22 May 2015

Our (Mad) Mini Adventure Abroad.

The first time the real dread hit me was when we were parked at Dover Docks waiting to board our ferry to France.  Having already mastered two lots of directions – from our house to our friends' in Rochester and from them to our Hotel in Dover (call me old fashioned but I’m OK with maps and travelling sans sat nav) – waiting to head to yet another strange destination, but driving on the other side of the road - and keeping on it - whilst simultaneously searching for signs was beginning to be a bother as a lone parent with two kids in the car!  What. On Earth. Had. I. Done?

The eldest had chucked up on the first leg of our journey the previous day and we’d arrived requesting to use the washing machine before our hosts had even got the kettle on!  Fortunately, we were with the lovely Tania from Larger Family, who I’ve mentioned many times on here and for whom this was no trouble.  She and the 11 children she had at home gave us a stupendous welcome, a delicious lunch and a stonking good afternoon, so it turned out to be well worth doing our detour to visit them despite this little mis-hap! 

larger family, tania sullivan,
Some of the Larger Sullivan Family and the smaller us!
It’s all too easy to judge a book by its cover and imagine she and her husband are a bit barking having such an enormous family, but they consider themselves nothing less than blessed and aren’t at all. Never before have I met such a well-mannered and beautifully behaved brood.  We came away feeling sorry to have missed their eldest two who were away at University and believing her argument for home schooling avoiding that ‘attitude’ the rest of us must often contend with.   There wasn’t even a sniff of it there – aside from what was displayed by my two, obviously.

Anyway, replete with home-made ciabatta bread, Bolognese and coffee and walnut cake we’d set off on the second leg happily, spent our first night away enjoyably and uneventfully and now, here we were  ready to embark on the third leg of our (mad) mini adventure abroad. 

I wrote about our smooth and simple crossing, and how we lost the car on it because we played so much Uno that the colour and number of the deck on which we’d left it escaped me, but by the time we arrived in Dunkirk port and were no longer majorly mortified, I felt safe in the explicit learning of the road numbers for the route to our new Hotel and dis-embarked with confidence.  This, however, turned out to be a bit mis-placed!

We were excitedly driving along, with the children loving their encouraging new mantra of ‘Keep right, Mummy,’ when I noticed that the junction numbers were going in the wrong direction.  Which meant that is exactly what we were doing!  We’d come off the roundabout on the right road but at the exit for going the opposite way - something so easily done when you’re going backwards round them, innit?

And it had all been going so well for a millisecond. 

Fortunately, the roads are fabulous, the signs are great (probably for all the numpty Brits fresh off the ferry) and the next turn off is never very far away.  It was easy to go back on ourselves, which transpired to be a good thing, as we would end up doing this a lot over the next few days.  However, seeing as we were on holiday and in no particular hurry, it didn’t really matter.  So what if we accidentally almost ended up in Belgium the following afternoon?! ;)

I popped on a brave face for the children and just got on with it.  More disturbing and further frazzling for my nerves were the juggernauts blasting past on what’s normally and inside lane, but in under ten minutes we had arrived at our Hotel.  Only to find it was closed. 

With my French sorely tested we were let in via a virtual vending machine.  The place was tiny and akin to Woodchip Central, but it was cheap, near the dual carriage way, and we were -so far- unscathed, so were staying.

My plan to pick the brains of the Receptionists re where to go and what to do would have to wait though - until they were on duty later.  Instead, we grabbed some maps and skidaddled straight off to Dunkirk city centre.  The little one slept, so the eldest and I cruised the streets in the car, following the locals, getting used to entering roundabouts to the right and practising turning left (really, really weird).  The signs are still excellent and, as I found my French driving feet, some of the real dread started to dissipate.

Parking up, we aimed for the Office de Tourisme.  The staff were a bit snooty for my liking and the building was far posher than it has a right to be, but Dunkirk is full of beautiful and ancient architecture.  It’s a place of fascinating history, incredible, significant stories related to the war and the perfect place to explore on foot.

dunkirk, ibis, grande synthe,

While we wandered and the kids climbed on the cannons, they demanded their dinner.  Little did we know that the restaurants wouldn’t open for another two hours!  The locals laughed at us and pointed us in the direction of fast food joints, but that was never gonna happen and the Tea Houses that were everywhere served only cake and coffee type stuff until 7pm.  We were struggling.  The boys needed something more substantial and I needed something stronger.

Eventually, however, we discovered a small bar / Pizzeria, the charm of which was helped by the Christmas songs that were playing, the wine that tasted of grapes (one of the main reasons for going to France) and the waiter – a bona fide Frenchman - reminding me what it feels like to be treated like I am the only woman in the world!

To boot, the pizza was the best we’ve ever had in our lives and we’ve been inspired to try re-create them at home ever since our return – just by buying ready-made bases and adding lashings of passata and grated mozzarella.  They’re not quite to the same standard but they’re a marked improvement on our usual ones!   

We returned to our Hotel, content with our day and satisfied enough to cushion the shock of our room being the size of a small box and discovering our en-suite shower in a cupboard.  Let’s just say these things were off-set and easily redeemed by our visit to the local market the following morning! 

This was wonderful – exceeding all my hopes and expectations – and is the other main reason I wanted to bring the children to France.  It, alone, would be enough to bring us back to stay in the Grande Synthe area again.  We had a proper mooch, picked up some stuff for supper – predictably a baguette and some cheeses – and a few items of clothing, the likes of which we only see flogged for a fortune in boutiques over here, before getting down to the serious business of the day – where to go for our long, European lunch.

grande synthe marche, dunkirk,

For this we decided to head back to Dunkirk, past the city centre and onto the amazing Malo les Bains seafront – a splendid setting, not yet fully open for the summer season, but with a few places from which to choose and I introduced the children to authentic yet informal French cuisine, plus their view of ‘working between meals.’  They liked this idea, stuffed their faces with fresh fish and chips, then ran off all their energy playing on Dunkirk's famous beaches.

malo les bains, eating in france,

malo les bains, dunkirk,
The famous beaches of Dunkirk - Malo les Bains.
In the meanwhile, after chatting with a resident mum, I made a big decision.  Tomorrow, we were going to go to Belgium – and intentionally this time!  It’s only around ten kilometres up the road and it would be much more of a psychological challenge than a physical one.  I realised I had to have faith, believe we could do it and leave any lingering fear behind.  We’d need to get back to the port for our ferry home, but there was plenty of time and, what the heck, it would be fun to drive in three different countries on the same day!  Mad, but possible.  And I'm not saying any of it was easy - this kind of thing is hard - but so is being at home with two kids on your own during school holidays and it’s not difficult to work out which is preferable!

dunkirk, malo les bains,
They weren't the only ones who climbed a mountain! 
And we made it!  We went to Belgium for another spiffing lunch (that costs around half what it does in the UK) and it was a completely different experience to being only a short distance away in France. The language, the food and the surroundings were now distinctly Flemish.  We’d gone on to the second town over the boundary, Veurne, as we’d been advised and were really very glad to have done so.  It added a whole new dimension to our mini adventure abroad and I’d recommend doing something similar with all my heart if you get the opportunity.  

veurne, de soetasse brasserie,

A surprisng number of people said they wouldn't entertain the idea of driving abroad, especially as a lone parent with two kids in the car, but please don’t let a lack of confidence or real dread be a deterrent. Even without a co-pilot or sat nav (although having either or both would be brilliant) you, too, can triumph!

14 May 2015

Top Tips for Being a Single Parent.

single parent, single mum, brighton,
The kids and me.
People are always asking me how I cope with being a single mum.  Their universal line is that they 'couldn't do it.'

Rarely do we choose to go it alone.  Everyone has a story behind why they ended up doing so.  It's tough, it really is, but always for reasons that you might not have thought of before you find yourself (or your friend finds herself / himself) bringing up children solo - for most of the time, at least.

What really helped me was my divorced friends.  They are the ones that understand the relentlessness, the loneliness and the never-ending emotional support required for the kids as they age and ask increasingly insightful questions that demand clever and careful, but honest, answers. They know that these conversations occur around 11pm when one child or another has woken disturbed with yet another bad dream and that you're already exhausted, but still have to find the compassion, the sensitivity and the energy to deal with them.  Again.

And that the children never really come to terms with our family being 'different' to their most of their mates'.

It hurts, it undoubtedly does, but the buck stops with you now, so you've got to get on with it.  And even if and when you're brave enough to choose to co-habit with someone new and wonderful in the future, there is some stuff that will always be down to you to heal.

You'll come to treasure this time - honestly - when it's just you and them.  You'll have intense and unimpenetrable life-long bonds.  There are lots of advantages to autonomy and not being undermined by someone else.

The chances are that the end of your marriage / partnership has been years in the making and, looking back, that will become clearer.  In time, you will become grateful that you are no longer alone within a relationship - because that is hell on earth.

Those who suffer the shock of a sudden or prolongued bereavement endure a different type of hell. They don't get the relief that sets in post separation.  It is a shame and unfair that the brightest stars die out the fastest and that the rest of us are left with the selfish, the stupid and the sociopaths, but that's the way it is, sometimes.  We still have to get on with it.  

Those that think of leaving their spouses don't do it easily.  They wonder whether the grass will be greener for a long while before breaking out.  In my case, it was gloriously so.  For others, it isn't. Many dilly dally or daren't run the risk of finding out, but what suits your children best, regardless, is happy parents.

Here are my tips for if you suddenly find yourself a single mum or dad.  Or even if you are thinking about becoming one.

1) Pace yourself.  You are the most important thing in your child's world.  You are the sun around which the little planet they live on in their heads revolves.  You need to be strong and secure. Running around stressed out of your own serves no-one.

2) Conflict is damaging.  Keeping communication going with your ex is key.  Even if it's via a solicitor (quite advisable in the early days, often).  As much as you might loathe him / her, they're part of the long-term picture.  You may as well get used to that, but, be warned - if they were an unreasonable so and so before your split, they sure as eggs are eggs will remain so now.  Keep all conflict - and it's quite likely there will be some - away from the kids.

3) Lay off the wine.  (*Stares at re-cycling and slaps self.*).  It's very easy to use it as a crutch and most of us consume more than our fair share.  However, highly preferable and heaps healthier is a beautiful bath and an early night.  A)  Alcohol is expensive  B) It makes us tetchy  C) It is a stimulant, will keep us awake, dehydrate us and result in us being us even more tired.  It has its time and place - just use it more wisely than some of us who don't necessarily always practise what we preach.  *Cough.*   Sleep is a better ally.

4) Money is a biggie.  This will probably be the hardest adjustment for all concerned.  You'll be amazed at how you used to flash your cash before and wince.  No matter how many zillions you have between you, it is seldom a smooth move from joint to not.  My ex gave up work and didn't give us a penny, but that's because he's selfish, stupid and a sociopath  - i.e. at the other end of the scale.  Most men are fair and decent but won't wish to understand that the home still costs almost as much to run as it did when he lived there.  The kids come first and it's worth fighting for them growing up without a chip on their shoulder.  They might have to make adjustments too though.  Everyone pays somehow.

5) Find some solidarity.  Some people turn to books.  Others turn to on-line friends, to their real-life ones and to family. Anyone who has been through something similar will help no end.  To feel understood and heard can be truly therapeutic.  What is generally underestimated is the length of time the pain of a split, the depth of it and the effects of it, can be.  Talk, be open and try to obtain some professional counselling if you can.  That kind of thing seriously moves you on.  

6) Make things easier for yourself.  Pay people if you can afford it.  There is no shame in staying sane.  Employing a cleaner - even once a fortnight - can make a real difference to how fraught you might feel.  Learn to bleed your radiators and how to change a loo seat if you like, but let someone else mow the lawn and do your windows. You need to protect your precious energy in order to be able to handle all the emotions flying between you all!  Your children will be grown up in a flash and you don't want to look back and see yourself screaming at them while you're throwing the hoover around in a rage.  Rope in your friends / family / neighbours if and where possible.

7) Take one day at a time.  This is the best advice I was ever given.  Don't scare yourself by looking to the future - it's an unknown entity.  Get yourself through the day.  Give yourself credit for all the things you have achieved, rather than upsetting yourself with the things you just wish you had. Lower your expectations of yourself, but keep your hopes high.  You're on a long road.

If you are a man you will be hailed as a hero.  You are no less one if you are a woman, but some people may prefer to pick you apart.  Ignore them. They are not there when you're weeping because your kids are in the middle of the night.  They don't see the copious, second-nature sacrifices you make.  They have no idea how hard things are.  The last thing you need is yet more selfishness or stupidity to contend with and you can't spare the time from your herculean task overload for it.  An offer of help would be much more appropriate, so their attitude says far more about them than it does about you.

Each situation is unique and we can only do our very best.  The children will love having you to themselves and, eventually, despite your shattered self-esteem and decimated heart, you'll find you 'can do' becoming a single parent.  It will be rewarding, worth it and quite probably, the making of you.

What would you add?

Anya XX

Thank you to all of you who nominated me in the #Bibs 2015 Best Writer Category.  I'm thrilled to have made it to the shortlist and it would be awesome to make it into the final five.  If you can find it in your heart to vote me through, then please click HERE.  (Thank you very, very much!). 

13 May 2015

The Power of a Walk.

The other day I went for an amble.  I love the fairer weather.  I am a fair weather walker, you could say.  

Living on the seafront is wonderful in the winter with the gales and gusts and the sea in the storms, but those aren't the days the car is left somewhere after the school run and a saunter home is taken. The time has come for burning the midnight oil and mooching in the mornings in the sun. Spring brings a fresh wind and it's invigorating to let go for an hour and just be.  

In fact, it's the best thing on earth.  No matter how overwhelmed I'm feeling, no matter how many times I've been woken by the students / kids / dustmen refuse collectors / seagulls / next door's pigeons / dogs / cats / a mouse in the house / a random beeping from a car or a handset somewhere - there really is light at the end of some tunnels!    

sea, tunnel, brighton,
I'll get right up close and personal with the water's edge and breathe and all will be well with the world.  It gives me a feeling of coming home.  I love the bright sky, the expanse of space, the smells, the sounds of the waves rolling in, the peace yet the noise.  The salt in the air makes me smile.  I feel part of something special - something big, something beautiful and something better.

Little things get perspective, big ones come to the forefront of my mind as I wander and I just listen - to them come and go, come and go, as the tide comes and goes, comes and goes.  It is wonderful and I rejoice in being able to do this.  It is probably the singular thing that prevents me looking for an office job.  I would hate to give this up.  I would miss it.  

sea, brighton,

sea, brighton,

sea, brighton,

sea, brighton,

sea, brighton,

sea, brighton,

sea, brighton,

sea, brighton,

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This is where my heart is.  Where's yours?  

Thank you to all of you who nominated me in the #Bibs 2015 Best Writer Category.  I'm thrilled to have made it to the shortlist and it would be awesome to make it into the final five.  If you can find it in your heart to vote me through, then please click HERE.  (Thank you very, very much!).  

8 May 2015

The Non Sitting Room.

It occurred to me recently that my sitting room is actually a room where I rarely get to sit.

It has thus been re-christened the 'Non-Sitting Room.'

Even though there are piles of books and magazines and my intentions are good and I've managed to rid it of the toys that were in it - tubs of train track, Scaletrix, building blocks, a child's desk, copious drawing materials and Play Doh - so that the atmosphere would feel less like a play room and more like one for actually relaxing and, erm, sitting in, it gets to the end of almost every day and I find myself going in only to turn off the lamps and tell myself off for not having got around to actually having parked myself in there.

It's where the TV resides, so you'd think that would be an attraction, but that's something that really only comes on at week-ends for the kids.  I try to sit with them and watch Britain's Got Talent or a movie but will be on the go cooking or ironing or faffing still.  Switching off completely and sitting on the sofa to read and / or listen to music is generally just in my dreams.  It could be said that I don't really lounge in my lounge!

And an ex-boyfriend's mother used to tell me that airports had lounges, not houses.  She instilled in me the need to say 'Sitting room.'

This is a habit that many years later I still don't dare to break, but the much more recently acquired one is that I get tethered to the lap top in the coldest room in the house - our kitchen with the, you know, 'I'll just take a look at my messages' ten minutes that turns into two hours, instead of picking it up and sticking it where it belongs - on top of my lap in my newly inviting sitting room.

This comes with a bonus of raising my legs onto what used to be known as a pouffe, but is now more fashionably only ever called a footstool or storage stool.  It even houses the blankets for extra comfort - but I suffer from that peculiarly British female thing of feeling guilt induced wretchedness if  we're not running around or doing something constructive - even if it's just writing or reading work related stuff.

Also, my lap top has actrually seen better days and I've been resisting the need for a new one - mainly because it will come with a whole new operating system to get my head around. I've had a gander at a Guide to Windows 8 though - which is what it would be - and it actually looks really exciting!

Although you can still use it in the traditional manner of a mouse and keyboard - it incorporates the touch screen technology we're now used to on our smartphones and tablets.  There is talk of Tiles and chat about a Charms Bar and, most importantly, there are improved parental controls - which, in our house, are looking increasingly urgent as the eldest becomes amazingly proficient.  You can pinch, expand and swipe and I'm going to have to face it and keep learning and, for this, comfort is going to be key - or,at my age, even crucial!

social media, social media for writers, joanne mallon, social media for dummies,
My new babies!

Plus, there are these little babies on the left to devour and I am particularly looking forward to Joanne Mallon's Social Media for Writers,

She's such an authoritave but humorous author, and the bits I've dipped into already speak as though she's reading my mind!  Having contributed to her first book and knowing her as I do, because she lives in Brighton, I'm a loyal fan and can hear her thoughtful and intelligent but self- deprecating tone telling it like it is. Those of us who buy / have bought the book are in for a treat.

There is every good guilt-free reason, therefore, to break my bad habit of not sitting in my non-sitting room.  There are some sofas in there with my name on - although, not literally, obviously - that would be weird.  

So I'm going in!   

What kind of  bad habits have you inadvertently developed?

Disclosure - This is a partly collaborative post for Tesco.  The other part is me having a stern word with myself and the other bit about Joanne's book is just genuine goodwill.

Thank you to all of you who nominated me in the #Bibs 2015 Best Writer Category.  I'm thrilled to have made it to the shortlist and it would be awesome to make it into the final five.  If you can find it in your heart to vote me through, then please click HERE.  (Thank you very, very much!). 

4 May 2015

A Good Turn.

Wording and image courtesy of girlguiding.org.uk
I promise that I will do my best, to be true to myself and develop my beliefs, to serve the Queen and my community, to help other people and to keep the Brownie Guide Law...

The Brownie Guide Law is ... A Brownie Guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day.

Do you remember this Brownie Guide Law to do a good turn every day?  It was something instilled in us when we were little and when that and many other benevolent expressions filled our lives.  They seem to have got lost since shopping became the new God!

The lovely Becky from A Beautiful Space talks a great deal about kindness being the most important thing in life and, having been fortunate to have encountered plenty, in different guises and from a variety of (frequently surprising) sources, it would be difficult to dispute!

My good turn the other day was taking a friend's parents for a hospital appointment.  We don't know each other that well, but their daughter and I are close.  She's struggling to get away from work and I drop one of my sons at a school virtually opposite their house every week day, so it seemed sensible to step in and help them out when they were in need.

What a laugh we had.  The Dad was in a sulk because he's not allowed to drive and he was quite open about it.  His wife has not long given up smoking and is having her patience tested.  They are charming, beautiful, brilliant people.  But their life has been put on hold without their wheels.

Having not long retired, they were looking forward to their days out, local walks, trips here and there - their freedom, but a sudden medical change means most of that, at present, is not to be.   Also, his hips aren't fab.  Hopping on the bus and carrying lots of shopping aren't an option, so they will have to learn to use the internet for that.  They are in their 70s and have more than a dabble anyhow so it shouldn't prove too hard, but it's still something else to contend with after a bit of a shock for them.  Their daughters will help but, in the meanwhile, it was me ferrying them where they needed to be.

On our first scheduled date, it turned out we'd booked ourselves a whole week early.  Seeing as we hadn't left their house before this discovery it wasn't a big deal.  They put the kettle on, we drew up some chairs to the breakfast bar in their kitchen and had a chat - a proper, good old fashioned chin wag.

We talked Politics (who doesn't at the moment?) - normally nerve jangling territory now, but it transpired that, fortunately, we bat for the same side!  We discussed their grandchildren (one of their granddaughters and my eldest son are how we all met), the merits of being broke but at home with our kids, drama classes, dyslexia, our local schools and anywhere else our conversation led.

And we did the same thing at the same time the following week on the proper due day for our trip to see their consultant, only this time in the car, in the cafe and in ASDA on the way home.  The man needed some beer.  The lovely lady needed some sherry.  I thought they were exercising considerable restraint when we compared what we deem an acceptable hour to open a bottle.  I always figure that the sun is setting somewhere in the world around 5pm as all my years in the city instilled this in my system as the hour a drink is required.  He pops off to his club around 6pm while she cooks dinner.  And, no she doesn't drive, because women didn't learn when she was younger.

I grew up in such times as these and it was a comfort to be back in the company of people I identified with so strongly.  It was refreshing to hear no holds barred opinions and I was especially touched when they showed a great level of understanding re me being divorced, with their other daughter right at the outset of one.  We seemed to help each other with that.

They also took great delight in me relishing being a Blue Badge holder, just for the day obvs, courtesy of them and, therefore, not wasting an absolute age looking for convenient parking spots.  

So the upshot of our outings?  It wasn't really me doing them a good turn.  They were the kind ones, and friendly and funny as well.  They were the ones doing me the favour with their thoughtful, intelligent company and our genuine hear to heart conversations.  They were a terriffic tonic and I can't wait until we do it all again!

P.S It's a long time since I was a Thistle in the Brownie Guides but they've been going for 100 years now.  My friend Jenny from Cheetahs in their Shoes wrote this post to her 16th St. Albans ones when she was their Brown Owl before she moved on to their Guides.  It's simply wonderful - a real tear jerker - and,perhaps, every reason why every girl should be one?

P.P.S. Between writing this post and publishing it today, a voucher arrived through our front door for a local Thai restaurant, so the boys and I have been able to enjoy a big Bank Holiday takeaway treat via our new friends.  Isn't it a wonder how long a way a little kindness can go?  It really does make the world go round!

Thank you to all of you who nominated me in the #Bibs 2015 Best Writer Category.  I'm thrilled to have made it to the shortlist and it would be awesome to make it into the final five.  If you can find it in your heart to vote me through, then please click HERE.  (Thank you very, very much!).

29 April 2015


Image from Joy of Dad.
I've had a post in my head for a while, meaning to thank all my loyal commenters.  I think you're all amazing and I appreciate every single one of you every single time that you take the time to tell me your thoughts on something I've written, when you support me at times things are extra tough and especially when you pitch up to take the mickey out of me even more than I do it myself!  Thank you all.

Thank you, too, to those of you who loyally read and make comment elsewhere or don't even comment at all.  For every 100 readers down I might be compared to other bloggers, I have another fabulous follower like you who's really there and really cares and I appreciate you more than you might imagine too.

I try to keep up with you all, I really do.  I love to catch up with all your posts when I'm over at yours - I don't just return for the sake of it.  I'm not around as much with two lovely students who *shock* actually want to be part of the family lately (read make as many demands as my own two kids do!) and as the children get older, there is less free time full stop.  (Now THAT was a really weird experience - typing out the words FULL STOP rather than just doing one!).

I'm sorry it's taken until today to say what I've been meaning to say for a while.  It hasn't escaped my notice that you even seem to be understanding as well as still supportive of any collaborative posts I write, despite the balance not really being what it ideally should be vs. personal posts.  I know that you know I still write from the heart and keep things real and that I do my best despite very trying circumstances.

I do not feel judged here, which is what blogging is supposed to be - a safe space.  We can only do what we can do.  I am regretful that things have changed since I got concussed and other things have cropped up - stuff that is entirely related to being a single parent - and that it often gets in the way.   If I were to write about my daily life in a way that others do, you would have endured lots of moaning about how overwhelmed I am most of the time, how hard it is to co-parent with a shitty ex, what a disappointment I felt Caitlin Moran's Raised by Wolves sit com (based on a single parent in Wolverhampton) was and you would have naffed off.  Instead, because you are precious, less is more, at times like this people, methinks!

Plus, what I love most - especially about you, my lovely lot - is that it is a mighty relief to go over to your blogs and not find that I've missed a zillion posts and have to trawl through them to catch up.  As our blogs grow, more commitments come and keeping up with our friends must remain a pleasure, not a chore.  And friends, some of you have become.  Thank you for your friendship too.

You have made a lonely time less so.  Your belief in me has helped me believe in me.  You make a difference.

Thank you as well to those of you who nominated me and got Older Single Mum shortlisted in this year's Brilliance in Blogging Awards in the Best Writer category, I am very, very touched.  But you are the brilliant ones - my loyal, lovely, amazing followers.  And I include you, my real life, non blogging ones too. Thank you for always being there.  You rock.

Anya XX

20 April 2015

Our Ferry Trip to France with DFDS Seaways.

Here's a Top Tip:

If you ever travel by boat, it's wise to make more than a mental note of the clearly colour coded and numbered deck that your car is parked on, especially before you play several games of Uno with your kids to while away the crossing - a card game comprised of only colours and numbers which will serve to befuddle your brain - so that when you come to claim your vehicle at the end of the journey, it will not be where you thought it was.

You may end up on the wrong clearly coloured deck on the wrong numbered level, with your children worrying, you nervously laughing, faking bravado for them while asking the crew to find it for you, which is easily done because someone on their radio will be asking where on earth the owners of the little blue number right at the front of the ferry.  You know, the ones with the first-on (supposedly) first-off priority boarding privilege.

That will be us then.  And a cracking start to our little sojourn.........lots of games of Uno ;).

So what were we doing and what did we think of our ferry trip to France with DFDS Seaways?

Aside from being gracious in the face of an anxious woman with her children on their first time as a family heading towards unfamiliar territory, they've been voted the World's Leading Ferry Operator for the last four years running.

I only know this because, as we drove on board at Dover we passed a great big hoarding advertising this enormous achievement.  Not being allowed to photograph it because you need a special Harbour Licence (*hastily deletes all inadvertent snaps taken before this information was gleaned*) and feeling it was a bit wasted there - seen only by the people having already committed their cash, I thought it deserved a proper mention here.

dfds seaways, dover to dunkirk, dover, ferry,
Image courtesy of the World Leading Ferry Operator for the last four years running. 

We were travelling to Dunkirk - but this is where else they go -

Image courtesy DFDS Seaways

The crossing is very short - only two hours from Dover to Dunkirk - but there's lots to keep the children amused for the duration anyhow.  We were blessed with a beautiful day on the way over, so they mostly ran around on deck, but there is a 'Little Nippers' play area (for up to age six or 1m height) which the youngest explored and, next to it, a Cafe Bar with TV Lounge, which the eldest enjoyed before we all settled down to play cards (*cough*).

First and foremost, though, we had to hit the shop and buy all the kit legally required for driving in France.  This took about five minutes, but it's hard not to be sidetracked by all the brilliant savings on the beauty products - from fragrances and make-up to skincare.  There's also jewellery, toys and games for travelling, maps and information books, newspapers and magazines as well a selection of stuff you might have forgotten to pack, plus plenty of beers, wines and spirits at lower than UK prices.  

But the best bit for us as a family was the size of the ship.  It feels very spacious - not so big that I had to keep the children close to me - yet large enough so as not to induce seasickness.  Seeing as the eldest, who usually suffers when travelling, was ill on the way over from Sussex to Kent during the car journey the previous day, this is really not insignificant!  We felt fine, even on the return crossing when the weather was rather more rainy and we couldn't be outside for much of it.

There are three eateries - a restaurant as well as La Veranda cafe bar (below) and a Food Express, offering a variety of different options, catering for all tastes.  There's certainly no shortage of choice and there were no queues.  There is also an upgrade option of entry into the Sea View Lounge at a supplement of £8 per person each way, from which children under 8 years old are excluded.

All in all, our experiences of the Dover Dunkirk crossings were very pleasurable, positive ones.  At only £39 per car with up to nine passengers for a return fare, travelling to France by Ferry can be a really reasonably priced option for a family holiday.

There is a link to recommended accommodation in all the ports on the DFDS Seaways site, which I'd managed to overlook, such was the short notice in which this break was booked, so we took pot luck in a Budget Hotel, which was brilliantly located and friendly, but the size of a box and incomparable to the one we'd stayed in at Dover, so I would recommend staying somewhere that has been endorsed by the experts.

We loved Dunkirk as a destination.  It's full of history and the beaches are massive.  It is from here that the famous emergency evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers took place in the Second World War, with a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 hundred boats, made up of all those imaginable and possible  - from large British destroyers to fishing boats and private pleasure craft and is of where Winston Churchill spoke when he said 'We shall fight on the beaches:'

'....We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender... '  Winston Churchill. 

We took some time to honour those who had fought for our freedom as the children played.  It seemed important and appropriate to do that, but we gave the War Museum a miss for now - until the boys are older.  In better weather, these beaches must come into their own and it's no wonder that they are popular with kite-surfers, sand-surfers and wind-surfers.     

dunkirk, beaches dunkirk, we shall fight on the beaches,

And, of course, the food in France is always worth the trip to get there.  It's the only place I've ever drunk wine that actually tastes of grapes and we were able to indulge in exquisite long lunches that met my high expectations.  As a bonus, too, with the Euro exchange rate at 1.30, they were much cheaper than they would be at home.

There are up to 12 sailings per day and Priority Boarding is £10 per car each way, but beware of an overwraught single mother who's forgotten where she's parked.  (You don't get stuck behind somebody so silly, by the way, you just drive around their car).

Little did we know that getting lost on board at the outset might be an omen of things to come once we'd been let loose on the roads in France (and Belgium, as it happens) and that trying to navigate roundabouts in the wrong direction, plus having huge lorries thundering past in what would normally be an inside lane would take a bit of getting used to, but that's a story for another day......!

Disclosure - We were provided ferry crossings to and from France for the purposes of this review but (unless otherwise specified) all words, opinions and pics are my own obvs.
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