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A Winter-themed weekend

For the 4th year in a row, I found myself not only in London, but also spending a little time at GOSH during the weekend closest to G’s birthday. Thank goodness that this year there was no admission attached to what is fast-becoming a December tradition, instead, just like last year, our reason for going was the December meeting of the GOSH YPF and with both G and M now active members of the YPF, we decided to make a weekend of it and round off the birthday celebrations in style, whilst gently kicking off our Christmas ones as well.

In the lead up to a previous YPF weekend, I was lucky enough to stumble across the Travelodge in Hounslow, which has quickly established itself as our destination of choice whenever we need to head to London for the weekend. A lot more affordable than central London prices, it is a short walk away from a secure car park and both the East Hounslow and Hounslow Central tube stations, making it an easy commute into GOSH in particular as all are stops on the Piccadilly line. This close to the end of term, we were able to take advantage of the fact that the out-of-school activities have now finished and headed to London on the Friday evening once G and M’s school day was over, and even managed a reasonable night’s sleep before our busy winter weekend began.

It started with our morning commute to GOSH, where we dropped G and M, both kitted out in their Christmas finery, for a YPF meeting filled with a whole host of activities and treats, including a hotly challenged Christmas quiz. Once the children were settled, Mike and I set off on foot towards Covent Garden and spent our day meandering the streets, exploring the shops and even managing to pick up the odd present or two as well. We stopped for a light lunch at the amazing Cafe in the Crypt at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, just off Trafalgar Square. This is fast becoming one of our favourite spots whenever we are in London as the food they serve is simple, yet delicious, they serve a few allergy-friendly snacks too and is a place I would heartily recommend to anyone looking for a peaceful break from the busyness of London itself.

Lunch done, we started our trek back to GOSH along Shaftesbury Avenue and stumbled across this group of festive, charity bike riders as we turned the corner towards our final destination. It really was a sight to behold as we were surrounded by Father Christmases as far as the eye could see and lovely to watch excited small children wave and shout out Christmas greetings as the cyclists sped past.

 

There was one last stop I wanted to make before we met G and M and that was at the Baileys Treat Stop pop shop located not far from Covent Garden. It was only open for 2 weeks and I was determined to take advantage of our trip and pay a visit there for a Baileys-inspired hot drink. The queue was long and it took over 40 minutes to finally get into the shop itself, though our patience was well-rewarded by the plethora of treats that was brought out to keep those waiting happy – chocolate eclairs filled with Baileys-infused cream, cups of popcorn and chocolate covered Baileys fudge and toffee. I finally made it to the front of the queue and having never tried their Pumpkin Spice version and not fancying a treat-laden hot chocolate, I decided to customise a Pumpkin Spice latte instead. I think the server was a little disappointed with my rather tame selection of “just” chopped nuts and wafer straws, but despite his best efforts, I held firm to my decision, which I maintain was absolutely the right one. However, the latte itself was incredibly disappointing and absolutely not worth the time and money I’d spent to get it. What I hoped would be a small Christmas treat for me really wasn’t and we wasted close to an hour with that detour.

However, the rest of our Saturday went according to plan and was a fantastic ending to G’s birthday celebrations. Both children had a great day at the YPF meeting and came away with some small and unexpected gifts and treats. G was really keen to have a Chinese meal for dinner and so we chose to double up M’s medicines throughout the day and then allowed him to relax his diet for the evening. Mike and I had done scouting around Chinatown during our day and we headed to the Feng Shui Inn for a few carefully selected dishes which the whole family enjoyed. From there, it was just a stone’s throw away to the Prince Edward theatre where we were treated to the delights of Agrabah, the fantastical quirks of the Genie and the addition of a handful of new songs to Disney’s Aladdin. This was G’s choice of show and I knew she’d enjoyed it when she asked at the end if we could see it again! It was an amazing production and we were incredibly lucky to see Trevor Dion Nicholas in the role of the Genie, a role he was reprising after a successful stint on Broadway.

Sunday morning saw another tube ride into London, though this time our destination was the Tower of London where we had booked an ice-skating session on the rink set up in the moat. Both children were keen to have a go at skating once again and Mike was just as excited. It took a little while for G and M to find their feet, but they were soon off and even attempting to get around on their own, away from the barrier. The session only lasted 45 minutes, but that was more than enough for all of us and M and I even left the ice a few minutes early due to the uncomfortable hire skates we were wearing. All in all, we had a fantastic and fun-filled family winter-themed weekend and it felt like a fitting end to what has been a long school term.

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Battle of Hastings, 1066 (the 2015 version)

“I can’t wait to tell my class that I was chased by a hawk this weekend when I see them on Monday!”

As you might imagine, with that opening gambit, I couldn’t wait to get home from work to find out exactly how M’s classmates responded to the unusual piece of news that he was determined to share today. I suggested that he might want to explain a little more about our weekend adventures rather than just announcing this out-of-the-ordinary occurrence to the world, but knowing M as I do, I fear the finer details might be missing first time round.

20151010_165603Despite suggestions to the contrary, our weekend was, in fact, spent in East Sussex and more specifically, in Battle at the site of the Battle of Hastings. G has been studying the events of 1066 in her History lessons this term and has shown a real interest in learning about the central characters of this Battle. I have a vivid memory of visiting the battlefield with my parents when I was about the same age as G is now and wanted to be able to create a similar experience for both G and M if I could. What better was to learn more about history than by visiting where it actually happened? I started investigating the Hastings area and was delighted to see that last weekend was staging a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings in advance of the 949th anniversary of the event itself.

20151010_123132Much to my astonishment, we had a weekend free of any other plans, a rare thing indeed in our household and so we planned for a short East Sussex break, where the Battle of Hastings would be brought to life outside of the classroom and hopefully would become even more real in G’s memory. As always when planning a trip with M, I spent most of Friday rushing around from pillar to post in a mad dash attempt to make sure we had packed everything we could conceivably need during our 2 nights away from home. A slight lapse on my part meant that 3 hours were unexpectedly lost to a forgotten hospital appointment for me and another 40 minutes to training up the new school secretary on how to operate M’s pump, but we got there in the end and as soon as school and Stagecoach were finished, we started our pilgrimage to Battle.

20151010_155222We arrived at Battle Abbey slightly ahead of schedule on Saturday morning and I am so glad we got there when we did. A great tip from one of Mike’s work colleagues meant that we had gone prepared with a couple of folding chairs amongst our possessions and we nabbed ourselves front row seats for the rest of the day. We explored the Saxon and Norman camps set up either side of the main arena, treated ourselves to a few trinkets, drinks and snacks and decided which events we wanted to see. We actually didn’t really venture too far away from the main arena itself as the children were fascinated by all that we could see and experience there. Mike was thrilled to be picked to be part of the first Falconry display and remarked on how surprisingly light the bird was as it landed on his arm. 20151010_155237The children were enthralled by the impressive weaponry display, which showed the different types of weapons that would have been used by the cavalry and infantrymen of both armies and treated us, in our front row seats, to a frighteningly realistic charge by the opposing sides.  For many, the highlight of the day had to be the battle itself, which was acted out in front of us with a mix of live and recorded commentary to talk through and explain the events as they unfolded. I was impressed with G’s understanding of the tactics employed by Duke William’s army and she was able to hold her own afterwards when in discussion with 2 of the men involved in the re-enactment. It was a fantastic day out, the children now both have a greater understanding of this significant historical event and Mike broadened his knowledge of his adopted homeland too!

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Oh yes, and M was chased by a hawk, just as he said. Following his in-depth conversation with the Falconry team during the day, they chose him to be part of the second display and gave him the job of dragging the decoy across the field at speed to show how fast and effective the Harris hawk is when it comes to hunting its prey.

 

Home or away?

IMG_0746With a trip to London for M’s GOSH appointment an unavoidable part of the Easter holidays, we decided to make the best of it and spend a few days there on our very own mini city-break.  In preparation we spent one Sunday afternoon leafing through the pages of Mike’s “501 Days Out” book, looking for inspiration for what we could do during our stay and  G and M quickly filled a sheet of A4 with their suggestions.  It was left to Mike and me to make the final cut and hone our plans and, despite desperate requests for Legoland Windsor and Chessington World of Adventures, we decided to stick to those attractions within a reasonable distance of where we’d be staying and drew up a list that felt exhausting just looking at it.

where_to_stayThis epic event was our first overnight stay away from home since M had his tube back in December and I drew up thousandshundreds…well one very long list of everything I needed to do in preparation.  My first job, once our trains were booked, was to find somewhere to stay that would meet all of our requirements.  Usually we choose to stay in one of the Premier Inn hotels on the south-side of the Thames, be it near the London Eye or closer to Southwark Cathedral and find them a great base for walking, or using the underground, to almost anywhere we’re intending to visit.  Unfortunately, leaving the actual booking to a little late in the day meant that none of our usual suspects of hotels was available for the 3 nights we were planning to stay and instead I had to search for a suitable alternative.  Whilst browsing frantically looking for a room at the….an….any inn, I came across the option of a serviced apartment and things suddenly started to fall into place.

We chose a one-bed apartment in East Aldgate, not too far from the Tower of London and easy walking distance from the nearest tube station.  The benefits seemed huge:

  • with a separate bedroom and pull-out bed in the living area, G would be able to go to sleep at a reasonable time, whilst M played his usual night-owl games
  • there would be plenty of space to store all of M’s medical gear as well as the supply of safe foods for both him and G that we would take with us
  • having a kitchen meant we could easily prepare M’s feeds, make packed lunches and even cook dinner, thereby covering every possible meal-time option we might face
  • it also meant we would have a fridge to keep cooked meats, cheese for G and M’s feeds in overnight without the need to request one beforehand and then keeping our fingers crossed it would be available when we checked in
  • finally, we would have a quiet place to retreat to when things got too much or the children needed some down time in the middle of the day

So it was an easy decision to get that apartment booked.  The days flew past until finally I had no choice but to tackle the task of packing for our trip.  By the time I had everything I needed for M in the case, plus our supply of safe foods for both G and M, I was beginning to wonder whether I’d have room for any of the clothes the 4 of us would need for 4 days in London.  With some canny packing and careful choices about exactly what was necessary, I just about squeezed everything in and we were ready for our next big adventure.