang but because I want to say thank you. Thank you girls for not judging me when my toddler screams and snatches a toy from yours. Thank you for always arriving on my door with dips, crisps, cakes and fruit because it’s hard to shop with the babies in tow. Thank you most of all for not comparing our children, especially the ones who are the same age. Thank you for listening to my first world problems and non dramas and thank you most of all for making some precious memories with us here in France. 

Next year we will be back in the UK in Leeds, I will go to Mums groups and use Mummy Social (the app that introduces you to local Mums, a project I support).  And I will be able to hang out with my family and the friends I have loved since pre school. The special guys and girls who are part of my fabric, but for a few years I have borrowed some one else’s best friends and I have needed them. I have learned how to parent, how to cook things (Ha well I watched them now and again) and how to be a friend. For that you random gang of girls I will be forever in your debt.  You know who you are. 

Mum mates are important. Choose wisely, choose widely. 

 

August taught me I want to me more French.

Bye August! You were a joy and provided a life lesson: August should be for holidays and long ones at that. This time two years ago we were tearing our hair out trying to find somewhere to live and sort bank accounts out ahead of our time in the South West of France. We couldn’t sort anything because everyone was on holiday. For the whole month. Seriously, no one replied to emails or answered their phones at my husbands new work place. No out of office emails offered an alternative person to contact. We just had to wait. Failing to work through our to do list was frustrating but no one died. Did it matter, not really, we got it sorted eventually. It’s just the way they do things here, life comes first. And it’s not just August. Everyone we know has a two hour lunch. Banks, shops and newsagents close, every day. For two hours. (Forgive the punctuation but I am trying to hammer the point.) Town shuts down every day for two hours. You eat between twelve and two. When the clock strikes two you can’t eat out in a restaurant, not until service resumes at 7pm. There are no Starbucks or Costa coffee shops offering salads and snacks 12 hours a day. You eat between 12-2 and then from 7. In August it seems you sit on your sun lounger and soak up the sun. It’s genius, massively unproductive, but a nice way to live right?

I spoke to some children playing alongside my son on the beach the other day who told me they were coming to the end of their two month annual summer holiday. Two months! I love it. My Dad used to get a migraine at the thought of a ten day holiday once a year when we were kids. If his friends had told him they were taking an annual two month holiday he would have branded them ‘lazy’ for sure. My Mum often uses the number of holidays a year someone has to describe them: “You know so and so, she’s always on holiday, three times a year she’s away.” Never sure if she’s impressed, jealous or in awe in my family the number of holidays a year someone has seems to be an indication of their appetite for graft. Is it a generation thing, is it a British thing? Who cares. These French families are onto something if you ask me. Extended lunches and extended holidays, as long as you cut your cloth accordingly and spend within your earnings why shouldn’t you spend more time on the beach. I love the idea of long weekends and frequent holidays and sitting here in the sun soaked of France I am promising myself I will do that long after we return to England and to work in a few weeks. But will I? Here we share one car and I live in clothes I buy from the market for a few euro. I actually do. I don't even buy underwear I always wear a bikini under my clothes in case we end up somewhere for a swim.  While I know that will change, will my commitment to family time and collecting 'memories' rather 'things.' I hope not.  Maybe it's easy to say I will put family time first more, given that I am sitting by a pool in the sun with one baby sleeping and one playing. Maybe if I say it out loud I will do it. Maybe if I keep telling people how happy the French are we will all start indulging in daily two hour lunches fuelled by wine. Not sure my boss will be up for it but I will certainly be making a case for it. 

 

Marseille, a moment of terror.

I was in Marseille with my family as the suspected terror attack unfolded, my friends were walking in the exact place the Barcelona murders were carried out only a day before. I have pushed my babies in their prams down over Westminster bridge where those poor people were killed all in the name of, well what I am still not quite sure. This isn’t the place for debating why some people do what they do, it’s a confession. An admission that as much as I say outwardly: “We can’t let them win, we shouldn’t live our life in fear within four walls.” These attacks are actually starting to affect me. As I sat with a coffee, babe in arms and my toddler at my feet playing dinosaurs in a cafe in Cassis just twenty minutes from Marseille my phone lit up with family members asking if we were ok. Straight away my friends and husband and I knew. We knew it was something horrid and any loss of unecessary life is heartbreaking, but thank goodness it wasn’t mass slaughter like we have seen so recently. 

It turns out that the killing in Marseille wasn’t an act of terror, but does that make it better or worse. It’s heartbreaking none the less.

As I called my family to tell them not to worry in case they heard anything about Marseille, I knew I needed to defend my addiction to travelling. “Don’t be going so far,” my concerned Mum told me and for the first time ever I couldn’t protest my case. I just told her how much I loved her and how happily the children were playing. I don’t want to deny my kids the chance to travel and go to concerts. Later that day we swam in pristine waters, jumping off boats into the open sea surrounded by the stunning scenery of the Calanques. As most of the coves and caves are unreachable by road we were totally spoiled by the scenery and the exclusivity. My husband and son loved it. It was one of our best days in France and we would have missed it if were to scared to leave the house, but is that irresonspible of me as a parent? Should I park this wander lust in favour of their safety. Without a glass ball and an ability to predict the future it’s impossible to say, because the truth is we don’t know when and where these awful things will happen.

What scares me is not that mean people do mean things, it’s that they are played out on the news and the internet and I am scared hate breeds hate. I will not let my boys grow up thinking people hate and kill each other in the name of others. I am never going to win parent of the year : I don’t police bed time or force vegetables down his throat. I bribe when I should discipline I cuddle when I should chastise but one thing I am determined to do is not let them grow up thinking ‘an eye is for an eye.’ I can’t stop the tales of terror and attack but I can stop thinking it’s ok behaviour. Never before have I been so determined to making sure my children love their neighbours and respect other peoples beliefs. They are the generation that this nonsense can really screw up and I will try hard to try and protect them from that. 

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Knives, guns and smashing glasses.

Knives, guns and smashing glasses. Turns out that’s just a regular Thursday night out for my two year old. I thought I was out for a wander in the evening sunshine to make the most of the street performers and live music put on in Perpignan to entertain the crowds of tourists. My son, it seems thought we were out to ensure someone reported me to some sort of child protection unit. Twice the people at the neighbouring table rolled their eyes, once they actually came over and told me how dangerous it was that my son was playing with a knife. 

Obviously he wasn’t ‘playing’ with a knife, I’m not totally stupid. The waiter set down a relatively blunt knife on the table, my son picked it up and as I reached for the toy dinosaur to do the inevitable distraction dance the guy sat next to me jumped up and starting giving me a lecture. Thus prolonging the time my son had the knife, causing me to grab it, meaning he snatched, the whole thing became twice as dangerous, I felt terrible, my little boy had a melt down and before I knew it half the restaurant was looking. Don’t worry, just to make sure my neighbouring diner really thinks I am a terrible parent two minutes later as I lifted the baby out of the pram and on to my lap Ernie reached over and grabbed my glass, of course it smashed, of course he was covered in water. All in all you could consider this night out an epic fail, but, and I may be deliriously sleep deprived but at least I was out of the house, hubby is away in England with work, as he is every other weekend and I got some quality time with my boys. Sort of. The knife and the glass were an accident, but the toy gun he insisted on buying from a stall on the way home, now what was no accident. My two year old screamed for it, begged for it and just when he knew he was at the threshold of a telling off or me giving in to him to keep him quiet he did what I suspect little boys do the world over to their doting mummies. He cuddled in, told me I was pretty and blinked those bambi eyes while he said in his lisp toddler language: “pwwweeeeeeaaaaaassssseeeee mummy, wove you.” (He’s TWO for crying out loud. What will he be like aged 18). With my heart aching to give in to my small being with cuteness oozing from every pore I held my nerve: “No Ernie, we don’t play with guns. They aren’t nice.” At which point the stall holder said. “Cadeau.” Great. The gift of a gun. She clearly has a son too smiling as she handedly over the neon flashing plastic pink pistol. That’s right, it’s pink and flashes. I can’t even pretend it’s a sporting gun that may be used for sport.  Not sure I’ll attempt the street festival single handily again. Damn sure that pistol will get lost on the way home. 

Wrestling boob, baby and blouses

Wrestling baby, boob and blouse opposite my Olympian turned banker colleague as I breastfed my son at a team dinner wasn’t my most dignified move, but then who has time for dignity while we’re mothering, working, traveling, working out, sight seeing, supporting and exploring. 

I recently dipped my toe back into work, presenting the swimming coverage of the World Championships for the BBC from Budapest. I took my Mum and my son with me as I am not ready to go back to work but I wanted to keep my hand in. It worked mainly because my Mum, who acted as my Nanny trotted alongside me where ever possible. (Beeb critics this was not at the expense of the licence fee payer, I paid for her obviously, I know how lucky I am to have her around for occasional childcare). 

There are so many things I feel I ought to be doing as a working Mum, I totally forgot to warn my team mates I was about to breast feed at the dinner table and as a result I am pretty sure my lovely colleague Andy Jameson nearly choked on his Hungarian strudel. Thankfully Becky Adlington was on hand with a well placed napkin, she has a baby she’s been through this breastfeeding battle and was highly amused by the fact by the end of each programme I looked like I was holding two bald men in a headlock. 

I confess I wasn’t trying to ‘normalise’ breastfeeding nor was I flying the flag for working Mums I was just feeding my baby and trying to still be me, catching up with my colleagues after work. I didn’t really think about it until I saw the look on my Mums face who was sitting next to me, taking in every ounce of Andy’s awkwardness. As ever he was a gent pretending not to notice my bare boob to the side of his beer.

I write this, not seeking reassurance or praise, merely to share a few hacks if like me you’re a working Mum who (for whatever reason AND THEY ARE PERSONAL, NO JUDGEMENT HERE) is currently feeding a child.

-Stick with the breast feeding bras. Those little clips releasing the cup of the bra are fantastic in awkward and cramped situations. 

-Invest in some nice scarves that can double up as a muslin, cover up and change mat. 

-Avoid dresses, it’s easier to sneak baby under a top than up past your knickers.

-Hand pumps are fantastic at easing a bursting boob should you be away from baby longer than you would like. (I did find the more I expressed the more I produced so be careful!) 

-Warn your colleagues you’re about to breastfeed if you’re doing it in front of them, I found my male colleagues don’t tend to mind, they just get embarrassed when surprised a nipple appears at the table alongside a bottle of the house red.

-I took NUK bottles, they are the only ones my son will drink from.

God bless my fab colleagues and Mum for helping me do my job, be a Mum that is. 

Day 1 back at work and hospital drama ensues

At 1am in a Hungarian military hospital surrounded by some very very ill people, rocking the baby as I tried to work out why the doctor wanted to perform minor surgery on my Mums minor cut to her leg I questioned if being a Mum is worth it. I am in Budapest to cover the swimming and diving World Championships for the BBC and true to form with me, day one has not been without drama!

I haven’t found the tree that grows nappies yet and I am lucky to do a job I love so I came here to Budapest with my four month old, where my Mum met us to play Nanny.

I wanted to spend as much time with Ernie as possible and ended up leaving home to late, missing my train to the airport. Instead my hubby drove me and ended up spending 6 hours in rush hour traffic around Barcelona. Louis first flight was straightforward, make the most of flying before they can walk. Ernie is hectic on a flight but as Louis is still feeding off me it was ok. He did throw up on a nearby passenger but she was miserable so she kind of deserved it. (Ernie once ripped near ring from a woman ear, she didn’t deserve it so I am keeping ‘pukegate’ in perspective). 

Landed, checked in, hotel travel cot installed, Doona car seat/pram in action I headed to the final day of diving in my new dress, dusted off heels with a full face of make up ready to speak to the nation. Only, my Mum fell up the stairs cut her knee and got shipped to a local military hospital for stitches. She was mortified and felt awful she couldn’t hold the baby. I was like a duck pretending outwardly it was fine. Now if you have been misfortunate enough to see me on telly you’ll know my style is quite relaxed. I don’t necessarily agree with doing things by the BBC book but even I confess it’s not very professional to breast feed your newborn perching on a chair behind my BBC colleagues as they commentated on a world championship winning performance by Tom Daley. It was without doubt one of the finest sporting displays I have ever seen. He won in spectacular style diving better than he ever has. Baby aside (literally my female colleague held him) before he puked on some of the senior member of the swim team coaching staff. (Sorry Mel Marshall). I got down to business trying to send back links and interviews to the UK. I won’t bore you with the technical and logistical frustrations, we wanted to craft a new programme but had to send back what we had straight away for a highlights programme scheduled to go out the following day. As in many jobs there are ways you would like to do things and ways you have to do things. In the end as long as the nation get the opportunity to see and hear our young superstars do their thing on the diving boards its ok. 

Celebrations and pre recorded links complete I headed to the hospital to help my Mum. It was funny for a few hours until they wanted to perform minor surgery. (Meanwhile hubby text to say Ernie has chicken pox!) Thank god for the linguistics skills of a young Hungarian volunteer and thank god for Adele from the British Swimming board for helping my family and staying with us until 1 am. Do I feel like a good Mum or a good broadcaster right now. Not really but ladies ‘having it all’ throws up the odd challenge and some days you have to just dust off your invisible crown put on your highest heels and be grateful for the people around you. The drama can be draining but I am sure we will all look back on this and laugh. Soon. I hope.

From a sporting point of view this weeks offers LOTS of treats. If we can match any of the 'pool' based drama of the diving we will all be happy. Tom Daley dived out of his skin to take the world title. Grace Reid can celebrate a silver medal in the sincere event and leaves Budapest fourth best in the world in her individual event. Matty Lee and Louis Toulson take home silver medals from the ten meter syncro. It wasn't to be for our Olympic Champions Jack Laugher or Chris Mears but those that know Jack believe this will only make him hungrier for the World Championship medal that will complete his set of international golds. On the final day at the final hour British diving delivered a hugely successful week taking home three medals, with the Daley double stealing the show. I feel pretty privileged to get to stand poolside and take this all in.

Much love. H

x

ps The World Swimming Championships are on BBC2 every day this week from 5pm. There’s brilliant coverage and interviews from my colleague Nick Hope online if you want to catch up with some of the excitement from the diving. 

Is it wine o’clock yet?

The post baby booze binge has been on the horizon for a while. I haven’t drank since last September and I am ready for a drink, a big one. Not because I want a hangover (lord knows I won’t be allowed a lie in thanks to a two year old who believes 3am is time to play football.) No, I need a drink because I need to find out from my friend what actually happened when my second son, Louis was born. My relatively new friend Jill, delivered Louis on our kitchen floor in front of a crowd of excited, albeit inexperienced french firemen. She was a total legend, keeping me calm, cradling louis whilst I processed what had happened.

Until about ten minutes before Louis came along. I was in the house alone with my twenty month old. I text my girl friends to say I was in a bit of pain: Erin and her five year old arrived for what they thought was a play date. Five minutes later Jill arrived with her one year old, then the fire brigade, then the baby. Meanwhile my eldest, Ernie hit me on the head with a plastic sword (he thought I was on all fours roaring because I wanted to play dinosaurs). It was, and still is a bit of a blur. I’d been for a walk, started having pains, tried to have a bath and kidded myself I could drive  to hospital. All the time trying to call my hubby, who was in England for work. I crawled to the kitchen to open the door, but couldn’t get back up.

Thankfully Louis arrived safely as well as swiftly. Ten weeks of buzzing from the drama and the excitement it finally hit home how lucky we were when ‘Knocked up’ starring Katherine Heigl came on telly. I couldn’t watch it. I filled up and my stomach was in knots. I don’t think I have actually fully processed how amazing my friends were or how blessed we are that it was straightforward.

About thirty minutes after the birth I was in a firetruck on facetime to my husband, there are so many details I don’t have but I feel like I need to know. I know Erin cleaned up a lot of blood and I know Jill went home in my clothes rather than the ones she arrived in. It was all such a drama that I feel like it's taken me a while to get to know and fall head over heels for my newborn. I wasn't really ready for him to arrive, not like that. With Ernie I looked at him and he became my world instantly. With Louis, and I feel bad saying this, it was different. Everyone (including me) talked about the drama of the arrival rather than his precious little face for the first few weeks and for that I feel bad. I know he came out in the sack, I know I spoke to Ernie during the labour more than Louis and again for that I feel bad. 

It's important to me that I fill the gaps in my memory of his birth. I need the intimate details. I want to know. But I know I will need a wine (or 7) to spare my blushes and reduce any inhibitions I may have about asking what really happened ‘down there.’ I think he came out in the sack, I remember feeling it, but the rest, between me trying to explain myself in french, get my husband on the phone and stop my toddler hitting me on the head well a few details got lost. Is anyone buying this excuse for a breastfeeding mum to get her wine on?

H

xx

PS Huge thanks to Mr Joel Anderson who took this photo in Perpignan. Look him up on Instagram, despite being crazy talented and interesting he has few instagram followers. ( I think we bullied him into an account in the first place!)

Sun’s out, Bun’s out.

I thought the park bench in the playground in central Figures was the perfect place to breastfeed my thirsty one month old. Louis drank, Ernie played and I clocked up some me time in Zara. How wrong I was, instead the street sweeper shook his dirty broom at me and a pigeon pooed on my pram as I found out you don’t get your boobs out in the park. 

I am not a militant breastfeeder, if it’s right for you do it. If it isn’t don’t. I am breastfeeding mainly due to the fact I am not organised: I would take out the wrong number of bottles, they would not be properly sterilised and I would invariably end up begging, borrowing and potentially stealing necessary items to keep my bub fed and watered. So, I breastfeed. After an hour in the car (we currently live in the south of france) Louis was ready for a feed and Ernie had earned some play time. I thought I had hit jackpot when I saw a car park next to a play park. I didn’t account for angry street sweeper who waggled his broom at me shouting as I fed. I genuinely thought he was telling me I had dropped something. My spanish is rubbish and I didn’t understand he was having a go, until he got near and after I had spun around left and right looking for the item I thought I had obviously dropped. In doing so freeing my other boob for all to see. (Which in hindsight is why the street sweeper got louder and angrier.) He obviously thought I was goading him, I wasn’t, but I can see how nodding, smiling and freeing a second boob may come across like that.

The thing that baffles me about this is that every time we go to Spain people fuss the children, and when I was pregnant they could not have been more helpful. They make allowances in restaurants (as my toddler tries to share half eaten chips with fellow diners). They let me queue jump, they smile and tickle and cuddle the babies. Often interrupting our meals or drinks to say hello to the children. Which is why this is so odd, perhaps it’s not a ‘spanish’ thing and just a ‘middle aged man thing.’ Or that particular man. I wasn’t trying to make a point by metaphorically sticking two fingers up to him but I inadvertently did.

I have friends who felt too awkward to feed in public, I have friends who felt to guilty to stop feeding even thought they had cracked nipples and bled. Stick two fingers up to that attitude!  I won’t be adopting the Spanish attitude to breastfeeding but I will be sticking by the approach of my French friends and French mid wife: “If you feed, it’s better for the baby, if you don’t it’s better for your boobs.”