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.  She 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 politically incorrect 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

Precious.

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.

16 April 2015

My Darling Six Year Old.

His last day as a Five Year Old.

I wrote this a couple of days ago in the midst of mayhem:

My Darling Six Year Old,

Today is the last day that you are five.  It is such a milestone that it breaks my heart, but heals it and makes it swell all at the same time.

You are an extraordinary little boy and we love you with everything we have, your beautiful brother and I.

I miss you now you are at school, but oh my, you have thrived.  You read and write confidently and well and make me so proud.  Sometimes, you look so grown up you take me completely by surprise.

But that's you all over - full of them!  You were a surprise when you came and you have surprised and delighted everyone who knows you with your infectious enthusiasm for every single little thing since.  You act like you waited twenty years to come and now you're here and you can hardly believe it!  You are excited and happy and make us all laugh and we have finally found your thing - the 'thing' I've known you needed before it actually presented itself.

It's not Sport, despite your ability and like we suspected it might be, but Drama.  You were the star of your Nativity show, bringing deserving comments about your dancing, strong singing and natural performing.  You amazed us all and, as I overheard peoples' remarks about 'that little boy at the front' and watched those in-born jazz hands for the very first time, it hit me.  Of course!  And my joy knew no bounds.  You are teaching me that.

We signed you up for classes at school and your teacher asked how long you'd been doing ballet, when you've never been in your life!  You've just got it kid and you've got it in spades.

That you still want to wear your superhero suits or costumes rather than common clothes at every opportunity says so much about you.  You insist it's because they are more comfortable than jeans, but, really, it's who you are.  You are a superhero.

I think you tried to come before we finally managed it, but I kept losing you.  It just feels that way when I lie with you at night, holding you - when we are peaceful.  And I am grateful that you kept trying and that you came, that you are here and I have this privilege of knowing you and loving you. You are a gift, always have been, are fearless and refreshing and adorable.  And will be six years old tomorrow - the best six years of my life, thank you.

They have been exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure!  May you remain bouncy, cheeky and charming.  May you (please) tease you brother less mercilessly.  May you continue to fill me with wonder and, most importantly, at six years old, still be you.

All my love in the world,

Mummy,
XXXXXX.

14 April 2015

The Premier Inn, Dover.

I am always a bit wary of  travelling to a departure point of travel on the actual morning of leaving if there's an early start.  It's one of the extra pressures of being a single parent that I could do without.  I would be afraid of oversleeping and be too stressed to be able to settle, so I like to book accommodation the night before and be where we should be.  The kids love it and probably stay awake much later than they would usually but, hey ho, the holiday starts earlier and we get an extra night away from home.

In this instance, we needed to be in Dover, for my rather spontaenously booked short trip to France.   We had to be at the port for 9am, which is a perfect time of day to set sail and we were booked into the Premier Inn. 

First off, it's easy to find.  It's nestled right into the famous White Cliffs, bang on the seafront, a hop, skip and a jump from the ferry terminal.

premier inn, premier inn dover, hotel dover, budget hotel dover,
Premier Inn, Dover Central.
I was a bit worried about potential noise with it being so near the docks, but there was none.  All the windows were double glazed and we all slept brilliantly, unlike a night we spent at Heathrow once (!) - which wasn't with this particular chain.  The Premier Inn guarantee a great night's sleep.  Their bespoke beds, made famous by Lenny Henry in their TV ads, are so comfortable that they've had to arrange for the company that makes them to sell them the public and I can vouch for them being as deluxe as we have been led to believe.  All rooms have king size ones and there were an extra two individual single beds set up for the children.  Additionally, there is a choice of firm or soft pillows!

We'd also been allocated a room in the special 'Quiet Zone' especially for families - so there was no door slamming (but they were all on soft close mechanisms regardless) or noisy passers by at unreasonable hours.


Seeing as this is supposed to be a Budget Hotel - family rooms are available from £35 per night, it must be said that it certainly didn't feel like one.  The kids kept saying how posh the whole place was. Our room was spacious and clean, with crisp linen, a beautiful bathroom en suite and the shower was powerful (something else they guarantee), with soap and bodywash provided in dispensers. There was a large TV, tea and coffee making facilities with extra supplies available for free on a stand at Reception, plus the obligatory free Wi-fi,

It is not surprising that they have been voted Hotel Chain of the Year at the British Travel Awards and are also a Recommended Provider for UK Hotel Chains by Which?    

Overall, we were mightily impressed and another thing that contributed to the kids keeping asking to come back to it once we'd checked into our much smaller, humbler hotel in France, was the Table Table restaurant and bar in situ.  I liked the cool layout - open with stylish wood and bright but calm terracotta colours plus, again, the reasonable prices.  Children even eat free before 5pm Monday - Friday, although for kids up to age 12, their Junior menus are only £3.99 anyhow.

For our evening meal, I ate a scrummy Thai Green Curry.  It was presented differently to usual and could have done with some extra sauce, but it came with fresh chillies and spring onions on the rice which is an idea that I will now nick for home.

There was a good choice - lots of healthy options all round - and, as you know, I have no qualms in saying when the food isn't up to standard.  The boys enjoyed their spag bol and burger too and neither did the breakfasts disappoint, where, again, up to two children can eat free with one paying adult.

There is quite a selection of prepared fresh fruit, pastries, breads (inlcuding crumpets) and cereals before choosing specifically what you'd like for a cooked one.  Everything was decent quality and truly set us up for the day ahead.

The next time we need a Hotel, we'd consider ourselves very fortunate indeed if it could be a Premier Inn.  We were a bit sad to leave, but had a date with a boat and, before we knew it, we were off on the next leg of our (mad) mini adventure abroad!



Disclosure - we were provided with overnight accommodation for the purposes of this review, but all words, pics and opinions and are my own, obvs.

30 March 2015

Never the Twain Shall Meet.

Angelic.
The boys behaved extraordinarily well the other morning.  And that evening.  They were positively angelic.

That's both of them.  On the same day.  So, I'm wondering whether it will happen again in my lifetime, obviously.

'But what brought this on?'  I hear you ask.  Yes, I do.  I can see you're aghast, thinking 'How does she do it?'

We all know when you have two (or more) children that one will be playing up when the other isn't and they will take in turns, like they've made a secret plan to shred your nerves.  The one who listens in the morning will have done his stint and revert to ignoring you later in the day, while the sibling who refused to get dressed couldn't be sweeter within a few hours.  He'll sit saintly drawing, do as he's asked the first time you suggest something and want the light turned out after just the one book.  *Faints.*  

No. Never the twain shall meet.  Normally.  And there isn't any secret answer - only that they both wanted to watch a particular film.

But, silly me, lulled into a stupid false sense of security, I did something really rather rash and booked a trip to France.

It was supposed to be easy - nipping over from Newhaven (near us) to Dieppe -  a small port that I've already visited a couple of times, but the children have never been.  It's only tiny and it would be easy to show them around.  Simples, I thought.  A cinch.  What fun!

But it didn't work out like that.

I took the advice we'd been given at a Travel Blogging session at the Britmums Live conference, which was to decide where we want to go, then ring the right people and ask if there are any preferential press rates.  As long as we're prepared to write about our trips, which bloggers will usually do naturally and for free, it can be possible to get a discount of some kind.

They didn't have that particualr route available, but could offer me Dover to Dunkirk instead.  What the hell? I figured.  Let's go for it.   Dover's just along the coast.  Never been to either place.  What fun still!

Only now, here I am, printting off maps for places I don't know, visiting my lovely friend Tania en route, whose place we've never been to before either, booking a Hotel in Dover and another in France, both requiring more directions and maps and even driving on the right hand side of the road in one case, of course.  Not that I've ever minded driving on the other side before, but it's always been in a car designed to do that, not in my very own trusty Ford with the steering wheel in the opposite position to where it should be.

I have a feeling I'd much rather keep banging my left hand on the driver's door and just copy the person in front than be doing what we're all booked up to do. (Don't we all do that when we hire a car abroad - keep going to change gear where we're used to our gearstick being?!).

My fretting was further fed then by this pretty awesome but terrifying post by PINKODDY - where she outlines in explicit detail the documents and things we need to know to drive legally in France.  But we're now sorted, thanks to her and I realised that my winging it as a single parent just stepped up a serious notch or two.

The only things now are to get the students all stocked up with food before we go away and try not to panic about whether the boys will behave!

Hope you all have a wonderful Easter.

Anya XX

Intelligent Investing with Nutmeg.

When I worked as a Broker in my previous life in the City, our days would be full of jargon and it took time to get to grips with it, but, in the end, everything comes down to lending and borrowing and how much risk is involved.

The corporations with whom we dealt would be graded according to how likely - or unlikely - they were to default on a loan.  Top name British Banks, were easy to lend to, but they didn't need to pay as much interest for their borrowing as smaller ones from Latin American countries did.  Less risk = less interest - and this works both ways - whether you are depositing or borrowing.

But why do Banks want to borrow money, you might ask and what does this have to do with any of us?  

Financial organizations take all the deposits of their zillions of customers - people like you and me - and club them together to make great big fat ones, that they then do lots of exciting and interesting things with, including lending on to other private customers or business, making a huge profit in between what they charge and what they pay out.

You only have to look at the rate of interest you earn in normal savings account and compare it with the the rate you would be charged if you'd like to borrow the same amount from the same organization and you'll see the difference.

Investing any funds we might have with a Bank gives us relatively little risk compared with putting our money into stocks and shares or bonds and commodities, but it, thereby gives us relatively little return.  And most of us wouldn't know where to start with any of the other exciting and interesting, options that the Banks use anyhow.

But I recently heard of a company called nutmeg.com that is bringing intelligent investing to individuals, taking the City stuff and bringing it down to earth, giving us the benefits of their expertise and making people what is called a portfolio - a collection of investments - where they take all our little deposits, make them into great big fat ones and spread them into better paying ventures than a plain old savings account. Obviously, there are risks involved, but with that, the chances of a better return are higher.  

You might find your funds in oil, gold or commerical property - things you'd never have the knowledge or confidence to go for yourself and, because they like to keep things transparent, you're able to look up on line exactly what's happening with your cash this month!

But the best bit?   They only charge a one off annual fee of 0.3-1% for managing it all, so you always know where you are.

This brilliant little video explains it all - completely jargon free - and you can find out more here too.   They'll deal with your desposits, your ISAs and your pensions for a start.  Happy intelligent investing!




Disclosure - This is a collaborative post but all words are my own obvs.

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