Tag Archives: weekend

Mini Cycling Adventures

A month ago we spent our Saturday afternoon in what can only be described as a most unusual way for our particular family. It had all actually started a few days before, when Mike’s bike had developed a persistent flat tire that no amount of minor repair work was going to fix and he finally decided to take it to our local Halfords store for a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, the prognosis wasn’t good and sadly Mike had to come to terms with the terminal diagnosis that his bike just wasn’t going to make it and it was time to think of finding a suitable replacement. Not only did Mike need to urgently replace a crucial part of his daily commute, but my Mum had also been reminding me that I needed to actively do something to buy myself the bike that she has bought me as a birthday present for 2 years in a row, and so we headed back to Halfords to see what we could find.

If I was to say that G and M were not too enthused by the prospect of an afternoon investigating potential bike purchases for Mum and Dad, it would absolutely not be an exaggeration, but they really didn’t have much of a choice and so they begrudgingly came along, grumbling all the way. When we first arrived at the shop, it seemed fortuitous that they were having a end-of-season sale, but I really should have realised that being April Fool’s Day, the joke would ultimately be on us. Mike had already done some investigating into some options for me and I swiftly settled on a purple Apollo Elyse that would be everything I needed for future family cycling adventures.

And then the fun started. Whilst Mike explored the 2 floors to see what choices he had, both children took matters into their own hands and found bikes that would suit them too. We had been briefly discussing the fact that both G and M were starting to outgrow the bikes they had at home and the unquestionable allure of some great deals in their end-of-season sales plus a further negotiated discount because we were buying 4 bikes, instead of the anticipated 2, meant an attractive offer that we just couldn’t turn down.

It took a couple of weeks to pick up the bikes as they had to be ordered, delivered and serviced before we could finally take them home. Mike’s bike was pressed into instant service and the children were keen to get theirs out for a test run as soon as was humanly possible, so the Easter holidays came at the perfect time to allow them out on some mini adventures with Mike. However, I hadn’t had the same opportunity until last weekend dawned with the most glorious weather and with no homework left to do for either child. We decided to head out in a different direction than the ones they had been in before and cycled along the country lanes winding through the farm land and fields that surround our house. We cycled to the next village and back, not a huge distance by any stretch of the imagination, but a 5 mile introduction to what promises to be some great family adventures for 2017.

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Impractical Jokers – Birmingham 2017

The last month or so has been filled with an unusual number of opportunities for Mike and me to take a little time off from our jam-packed lives at home and have some much-needed time to relax, rejuvenate and re-find ourselves as a couple. We’ve been fortunate that, just as she did last June when we enjoyed my surprise holiday win to Italy, my Mum was willing to take charge of G and M for the duration and we’ve been celebrating our 40th birthdays in style. Our first treat involved a road trip to Birmingham, an overnight stay near the Barclaycard Arena (previously the National Indoor Arena) and an evening spent laughing, courtesy of the tickets I had bought for Mike as part of his 40th birthday present.

img_13471Just over a year ago we discovered the American hit comedy show, Impractical Jokers and have spent many hours curled up in front of the TV, often with the children added to the mix too, giggling and guffawing at the escapades we’ve watched unfold in front of our eyes. For those of you who have never heard of the Impractical Jokers, this hidden camera show follows 4 childhood friends from Staten Island, Sal, Joe, Murr and Q, as they play a series of practical jokes on each other and the unsuspecting general public. In a hyped-up version of “Truth or Dare”, they challenge each other to complete a string of ridiculous tasks, knowing that failure to complete or achieve the goal will result in the biggest loser of that episode having to undergo a punishment at the hands of their friends.

The Jokers usually do not know the details of the pranks until the moment they have to do them and are often pushed to say and do things that are well beyond most people’s normal comfort zones. From saying outrageous comments when serving customers at one of the many stores, fast food joints or cafes featured from New York, to having to convince strangers that they have met before in the most unbelievable set of circumstances, the pranks nearly always have us all laughing out loud. I’d be hard-pushed to say which part of each show we most enjoy, but the final punishments are almost always as funny as the pranks themselves and go from the sublime to the ridiculous. img_13531In many ways, it’s seeing the response that adds to the humour of the situation. My Mum freely admits that she can’t see what makes us laugh so much and perhaps it’s true you require a certain quirky sense of humour to enjoy the half-hour episodes.

Having missed out on tickets for their first UK tour in February 2016, I was determined to get some for January 2017 and was delighted when I managed to secure 2 great seats at the Birmingham Barclaycard Arena. It took some strategic planning with my Mum – well, I had to check she’d be in the country to look after G and M for the night! – but we got there in the end and I even managed to keep it a secret until the big reveal on Mike’s birthday in October. M was not so impressed with our planned night out, but Mike was as thrilled as I was and the time just flew past until we found ourselves taking an afternoon off from work and bombing down the motorway towards our final destination. We found a great place to stay – City Nites Serviced Apartments – within walking distance of the Arena that included a secure location to park the car and enjoyed a delicious dinner at Thai Edge before the show itself started.

We were hoping for a great night out and weren’t disappointed. The Jokers, also known as The Tenderloins comedy troupe, have been performing stand-up for years and their show was filled with a skillful mix of scripted jokes, some improv and the inevitable reveal of previously unseen clips from their successful TV show. I’ll be honest, a few long days and nights on UK tour had obviously taken their toll on all their voices and a heavy drinking session meant that one member of the group in particular was not as sharp as he usually is on-screen, but my favourites, Sal and Joe, were in fantastic form and made the night for me. Mike loved being at yet another live comedy show, having already enjoyed seeing Josh Widdicombe and Dave Gorman for previous birthday treats. It was a brilliant overnight break from the children and one that we both needed after the medical stresses that had stalked us at the end of last year.c2dvr6txeaan_op

The Beauty of Brighton

Having made the epic journey to Hastings to dip our toes into events of the past, we took full advantage of being near the South coast and decided a side trip to Brighton was in order. Our Sunday started at a slightly slower pace and once the unavoidable homework was out of the way, we jumped into the car to head an hour west to our destination. I achieved the ultimate moment of parenting success, entirely unplanned, article-1363789-0D813C3A000005DC-44_964x628when G spotted the infamous white chalk cliffs of the area. I hadn’t realised it was something she had learned a little about in geography this term and mentally gave myself a pat on the back for ticking the boxes for both her history and geography classes.

Following what seemed like an army of motorbikes of all shapes, colours and descriptions into Brighton, we found our way to a centrally located car park before heading out on foot. We had managed to park strategically close to the main shopping centre and started our short visit with lunch at what has become one of our all-time favourite allergy-friendly restaurants, Wagamama. As at our home branch, their service here was phenomenal, the attention to detail spot on and we all enjoyed food that we knew would be reassuringly safe for both M and G. Once the most critical part of our day was dealt with, we walked to our final destination for the afternoon, 20151011_124225the Brighton Pavilion. A new experience for all of us, although I have seen it from the outside before; and what an amazing experience it was.

The children were astounded to see the Indian-inspired splendour of the Royal Pavilion buildings in Brighton – another big tick here as M will be studying India later in the year! – and keen to listen to the audio guides telling them more about the design, build and use of the Pavilion since it was first transformed from modest seaside villa to magnificent palace for King George IV in 1815. M fell in love with the Banqueting Hall with its impressive dragons, life-like lotus leaves and the 30-foot high chandelier, covered in over 50,000 crystals, hanging in the centre of the room. Equally amazing was the music room, which has been painstakingly restored, not just once, but twice since 1975 due to excessive damage caused first by fire and latterly by storm damage. G and M also loved trying to spot the secret doors, behind which were often hidden one of the multitude of toilets in the place or access passages for the servants so that King George wouldn’t see them as they went about their work.

Indian-Soldiers-in-the-Music-RoomThere is currently a photo exhibition about the role the Royal Pavilion played during WWI and Mike and I were fascinated to read about the conversion of this once royal palace to a hospital for troops from the Indian Corps wounded on the Western Front in France and Flanders. As we walked from room to room inside the Pavilion admiring all the artefacts on display, there were often also photos showing how each room had been converted for use during the war. Huge efforts were made to not only protect the historical elements of the palace, but also to make these injured soldiers feel comfortable and “at home” during their convalescence. What struck me the most was a statistic about the number of patients treated during the 14 months it was open (though please forgive me if I misquote as my recollection is perhaps a little hazy): between December 1914 and January 1916, around 2,500 Indian patients were treated and only 18 died. Amazing when you think how horrific many of the injuries suffered by those troops were. Following the Indian military hospital, the Pavilion was then used for a further 4 years as a hospital for British amputees, who not only had wounds treated and prosthetic limbs fitted, but were also then rehabilitated to develop skills to help them in their later lives once the war had ended.

The Royal Pavilion our home from 1890 to 1914 and 1921 to 1928

The Brighton Royal Pavilion is a truly captivating and beautiful place to visit, with a fascinating history and it delighted us all. We spent a great couple of hours exploring the rooms and admiring the architecture and I’m glad that we were able to make that stop before heading back home after our busy weekend.

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.