Paused for thought

Paused for thought

Sunday, 1 November 2015

BRICK 2015


A number of my blog posts refer to my childhood, drawing on happy memories stored and reignited from time to time as my adult adventures unfold. This one is no different.

Like many a child I passed days happily building structures and vehicles with Lego, my only barrier being the limit of my own imagination. Houses, machines, vehicles, they all featured in this childhood folly. As time passed Lego was put away in favour of books and paper and pen. Until I had children of my own. Now I have been reintroduced to the wonder of Lego creations and I can’t see that this hobby will fade again. Bag after bag of Lego resides in our loft and now our boys are reaching the exciting age where it is slowly but surely working its way happily into every room in the house. Even our bathroom has the larger Duplo Lego blocks which have become a firm feature of bath time. Days are spent whiling away time sitting at our dining room table, Lego spread across it, creations being built and enjoyed. Models stand proudly on shelves in the play room out of reach of the littlest hands but in reach of our older children. And so it was, that when we set off to explore BRICK as part of our half term holiday I was just as excited as our young sons.






BRICK is the brain child of Warren Elsmore who launched ’The Lego Show’ in 2011 which evolved to become BRICK in 2012 and this year expanded to include Birmingham in its calendar, much to our delight. Put simply, BRICK is for fans of Lego. Not a fan? Don’t go. A fan? It’s an absolute must. Brick after brick after brick. Spectacularly well thought out it appeals to young and old alike.

Upon entry we eagerly scanned the map and, not able to decide where to start, we began to work our way through the event section by section. We came across models, moving and still, large and small. I have never attempted a large scale model but I have always admired them and marvelled over their precision. We saw the master builders at work on the main stage and delighted in cheering for both designs being realised from the simple instruction to “make something that flies”. We made and raced cars and watched a Lego Friends dancing show. We admired photos and loved the moving exhibits. What really captured our attention though was what is best described as Lego pits. With bricks all the same size and colour, we had no instruction save our limitless and alive imaginations. To begin with, we built a tower. In fact we built this with Duplo bricks so that our baby, not yet one year old, could join in. Then we moved to the smaller bricks. Another tower, then a house, then a room at the top of a tower. A pyramid, a chair, a castle, the list goes on. With each build we modified and expanded our thoughts. When we were happy with our design we would put it on a table for others to see whilst we perused other creations. The idea was brilliant. In placing thousands of bricks of the same size and colour together, we had to work with our imagination and awaken our inner inventor. Child after child, adult after adult, we were all engaged and happy. 






I cannot rate this event highly enough, and we will definitely be returning next year.

Did you go to BRICK? What did you think?



Please note: I do know someone who works for Warren Elsmore but I have not been compensated for this post. All thoughts are, as always, my own. 


Sunday, 11 October 2015

Time


The ogre called Time has been here again.
He's swallowed my weekend,
Added a grey hair
And creased my skin.

Time has brought me gifts:
Experience; family; confidence.
But he takes away as he gives:
Youth; opportunity; innocence.

How do I slow him down?
This burden on my shoulder,
Weight on my back,
Causing me to stoop a little further, tire more readily.

Time, he smiles.
A knowing smile.

He will be here in years to come
Watching me age.

On occasion I enjoy his presence,
On others I don't.

Time be gone.
Leave my head without a clock
Ticking past the minutes, hours, days.
Leave space for air and space for warmth.
Space to play, space to feel.
I will manage quite nicely without you in my thoughts.
A silent creature, an ogre no more.




Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The problem with grapes...


I’m guessing you might not read many blog posts about grapes and grapes alone. I don’t suspect they’re a particularly popular topic outside of the first aid and healthy eating arena. Here’s the thing though. I don’t like grapes. I did. I used to munch through bunch after bunch after bunch. Juicy, full-bodied grape after juicy, full-bodied grape appeased my pregnancy induced sweet tooth when I was expecting our eldest. It doesn’t surprise me that some have labelled grapes a super food, and studies have been conducted into the benefits of eating (and in moderation, drinking) grapes. Take the red variety for example. It’s well known that red wine has certain benefits for your heart when drunk in small quantities. This actually comes from resveratrol which is a type of polyphenol contained in the skin so can be easily added to your diet by eating a portion of red grapes. Grapes of all colours (the palette extends to at least 7) contain plenty of vitamin C, and their seeds are packed full of antioxidants.


All that is very interesting. Not to mention they taste great! So, why don’t I like them? Shortly after the arrival of my first born my mind was changed. I found myself at a first aid course being taught how to handle and help a child who was choking. And we were warned: “grapes are a hazard, you must cut them in half”. Grapes are round and malleable, making it very easy for them to be swallowed whole. The windpipe of a child under the age of two is around eight millimetres wide, making it very easy for a grape to become lodged and completely obstruct the airway. The windpipe of an older child is not much bigger, you get the picture. Dislodging a stuck grape can be virtually impossible without proper medical equipment and combine that with the knowledge that you have maybe three or four minutes until a serious situation turns into a deadly one I found myself asking was it worth the risk?


I emerged from the class on the edge of going into some grape cutting frenzy lest my little one come into contact with grapes when he was weaned. I wanted every grape for miles around cut in half just in case. I got twitchy about it at play dates and parties, it consumed my once pragmatic and sensible mind with worry. I even brought it up at every nursery setting I visited and pre-school I went to look around lest they were not aware and might inadvertently offer my son a whole grape. They probably thought I was mad. I was. Mad with love and overcome by my maternal instinct to protect delicate throats from innocent looking monsters.

Around two years after the first course I diligently trotted along to a first aid refresher course. I have been going on first aid courses for as long as I can remember and things change so I know how important it is to keep up to date. This course confirmed that. Half grapes were now also considered a hazard. Sometimes they were still too big. They should be cut into quarters. I started to eye them with distaste in supermarket aisles and in the local greengrocers, opting instead for other varieties of fruit. The inward flow of grapes from a shop to my fridge certainly reduced. I was content with that. Not making a big deal out of them but cutting them into very small pieces when they were on the premises. I good balance I thought.


Then came the news. A local couple had found a black widow spider in a bunch of pre-wrapped grapes that they had bought from a local supermarket. Along with her babies. Quick research showed that this was not uncommon and in some grape growing regions these spiders are actively encouraged to ward off pests. Whilst black widow spiders may not be a huge threat to a healthy adult (they rarely bite and when they do it is uncommon for them to pose a serious problem) they certainly are to children. Just days later, another black widow was found in another punnet of grapes, also from a shop that we frequent. It felt like a sign.

So, there you have it. Somewhere between the choking hazard warning and the unwelcome guests I lost my appetite for those juicy little bites of superfood. We still have grapes on the premises, our boys enjoy them and I still snaffle the odd one in its quarters off their plates, but I will happily admit that we are much more careful now.




Wednesday, 23 September 2015

On starting school



As you walk away with his hand,
You walk away with my heart.
An angel in disguise,
A rainbow brightening my day,
I wave goodbye and he is gone

Into the wilderness that is school.
He travels with a skip in his step,
And I travel, homeward bound, with lead in mine.

I know you will take good care of him,
And his fragile childhood mind.
I hope you will make good memories with him,
Whilst he is away from me during this time.

I look forward to the day’s end,
I am eager to hear his thoughts.
I will treasure every sentence,
And hold them tight forever more.




Sunday, 20 September 2015

Postcard from the Think Tank, Birmingham



We have been frequent visitors to the Think Tank in Birmingham (also called the Brain Centre by our children) since our eldest son was 5 months old. Whilst a number of guests have been left disappointed that some areas are a little thin on the ground (the ‘We Made It’ section on the first floor for example seems to have been left partway through a thought process that could have made it really engaging) we are not amongst them. Our eldest son is particularly keen on science and technology subjects and the Think Tank plays delightfully to this interest. The museum is divided into several sections and carefully set out with plenty of space for all the visitors it attracts.

Just beyond the ticket desk (on the 2nd Floor of the Millennium Point building) you will come across The Street Gallery, home to an interactive recycling display which shows the process for breaking down materials used for everyday products and groceries and making them into new things. The Street also demonstrates other every day processes that happen all around us. Younger members of the family may wish to try their hand at using a digger to scoop up balls whilst older children or adults can see how crimes are solved using clues and data provided in the Forensics Van.


Beyond this gallery is Kids’ City. Designed for small children it boasts a doctors surgery, a cafĂ©, an animation studio (we had lots of fun making videos of ourselves with Shaun the Sheep), a water play area and a mechanics workshop to name but a few.




Also on this floor is a Wildlife area with a Triceratops skull (a big hit with our dinosaur mad middle son) and information on habitats around the world. Although we have yet to try one, you can borrow a wildlife pack from the front desk to make this section of the museum more engaging for all the family.


The Things About Me section is one of the two favourites for our young family. Several displays show you how various sections of your body function, including the heart pumping, your digestive system, your senses and even basic human reproduction. Activities include a bop the crocodile style reflexes game (which I delighted in beating my husband at) and an exercise area (where I realised after some time I was the only member of our family inanely flopping around in an attempt to master star jumps whilst laden with bags, I really should have checked those in to the lockers at Kids’ City).




Just beyond this is the Medicine Matters area with video footage of operations and a dissected human brain which has been donated and is a fascinating organ not often viewed by the general public.

If you venture upstairs the main attraction is the Planetarium, the second of the two favourite areas for our sons, which has shows throughout the day for a small additional fee. Staff are on hand to talk through what each show entails and provide recommendations.

You can also meet the RoboThespian who is very entertaining along with other robotic displays demonstrating some of the innovative manners in which this technology is applied.

Go down one floor from the entrance to the first floor, and you will find the How Things Are Made gallery which is perhaps the most disappointing area. However next to it, and newly opened for 2015, is the Spitfire Gallery. From this section you can view the Spitfire which hangs spectacularly over the ground floor exhibits, and see displays detailing how this magnificent aeroplane was manufactured, and flown by talented pilots.


Birmingham was a key player in the Industrial Revolution with many manufacturing plants being based here, a tradition which continued for decades in the Midlands as a whole. The ground floor brings this to life with two galleries – Move It and Power Up. With the Spitfire now hanging over your head, along with a Hurricane, you can view robots ‘welding’ car parts, explore a steam locomotive and see the Smethwick Engine which would once have been used to pump water through the canal system in Birmingham.

Irritatingly, and much to the frustration of our children, you have to venture back up to the second floor, out past the entrance desk, back down to the ground floor of the main building and outside to get to the Science Garden but it is worth the trek and confusion of little people in tow. A giant hamster wheel, water pressure experiments and a pulley seat (my husband got his own back on that one and easily excelled over my futile attempts to get off the ground) are some of the attractions that await you here.

There have been well over 1 million visitors to the Think Tank since it opened in 2001 and it’s not hard to understand why. A lovely family day out with good facilities and great displays. Yes, perhaps more could be made of some of the attractions, but every time we visit we lose 4 or 5 hours just playing, learning and having fun. We would highly recommend it!



This post represents my own views. I was not compensated for it in any way.



Sunday, 6 September 2015

Staycation postcards: A final flourish, week two


We started the final full week of the summer holidays in great spirits. It’s birthday season in our household so we have a bounty of new toys and books to freshen young minds (and old!). Our two eldest boys’ birthdays are just 9 days apart and only a month after my husband’s birthday so the summer months are filled with celebration and fun.

Unfortunately whilst we can make meticulous plans, some elements such as the weather can put the kibosh on these. Such as it was on bank holiday Monday when Mother Nature felt that a good watering session was in order. And not just a quiet little, “excuse me I’m just going to sprinkle some water on the grass” type of watering, rather an upturned bucket type of watering. Plans for a fun filled family day out at a nearby museum were therefore postponed and instead we had a science and craft day at home with stories and den building thrown in for good measure. Air drying clay was moulded into various shapes (mostly snails and cars, in keeping with current favourite interests), water experiments complimented the mood outside and stories in the den were a lovely way to spend some quality family time.




Undeterred by the rain which continued further into the week than the weather forecasts would have us believe, we ventured to a local garden centre on Tuesday for lunch with my parents and a visit to the pets area which housed tropical fish including Rope Fish which we watched, and were watched back by beady, uncertain eyes. Garden centres are a fantastic cheap (or free) way to while away a few hours and discover a feast of interesting plants, garden apparatus and if you’re lucky a few pets too.




By Wednesday the rain had eased to drizzle so we escaped to Conkers. Set in the heart of the National Forest, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Conkers plays to the land around it. With lakes, trails, a maze, a wonderful playground, a small train and a barefoot walk no amount of temperamental weather could dampen our enjoyment. For the moments of heavier rain a discovery centre provided entertainment through hands on educational exhibits. A thoroughly enjoyable day out and one that we would recommend!






The week ended much as it had begun, library visits, park visits, reading, playing, dancing, and all those wonderful moments of exploration that regularly pass by the in the midst of more planned days. A highlight for our boys was managing to track down 10 snails in our garden and feeding them cucumber, and then going out for a celebratory restaurant lunch!




I have absolutely loved this 7 week summer holiday and I don’t feel at all ready to let it end. It has been a whirlwind of days out, days in, new places and old, family and friends. Just perfect. I hope that you have enjoyed our staycation postcards and that they may even offer some inspiration for new places to visit for you and your family.




The Freerange Family

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Staycation postcards: A final flourish, week one


I simply cannot believe that the summer holidays are nearly over. They have been longer here in the Midlands than in some other parts of the country and they have still passed by all too quickly.

As you may recall from previous blog posts, ours did not go quite as originally planned this year. Consequently the last full fortnight is being spent in a frenzy of creating great memories with family and friends, helped along by family birthdays, an excellent excuse if one were needed for additional celebrations.


We started week one of this final flourish at Trentham Monkey Forest. A wonderful place, quite quiet and peaceful with 140 monkeys wandering the paths and eyeing visitors curiously. Babies hung onto their mothers, watching social interaction with eager eyes. Old monkeys strolled, with little care or attention to Homo sapiens invading their territory, there was no sense that they were at all concerned about their hierarchy being upset.

We can learn so much from these cousins of ours. Their careful, loving nature. The support that they give each other. The watchful eye they keep on their young and the open aired expressive learning environment that they grow up in.

Monday saw us venture to the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry. A completely free museum (donations are welcomed) with both adult and family orientated exhibitions and a lovely studio room set up for exploration by young children. Our boys certainly loved playing in it, and there was something that captured the minds of each of them, despite the age range of 0 to 4 years old. In fact we were joined by friends with older children who seemed happy to while away time there too.



By Wednesday we were off to Santa Pod Raceway for their Junior Drag Day. What a delight! We revelled in watching monster trucks roaring, playing on fairground rides and cheering the drag racers on! No amount of rain could dampen our enthusiasm.


Thursday was spent relaxing at the Stratford Butterfly Farm. Billed as the UK’s biggest tropical paradise it lived up to expectation. Butterflies landed on us, and fluttered gently around us as we stood and observed. An area dedicated to caterpillars was a big hit with our children (one of whom chose to spend his pocket money on a small plastic caterpillar at the end of our time there, such was his fascination with them). At the opposite end of the building stands a section for insects great and small. It boasts one of the largest collection of insects in Europe and it did not disappoint with its interactive displays and tanks at a reasonable height so the little ones amongst our party could take a peek inside.


By the weekend we were all rather tired but a family party finished the celebrations nicely, whilst we took some time to relax ahead of another well planned and exciting week.

Check back next weekend to read about our adventures in the final week of our holiday!


The origins of the blog


Perhaps this should be retitled 'the origins of this blog', this post is certainly not a profound entry on the origins of all blogging history (although as a side note here you may be interested that the phrase “weblog” was coined in 1997 and reflected the process of logging the web). Instead it is an easy reading amalgamation of a few of the most frequent questions I have been asked over the past few weeks by supportive family and friends.

Why start a blog?
To put my thoughts somewhere. I’d love to say that there is some wonderful back story to my blog, other than to practice my writing, to challenge my writing, and to motivate myself to pick up the pen again. Along with the above, it is a space to put everything so I can refer back to it without losing it like I did with my first ever blog, started in the year 2000 and lost to the wilderness of the internet and a web page no longer maintained that has swirled into a technological black hole. It also gives me the opportunity to share it with anyone who is interested.

Why call it The Thought Allotment?
I don’t want to reverse myself into a pigeon hole of writing only about one thing or another. People who know me personally know that I like to talk, about everything. My writing is much the same. I like to write, about everything. No topic too small, and none too large, although plenty will spin way beyond the hemisphere of my brain. The idea behind the name was that my blog would be a place to publish a post or two or three, much like sowing seeds, and let the thoughts and writing continue; grow and flourish if you will. Some may flower some may not, but just like an outdoor allotment, I can try anything. There will be some surprises, my postcards for example get a large number of readers on every publication which I didn’t foresee. Such is the beauty of the blog space.

Why are photographs limited?
Photographs are something that I will work on, perhaps when I have a little more time?! I certainly should invest in a small but quality camera rather than continuing to rely on my Apple phone. But whilst photographs of locations are plentiful, I regularly sift through a bounty of images when deciding which might be most appropriate, you will never see current face on photographs of my children. This is a personal decision and everyone sees these things differently. For me though, I don’t want to impact their privacy until they are of an age to fully understand and consent to that. I will always try my very best to ensure that the faces of others do not feature on my blog unless I have their express permission too.

Will you earn money from it?
At the moment, no. My priority is as a mother to 3 very young children. When I commit to something professionally I give it my all. I’m not in a position to do that at the moment. BUT, if I am ever rewarded for any of my posts I will always disclose that to my readers. I like to think that gives you all some confidence that I will always publish my honest opinions, whether complementary or not!

What’s next?
I’m working on a bigger writing project that will, most likely, take years. My posts here will help of course with my writing style, and they will continue and are completely independent of my other project. I’m always open to new ideas, challenges, and feedback!


So there you have it. My little space, my little writing haven, my little thought allotment. I hope you enjoy reading it.




Sunday, 23 August 2015

Becoming Papa: A guest post.


"Oh, really? Are you sure?" We stare at it - the blue cross. Does blue mean it's a boy? I'm entering a world I do not understand.

Hours pass, or perhaps it was months. I don't know if I've watched too many sci-fi films, but there's something unnerving about it, something other... Is that a hand? A foot? I don't really want to touch, but know I should. My wife laughs at me. I like feeling him now he's bigger – I put my face against his skin shell and talk to him, he goes quiet and listens, or at least that's what I like to think.

I'm not really worried until about a week beforehand. I've got it planned out: 1) start new job, do that for 4 weeks; 2) baby arrives, check he's functioning as expected; 3) go back to work, no other changes required. My spidey senses tell me this may not be true, I remember my be-dadded mates saying something about "ooo, it's really quite different" - I haven't seen them in a long time, what are they doing?

“Jacob!” Water, everywhere! I sit-up like a mousetrap going off. My body immediately pulsates with adrenaline – I run downstairs, get the mop, towels, cleaner. “What are you doing? Don’t worry about cleaning it up now!”. That’s not what my brain is telling me, I’m fairly sure amniotic fluid can rot through a mattress in a matter of minutes, stripping varnish from the floors, searing through metal, wood and brick leaving visitors to look up through the holes in the floor expecting to see Sigourney Weaver staring back at them.

We make a trip to hospital, they put a monitor on, everything is fine – contractions slow down, “go home”. Can’t you just poke him out with a stick – I sensibly keep this thought to myself. Nothing. By this time we’ve been awake for 48 hours, we decide to go to bed.

One Born Every minute is heavily edited I think to myself. I'm standing, looking at my wife, she's on the floor, attempting to rout dust mites from the carpet by lying face down, mooing at them. The mooing gets louder and longer. I write down timings, it's a very important job - medical professionals will be checking my work, must make my handwriting neat.

I suggest a bath – I think I saw a lady in a bath once on a TV programme and she seemed quite relaxed. Bath seems good, relaxing, peaceful. “Er, I think we should go to the hospital again” says my wife. “What do you mean you can’t get out!” I exclaim. What’s with these contractions, making life so difficult. Can’t you just hold them in for a second? No, no you cannot it turns out. We make it to the car.

Come on, come on, come on. We’re sitting at a T-junction. Let me out scumbags, can’t you see I’m carrying a pregnant lady here about to give birth! Stop all the cars, the traffic, turn the lights to green, a baby is coming! We probably only waited a minute. I drive the half a mile to the hospital. Hobbling across the car-park – pausing for contractions. Don’t mind us, yes, many knowing looks from strangers. They know what’s coming, we mercifully, do not.

This is it, I check everything. The snacks, the drinks, the music. Some sort of clothes for the baby – probably be useful. The room seems nice, like a Travelodge for people who make a lot of mess and require wipe down floors and surfaces. I try to think of helpful things to say as the paper flows out of the machine, providing a seismic trace of my wife’s body attempting to eject the baby.

I eat too many biscuits, cake, peanut M&Ms – I have a sugar crash, giving birth is hard work. I can’t keep my eyes open, not much happening anyway. I’ll go to sleep for a bit. “We’re having a baby…” those words penetrate my slumber, I sit-up with a shot. My wife and two midwives look at me like an idiot. “No, not yet.”

They’re coming thick and fast, some real pushing going on now. It can’t be much longer, he doesn’t seem to want to come all the way out. Stuck in some sort of U-bend. A consultant turns up brandishing what looks like the plunger off of a baby Dalek. He tries that, doesn’t seem to work. Another suction device comes out, I think the first one was just for show. He attaches it to baby’s head. It’s hooked up to a diesel generator. That doesn’t work either. He takes out what looks like a baby extracting wrench. The consultant braces his feet against the bed – his muscles bulge, the midwife holds him by the waste. It’s like some awful human centipede. I expect a second midwife to join in on the end. It’s not required. The baby is out!

My mind keeps saying “It’s a baby, it’s a baby”. I’m not sure what I thought he’d be. I am filled with love, tension releases, he’s so small. I can’t believe he is made from both of us. He lies on my wife’s chest, cuddling in, absorbing the warmth, acclimatising to planet Earth. Suddenly, we’re alone in the room – I feel slightly nervous, do they know they’ve left us in here with a newborn baby? I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I hold him while my wife has a bath. My eyes become strangely damp, my brain is creating new portmanteaus of feeling. I feel unprelated, exciervous and lovxious.  I’m so happy he’s here, in my arms, a tiny new life and I am instantly, unassailably, in love.




Friday, 21 August 2015

Summer holiday 2015





This year our summer holidays haven’t quite gone as originally planned. Telling a 4 year old and a 2 year old that the week away to visit family and stay in a caravan by the sea is no longer going to happen, was one of the harder moments of being a parent. As was settling into a new routine following a change of job for my husband that removes any guarantee that the children will have time with him during the week. So it is with incredible pride that I write how inspirational our children have been in handling this change.

Shortly before the school holidays, we had a family emergency that rather shook our comfortable, secure little lifestyle. As a result we made the decision to cancel our much needed family holiday and rearrange it for a future date. I was initially faced with the inevitable “why can’t anyone help us?” question from our 4 year old, but this was followed by something quite unexpected. Rather than huff and puff like I had done the evening before when discussing it with family, he sat with his 2 year old brother, wiped away a tear and explained to him that we weren’t going away, adding, “don’t worry, Mama and Papa will still make sure we have lots of fun!” I noticed a few days later that the flow of ‘X’s moving across his wall chart towards the holiday week which had been filled with stickers and smiles had quietly stopped. He’d taken it in his stride. My 4 year old, who doesn’t much like change and who values time as “just the 5 of us” above all else, had dealt with this situation with incredible understanding and maturity beyond his years.

Absolutely determined to make the most of our ‘stay at home holiday’ or ‘staycation’, my husband and I threw ourselves into keeping our children happily distracted. For the most part I think we succeeded. Amongst other things we had a wonderful trip to Snibston Discovery Centre, we made a return trip to CBeebies Land at Alton Towers, and we went to Mary Arden’s Farm. We started ticking off all the local parks listed on the council website that we had not been to before. We made it to the sea to visit one of my sisters and her family. Our children were happy. Relaxed and pleased to have had that all important quality time with us.






I learnt something important during that week that I have thought before but perhaps not put into practice with such determination as I did then. Yes, children are, or can be, adaptable, they get over things very quickly, they take delight in new activities and old ones revisited, and you don’t, at this age, have to spend half their inheritance to be rewarded with a grin on the smile-o-meter (my eldest son’s measure of how happy he is). More than this though, I learnt that sometimes you have to prioritise differently. You have to grab time where it’s available and not be afraid to rearrange plans, but make the most of a new situation. You have to ask for help, and if the help and support that is needed is not available, you should not assume that you will absorb the to-do list one way or another anyway, it’s simply not always possible. If you make a promise of fun to a child, then keep it. That doesn’t mean that plans can’t change, it just means you should make the most of them. And learn from children to exercise mind over matter, get on with making new plans, stay focussed and keep positive.


My husband returned to work after a good break to a new role that has increased his time away from us during the week. Our attitude, however, has continued unabated. We’ve had trips with friends to Compton Verney, Ryton Pools, Coombe Country Park and Rainsbrook Valley Railway to name a few. We’ve explored old favourites like Charlecote Park, and new places like the pick your own fruit and veg at Malt Kiln Farm. As a family we’ve been to the Bristol Hot AirBalloon Fiesta, butterfly spotting, and on snail hunts. Now with a fortnight to go, we are determined to finish the school holidays with a final flourish of joviality. Never forgetting for a moment that it is the time together which is most important of all.







Monday, 10 August 2015

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, 2015





Every year the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta attracts thousands of visitors from around the country across its four-day period. It’s not hard to understand why. The family event offers plenty of fun in the form of ground entertainment, music, food, and of course, airborne attractions too.

We first visited the fiesta in 2013 and had a super day out although unfortunately the balloons were unable to fly in the evening due to high winds. Nevertheless we were determined to make it back and see them take off, and we made the journey this year, on the Saturday. We arrived in Bristol mid-afternoon. Predictably the traffic was heavy but we were prepared and entered the festival excited to see some balloons which were scheduled to fly around 6pm.

We began by taking our boys to the fairground attractions. The helter skelter was a big hit! The carousel went down well as always and whilst we were enjoying the rides we saw two wingwalkers on bi-planes, a first for our boys!

We settled down for the main event, spreading out our picnic rug, setting up our picnic tea and snuggling in together. The pilots went in for their briefing and there was much excitement among the crowd when we heard that they would be flying. The sky was virtually clear from clouds, the sun was still shining, there was an “ooo” and an “ahhhh” then a huge cheer and applause as the first balloons took to the skies. It was enchanting, watching balloon after balloon rising for around an hour and a half. Happiness spread thoughout the crowd, perfect strangers joking and chatting as the balloons took to the skies and set off over the city of Bristol.





I would love to leave this post there. On the high note that we felt that evening. The magical atmosphere that sent a warm glow through us watching those balloons. Unfortunately though, the organisers of the event did miss a few crucial points that would perhaps have enabled the day to be seamless for those who visited, and it seems remiss of me not to mention them. The biggest one was that they were clearly in desperate need of more volunteers to help steward the event. Don’t be put off visiting by what follows! But do take note so that if you sit here reading and hoping to visit in the future, you might be better prepared than we were.

Unlike other major free events, the Bristol Balloon Fiesta is not ticketed, meaning that to an extent any number of people can turn up and there is no prior warning of a rush of people appearing at the gates. According to news reports at one stage 6,000 people arrived within 15 minutes! I later learnt that on the day that we visited people had been turned away as it was deemed that the event was full. Certainly from the inside by the evening it seemed chaotic and over-crowded. One lady lost her child and couldn’t find a marshal anywhere to assist. There were disposable barbeques being set up all round the site with no thought to the large volumes of alcohol also strewn across the grass (I lost count of the number of large empty vodka bottles that we saw). Pathways that had been clear when we arrived were packed with people on our way out and were impassable for our buggy carrying our by then sleeping baby. Toilet queues were so long that there was a mass urination relay taking place in the surrounding trees. We tried to leave at a reasonable time after the evening balloon launch and before the night glow, thinking we’d slip away at a quieter time for traffic on the site. We made it back to our car at 9pm, tired after shuffling through the throbbing crowds, but ready to get on the road and back home before the mass exodus after the night glow and fireworks. We finally left the car park at 12.30am. Yes, three and a half hours later. Again, there were simply no stewards helping the vehicles to exit the car park. Please don’t misunderstand me. Was it a good day? Absolutely! And it was free! But somewhere along the way some basic practical organisation seemed to be lacking.

I hope that the event planners will have a lessons learnt debriefing to assist with future fiestas, and in order that future visitors have a much more pleasant experience throughout the day. That said, will we be there? Yes, I hope so. With a carrier for the little one and a hotel booked to escape back to at the end of the evening.