Taking the Train to Spain

For the last couple of summer holidays we have taken our car through the Euro tunnel and driven around Europe. Two years ago we drove as far as Montenegro, and last year we went to Sweden, but this year we didn’t dare leave the UK in our ageing people carrier.

We thought taking a plane for about 30 seconds, but none of us like to fly and only do it if there is no other option.

So that left the train, now a viable option as the kids are old enough to carry their own bags, and so our holiday plans were centred around where we could get by rail.

In the end we decided on Spain, with a stopover in Paris in both directions.

It’s been a fairly straightforward holiday so far.

First we took the Eurostar from London to Paris and stopped over for a night there. This part of the journey was almost scuppered by the cab company sending a too small vehicle for us and our bags, then having our cab break down on the hard shoulder of the A40, but happily we made it in time. Eurostar were very understanding and let us slip in well after check in.

The look on DS’s face when he realised the train was moving was priceless.


From Paris we took a high speed train to Barcelona. This took almost 7 hours, so most of the day but as we were travelling close to 300 km per hour for much of the trip, it would have taken a lot longer in our car.


The train was full, so we were glad we had booked seats but we should have got on board earlier as there was no room for our bags close to us, and we had to leave them upstairs, one carriage away. We locked them all and used bike locks to secure them to the shelves as we’ve heard too many stories of stolen bags on these trains.

Food was avaliable on this train but it was pretty mediocre, so we will bring our own next time.

Once we reached Barcelona, disaster struck again when DD1 promptly left her backpack on the floor of the cab from the train station to our apartment. She lost her phone, her kindle, her magazines and books and we decided to avoid cabs for the rest of our holiday.

After 4 nights in Barcelona, we caught another train to Sitges, half an hour from Barcelona. This train was more like a tube train, there was one along every 20 minutes or so and there was plenty of room but nowhere obvious to put our bags. It was another two story train though and the kids were happy when we found seats upstairs.

And that’s as far as we’ve got so far. I’m writing this from a bench beside the beach in Sitges. I’m supervising the kids who are in the water, but there is also a vigilant life guard who is going to be much more effective than I would be in an emergency. I content myself with counting heads every few minutes, while reading and watching the world go past.

We are only here for 4 nights but are getting some seriously needed R & R while we enjoy the beach. Barcelona was very busy and some sea side air is a welcome change.

Our next train is in 2 days time, back to Barcelona, then we are off to San Sebastian for some more sight seeing.

So far, taking the train is working out okay for us.


Happy Birthday To Me

Today I am 45.

In my head I still feel twenty-something and it’s hard  to believe that it’s very likely that I’ve already lived more than half my life already. How can this be? It’s all gone past so quickly and although I don’t regret a thing, I sometimes wish I’d been in less of a rush to get to the next stage of life. Of course now the crest of the hill is behind me, I find that I’m no longer in a hurry.

I don’t want to seem greedy when there are so many people out there who will not even make it to their 40s, but I don’t feel like I’m nearly done yet. I want as much time as I can get.

I still have places to visit , things to do and adventures that I intend to have. I want to work more, bring some more money into the house, grow old with my husband and see my children find a place in the world. I worry a lot about will happen to my kids as they grow up. All we can ever do as parents is our best but as your children grow , you start to realise how little control you have over them. Your best may be all you have, but what if it’s not enough?

Kids on the beach at sunset

I decided a long time ago that I would never apologise for my age or try and disguise it. Growing old is a privilege, never a burden, when you think about the alternative. I think our society has things around the wrong way sometimes.

But is 45 old? I suspect the answer to that depends on the age of the person answering the question.

So I’m going to sign off now and enjoy what’s left of the day. I’ve already cheated slightly as I was born in NZ, so got an extra few hours of Birthday Wishes on social media before midnight arrived on the UK, but when you get to my age you take your thrills where you find them.

Happy Birthday to anyone else celebrating today.

What To Do When It Rains During The Holidays.

It’s July. The Summer holidays have begun or are almost upon us, depending on where you live, and parents everywhere are anxiously following the weather forecast.

Two weeks ago we were sweltering but today it’s drizzling. I don’t think anyone is expecting endless blue skies ( this is Britain after all!) but it would be nice if it didn’t rain all summer. Wouldn’t it?

The summer forecast on my favourite weather site is predicting warmer than average temperatures with average rainfall this summer, which could mean anything, but it’s highly likely we are in for at least a few days of the wet stuff.

So do you have a plan for wet days? These are ours.

We Go Outside Anyhow.
Unless there is a storm and severe winds, we usually  get out of the house no matter what the weather is like.
The dogs need walking and we all have wet weather gear, but if it’s warm and raining then the kids just often go without and end up wet. We have leather seats in our car but we take carrier bags to sit on in case someone gets very muddy. Everyone is much better behaved after a bit of wet, fresh air and the playgrounds are often completely empty.

We Avoid Soft Play Areas And Other Indoor Attractions.
My kids are almost all too big for soft play now, but even when they were little we very rarely went to soft play on a rainy day. They are always so crowded and noisy.
And don’t even think about visiting the Science or National History museums on a rainy day during the  summer holidays, although some of the smaller, less popular museums can be bearable. Local libraries will also be crammed as everyone will use the weather to catch up on their summer reading programme.
If we have a run of wet weather during the summer holidays, we tend to head for one of the larger shopping malls nearby. The more steps and escalators the better. If you are desperate, one of the really huge supermarket stores can be used to exercise your children. If they are old enough you can sit in the cafe and drink coffee while your kids take the shopping list. You should probably be prepared to check the contents of the trolley before you pay though.

Ride The Bus Or Train.
We live in Greater London so our opportunities to try out different kinds of public transport  are pretty extensive. I have been known to walk everyone up to a bus stop under an umbrella, get on the next bus that goes past, ride to the end of the line then come straight back again, just to get out of the house. Same with the tube.  A game of bus or train bingo will  help keep  the kids quiet for a bit, especially if they get to sit near a window/ at the front.

We have also taken one of the larger ferries up the Thames in the rain, just for a change of scenery.

Have A Movie Day.
Let them choose a movie to watch with you, and then choose one you want to watch with them. Pull the curtains, and stock up on nachos, hot dogs and popcorn.

Have A Family  Game Day.
Dig out all those jigsaw puzzles and old board games. Games that didn’t work for your family at Christmas may prove to be really enjoyable now.Teach them some basic card games, including solitaire. If you are lucky, this will buy you some minutes of peace and quiet.

Let Them Play On All The Screens For As Long as They Want.
You may feel a little guilty, but the peace and quiet should more than make up for that.

Send Them out In the Garden For A Water  Fight.
They will get wet anyway, so this might be a pre bathtime activity.

Let The Kids Wreck The House.
Let them make dens, move furniture around, rearrange their bedrooms or empty a room and fill it with mattresses and pillows to make their own little soft play area. Inflatable mattress can be useful for practicing forward rolls. If all else fails, put them all in the bath with plenty of bubbles.

Then Get Them to Tidy Up Again Afterwards.
I think I have the messiest kids in the world when it comes to up after themselves on a day-to-day basis, but strangely they love a game of ‘Tidying Up’. Basically I make a list of what needs to be done, write the tasks on separate bits of paper, fold them up and they pick a job one bit of paper at a time. They look at their bit of paper, and RUN off to do it, then come back to get rewarded with a chocolate. The little two ( 7 and 9) will do this until they drop, or the chocolates run out, but the older two ( 12 and 13) often need some added incentive.

Let Them Loose In The Kitchen.
If you have older children, ask them to plan, shop for and prepare a day’s food. Younger ones often want to make cupcakes and biscuits, with a view to icing them. It can all be very messy, so make sure they know how to clean up after themselves.

So there you go, ten things you can do when it’s tipping down outside. Hopefully we don’t need too many of these plans after next week, but in the UK it’s better to be prepared.

british summer installation 2




What To Do If You Find A Baby Hedgehog

I had lots of questions about my last Sunday Photo post, asking why I was holding a very cute baby hedgehog.

That little urchin ( Did you know that baby hedgehogs are called urchins? I didn’t!) was one of three we found in our garden last week. The dogs were going crazy  at something at the back of the garden and when DH went down to have a look, he came back to say there was a baby hedgehog down there. I took garden gloves and the cat carrier down, ready to rescue and found not one but THREE babies, all curled up and very spiky.

Once they were safely in the cat cage, the dogs were still going nuts and we realised there was another, much larger, hedgehog behind a creeper on our boundary fence. This was most likely the mum. Apparently hedgehogs are terrible mothers and eat or abandon their young if disturbed. This one was too far away from her babies to be undisturbed so we made the decision to take her babies up to St Tiggywinkles Animal Hospital in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire. It’s easily a 2 hour round trip for us, but we’ve taken wildlife there before and I trust their ethos and set up.

They also have a series of useful Wildlife Fact Sheets on their website, including one on hedgehogs.

Here are the three babies waiting to be transported to the Animal Hospital. You can see one of them has a large wound; this was not a typical dog bite wound, but maybe from a strimmer ? This baby died before I could get them to the hospital, another had less severe injuries and the third was snuffling around the cat cage so I had high hopes of at least one urchin surviving.

Unfortunately it was not good news when I rang to check up on their progress. Both the remaining babies had died along with their injured sibling :(

We’ve not had hedgehogs in our garden since moving here, and I’m not sure why we were graced with their presence this year. It is a bit untidy, with lots of hedgehog friendly places but surely the dogs are a deterrent? Mum is still out there somewhere, and if she stays we’ll feed her and set up somewhere for her to hibernate over winter.

But I can’t help feel that we’ve had our shot at being a hedgehog nursery and if OFSTED had graded us we would have been ‘Inadequate’. Hedgehogs should probably look elsewhere for lodgings if the species is to survive.

How To Stay Cool In A Heatwave

Apparently it’s going to be hot this week. The papers say so (apparently our roads are in danger of melting!), and more importantly,  the weather experts agree.

My preferred weather site is Netweather.tv but everyone has their favorite. Sometimes they all say different things, but this week they all agree that we have some hot weather coming our way. There’s talk of a ‘heatwave’ but we’ll see.

It’s only really an official Heatwave when the temperature exceeds the average maximum for the time of year by at least 5C, for 5 days or more. In England, this means temperatures need to hit 26C for 5 days running, and in Greater London it looks like  this might actually happen. In other areas Heatwave temperatures may only be reached for 2-3 days , but it can still make things very uncomfortable, especially at night.

In Britain it’s very unusual to have air conditioning at home. It’s needed so rarely that it doesn’t make sense to have it installed, so what can you do to cool down when the temperatures rise?

Cool Down The House

Shut all the curtains, blinds and windows on the sunny side of the house in the morning and only open them when the outside temperature is cooler than the inside temperature. If it’s hotter outside, you are just heating up the house. Once it’s cooler outside, open the windows downstairs on the shady side and upstairs on the sunny side.

Awnings can be helpful to stop south-facing rooms heating up

As a rule, if you live in the UK, don’t open the loft  hatch. Most loft spaces are insulated  but not well ventilated so the air in the loft is much hotter than the rooms below and just spills out into the house from an open hatch.

Once the outside temperature drops, set up fans to create an air flow than brings cooler air in an open door on the ground floor, pushes hot air up the stairs towards the upper floors and out a window.

Use lights and appliances as little as possible during the day. Oven, computers, TV and washing machine all play their part in heating up your house.

Hanging wet sheets and towels in front of windows or fans will increase the effect of a cool breeze.

Keep Your Family Cool

Drink enough water! At least 6  glasses of water a day. It’s important not to get dehydrated.

Fans are useful to keep the air moving, even when the air is hot. In our house we have many different fans and they all play a role in cooling us down when the heat strikes. My favourite fan is my little USB fan that blows a breeze towards me while I’m at my computer, but we have just bought this high velocity fan which we point at the ceiling in the hallway to get an air flow going. It’s loud though, so not great for bedrooms so every bedroom also has a fan in it in this house!

Sitting in front of a fan pointed at a bowl of ice creates a lovely cool breeze.

Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting clothes made of natural fibres. Wear a hat if you have to go outside but if you can, avoid going out during hottest time of the day.

Get wet! Have a cool shower, put on some wet clothes or even just wet your hair. Get a paddling pool for the kids, or even for just for yourself.  Immersing your hands and feet into cool water will cool you down, as will running your wrists under cold water for 30 seconds. Iced water and ice lollies also help.

When it’s time for bed, cotton sheets are the coolest. Put your pillow in the fridge before going to bed or put a filled hot water bottle in the fridge or freezer.

Ditch the duvet and use the cover only if you feel the need to sleep covered up.

And make sure you always have drinkable water beside the bed. There is nothing worse than waking up and needing a drink but not wanting to go downstairs and get one.

Don’t Forget Your Pets

Make sure all pets have multiple source of water available at all times.

Never leave a pet (or a baby!) in the car  in this weather. Even with the windows down a little and parked in the shade , the temperature can rise  enough in 20 minutes to kill a dog. If it’s 23C outside, the temperature in a car can reach 40C within 10 minutes and for a non- sweating hairy animal, that’s enough to do physiological damage.

Walk your dogs in the morning or evening, avoid the middle of the day.

Make sure your pets have somewhere cool to go, especially if you go out and leave them all day. Cooling mats are available in different sizes. A dog locked outside without shelter may succumb to heat stroke in the garden in hot weather, so make sure they have water and shelter .

Some dogs enjoy being hosed down in the summer, others will wallow in a paddling pool and you can make ‘dog lollies’ by freezing treats in a cup of water. Cats will naturally seek out some where cool if they are able to do so, but it’s important to keep an eye on the temperature and water bottles of the cages of any small furries or reptiles.

If your dog has a finds summer difficult and has a fluffy or hair coat, you can get them clipped for summer. We always used to do this with out old Goldie X and he was like a puppy again after his hair cut.

Try to enjoy the nice weather while it lasts, because one thing is certain; it won’t last forever and soon everyone will be complaining about the rain.

paddling pool