Category Archives: Family matters

Thriving in Autumn

Trees changing colour, Halloween, Bonfire Night, hearty soups, Strictly, hot chocolates, bobble hats, fungus, muddy walks, onesies at teatime, log burners, candles, fairy lights….

These are all things people tell me they love about autumn and all things I would happily swap to have spring and summer all year round.

The clocks changing in October strikes fear into me. I dread short days and gales. While I can appreciate the colours and light in autumn, I don’t understand why people get so excited about this brief precursor to winter. To me, it feels like everything is dying: the trees lose their leaves, the grass stops growing, the days give up early, the year is running out…

Every year I count down the days from October until spring, but this year I decided I wanted things to be different. I want to be equally happy all year round and so it calls for a mindset overhaul. I need to learn to embrace autumn and even winter, without escaping into Elf and chocolates in November, and a ski resort in January. As that’s not acceptance: it’s escapism and comes at a cost.

Taking on advice from autumn fans, I have found there are ways and means of making a hardened resister, like me, develop an appreciation, and even enjoyment, of this time of year:

-        Accept that autumn and winter needs to happen. We all need to rest, even nature. Trees and flowers die back and prepare for spring and we can emulate them. It’s good to have some down time, which brings me to my next point.

-        Having formerly refused to buy into the hype about hygge, I realised that my contrariness was leading me to miss out. The Danes endure harsh winters and remain one of the happiest nations in the world, so it’s worth taking some tips from the masters. I’ve cosied up the lounge and enjoyed some on trend activities, like colouring and journalling.

-        I’ve really taken note of what’s going on in nature and this has been heartening. Some of the autumn sunrises and sunsets have been truly sensational. Because I’ve made a point of noticing, I’ve seen how the light is beautiful in the late afternoon and marvelled at the colour of the leaves. I’m surprised at how powerful this appreciation has been for my state of mind.

-        Although hygge is all about hunkering down indoors, too much of this leads to cabin fever and it’s much more enjoyable to get cosy after exposing yourself to the elements. I prefer going outside when it’s not raining, but equally I haven’t let inclement weather put me off. I’ve found that if you come home cold, wet and muddy it does make you feel quite gnarly and proud of yourself. Cycling has definitely raised the endorphins and seen me through the last few months.

Autumn is still my third favourite season, but I’ve realised I no longer need to dread it. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to listen to the Strictly theme tune without coming out in a cold sweat. Now we have the respite of the festive season, before seeing what January brings.

Perfecting the front crawl

Swimming used to be a grim battle of counting up lengths before I could get out of the pool, but not since the SwimLab Swim Clinic at Watergate Bay.

I’ve always watched enviously those swimmers who can cut through water like a knife through butter, who power up and down the pool elegantly, but with unhurried, relaxed motions. Whereas with lots of sports you need to have some innate talent, or had to start doing it as a child to be any good, literally anyone can start swimming, at any age, size or level of fitness. It’s also fairly cheap and accessible and you don’t need much kit.

In the past year, swimming has become my sport of choice and through trial and error, Google, and watching good swimmers, I managed to cobble together a front crawl. Although a vast improvement, this was a long way off swimming how I want to, or being up to the challenge I’ve set myself, of completing a long distance open water swim by the end of the summer. Plus I found it so tiring, which suggested that something was wrong.

So when I saw that the Watergate Bay Hotel, in Cornwall, was running a swim clinic, I was in there with swimwear. London-based, Salim Ahmed, founder of SwimLab, was the coach. As well as teaching swimming, he organises open water swims in the UK and sunnier climes.

back hats teaching team shot


At breakfast on the first day, Salim ran through the programme, his backstory and swimming in general. Among the interesting points he made, was the fact that we should be enjoying the swim while we’re doing it, not just the endorphins and afterglow which follow.

Then the six of us took to the pool for the first of three one-hour sessions spread over two days. We started by waking the legs up: doing a few lengths using a float and no arms. Since front crawl is 90 per cent about arms, it was an effort to get to the other end of the pool.  Then we introduced one arm at a time. Salim told us to imagine a zip up our body, and to touch our armpit and ear, before re-entry into the water. This makes sure you get high elbows.

Salim quickly identified where my problems lie: my head was too high, making my legs too low. Easily rectified: I just have to look at the bottom of the pool. Also, my hands enter the water too close to my head and crossover. I have to think about stretching out as far as I can before I put my hand in the water and focus on putting them wider. Once in the water, I need to pull diagonally to my core. When I get this right it’s amazing how much more powerful my stroke feels.

On Saturday evening, Salim filmed us all from the side and underwater. The footage is very telling and tremendously useful.

Over the weekend, there were moments when everything came together and I momentarily felt like the knife through butter. Managing to swim a full length without a breath was an unexpected and exhilerating moment.

Previously, I’ve only felt the buzz from sports where the speed is provided by something else – such as a horse, a bike, or snow – so to get a buzz from swimming felt like unwrapping a brilliant present. It’s exciting to know that if I keep practising, I’ll get that buzz more and more often, and when I do buy a wetsuit and fins, and transfer to outdoors – as Salim assures me I’m capable of – the adrenalin will be ramped up again.


Fancy swimming here?

Fancy swimming here? Book in for the next swim clinic

The next Swim Clinic, with Salim Ahmed, takes place at Watergate Bay Hotel on 22&23 November. The cost is £285 for the clinic and B&B, based on two people sharing. The weekend also includes a 30 minute massage, and an optional spin class and beach jog. Without accommodation the Swim Clinic costs £150.







Explaining death to children

I recently had one of the hardest experiences of my life, when I sat my children down and told them that Grandpa, who we had just made a 500-mile round trip to visit in hospital, was going to die.

It was heart-rending to hear eight-year-old Meribel sob that she wished she had the philosopher’s stone to give him.

We often assume children are too young to handle death, but children pick up on fear of adults and a change in the air. So not levelling with them is a false kind of protection, which can lead to them creating their own demons.

When I was a massage therapist one lady told me that her dad had died in a car crash when she was small. She has never got over the fact that her mother didn’t tell her for weeks, leaving her to wonder where her dad was.

If children are left alone with their fears and misunderstandings, they grow. They need answers before the myths take over.

How to go about it:

1. It’s never too early to talk about death. The death of a pet is a good introduction. Discussing the natural world is also a good lead in to the conversation. It is natural for flowers to wither and die, and for the leaves to fall in the autumn, but everything is reborn in spring.

2. Use books. Waterbugs and Dragonflies, by Doris Stickney, talks about death in a lovely way which children can understand.

3. Avoid euphemisms. “Passed away”, “lost” and “went to sleep” make no sense to children. They might keep expecting them to come back, or think that falling asleep is dangerous.

4. Allow them to show their emotion. You can’t stop them from feeling sad, and you need to be supportive and attentive to them when they are expressing their emotion. Equally, it’s fine to let them see your grief.

5. Be open to questions. Answer their questions as honestly as you can. It’s OK to say that you don’t know. Try not to squirm, or be awkward, as this makes them feel awkward. Tell them they can ask you anything and listen carefully. Be prepared for questions to come at inopportune times. They are likely to catch you on the hop.

6. Let them know the facts. A definition of death, from is: “Something or somebody that’s dead doesn’t move, or eat, or breathe, or do anything. They cannot feel pain and will never wake up.” Tell them that everyone dies one day, but most people don’t die until they are older, so they mustn’t worry about other loved ones dying.

7. There aren’t many positive aspects of death, except that it’s part of life. If we didn’t die then there wouldn’t be room for babies to come into the world. There is certain sense of accomplishment about a life which has been well lived and people in the family dying in the natural order. It reminds us of how important it is to live.

8. Memory boxes are a good way of honouring a dead person, keeping memories safe and a place to revisit when they think about their loved one.





“Can we go swimming now?” asks Sonny, my five-year-old. We have just left the aquarium.

“Yes,” I say immediately.

Sonny looks at me surprised, it’s not an outright no, or even a hmm maybe, or a snappish only if you eat your lunch.

“Can I choose to do what I like today?” he beams broadly.

By the time we get back from the aquarium, to collect our swimmers, he’s gone off the boil and wants to watch Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, with the sofa bed pulled out in the lounge. I don’t try and persuade him that the exercise would be good for him, or groan about Star Wars, or moan about the hassle of converting the sofa. I break a longstanding habit of sitting down with him, rather than parking him while I get on with some jobs.

Sonny enthralled by sharks

Sonny enthralled by sharks

Sonny can’t believe that his mother is being so accommodating. He gives me a couple of Lego Star Wars figures to play with and keeps up a continual Q&A throughout the film to test my knowledge and my attention. Actually this continues all evening.

A friend told me about Lovebombing a few months ago but I hadn’t taken it any further until the opportunity presented itself for two days, indiluted, at home with Sonny.

A concept created by Oliver James, author of Affluenza and They F*** You Up, it resets your child’s emotional thermostat by showering them with love and attention. Some of the case studies in the book have quite profound problems – insecurity, violent tantrums – but all of the kids seemed to benefit in a short space of time.

Most people would say Sonny is fine: he has lots of friends and is usually confident and chirpy. But sometimes he can’t control his anger and gets unreasonably upset over small things. Recently, Meribel said something which hurt his feelings and he tried to leave home. If you tell him off, he’s prone to slide into self-loathing: “just put me in the bin.” He’s uncomfortable when it comes to performing, awkward about eating and, it pains me to say it, our relationship has its difficulties.

I had a difficult pregnancy with Sonny, a really easy birth, but then he screamed for weeks and I slid into post-natal depression. I found it almost impossible to cope with a baby who cried for 75 per cent of his waking hours, and a two-year-old who was miffed at not getting my undivided attention. There were other reasons why that was a hard period of my life, but basically I think my relationship with Sonny and more specifcally, Sonny, has suffered because of that time.

Five years on, we have fallen into a pattern of me doing things with Meribel (I’m better at ponies) and Mark doing things with Sonny (he’s better at Lego and Wii). This is fine, except I am the main care giver. Especially in the holidays, Meribel, Sonny and me spend a lot of time together and I can see that Meribel is better at getting her items on the agenda and I think Sonny feels like second fiddle.

Witnessing the terrible relationship between my mum and brother, I realise that I need to put things right now. According to James, up until their early teens, kids’ brains are really malleable, so it’s easy to reset their feelings and boost their self esteem. If there is one thing I would like my kids to have, over and above everything else, it’s high self esteem.

Mine and Sonny’s wasn’t a purist Lovebombing as, at that point, I hadn’t read the book and was working from my friend’s summary. Basically, you set some parameters: when and how long it is going to be and then you let them decide how and where the time will be spent. Some fantastical ideas need to be managed, but generally the whole idea is to put them in control and make them feeling bathed in love.

Caimans and mantarays

Caimans and mantarays

As the opportunity came up at last minute – when Meribel decided to accompany Mark to visit his dad who is very sick -  I hadn’t had had the chance to clear the diary or prepare him for it, choose a name or work on the itinerary. And I didn’t know you were supposed to sleep in the same bed.

What I did do was be as focussed on him as possible. I turned down invitations for stuff that was more appealing for me than him, didn’t drag him up to do the pony and although I did direct his choices slightly when his initial ideas were more of the same, it was only to open him up to more choices, which he embraced enthusiastically.

So, what did we do? We went to the cranio osteopath, which had been booked in for ages. Sonny likes the cranio (it’s her that stopped him crying when he was a baby, by getting rid of his headache) and I read to him while he was having it done.

In the afternoon, I had promised to take my mum, who was recovering from a breast cancer op and shingles, shopping. Instead of dragging Sonny around my choice of shops, we bought his school shoes. The ones he wanted (because they have toys in them) even though the lady in the shop said they were the wrong fit and didn’t want to sell them to us.

We also bought ice lolly makers, which he has been asking me for for ages. Then we went for a coffee/babycino before going home to watch Star Wars, with pizza, on the sofa bed. Before bed, we looked up a karate class that he could join, as he’s been asking for a while and I’ve been saying yes without doing anything about it.

The following day was when we did the aquarium and more Star Wars. I had a headache after so much indoor activity and Han Solo and had to go to bed at the same time as Sonny. Which was a bit weird, as Meribel was still out at a gig with Mark (on their way home from the grandparents) and wasn’t expected home for several hours.

So did it work? In so many ways, yes. I think the fact that Sonny clicked that he could make the choices, without me telling him that was the aim, showed he did feel a sense of control. I think he finally felt heard. Spending time with him on his interests was stepping outside of my comfort zone (not good at Lego and just don’t get Star Wars), but gave him some validation.

I have since read the book and it has made me reflect on my parenting. I realise that a lot of the time I parent sub-consciously. I think I’m doing an all right job, because I keep them safe, listen to them read, make them eat fruit, facilitate entertainment and get their friends around to play. But there are a few basics that I’m completely missing.

Lots of times I say no, for no good reason, or turn each request into a negotiation. (You can only go swimming if you eat up your lunch.) I try not to shout, but sometimes it happens and I realise how crushing this is for him. I don’t favour Meribel, but I do favour her interests and I realise now that, to Sonny, that seems like I’m favouring her. I know now that sometimes I just have to make the time for a light sabre fight, rather than sorting out the washing.

Meribel and Mark also had a fantastic time and came back full of enthusiasm for each other. This is great too, as sometimes Meribel was a bit cheeky to him and he was a bit irritable with her.

Going forward, we’re changing things so it’s not always “the girls” and “the boys”. I will read Sonny his Star Wars bed time story (again), while Mark gets to read Harry Potter to Meribel. We’re bigging up his impending karate class and went to the library to find some books on it. This time I didn’t even try to direct him to the stories, but went straight to the factual books, which he prefers. We came home with a few that I find palatable as well.

On a daily basis, I’m going to give him as much control as is practical. I’m not going to do reward/punishment parenting or enter into pointless negotiations. I don’t ever want to shout at him again and I’m hoping that by following these steps I’m never provoked into it.


Five months later, I’ve revisited this post and I’ve been struck at how well Sonny has come on in this time. It would be easy to put this down to him having matured a bit, but I like to think that Lovebombing, and some of the awareness it created with our parenting, made a difference as well.

I have one glaring example of how he has benefited. I mentioned in the post that he hated performing. In fact that post was written shortly after his school learning assembly and I was secretly upset that he was the only one in the class who hadn’t been given a speaking part.

Each autumn St Austell has a Speech and Music Festival and children from our school have to audition for it. It’s generally the same old faces: those who will speak loudly and always get picked for speaking roles in the nativity.

Sonny learned the poem, but didn’t get picked by the school. Surprisingly, he asked me to enter him individually, which I did, thinking that he would probably forget about it and we’d end up not going. We practised occasionally, but not that much. Meribel practised hers a lot more.

Even the week of the festival I was unsure about whether Sonny would enter, as he seemed to have gone off the boil. But, after watching Meribel coming second with hers, he knew he would get fuss made of him, he knew where he had to stand and he obviously decided he would give it a go.

I felt extremely nervous the morning of the competition. Sonny is a bit of a loose cannon and I felt his performance could go either way. One little boy got up on stage, looked at the audience, said no and ran off. I thought there was a chance Sonny might do that too: it’s intimidating and they’re only little. Instead, he strode confidently up the steps and marched right to the front of the stage, right in the judges face. In fact, his toes were almost over the edge and he was asked to move back a bit.

He put in a blinding performance: loud and clear, expressive, fluent and no fidgeting. I knew the result would be based on the judges personal preference, but I felt he had done himself proud.

At the end she called about 10 of the children back to the stage and started handing out certificates (lots get second and third), time went on and he hadn’t been given one, Mark and I glanced at each other. He hadn’t won, had he? He bloody had! Seeing him get that trophy was one of the best moments of my life and certainly of 2013.

Walking though town after we bumped into the teacher who hadn’t given him a line in the assembly (I do really like her, by the way), she asked how he got on and he proudly produced his trophy.

What’s great about this is, because he wasn’t chosen he’s been given more fuss and attention by the school. He’s shown them what he can do. Good job, Sonny.





Swimming in the sea. Without a wetsuit!


My kids (aged five and seven) don’t know what a hot summer is like, so this heatwave is extra exciting.

I moved back to Cornwall 10 years ago – after feeling stranded inland for way too long – so I could go to the beach after work. Rarely has this happened, either because of lack of time or lack of weather.

Standard beach trips usually mean taking several layers of clothing and a windbreak. We don’t ever admit it, but often it’s not even pleasant. It’s simply a case of toughing it out as either the wind picks up, a massive cloud obscures the sun, a sea fret rolls in or it starts to rain. Swimming without a wetsuit is unheard of.

Now we’ve got a Med-style climate I can’t bear being inside working. Neither do I want to waste time food shopping, cooking, or doing housework, supervising the kids’ homework or taking them to any of their clubs. Even riding the pony is less appealing than jumping in the sea, which is no longer so cold that it takes your breath away.

All I want to do is beach and mentally I’m giving myself weekly targets. Last week I swam four times in the sea. Good. So far this week none, but after today there is nothing stopping me, so please, please, please hang around sun.


Daytrip to Legoland

“Muuuum, I really don’t like this,” screamed Meribel as, already drenched, she got squirted with more water on the Vikings’ River Splash, while her parents laughed maniacally.

“I WANT TO GET OFF!!” added Sonny, standing up and looking for an exit, which wasn’t available, since we were in one of those round things which bounce down the rapids, rebounding off the sides and soaking you periodically.

Since it was the hottest day in about 10 years, getting drenched was what we needed. Usually the British climate doesn’t accommodate such water ride indulgence, but despite getting properly wet, we dried off in minutes.


The rapids made us smile


Our kids found it a little hard core, they preferred the more sedate Fairy Brook, a gentle meander down a river, looking at giant fairy tale characters made out of lego.

Starter coaster, Sky Rider and the submarine adventure, Atlantis, had to be done a couple of times and the Star Wars exhibition, Driving School and the 4D theatre showing the new Chima film, enhanced with snow and fire, were also favourites.


The Aero Nomad was more Meribel’s style. This guy lives there.

The last time we went to Legoland, we had a great time but I did come away feeling like I had spent much of the day queueing. Which is incredibly boring no matter how positive you try to be about it.

So this time, since we had saved so many coupons and special offers three of the four of us got in for free, we treated ourselves to the Q-Bot. We went for the cheapest option, which was £60 for the four of us and added instant access to the first ride for an extra £1 each.

The Q-Bot regular, doesn’t allow you to queue jump, but it does mean that as soon as you get onto a ride you can cue up the next one, get there for a given time and go in a separate entrance so you don’t have to queue. In effect you book your slot. The waits gave us chance to hang out in the shade, have a drink or something to eat, go to the toilet, visit the shop or stroll around enjoying the amazing lego constructions.


Sonny was a bit worried about Chewy pointing the gun at his head

It’s a fantastic, memorable day out for small children, up to the age of about nine. Or older if they’re lego loving and not the white knuckle type, like mine. We’re already planning the next trip.

The expectations were so high that I was braced for disappointment, but luckily, other than the blip on the rapids, it was a great day for all four of us.



Tickets: There are so many offers for Legoland, on food packets and Tesco clubcard, that you don’t have to pay full whack. So get that sorted before you go. If you have a pre-paid ticket with a bar code, you can walk past the queues and straight up to the turnstile, scan the ticket yourself and you’re in.

Queueing: If you’re on a peak day, a Q-Bot undoubtedly enhances the experience. The Q-Bot Express, which costs £30 per person, cuts the queue time in half and Q-Bot Ultimate allows instant access to any of the rides, but is a whopping £70 per person. We were perfectly happy with the Q-Bot Regular for £15 per person.

If a Q-Bot is pushing the budget too hard, the rides which appeal to young children, such as in the Land of the Pharoahs, tend to have short queues. Also the pirate show, the puppet show in Miniland and the 4D theatre are good places to get quick access.

Shop: It’s not cheap tat, there is serious lego on offer here. Luckily the kids had saved their pocket money for months as there are a lot of high ticket items. They were delighted with their purchases and are enjoying playing with them now we are home.


Food: There is loads of choice of food, no shortage of takeaways and several sit down places. For me it wasn’t particularly tempting, but I am atypical as don’t eat meat and don’t really like junk food. Taking a picnic saved a lot of money, but did mean we had to cart it round with us. The Duplo family restaurant offers a very reasonable all you can eat buffet for £11 for adults and kids eat free after 3pm.

Take your swimmers: Or at least get the kids to take theirs. New for this year there’s a splash and play experience, in Miniland, for them to cool off.







Chic at Eden Sessions


La freak c’est Chic

Grooving to seventies dance classics wearing a Barbour coat and wellies. It must either be a county show or an outdoor gig.

It was, in fact, the Eden Sessions and I was witnessing a true legend in action: Chic, featuring Nile Rogers. Despite the inclement weather, I felt like I should have made the effort and found something glittery to wear, fitting for a bit of 70s New York disco.

Despite being diminutive in size, Rogers’ charisma lit up the venue. His huge smile and obvious enjoyment created an immediate feelgood vibe. He made it clear at the start that he wrote every song which would be played. I’m glad he cleared that up, as I had no idea he wrote Let’s Dance, or He’s the Greatest Dancer, which transported me back 20 years to my student bedroom, getting ready to go out and drinking cheap Bulgarian wine with my best friends. Aaah, thanks for the nostalgia trip Niles.

Chic featuring Nile Rogers. I loved the singer on the left.

The XX were headlining. I like The XX but they were no follow up for Niles and his band of ageing, sassy funksters. Chic found the small window of sunshine in a miserable day, but for The XX it started to drizzle again.

After the demise of the mighty Cornwall Colisseum, which was a guaranteed tour stop off back in the day, Cornwall became a graveyard for live music. It was one of the obstacles against dragging my gig loving husband to live in Cornwall. So when Eden started the Sessions, back in 2001, it was most exciting. Especially as the first year included Doves, Pulp and Spiritualized. We’ve since seen some of our favourite bands there: Muse (who made the ground shake), Kaiser Chiefs, The Raconteurs, Badly Drawn Boy….

With a capacity of just 6,000, Eden is an intimate venue. It means that you can see the whites of the bands eyes without getting crushed. And there are some nice touches: cooking paella outdoors, the biomes lit up, pasties at the end after a long walk to the top. The pints of Pimms, although sadly they didn’t seem to be offering them this year.

The lit up biomes add to the atmosphere

The lit up biomes add to the atmosphere. Thanks for the pic Sarah Hugo

According to Eden, 96 per cent of their guests think there is something special about watching live music at Eden. With many of the directors, including Tim Smit, being ex-music industry they know what they are doing and they invest in the best sound and lighting. The pit acts as an amphitheatre and the gardens are a beautiful setting, with the biomes multi-coloured at night. Eden also works with The Sensory Trust to ensure the Sessions are as accessible as possible. They always feel smooth running and safe, with a friendly atmosphere: I remember at an Ian Brown gig someone asked if I could see. If anyone ever dares to stand in the flower beds they are instantly booed.

Although the Sessions have boosted the local gig scene, they also pull in a lot of punters who combine seeing one of their fave bands with a trip to Cornwall. If you fancy it next year you can find out the line up by signing up to the newsletter on Eden website or follow them on twitter @TheEdenSessions.


Top Tips for the Eden Sessions

You have to buy tokens for drinks. It’s best to buy these when you show your ticket to get in. You can top up down by the stage, but sometimes the queue can be a hassle.

Even if it’s raining don’t be tempted to buy an umbrella, as it will be confiscated.

It’s OK to bring a picnic – but no alcohol. However you can’t sit on your blanket all evening to watch the gig.


Where to stay

The Cornwall: Handily placed for Eden, a hotel stay which will feel like a treat, with the option of self catering accommodation too.

Watergate Bay Hotel: It’s a 30 minute drive, but you are rewarded with a fantastic hotel in a glorious setting, right on the beach. Self-catering accommodation is also on offer:

Lower Barns: This boutique B&B, just outside St Austell, offers a great experience, with treatments and dinner on offer at reasonable prices.

Antonia’s Pearl’s: for tasteful holiday cottages in the nearby harbour village of Charlestown.

If you just want a bed for the night, there is a Premier Inn at Carclaze, a couple of miles from Eden.

Innis campsite: The cheapest place to stay within walking distance of Eden: