Tag Archives: nature

Has Spring Sprung?

In the last few weeks, Spring has emerged with beautiful sunshine against a flawless blue sky. I am so pleased with this turn of events I have felt like channelling my inner Noddy Holder and shouting ‘Its Springtime!”. Following a very wet winter, with a majority of the UK starting to grow webbed feet, we longed for some dry weather and here it is with sun to boot.

I love Spring. It is definitely my favourite season. Summer is a contender, but last year it was super hot and with three children consisting of my 10-year-old son suffering from early sulky teenager syndrome, my 6 year-old boy/girl twins with polar opposite personalities (aka difficult to please) and an overheated dog, it was challenging to say the least. Autumn can be pretty with its vibrant coloured trees and carpets of conkers, but it is also the time of increased spider activity and those particular creepy crawlies just spoil the whole season for me, leaving Winter which is cold or wet and feels constantly dark. But Spring has all the makings of perfect for me, the weather is mild enough that I can rid myself of the abominable snowman look I have been sporting over winter and I no longer have the stressful school run activity of locating missing gloves and trying to persuade my daughter to wear mismatched woollen accessories.

Spring has the whole rebirth thing going on as well, nature has woken up and the children are back out in the garden acting as if they have just been released back into the wild. We currently have blue tits in the nesting box in our garden, which is fascinating my daughter who has now taken to digging up worms and leaving them on the tree for the ‘blue tit babies’, I have tried to dissuade her from this activity and that worms have feelings too but she is on a mission as an adoptive parent to her new bird family. I love the emerging blossom on the trees transforming our ordinarily drab street to something much prettier, along with hardcore daffodils popping up in odd places such as dual carriageways and roundabouts.

Gorgeous mini triffids

Gorgeous mini triffids

I’m probably enjoying the long-awaited burst of flora more than others, hayfever sufferers I sympathise. The minute the first bud pops up on a tree my poor Mum is sneezy, drowsy, teary and other such dwarf names. While I’m taking pleasurable inhalations of freshly mowed lawns she is bah humbugging the misery of the production of pollen.

Woohoo trees are pretty again!

Woohoo trees are pretty again!

For me, Spring impels me to think about diets more so than in January. With a bit of decent weather, some of the general public (you know who you are) decide to flash the flesh in summery ensembles, far too early in the year and looking a tad unprepared for them. My youngest son is definitely of this ilk, if there is the teeniest bit of sunshine, even if the temperature is chilly, he kits himself out in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops despite the shade of blue he is turning on the trampoline. The minute I decide to don some sort of skirt/dress garment that will expose my unprepared pins, I inevitably will bang into a table and produce a huge bruise on my calf, thus limiting my anticipated flesh baring for at least a month to avoid looking like I have been kicked by a horse.

Spring is also the misconceived time for cleaning. Who ever decided the concept of ‘Spring Cleaning’ should feel rather guilty about it. Just as the weather is improving and nature is bursting with life we are expected to shut ourselves away and start cleaning our skirting boards. Personally, I have surface cleaning down to a fine art, thorough cleaning is just not in my make up. With three children and a young Labrador there is often little point in trying to keep order of my household chores, I would much rather play cars with my youngest son or allow my daughter free rein of her paints on the kitchen table. However, I have started to make out I’m more of a clean freak for my oldest son’s benefit, to encourage him to be more tidy and at the very least for him to see his pants on his bedroom floor as a faux pas.

As a Spring fan (careful not to say Springsteen there) I would like to encourage others to feel the same as me. For hayfever sufferers, try not to look at it as a time of pollen induced stress but embrace the antihistamine and move on. For all of us, forget about cleaning out your kitchen cupboards and go for a walk in the sunshine instead. Embrace your obscure summer fashion choices of yesteryear and not stress about the pallor of your skin, remember we are in it together. Most importantly, we need to see Spring through the eyes of our children, my three little ones also love this time of year, from finally getting out and about in the great outdoors without the need for fifteen layers along with the reintroduction of ice-cream on a sunny afternoon, as well as being able to appreciate the beauty of nature whilst seeing creatures emerge from their winter slumber.

I was hoping to end on a quote from my favourite quote bank, aka Ferris Bueller, but instead I turn to published poet and author Margaret Attwood:

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”


The Weather Outside Is Frightful

Not so typical Spring weather....

Not so typical Spring weather….

With Easter just a few days away it felt a little odd to be digging out the children’s snowboots yesterday as our local temperature plummeted to Arctic. Their school was closed for the day due to a broken boiler and rather than thinking about readying our garden for an egg hunt next weekend, I was considering resurrecting the sledges instead. This end of the world weather is starting to depress the nation and you can’t help but wonder if Spring will be cancelled this year. With every day that continues to bring us a sleet/rain/snow combination, I find myself worrying unnecessarily about the health and safety of daffodils and trees, they are really trying to strut their stuff but instead are being battered by our freakish weather system.

Kamikaze Daffodils!

Kamikaze Daffodils!

While I waited in line in the shops today, I overheard two ladies discussing the usual British topic of weather. One said, “This weather is ridiculous isn’t it?” Her friend replied, “They say it’s going to get worse and to expect more snow. When will they give us some good news?”. What I wanted to ask them is, who are ‘they’? Who are these people you refer to? The weather experts, the Government, the FBI? We are all happy to put the blame on ‘them’ but who should get the blame?

Even when you watch the weather forecasters on television, they seem fed up at work as they deliver weather reports with a raised eyebrow and a shake of their head in a ‘what are we like?’ type expression. I particularly like when they try to shirk the blame by stressing that we were expecting a good weather weekend, but now there is a cold front heading over from Siberia, it must be the Russians fault. Or the reason that our Summer’s are so wet is due to a pesky ‘misplaced jet stream’ sitting over the UK, if it wasn’t for that then we would be basking in the heat. Long range forecasts for Summer this year believe that we can expect flash floods in June, heatwaves in August and perhaps a swarm of locusts at some point?

The week ahead looks bleak.

The week ahead looks bleak.

I often worry that it is all down to climate change, that perhaps we are destroying our planet so quickly with our carbon emissions, that by melting the Arctic we are causing this freakish weather? Were the summers of our childhood so much better than they are now or are we just better at moaning about it now we’re older? I try to do my best by the planet, we recycle obsessively, try not to use unnecessary electricity and educate my children about the importance of being eco-friendly. However, when so much of the world doesn’t bother and with places like Las Vegas blaring electricity 24/7, it leaves you feeling like you could be turning up to an earthquake disaster with a dustbuster!

Whatever is the cause of this weird weather system, be it our planet evolving, our forecasters passing the buck or a one-off bad start to the year, if our weather was to suddenly straighten out what would the British public talk about? We can only hope things turn around, in the meantime I am about to wrap myself up in fifteen layers to see my children’s ‘Spring concert’ in their school with the dodgy heating! Happy Easter everyone!

High Noon Over The Dog Fields

A daily chore task I carry out each morning is walking our beloved lunatic Labrador Chester. Post school run I gradually open the front door to see if he has destroyed anything in our hallway (his bedroom) while I have been out for the 30 minute round trip. I am eternally pleased that our Postman likes a lie in so that our post is not ripped to pieces before I return. We adopted Chester last summer from a rescue home. He is a Pedigree Labrador but as he was being rehomed due to his excitable nature (what do some dog owners expect?) we got him at a reduced price, a sort of spoiled goods price. He was a gangly 6 month old pup who slotted into our lives perfectly. He turned 1 in November and is still as highly spirited (mental) as when he arrived but stupidly docile with the kids, with the added advantage of looking quite tough (though he really isn’t) so hopefully quite a good burglar deterrent.

Handsome chappie

Handsome chappie

Despite the fact that I spend the majority of the day with him, feed him, walk him then shower the mud off him, clear up the chewed kids toys, re-wash the stolen socks and pointlessly hoover up the coarse golden dog hair, he is still very much a Daddy’s boy! Me and Chester hang out all day, the minute hubby puts the key in the lock I am literally pushed aside while Chester does a sort of dog samba dance in the hallway to greet his master.

As an adolescent dog he needs a lot of exercise and as I spend a majority of my day working on the computer, the only way I can avoid trying to type without a huge dog lying across my lap, is to give him a long walk as my first job of the day. We are fortunate enough to live across the road to a series of farmers fields, they are privately owned for growing crops but have public walkways that we can use, which I bet the farmer just loves! On the edge of the first public walkway a local fellow has acquired a little paddock where he houses a rescue pony and two white goats. The kids love overfeeding his farm animals with carrots and apples and Chester has still not learnt to avoid a headbutt from the goats by sticking his head through the fence each time we visit them. The main downside of this mini farm is that the owner also has a big scary Mastiff effeminately named Lucky.

Mud Mud Glorious Mud

Mud Mud Glorious Mud

The main reason for using the fields for Chester’s walks, apart from the convenient location of them, is that other than Lucky you really don’t see that many other dogs or people over there. My pleasure at walking without others doesn’t demonstrate that I am in any way a recluse, but anyone who knows my dog or has read my blog about my one stab at dog training (please scroll back to Just Call Me Barbara for a reminder) will know that Chester is sometimes a little hard to control. My fear isn’t that I think he may attack another dog or person but that he will most definitely jump up excitedly at the person thus ruining their clothes, whilst over-sniffing their dog’s bottom to the point of vulgar and we are talking dogs here remember! Chester is a very friendly dog, a very very friendly dog, he is also a big coward! If he begins to violate a dog in the cherished way he likes to do and that dog decides to bark/growl/make a sudden movement, then Chester yelps and runs with his tail between his legs to hide behind me. He actually had this reaction when a dog that looked like Toto from the Wizard of Oz growled at him, it’s embarrassing sometimes honestly. So my tactic is the (how Cesar would hate me for this) not to try to train him but to avoid dog/person contact at all times.

Yesterday morning Chester and I were on our usual dog avoidance walk over the very muddy fields (snow melts – mudbath begins) and found myself walking in the direction of Lucky and his owner. Thankfully, Lucky was on the lead but the way in which his owner was being dragged towards us and frantically pointing for me to go into the neighbouring field away from them, I gathered he didn’t have that much control. As I switched direction to avoid them, I saw a huge Alsatian in the field we had now entered. I have seen this Alsatian before, I always avoid him, he is in my eyes devil dog. I quickly retreated back to the previous field where Lucky and his owner were, then tried unsuccessfully to signal ‘Alsatian coming’ in a really bad mime. He thankfully slowed down to let me run (wade through mud) ahead of them. Next thing I know Chester has put himself in a crouched position on the floor with his head bowed down, then I hear the gentle padding of the Alsatian in stalking mode behind us. He steps up to Chester in stealth mode and sniffs him with a quiet growl, Chester is looking at me for help but to be honest the Alsatian is giving me the ‘I can take you both on’ look as he comes and sniffs my wellies. I pointlessly mouth ‘good boy’ to Chester who looks like he would cry if he were in human form. The owner, a very fragile looking woman is still making her way from the other field and my life is literally in her faraway hands as she neglects to catch up with her dog. And just as the Alsatian is menacingly circling Chester for the second time he suddenly stops then runs off with his tail between his legs. His owner finally catches up and explains, ‘he is scared of the Mastiff’ and then carries on after her devil dog. I then see that Lucky and his owner have caught up and scared him off, I have never been so pleased to see them. Stuck between two dangerous dogs, you have to pick a side I suppose. Lucky didn’t even bother to growl at Chester as he came closer to us as Chester was still in his crouched position, looking a bit pathetic now. Chester slept well that day which resulted in a very productive day for me. Not that I would want to repeat the experience  again.

Dreaming about Alsatians

Dreaming about Alsatians

Fatigued To Meet You

When I talk to my closest friends, actually in conversation with words and mannerisms and not by text or Facebook messaging but in real life or on the phone, it is not uncommon for the conversation to result in a moan about how shattered we both feel. It’s not that we are all manic depressive but that we are quite often very tired and have waves of feeling a bit peeved from the hamster wheel of everyday life. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish to sound ‘Poor Me’ as I know how fortunate I am compared to others who live in desperate situations, but our lives are all relative to our own situations so we are allowed to indulge in a bit of a moan about things sometimes.

It is widely reported that Modern Life is a fast paced experience for most people with our 24/7 lifestyles. Many of us are guilty of relaxing on the sofa for our evening downtime with one hand on the remote control and the other on our mobiles refreshing our inbox or checking Facebook. Those of us that are employed are working way over our contracted hours, lunch hours on the go and a constant juggling act with home life and work. I work from home but feel like I have to find my inner Derren Brown to balance my week of school runs, kids activities, dogs demands and other things that get thrust into the daily chaos. Our fast paced existence can mean that we miss out on the finer things in life; the appreciation of what we have, noticing the simpler things and relishing the pleasurable things in life. I took my daughter on a nature day today at our local country park, we had a group of very enthusiastic ramblers who were ‘in charge’ of the activities. They were intent on opening up the children’s eyes to all things nature by encouraging us to collect nature’s materials to make a scary Halloween artwork. So we decided on a spider, arranged our leaves and twigs to create a sculpture that Tracey Emin would be proud of and despite Rambler helper pointing out that spiders don’t have red eyes, the kids were massively enthused by the activity.

It is my third nature activity this half term in my bid to ‘get the children out in the fresh air for an educational experience’ and even though we are starting to sprout webbed feet from the constant damp conditions, I feel good that we are taking part in something worthwhile. Every day of the half term I have crammed full of ‘experiences’ and play dates until my Mum pointed out that ‘I could just stay home with my children as that is what I used to do with you and your brother.’ Good idea I said, ‘I’ll buy some paints and glueing stuff to make art installations or bake cakes?’, she wearily shook her head explaining, ‘you can do simple things like read books, play board games or just cuddle up and watch a film?’. Hmmmm that sounds far too relaxing and easy, must cram something else stressful into my day surely?

But no matter how you try to slow life down it never seems to feel that way. And apart from whingeing to my nearest and dearest, the rest of the time I will happily paste on my air hostess smile to anyone else who asks how things are, replying with a bright and breezy ‘great thanks’, even though inside I am secretly Ebenezer Scrooge grumbling incoherently under my breath. I am definitely no stranger to tiredness and I think this is the reason behind the expert moaning me and my friends enjoy as our extra curricular activity. Parenting is a great introduction to exhaustion, I didn’t sleep a full night for the first 5 years of my daughter’s life, I spent many days with the dull ache headache of exhaustion, feeling a little bit sick, a fit of tears minutes away, unable to have intelligible conversation, eating too much chocolate and barely capable of keeping up with the storylines of Scooby Doo.

Life is definitely easier now I’m off the baby Groundhog Days, I loved the nurturing years and wouldn’t have missed raising my little ones for anything but there is that point when they start school for you to return home that first day, look in the mirror and think ‘Christ!’ at the gaunt mad haired woman looking back at you. I adore my children, appreciate my husbands long hours at financing our lifestyle but find myself in part-time writer, part-time child-rearer, part-time domestic goddess and still feeling a little bit in part-time limbo land. My friends and I used to discuss films, politics, new bars and restaurants, recent clothes purchases and weekend plans. Our main topic of conversation now is whinge whinge, feel tired, what is my role now? What diet are you on? What vitamins are you on? Shall I take Probiotics? So when we’re not moaning we are quite often taking part in another hobby of ours, worrying. Worrying about our children’s ability at school, their daily consumption of fruit and veg, their friendship groups. Or we worry about our relationships, money, post-babies figures and our current favourite topic; our future health and future beauty regime, discussing how many wrinkles or grey hairs we are sprouting, what ailments are starting to take hold of us. I doubt very much that James Bond worries about his daily alcohol units when swigging his martinis in the afternoon. What we need to do is stop worrying, stop moaning and appreciate what we have. Me and my friends moan a lot but we do occasionally remember to make each other laugh in our stupid shared sense of humours, to still talk about ambitions we still have and to know that there is someone always less fortunate than ourselves. For sometimes the only way to move forward past the blues is to slap on that mad grin and remember how lucky we really are.

Eight Legged Freaks

I love Autumn, it is definitely my second favourite season. The bright blue sky, sunny days with a little chill to them, the beautiful colours of the leaves, the arrival of conkers. However, there is one major problem with Autumn… massive huge spiders! It is the season for normally rational people like myself doing a weird dance when walking down the garden, flinging my arms about like a maniac after walking through a million spider webs.

I know I’m not alone with my lack of love towards the Arachnid. In my 20s my fear of spiders was at an all-time ridiculous which came to a point after a face-to-face with a spider as a tenant at my parents house. I was alone one Saturday morning and decided to run a bath, I glanced at the plug hole as I went to run the hot water, there was something dark there, I reckoned it was probably hair so left it and ran the tap. As the water splashed down and I guided the plug towards the plug hole, the ‘hair’ sprouted 8 legs and started running, in a weird sort of race I headed in the same direction to get out of the room as the spider ran to the end of the bath. I closed the door and weighed up my options. There is a massive huge spider in the bath, the hot water is running and I need to deal with it. Not brave enough to do anything about it and with no-one to help I remembered that next door had some landscapers in to redesign their front garden. So in my irrational panic I forgot that I was in my pink towelling dressing gown and sheep slippers and went outside to get help. Obligingly, one of the gardeners agreed to ‘help the little lady’ out. “Where’s the  monster then darling?’ he asked giving his co-worker a wink as I pointed at the bathroom door murmuring, “Spider, bath”, unable to speak in sentences as if I just been discovered in some wild log cabin. Mr Bravado swaggered in as I cowered behind the door, I heard him shout ‘ Jesus he’s big!’. He emerged about 5 minutes later (presumably after he calmed his nerves) balancing the spider on the end of his trowel. I responded with a strangulated whimper and then shouted ‘Thanks’ just before the door slammed. When I retold the story to my parents later, they decided it was time to take action on the basis I could crash my car if a spider popped up in it. I said I would probably pull over calmly and happily donate the car to the spider and walk back home. This was again enough reason for them to seek help for me.

So, for my 24th birthday my parents gave me a ‘Arachnophobic day’ at London Zoo. We were asked to arrive bright and early for our day course to cure our fear of spiders. It was quite a big class which was mainly female with a few embarrassed looking men. There were a lot of very nervous looking women that you could probably hiss ‘spider’ at and would reduce them to tears. But I wouldn’t do that, I was one step away from nervous wreck and was suddenly ecstatic to be there. First up was the ‘why spiders are good for the world’ lecture taken by the spider zoo keeper who informed us he was once as scared as us but now owned 3 pet tarantulas, everyone raised an eyebrow, no-one believing this statement. We were all told about how spiders are good for the environment, how they rid the world of pests such as flies and mosquitos and we would literally be over-run by bugs if we didn’t have spiders. My initial thoughts were ya da ya da ya da, I knew this, I agreed with it, I didn’t want to kill them, I just wanted to re-train them to not enter my house and if they accidentally did then to walk slower and immediately go back out the way they come in rather than run towards me. We also learned how spiders mate in September and is the reason why during this month you see bigger spiders as they are the females looking for a male. Again, is there not a way we can re-condition them to have a meeting point in the garden for their reproductive needs. We were asked individually to say how we got rid of spiders, my response was ‘phone a friend’ or not re-enter that room until someone comes home’, lame I know. The woman next to me said she wore socks on her hands while on her own and would walk in loud steps to scare any from running into the room, she was so petrified that she couldn’t eat tomatoes due to the spider-like green topping. I stared at her in disbelief starting to feel a bit less of a scaredy cat. When they asked one of the few men in the room what he did to remove spiders, he explained that he was a carpenter and would see quite a few in his work shed. The way he dealt with them was by turning on his electric sander and liquidising them, the zoo keeper looked almost tearful.

Next we were taken into a room and told to sit down, a charismatic American man introduced himself as our hypnotist who would re-train our brains to like spiders, I glanced over at the sock woman who was shaking her head. We were asked to lay down and close our eyes, keeping completely still. He then asked us to visualise 10 steps leading down to a water’s edge, we had to imagine ourselves at the top of the stairs looking out to sea. We then had to imagine a big white cloud drifting towards us, we had to focus on the cloud and walk slowly down the steps as he counted us down. As we reached the last step he informed us that we were now in hypnosis, I tried to open my eyes and they felt stuck together, my arms felt weighted down, it was a really strange feeling. He told us to look at the cloud and push all our hatred of spiders into the cloud and to turn it to grey, after which we had to blow it away and watch it drift out to sea and disappear. We then had to mentally re-climb the 10 steps and were told to open our eyes, which I could now do quite easily. And then we had to clap our hands to congratulate ourselves on our freedom of hatred to spiders. I wasn’t convinced yet and was nervous at what was next as we were led from our function room and into the zoo.

Once inside, our zoo keeper suddenly re-appeared as if we were now in an episode of Mr Benn. He led us into a room off the ‘creepy crawlies’ section where a large clear plastic box with a lid was full of house spiders scampering about. Before we had time to protest and still sleepy from our hypnosis, a plastic cup and a card was shoved in my hand and I was suddenly in a queue in front of the spider box. With a semi-forceful ‘lets see you catch a spider’ request, the zoo keeper picked up a house spider released it on the table and we were expected to put our cup over it, card underneath and then told to walk round the room and release it back into the box. Sock woman was rifling through her bag, I suppose looking for her socks and I was third in the line. Everyone seemed to be either brainwashed or cured as one-by-one they completed the exercise. My turn was up, zoo keeper smiled as he flung a spider on the table, the spider as if briefed by the zoo keeper, started to run towards me, without knowing how I did it I put my cup over it and my card underneath then circled the room the fastest I’ve ever walked and literally threw my cup at the box. I had done it, slightly still in hypnosis and a massive amount of pressure on my shoulders, but I did it. Then zoo keeper shouted over the excited/hysterical squeals the word ‘Next…’ to which the whole room went deathly quiet, there’s more?? He continued, enjoying the atmosphere he was causing, ‘Next, we meet Freda.’ Who is Freda? His colleague? his girlfriend? Wrong! It’s his pet tarantula! The hypnosis wasn’t that good! He held Freda in his hand as if it was a gerbil gently tickling it. Most of the people took a few steps back, sock woman I think was now vomiting in her handbag. ‘Who wants to hold Freda and I’ll take a picture?’. A line started to form, how were these people cured enough to do this? Suddenly, I found myself in the queue and before I knew it I was holding my hands together for the zoo keeper to place Freda on top of my grip. As he said ‘smile’ to take my picture, I looked down and actually realised I was holding a massive huge spider with fur, it felt warm, it didn’t seem scary until it moved a leg onto my wrist and I nearly threw it far enough to make a home run. Zoo keeper sensing my change of heart, unhooked (!) Freda from my hands, wasn’t till then I realised that’s how they climbed walls! He gave me my Polaroid, a photo of  me holding a tarantula with an expression that would probably warrant me an overnight stay in an asylum!

I’m sad to say it didn’t cure me. It has eased my irrational fear. I no longer run into the street in my dressing gown to find someone to help me. I can deal with smaller ones with the cup and card technique and I have allowed a spindly one to live in my conservatory. I think the hypnosis has made me love them a bit too much, I can’t bear them to be hurt and when I get a big one, which I still can’t deal with, I tend to cover it with a mixing bowl until hubby returns or my long-suffering neighbour gets called in to chuck spider outside, all the time I worry if there is enough air for the spider and if he is lonely in the bowl! We’re halfway through September, I have had 4 big spiders this week in my living room. It is true what they say, knowledge is power, I know that September they will mate, the female then kills the male, the female produces her egg sack and fills it with spider eggs, then she dies and the spider orphan babies start the cycle again. Roll on October….

Putting The Great Into Greatstone

As I sit here and swelter in our (bit late really) humid summer, amongst the unpacked bags and mountain of sand sodden holiday clothes, I actually feel relaxed following a fab holiday away with my family.

Over the last few weeks, hubby has been stuck in his never-ending Olympic shifts and the rain has ensured that days out with the kids have needed inventive planning to save on costs, deter whingeing and conquer boredom. I have managed to cover my quota of soggy country park picnics, messy and bizarre make-a-craft events, swimming with the masses, overdraft busting cinema trips and the time consuming (but will be good for them) summer library reading challenge.

Early August culminated in the twins 5th Birthday party, 30 children, 3 bouncy castles, thankfully taking place at a playcentre and not in my house! We came to this decision following the twins 4th Birthday party, when we removed a fence panel between ours and our neighbours gardens to create a bigger space for our bouncy castle party with special guest Roger the Magician. Until it rained that is and we all ended up crammed under a gazebo with Roger the Magician and a few hardcore kids braving a dangerously slippery bouncy castle.

While organising this party of the century (according to my kids), my parents mentioned they were looking to book a week away and would I and the kids like to join them to alleviate my 6 weeks with lack of hubby? After I shouted Yes a bit too loudly in response to their kind offer we set about finding somewhere suitable. We quite often holiday on the Kent coast as it is only an hour’s drive, has some gorgeous sandy beaches and now in light of our new family member, a long stretch of dog friendly beach to use during the summer months.  Me and Mum trawled through numerous holiday websites looking for dog friendly/child friendly cottages, feeling like J.R. Hartley after constantly being turned down once they knew we were bringing our beloved Lab.

Finally, we happened upon a place called Dune House, slap bang on the Greatstone seafront, dog friendly, spacious and available! We motored down last Sunday with hubby planning to join us on the Tuesday once he had begged some leave to tag onto his allocated days off.  When we arrived, we were not disappointed. I reckon Terence Conran would even be up for a week away at this place with its white washed walls, wooden flooring and decked garden backing onto the sand dunes of Greatstone beach. And with 6 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms it was a far cry from our pig chalet experience in March! The backing onto the beach bit was a massive highlight for all of us, especially Chester our dog who was being treated to a pre and post breakfast walk, a day on the beach followed by a pre and post dinner walk. By the end of the week we managed to make our 8 month old Lab look like an arthritic old dog with his stiffened legs! The beach was thankfully sandy and the sea was clean, however, the tide was often out and in its place was a deep clay type sand. Pretty much every day, the children wanted to ‘walk to the sea’ when the tide was out, which meant wading through sludgy sand praying not to find some crab claw or washed up jelly fish or worse! And this isn’t for the faint-hearted walking, as you couldn’t stop and stand still, for as soon as you did and the sand took hold and were left looking like a weeble with arms flailing around trying to pull your foot back out as the rest of us went into fits of giggles and ended up stuck as well. One particular evening it was such a trek on our ‘walk to the sea’ that my Dad said he could hear the faint sounds of accordion playing drifting over the Channel from France! Then after reaching the water and the kids agreeing that we had ‘reached the sea’ we had to trek back through the sludge and one of us had to tiptoe to the sink, fill up the bucket with soapy water to wash our ‘mud socks’ off before entering the cottage.

Throughout the week, we didn’t venture far from the cottage and our back garden beach, as the kids and dog were happy with our lazy beach days. However, one day we made the short trip to Dungeness to visit the Lighthouse and miniature steam train ride. And for those of you that haven’t been to Dungeness, the word barren would be an understatement. It is a bizarre area, a nature reserve full of wild flowers, but mainly covered in shingle with every house resembling a shack from the 19th Century. It has a desolate quality with its provinicial shed type houses and sparse distances between each property. I fully expected to see a blue boiler suit and mask hanging from one of the washing lines with a chainsaw  propped up against one of the shacks. However, it does house a lot of artists and is a fascinating place to visit, though wouldn’t fancy it at night, not for fear of safety but more for feeling like an extra from The Woman In Black!

We cooked most nights, but on our last night we decided to look for a nice place to eat. I fired up my laptop to look for our usual criteria of ‘dog friendly/child friendly’ venues and stumbled upon an old pub called The Shepherd and Crook in the neighbouring village of Burmarsh. We deliberated whether we would be welcome as it would probably be a locals pub and they might not appreciate our over-excited Lab and twins incessantly asking questions about everything, ‘Mum, what is a pub? will I like the pub? will the pub like me? can we live in pub?’. However, we were very much welcomed by the staff and found a corner we could stow Chester and could steer the kids questioning to the random wall hangings, ‘Mum, is that a real gun on the pub wall? can I hold the gun in the pub? why is there a gun in a pub? does the farmer come to the pub? will he shoot me in the pub?’. After getting a word in edgeways we were pleasantly surprised by the menu, a rare sighting of vegetables on the kids menu and a choice of vegetarian dishes other than pasta bake.

We arrived home today majorly feeling the holiday blues. Chester keeps heading to our back gate looking for the sea, the kids keep asking when we can go back and if we can buy Dune House as they have £47 between them – bless. Hubby is heading back to work in a few days and I am back on the circuit of local kids events for the last 2 weeks of the school holidays. But we have happy memories of simple holiday pleasures and with Britain finally getting a bit of sunshine, Kent definitely delivered.