How I took the stress out of Christmas

I have always loved Christmas, but in recent years it’s started to stress me out a lot.

The main reason for the stress is Christmas presents. I put huge amounts of pressure and expectation on myself to buy wonderful thoughtful presents, not buy vouchers or, worse, just give money. This makes the lead up an absolute nightmare as I start to get annoyed and then panic.

The truth is these days we live in a “now” society, and many people are fortunate enough to be able to buy themselves things as they want them throughout the year, rather than waiting for Santa to come. So then you’re either buying people something they already have, or something they don’t really need or want, just to say you’ve bought a present. Lifestyles have changed too. No-one buys DVDs or CDs as gifts now we’ve all got Netflix and Spotify. Everything is expensive. My brother only wears branded expensive clothes. My Mom says she’ll be happy “with anything”. And my mother-in-law is 81; what can you buy an 81 year old?!

It sounds cheesy to say, but when I think of Christmas, I don’t get a warm feeling from receiving gifts. I love putting up decorations and watching Christmas films. When I think back to Christmas Days gone past I couldn’t tell you what gifts I received, but I could tell you how I love cooking roast turkey and all the trimmings, how I keep my mother in law topped up with whiskey, how we settle down to watch a film in the afternoon and I invariably fall asleep. Those are the things that make Christmas for me.

So, last year, we made a decision not to buy presents for adults in the family. And it made life so much easier. It may sound Scrooge-esque, but the lead up to the big day was so much nicer without endlessly trawling websites looking for gift inspiration, and keeping all receipts safe and sound in case you need to return something in January <<shudder>>

Of course, having a 1 year old nephew makes Christmas different these days, and all the more exciting. And yes he will be spoilt. There is absolutely no stress in buying presents for children – the only problem is when to stop!

I know the world is pretty weird right now, and for many people Christmas may be the one thing to look forward to, but if you struggle with gift buying – either from an ideas point of view, or because it’s just so damn expensive – then I really recommend having a chat with your family and suggesting getting back to the real spirit of Christmas. You may find they’ve already been thinking the same thing but didn’t know how to approach the subject.

But if you are buying gifts, try to support businesses who have struggled this year due to the weird world we find ourselves in. Independents will value your custom so much more than big corporates. Something handmade or a voucher for a local restaurant might just help to keep a small trader in business into 2021.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A visit to Witley Court and Gardens

We’ve talked about joining English Heritage for ages, every time we visit one of their sites actually, but we always put it off for some reason. Back in August we visited Witley Court in Worcester, as we were staying at a campervan site not far away. As this was post lockdown we had to book tickets in advance, for a timed entrance (ah, remember the days when you could just rock up somewhere whenever it suited you? Good times for disorganised people like me!)

On arrival one of the lovely volunteers explained the new one way system to us (ah, remember the days when you could just wander freely in whatever direction you fancied? Good times…) and also talked about the merits of joining, which included a refund on what we’d paid for our tickets that day, and a special offer of 15 months for the price of 12, which will cover us all through next summer as well.

Now I know that the pandemic is bad and sad and horrid, but there are some benefits to it (sorry) and that includes fewer people visiting tourist attractions. Which meant that we barely passed anyone else as we walked through the grounds towards Witley Court itself. The grounds alone are incredible; very well tended, clear pathways, huge trees and shrubs, and a big lake.

And then you walk up a big gravel driveway, and the ruins of Witley Court loom large.

100 years Witley Court would have been one of the great country houses in the UK. It hosted banquets, parties and welcomed royal visitors. Sadly it was ruined by a fire in 1937, which tore through the building and destroyed the interior, although the grand scale of the building is apparent even in it’s ruinous state.

The Perseus and Andromeda fountain, which has been restored in recent years is a magnificent sight to behold. The fountain displays for 20 minutes every hour, on the hour and the main jet reaches a height of 30 metres.

The gardens are incredibly well kept and manicured – the green fingered side of me was in awe at the accuracy and neatness of the curated planting!

Due to the layout and location of Witley Court, it’s one of the sites that English Heritage have managed to keep open safely during this second lockdown. Adult tickets cost £9 each (£9.90 with gift aid donation).

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Campervanning – what I’ve learnt so far

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you’ll have seen that, after a lockdown start to Summer 2020 and not being able to go anywhere, we threw ourselves into it wholeheartedly from mid-July to mid-September.

It seemed cruel that, having bought our van in October last year, with plans for 2020 to be the summer of roadtrips, Covid came along and stopped everything in its tracks. Not to sound selfish and self centred, as I’m aware there are a lot LOT worse things going on for people, but here we were with £12k of van sitting outside our house and nowhere to go. Even daytrips became out of the question.

We could have spent that time getting prepared for when the situation changed and we could get on the road, but that would have been too sensible. Instead, when restrictions were lifted and we felt safe enough to venture out for our first overnighter, we had a mad rush to buy plates, dishes, glasses, cutlery, a duvet cover, mattress topper, screen cover, tent pegs for the awning and a porta potti. Yup, if we were going camping we were doing it properly.

Our first overnighter, in Much Wenlock, was a learning curve. Our set up was easy thanks to our pop up tent which is so easy to assemble. Everything went pretty smoothly, I congratulated myself for the ease with which I had accustomed myself to life on wheels.

Alas it all went a bit wrong when we realised the screen cover was in the cupboard, behind the bed, after the bed was all set up ready for us to get into. I had a meltdown, cried, stormed off, said everything was shit and this wasn’t the life for me.

In short, I was a drama queen.

Not one to give in, I insisted we try again ASAP, doubling our chances of me losing the plot by going away for 2 nights. This time I forgot some of the ingredients for our Saturday night dinner so instead of being logical and making do, I threw everything away and we went to bed hungry.

If you think you can see a pattern emerging, I’m glad to say you’re wrong. From shit beginnings we have now absolutely nailed it, having completed two 4 night trips without incident.

More importantly, I love it!

So, what have I learnt so far?

We could not exist in a campervan alone

All credit to people who can live purely from their van, but we have stuff. We like stuff. Stuff makes us happy and comfortable and more likely to enjoy ourselves. When we go away the living space is packed to the rafters so we need somewhere to put it all. A stand alone awning (basically a tent) means we can unload. We have a dumping ground where bedding, dried goods, shoes, clothes etc can sit so it doesn’t get in our way during everyday life.

For us, comfort is key

We have a thick mattress topper, full size duvet, and we take our own bed pillows. A decent night sleep is key, especially if you’re short tempered and highly strung like me!

Organisation really does help

The first time we went away I put all of our eating and drinking utensils in a bag, then got really irritable when I couldn’t find things easily. After that I bought a set of 4 plastic drawers which keeps everything in it’s place. It’s lightweight enough to get in and out easily, and sits in the corner of our awning when we’re set up for ease of access.

A porta potti isn’t as grim as it sounds

The idea of peeing in anything that isn’t a toilet didn’t fill me with glee, but they really are pretty good and hygienic. We bought one with a proper flushable tank and with the right chemicals and specific loo roll even emptying it isn’t awful, because everything dissolves. Plus, if it’s a choice between that and walking to the toilet block in the middle of the night – no brainer.

Mundane tasks feel more fun in a camper

Cooking breakfast, making up the bed and even washing up have a novelty element to them. Not to mention having drinks from our well stocked bar!

A serviced pitch is good for longer stays

For us, an electric hook up is essential regardless of how long we’re staying, but on our one and two night trips that’s all we’ve needed. We can fill a water container from the central tap and make do without washing up by having enough crockery and cutlery and bringing it home in a black bag to stick in the dishwasher. For our 4 night trip we booked a serviced pitch, which means that, as well as an electric point, you also have your own water tap and a drain to empty away waste water. That way you don’t need to use the washing up facilities or walk to the tap which just makes life a little easier (this may sound precious, but I don’t care).

Camping people are both friendly and trustworthy

From sites not taking pre-payment, to other visitors leaving their deckchairs outside all night and people actually making eye contact and saying hello, there’s a feeling of camaraderie and all being part of something. It’s nice.

I’m far from an expert, and we’re not the type of people who can just pack up and go at a moment’s notice, but I’m loving the whole experience WAY more than I expected to. In truth I thought we’d go away every few weeks and I would grin and bear it for my husband but, if anything, I’ve been the driving force behind planning more trips, looking at destinations, and booking our stays.

Certainly, with our personal decision not to get on a plane this year, being able to still get away has been an absolute lifesaver. Mentally we’ve felt less trapped, medically we’ve felt less at risk by being more or less self contained, and financially that £12k van has earned it’s keep by being our home on wheels.

We’re pretty much fair weather campers; autumn winter camping isn’t for us. But I’m already excited for what next year will bring and where we’ll go. It really does feel like a whole new chapter of life.

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Gluten free findings

Hey! Earlier in the year we came to the conclusion that my husband is gluten intolerant, and it seemed like a really big major deal. Oh the innocence of life before Covid…

Not that I’m belittling gluten sensitivity. I know for some people it can be hugely debilitating. With a process of elimination we’ve worked out that there are only certain things that cause the physical discomfort, pain and bad tummy for the husband but, that said, there’s obviously something that triggers him and, just because not all wheat products cause a tangible effect, it’s probably not doing his insides any good.

The journey to gluten free was an immediate one – as soon as we recognised the signs our house became gluten free. That included a new toaster and wooden kitchen utensils in case of any pesky gluten hiding away on surfaces.

Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Gluten free food is expensive. A bag of pasta is easily twice the price of a standard one. Biscuits three to four times the price. At a time when some people are losing their jobs or having their income reduced by furlough, I can see that some people couldn’t afford to buy GF products. And that sucks.
  • Gluten free bread is rubbish (as well as expensive). You don’t get a choice of thickness – it’s just one standard naff slice size (we’ve always been thick sliced bread people, and thick sliced it is not). The slices are teeny tiny, like they’re made for children. It has no rigidity or strength, so if you use it for a sandwich it falls apart. It’s ok toasted. My favourites are the Genius White sliced, or the Warburtons seeded sliced. Buns aren’t much better, again not having the strength to hold a burger, but the best I’ve found are the Asda white buns. Still not cheap (£1.50 for 4) but cheaper and better than others I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot!)
  • Own brand items tend to be more GF than branded. Pringles contain gluten, but Lidl do their own version call Snax which are GF, and much cheaper than Pringles, albeit only in 3 flavours. Many Walkers crisps are now out of bounds, but Asda own crisps in the same flavours are wheat free.
  • Some “standard” items are already GF. For example, Asda do a “free from” white sauce for lasagne (no, I don’t make my own!) but the Dolmio one doesn’t contain any wheat anyway. In this case the “free from” refers to dairy, which I didn’t realise at first.
  • Wheat and gluten is in things you wouldn’t expect. For example, frozen chips, just potato and sunflower oil, right? Actually in many cases they’re dusted with a coating for crispiness. I can highly recommend Lidl’s own brand french fries, which are delightfully crispy, super cheap, and use rice flour which is GF.
  • Pizza was kind of a big deal for the husband, and he was very upset at not being able to eat it. We tried the GF options from Pizza Hut, but the dough was claggy and a bit naff. We’ve never been fans of frozen pizza cooked at home, but I gave the Goodfellas GF ones a try and OMG. They’re just so good. Not “good for GF pizza” just “good” full stop. We usually buy a margarita which we pimp up with peppers and onions, and a pepperoni which we add mushroom too. Break a ball of mozzarella over the top for extra ooze and I defy you not to love them.
  • Most of the Asda range of sausages are gluten free, and say so on the label, which I found surprising as I assumed supermarket sausages would be full of breadcrumbs. On the flip side, I went to a local butcher to source some sausages, thinking they’d be higher quality, and was told they weren’t GF. More expensive isn’t always better.

My best advice for anyone who is newly gluten intolerant is:

Labels, labels, labels – you’ll soon get used to scanning ingredients quickly to identify whether something is suitable. Do check items you buy regularly though, in case they’ve changed the ingredients

Google, google, google – there are some great GF food bloggers out there who have come up with alternative recipes for gluten containing favourites.

I’ll leave you with this recipe from Slimming Eats, which is so accurate in terms of taste and texture that it’s hard to believe it isn’t the real thing – “fakeaway” kebab. It’s also much healthier and lower is calories and crap than anything you’ll get from the chip shop! Seriously, try it!

If anyone has any GF suggestions, alternatives or supermarket foods, do let me know in the comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A visit to West Midlands Safari Park

It’s been many years since I went to West Midlands Safari Park and, in truth, I don’t remember anything about the animals. I do remember going on a rollercoaster with my Dad, who was a big scaredy cat and said “Jesus Christ” at the end of the going forward bit, just before the coaster started going backwards to do a loop the loop in reverse.

I’ve asked the husband if we can go over the years, but he always refused on the basis that the monkeys might rip his car to pieces. So when my sister mentioned taking my toddler nephew, I jumped at the chance to join in and offered to be the designated driver.

There aren’t any monkeys on the loose these days – precisely for the reason husband feared – they were pulling windscreen wipers, bumpers and aerials from cars. But there is a wide range of animals, many of whom you can feed through your car window.

First things first – tickets aren’t cheap. You’re charged per person rather than per vehicle. It’s £25 per adult, £20 for children aged 3 to 15 years, and under 3s are free. On the plus side, after your visit, you’ll receive an email with a code for a return free visit within 6 months, which makes it an appealing prospect if you can get back there for round two. As with everything in these weird Covid times you can’t just rock up on the day; you need to pre-book tickets online – even your free return visit.

We arrived at around 11am after a pit stop for a McDonalds breakfast and the queues were already quite long as people snaked towards the ticket booths to show their proof of purchase. You get the option to purchase a box of food at the same time as your ticket purchase online, and this is handed over to you at the ticket booth, with some handwipes. If you plan on feeding the animals all the way round DEFINITELY take more hand wipes and gel. Some of them are a bit slobbery and you’ll be wanting to sanitise after being licked by a huge giraffe tongue!

The Park is split into sections with animals specific to that area. Not going to lie, the first time I put a hand full of food out of my window and an eland approached, I squealed. They’re just so big and so close up and so keen to eat! But you get more used to it as you drive round the 4 mile route. Obviously in the carnivore section you have to keep your windows firmly closed, unless you want to become lion feed.

There are lots of rangers in vehicles all around the park; they’re there for the safety of both the visitors and the animals. They also drive around the park in the right places, and encouraging them to move so that visitors get to see them. And sometimes they need to get them out of the middle of a traffic jam!

We were lucky enough that a ranger had just disturbed the lions as we drive through the carnivore enclosure. It was incredible to watch this male just wander in front of my car!

The elephants aren’t allowed to wander freely – probably in case they inadvertently trample your car – but you can pull up really close to them.

It took around 2 hours to drive the whole way around – a mix of busy traffic at the beginning (which thinned out), driving slowly so as not to scare the animals, and spending more time in different areas in order to get close to our favourites.

It was super cute to watch my nephew seeing things he’d never seen before.

It was crazy to see the giraffes just wandering amongst the cars! I was thrilled to feed them on the way in and on the way out (the giraffe area straddles both the entrance and exit). Giraffes are my favourite anyway, but just wow!

After the safari we then parked the car up to go into the theme park side. This comprises of gift shops and places to eat, smaller animal exhibitions including penguins and reptiles, Land of the Living Dinosaurs, and fairground rides which are an additional cost on top of the entrance fee.

Unfortunately by that time it was raining heavily which wasn’t conducive to fully enjoying the outdoor sections, so we’re saving that for our return visit next year.

The opening hours are variable now with the darker nights and in the lead up to Christmas, but you can check availability and book tickets here.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Who votes against free school meals for children living in poverty?

The Tory party, that’s who.

The news today that, in a House of Commons vote, there was an overwhelming majority AGAINST providing free school meals for children who need them over the upcoming school holidays is absolutely abhorrent.

The irony of awarding footballer Marcus Rashford an MBE for his services to supporting the food needs of school children living in poverty, only to then refuse his call to extend provisions is hypocrisy at its finest.

The sheer audacity of MPs who are supposed to have the best interests of school children at heart voting no, including:

  • Minister for School Standard Nick Gibb
  • Children’s Minister Vicky Ford
  • Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock

Then again, when the leader of our country himself, that self serving out of touch prat Boris Johnson, votes against looking after youngsters who will be going hungry through no fault of their own, what can you expect?

Far from this descending into name calling, insulting and absolute incredulity at the unfeeling, uncaring and downright hateful government, I’m going to make this into something more positive. I’m going to suggest ways that you and I can help.

Donate to Fare Share

FareShare is a charity dedicated not only to helping those in need access food, they’re also working to reduce food waste. Double whammy of goodness. They take surplus food from across the industry and distribute it to food charities, breakfast clubs, homeless shelters and more. This isn’t about giving out the scraps that are left at the end of the day, but identifying good quality items which still have plenty of value in terms of nutrition but which retail stores can’t or won’t sell.

You can find out more about FareShare here.

If you’d like to support FareShare and the work they do, you can make a one off financial donation, or set up a monthly direct debit. I’ve set up a £10 per month donation this morning which was quick and easy, and will provide 40 meals to people who need them.

Trussell Trust

The Trussell Trust have a countrywide network of food banks supplying food parcels to those in need. They accept both financial and food donations. To donate food, find your local branch and check their opening hours online. They also have collection points in some local supermarkets.

Write to your local MP

Yes it may seem old fashioned, and yes it may seem futile, but there is still strength in letting your local MP know how you feel. They are supposed to represent their constituents, so they need feedback from those constituents to let them know they’re performing very badly. It may not make a difference, but I guarantee you’ll feel better for saying something.

Educate your peers around the issue

I’ve seen too many comments blaming parents who live on benefits, parents who can’t be bothered to get a job, parents who have kids they can’t afford, and parents who spend their money on cigarettes and big TVs instead of prioritising their children’s appetites. Of course there will always be people who abuse the system and don’t put the needs of their children first. But don’t tarnish everyone with the same brush. There are parents who work damn hard in poorly paid jobs and can’t make ends meet because the cost of living is too high in comparison to the minimum wage. There are parents who may have lost their jobs – with those numbers due to increase with the way the government is poorly handling the Covid pandemic. There are families in which one parent may have died, or left the household.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is – the end result is hungry children who don’t have the personal power or wherewithal to conjure up food for their empty tummies. None of it is the fault of children.

Remember also, as I posted about 2 years ago, that charities exist because of a government failure or unwillingness to provide financial support. You can try and place lame wherever you like, but ultimately a government has a responsibility to look after its citizens.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Just checking in…

Hello! How is your pandemic life going? Remember back when it all started, around March, and we talked about things being back to normal in 6 months? How naïve we were, eh? I planned on keeping a few days annual leave back in case I could get some winter sun in the Canary Islands. Ha!

So, we’re now in tiered lockdown, and there are lots of different thoughts on why that is. Some blame students and young people who haven’t followed the rules, others blame minority groups and worshipping congregations, many blame Eat Out to Help Out which literally encouraged people to visit hospitality venues, who are now bearing the brunt of tiered lockdown as their opening hours are curtailed.

I blame the government. They’ve handled it appallingly, acted too late, made allowances for their own ministers setting bad examples and generally presented the appearance of headless chickens. We know that it can, and has, been handled better. Just look at New Zealand.

A while ago I posted about my pandemic life so far, so I thought I’d do an update!

Blogging

I stupidly let my domain and hosting expire, which means my site has been MIA since mid September. In truth it was because I wanted to leave GoDaddy but didn’t know who to go with and then, by the time I’d decided, they (GoDaddy) wanted to charge me $149 to reinstate my site! So I’ve spent a good few hours calling them thieving gits, asking to speak to a manager (I was such a Karen!) and then, once they waived the charge, more hours with online support who told me lots of conflicting things until finally it was resolved. Hurrah! My main issue with GoDaddy was not wanting to pay 2 years up front, which they were trying to bill me for, but it turns out you can now pay monthly so I’m still with them for now. My whole blog needs an overhaul and tidy up and new theme, and I did consider just ditching it altogether as I’ve posted about 5 times in the past year, but ultimately I enjoy knowing it’s here for me when I feel the need, and I don’t want to lose 5 years of writing.

Campervanning

Earlier this year it seems like the worst time EVER to have bought a campervan, as we couldn’t go anywhere, but once restrictions were lifted somewhat our Bodhi Bongo actually saved our summer. We managed to get away 6 times in 9 weeks; mainly weekends away but also a couple of longer trips to Dorset and Devon, which I’ll be blogging about. In the absence of being able to have our usual Summer overseas holidays this year it’s been an absolute godsend and, dare I say it, I haven’t missed getting out of the country. I know I’m privileged to have been able to still make something good out of a crappy year in terms of holidays and getting away from it all, and I’m super grateful.

Watching

A couple of new box sets have come my way since I last posted. The first being Entourage, which first aired in 2004 – never say I don’t have my finger on the pulse of popular entertainment! The good thing is that it means there are a whole 8 seasons to chew through, with no breaks or waiting for the next episode to be released, which is THE BEST way to indulge in a show. It’s good fun spotting all the LA landmarks and reminiscing about our trips there over the years.

The second is Selling Sunset, which is a recent addition to Netflix from the same people who created The Hills (which I used to be obsessed with). We’re one season down, with two to go, and OMG what a bunch of bitches those realtors are (including the guys). And OMG 2, how the other half live? Spending $10 million on a house? Crazy!

Working from home

I am now firmly ensconced in working from home territory, and can’t imagine having to go to the office every day. I love slowly easing myself into the morning, not having to rush, no road rage as I clock watch when I’m stuck in traffic. I don’t feel at all disconnected, because I have A LOT of meetings and my manager is very good at making sure we all know what’s going on – we have weekly team meetings, fortnightly one to ones and chat over Teams or individual catch up calls. I guess part of it is that I had only been in my job for 6 weeks when we went into lockdown, so I hadn’t really had time to build any attachment to the workplace, or a desk, or even the people, really. I think, even when the threat of Covid has gone away, my company will adopt new ways of working. We’ve all proven we can be incredibly productive without the need for a physical desk, and obviously it will save them money in terms of office space too.

I do feel that it’s making the transition into autumn – which I usually struggle massively with – easier as well, thanks to no cold mornings or driving in the dark.

Emotions

Like many people my emotions around Covid are very up and down. I do worry that the situation has made me more introverted. I’m so used to the way things are now that it feels normal, which is concerning. I have a very small circle of people I speak to on the phone – mainly family (does anyone actually speak to friends anymore? Isn’t it all just texts, Whatsapp and social channels?), and I don’t leave the house very often either. I’m strangely OK with all of that, which is also a worry. Facebook enables me to feel like I still know what’s going on with my friends’ lives, even though I’ve barely seen any of them this year. Technology definitely makes being separated much easier.

That’s not to say I don’t also have wobblies and feel overwhelmed! There are still days when it all feels too much, and never ending. I think winter may be a big test because, while I say not leaving the house is a good thing, dark mornings and nights and grey days are likely to be less enjoyable than the sunshine and open windows and lunch in the garden I enjoyed for much of the WFH summer.

How about you? I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to and how you’re coping with all this crazy. Hit me up in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A visit to Bridgnorth and Much Wenlock

Bridgnorth is a town in Shropshire which I’ve long been aware of. It isn’t very far from where I live now or where I grew up, maybe 30 miles, and I think my Dad started or finished a boat race on the River Severn there when I was a kid. I was convinced I’d been there in adult life, until we went there recently and I clearly hadn’t.

With 2020 being a funny old year (to say the least), exploring more of the UK has been on the agenda when it comes to a change of scenery. We didn’t venture out until mid July, hoping that the initial hoards of thoughtless marauding idiots who thought lockdown meant carry on as normal and social distancing was not talking to your friends on Facebook would have dissipated by then.

Bridgnorth has a high town and a low town, separated by the River Severn and literally doing what it says on the tin – lower town is low (duh) whilst high town is elevated on sandstone cliffs with views over the river and beyond. The two are connected by a funicular railway – the steepest in the country, if you’re interested – but we avoided that due to touching of surfaces and breathing of other people’s air, and took one of the multiple (steep!) sets of steps up and then back down again.

We parked by the river, which runs a wide and sludgy greeny brown between High Town and Low Town. It wasn’t the prettiest on a grey day, but having been cooped up for so long just the sight of water in nature was a pleasure!

We walked up the hill towards Lavington’s Hole, which dates back to 1646 and the Civil War. Parliamentary forces dug through the rock in an attempt to burrow under St Mary’s Church, where the Royalists kept their gunpowder and blow up the church. The tunnel was never completed, and you can’t enter it due to safety reasons, but it’s an interesting little area with other caves that have been carved out for dwellings over the years, and some nice gardens.

In High Town you’ll find some high street shops, a marketplace (there was a market on when we visited on a Saturday afternoon), the church of St Mary Magdalene, and the castle grounds and gardens. There isn’t much left of the castle now, and what does exist looks like it could fall over any minute (I’m sure it couldn’t, not casting aspersions on the safety of the town!), but it’s very pleasant to wander round and take in the views.

There’s some nice architecture to look at; some lovely Georgian styles, beamed buildings, teeny tiny front doors and cute front door knockers, and many people seem to have a lot of pride in where they live, with pretty gardens, pots and hanging baskets.

We didn’t stop for lunch as we had other plans, so probably spent no more than a couple of hours there, but it’s always nice to get out and about somewhere new, even if you I didn’t know it was new to you me until you I got there!

Next stop was the medieval market town of Much Wenlock, where we set up camp for our first ever campervan overnighter! (more on that another time). We were staying a 5 minute walk from the town, so went for a little wander (and in search of a pub!) Unfortunately the pub we had our eye on was closed until August thanks to our beastly enemy Covid, and Much Wenlock itself seemed to be in hibernation despite it only being 4pm. Being a city dweller it’s easy to forget that small towns and villages aren’t always open!

The town itself is quaint, with a history spanning over 800 years. Unfortunately the church was closed (Covid), and the priory was closed (Covid) so we couldn’t do much else than have a wander round and look at the outside of stuff.

Look how quaint the police station is?

And I was intrigued by Bastard Hall!

It’s so easy to neglect places that are relatively on your own doorstep in favour of travelling further afield, but this year has certainly given me a new appreciation for the UK and seeing more of it.

Have you visited anywhere close to home that’s new to you this summer?

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A lockdown birthday

My husband had a big birthday in June. Although we were hopeful things would have a semblance of normality by the time it came around, it soon became clear it would be a lockdown birthday.

Not one to let circumstance get in the way of plans, I still wanted to make it into a celebration.

I had a think about the kind of thing we might have done for his birthday had we been able to, and the kind of things he enjoys, and a plan started to form.

Had the tourism industry not ground to a halt we’d no doubt have been out of the country. We’d talked about various destinations, always coming back to our favourite place in Greece, but luckily we hadn’t booked anything so didn’t have to go through the arduous process of getting refunds on flights and accommodation. So my first thought was to recreate some kind of holiday vibe in our holiday, with a paddling pool, some sand, sunloungers, etc.

The long term forecast suggested that the UK weather would rain on my parade, so I needed an alternative.

That alternative was an indoor festival!

Husband loves music; he’s forever watching Youtube videos, playing records and listening to Spotify. We’ve been to many festivals together over the years so I decided to try to recreate it at home, but inside, so it didn’t matter if it rained.

First things first, I needed a venue. We’d already been talking about, and looking at, pop up tents to use alongside our campervan for storage when we stay overnight, so I bought that. Then I got decorations – bunting, balloons, etc from Poundland, and a custom banner from an eBay seller.

I also bought blow up guitars and microphones so we could sing along with the festival bands!

We already had camping chairs from our daytrip to the Cosford Air Show a couple of years back, and the Christmas fairy lights were perfect for a bit of sparkle.

Keeping it secret was a bit of a challenge. Husband was furloughed at this point, so he was at home all the time when all of the deliveries came. Luckily for me he doesn’t really pay much attention to what’s going on around him, especially if he’s engrossed in a film, so I was able to sneak things in and store them in my wardrobe.

In the lead up to his birthday he was pretty grouchy, and made me promise not to do anything stupid like organise a Zoom party or video messages from our friends. So I was starting to think maybe I’d made a mistake. But you can’t let a birthday go uncelebrated, can you?

The night before his birthday I went upstairs to colour my hair, and simultaneously blew up all the balloons ready for the morning, strung up the banner and untangled the bunting. I woke early on the Friday and told him I needed to do a few birthday things downstairs, which obviously made him suspicious, especially when I had to go into the garage for the chairs and fairy lights!

I’m happy to say that, after the initial shock and surprise (it’s not every day you come downstairs to your lounge to find a ruddy great tent in the middle of it!) he loved it. A combination of the effort I’d made, and the experience, meant it was a good one.

I’d wrapped his presents and put them all on the dining table as a merch stand, written out an itinerary (I’d found loads of gig footage online from places we’ve been like Download Festival, and Call of the Wild), gave him pizza and whiskey for breakfast (festival staples) and then we settled in and watched some “live” music.

In the evening, in a nod to our favourite place in Greece, I recreated a Greek experience. I’d found a local restaurant who agreed that I could send a taxi to collect the food, and ordered our favourite kleftiko, plus stifado and souvlaki. I set the table with all the little Greek touches – oil and vinegar, toothpicks in a little pot, a carafe of wine and bread in a basket. I even ordered an inflatable palm tree, and a parrot (there’s one we see every day when we visit Stoupa).

After that it was back to the festival tent, which we loved so much we decided to sleep in! No slumming it for us though, we got mattresses down from upstairs and slept in absolute comfort until Timfest was over the next day.

Top tips for a Covid birthday celebration

Although the official lockdown is now over (apart from in some localised areas) things are far from back to normal. If you can’t have the celebration you would usually have with friends and family, I wholly recommend thinking outside the box like I did and doing something alternative.

Think of something the birthday boy/girl really loves. Maybe it’s going to the cinema, or a football match, or on a bar crawl.

Recreate elements of that at home or in your garden – choose some films, or a replay of a great football game, or pub background noise.

Pay attention to the small things and the details – cinema tickets, half time pies, or their favourite drinks. Create different areas for the different parts of the experience – waiting in the foyer at the cinema, the coach on the way to the game, or different pub settings.

It may all sound a bit cheesy, but you’d be surprised how much fun it is to plan, and hopefully how grateful the birthday recipient is.

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What HAVEN’T you done during Covid-19?

Remember at the beginning of lockdown, when everyone apart from key workers (or heroes as we should call them) was either working from home or furloughed and considering how they would be spending all their extra time? Bold claims such as learning a new language, decorating their home, and getting in shape flooded my Twitter timeline – either from individuals full of naive enthusiasm, or experts suggesting ways to cope.

Fast forward a few weeks, and it’s quite clear that this is a really strange period, that isn’t the ‘paid holiday’ that many people thought it might be. Advice about how to improve your life has been taken over by advice on how to ‘just’ survive. Getting through, coming out of the other side, protecting and preserving mental health however we can has become way more important.

Some people have thrived, some have struggled, and there are sad stories in the press about some people not making it. Those who have taken their own life because they couldn’t handle the pressure, the loneliness and the not knowing.

So, in this post, I’m laying it bare about the things I haven’t done whilst I’ve been working from home. Admittedly, by not being furloughed, I haven’t had heaps more time in my life, but working from home means I have ditched the commute, late afternoon meetings and doing anything at weekends, so there has been extra time knocking about!

Sorting out the utility room

Its been almost 2.5 years since our house renovations were complete, leaving us a utility room upstairs for our washer, dryer and storage. The furthest I ever got was putting up two big shoe racks. Our laundry basket is too small; the decorating is a mix of missing, raw plaster and 90s wallpaper and it’s just a disaster zone! About 6 weeks ago I bought a clothes rail for hanging drying clothes. It’s still in the packaging. It has, however, moved from the downstairs hall to upstairs, so yay for small victories.

Sorting out my spice cupboard

This sounds kind of middle class (which I definitely am not) until I break it down to laziness. I have no idea what jars of dried spices and herbs lurk in the overflowing narrow cupboard in the kitchen. Opening it is a sport in itself; who knows what will hit you or the floor once you unleash the protective door barrier. Heaven forbid I actually look in there to find something if I’m trying a new recipe. Why would I? I’ll just buy another glass jar, shove everything else back, and precariously position the new neighbour in a too small space hanging over the edge.

I did start the job a couple of weeks back when I was looking for some parsley. It quickly became a chore so I decanted a couple of half empty jars into one, then put it all back. One for a rainy day, maybe!

Blogging

The rate at which I post (sporadically at best) says everything there is to say on this point I think!

Exercising

I’m not an exercise person; it’s fair to say I’m very sedentary (not proud of it, but I’m nothing if not honest). I’ve seen lots of pics of people going on long country walks on routes they never knew existed near to their home. Now that restrictions have been lifted people are heading further afield to hills, woods and coastlines (I disagree with this somewhat, but that’s another story). I never even took advantage of the government approved one hour outside the house! I blame this on having a garden and therefore freely accessing fresh air. It’s not to do with being lazy. At all.

Reading

“I’ll use this extra time to read more” I told myself. I’ve actually only read 6 books (that isn’t a lot for someone who reads as quickly as I do). Some days I just can’t get into a book. Some days I’ve tried to read and my mind wanders. Some days I’ve just wasted days playing crappy games on my phone and then feeling annoyed with myself afterwards! But reading should always be loved and not forced, so if I’m not feeling I’m not going to push myself to.

Sorting out my pension

I have a few different pension pots sitting around, which I keep meaning to combine into one. It’s annoying that every time you change job you get another one set up – it would be so much better if you just had one for life that followed you around to your different employers. Everyone knows that sorting these things generally takes lots of phonecalls, being placed on hold, and time that you just don’t have in a busy office. I really should use a quiet home to multi-task whilst also cracking on with my day job.

It looks like I’ll be working from home for the foreseeable future, so all that could change (it won’t). I may come out the other side feeling productive and accomplished (I won’t). But in these strange times just getting through it is enough.

What haven’t you done since the world changed in March? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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