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Intense in tents

June 12th, 2017 (by Steve)

“So what’s the plan for tomorrow?”. We’d just arrived at my parents-in-law’s house about to head off camping with them the following day and I was caught off guard by the question. “Ummm, I’d only really planned up to arriving here”. They were in a similar position – a hectic patch of life, a need for a rest, but little time to organise. A month ago we’d sent a load of camping gear from our flat in London down with them, so at least we knew we had the right kit for the trip, but other than that we’d be making things up on the fly!

Our destination was Cotswold Farm Park – the baby of celebrity farmer (two words I never thought I’d use together) Adam Henson. I will admit I’d never heard of him, but then again I’m not up with popular culture. The draw was that if you camp there, you pay for one day’s entry to the farm park, then can come and go as you like – ideal for holidaying with a toddler.

The drive from East Sussex was long on a baking hot Saturday and car park conditions on the M25 ensured that we didn’t arrive at the campsite until 4pm. After registering at reception, where we were informed that they sold pizzas on Friday and Saturday evenings, we headed to our neighbouring pitches and the competition started. 17 year old tent with two dab hands who had pitched it many times versus a brand new tent with two people who had pitched it once before. Who won? It turns out that toddlers complicate things – stealing essential parts of the tent at opportune moments, then depositing them elsewhere as something more exciting takes their fancy. The wise thing was to abandon the competition and take it in turns to pitch, whilst the other couple entertained the wee one. Final task was the traditional marking of our territory with a parrot on a pole.

By this time it was dinner time and we realised we hadn’t got any food, so I headed to reception with my father-in-law to order a pizza then head out to some shops for supplies. I was sent with one condition – no pizza with pineapple. I returned with no pizzas ordered – there had been a run on them, and the only remaining ones were ham and pineapple. Unforgivable. Pineapple does not belong on a pizza. So we headed for the nearest “supermarket” in Stow on the Wold (which incidentally had a cracking gluten-free selection for such a small shop), before grabbing some fish and chips and heading back to the campsite.

Following the previous week of blazing sunshine and Mediterranean temperatures, it was a surprise to have to layer up as the temperature fell with the light. It was a challenge to get the little one down to sleep in a light tent, with lots of exciting things to explore (such as the new travel cot) and distracting sounds outside. However, once settled we added yet more layers, had a great chat with Sam who looks after the campsite and lives in a motorhome on site (is that the perfect job? Obviously we’re not jealous…), before a numb-fingered game of crib. We hit the sack just before we totally lost the light, soothed to sleep by the gentle squeaking of the parrot’s tail as it turned in the wind.

The very early morning (our little one woke with the light) brought a dismantled parrot (was it the wind, or another camper annoyed by the squeaking? Oh, Kiri’s just informed me it was her Dad!) and news of yet another horrific terror attack. Over a bacon and egg butty we tried to digest how people could be so filled with hatred that they would have so little consideration for the lives of others. It was impossible to get our heads around.

Although being in a car is quite a novelty for the young ‘un, it’s a great place to sleep, so some shut-eye was had on the way to church. We then unleashed our secret weapon in the test of how welcoming a church is – a screaming toddler. St. Michael’s passed with flying colours – we were offered an activity bag to play with (we assume it was for the parents…?!) and when that failed I received looks of sympathy rather than annoyance as a noisy, kicking bundle was carried to the crèche. At our church in London we’ve got a speaker through to the crèche room so that adults can hear the talk, which there wasn’t at St. Michael’s, but it did mean I had a chance to have a deep conversation with one of the helpers, unpicking and processing the events of the previous night in London while the little one happily played. I can’t begin to understand the suffering in our broken world, but I do know that we have a faithful and loving God, so all we can do is cry out for strength to share that love with others.

Lunch (as with every other meal thus far) was an alfresco affair (Kiri thought that “alfresco” meant naked – I can assure you we remained fully clothed) on Cleeve Hill with fantastic views. Due to a communication breakdown, my coat was still at the campsite, so I was the wally with the brolly out in the countryside when the rain arrived soon after we’d eaten. The wind had picked up, so the precipitation was short-lived, but it did mean that our parrot was lacking a tail when we arrived back at the campsite. Again.

When the next batch of rain appeared soon afterwards, the elderly tent became, well, I guess you might say, incontinent as we all sheltered inside to have a cup of tea. Thank goodness there was a good weather forecast for the next few… oh… wait. Ah well, we’d take it in our stride and come to that when it happened. In the meantime we ventured into the farm park.

It’s a great time of year to visit the farm park, with lambs, piglets, kids and chicks galore, and even a foal. The attention of our toddler though was immediately drawn to the ride-on tractors, so we spent a good proportion of our time playing rather than looking at the animals. And why not, eh? The evening brightened up and we had a lovely dinner outside with a most British topic of conversation – the weather. The forecast was rain for 36 straight hours, accompanied by 45mph winds. Looks like we were in for an adventure!

The following morning started earlier than ordered once again, but we managed to keep noise levels low by reading books in our tent until a slightly more human hour. The rain struck after our breakfast, two hours earlier than forecast, leading to an emergency summit which, for some strange reason, we happened to hold in the leaky tent. Maybe this is what clouded the outcome of the conflab – which hinged around the weighing up of adventure versus the sensible option. It was apparent that the elderly tent would not hold up in the coming gales, so our options were to find some way to stay, or call it quits and strike camp.

For those of you who followed us around Europe in Bertha, you’ll know that we thrive in reaction to awkward situations, but that doesn’t mean that I would willingly enter a situation that I know will definitely be awkward. Well, as definite as a weather forecast can be. Adventures are often more fun in hindsight and my appetite for one was certainly diminished given that we had a toddler in tow too. However, we’re made of hard stuff and don’t want to give up easily. We chewed on a few options including rigging up a ground sheet and bungee cords over the top of the old tent, or buying a new tent. We certainly wouldn’t be able to all cook, live and sleep in just our tent. So, feeling slightly cheated that she was missing out on an adventure, Kiri conceded that she was out-voted and we set about dismantling camp.

The old tent was dismantled first (and I believe was quite helpful in dismantling itself!) whilst the little one was entertained with books and pens in our tent. Then we swapped and, as the others sought some warmth and dryness in reception, Kiri and I battled against the wind and driving rain with numb hands to strike our tent – 3 days earlier than planned – as I questioned whether I’ve gone soft (Kiri says I have). Had we been in Bertha, we would have most definitely stayed and in fact there are hard-standing areas at the campsite, making it ideal for a motorhome. Alas, we’re in a season between motorhomes, so are more at the mercy of the elements when holidaying.

Coffee and cake was the answer. I’m not quite sure that there even was a question, but coffee and cake was most definitely the answer – a big breeze block of lemon drizzle cake all to myself and half a coffee – I say half, because my numb hands knocked most of it over my mother-in-law. And then, given that it had some indoor bits, we ventured into the farm park again – first to the “touch barn” (I’m sure they used to be called “petting barns” when I was younger – I can’t think for the life of me why the name has been changed), then to the indoor soft play area. Oh, and I went on the zip line in the rain. Because it’s a zip line. And it would be rude not to.

We didn’t go straight home, but dropped in to stay overnight with one of Kiri’s grandmothers. It’s amazing how entertaining a stairlift can be (Kiri wants one in our one-storey London flat!) and it was amusing how our little one kept on answering questions aimed at the dog, as if to say “the toy’s over there, silly!”. It was a real privilege to be four generations under one roof.

It would be a lie to say that as we headed to see Kiri’s other grandmother we didn’t question whether we’d made the right decision in leaving early. Are we getting less hardcore? (Kiri says that I am, but she isn’t – she wanted to stay!) Could we have found a way to make it work? (Kiri says without a shadow of a doubt, yes!) I think our downfall was that we hadn’t really taken time to prepare for all eventualities (Mum – it’s nothing to do with my upbringing – I was well trained in making sure I pack an extra night’s worth of underwear!). We had a lovely time with the wee one’s other great-grandparent (well, actually all the grandparents are great, but there are only two great-grandparents who are also great) where our little one decided to step into the dog’s water bowl. It’s our fault really, given that we encourage splashing in puddles!

Following a long drive home where we spied plenty of fallen branches, we vowed to make the most of the rest of our holiday, but just from the base of Kiri’s parents home rather than a campsite. The next day we pitched our tent to dry it out before hopping in the car to Bexhill. Our plan to all have icecream while a certain child slept in the car was scuppered, but we’re still at the stage where a dry cracker has just as much draw as an icecream, so all were happy. We were amazed by the playground in Egerton Park – there was something for everyone there (including another zip line for me!), so we spent a good long time playing before we found a sheltered spot for a picnic, observed by a gull who circled around us like a vulture. We failed at trying to both keep the fruit out of sight of a toddler who wanted to move on from savoury, and a hawk-eyed gull and ended up losing a corn on the cob which was in the same container. I’ll leave you to guess which nabbed it!

All hopes of this holiday being a true rest went out of the window at 10pm on election night when we realised it would be impossible to go straight to bed. I was slightly alarmed when my father-in-law announced that he was going to put something more sexy on, but relieved when he re-appeared in a Wales t-shirt. The only downside of a late night when you have a child is that they still get up at the same time in the morning!

A change is as good as a rest though. In London we can’t just pop down the lane to visit the tractors. We don’t have two ewes and three lambs suddenly appearing in the front garden that have to be herded back to their field much to the delight of a toddler. We don’t have geese that we can go and feed around the corner. And we don’t have the beautiful Norman’s Bay just down the road with its smooth nature-battered, sea-sculpted groynes finer than the craftmanship of any human. So whilst the holiday didn’t provide bodily rest, it was balm for the soul. Having a sleep-inducing car at our disposal made a huge difference, meaning that we could deviate from the normal routines and be a lot more flexible with our movements.

London was an assault our senses as we returned. I’d optimistically packed a couple of books to read on this holiday. They remain untouched. I wonder how long it will be until they’re opened! In a final act of defiance before being dragged back to the normal pace of life (perhaps I exaggerate a little!) we had a leisurely barbecue, just the three of us. Lovely.

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Romance in Riga

February 11th, 2017 (by Steve)

Imagine if you were able to time travel – where would you go to? The past, the future? We had an opportunity for a little bit of time travel at the beginning of December; a few days where we were just Kiri and Steve once again without having to think about our child. Believe me, it was weird, weird, weird! But where would we go? What would we do? As we’d missed the Baltics in our travels with Bertha, we decided on a few nights in Riga, Latvia. I’d been before on my own, both in summer and winter and we were hoping for snow. Would guilt at leaving our child override our enjoyment though? Would we find stuff to talk about beyond logistics and the little one back home?

Who knew that in the mind of a small child, you say goodbye through the medium of shoving cornflakes in your Dad’s mouth? It was a straightforward journey to Luton, where we breezed through security, played Uno for a while, then had a very easy flight to Riga, bought our contactless bus tickets (that’s new since last time!) and hopped on a bus into the city from the airport. More importantly, there were 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, so we were straight into playing mode, despite the biting cold. Kiri announced “I can’t tell you how happy I am with my thermal leggings” before proceeding to tell me, at length, how great they were. My Poundland gloves didn’t quite cut it in the Baltic temperatures though, so we picked up some more in a supermarket before heading out in the falling snow to have a lovely goulash for dinner.

It was still bitterly cold the next day, but rainy, leading to a bit of a quandary – do you walk close to the road where you’re likely to be splashed by melt-water, or do you walk close to the buildings where you run a gauntlet of being caught by snow sliding from the rooftops? Our walking tour guide chose the former and was encompassed by a tidal wave created by a passing bus. This was the third time I’d been on the walking tour and each time the guide has presented the city in a different way. This time the narrative was one of an occupied nation, celebrating in 2016 its longest period of independence – 25 years. In contrast to previous tours though, the relationship with Russia was talked about with much more caution – the words chosen very carefully – “I can never view Russia as a peaceful nation” – and parallels drawn between Latvia in 1940 and the 2014 annexation of Crimea. The tour ended at the Splendid Palace theatre with a recommendation to view a Latvian film. Eager to find activities that took us out of the cold, we asked to book two tickets for the following afternoon. The cashier scrabbled around her papers for a good few minutes before declaring “…but it’s not in English?”. She seemed bemused that we still wanted tickets, but nevertheless completed the transaction.

Before the first day was out, I had a promise that I needed to fulfil. As with many cities in Eastern Europe (and more recently Western Europe), padlocks are put on bridges as a way of marking the commitment in a relationship. Many years ago, when I first visited Latvia with my ex-girlfriend, we broke up on the first day of the holiday (that’s a totally different story, but it was mutual!). She made me promise that should I ever get married, I would put a padlock on a bridge in Riga with my future wife. So Kiri and I had come to Riga, with a padlock prepared, which we duly attached to a bridge as a mark of respect, throwing the keys into the water beneath (which confused the hopeful ducks).

That evening we had a hearty meal at Lido, washed down with the sweet, malty, Russian rye bread nectar that is Kvass before heading to the Skyline bar at the top of one of the posh hotels. The first time I visited it, I was young, newly single with a solid job. The second time I visited (6 months later over New Year), I was still young, still single (on the closest I’ve ever been to a “lads’ holiday”) and freshly redundant, with many questions about my future. And here I was, several years on with my wife beside me and our child hundreds of miles away. This was to be an evening of deep reflections and conversations on life aspirations. A chance to be Kiri and Steve the couple, rather than Kiri and Steve the parents. As we took our time to sip on little glasses of Riga’s famous black balsams we were able to reconnect in a way that’s so difficult to do alongside parenting.

The balsams ran out all too quickly though, so we stopped via a supermarket on the way back to our hotel room to grab some more at half the price! We were nearly back at our hotel, wandering down a little alley, when a police van roared past us, stopped suddenly, then turned on its siren. Startled, a cat leaped out from beside us, making us jump, before a huge cascade of ice descended from a roof in front of us. Had the cat not jumped, we would have been underneath it. And the moral of that story? Ummm… cats can sometimes be useful?

That night there was further rain and hail, meaning that there was very little snow left when we ventured out the next day. The temperature had once again plummeted, turning all of the puddles to sheet ice. We spent time wandering around the many Christmas markets and buying a few of the wares on offer. I was particularly taken by how precise the Latvians are when I went to use a toilet:

“To flush, press and hold foot pedal for 3÷5 seconds”… I make that 0.6 seconds. I’m not sure that my flushing is quite that accurate, but I did my best! Leaving the Old Town, we had lunch in the Index Cafe amongst a different crowd – all young professionals and no obvious tourists, as we steeled ourselves for the film.

The film was “Melanijas Hronika“, or, for those of us who don’t speak Latvian, “The Chronicles of Melanie” – starting in 1941 during the forced exile of 40000 Latvians under Stalin’s orders. It was not easy watching – a harrowing and poignant tale with a clear message even if we didn’t understand the spoken words of Latvian and Russian or the corresponding Latvian and Russian subtitles. Reeling, we retreated to the modern luxuries of peace and freedom to unpack this film in a lovely little coffee shop over a hot chocolate. Could something like this happen again? Could it? Surely the voices of reason and justice can prevail?

Our evening was to take on a lighter note as we headed to an underground tavern of hearty food, good ale and live folk music. Our tour guide had recommended that we stick to beers starting with the letters “B”, “V” and “U”, so we plumped for Valmiermuiza and Bauska dark beers. The “beer snack” of garlic croûtons (we prefer our garlic alongside our beer, rather than in it!) that we ordered as a starter would have been sufficient as a main course, but as we’d already ordered mains, there was no going back, so we also chomped down on our half loaves of bread filled with beans, bacon, onions and a cream sauce. And the accompaniment? Some cracking live music from Rahu the fool who were a lot more free than the video in that link suggests, with spontaneous transitions from jazz flute to washboard playing and guitar to banjo. What a great way to end the trip.

We found that 3 nights away had been plenty and by the last morning we were very ready to be reunited with the wee one and return to the rollercoaster of parenting. We tucked into a hearty breakfast once again (our hotel had an amazing buffet each morning including Schoko Müsli (woohoo!), pickled fish, cooked breakfast, champagne and pastries!) before stocking up on balsams at the airport and being whisked back to Blighty. The little one was quite overwhelmed to see us again; running between each of us, beaming from ear to ear. Hearing about all of the fun the grandparents had got up to, we were reassured that we hadn’t been missed that much whilst we were away.

So when are we going away again? Well, there’s nothing planned, but given it’s taken over 2 months for me to find time to write this blog post, it might be a while before we find time to plan another trip!

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An ode to Schoko Musli

November 27th, 2016 (by Steve)

So I’m going to let you in on a little secret today. I fell in love on our travels around Europe in Bertha. Before I get anyone worried on Kiri’s behalf, she was well aware of my illicit love, for the subject of my love shared the breakfast table with us most mornings. Yes people, I fell in love with a cereal.

Now I’ve always liked a bit of chocolate in my cereal, having grown up with Weetos and Coco Pops as a treat. However, there’s that goldilocks balance to strike between a chocolately breakfast cereal and one that will properly fill me up until lunchtime. Don’t get me wrong, Coco Shreddies work, but, well they’re out of the question because they’re Nestlé. Sadly no supermarket has stepped forward with an own brand equivalent. So that just left chocolate granola, which is a bit too sweet for my liking or normal fruity muesli, which obviously contains no chocolate. But that all changed on the first day of our trip.

We woke in the little town of Bavay in France, ventured to Lidl and I’ll admit – it was love at first sight. Oats, pieces of chocolate, a few bits of puffed chocolate rice, a few bits of nut. Master Crumble Schoko Müsli. The perfect combination – the perfect balance – the perfect cereal.

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Some people think that it was petrol that fueled us around Europe. They would be right. But equally as important was the daily bowl of Schoko Müsli. On our return to the UK I was eager to see whether it had hit our shores, so checked the nearest Lidl… nope. So I checked another Lidl… nope. My quest took me all over the country and… actually, that’s a lie – I just asked them straight out on Twitter:

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Little (or should that be “Lidl”…? You see now I’m a Dad I have an excuse for the Dad jokes!) did I know that in the same month in 2015, a fine, upstanding gentleman named Christopher Young (OK, I’ll admit I don’t know the fella and I’m basing this purely on two public Facebook posts!) was making exactly the same request on Facebook:

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He’s a motorhomer too. Good chap.

What did it achieve? Well, I got a virtual hug from Lidl – I can’t complain at that, but I’m still waiting for the real thing to be stocked.

When my parents went to Belgium, I asked for them to bring me some back from there. They returned with some lovely Schoko Knusper Müsli; it was close… but it just wasn’t the same

So when I went to France this summer, I made sure I was reunited with my lost love. I even introduced it to my wider family (who agreed that it’s really quite nice). Some people load up the car with French wine on their return. Me? Schoko Müsli.

But that was the summer. The nights have been drawing in. Our ties with the EU are no doubt going to be cut. The country has spoken. Is this the end of Schoko Müsli for me?

People, you can make a different. I beseech you, in a world where hope seems to be failing, where everyone (apart from Leicester City) are asking “what has happened in 2016?”, to stand up and say “I want to try something new – I am ready for Chocolate Muesli”. All you need to do is retweet this:

And one final note. Lidl, I know you will read this. You believe in great customer service. I trust that you will do the right thing. For the sake of international relations. Thank you.

Posted in KIST 2EU, Life | No Comments »

Europe – a new chapter

September 5th, 2016 (by Steve)

Just under two years since we departed mainland Europe in Bertha, we were back in France. Not in a motorhome. Not just the two of us. Nope, with our little one and Kiri’s parents, we squeezed into a family hatchback (with a roof box) with our destination set to be a campsite near a little village north of Bordeaux, where we were to meet up with Kiri’s sister’s family too. Turns out it’s quite a long drive from Calais to near St. Gilles

Having nearly been defeated by the headlight deflectors (those things require a degree to be able to understand the instructions!) we realised less than a kilometre out of Calais that we’d left the sippy cup upside down in the wee one’s car seat. Although there was no complaining, we decided that if it were us, we wouldn’t particularly want a bidet experience on a long car journey, so we stopped at the first aire we came to, unpacked the roof box, got a change of clothes and patted down the car seat. Stopping and starting was to be the order of the day and therefore progress was slow, even though we were on toll roads (a luxury that we decided never to waste on Bertha, with her top speed of 90 km/h). It was a novel experience overtaking slower moving vehicles, although a little disheartening to overtake the same vehicle again after another stop for a nappy change or something to munch. It almost would have been easier to travel in a motorhome, with all facilities on board.

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We eventually arrived at the campsite and disembarked into a chalet with a construction reminiscent of Bertha (although a little more modern). And there started our beautiful cycle of hearty meals outside – dinner with local wine, breakfasts of fresh bread, pain au chocolat and Schoko Müsli (more on that in a later blog post… when I next find time to write a blog post!), lunches of bread, olives and a fine array of cheeses. I seem to recall that a few other things happened between these mealtimes, but sharing food together was central to this holiday. I can almost still taste the tartiflette, the boeuf bourguignon and the risotto “with curly meat” (as described by my nephew – “prawns” to you and I). Ah yes, there were other things that happened – icecreams! Most were swiftly eaten and rescued before the hot sun plastered them all over our clothes (although in the case of my nephew his clothes got a pretty good deal), but the decadent flavours of tiramisu, coffee and creme brûlée linger in my memory.

Nom.

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So what was this place that we were staying at? Well it wasn’t just a campsite – it’s a place run by Spring Harvest Holidays and their website describes it as “a setting in which you can be refreshed and renewed: spiritually, mentally and physically”. Sounds too much like organised fun? The great thing was that all activities were optional, so we could dip in and out of things as we wanted. For the first time in, well, a long time, Kiri and I were able to get fully immersed in a bible study, knowing that our little one was having a whale of a time with the grandparents. And what an appropriate time and place to be studying Acts 2 – a chapter in the bible in uncertain times where people were looking for a message of hope in a divided land. Soon after we arrived, our screens were bloodied by yet another inevitable and horrific Godless act of terror near Rouen. We joined together as a campsite to pray for France and all other countries affected by these acts. It’s amazing how much a continent can change in just two years – when we were travelling in Bertha, Schengen was still strong, an EU referendum wasn’t even on the cards and terrorist attacks were few and far between. What will the next two years hold for Europe?

Hmmm, I seem to have digressed a little. Where were we? Ah yes. Kiri and I made it along to a few of the organised sessions, but the rest of the mornings I was based in the 0-3 year old group, mainly being chased around a bouncy castle by boisterous 3 year olds, punctuated by occasionally being hit around the face by a spiderman toy. I thought it would be exhausting going on holiday with 3 children under 6 and I was right (“Why do I need to be quiet? Its 7 o’clock”), but it was so much fun too! With 6 adults, we were able to share the load of childcare and catering (although Kiri and I had the lightest load by far in the latter category) and have a lot of fun playing in the chalet and going to pool together. The incredible weather resulted in me trying to find a hat to wear in the pool (oh, the joys of having thinning hair) which I eventually found in the nearest Super-U next to the meat. Obviously. Mais oui… les chapeaux sont à proximité de la viande! And I even had time to read a whole book. Holidaying with family is definitely a win-win.

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This was very much a holiday focussed on family time rather than “doing” stuff, or having adventures. But that’s not to say we didn’t have a few adventures – the two younger generations (bar the youngest member of the family) hired canoes and we had an exciting, if slightly uncoordinated, paddle up and down the local river. In my defence it was my first time in a canoe… I think the same could be said about our niece, but she seemed to pick it up faster than me!

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We also had a day trip to Noirmoutier in the rain, planning on driving across the causeway on the way back that separates it from the mainland. Sadly, the sea’s timings were a little off (it definitely wasn’t our timings) and as we didn’t fancy the “risque de noyade”, we took the bridge instead.

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Evenings were a time to play board games as the sky slowly darkened around us. I blame my increasing level of relaxation for my fall from grace that took me from winner of Carcassonne in the first game to definite loser by the last. My father-in-law has asked that his 3rd place on the final night be noted for posterity. On the two Fridays we were there, we took part in the pub quiz – unfairly robbed in the first one (we blame a miscount) despite acing a round on identifying European countries on a map (methinks we had an unfair advantage following our travels). The second one was better (4th out of 40 teams) and I am not ashamed to say we aced a round on 90s pop music. You can’t beat a bit of Hanson! Kiri and I even managed a date night where we sat in the bar at an open mic night; taking the opportunity to dream together about what our future might hold.

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Suddenly our 10 days were up and we were off, back up the toll roads towards Calais. With our motorhome mindset very much alive, we asked our sat-nav for directions to the nearest supermarket petrol station (1.03 per litre rather than the 1.26 available on the motorway!) when we were running low. It was sobering to end up in the very suburb where the priest had been murdered a week previously. A quiet suburb where the supermarket wasn’t open on a Monday. With a ferry to catch and a young child to entertain in the car we didn’t have much time for reflection as we motored on up towards Cite L’Europe, where we had dinner and popped into Carrefour to grab four of our favourite beers from our trip in Bertha (for those of you who were wondering – Kwak, Westmalle Trappist, Chimay Blue and Kasteel Donker).

And then back to our little London flat with an ever growing and developing child. What a great holiday. Same again next year? Who knows what situation we’ll be in by then.

Posted in Children, KIST 2EU | 1 Comment »

Be kind to yourself #MHAW16

May 15th, 2016 (by Steve)

“How do you feel?”. Four words. One question. But a hard question that leaves me stumped for a couple of minutes as I go through a process of replaying the last few minutes of thoughts and actions, then analysing my response to those thoughts and actions. It’s therefore fairly rare for me to talk about feelings, but mental health awareness is a really important topic for me as mental health problems have affected some people very close to me through my life. As 16-22 May is Mental Health Awareness week, what better time to open up.

I want to share my experiences following the birth of our little one – not in any comparison to what Kiri went through (incidentally, massive kudos to her – she is such a strong woman), not for sympathy, but hopefully to encourage others to talk and share. Especially men. Generally (although there are obviously exceptions), women are better at sharing than men.

When I was told that the process of labour is a bit like a race, I assumed it would probably be most like the 60m hurdles, or maybe even the 100m hurdles… at a stretch possibly the steeplechase. I wasn’t expecting Tough Mudder. 3 days. 72 hours. As I said, massive kudos to Kiri. It was punctuated with amusing moments; a birthing ball kept rolling around our room with a mind of its own, very much like the sphere in The Prisoner, Kiri stopped to have a contraction at one point and leaned against a wall before seeing a sign that said “wet paint”, and then there was one no-nonsense midwife (we got through 12 in total!) who, in a very interrogatorial (yes, that is a word) way said “your pulse is high. Why is your pulse high?” – and it obviously wasn’t because we were scared of her! And the view – wow – this was the view from the delivery room:

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But against this backdrop it was so difficult to see Kiri in such pain. This was coupled with the fear of things potentially going wrong and just overall helplessness. I was watching the person I love more than anyone else in the world, knowing that she had to do this on her own. Knowing that I couldn’t take any of the pain or exhaustion away from her. And I felt so, so tired too by the third day on hardly any sleep, but alongside this came guilt that I was struggling, when Kiri was obviously going through something much harder. When we both look back on that 72 hours now, the word “traumatic” would come into both of our descriptions of the experience.

And then in those last few hours, the adrenaline kicked in as we welcomed into the world our bundle of perfection and gloop. For someone who doesn’t pay much attention to their feelings on a day to day basis, there were such intense emotions in those moments spanning the gap between concern for Kiri and boundless love for this new life. Despite this rollercoaster of emotions, I was somehow together enough to respond in a flash to a nurse asking “is it ok to put baby in the corner?” with the classic line from Dirty Dancing – “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”.

Within a few hours, Kiri had been moved to recovery ward and I had been sent home to get sleep until visiting hours the next day. Internally I was torn as I was so happy to be able to get some sleep, but alongside this I was harbouring a massive guilt about being happy, as I knew Kiri was paying the price for me getting some sleep. The next day, the recovery ward was a muddle of conflicting advice, tests, noise and deadlines – a really overwhelming place to be and that’s when the fear started. If I was finding it tough in hospital, surrounded by medical professionals, how would it be when we got home? Normally I’m solid in stressful situations (playing through the emotions post-event), but in this situation I was just a mess. And how was Kiri coping in all of this? Well, she was steadfast and strong, focusing on the job in hand. Surely that should have been my role. I was failing her. My biggest fear in life is failure.

Once we were all home, the struggles continued for me. Despite loads of support from friends and family (for example church friends preparing meals for us) I was aware that there were so many new things to think about and do, but I had no motivation to do them. Surely it couldn’t be right that people were cooking for me when all I was doing was sitting on a sofa – I had time to be doing the cooking too – why was I failing? I dreaded the nights when it was just the three of us. That sounds like a terrible thing to say. In no way did I doubt Kiri’s abilities – it was that I doubted my abilities to support her and the baby. There was so much to learn, and I was acutely aware that there was another human’s life depending on us getting it right. I felt like I was letting my family down; I felt like I was an additional burden on Kiri with her having to look after me too.

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And where was God in this? My faith is the rock on which my life is built upon. I would love to say that I relied on God and that got me through, but that doesn’t seem to be how it always works. When you’re struggling, it’s sometimes hard to see where God is – it’s only afterwards that you see the touch of His hand. But I had His promise from Isaiah 40:30-31:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

It would have been so easy to keep quiet and try to soldier on without people noticing (well, actually I was off my food, so people were noticing that something wasn’t right). But the most important thing that I’ve learned through watching people close to me overcoming mental health struggles is that it is really important to talk. Although part of me wanted to protect Kiri from having the extra burden, our marriage is built upon complete openness, so I shared my struggles with her. I shared my struggles with family and close friends. Then I got in touch with other Dads from church to find out – was I normal?

That chat around a kitchen table with three other Dads, drinking cups of tea and munching chocolates was incredible. There we were, having honest, open conversations about struggles of fatherhood. Each shared their “war” stories and talked about their own “failures” – the stuff that happens in families behind closed doors. There was one key phrase from one of the Dads that stuck with me:

Be kind to yourself

I had been beating myself up about not meeting my own expectations. I needed to accept that I was going to fail, accept that I’d make mistakes – I needed to be kind to myself. Not rocket science, but I needed to hear that from someone I look up to (yes, I know I look up to most people due to my height…).

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Many months have passed and that rough patch seems like a distant memory. I know that it’s small in comparison to what a lot of people go through and it would have been so easy to have compared myself to others and therefore self-censored. But had I not shared, if I had tried to carry that burden on my own, it may have escalated – who knows?

My one plea to anyone reading this is if you’re going through a rough patch, no matter how small it might seem in comparison to what other people are going through, I urge you to share it with someone. A friend, a family member, a medical professional – it doesn’t matter.

And fatherhood now? Well just this morning the wee one face-planted onto the floor and started crying. I have accepted that even though I’m going to try my best, I can’t be a perfect Dad – I will make mistakes and fail my child. But this morning, the thought of failure as a father didn’t cross my mind as I threw the little one onto my shoulder and squawked like a chicken. Tears replaced by giggles. Happy times.

Posted in Children, Life | 2 Comments »

Reusable versus disposable nappies

December 31st, 2015 (by Steve)

Until humans evolve enough to be potty trained from birth, changing nappies will be an inevitable part of a parent’s life. As will talking about changing nappies. We’ve had very mixed reactions from people when we’ve told them we’re going down the reusable route, ranging from “Fantastic, they’re great, aren’t they” to “I bet in 6 months time you’ll have shares in Pampers”. So why did we do it, and now we’re several months into it, have we any regrets?

You might have guessed from our previous blog post about our use of Cheeky Wipes that environmental sustainability and cost are two big factors in decisions we make in our lives (as well as obviously listening to God). There are all sorts of figures and stories online (without trustworthy citations) about how long disposable nappies take to bio-degrade and what proportion of landfill they make up. Equally though, there are figures and stories about all of the extra water and electricity used to clean reusable nappies. So, it’s a little bewildering on the environmental front, but as we mentioned previously with regards to baby wipes, it feels good to re-use something rather than throw it in the bin. And as for cost, well, we’d been given a full set of reusable nappies (thanks J + J!), so it was a no-brainer to at least give them a go and we were of the mindset that as we had them, we’d make them work.

miosoft-2-piece

Reusable nappies or “real” nappies come in many varieties – we’ve got the Bambino Mio two-piece sets. The way these work is that you have a folded cotton core nappy, which you then wrap in a liner, which in turn fits inside a wipe-able/washable nappy cover. You then have the fun game of trying to (often with one hand) fasten it securely to a squirming octopus who may squirt ink at you at any time… or so it sometimes seems. The idea is that the liner catches solids, but lets liquids through to the folded cotton core. You can then flush the liner (it’s biodegradable), and pop the cotton core into the washing machine.

Even though we’d got all of the stuff for reusable nappies, we decided to stick to biodegradable, disposable nappies for the first 3 weeks as there were plenty of other things to learn in those early days of parenthood. We then took the plunge at the 3 week mark and to be honest, for the first few hours… maybe even days… we found it hard work. Our little one has dainty legs and the elastic on the “newborn” covers wasn’t forming a good seal, so we had many liquid leaks. We tried different folds of the cotton liner, but to no avail. We then discovered Bambino Mio’s #nappycoverexchange, where if we sent back old-style covers (which came in different sizes up to a 9kg baby), we’d get money off the new-style covers (which come in one size up to 9kg). The new-style covers were a success. Yes, we still had the occasional liquid leaks, but far fewer than with the old covers and actually, those leaks could probably be attributed to tired parents not putting the nappies on properly!

Have we any regrets? Well, let’s weigh up our experience of the pros and cons of reusable nappies versus disposables.

Pro: Day to day cost
Once you’ve got the gear, the day to day costs of reusable nappies are much lower than that of disposables:

Moltex biodegradable disposable nappies 23p per nappy (inc p+p)
Boots Superdry disposable nappies 12p per nappy
Reusable nappies 8p per nappy

So how did I get that last figure? The flushable nappy liners come in at just under 3p each, then there’s the cost of washing and drying. For this illustration we’ve assumed that we have 20 nappies per wash (it’s regularly more than that, and we have cheeky wipes in there too):

  • 46p – 3.25Kwh for the washing machine (2.5 hours at 60 degrees)
  • 38p – 2.3Kwh for the tumble drier (an hour, but we try to dry nappies outside as much as possible)
  • 14p – Bio-D nappy fresh (assuming 500g box does 20 loads)
  • 4p – Lidl non-bio washing liquid (which lasts for 56 loads as we use it in conjunction with eco balls)
  • 0p – water (we’re not on a meter)

So that’s £1.02 for 20 nappies, which comes out at just over 5p per nappy for washing and drying. Add on the 3p per liner, which gives us conservative estimate of 8p per reusable nappy.

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Con: Initial outlay
BUT, that was a big caveat I started with; “once you’ve got the gear”. With regards to the initial outlay, if you were buying what we have brand new, it would probably cost you about £250 (two sets of miosoft birth to potty). Using the figures of 12p for a disposable and 8p for a reusable nappy, it would take 6250 nappies for the cost of both to even out (£250 / £0.04 difference – do correct me if my maths is wrong by the way). Apparently the average baby gets through about 5000 nappies from birth to potty… so if you bought the kit brand new, it might only be for your second child that you would start making a saving. However, once you’ve finished with the kit, you’ve got all of the stuff that you can then sell on…

Pro: Less nappy rash
Now this one surprised us – we thought that as reusables don’t have the moisture wicking properties of disposables, there would be more nappy rash, but we’ve found the opposite to be true. We use barrier cream for both disposables and reusables, yet our little one has only had nappy rash with disposables.

Con: Time
I would say that this is the biggest thing that works against re-usable nappies – they do take a lot of time. We end up doing an extra wash load every other day, which takes time. You’ve got to fold up the cloth nappies and wrap them in a liner (we do this in batches to save time when changing the nappy), which takes time. We found the actual nappy changes take a little longer, as you have to assemble the full nappy, then keep it assembled whilst putting it on your child. We also found there are more nappy changes to do, as there isn’t the same moisture wicking that you get with disposables – our little one lets us know when the nappy change is due!

Pro/Con: Environmental impact
As mentioned at the start of this blog post, this isn’t clear cut. However, as our reusable nappies are onto at least their third child, it feels as though it’s a less wasteful way of doing things. Yes, we’re using more water and electricity, but surely water and electricity are used in the manufacture of disposable nappies, which then take tens / hundreds of years to bio-degrade (depending on what you read)? Then again, a lot of waste these days is burned to generate electricity, rather than going to landfill, so is biodegradability (is that even a word?) a valid factor in the debate? As we have no hard facts, we just have to go with gut instinct on this one, which tells us that reusable nappies may be better for the environment.

To be honest, there are arguments for using disposables and arguments for using reusables. For the first couple of months we tried to exclusively use reusables to give them a good go and they worked for us. As an aside, I hadn’t quite realised the power of UV light when it came to bleaching clothes – check out a nappy that was left on the line for 6.5 hours on a cloudy day – the stain almost entirely gone:

stains

We still primarily use reusable nappies, including in our changing bag when we go out anywhere. When we’ve visited family, we’ve taken reusables with us, then commandeered the use of the washing machine for our stay. But in the interests of getting a good night’s sleep (both for us and our little one), we have reverted to using biodegradable disposables at night. For now this works for us. Will this be the pattern until potty training? Who knows.

We have heard a rumour though that children using reusable nappies are, in general, potty-trained earlier than those in disposables. We’ll see!

Posted in Children | 1 Comment »

A little bit cheeky?

October 17th, 2015 (by Steve)

Bertha is on the move once again. It was only this time last year that we sold her on for £5300 (a fair price considering the potential damp rear under the bathroom), then we saw she was on Gumtree in April for around £7000 (we assume the new owner fixed the potential damp rear under the bathroom), and now she’s on Gumtree again, listed by someone else for an cheeky £9000! We’re also intrigued that she now averages 25mpg – we travelled 11878 miles in her and she averaged just over 20 miles per gallon. And this is what she’s looking like now:

bertha

WARNING: The rest of this blog post is mainly about baby wipes. For those of you looking forward to reading a blog post about motorhoming, we suggest you head in the direction of ourtour.co.uk, as Julie + Jason have just set out again on exciting travels. We won’t be offended if you unsubscribe from this blog!

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way, we can get properly started. We’re parents. You know when you enter a foreign land for the first time, you don’t really understand the culture or language? Well it feels like a bit like that… only when we were travelling, we had the luxury of being able to observe a little before participating. So we’re very much in the stage of looking like tourists, being culturally insensitive, talking slowly and loudly when we’re not understood and generally blundering about the place, probably insulting people’s Mums. But hey, there has been some progress over the last few weeks – at least we’re doing it all with confidence now rather than tentatively and filled with fear like we were at the start.

oldandnewskin

Once I acknowledged that we were undergoing a recalibration of our lives to a new baseline of existence, it all kind of became easier. Our lives were flipped from being at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to right at the bottom, where life revolves around bodily fluids (input and output) and sleep (or lack thereof), with a little bit of work for added distraction. We are very much indebted to friends and family for their support and a big shout out goes to our church family who provided hot meals for us in the very early days – we felt extravagantly blessed.

“But what about the baby wipes?”, I hear you ask (my hearing has become very keen since having a child, you see!). “You said this blog post was mainly about baby wipes”. It’s ok – here it is.

We’re learning fast that baby wipes form a crucial part of parenthood. At the moment, their usage is solely in the context of nappy changes, but we know from parents with slightly older children that they’re essential for mucky hands and faces too. Now we’re trying to carry through our “green” living into family life and chucking wipes away regularly doesn’t sit well with us. We’re aware that you can get biodegradable wipes, but as we’d inherited some Cheeky Wipes (thanks J+J) we thought we’d start with those.

Basically, they’re reusable baby wipes. You’ve got one tupperware with water (infused with lavender for freshness) containing fresh flannels and another tupperware with water (infused with tea tree oil which has antibacterial qualities) for the used flannels. Once the second tupperware is full, you bung all of the Cheeky Wipes in the washing machine, then start over again. Such a simple system and it feels good to re-use something rather than throw it in the bin.

cheekywipes

Even from a cost point of view we’re winning. At the time of writing, you can get a 12 pack of 64 baby wipes for £7 from Boots – that’s 768 wipes at just under a penny each (0.91p). The Cheeky Wipes kit is currently available online for £40. With a very conservative estimate of using 10 wipes per day (as I type we have more than that on the washing line from one day), after 440 days the Cheeky Wipes will have paid for themselves and we will have saved 4400 baby wipes from going in the bin and ending up in an incinerator or landfill. I call that a win.

I haven’t been paid to spread the word about re-usable baby wipes – in fact I don’t see why you couldn’t replicate the system with some cheap towels that you’ve cut up and spare tupperware. However, they’ve been such a success for us that I’m keen to spread the word. Saying that though, if you are inspired to buy some, you can get 15% off your first order by buying Cheeky Wipes via this link, and we get £5 off our next order. Oh wait, I’ve just read the small print, and you’ve got to spend over £40. Maybe not the good offer I thought it was.

In any case, cheekiness awaits!

Posted in Bertha, Children | 3 Comments »

Hobby or business?

September 18th, 2015 (by Steve)

Over the years, I seem to have plumped for hobbies that have paid me, rather than me having to pay for them. It’s not been a conscious thought; it’s just kind of happened. First it was bell-ringing as a teenager (getting paid to ring for weddings), then it was barbershop (busking and paid gigs), then it was photography as people asked me to photograph their weddings. It’s only the latter that actually grew into a business, and since I set up my sole trader account in 2006 I’ve photographed over 30 weddings. All the money I’ve earned then went straight back into investing in better equipment (apart from a slightly digression into experimentations with 3D photography… but that’s a different story!)

weddingphotos

It therefore seemed natural when Kiri and I got together to combine my photography and web development skills with Kiri’s design skills and to add graphic design and web design to the business. And this is where I should probably say that I use the term “business” very lightly. You see we’ve never really attacked either the photography or design work full on as a business. We’ve always charged mates rates as we built up a portfolio of work and improved our skills and have never properly got stuck into marketing our work.

Soon after we got married, we decided that the wedding photography side of things would be retired. After a full week at work, I don’t want to have the whole weekend taken up with a wedding (plus the mandatory few evenings of preparation beforehand). The web design and development stayed, as that’s something we were happy to work on together in evenings and at weekends – Kiri on the design side and me on the coding.

And then our big trip around Europe happened, which was basically a bit of a sabbatical from work for us both, although we did hole ourselves up in a campsite near Prague for a few days for some focussed web design. This time when I went back to work full-time though we realised that something had to go. With a child on the way, we would have to prioritise family time in evenings and weekends. We had hoped to get version 2 of the Pig & Porter website live before we moved on, but as they were undergoing a further re-branding, we were unable to do that before we bade them a reluctant goodbye. It wouldn’t have been fair on them to remain as their web designers as they’re a growing business and we wouldn’t be able to give them the support that a full time web design company could. We’ll just have to support them by drinking their beer instead!

p+p

And we’ve just put the finishing touches to the Compass Maths Workshops website that we started several months ago.

compassmaths

So that leaves us with some big decisions. With the “business” as just graphic design currently and Kiri as a full time Mum, we’re contemplating whether it’s worth keeping it as a business. We’re not entirely sure that the freelance model works for us; you’ve got to be driven and hungry for sales as that’s what clients normally expect and deserve… isn’t it? But we’ve got other priorities now – there’s family and we’ve still got photos and video footage from our Europe trip that remain unprocessed.

If we’re serious with the “business”, we’ll need to invest in a new Mac for Kiri and start paying out for the latest Adobe Creative Suite software which is sold on a subscription basis these days. And what about the camera equipment that’s just sitting there? How can we justify that? Should we start selling photos from our trip? Should we get into baby photography?

And in all of this, our “business” website remains in the temporary state we put it in back in 2012. So watch this space – there may be exciting things on the horizon for Lightbulb Head, or we may just quietly switch the light off. Who knows.

Posted in Photography, Web Design | 4 Comments »

The Tom + Barbara test

June 22nd, 2015 (by Steve)

We concluded on our travels that motorhome living was the simple life, but it was also the good life. We also concluded that it was a fairly “green” way of living. Sadly though, we don’t live in a motorhome any more, so we’re throwing away everything we learned about living a simple, good and green life. Nah, not really, but it turns out to be actually a lot harder to live simply, goodly and greenly (hmmm, I thought I was making up those last two words; turns out they exist already and mean something totally different!) when you’re not forced to by circumstance.

We’ve been living a fixed lifestyle (as opposed to nomadic) now for nearly 10 months again and the biggest change is that we have everything we want at our fingertips. Limitless water from the tap. Limitless electricity from the wall. Limitless internet data from the little box in the corner with flashy lights. Limitless gas to cook on. With the regular bills being the only limitation on usage, it’s so much easier to waste stuff. And waste we do. I’ve stopped brushing my teeth out of a mug. I’ve stopped boiling exactly the amount of water I need. I leave my laptop plugged in sometimes. None of these are massive crimes obviously, but as an evil giant (I jest) once said, “Every little helps”. In other ways I have changed my ways – I no longer feel the need to shower every day (and only occasionally does Kiri look at me, hold her nose and point to the bathroom), but we’re still a long way from the composting toilet and solar panels that we eventually plan to have.

chard

There are other ways that we’re trying to live a green life. Our plastic consumption isn’t quite at our Lenten levels of 2 years ago, but we always use rucksacks when doing our supermarket shop instead of plastic bags and we’re overjoyed (you can tell we don’t get out much!) that we can even recycle plastic bags and plastic film now. Recycling in this country is pretty amazing compared to some places in mainland Europe. Alas, we can’t currently recycle food waste, but we’re moving shortly to a place that has a garden, so we’ll get a compost bin on the go there, then use the results on our home-grown veg; we’ll start with chard, potatoes and herbs. Our dream is still to one day emulate Tom + Barbara, but we need to find a Jerry + Margo to balance us first… and a bigger garden.

Now the “simple” bit is more complicated. Obviously. The clue’s in the word… or something like that. We’re learning that to live a simple life you’ve got to be intentional. Life tends to get full of stuff if you let it happen around you. We’re trying very hard not to accumulate things now we’re no longer living in a tin box on wheels, but it’s necessary with a child on the way. We’re trying really hard to keep to the bare essentials and had (for example) agreed that we wouldn’t get a baby monitor, but when we were offered one, we realised that we could use it as a walkie talkie and found ourselves saying “thank you, yes please, we’d love a baby monitor”. If we were in a different season of our lives, the “tiny living” that Julie and Jason are doing would seem very attractive. But we’re not… and it’s still attractive. Could we make it work?

Whilst I’m musing on whether it would be practical (it wouldn’t) or fun (probably) to live full time in a motorhome with a small child, I’ll end this stream of consciousness that has found itself recorded in the form of a blog post by briefly talking about one other area of simplicity in our lives. Technology.

When we were living off-grid in Bertha, we could only use our laptops when they were charged. We didn’t have a smartphone. We didn’t have a TV. We weren’t constantly connected to the internet and when we were, usage was capped. And you know what? It rocked. We read books, we played games, we talked, we went for evening strolls. Since returning we haven’t gone to the other extreme, but it’s amazing how easily the distraction of constant connectivity nibbles away at other, more edifying, activities we could be doing. It seems almost too much of a co-incidence that as I’m musing about possibly introducing a digital Sabbath to my life, I find out that this Sunday (28th June) is National Unplugging Day. It’s aimed at parents, but I think that it’s a good exercise for anyone.

We’ve still got a long way to go until we’ve reached the dizzying heights of the “proper” good, simple and green life. But we’re on the path.

Posted in Life | 4 Comments »

London from above

May 24th, 2015 (by Steve)

It’s probably because we’re short that tall places are very appealing. When we were travelling, the first thing we’d do when arriving in a new city was try to find something to climb to help us get the lie of the land. Yet for some reason when we previously lived in London, we were like sheep and followed everyone underground. Now we’re back in London, we’ve decided to make amends, so we’ve been taking every opportunity to see the city from above, including taking the bus more; it’s not only toddlers who like sitting on the top deck!

Our first port of call was The Shard. You can’t get much taller than that (well, at least not in Western Europe). We’d watched the weather forecast like hawks and as the booked evening approached, it wasn’t looking good (unless you like thunderstorms… which actually could have been very cool to witness from the Shard). As it was, once we’d taken the two lifts up to the 68th floor, we emerged to see a mottled city with some parts in bright sunshine and other parts shrouded in cloud. Photographs don’t do the view justice; with stabilising devices banned (don’t try to ask a member of staff why… you’ll regret asking!), dirty glass and lots of reflections, the best you can aim for is a series of snapshots of an ever-changing city. From that height, London is a just a detailed model, reminding us very much of the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg.

shardview

Allow me to indulge in a bit of technology admiration though. Ever since a computer vision module at university, I’ve been dreaming about being able to look out of an aeroplane window and have a map overlaid on the landscape to show me what I’m looking at. This dream is a reality from the top of the Shard. Dotted around the viewing platform on the 68th floor are devices that look like giant computer game controllers, with a screen at the back, a camera at the front and the option to zoom in on points of interest. With an augmented reality overlay you can read bits of information about, for instance, the Olympic park. Even better, you can switch from “live view” to see what it looks like at night, at sunrise, and what it looked like in 2012; all retaining the option to pan around. And don’t even get me started on the Dyson Airblade Taps in the toilets at the bottom of the Shard (so that’s how they spend the entrance fee money!)!

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South London view done, we decided to take the cable car at Greenwich over the river a week later. This time we didn’t need to book; we just rocked up with the requisite £3.80 on our Oyster cards and queued next to the O2, reminiscing over our visits when it was the Millennium Dome. Once packed into the cable car with 6 other passengers, the 10 minute journey was a little underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong; it was quite a novelty, but it wasn’t anything particularly special. We were afforded views of Canary Wharf, the dome and London City Airport, which, whilst interesting aren’t the most iconic of views in London. Once at the other side we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves; if it hadn’t been a Monday, we probably would have looked around The Crystal (an exhibition focusing on urban sustainability), but as it was we just hopped on the DLR back to Lewisham.

cablecar

So, we’d “done” south London and travelled over the river. Time for north London – more specifically the “car-melting walkie talkie of doom” (well, the Sky Garden on the 35th floor). Now we’re aware this is a controversial building and in fact one of the reviews for visiting said that the best thing about it was that once you’re at the top, you can’t see the building itself. Whilst we agree that it’s not the most pleasant building to look at, it’s lovely once you’re inside. It almost feels like you’re slung under an airship in a 1950s vision of what a “futuristic” London might look like. The “garden” isn’t particularly mature and the plants are fairly sparse, but maybe that will improve with age. As for the view though, it’s every bit as good as the Shard, even though you’re at half the altitude. From the lower perspective you feel more connected with the city (sorry to sound a bit hippy-ish) and some of the lines of sight are cracking. And you know what? It’s all for free (unless you choose to take out a small mortgage and buy a drink).

skygarden

One question remains though; what should we climb next?

Posted in London | 1 Comment »