Kiri and


Wake Up!

January 25th, 2023 (by Steve)

It’s funny how two words can invoke different feelings at different times of the year. “Wake Up!” in January immediately leads to thoughts of “must I?”, yet on a sunny bank holiday weekend last August, the response was altogether more positive. For this was the theme of Greenbelt 2022.

As with our previous visit to Greenbelt as parents, I deliberately set myself low expectations and instead prayed that God would guide me to meet with people He wanted me to meet, and to end up at sessions on the programme that were suitable. But first, to get there. We thought we might need to draw lots to decide who would be left behind, but there was surprisingly more space than expected once the top box, boot and footwells were filled. As with our adventure earlier that month, we headed up the M5, M42… but this time onto the M6 (a bit like the M6 toll, but with one difference… 12 quid!). We parked up, were given our wristbands (our kids had “under 18” in large letters on theirs – I presume in case they tried to go to the bar?) and headed to a huddle of tents in a hollow to camp with friends.

The first evening was all about settling in – introducing the kids to portaloos, reheating some food from our freezer at home for our tea, then heading into the main festival area full of new lights and sounds for the wee ones. By the time we returned to our tents (via the tent of Milk and Honey where we picked up milk and… eggs), our youngest was nearly asleep on my shoulders, so we tucked them up into bed. As I sat cross legged doing the washing up with an amazing view, someone from our neighbouring huddle popped over to ask if we had some washing up liquid. Turned out to be someone I went to Kenya with 20 years ago, who was also camping there with her family! We had a quick chat, then as the light faded we sat in the camp with friends, munching on chocolate buttons.

Our eldest took the title of the festival a bit too literally at 6am the next morning, culminating in shouting “why should I shush?”. Sorry other campers. We got the coffee on the brew as early as we could, queued for the loos, then whilst the grown ups in our party headed off to listen to Caroline Lucas, I headed to the kids tent for “Godly play” which was retelling the creation story. As part of that the kids were asked “which was your favourite day… or the most important day”. My youngest said “the final day, where there is nothing”, which was represented by a plain white board. And then when we did a creative activity afterwards, they chose to paint a rainbow, as white light is made up of “everything – all of the colours”. First profound thought of the festival for me. Nothing is everything.

After some more coffee, we put our heads together and came up with a bit of a plan. The kids wanted to do archery and tomahawk throwing. Children and sharp flying objects; bring it on… what’s the worst that could happen? We went to the main lawn to try to find the archery, but it had changed venue, so we stopped for a spot of lunch overlooking the lawn. There were several people playing football and one hit me as someone scored a goal (I’m brave, I didn’t cry!). After they apologised they decided “we need to move our goal”. Second profound thought of the festival – what goals do I need to move, where success for me could harm someone else?

At risk of getting lost in a mire of deep thought, we went to find some axes and arrows. We were the only ones there, so Kiri threw a few axes (proper sharp ones), our youngest threw a few axes (foam ones with velcro), and I did a bit of archery with our eldest. We saw a squirrel (also known as “dinner”) as I had bow and arrow in hand, but I focused on the static target rather on success which could harm something else.

I’d managed to make it through to the afternoon of the first whole day without engaging in a single talk. Whilst Kiri headed off to listen to Nadia Bolz Weber (in a very small venue), I took the kids to see an immense bubble show where huge, iridescent balloons just called to be popped, however there were very clear rules set in place with a rope between us and the show – the “beauty zone” was the other side of the rope, but if the bubbles came over to our side, they were fair game in the “kill zone”.

And then I had a bit of time for me – I decided to go to a guided meditation session. The venue was the other side of the earth – literally – as there was a huge earth suspended over one of the paths. Looking around there was a certain demographic at that session and I wasn’t it! As I lay down amongst spiders and nettley grass in the Shelter venue, my last thought as I drifted off to sleep was “it’s a bit bizarre that they’re playing weird animal noises, but as I’ve never done a guided meditation before, I’ll roll with it”. Turned out it was just a kid making dinosaur noises outside! As I came round from my sleep, I pondered on how much I was getting from the festival when totally ignoring the programming – it was telling me to “Wake Up!”, and here I was falling asleep!

Sausages for tea back at the tent went down very well and my parents in law popped by with freshly frozen icepacks from Fifi. It was a clearer, colder night that the previous one, but with a lovely sunset whilst washing up. With the kids down it was eventually wine, chocolate and crib time with the distant sound of Kae Tempest in the background on the main stage. We played until we could see the cards no longer, then headed to bed.

Communion on the Sunday has historically been one of the creative high points of Greenbelt and this year didn’t disappoint. The focus was the climate crisis and between the giant globes that were bouncing around the crowd, a disturbing and chilling re-imagination of “all things bright and beautiful”, Harry Baker’s “Impossible” and potentially radioactively charged, bright purple Ka drink to accompany the bread we broke together it was a thought-provoking feast for senses, mind and body.

After communion, I had a last minute change of plan and spontaneously decided to go to a conversation about capitalism and work in the “Rebel Rouser” venue, set in some woodland. The sound check where they encouraged speakers to get really close to the mic as it was set up for punk music set the tone, as a PhD student and economist explored some of the concepts of where power, boundaries and exploitation are perceived to lie in the chain of “work”. There were some interesting soundbites to chew on:

  • “the availability of cheap labour (even in the UK in small sweat shops) is a barrier to automation”
  • “colonisation of creativity” (in reference to things like the TFL quotes at tube stations that started off as a creative idea, now being corporately managed)
  • “what is the effect of a never satisfied desire for growth and profit in a finite world?”

However, the thing that I felt was lacking was balance. What I love about Greenbelt is that you normally hear both (or many) sides of a story; this felt quite one-sided in its proposed solutions of “changing the owners” and “unionising”. What was topical back in August is even more so now, as we face the most strike action in the country since the 1970s… but a breadth of opinion would have been appreciated. I’ll admit I left early to join the kids and Kiri who were building shelters on the edge of the woodland.

Having taken out a small mortgage to pay for icecreams for the kids, we settle down for a session at the main stage with Martyn Joseph. He opened the set with his anthem of hope “Here come the young” before apologising that the rest of his songs were so miserable that they would make Leonard Cohen sound like Julie Andrews. I have to disagree – the topics they touched upon were raw and real, but not miserable. This glass is half full, this half is heartbreakingly beautiful. And the purpose of power is to give it away. These are songs that reveal an alternative way to live. I think the dragonfly (often symbolic of new life) circling around over our heads might have agreed.

Those deep thoughts had returned, so once again we sought out axes. Having been on a spoon carving course a few weeks earlier where we used carving axes, here we were throwing them. Kiri and I love axes… is that normal? The axe throwing was right next to (parallel, not perpendicular for obvious reasons) the motorhome field, where we were reunited with Fifi and treated to dinner. The topic of conversation was about potential post-Fifi options. Whilst possibly not that tactful to talk about within earshot of Fifi, it was exciting to hear my parents in law talking about maybe going down the route of an electric campervan next.

We headed back to our tent via Milk and Honey where we bought milk and… bacon (one day we’ll get the correct shopping list) and once we’d done the evening jobs, I settled down with Harry Baker’s book, revisiting “Impossible”. As the light dropped, our circle of camping chairs grew until we had a lovely crowd, with the main topic of conversation turning to food van recommendations; something we hadn’t sampled by this stage. We listened intently, and were amazed at the feelings that raw tomatoes can invoke in others. Eye opening!

I’d like to say I was woken by my alarm the next morning (it being a Monday), but our oldest was already awake by then. Cream off the top of the milk in coffee and a bacon sarnie made the early start acceptable, and then there were decisions – do I go to listen to Richard Dawkins, or a conversation with the authors of Young, Woke and Christian? Dawkins won, so as Kiri headed to the “Ta dah” and “Make and Create” marquees with the kids, I settled down to listen to a conversation between Giles Fraser and Richard Dawkins.

I guess the key topic covered was that of truth. There was plenty of exploration of topics around science and religion and actually how there is collaboration on issues of mutual importance like the climate crisis, but Dawkins was keen to stress that it’s also important to talk about fundamental questions we disagree on too, which is where he came onto truth. He stated that scientific truth is the only truth, but acknowledged that this won’t have the answer to moral questions. Fraser suggested that his definition of truth may be too narrow, asking “is it true that torture is wrong?”. Dawkins responded that they share the same sentiment, but wouldn’t he use “truth” in that context – it’s neither true nor false, but a matter of moral assessment and law; it could be justified in some circumstances.

Fraser then challenged Dawkins on a statement he had made in 2021 on how it is immoral to birth someone with downs syndrome, and gave him a chance to retract the statement. Dawkins did not, and requested to move on, saying that it was an unfortunate choice of words that had been taken out of context. Then he said that even if it were not in the best interests of humanity, hypothetically he would rather focus on a truth, than a lie that would be good for the world. And he gave what I perceived to be a telling response when Fraser suggested that the God Dawkins doesn’t believe in is the conservative, fundamentalist cartoon of God, rather than a rich, nuanced, theologically-complex God. His response firstly was “The American audience I write for is much bigger than the British audience”… followed by “I can’t get to grips with what your God is, if it’s not the fundamental God.”

Then just as the conversation turned towards spirituality and Dawkins said how important it is, but how difficult a word to understand it is, the time was up… but not before a member of the l’Arche community (where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together) invited Dawkins to share a meal with them.

The afternoon activities were much less thought-provoking, but equally enjoyable. After lunch with the kids, we all headed back to the main stage for an hour with Harry and Chris – poetry, music, deep love, joy and authenticity (as well as a moment where they expressed their excitement at being a support act for “Dicky Dawks”). We had a bit of a wander, having a game of giant draughts, and then headed off to see some good old fashioned (but not dated) magic and circus skills courtesy of Tommy Trilby.

As a treat that afternoon we had tea from the various food vans around site, between us managing to sample pizza, halloumi fries, onion bhajis and macaroni cheese. Once replete, we headed back to the tents to grab the kids’ stuff which we took to Fifi, giving them a final evening of adventure whilst Kiri and I could have a bit of a date night. We chose to go to the Hope and Anchor – an alcohol-free bar, where each evening there was a mystery guest. This final evening it was the authors of Young, Woke and Christian chatting about the chapters that each of them had written. They also played a round of “Cards against Mundanity” – a means of bringing structure to promote honest, open conversation against topics where participants will likely disagree. Kind of what Greenbelt is all about.

We stayed for most of it, but we had an appointment with a beer and some music at the main stage. With a pint of Piggin Saint freshly pulled from the Jesus Arms, we enjoyed a fantastic show put on by Wildwood Kin; a family folk trio from Dartmoor. Tight, inventive vocal harmonies and solid, creative rhythm sections are two things that musically float our boats and we certainly weren’t disappointed. Add in the “honest bants” (which were at one point described as “pleasantly awkward”) and lack of slickness and it was the perfect combination. It felt like we were sharing the corner of a rustic country pub with them rather than a large stage at a festival. What contrast there had been on that one stage in one day!

And then suddenly it was all over; the final morning we returned our empty milk bottles to Milk and Honey (having never managed to see the honey), packed up the car and returned to life and reality. Did the festival wake us up? I’m not sure, but as with every Greenbelt we’ve attended to date, it certainly gave us plenty of food for thought to carry back into our everyday routine.

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Icecream and crackers

July 18th, 2019 (by Steve)

“We’re still at the stage where a dry cracker has just as much draw as an icecream”. That was the last time we went to Cotswold Farm Park two years ago. Oh, how times have changed. This time it was ALL about the icecream. And we had better weather.

When you go camping as a family of four, there’s a lot of stuff you need to take with you. When you live as a family of four, there’s not much time for writing a list of stuff to take. So, after a quick scout around the house to pick up random important things we just about managed to squeeze into our car alongside all the essentials (like giant marshmallows), hoping that we’d got everything. We remembered the children (I’m told that’s the main thing) and the oldest was determined to “help with the mallet”. Once on site, it turned out that the youngest was determined to eat mud. Great start.

There wasn’t room for food in the car, so once we’d pitched our tent we trotted back out to the supermarket for food, then picked up some supplies in the farm shop, choosing duck eggs as they were just as cheep(!) as chicken eggs. After being told “Daddy, you’re not allowed to play with the frisbee because you’ll get it stuck in the tree again” (fair point), we had a quick camp dinner of reheated leftovers from our freezer then went to see the sheep before bed.

Bed. That thing that normally isn’t too much of a problem. After 2 hours of trying to coax a pre-schooler to sleep, you get slightly delirious, so the phrase “Mummy. You have beautiful eyebrows” seemed hysterical at the time. Eventually both were asleep and we realised what we’d forgotten. A pack of cards. With nothing to do but drink beer, Kiri and I had a proper “date night” and it turned into a blessing that we had no activities to distract us from proper conversation. Well… apart from overheard snippets of conversation from a tent nearby – the typical kind of thing you might expect from a group of teenagers. Fascinating insights… but we never heard the conclusion as our other child woke. Lovely.

When we chose our camping pitch, we deliberately chose a spot in a far corner so that the children wouldn’t be disturbed by other campers. What we didn’t bank on was rooks choosing the same corner for the same reasons… only they have a different idea as to what constitutes a sensible time to wake up. Rooks wake at 5:20, children wake at 5:20, we wake at 5:20. Caws and effect. Coffee was much appreciated at breakfast as were the fried duck eggs and finally, 4 hours and 40 minutes later the farm park opened.

Highlights of the first day:

  • Kiri being asked “do rabbits eat humans?” as Kiri held one on her lap. Kiri answering “no, but some humans eat rabbits”. Not sure who looked more horrified; the other visitors or the rabbits
  • Missing the tractor “safari” and the same little one who was placated with a dry cracker two years ago saying “let’s have an ice cream then”. I mean, it’s good logic, so it was only right to reward the reasoning (and consume one myself)
  • Seeing a sneezing sheep. It must be terrible to be a sheep with hayfever; “I’m so hungry, let me put my nose down to eat the…” *ATISHOO*

It was an easier bedtime with both kids asleep by half past seven, so Kiri and I cracked open the wine and once again put the world to rights with some quality time.

Following a quiet night, the rooks were at it again soon after 5. Joy. But the new day brought reinforcements in the shape of Kiri’s parents. With tent number 2 erected (this time a leak-free tent), we headed back into the park. By my estimation, our little one must have driven at least 4 brands of tractor on this trip, including an electric one, one left on our camping pitch, a John Deere and a JCB. Kiri matched that. I only racked up 3. To be fair, the target audience were children…

The target audience for the bottle feeding of goats was probably children too. The target audience for the huge inflatable pillows was probably children too. But hey, we are still children, right? I mean Kiri brought her parents with her, so we count as children!

Following a sheep fashion show (particularly appreciated by my Welsh Father-in-law, although I’m not sure his heritage is related to his appreciation), ice cream number two happened, as did our youngest being introduced to it by a naughty Nana. Plans of dry crackers being sufficient for months to come melted as quickly as the ice cream in the summer heat.

And then back to camp for a perfect evening – a camp carbonara cooked with local lardons and duck eggs with their huge yolks. Silky, salty, cheesy goodness. Once again we visited the sheep and goats before bed and the children were asleep by half past seven again. Out came the beer, chocolate and canasta. I really didn’t want to like the Rare Breed ale that’s produced from grain grown on Adam Henson’s farm as it was sure to just be a gimmick, but… well… actually, like everything else associated with Cotswold Farm Park, it’s a quality product. A very drinkable beer.

Perfect mornings follow perfect evenings. But only in story books. In reality, rain in the night wakes your children at 4am and you end up with 4 people in a double sleeping bag with 2 of them desperately trying to get back to sleep. And then the cafetiere turns out to be cracked, but you risk it all the same with hot liquid because you need the coffee. But then you realise that you’ve got milk with “cream off the top” from a glass milk bottle which reminds you of your childhood. And then you cook up the remaining duck eggs with bacon, and manage not to burn any of the eggs and you realise you’ve cracked it (the frying of duck eggs, not the cafetiere – that was nothing to do with me, and definitely nothing to do with dry crackers). And then when washing up in the camp kitchen, a retired lady walks in, seductively says “good morning”, then proceeds to hand wash her underwear in the sink next to you. And suddenly it’s all right. And then you stop talking in the second person and starting your sentences with “and”.

Now I’m not saying that the day was planned around replacing the cafetiere but… we decided to go to Stow on the Wold. If only there were a homeware shop there. Great Scott! Scott’s of Stow! Cafetiere purchased. Tea shop visited. Charity shops emptied. Barbecue bits and pieces bought. With all of that stuff (and the wold) all stowed, we returned to campsite for a barbecue and the chance to finally toast those giant marshmallows; a highlight of the holiday for a certain young ‘un!

This time we went into the farm park with animal feed so the sheep, goats, piglets etc were more interested in us than previously. And we were fairly interested in them. At different points dotted around were solar-powered speakers with bits of information. Now I don’t know whether it was the rain affecting the power output, or just that Bob Bunny had been tucking into the Rare Breed ale, but he seemed to be struggling to get his words out to explain the animals around him. By the time we’d finished the trail, the ice cream place was shut, so we packed the kids back off the campsite for an early night; this time they were asleep by half past six.

That left us to have adult tea, then coffee and canasta on the coldest evening so far. Kiri and I were winning by the end of 8 rounds and would have won the ninth (and therefore the game) had it not been for a threat of being mooned by my Father-in-law. I didn’t want to risk it, so played on instead of “going out”. My parents-in-law may have won the game, but (and it’s a big butt) I like to think that we claimed the moral high ground. There was no moon (well, there probably was behind these clouds…) as we crashed out soon after 9pm.

4:30am is slightly more humane than 4am and by now we were in a nice routine of zipping the kids up in the tent compartment with us as we tried to sleep whilst being climbed upon. This was going to be a 2 coffee morning. Once camp was struck (so much easier with 4 adult pairs of hands to occupy the 2 child pairs of hands), we headed into the park for the last time and the kids made a beeline once more for the bouncy pillow.

We were the first customers of the day at the icecream stand and as the different sizes of icecreams were explained, “two shots for adults, one shot for children”, I couldn’t help but wonder what they would be shots of. Whatever it was, the youngest one had a taste for it. Target identified. Target locked. Heading towards Nana. Icecream consumed. All gone. New target identified. Target locked. Heading towards Daddy. No icecream being given. Abort. New target identified. Target locked. Heading towards older sibling. Hmmm, moving target. Must follow.

Fuelled by coffee to offset the early mornings, we departed the farm park wearier than we entered, but with smiles on our faces after a genuinely lovely time. But the holiday hadn’t quite finished… we had another stop to make on our way home. Might our next adventure be a slightly different shape…?

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Where’s the holiday?

June 21st, 2018 (by Steve)

“Where’s the holiday?”. Was the question that we had for a few hours from a toddler. After a long drive to Llandudno, stopping off with some friends to partake of some Finnish mini eggs (we didn’t actually drive via Finland…), and going up hill, up hill some more, and up hill a final little bit to stop on a near-vertical slope, we could finally say “here”. A grubby, slightly run down Airbnb half way up the Great Orme. The state of the place didn’t really matter though by the time the little one had been excited about bunk beds, we’d re-laid the stair carpet (literally!), and we’d had tea. We had an amazing view, that you’d normally have to work hard at to earn, beautiful light, the water coming out of the taps was sweet and the only noise we could here was sheep outside. Oh, and the place had Netflix. So we chilled. We were on holiday.

Now this was to be the first holiday since the birth of the wee one where we’d gone just the three of us, without grandparental reinforcements, so we were in new territory. And the first morning set the tone – “I’m incited to get up early”. Our cursing of whoever had been doing the inciting didn’t last long as we realised we could stay in bed, and watch the rabbits, goats and sheep from where we were. We could also see the trams from our window, and from just outside the door, the cable cars. A perfect spot.

As our first day was a Sunday, we packed a picnic then headed into town where we ended up at Gloddaeth church. We exchanged glances when the service was described as “contemporary”, then the first song was a rather cheesy one that was as old as we are, however it only got better from there and I was reminded that I need more Rend Collective in my life. The picnic that followed wasn’t the best planned, as we opted for a spot between the beach and a playground which both were rather enticing as we tried to focus on ensuring everyone ate their lunch. But hey, that’s what mid-afternoon icecreams are for. But before the icecream we had things to do:

  • Build a gargantuan sandcastle with perfect sand (left unfinished – we were over-ambitious with what can be achieved with a toddler)
  • Paddle in the sea (planning fail – the little one was more equipped to go deeper than we were. Result – wet socks for me)
  • Collect shells and stones (note to future selves – teach children to be discerning about which stones we may wish to collect)

We deserved that icecream, although somehow the adults didn’t end up with a flake! And we deserved the cuppa when we went back to the cottage too to get dry socks. Before tea, we decided to drive around the headland in the stunning evening light, which brought back wonderful memories of driving along the Verdon Gorge, around the Italian Riviera, and in Meteora. Only in our motorhome we had a higher vantage point… and weren’t trying to keep a little one awake. Bath time included the attempt to make a water castle (as opposed to a sandcastle) as my attempts to explain fluid dynamics fell on deaf ears. The extra sugar consumed earlier that day made bedtime a little tricky, but we eventually managed to settle down for an evening of cribbage.

With so much to do in this part of North Wales, we were keen to make the most of it and didn’t really mind another early start. As we walked up to the top of the Great Orme to catch the cable car down (we were told on no uncertain terms, that we had to go in an orange one) we reflected on what a privilege it was to be in such beautiful surroundings. The price of tickets (£21 return for all 3 of us) seemed a little steep, but it was totally worth it with amazing views of a sea wind farm, moorland, our cottage, a toboggan run, the pier, and a sweeping bay. Even if we ended up in a green one rather than an orange one.

After a coffee at the end of the pier, we meandered back into town then onto the other beach for another picnic, where we inadvertently ended up having the little one repeating “no – go away” to the pesky gulls. Who let us be parents? After a few skimmed stones and a minor paddle, it was back to the cable car, where we overheard another parent aghast at the price, giving an ultimatum of “OK, you can either have dinner, or go on the cable car”. With another evening ahead of us, we made the most of the log burner and settled down to do something we very rarely do these days, reading the bible together (that evening the book of Ruth).

Given that the holiday was in Wales, it was inevitable that rain would come at some point, so we all had a lie-in until 7 then after a bit of playing went back to bed for the rest of the morning! A wet drive took us along the coast to Colwyn Bay where we had a quick sandwich in a shopping centre under an inappropriate sign reading “our staff are thick, but our toast is thicker”, then headed to the local swimming pool. Yes, it would have been cheaper to get wet in the rain, but not as fun. We took a minor detour via Kingdom Krafts on the way back with a lovely spiced apple drink and flapjack, then had a low-key evening – fish fingers for tea, followed by lighting the fire again.

The following day was dry again, so we headed to the local farm park, which opened at 10. Only it didn’t. Eventually at 10:20 someone turned up and let the queue in. We all had great fun driving on the little tractors, then went to find the animals. I know we really shouldn’t compare it to Adam Henson’s farm that we went to last summer… but… well… ummm… the playground was fun and there were lots of excitable farm dogs around. We then had a look at the owls (it’s also an owl sanctuary) – one of whom had a sign saying “please do not disturb or tease this owl” – does that mean the other owls are fair game? Tea, coffee and gluten free cake were the answer (but to a different question), then we headed back to the cottage for some lunch.

The afternoon was rather more exciting as we donned hard hats and went down into the copper mines. The tunnels were narrow; fascinating that they were so old as we saw history, archaeology and geology collide. “Where is the mine?” was the accompanying question as we wandered through the ancient rabbit burrow. How does one describe the concept of a negative to a toddler? I mean, someone I know wrote a whole dissertation on the question “is a hole?”. “Here” apparently wasn’t a sufficient answer. I can’t remember the answer I gave in the end, but allowing the little one to choose some little coloured “stones” (probably just coloured glass) to take home was enough of a distraction. I popped to Asda to pick up some supplies (Orme beer, salt, vinegar, gluten-free snacks (where I saw the chocolate cake that we’d had at the farm park!) and chocolate) before we settled down to watch “La la land” – the first film we’d watched together in ages. Great film. Incorrect ending. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

“I’m awake. My eyes are open. I had enough sleep”, is not the first thing I normally say when I wake up in the morning, but apparently when you’re a toddler that’s normal! Today was the day of the tram. To all intents and purposes, I would call it a funicular because it’s cable-driven, goes up the side of a hill on rails and the cars on the rails counterbalance each other. However I would be wrong; because it’s on a road in parts, it’s a tram – a cable tram to be more precise. As we waved to everyone that we passed, Kiri and I ruminated on why, just because we were in an unfamiliar vehicle, it is suddenly acceptable to wave at strangers. As a young adult, my friends and I once waved to a car full of elderly people as we passed them on the motorway. They looked horrified and I saw them mouthing to each other “they’re waving at us”. I never did that again. Yet in a tram it’s fine. Hey ho.

It was also bitterly cold in the open tram, so after kying a flite on the beach, we warmed up in a coffee shop before walking a long way to Chish n Fips. With warmth emanating from the wrapped paper, we bravely sat by the beach, determined to enjoy our haddock, cod and chips in the bracing wind. Having exhausted all free options for shelter, we headed back to a tram, where crime awaited us as a couple were thrown off the tram for skipping the queue. Once again we were frozen by the time we were at the top of the Great Orme and craving sugar and warmth, so we nursed a hot chocolate before venturing back to the cottage.

You get to this stage in a holiday (and a blog post) where you don’t really want it to fizzle out, but you’re tired. On the last day, it was wet outside and we were all lacking motivation. In the end, after a fish-finger sandwich lunch, we drove to Betws-y-Coed for the Conwy Valley railway museum and model railway. We’d just bought our tickets and were heading into the model railway, when “uh-oh” – the first accident of holiday. If anyone tells me there are closer toilets than the ones along the platform, over the railway track, through the station and across the car park, I might not be impressed! However, on our return we had a lovely 8 minute journey on the miniature railway, bringing back happy memories for me of a childhood visit to Pecorama. We popped into the model railway, but what really grabs the attention of a toddler? Electric bumper cars with no straps in an area surrounded by breeze blocks. What’s the worst that could happen eh?

Our final treat of the holiday was a coffee at the Alpine Cafe in the main station with quite possibly the best ever gluten free chocolate brownie and a huge pot of tea for one which did 4 cups! What followed on the journey back to the cottage cannot be explained logically. I’m not quite sure where, in my mission to keep the little one awake, a tupperware took on a personality and became “catty”, but even now it’s a firm favourite and as loved as any cuddly toy. A holiday souvenir.

So we did it. Proper adulting – taking a child on holiday without grandparental support. And we enjoyed it. I don’t think we’ll do it again though. Not just the three of us…

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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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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.


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.



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.


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!


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.


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.


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.

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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:


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.


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…).


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.


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.


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:


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:


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, 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.


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.


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 »