Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Our Girly Weekend!

As a briefly mentioned in my last post-cum-rant, this Sunday we ventured to deepest London for a bit of a jolly!

Having made a sensible decision to leave boychild at home with Daddy we set off on our arduous journey via coach from Manchester at a scary 6:45am. Armed with a huge bag of snacks, lots of little squeaky rattly toys and a brave heart I kept everything crossed that the 5 hour trip would not be too fraught. My angel baby was a star and spent most of the journey asleep on my chest, making it nigh on impossible to read my girly magazine but hey I'm not complaining.

We arrived and I hit the tube station like a true pro, armed with my oyster card and marching along to the correct platform, dutifully keeping right on the escalator. I would have passed for a true cockerny if it wasn't for the giant rucksack on my back and the fact I forgot to take my shades off on the underground.

We finally hit the place to be, Conway Hall and its much anticipated Summer Sling Show, to shamelessly quote from someone else's musings, it was like a parallel universe where wearing your baby is the norm. Heaven. If it hadn't been so hot that is.

Dazzled by the array of beautiful things to buy on the many stalls I stumbled back outside to recline in the shade of the leafy square outside, where I met some old friends for the first time. If you use forums you will kn0w what I mean; it is so lovely to just slip into a conversation with somebody who you have known for such a long time but have never seen face to face. There were lots of cute children, gurgling babies, pregnant bumps of varying sizes and a fetching array of crocs too. I could have stayed all day but soon enough the show was coming to an end so it was time to head off- not before I purchased a delicious leafy green wrap (a Hoppediz Lima) for a bargain £40.

So we all headed for the tube, meanwhile helping one of the littlies, Eden, conquer her fear of the dreaded escalator. Wow it was hot down there- the effects of the ice cold caramel frappuccino consumed en route had long worn off.

I soon parted company with my fluffy friends and began my search for our hotel. I was ready to escape the heat by this point and was so pleased when the sanctuary of our little room beckoned. Alas, we opened the door to a blaze of heat, so warm that I had to double check the radiator to make sure they hadn't left the central heating on! Never mind we had a little plug in fan, and erm, a window that opened a couple of inches. Well I wasn't expecting the Ritz what with it being Travelodge but I would have hoped for a teensy bit of air con!

There was only one thing for it- I ran a cold bath and the three of us dived in! If it wasn't for our rumbling tummies we could have stayed in it all night! So we got dressed and dried, Amy neatly hanging her things in the closet, me chucking my stuff in a heap in the corner, I was too hot to care about creases.

Half an hour later we were in Regents Park lounging by the boating lake, whilst Amy practised her handstands, then Trafalgar Square posing for photos, then taking a seat in our prebooked (read: stick a pin in a website) pan-asian restaurant, which was tres posh, but good value and had an Amy-friendly set menu. I had tempura veg followed by a gorgeous thai green chicken curry with coconut rice whilst Amy had sticky BBQ ribs then teryaki salmon, eaten obligingly with chopsticks (mostly). They were very accommodating considering they weren't really set up for families. There was no high chair but I improvised with my shiny new wrap!

We walked off our meal via Covent Garden where we watched a great street artist (although the balloon swallowing was slightly scary!), Eleanor loved it and was grinning at all the people around us and clapping hands at the right moments. She is well trained for 9 months. We hunted to no avail for a nice ice cream shop on the way home then got back to our room which we hoped had become cooler by dusk. Sadly it wasn't to be! One cold bath later the kids were fast asleep on the admittedly very comfy double bed. I was also soon in the land of nod to the hum of the pedestal fan.

The next morning I was up with the cockney sparrows, showered and dressed before the girls stirred. We enjoyed a nice breakfast- still too hot for a full english and sadly lacking in proper coffee- then chucked our things back in the bags and set off for the piece de la resistance of our trip...Hamley's toy shop! We watched lots of very well rehearsed sales pitches for some wonderful but expensive toys, Amy was particularly taken by a foil sticker set at £19.99 but knew she hadn't brought enough pocket money for it, and she happily accepted this fact without pestering for a loan as I had expected! Result! She eventually settled for a pair of Hamley's brand bootees for Baby Annabell and a Sticky Mitt ball game. She even bought candy canes for everyone back home!

So onwards, with a quick stop off at Regent Street Boots where I had hoped to use my advantage points to treat myself to an outrageously expensive Chanel lip gloss, sadly they didn't have a Chanel concession- harumph they do in chavvy old Manchester! I settled for a can of cooling water spray which proved extra useful throughout the day- more so than the lip gloss would've been I'll wager. Humming Abba tunes to myself we arrived at Waterloo and moseyed over to the London Eye which wowed us, what a feat of engineering! I wish we could have afforded to go on but my sling stash is clearly much more important. Speaking of which, my new Lima Hopp was proving to be a gorgeous investment, so comfy!

Amy had a little play in the park next door before I explained that we would go for a walk along the Thames and maybe cross the river to find somewhere for lunch. Only Amy decided there and then that she was scared of bridges and that it was her holiday and so I couldn't make her go! The psycho-analyst in me saw straight through her faux-phobia which seemed to me to mirror Eden's genuine worry from yesterday. However it wasn't so much the whinge that got me it was the finger wiggling indignation and the "you can't make me" attitude. I called her bluff and said that we would have to go straight to Euston then as all the fun stuff was the other side of the water, but she called mine right back with a "fine then".

I rolled my eyes and strolled while wondering what to do next. I loved being in London, walking by the Thames, seeing the Houses of Parliament and St Paul's, I found it hard to be mad. I was just mad however at missing the "This Morning" riverside broadcast. I had been hoping to throw eggs at Ruth and Eammon, ah well. I gave a consolatory wave at the one-way glass just in case they were filming a piece to camera for the next show. We stood and watched the sand sculptors on the South Bank then crossed at Blackfriars bridge, Amy strangely forgetting her mysterious phobia.

Next on the agenda was Kensington High Street. I thought I would see how easily I could mingle with the hoi polloi in my Primark gear. I failed miserably, I think it was beacause my nursing bra was showing over the neckline of my overstretched tshirt. Or the fact I didn't have my Chanel lip gloss on maybe. Admitting defeat, there was only one obvious choice for lunch: McDonalds. McHappymealed up we shunned Harrods and chose instead to walk to Kensington Gardens via the breathtaking Church Walk and the beautiful St Mary's church. We found an optimum spot in the park, under a tree by the drinking fountain, and let our heavy bags go. Eleanor enjoyed being unwrapped for a while and took great pleasure in waving her little shoes around (remind me again why I bothered to bring baby toys?). Amy and I chortled at the Sloane Rangers walking their little poodles in their six-inch heels, watched some big kids have a giant water fight and joined in with a mini one of our own, and played catch with her new toy, which I have to say somewhat burst the "Hamley's- finest toys in the world" bubble after the little ball fell to pieces during the game.

Not to be disheartened, we reapplied the factor 50 and pressed on to the other side of the park for the spectacular Princess Diana Memorial Playground aka the Big Wooden Sandy Pirate Ship. Eleanor was flat out by this time, as was my poor mobile phone and its built in camera (curse you battery draining bejewelled game!). Amy played, I skulked under a shady bush with my feet in the hot sand and dreamed of the Caribbean and Johnny Depp.

We had a couple of hours before our train home was due out of Euston and I realised that in our rush to get to Hamley's for opening time I had forgotten to go to the FastTicket machine at Marylebone Station by the hotel, a plan that in my wisdom was put in place to avoid any last minute flapping about. Hm. After a bizzare dispute with the ticket officer about why my Oyster appeared to be out of credit despite me putting on an initial £10 in order to cover 2 x daily travel passes at £4.80 per day, and his requirement that I top up by 80p in order to get a cap applied, I hopped yet again on the sweatbucket of a tube all the way back to the station that had been our first port of call that morning. Tickets painlessly printed, I asked at information about how to get from there to Euston via another route but the tube which would have meant travelling southwards on the Bakerloo line to change at Charing Cross for the Northern line, bringing us back to the north side of the city (see I know it off by heart now!).

Upon the gentleman's advice that it was a mere twelve minute stroll from Marylebone, we trotted in the direction of Euston. Twenty minutes later we were barely halfway there, shattered, hot and blistery of feet. We spotted a bus stop and eagerly checked the timetable- yes a bus would be along any moment! Our dreams of arriving in comfort were soon crushed though- the blimmin Oyster card didn't work again (no idea where my cap went!). Poor Amy was nearly falling asleep as we continued to walk, until I decided to abandon my grudge against TfL and its unfathomable ticketing, feeding the next bus ticket machine my last two pounds cash and hopping aboard the first bendy bus.

On the journey home aboard the relative luxury of a Virgin Pendolino, we munched on M&S junk food for our tea: pain au chocolat, watermelon, poppadoms, pasta salad and cheese, and reflected on a really lovely couple of days. We had seen lots of sights, made good friends, bought some nice things and had lots laughs together.

Still I couldn't wait to get home to my own lumpy mattress and my lovely guys at home, to the cooler, Pennine sheltered air and water that doesn't make your hair go all scratchy.

And I am off to Boots on Market Street tomorrow for that lip gloss.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The award for non-customer service goes to...

Virgin Trains!

What silly people they have in their email response department. I'll explain.

Timetable in hand, I decide to check out the cost for me, girly and baby to go to London for the Summer Sling Show and a bit of a jolly. As it is reasonably affordable with a railcard I decided to book a cheap room for us so we can spend a little free time there on Monday too. But yesterday I attempt to actually book pay for the train and the 0844 from Manchester to Euston has vanished! In fact all the direct trains for the whole weekend have gone! More annoyingly, there are no service disruption announcements on any of the train websites. I hear on the grapevine talk of strikes. So I emailed asking sbout the missing services. 5 emails later (asking me to clarify this and that, one nugget of information at a time) I receive this fantastic reply:

Thank you for writing back to us.

I am sorry to know that the available train service is not up to your satisfaction.

However, the train service at 0844 is not available due to some reasons. No direct train is available for your journey.

The train which does not passes through Sheffield departs Manchester Piccadilly at 0953 and will arrive London Euston at 1436 hours.

If you wish to reach London Euston before 1200 PM and do not wish to go via Sheffield, you may board the train at 2100 hours on 26th June, 2008. However, this route is not convenient for you with two children as it covers foot and tube journey also.

For further details about 0844 train service, please contact the customer relations team of CrossCountry at 0870 010 0084, as the day to day operations related to trains and station are handled by Train Operating company.

If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate in contacting us.

Kind regards,

22/07/2008 07:27 PM
Why is there no direct train? As I previously mentioned due to my deaf child and small baby I cannot transfer trains. The sheffield train is too slow and would make us late for the event we are booked to attend. I will now have to cancel my holiday. Will Virgin pay me my out of pocket expenses for my non-refundable hotel booking and my event ticket? I am not happy! What is the reason the service isn't running as per the timetable?

So they suggest I travel overnight and hang out at train stations until dawn? Well at least the time will pass quickly as there are three changes on that route. Genius.

You know, if from the beginning they had just said, Really sorry but there is a strike on, it's out of our control, that would have been acceptable. But the rubbish they are coming out with is frustrating beyond belief!

Looks like I will have to hitchhike if I am still going to go, else get the bus. Sigh.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

OK so I finally succumbed

...and bought meself my very first pair of crocs! I was firmly on the "ugh they are ugly" side of the fence for a long time but I bought some primark specials (ie copies at £4) a couple of months ago and had to admit they were quite comfy. But of course I said to myself I would just wear them around the house. Oh ok maybe out and about when in my scruffs. And go on then I would put them with jeans and a flowery top for the casual without trying too hard look. And I guess at work no-one would see them under my desk, so they'd do if I was in a hurry.

Anyway today I promised my step daughter a little trip to the shops to get her some bits for summer for our house. We braved Primark and got her a few nice clothes, some essentials and some shoes, and a few things fell into my basket from the ladieswear section by accident. I was smitten by a retro looking mac in teal with a little print all over, only I couldn't try it on as I had Eleanor wrapped. Sadly it is going back as it makes me look like Jeff Capes in drag. They had some lovely little dainty ballet pumps at £4 a pair, and I couldn't choose, so bought three colours! I got some other bits too and I am very pleased to announce that I am officially a 14 waist again (we won't talk about the top half).

I have also come to the realisation that my gorgeous sandals are ready for the bin and had decided to buy some replacements from a proper shop, ie not Primark. I tried on loads in Clarks but couldn't get away from the Hush Puppy look which although comfy isn't really me. The trendy shops like Faith were no good for me either as their ranges are either wafer thin on the sole or huge and wedgy, neither of which is much good for babywearing. I moved swiftly past the Birkies with a little sniff, because I can't wear them due to tres dodgy alien like toes.

So I was about to throw in the towel as we had traipsed round Manchester all day with THREE full primark bags, but I thought I should pop in Next to see if they had any baby socks. I cringed as I went through the doors as I realised today was 5am Summer Sale Madness in there, but resolved to march head first straight to the baby department. Well ok, I suppose I could have a quick glance at the shoes...

And there they were. Winking at my tired feet across the crowded store. Genuine Maryjane style crocs in grape. Comfort? Check. Trendy-ish? Check. Non-old-lady style? Check. Colour not boring black? Check. Adaptable to many outfits? Check. Price? £15- you betcha! Check, check, checkout!

So yes, I who guffawed at those plastic clog footed, am now the proud owner of a genuine pair. And the new slippers I bought in Primark? Still in the bag!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Posh Beans on Toast

Thought I would post a recipe that I put together. Lovely as a lunch, or use as a chunky pasta sauce. It would also go nicely as a side for meat or fish. Good for BLW as it is chunky! The beans are fiddly but fun to do and the rest only takes 5 minutes.

Posh Beans on Toast (serves 2)

10 pods of broadbeans (approx)
1 slice of bacon, chopped or 1/2 tub pancetta cubes
1/2 an onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 a courgette, sliced
4 med-large tomatoes
4 slices of buttered toast to serve

1. Remove the broadbeans from their pods (or get the kids to do it!). Cook beans in boiling water for 4 minutes then drain and cool in a bowl of cold water. When cold, pop the skins off each bean to reveal the bright green beans inside. Discard the skin. This can be done in advance.

2. Heat a little oil in a frying pan to a high heat then fry the bacon/pancetta pieces until crispy. Turn the pan down to medium.

3. Add the onion, garlic, courgettes and broadbeans to the pan and cook for 2 minutes.

4. Roughly chop the tomatoes into chunks and add to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes until tomatoes have softened and released their juices, ie the mixture is quite wet and saucy. Check seasoning, I like a good bit of pepper but salt is usually not needed because of the bacon.

5. Spoon over the toast and enjoy!

I am sure it would be just as lovely with the bacon left out, or bulked up with more courgette to go further for example.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

A tough day as a nursing mum

Yesterday was a day that I have been dreading for some time: my first real day back at work. I'd already been in for a few meetings and things but this was the real thing! The gods of good timing were fortunately shining upon us as it just so happened to be sports day, so my newly appointed stay-at-home-husband would be able to hang out in the vicinity for the morning, watching the two middle squidges skipping, jumping and running. I was hoping I could just take my breaks at breastfeeding time instead of over lunch, and just sit on the sidelines of the sports day with all the other parents. But it did make me wonder about how this would go down.

I was worried that others might view my nursing as a nuisance. That the children in the playground should be protected against seeing something so vile and disgusting as feeding a baby when it is hungry. True, may of the children in our great city have never seen a bare breast except for the ones in page three of Daddy or Grandad's newspaper. They may have grown up in families thinking that breastfeeding is something exclusive to wierd hippys with no sense of the modern world with it's "conveniences" like powdered cows milk and nice silicone and plastic bottles (which of course have to be carefully sterilised). But I feel like this: Yes of course formula has its place, but shouldn't we be teaching our children that nursing our babies with what god provided us with is the norm?

I so want to continue feeding for as long as possible despite me working, as I truly believe that every drop of the stuff counts. Colleagues have tried to reassure me that she will be ok on formula as it is more or less the same, just as good etc, but the fact is it is not. Formula might make their little tummies equally full but it does not protect against bugs, help digestion and growth by tailoring the nutrients in each feed, combat athsma and excema, reduce the risk of SIDS, help guard mum against breast and ovarian cancers, and baby against obesity and high cholesterol in later life, heck it is not even free nor is it on tap at the right temperature as and when required!

I was so happy a few weeks ago when a foreign-tongued lady, Russian I think, guided her two toddlers over to me in the health centre waiting room, so they could look at the baby nursing. It would make my day if the same thing happened in the school playground.

(P.S. When I googled "benefits of breastmilk" two of the top links were from the pages of Aptimil and Cow and Gate making a vain attempt at comparing artificial milk to the real thing. Is it any wonder the UK has hangups?)