Monthly Archives: November 2013

Inspiring people


There is a girl I was good friends with at school who is now a man.

That man has had an impressive career with non-profit organisations helping women experiencing domestic violence, defending women’s right, defending the rights of native Americans, reaching out to bridge cultural divides and encouraging equality and fairness in our mixed up society.

Just over a year ago he, Luke, and his fiancé, packed up their flat in California and set off around the world. En route they would help community projects and non-governmental organisations to achieve their goals and make the world a better place for all in the ways they were able. Their blog and photos started my feet itching… but we’ve got three kids and a business so we’re tied down, thought I.

In January I reached a bit of a mental block with the work I was doing for the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support and I contacted Luke for some guidance about how to drive forward the charity to the next level. In particular I needed input on motivating volunteers – and myself. The email correspondence we had gave me the kick I needed to keep going and do it even better. Our network is growing exponentially now – for that I know thousands of women are grateful!

Recently they’ve settled down in London and have taken over a little vintage clothing company selling all sorts of clothes and curios for people and places. I’m quite partial to vintage wares and have had to limit myself to items of use for our travels – which in part is down to Luke showing me that our lives need not be boundried. If Luke can become a handsome man and find a beautiful woman to travel the world with while helping others and then turn their hands to running a business, then we can certainly pack up our business and head off around the world on our own crazy life adventure, with our gaggle of children in tow, if that is what we want to do. If we can let go of the perceived limitations of life, from mortgages, work and belongings to our very own bodies and mindset, then we can achieve a liberation and lightness like no other. Our freedom should not be sniffed at either – it should be cherished and honoured and above all utilized! How few people in the world can achieve true freedom – I am so grateful for mine.

So, I now have the first items I’ll be taking with me round the world: a hanky for my hair and a deliciously worn leather bag, both of which will remind me en route that the world is ours for exploration and discovery, we are free and we can achieve whatever we set our minds and bodies to. I don’t need a lot else to be honest!

Check out their shop, it’s an absolute gem 🙂


Hanky for my hair from Kookie London


This bag was made for walking – from Kookie London to around the world 🙂

Obtaining our Visa’s – And what sort of Alien are you Sir?


Rob wasn’t sure if I was joking about the phone being tapped before we arrived at the American Embassy for the visa interview and although I was joking I also had no idea what to expect. We had googled what to wear and were duly in our smart attire, not entirely necessary on reflection but certainly didn’t harm. Armed police surround the place as one would expect at the American Embassy but to my surprise a lot of the staff were English, or at least had English accents. It made me wonder if the British Embassy in Washington has bobbies with truncheons and staff with American accents? I doubt it.

I’ve never applied for a visa before or been though any similarly official processes and I’ve certainly never been to an Embassy before. Looking online there wasn’t a whole lot about how it works and what to expect so for those of you interested I thought I’d share the experience.

It started online… Lengthy application forms involving photos and a contact in the states, employment history and five pages of tick boxes declaring that you are not a terrorist, people trafficker, pimp, drug baron, drug user, money launderer, arms dealer, involved in genocide, communist, prostitute or any other untoward profession or hobbyist. Even our 18 month old had to declare she was none of the above.

The first application took a while but by the fifth I’d got it nailed to about 15 minutes. You need a printer to print out the confirmations but for the photos you need only a smart phone or camera and can do them yourself at home thus saving a trip to town for passport photos.

Then you make the appointment – I messed this bit up with confusion over a badly worded question and it wanted me to bring all the kids to London for the next step… the interview. Luckily a phone call to the helpline which was answered by a real person relatively quickly solved this thanks to the chap really persevering with trying to understand what I had done wrong and helpfully correcting it all for me there and then on the phone… I was impressed and we were spared the nightmare of traipsing the children to London.

Less impressive is having to pay a vast amount (£800 for the five of us!) and then the cost of Rob and myself attending an interview in London. From Cornwall the travel alone costs about £100 then we stayed in a hotel because it was -2 degrees that night so the bongo wasn’t very appealing. Plus food and taxis, and all the money we gave out to homeless people having lost our desensitisation from years in Cornwall. Oh and as we didn’t have the kids we had a few cocktails and £10 pints when we arrived in London at 11pm… The paracetamol the next morning was cheap though.

So what happens at a visa interview? Well, first you queue outside in the pouring rain to get through security. You are not allowed any thing electrical including phones, chargers, iPods or anything else which makes modern life so convenient. Bear in mind that without a phone you’ll need a map to find the place! You’ll also need somewhere to leave said items. We were lucky as we have a friend with an office just around the corner so we left our bag (not allowed to take anything bigger than a handbag in) there with our phones and so on. Otherwise train stations have lockers and cloakrooms where you can leave things. Once you’re through security you can replace your watch and belt (seriously!) and then you get a ticket with your number on. You hear people ask questions like “And what sort of alien are you sir?”. Then you go and sit in a massive waiting room with a screen pinging numbers to call people to windows numbered 1-1,000,000. Okay maybe not that many but there were a lot! We we number N195 and it was only 10am so you get the gist.

Once up they take your passports and scan your fingerprints and ask why you want to go to America for more than three months… be ready with a good answer! Then you sit down and wait again for your number to come up again with a new window number. We had been told it could take up to three hours but I guess because we were pretty straight forward we were done in just over an hour. So our number pinged and we walked about half a mile to the window we were summoned to and had our fingerprints scanned again. The woman here was lovely, as in fact were all of the staff from the queue outside through security and at the desks, the only grumpy sod was the café guy in the waiting room but the fact there was a café made up for that.

So here is the real point of the interview… You need to prove two things: 1. that your can fund your trip without working in the States and 2. that you will leave the States when you say you will because your links to home are strong. We took along a letter detailing our ongoing income steam from investments and my work which I can do remotely anywhere in the world and we had a letter from Rob’s work saying his job is being held open for him on his return. Our children are in school here and Patrick will be enrolled to start on return and all our family are in the UK so it was pretty straight forward for us. She did say that the income evidence made it easy for us and I suspect that if you couldn’t prove that you have sufficient funds you may have a bit more work to convince them.

Our excitement on our return trip to Cornwall, just 12 hours after arriving in London and still with lingering hangovers, was bursting at the seams – No longer do we have to choose between the Appalachian Mountains and the deep south, between Monument Valley and the Great Sequoias or between Yellowstone or the West Coast… We can do it all!

The final stages of the process hasn’t happened yet. They still have our passports and we will need to collect them from a depot in Plymouth next week. After that it will be up to the officer at New York airport who will have the final say as to how long we can stay, up to 6 months. So we’ve been advised to have a firmer plan for our route and schedule, which we can now work on having confirmed the visa’s and to take the letter proving our income with us.

I must admit, apart from the cost and the need to travel to London the whole process has been very straight forward. I had been apprehensive about what it would entail and the amount of work it would involved but apart from the cocktail hangover it was surprisingly painless!

Carreg Cennen Castle – Wales


We went to Wales this weekend to visit friends. Setting off straight from school we made the 3.5hr journey in one go thanks to a well packed picnic and the ingenious TravelJohns
 I recently discovered. They prevented no less than three separate toilet stops and the boys thought it was hilarious!

Our friends live just off the M4 yet on the edge of the Brecon Beacons and Carreg Cennen Castle was a short drive across moorland and through valleys which reminded me of our pre-children hikes in the Peak District – intriguingly alternative to the Cornish hedges and green hills down here.

Built upon a huge limestone crag nearly 90 metres above the river Cennen the Castle has utilised the natural defensive qualities of it’s position. It dominates the skyline from miles around and it’s easy to imagine why people dating as far back as the iron age occupied it as a stronghold.

View from the arrow loops.

View from the arrow loops.

The Castle as seen now was build in stages during the end of the 13th Century and start of the 14th Century and has a bloody history of battles and wars, including the Wars of the Roses (1455-85). However it was deliberately ruined in the Summer of 1462 on behalf of the Yorkist king, Edward IV, who had just won it back from the a Lancastrian supporter, Gruffudd ap Nicholas who was using it as a garrison. They destroyed it so it would not be used by the enemy again. It has laid there in ruin ever since.

Interior at Carreg Cennen Castle

Interior at Carreg Cennen Castle

For me the magic was in the ability to see how people lived there. The domestic quarters are surprisingly in tact so you can make out the kitchen, various private chambers and even toilets – always fascinating to our boys (oh okay, us too). You can see various stair cases twisting up the towers and picture the people using them all those centuries ago. In the inner ward the massive oven is still visible and of the style of modern pizza and bread ovens which are still fashionable and functional today.

Children inside the bread oven

Children inside the bread oven

Most intriguingly is a long dark tunnel which runs under the castle for some way but leads only to a chamber at the end. It’s not sure what the purpose of it was but, considering the effort it would have taken to create, there must have been a good reason for it. The tunnel and cave is covered in graffiti mostly from over 100+ years ago which is fascinating in itself. Not only picturing the medieval knights and princes but the Victorian tourists making their way along the tunnel with candles and ridiculous shoes, scratching their names and dates – claiming their own little victory over the Castle and mortality. I didn’t get a picture down in the cave because I was concentrating hard on getting both me and my kids down it and back out alive – sorry about that. You need to take a torch as it’s pitch black, although you can hire them from the shop.

After exploring the castle as extensively as possible with a gaggle of children in tow we headed down to the shop and café for lunch. Castell Farm surrounds the Castle and is run as a Welsh upland holding with rare breed sheep and cattle. The meats from the animals can be sampled in the café with Longhorn cottage pie and other hearty dishes. The kids were welcome and prices reasonable.

It was a fantastic day out, ideal for families of all ages as the paths are easy and the castle is interesting for all. You could probably do it with an off road buggy but we used an Ergo Carrier for Orla. You wouldn’t be able to do the cave with a pushchair or with a big backpack.

Prices and opening times available on their website

A great place to play knights and dragons!

A great place to play knights and dragons!

A medieval toilet. The waste just headed out of a hole in the outer wall of the castle.

A medieval toilet. The waste just headed out of a hole in the outer wall of the castle.

It's easy to see why they build it here with a defensive view from all angles. Carreg Cennen is an imposing feature on the surrounding landscape.

It’s easy to see why they build it here with a defensive view from all angles. Carreg Cennen is an imposing feature on the surrounding landscape.

Milestones – Alfie loses his first baby tooth!


It seems like yesterday when Alfie got his first tooth. He was quite young at about 17 weeks old and he bit my nipple, ouch! On Saturday that first tooth fell out!

Skip back about 27 years and my sister and I were loosing our teeth at a time when my father used to travel the world a lot for business. He was (and in fact still is) a frequent flyer to exciting locations such as America, Hong Kong and Japan. After the tooth had been “bought” by the tooth fairy unbeknownst to us my father would buy it back from her and take it on a business trip where he would then dispose of the tooth in an interesting location. Our teeth have been thrown off the Golden Gate bridge, buried in a flower pot in the Empire State building, deposited in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and left in the Jardin des Tuilieres in Paris … how cool is that!

So having made my own deal with the tooth fairy I’m now considering how to dispose of them. With our travel plans afoot it will be fairly easy to follow my father’s theme for Alfie’s teeth and I suspect the first will reside in New York, perhaps in Central Park. But what if you don’t have such an opportunity… what other ideas are out there for dealing with the teeth which to many parents can mean so much?

The bin is obviously one option and fair dos if that’s the route you go – they are just teeth and to be honest are a little gross really! But many of us just can’t bring ourselves to bin these little bits of our babies – they’re not like toe nails that keep on growing.

You could bury them in your own garden, perhaps by a specific tree or plant. If you were hippy enough to have buried your placenta then this is likely to be an appealing option. If you don’t have a garden then a local park, woodland or river could be an option?

You could simply store them in a jar and present them to the child in adulthood to do what they want with. If that appeals to you and you want to keep them nice then here is a link on how to “preserve them”. If your of the very organised variety of parent then you can even get these these little trinket boxes for keeping them in: Juliana Silver Plated Tooth and Curl Box. Not my cup of tea but each to their own!

Or what about making some tooth jewellery? Sounds kinda grim but actually when polished up they are meant to look quite pearl like and it’s not that long ago that people made broaches and the like from the hair of dead loved ones! Here is a link to making jewellery from your child’s milk teeth.

But if you’re of a more practical nature, how about sending them off to have your child’s stem cells harvested? It turns out the cells in the pulp that comes out with milk teeth, if preserved rapidly and collected by courier can be grown and multiplied before being frozen and stored in case your child needs them for medical treatment in the future. It sounds like an appealing option but bare in mind it’s expensive (£995 plus £95 per year for storage from BioEden) and the treatments which they hope to develop using stem cells have yet to actually be developed so it’s far from a complete insurance but well worth considering if you’ve got plenty of money or you’re particularly paranoid.

Having written the above I’m thoroughly relieved that we are off round the world and my dad has given us the inspiration for our disposal route. They’ll be no jewellery or anxiously awaiting couriers in this household. There is a tiny little pot that will make it into our bag to head off round the world so a little bit of Alfie can remain in all the interesting places we will visit. If I’m organised enough I’ll try to document the locations for him.

In Dublin Fair City


Molly Malone

Five years ago I took my four month old baby to Dublin to visit my father. At that time the most child friendly aspect of the whole trip had been the flight. Air South West were a a great company who bent over backwards to accommodate families and young children – perhaps it was their desire to be nice which finished them off – they have since closed down and we had little choice but to use Ryan Air. There are other options such as Air Lingus and Flybe but cost, flight times and being fully booked ruled them out. Cheap, and definitely not cheerful Ryan Air got us and our hand luggage there and back in one piece and didn’t break the bank.

Dublin at the time was not overly welcoming of a new mum travelling with an infant. There were no Parent and Child spaces at the shopping centre we visited and no nursing room in any store. So I was rather intrigued as to how I would find Dublin now, arriving with my three children and a lot more parenting confidence.

Dublin excelled! We arrived early on Saturday morning and deposited our baggage at my fathers house where we were staying. Then we headed on into the city to explore the Leprechaun Museum. Unfortunate weather is par for the course and didn’t dampen our spirits as sights of a real life bird man, (a male version of the bird lady in Mary Poppins), a horse and cart and a host of street performers delighted and excited them.


Feed the birds, tuppence a bag, tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag!

Halloween happens to be an ideal time to visit Ireland – They are mad for it! A combination of their pagan past combined with American links and a lack of the UK’s bonfire night means they really put the effort into Halloween and they do it really well. Ghosts, ghouls and vampires were out in abundance and spotting games were made easy. Considering everywhere is walk-able in Dublin this is great for keeping them going.


The friendliness towards the children was clear and natural everywhere we went, whether or not they were intended for families. On Sunday night we ate at Dillinger’s in Ranelagh. They make no pretences that it is a family restaurant because it isn’t, they don’t have high chairs or a children’s menu. But that’s not to say families aren’t welcome – they literally bent over backwards, forwards and sideways (mainly clearing up after us) to make us and our three young children welcome.

Despite no children’s menu they rustled up impressive cocktails for the boys and split an adult meal three ways. They are possibly the first restaurant I’ve ever been to that actually managed to split the meal onto three plates for us in the kitchen, rather than the usual experience of the meal served on one plate and a couple of smaller plates chucked at us to sort out ourselves. This little detail may seem minor but when hunger frays tempers and you’re paying for a nice meal out it is quite infuriating to have to start sorting all the kids food out on a cramped table before you can try your own meal and deters from the meaningful experience of eating out at a nice restaurant. The waiter engaged with the kids and admired Patrick’s fox jumper and there was no awkwardness about the noise or mess that comes with the kids no matter how well behaved they are.


Specially made cocktails for the kids in Dillnger’s

And this fun and welcoming attitude wasn’t limited to Dillenger’s, we had the same welcome at every café and pub we went to. Breakfast was enjoyed with amazing mango smoothies they knocked up for the boys in a little café. And in the pub we nipped into for a porter, a tee-shirt was provided after Alfie slipped off the bench and was drenched by his orange juice, which had thoughtfully been served in a plastic pint glass. The Barman could not have been more helpful and kind in relieving Alfie’s embarrassment and the beers and home brewed porters at the aptly named Porterhouse went down helpfully too.


Alfie was delighted with his tee shirt from The Porterhouse – worth pouring his drink all over himself for!

We did of course go to the Dublinia Museum, which documents the Viking and Medieval history of Dublin. Patrick’s highlight of the entire weekend was experienced here where they have a model of a Viking man on the toilet, complete with sound effects! This interactive museum also allows kids a variety of hands on fun playing medieval games, trying on chain-male amour and learning about archaeology. Here is Alfie throwing a ball at a man in the stocks (fear not – the Viking on the loo is further down).


The Museum is next door to the Cathedral which you can pay to visit also.

So, to sum up what Dublin has going for it for a family with young kids…

  • Cheap and quick flights (about 45 mins from Bristol)

  • Everywhere is easy walking

  • Fantastic restaurants, even the “non-family” ones welcoming

  • Great attractions for all the family

  • A rich culture and heritage which is difficult to rival in the UK

  • Great beer! A lot of which is brewed in the Cities various micro-breweries

We highly recommend a visit to this wonderful city, but do remember to take some wet weather gear!

Here are some more pictures to whet your appetite for Dublin:


Incredible selection of Ireland’s finest beverages at The Porterhouse.


The Viking on the toilet was a popular feature of the Dublinia Museum – there were sound effects too!



The Cathedral in Dublin, next door to the Dublinia Museum


Street entertainment on Grafton Street


Mango Juice – interesting drinks were provided for the kids almost everywhere we went.


Our drinks were pretty interesting too 🙂 by the way, that’s a genuine axe wound on his face, a friend dropped it on him!