Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to Raymond Blanc’s beautiful Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire. I’ve wanted to visit for ages, so I was beside myself with excitement. As I drove up, I dithered outside the front gate in my car, not really knowing what to do, and instantly, a friendly gentleman in an immaculate suit rushed out to help, escorting me to the reception and driving my car off to park it for me. First impressions? Pretty darned good.
What have you got planned this autumn? It’s the perfect time to get out and about, I always think – crunching through piles of golden leaves and wrapping up, getting out and discovering new places, all looking beautiful in their glowy autumn colours. To give you a bit of inspiration, I’ve teamed up with English Heritage to give two lucky winners a fabulous 12 month English Heritage family membership.
As a family, we’re pretty divided when it comes to phones. Mr English is a sworn iPhone devotee. The rest of us are mad on Samsung. At the moment, Charlie and Sam both have a Galaxy S4, and I’ve got an S3 (I did have an S4 too, but then Sam dropped his in the sea on a Biology field trip and he was so gutted I gave him mine – motherly love eh?).
We’ve tested a few cars in the past, most notably the Honda CR-V that we drove around France, and really love doing it (basically, a lovely man appears on your doorstep with a brand new car and gives you the keys, leaving the car with you for a week – what’s not to love?). This time, Honda asked if we’d like to try their new Civic Tourer 1.8 i-VTEC SR manual and, being a big car loving family, we jumped at the chance…
So recently I got invited to a very swish private screening of the third series of Sky Living’s drama, Scandal. If you’re not already hooked (bet you are), it stars the gorgeous Kerry Washington (who we all remember most as the blind lady who dated The Thing in the Fantastic Four, but who was also amazing in Django Unchained), as White House fixer Olivia Pope. It’s full of intrigue, secrets and cover-ups and is seriously good.
So how did the evening pan out? I’m not sure you’ll believe it…
We’re lucky enough to live about a half hour train ride outside of London. I visit the capital quite a lot and during the summer months the big tourist attractions like the London Eye, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace are obviously the perfect places to visit. But what if you want to strike out and see a bit more while you’re visiting, take advantage of easy car hire in London with Avis, or head off on the train? Here are my top five places just outside of London that are perfect for a day trip:
August is when festival season really kicks in in Edinburgh. The city is suddenly filled with thousands of street performers and you’ll be lucky to walk more than a few steps without someone enthusiastically pressing a flyer into your hand. The mass influx of performers and punters means the city is alive with an electric buzz.
So we started January 2013 with a bit of excitement after my Dad’s Christmas Day proposal to his partner (by the way, the Dodgy Centre of Gravity reared its ugly head again after our cheese and wine tasting night when he’d had a few too many and fell over putting his shoes on at the end of the night).
In February, I travelled down to beautiful Blagdon to meet up with my Yeo Valley chums and have a nosey around their wonderful new HQ, and went on the adventure of a lifetime with my five bestest chums when we sailed the Caribbean on the frankly fantastic Liberty of the Seas (we’re Royal Mums, ambassadors for the Royal Caribbean brand and we take our job VERY seriously). As you know, I’m big on spending your time and money enjoying experiences that you can cherish, rather than stuff, and this was right up there, believe me. I came back with aching ribs from all the laughing (the horse riding through the surf in Jamaica might have added to that a bit, but oh, riding through an azure sea is one of my most treasured memories). I also felt incredibly lucky to have shared an incredible experience with such incredible friends. I love you guys.
April saw birthdays galore. Charlie turned 15:
And Sam celebrated his 18th with karting, a party at home and a pretty epic double chocolate curly wurly cake…
Then there was my Disreputable Dad’s wedding…
In May, I headed out to the Cote d’Azur to experience the gorgeous Chateau Saint Martin in Vence:
July was beautifully sunny and we spent a wonderful day aboard the Independence of the Seas. The boys adored the FlowRider and it was lovely to meet up with all my besties and their families:
I also spent a lovely weekend with my friend Erica doing an amazing foodie tour of Edinburgh. Foodinburgh 2014 is already in the early planning stages!
August was MENTAL with nearly three weeks of it spent abroad, in beautiful Brittany…
and then with the boys on the INCREDIBLE Disney Magic – a real trip of a lifetime:
We even managed to squeeze in a day in Barcelona with wonderful friends after desembarking:
In September, Mr English and I squeezed in a quick weekend at Nutfield Priory…
and then in October, we headed off on an immersive wine cruise of Europe on the really quite gorgeous Celebrity Infinity…
and then all that travelling squealed to an abrupt halt. Because this little dude came along…
In November, Glam C and I went to Hogwarts Christmas at the Warner Bros Studio Tour:
and before we knew it, it was freezing, wet December then… bloody January again! (to quote Flanders and Swann). We had a wonderful Christmas lunch at the Chequers Inn at Weston Turville: a seven course Christmas extravaganza with some amazing wine that really was festive, fun and very relaxing. My favourite course was this stonking turbot with a huge crevette:
So here’s to 2014. What’s on the agenda for this year, then? More travel, certainly, more time spent with family and friends, loads of exams for the boys, more eating, more cooking, more relaxing, walking in the woods with our gorgeous new pupster and… who knows? My wishlist still includes Las Vegas (Britney, b*tch!), Australia and Thailand.
Thank you to each and every person who has stopped by to have a read, followed me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, or just blundered here via Google. I’m immensely grateful. Wishing you a very happy and restful New Year. May 2014 bring you peace, happiness and new experiences galore xx
So this week I took my lovely friend Glam C to the sneak preview of the brand new Hogwarts at Christmas event at The Warner Bros Studio Tour just near me at the Leavesden Studios.
As you know, I’ve visited the tour before (click here for my top ten tips for visiting the tour) but this time was extra special as everything has been decorated for Christmas.
I’m not going to give you too many spoilers, but Hogwarts in the snow is breathtaking, especially with the time lapse day to night lighting. Look for the teeny footprints. NOT flattering taking pictures lit from behind but hey ho…
Ooh, and we bumped into Amanda Holden too (rubbish photo – it was a bit dark), who is lovely.
Originally Friday 15th November to Monday 6th January 2014, Hogwarts in the Snow has now been extended due to popular demand and runs until 12th January. Warner Bros tell me they’re nearly sold out so if you want to go, BOOK NOW!
On our recent trip to The Grove Hotel, we’d arranged a visit to the Warner Bros Studio Tour - The Making of Harry Potter at Leavesden Studios. The tour, based in the studios originally used to film the series, has some absolutely amazing things to see and do – loads of props and costumes, sneaky peeks behind the scenes and much more. It’s a difficult one to review as I’m conscious that I don’t want to spoil it for you if you’re planning a visit yourself, but here’s our top ten tips for visiting the Warner Bros Studio Tour:
If you want to visit the tour, you MUST book. They don’t accept any walk-ins at all and we saw quite a few people who had paid a lot of money to travel from London who were turned away at the ticket office. You cannot buy a ticket at the studios.
2. Check prices
There are options for family tickets which work out better value than buying single tickets. At the moment, the adult ticket is £29, child is £21.50 (age 5 to 15) and under 4s are free. The family ticket (two adults, two children or one adult, three children) is £85.
3. Invest in the audio visual guide
The guide costs £4.95 and basically narrates your journey around the tour to you through headphones. It’s narrated by Draco Malfoy, which is a rather lovely voice to have in your ear as you wander round the tour. It’s invaluable as it stops you missing bits out and also is full of really interesting facts too. Oh, and if you buy the guidebook, don’t look at it as you’re queuing – it contains lots of spoilers!
4. Check the website before you book
There are often special events – for example over the summer holidays (Friday 26th July to Monday 2nd September) there’s the ‘Summer Spells’ special events where you can learn more about some of the famous spells from the series and take part in wand choreography lessons.
5. Be prepared to queue
The staff let about 100 people in every half hour, so you might queue for a short while.
6. Take your time
The tour is SO exciting, and there’s so much to see that the temptation is to rush round everything. However, once you’ve left the first studio, you can’t go back in, so if you discover you’re pretty quick round the second part, you can’t go back! This is another reason why the audio visual tour thingy is worth the money as it encourages you to pace yourself.
7. Hogwarts Castle
Don’t rush past the model (you won’t want to anyway, it’s beautiful) as the lighting is adjusted from night to day over a 4 minute cycle – perfect for pictures.
8. The shop
Be aware that the tour filters you out into the shop, so you’re going to have to be prepared to run the ‘can I have this? Can I have that?’ gauntlet. If you’ve got younger children it’s worth setting a budget before they’re exposed to all the goodies!
9. Food and drink
There’s a café in the foyer which serves decent food and drink, but if it’s a nice day, bring a picnic as there’s a nice picnic area by the carpark that you can use. You can also buy a drink and a snack in the outside area after the first studio – you can also buy butterbeer here and see the Dudleys’ house and the Knight bus where you can hop on and take photos!
10. Look out for hotel deals or store your luggage
The deal we reviewed was an overnight stay at The Grove. You’ll find more information, and prices, here.
Whether you’re travelling locally or you’re flying in from abroad, ABC Selfstore in Camden have a range of luggage storage facilities to make your trip around the Warner Bros studios more enjoyable and less weighed down!
I’ve also got a family ticket for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour to give away courtesy of the Current Accounts team at NatWest! Just leave a comment, telling me your favourite scene/quote/character from the Harry Potter movie series and the winner will be chosen at random. Usual English Mum giveaway rules apply. Giveaway ends at midnight on Friday 2nd August 2013.
**THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED – THANKS FOR YOUR ENTRIES – THE WINNER OF THE FAMILY TICKET WAS JOANNE BLUNT**
As a Mum to two fabulous children under the age of 5, I am always looking for places where we can play, be challenged and have fun. ZSL Whipsnade Zoo has ticked all 3 boxes with Hullabazoo Adventure Play, their brand new outdoor play area nestled in the middle of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
On Sunday, we piled into our car and drove over to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo which is just over an hour for us. We were invited, courtesy of the lovely and talented English Mum, to preview the Hullabazoo Adventure Play. As we approached the Hullabazoo area, which is just behind the Sea Lion enclosure, I was pleased to see some really lovely wooden towers and structures making up the play space. In this day and age, everything seems to be primary coloured plastic and it was quite comforting to see a quality built wooden play place.
Ella took off the minute we entered Hullabazoo and headed straight for the Zip Line to have a whirl. Sam was begging to be let out of his pushchair and proceeded to tackle every mini-hill he could find before finally attempting to climb everything his sister tried. What I loved about Hullabazoo was that Ella (nearly 5) and Sam (18 months) could both be entertained and challenged by the various areas. There are cargo nets, slides, bridges, ladders, a zip line, swings, a round-about, balance beams and climbing frames which are accessible to most ages (with a bit of support for the youngers). We could have spent a long time in the Hullabazoo area had the steam engine not been beckoning! You will be pleased to know that the Hullabazoo Adventure Play is included in the price of your entry ticket to the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo so you won’t have to pay any extra to have a zippy-good time!
Hullabazoo Adventure Play is located at the heart of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, next to the Hullabazoo Indoor Play and the Child’s Farm. Hullabazoo is suitable for children of all ages and will be open for 364 days of the year. Hullabazoo opens to the general public on Saturday 25 May which is just in time for the Bank Holiday Weekend!
The Café Bebe family gives ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s Hullabazoo Adventure Play a big thumbs up. We definitely have to return to explore the area more as I spent the entire time taking pictures and video of our visit. I didn’t even get to have a go on the zip line!
It’s my birthday shortly (not a hint, I promise) and although I can remember sunny days, cloudy days and rainy days, I’m pretty sure it’s never snowed before at this time of year.
Yesterday we drove down to Surrey to visit Thorpe Park for the opening party for their new hotel, The Crash Pad, and to experience the new backward twist to The Swarm, their amazing winged roller coaster. The Death Wish Dude is a coaster nut, so we took him with us as our coaster-tester, along with his friend, James. The snow was really coming down by 6pm and as we crawled along the M25 at about 20 mph I had visions of us being snowed in and spending the night in the car.
Anyhoo, we made it, and the incredibly friendly Thorpe Park staff made us very welcome. We checked in to our Crash Pad room and were impressed with what we saw. Don’t, under any circumstances, expect a hotel room. The Crash Pad is more like the Yotel in that it really is just a place to lay your head: a double bed, two single bunks, and a small en-suite wet room. That’s it. No floor space, no wandering around room, just a place to crash and go. Oh, and a word of warning? The top bunk has no rail. Do not allow a restless sleeper up there – the Dude came crashing down at around 3am – luckily unhurt!
We thought it would be fab if you have to travel a long way to spend time at Thorpe Park – you can book packages which include two days’ park tickets, one night in the Crash Pad and breakfast included. There’s also evening entertainment provided and the bar area is lovely. A fab idea and pretty good value too. We also thought it would be ace to book an overnight stay during one of the Fright Nights!
In the bar we bumped into Shane Richie, who we’d met at Disneyland Paris when we went for my 40th birthday (you may remember the ‘photograph of the ear‘ debacle). He’s so lovely and we all wandered around the park in a big gang. Kat (lovely Jessie Wallace) was there too I was a bit starstruck, to be honest, but they’re so down to earth and friendly. At one stage Shane took over the announcing on one of the rides (then ran away before getting on).
We were lucky enough to have access to the park after closing time, and the fellas went on everything, at least twice:
There was also the small matter of a stolen banana. This was absolutely nothing to do with me, but these two shifty-looking characters were caught on CCTV:
SWARM is blimmin’ amazing. Hubby and I went on once but the boys rode about five times – both backwards and forwards!
After a fabulous party, with a DJ, entertainment, nibbles and a free mojito bar, we headed to the Crash Pad. It was really lovely and comfy (bit awkward when one of the kids isn’t yours, but then that’s our fault). The only problem was when we woke up – no hot water due to frozen pipes. The staff were amazing again, rushing around and getting us bottles of water, but we decided to head home and save our park tickets for another day.
This really is the perfect place for teenagers. To be honest, it’s such good value I think I’d probably book a separate room for the teens, then let them loose around the park while we chilled and pootled about a bit more. The food options are good at Thorpe Park and there are plenty of non-adrenaline-rush things to do too!
And yes, the banana was returned to its rightful place, unharmed. I promise.
About Crash Pad
Two day packages start from £64pp, including breakfast (based on 4 sharing). Click here for more info. The Crash Pad opens 28th March 2013.
Living, as we do, just a 45 minute train ride away from London, you’d think we’d be popping to the capital all the time. In fact, we very rarely do, so an invitation to come and spend the weekend in London at the Thistle Hotel, Marble Arch was the cause of much excitement here at English Towers. It was also, I have to say, a rare pleasure to spend an entire weekend together, blighted (or blessed) as we are with two teenagers with very active social lives.
Getting there was easy: train into Euston, then two quick tube rides took us to Marble Arch underground station (don’t throw things, but I honestly didn’t know that this was right on Oxford Street) and a short walk (literally less than 100 yards) and we were there. The Thistle is really tucked away (discrete signage is all you can see from the road), but it’s a real Art Deco beauty, with a proper ‘Gentleman’s Club’ vibe of polished wood, brass and leather and amazing glass ceilings in the lobby area.
Checking in was easy (and incredibly polite) and we were soon in our rooms: the boys in a lovely twin, and us two doors down in a double. I’m not sure if they’ve been recently refurbished but again the vibe is quite masculine – not unpleasantly so, just a nice mix of beiges, browns and creams with sumptuously thick curtains, dark wood and soft leather chairs. The bathrooms were spotless, very heavy on the marble and, I’d say, a bit dated, but still fabulous. The service is fantastic – within five minutes of checking in, one of the boys had put the iron (turned off, thankfully) onto his bed where it had unloaded a load of water all over the place, soaking his bedlinen. Someone arrived within five minutes, whisking the soggy stuff away and replacing it while he was in the shower – he didn’t even notice it had been done.
After a quick (complimentary) drink in the executive lounge, we headed down to the restaurant for dinner. The Marmor Grill has a compact menu at a pretty good value £21 for three courses including a glass of wine. We found it easy to pick something that everyone liked and again the service was immaculate and unobtrusive. My prawn and crayfish cocktail with avocado and whisky marie rose sauce was delicious and the beer battered cod with hand cut chips and mushy peas was top notch. We forced down dessert (well, there was bitter chocolate tart AND knickerbockerglories!) and waddled back up to the room. Obviously being right on Oxford Street, it’s not the quietest place in the world, but we slept well in our huge, comfy beds.
The next day saw breakfast served in the Executive Lounge (everything you could possibly want: coffee, fruit, pastries, full English…), buoying us up for a full day’s shopping (‘Nike Town! Adidas!’).
Although we only shopped, I’d say the Thistle would be a great base if you were headed to the capital for dinner and a show, or if you’re just chilling, it’s a short walk across Hyde Park to the Science Museum – something we’re definitely planning on coming back to do.
Massive thanks for Thistle for putting us up (and putting up with us).
A standard double at the Thistle Marble Arch is £130.80. Click here for more details or telephone 0871 376 9027
Executive lounge access is with executive rooms only and includes private check in/out and complimentary continental breakfast and bar.
Back, then, from our wonderful weekend, we’ve had time to reflect upon Guernsey, and what it can offer the traveller – be they family, couple, group or solo.
The first thing that struck us both, having enjoyed each other’s company, sans children, for the first time in a good few years, is that it’s a wonderful place for a weekend getaway. But then, it’s good for everyone. Before I explain why, let me tell you a little about this teeny island nestled off the south coast of England, nearer, in fact, to Normandy than the UK:
Although Guernsey has strong ties with France (it was, in fact, French up until 1066, but I won’t bore you with a history lesson), Guernsey is not French. Nor, is it English: it’s a self governing crown dependency, if you must know. The population, and I found this amazing, is about the same as, say Rugby: 62,000, spread across an island that is just 30 square miles. Guernsey is a bit like a wedge of cheese, with high cliffs on the south east side, sloping down to level ground on the north west. There are huge tides here – meaning that the sea goes out a really long way, also meaning that the waters are very clear and clean, meaning awesome shellfish and happy sea bass, as well as making the water lovely for swimming.
Which brings me neatly on to why Guernsey is a fabulous summer destination for families. Just a 45 minute flight from Gatwick (we flew Aurigny, who were amazingly courteous, ran like clockwork, and cost about £100 return per person), or a short ferry ride, and you’re on an island that boasts better weather than the UK and the most glorious, clean beaches. What you won’t get is the ‘kiss me quick’ hat, tatty seaside resorts that put a lot of people off holidaying in the UK. Guernsey is, well, classy. In the harbour town of St Peter Port, the little boutique shops, restaurants, cafés and immaculate streets reminded me of Marlow, a well to do town, proud of itself, but in an understated way.
So I thought what I’d do is give you a perfect weekend in Guernsey (tried, tested and scoffed by my lubly Hubby and I) to give you a taster. If you can make it for a week, even better, but here’s my perfect weekend:
Getting there: fly Aurigny.com from Gatwick and pick up a hire car at the airport, or ferry over from Portsmouth with your own car.
Accommodation: there’s everything on Guernsey from very posh five star hotels to lovely B&Bs (for fab beachy holidays, check out Waves, which is very stylish self-catering accommodation on glorious Vazon Bay, or stay in St Peter Port where there is a wide range of hotels – check visitguernsey.com for more info). We based ourselves in St Peter Port, but being such a small island, everywhere is easily accessible.
On arrival, have a drive around the island – you can’t really get lost – if the sun’s out, seek out the glorious beaches, often hidden away down little ‘park and walk’ lanes, or strike out along the stunning cliff paths and on the way, check out all manner of Nazi bunkers (from the occupation, more of this later), Neolithic tombs, The Little Chapel and much more. Stop and see what people are selling in their ‘hedge veg’ stalls – makeshift shops where the locals sell their fruit, veg, flowers and – in lovely Mandy Girard’s case – cheese from her herd of Golden Guernsey Goats. For lunch try The Hideaway at the Best Western Moores Central Hotel, Le Pollet, St Peter Port, for excellent local crab sandwiches and home made cakes, all served on a gorgeously sunny outdoor terrace.
In the afternoon, have a wander around the cobbled streets of St Peter Port where there is amazing shopping. If you get tired, pop in to the Ship and Crown pub on the harbour front, for a pint of the local Rocquette cider and check out the shipwreck photos in the bar.
In the evening, book a table at Red Grill House on the harbour front. Be prepared to be stunned by their amazing wine list – several pages long – but don’t worry, the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable should you need help choosing. They also have a fabulous array of steaks, sold by weight, and generally have fresh fish of the day. Leave room to share their incredible tarte tatin before waddling along the twinkly harbour front back to your hotel.
Head to the beach!
Bimble over to Sausmarez Manor (pronounced ‘Summeray’, five minutes’ drive) where there is a great farmers’ market on a Saturday morning. Afterwards, explore the manor house and take a leisurely walk around the grounds where you’ll discover all manner of sculptures as well as beautiful gardens.
Head off to Herm Island (herm.com) on the ferry from the harbour and spend a day enjoying gorgeous, Caribbean-like beaches on a proper Famous Five island complete with bracken-edged cliff paths and azure water. There are no cars on Herm and only 60 odd residents, so it’s a really peaceful place to while away the day.
We were escorted around the island by the lovely, and very knowledgeable Jonathan Watson who showed us all the accommodation on the island: from the 40-bed White House Hotel, perched above the harbour, with its Conservatory Restaurant (amazing wine list) and its attached Ship Inn brasserie, to self catering cottages and log cabins. There’s also a campsite with shop facilities during the summer (they’ll even get your shopping in for you so it’s there when you arrive). You can walk the cliff paths around the island in about a couple of hours, or if you fancy a shorter walk, cut across.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Mermaid Tavern and order the home made fish finger doorsteps with fat chips, battered with the local Herm Ale – you won’t be disappointed). It’s a truly fabulous place to spend a holiday, where you really can let the kids have as much freedom as they want, but if you can’t manage it, do spend a day there (take note of the last ferry times, otherwise you’ll find yourself castaway!).
Back on Guernsey, book a table at Christie’s, tucked away on Lower Pollet (which runs parallel to the harbour front). There’s an amazing atmosphere on a Saturday evening (ask for a booth at the back overlooking the harbour terrace – make sure you book!) – order a dozen oysters while you peruse the menu (their Tennerfest menu – loads of the hotels and restaurants do menus for a tenner during this six week period – is completely fabulous).
If you’re up for a few cocktails, head back to Red (just two minutes’ walk) and go upstairs to their cocktail bar, where the doors to the terrace are open in the summer, and quaff a few cocktails while watching the boats bob on the harbour. I recommend the Bramble (gin, blackberry liqueur.. other stuff…). I do not recommend drinking three.
Nursing a slightly aching head, why not wander along the harbour to Castle Cornet, a real boys-own castle (hold your ears for the firing of the noon day gun!) complete with turrets and cannons. The castle houses five museums with all sorts of interactive stuff kids will love, plus, you can stand high up on the fortress roof surveying the sea and pretend to be Jack Sparrow (or not).
If you’re flagging, pop into Boulangerie Victor Hugo for amazing pastries (59 Lower Pollet, boulangerie.gg).
Don’t miss the La Vallette Underground Military Museum, also walking distance from the harbour. Set in actual tunnels used by the Nazis for storing fuel during the occupation, the place is an amazing trove of memorabilia, not just from WWII, but right back to Victorian times. Kids will love the plethora of uniforms, guns and medals and adults will, as we did, find some of the things (letters home from family members sent to prisoner of war camps and tales of life during the occupation) very poignant. A moving place and well worth a visit.
For your final lunch, head to Le Petit Bistro, just on the corner of Le Truchot and Lower Pollet where you’ll find good wines (or great coffee) and adorable French staff. Feast on ‘Le Club’ sandwiches with extra ham or smoked salmon and share some frites. Delightful.
Finally, head sadly to the airport and vow to return to spend time in the summer on some of those spectacular beaches.
For more information on Tennerfest, which runs until November 11th this year, click on tennerfest.com
Huge thanks for our Gold accredited guide Gill, who was a mine of information and answered all my stupid questions, and to Visit Guernsey for sharing their beautiful island with us. I’d keep quiet if it was mine.
My loving relationship with my big, red Mondeo is, I’ll admit, on the rocks. It’s costing me an absolute fortune, and while I love the massive boot, electric everything and spacious interior, I’m looking to change. My main problem is the fuel economy. I do loads of small journeys into town every day: school runs, after school activities, social stuff and the Death Wish Dude’s twice weekly kickboxing lessons, plus bigger journeys a couple of times a week.
I chatted to Honda about their family cars, specifically the Accord (I like the look of the new CR-V but now I’m not in the country, and don’t have a dog any more, I’m looking more at saloon cars), and put a few difficult questions to them. Here’s how I got on:
Choice: There are four engines to choose from, a 2.0 litre petrol, a 2.4 litre petrol and two diesels, with either 148 or 177 bhp. There’s a six speed manual gearbox as standard and you can choose an automatic on both the petrols and the small diesel, but obviously that affects the performance.
Running costs: I’m not convinced about owning a diesel, so that leaves me with the two petrol engines: the 2L and the 2.4L. The running costs work out at between £12 and £19 per 100 miles, although I’m not sure exactly what that includes. My Mondeo is currently costing me £75 for every 300 mile tank, so even at the top end, this is a vast improvement. Fuel economy figures for the 2L petrol are: combined (mpg) 34.4, extra urban (mpg) 40.9, urban (mpg) 26.9 – a huge difference to my current 24mpg.
Reliability: checking out online surveys, Honda does well in customer satisfaction, reliability and customer loyalty, always a good sign when it comes to choosing a car.
Performance: the petrol engines are described by a recent JD Power survey as ‘smooth and strong’ – always a good sign. I’m used to the big, powerful V6 Mondeo, so this is important to me.
Safety: the Accord has six airbags, anti-whiplash front headrests (to avoid needing to make a whiplash injury claim!), deadlocks and an alarm all as standard. Some models offer optional extras such as emergency braking cruise control and even a gadget that warns you when you change lanes (in case you fall asleep presumably). There are three proper seatbelts in the back.
Space: It’s probably a little smaller than the Mondeo, but the boot is roomy and the seats are comfy. There’ll be no problem fitting in the suitcases for a Gatwick trip, or handling a big food shop.
Looks: I love the look of the Accord. We were impressed with the interior, which reminded us of the Hubby’s BMW. It’s got a really great, almost aggressive looking front end (‘angry eyes’ as one of the boys said), and it’s sleek and sporty looking without any ‘boy racer’ touches.
Next up? A test drive. Woohoo!
Many thanks to Honda UK for their patience in answering all my stupid questions.
So last night, we met up with the Foxys and Glam C and their families for a very special evening. The Paralympic Torch was due to come through our local town at about 11pm (inconvenient time – why couldn’t they travel during the day?), so we met in the pub, then wandered into town to soak up the atmosphere and drink gin sneakily out of jam jars. As you do…
After all that, the torch convoy didn’t appear until after 1am, by which time we were a bit nippy and very tired, but still the atmosphere was amazing… the police outriders high fiving all the kids as they drove past, and everyone daring to walk, cycle or drive down the high street being subjected to massive cheers and whistles. A long night, but oh it was fun…
We all agreed to take a few nibbles along. I decided to take some mini meringue pies… really easy to make and, cooked in some paper muffin cases, not too messy to eat either:
For the pastry, you’ll need:
200g cold butter
400g plain flour
1tbsp caster sugar
Firstly, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4. It’s easiest to do this in the food processor (the pastry, not the preheating. That would be silly), but you can do it by hand if you’re not as lazy as me.
Chop your cold butter into squares and add it to the flour, salt and sugar. Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly until it comes together. Every time you make pastry it will be different, but you should find it comes together quite well. If it’s really dry, add a tablespoon or two of cold water.
Flour the work surface and squish the mixture together into a ball. Wrap it in clingfilm and chill for about 2o minutes. Next, roll it out to about 5-6mm thick, then cut out rounds using a pastry cutter that’s about the same size as the top of the paper cake cases. Pop each round into a paper case and push it down gently. Carry on until you’ve done all 12, then stab each one with a fork a couple of times and pop it into the oven for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the lemon curd (or buy it – I won’t tell):
2 lemons, zested then juiced (if you’re using bottled juice, it’s about 6 tbsp)
150g caster sugar
2 eggs plus 1 extra yolk (keep the white for the meringue)
Take a saucepan and bung in the butter, juice, zest and caster sugar. Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined. Now, take your warm lemony butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs. Now bung that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and simmering until the mixture thickens. Make sure there’s someone behind you at this point shouting ‘WHISK! WHISK FASTER!’, or you can just imagine me shouting it in your head (you’re welcome).
Turn off the heat and leave to cool. Remember to just stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on. When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry cases and set aside while you make the meringue:
2 egg whites
115g caster sugar
Pinch of Cream of Tartar
Whisk the egg whites in a very clean bowl until they form firm peaks, then keep whisking while you add the Cream of Tartar, then the sugar, spoon by spoon, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is thick and glossy. Pile (or pipe) it on top of the lemon curd then bake for a further ten minutes.
And I’ll leave you with this, a blurry close up of the torch bearer’s delighted face. Doesn’t that make it all worth while?
For more photos of the Paralympic Torch Relay, check out my Facebook page
I’ve been going to Champneys since I was a kid. No, I didn’t live one of those ‘Richie Rich’ lifestyles where my parents whooshed me around by private jet, I just had a school friend whose Mum and Dad owned Champneys. It didn’t seem at all weird to me at the time. We used to run around the lawns, play hide and seek between the trees and generally behave like loons. I’ve been back a couple of times: my parents bought me a spa day for my 21st, and now my friend Bea manages the gym… two of my other friends, The Foxys met there (and were eventually married)… it’s that just-around-the-corner place that you drive past but don’t really notice.
This time I was invited for a lovely spa day courtesy of Kellogg’s. I like Kellogg’s. I’ve worked with them before and they’re a brand who don’t take themselves too seriously. As we chatted (and watched their fab new Special K video), we talked about the ‘two bowls, two weeks’ thing that they used to do. I think most of the people in the room had tried it… ‘but we’ve moved on from there’, said Sarah, lovely Kellogg’s person with voice of an angel and husband who makes bespoke furniture (it was that kind of day), ‘it’s not about dieting, it’s more about healthy choices and feeling good about yourself’. To this end, they’ve brought out a new biscuity snack. A snack aimed at those of us who can’t just eat ONE biscuit… (I mean, rolls of biscuits open half way down, so you have to eat all of those top ones, right?) called Biscuit Moments. Despite the rubbish name, they’re actually really yummy – kind of crispy and with a fruity filling (blueberry or strawberry at the moment, but watch this space) and a soft vanilla flavoured drizzly bit on top. A pack of two is 99 calories and I have to say, they didn’t taste diety at all (unlike those awful cardboardy things that we’ve had marketed to us as ‘diet’ snackage in the past. My goody bag was pounced on as soon as I hit the front door, and the whole lot were devoured by my family – a sign that they probably taste quite nice. I managed to wrestle the Champneys goodies away though, so it’s all good.
On to the pampering then… after our gorgeous lunch (in a private room) which was healthy, but still delicious – think stuffed peppers, lovely salads with lentils, seafood pad thai… (and check out the Champneys trifles)… we got changed into our obligatory fluffy white towelling robes and headed for the sauna. A couple of my blogging buddies from YEARS ago were there – Alice and Jane from our original trip to Disney, in fact, so we spent a while in the jacuzzi having a reminisce and a cackle. Oh it was all good therapy. On to the actual treatment: I had an Elemis Face & Body Sensation treatment with Elemis’ fabulous Tri-Enzyme Resurfacing Facial and it was truly wondrous. Hot stone massage first, then when I was all warm and limp and drowsy, a lovely facial. I came out glowing, and a little greasy looking, but feeling wonderful.
I’m not sure if I’d stay at Champneys for any period of time, but I’d thoroughly recommend maybe a day spa visit or an overnighter – oh and make sure you visit my friend Bea in the fitness centre too – lots of the fitness sessions throughout the day are free.
Special K Biscuit Moments will be available in the usual places from August 2012 priced at £1.99 for a multipack of five sachets of two biscuits.
When we were discussing the Olympics Games at the last Gatwick Passenger Panel meeting, one of the things that came up a lot was how helpful technology can be when you’re visiting a new place. With London (and the UK generally) set to see a huge increase in visitors for the Olympic Games, and hopefully continuing afterwards, I thought the following might be helpful. Most are available for iPad, iPod and iPhone unless stated.
Tips to live like a local (apps for loads of different cities and counties all across the UK) – things to do, places to stay and eat.
Find NT places near you – great tips for coastline, gardens, houses to visit.
Still the best hotel iPad app in my opinion.
Over 500 places – search by what’s near/what’s hot etc
If you want to get a real feel for England, this is the app you’ll need. Loads of historic castles, beautiful gardens and unusual places to go. iPhone only.
All London bus times, in real time.
7. London Tube
Journey planner/nearest tube etc
Unusual/quirky places in London away from the usual tourist trail (also check out Royal London/Horrible London)
9. Top Table
Restaurant finder and table bookings along with discounts and offers.
Lovely app showing the location of the 850 blue plaques in London with pictures and stories behind the plaques.
For other things to do in London, try Smartsave.
If you discover any new ones or want to recommend any good ones, please feel free to comment!
So you’ll remember, I’m sure, that the lovely chaps from Ice, a new and exciting loyalty scheme, challenged you all to show us your fave holiday snaps and grab the chance to win a family Eurostar ticket to the destination of your choice. Well here are the entries. And very nice they all are too. They’ve been making me go ‘oooh’ and ‘awwww’ all week. So now it’s down to Ice to choose a winner. Going to be a toughie, I reckon. What’s your favourite?
And congratulations to the lovely Babaduck who won the tickets!
What do you do at the weekends? After our lie in (that bit’s non-negotiable – I usually have to start crashing about or hoovering at about 11am or they’d sleep all day), we generally head out. We’re big on brunch and have tried most of the establishments in the area. Other than that, the Death Wish Dude is often at a skate park, near or far, the Mad Professor likes to socialise, or there’s cricket practice, chauffeur duty from various parties, a bit of baking for me… and then the large glass of wine and some trash TV to finish it all off.
Pretty boring, I suppose, but then apparently as a nation, Brits are pretty boring, weekend-wise.
Recent research has shown that over half of us rate our weekends as ‘average’ and, more shockingly, 18% say that their weekends are, and I quote, ‘boring’.
Going through this research has been a revelation. You’d think we’d love our weekends: an opportunity to spend time with our family, have a lie in, go out t eat… visit a local beauty spot, maybe? But no, apparently we’re a nation of boring old moaners who spend their weekends at home.
Shockingly, even though 91% of us said that we’d be prepared to use our cars for the weekend, the average we’d be prepared to travel is just 58 miles. 58 miles? That wouldn’t even get me to the seaside!
And even those who enjoyed their weekends didn’t get up to very much, the top weekend activity being, well, staying in.
Happily, the chaps at Allianz have decided that this has got to change, and have launched Great British Weekends, instilling us all with a fresh sense of adventure. And who can blame them, with this, the year of the Olympics AND the Jubilee (and those extra Bank Holidays), we should be out and about, enjoying our beautiful country – especially now summer is around the corner.
First off there’s the Allianz Your Cover Find & Drive Smartphone app which helps locate essential services when on the move, plus Allianz Your Cover Insurance is running a competition for two lucky Twitter followers to win an annual family National Trust membership. Just follow them @YourCoverUK to enter and use #GBweekend to find out more.
So what’s stopping you? Join the Allianz Your Cover Insurance Great British Weekends campaign by joining their Facebook page and get more out of your weekends!
To find more out about Allianz Your Cover Insurance visit www.yourcoverinsurance.co.uk
First up, Hotel Chocolat sent us one of their new, and rather heavyweight, Extra Thick Easter Eggs to try. The packaging is really glossy and attractive (it looks a little like a hatbox, decorated with ribbon) and the egg inside doesn’t disappoint either – we tried the Rocky Road to Caramel egg which had two really chunky halves of chocolate: one side was embedded with all sort of goodies like biscuity pieces and puffed rice and the other was a scrummy mixture of caramel chocolate and milk chocolate. Inside were more delicious Hotel Chocolat chocolates.
The verdict? All round a heavyweight contender but, as usual with Hotel Chocolat, it’s a bit of a luxury item at £26, although weighing in at a hefty 500g there’s plenty of actual chocolate for your money.
Montezumas sent us a couple of their new Monkey Bars. Celebrating all things British (a ‘monkey’ is Cockney rhyming slang for 500) in this the year of the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee, these bad boys are pretty enormous (I’ve provided you with a fork so you can get the idea) and were absolutely delicious. They snap into big chunks (so you don’t feel overly guilty: ‘what? It’s just one square’!). Our fave was the ‘Nanny Goat’ salted peanut and butterscotch. Priced at a bargainous £13.99 they’re available from Montezumas shops and John Lewis, amongst other places.
The lovely chaps at Biscuiteers have added hand-iced chocolate eggs to their lovely range of biccies. Quite pricey at £25 but their stuff is notoriously high quality (I often send their biscuits as presents and they’re always amazing)
Or maybe if a chocolate egg isn’t going to be quite enough, I could interest you in a break at the Chocolate Boutique Hotel? Decorated in gorgeous chocolatey browns (of course), the hotel provides everything you could possibly need for a choctastic weekend away, including ‘choctails’, chocolate fountains in your room and even chocolate making workshops. What’s not to love?
If you’re interested in shopping locally, I thought Big Barn was a good idea. It’s kind of like Amazon or Etsy, but for local food. Click on http://www.bigbarn.co.uk/marketplace/?vendorsearch=chocolate to find Artisan chocolatiers near you or online.
There’s loads of other chocolatey stuff going on this Easter including:
A free Easter fun day at the Boat House Restaurant and Bar in Chertsey on Saturday 7 April 2012, including mini cupcake decorating and an Easter egg hunt. There are two sessios: 11.30am and 5.00pm. Contact 01932 565 644 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
An Easter egg treasure hunt organised by the Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes London as part of their ‘Family Fun in the City’ package. In true Sherlock Holmes style (deerstalker optional), the hunt takes you round some nearby attractions including the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Madame Tussauds. Everyone who completes the quest gets an egg too! The package includes accommodation for two adults and two kids under 12 in lovely mini-suite style accommodation with loads of extras like in-room movies and meal vouchers. Plus breakfast is free for kids! A great little getaway
WHAT a weekend. There were so many great (and funny) moments I hardly know where to start.
First up, the the lovely chaps at Hertz UK offered to lend me one of their new Family Collection cars to go to the opening of the new Legoland Hotel this weekend. Bright and early Friday morning, a SPACESHIP was delivered. I kid you not.
After some initial teething problems, like waving the nice delivery chaps off assuring them I’d be fine, then realising it didn’t actually have a key and I had no clue how to start it (turns out you post the key fob into a little slot on the dash – you do not, as some wag on Twitter suggested, have to shout IGNITION ON!, but nice try though), I got on really well with it. The enormous beast took up my entire driveway and in a spectacular piece of teenager Tetris, I managed to fit FOUR of the fully grown and very gangly blighters into the boot.
Offski, then, to Windsor and the new Legoland Hotel, conveniently placed right at the entrance to Legoland, where a whole bunch of the media’s great and good gathered to celebrate its opening weekend. There were LOADS of celebs there: we spotted Zoe Ball, Dom (from Dick and Dom), Michael McIntyre, Vic Reeves and his gorgeous wife Nancy Sorrell, Warwick Davis and a host of other people that kept us in permanent ‘hey, don’t I know you?’ mode the whole weekend.
We met up with fellow bloggers Laura and Tara and their families and headed for the bar (as you do). In the restaurant we bumped into Tim Minchin. Instead of looking a bit awkward, both boys dived in, held out a hand and said hello (proud Mum moment there). He was utterly lovely and chatted to them for ages. Later he played football with them outside and they were absolutely made up. Isn’t it amazing when you meet people you really like and they turn out to be really nice in person?
The food was a good, solid buffet selection, with a carvery, a children’s section serving all the usual suspects, and a salad bar. I wouldn’t say it was amazing restaurant fare (my beef was very well done and a bit leathery, and the pannacotta poured out onto the plate like yoghurt), but we all ate well. We were all a bit taken with the lego cake, but sadly didn’t get a slice.
We were on the fourth floor in an ‘adventurer’ room. We were really impressed with the decor: a map for a carpet, lego creatures climbing the walls and a very posh bathroom (sorry about the picture – I did the classic ‘GET OUT OF THE WAY, WOMAN! thing in the mirror). It was compact, but the Prof is 5’9” and there was plenty of room for him in a bunk and the beds were mega-comfy.
The next day saw us up early (and hungover) for a big cooked breakfast before setting off for a bit of celeb-stalking around the park. We walked around the Star Wars exhibit, spotted Manta Rays on the Atlantis Submarine Voyage, whizzed around on The Dragon (this did nothing for my hangover – luckily Laura was the holder of the headache pills, as well as the map), did the Digger Challenge and zapped away on Laser Raiders. The boys took a final drenching on the Vikings River Splash and we headed for home, leaving the smaller dudes with more energy to enjoy the park.
What a fabulous place. And the icing on my dragon cake? This tweet from Tim Minchin:
About the Legoland Hotel:
The Legoland Hotel is now open for business with prices starting from just £248 for a family of 4 for a themed bedroom, including breakfast, 2 days into the Park and loads of added extras! Book early (the hotel is already fully booked on several dates through March, April May and even into June). For more info, go to legolandholidays
About the Hertz Family Collection:
The Hertz Family Collection launches on 4th April. Hertz Family Collection offers a variety of cars with ample room for passengers and luggage, plus 5-star NCAP safety rating: total reassurance for your journeys with family or friends. For more info, check out Hertz’ new blog: HertsTravelGuide, or go to hertz.co.uk
Over half term, the Death Wish Child and I popped to the Rainforest Café in London to meet up with the lovely team from Thomson and First Choice for their family blogger event. They’ve got some fab stuff going on at the moment, what with First Choice’s move to all inclusive from summer 2012, and loads of new family initiatives. Here’s the stuff that took our fancy:
Each holiday village is a resort in itself, with bars, restaurants and spas, offering kids’ clubs for everyone: ‘Twinkle Stars’ for the 0-2 year olds (sessions costs from £9 for a two hour slot), then ‘Little Stars’ from 3-5 years, ‘Super Stars’ from 6-8 years, ‘Mega Stars’ from 9 – 11 and Escape! from 12 – 15. Most of these are ‘just turn up’ free stuff like zip wires and funky stuff like DJing, plus there are special ‘academies’ at extra cost (book before you go) including football, stage and swim masterclasses.
A collection of resorts ALL with their own waterparks. The teens were particularly taken with this idea. First Choice have their very own pool tester, Tommy, who travels to each resort and gives it a score out of ten (what a GREAT job!), presumably for fun and the splashiness factor (the Sun Hotel Sun Palace (so good they named it twice) in Faliraki, Rhodes, scores an amazing 10 out of 10 on the splashometer)
5* gourmet 24 hour all inclusive and utterly gorgeous, these resorts are the creme de la creme. We visited the Sensatori in Mexico last year. Check out our reports by clicking here.
Thomson also have a range of family holidays (all decent-rated 4 and 5T) with kids’ clubs, interconnecting rooms and lots of family-friendly entertainment. The 5T Atlantica Aegean Blue in Rhodes caught our eye, with its sparkly new waterpark, lovely restaurant with an open-air section so you can dine under the stars and a gorgeous taverna right on the beach. It also offers deluxe rooms which are in smaller buildings on the ground floor.
Thomson offers seven night family holidays to Rhodes staying at the Thomson Families 4T Atlantica Aegean Blue, on an all inclusive basis, from £1009 per person with the first child from £580 and second child from £730. Price is based on two adults and two children sharing, and includes flights departing from London Gatwick airport on 02 June 2012 and transfers. To find out more about this holiday or to book visit your local Thomson travel shop,Thomson.co.uk or call 0871 230 2555.
As you know, we recently visited the site of the impending London 2012 Olympics. It’s going to be an amazing time for London, and we mustn’t forget that the Paralympics are on their way as well. (I live quite near Stoke Mandeville, the ‘home’ of the Paralympics, so I’m a massive fan – I think it’s completely inspiring and amazing. )
The lovely chaps at Channel 4 have put together a guide to the best family-friendly tickets at the Paralympic games – there are some really great ideas there and I urge you to go along and support our sporting heroes. What a fabulous thing for our children to see. The ballot to apply for tickets is open until 6PM on Monday 26th September.
The link is here – book your tickets now!!:
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