09 October, 2017

Chinese State Circus

We had a great evening out at the Chinese State Circus in Oxford on Friday.

All the artists were very impressive, but we particularly enjoyed the foot juggling with parasols and the group cycling. You could really see how much skill and how much practice were involved in these two acts.

The Monkey King was the circus clown. He was amusing and extremely acrobatic in the way that he moved, so was good to watch on various fronts.

The circus welcomed one guest act -- Duo Extreme from Bulgaria. This act was excellent -- two aerial artists who incorporated both water and fire into their repertoire.

The only thing that surprised us was how empty the big top was -- only about a quarter full. Perhaps 7.30 on a  Friday evening isn't a good time for circus attendance (too late for the kids, and not yet the weekend when people have more time on their hands).

In any event, if you enjoy watching really good acrobats and gymnasts perform, I would highly recommend seeing the Chinese State Circus -- and at just £16 for reasonable seats, it's pretty good value too.

02 October, 2017

Things I Know to Be True

We went to see an excellent play at the Oxford Playhouse on Saturday night -- Things I Know to Be True by the theatre company Frantic Assembly.

This outing was at the instigation of our eldest, who is studying the play for GCSE Drama, and has in fact now seen it twice -- once with school and once with us.

The play tells the story of a family -- mother and father and their four grown-up children. It explores the dynamics of family relationships and examines how those relationships are affected when really significant events happen to members of the family.

The play is funny, moving and intensely sad, all at the same time. The style of delivery -- plenty of monologues and narration coupled with Frantic's physical style -- means that the watcher is drawn right it; it is as if you are there, a part of the action.

I loved this play and would recommend it highly. It deals with some very difficult issues, and the ending is shocking, but it really makes you think and provides excellent conversational material long after the curtain has fallen.

26 September, 2017

Grey's Court -- and autumn

We had a lovely afternoon out on Sunday.

We decided to take advantage of the sunny weather and visit Grey's Court, a National Trust property near Henley-on-Thames. We have been here many times before and it really is beautiful -- the Tudor house is set in charming grounds with lots to see and do. Particular highlights are the kitchen garden (full of fruit and vegetables, which are used in the on-site cafe), the 125-year-old wisteria, and the house's kitchen (spacious, homely and surprisingly modern).

After wandering round the house and grounds, we popped into the cafe. It had been very busy, but we managed to pick up some Victoria sponge cake and brownies, which we enjoyed with a cup of tea. We finished up with the ubiquitous trip to the National Trust shop -- filled with tempting things, which we managed to resist buying.

When we got home, we had a candlelit supper, which got us talking about how much we love this time of year -- cosy evenings, the autumn sunshine, pumpkin hunts, Advent treats, the run up to Christmas... The list goes on and on!

03 September, 2017

Rainy Sunday

We had hoped to go blackberrying this afternoon, but unfortunately the rainy weather put paid to that idea. So instead, we travelled into Oxford and had a look at the St Giles Fair, which was largely set up prior to opening tomorrow.

The fair comes to St Giles in Oxford every year and we normally do wander round it before it opens. There's something rather relaxing about examining the rides in the peace and quiet at your leisure. Many of these rides also come to the street fair in Abingdon, which takes place every October, and is the fair that our kids attend proper, enjoying the rides, hook a duck stalls, and street food.

Today we finished up with coffee and cake at the Jericho Cafe, which has been a fixture in Oxford since before we moved down here, over twenty years ago. This was also a bit of a celebration, since my eldest daughter, already a black belt in karate, double graded and gained her red belt in Jeet Kune Do this morning. Hurrah!

28 August, 2017

Holiday in the Lake District

We've just come back from a lovely holiday in the Lake District, which is an area of the country that we've not visited before. We stayed in a high end, modern apartment at the Carus Green Golf Club, just outside Kendal. The apartment was spacious, clean and very comfortable and we had the added bonus of the club house over the road, where we could eat, if we so wished.

We broke the drive up to Kendal at the National Trust's Little Moreton Hall, an amazing Tudor moated and timbered manor house. We enjoyed looking around the house and eating lunch at the small but pleasant on site cafe.

Here are some of the things that we did during out stay:
  • On day one, we visited Holker Hall, an impressive stately home, which has particularly beautiful grounds. We also paid a visit to Cartmel Priory, which now serves as the parish church of Cartmel.
  • On day two, we had a great day out at the Arts and Crafts House, Blackwell. The house is visually stunning and well worth a visit. We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the terrace overlooking Lake Windermere. We then popped into Low Sizergh Barn -- a farm, shop and cafe that was near our apartment -- and enjoyed a hot chocolate while watching the cows being milked from the cafe's viewing window.
  • Day three was rather different. We took a boat across Lake Windermere to Lakeside, where we picked up a restored steam train that took us to Haverthwaite. We enjoyed lunch at the station restaurant and then took the train back to Bowness and wandered round the aquarium -- this was fairly small, but certainly worth the visit, with lots of local fish and other creatures to see.
  • On day four, we visited Wray Castle, which turned out to be rather different from what we expected. Our Rough Guide to the Lake District suggested that this National Trust property was different from most, in that it positively encouraged visitors to sit on the furniture and handle the artefacts. In fact, the house didn't contain any historic items (the collections had been sold off long ago, prior to the National Trust's ownership). Nonetheless, we enjoyed looking at the house itself and playing table tennis and pool, which were amongst the activities laid on for visitors to the house. In the afternoon, we visited Sizergh Castle, which is a National Trust property of the traditional kind -- a medieval house with beautiful gardens. In the evening, we ate a delicious meal out at the India restaurant in Kendal.
  • On day five, we indulged our teenagers with a trip to the South Lakes Safari Zoo. This was surprisingly good: lots of animals to see, which were kept in spacious areas, and excellent value -- just five pounds per adult with children going free. In the afternoon, we visited Furness Abbey. We all loved this place -- it was very atmospheric, great for exploring and playing hide and seek, and had a pleasant picnic area overlooking the ruins.
  • On our last day, we spent the morning wandering around the centre of Kendal, which is an ancient market town. It is very pretty and has lots of interesting independent shops and cafes. We also climbed up to the scanty ruins of Kendal Castle, which afford an excellent view of the surrounding area. In the afternoon we drove up to to Scout Scar, which is a short distance outside Kendal, and enjoyed a walk around the stony summit. Again, the views of the surrounding hills were wonderful.
We came home via Biddulph Grange Garden. The weather was good enough that we could eat lunch at one of the cafe tables outside, and we really enjoyed wandering round the gardens themselves, which are extensive and divided into different geographical areas/styles of landscaping, such as 'China', 'Egypt' and 'Italy'.

We all really enjoyed our holiday in the Lake District and were sad to leave. We are hoping to return to the northern lakes for another holiday at some point in the future.

26 July, 2017

Picnic at Waddesdon

We managed to dodge the showers on Sunday to visit Waddesdon Manor. We took a bit of a gamble with the weather and packed a picnic, which we love to do but don't do often enough. In fact, the sun shone for us and we were able to sit on our tartan blanket and enjoy our lunch on the lawns in front of the manor.

Next up was the woodland playground. Our kids are well and truly teenagers now, but they still love to have a go on the huge slide and the zip wire! My husband and I did a quick tour of the house, which is very impressive, while the kids (who have visited the house before and feel that once is enough, unlike us) relaxed on the grass and fiddled with their mobile phones.

We then popped into the shop for a nose around. This is always interesting --  lots of lovely things, but not much that you'd actually want to buy. I was amused to see that the book I'm currently reading -- The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild -- was for sale there. It's always useful if you have a family business in which you can sell your wares!

Finally, we enjoyed (very overpriced, but delicious) brownies, cupcakes and drinks in the cafe.

All-in-all a very pleasant afternoon.

21 July, 2017

Bath weekend away

We had a good, child-free weekend away a couple of weeks ago. After depositing the kids with their grandparents, we drove on to Bath for an overnight stay. This is something that we've done a couple of times in the past, but not for a few years now, so we thought that it was time to re-visit our old haunts.

We stayed in Beechfield House, which is a small, country-house hotel about thirty minutes' drive from Bath. We really like it here. The rooms are smart and comfortable, the setting is lovely, the atmosphere is relaxed, and the staff are very friendly. We particularly like the pretty, open-air swimming pool which is heated sufficiently that it is open from March until October. This time, we also enjoyed sitting in the peaceful bar (a lovely room at the front of the house) for an evening drink.

The other highlight of our weekend was our two-hour session at the Thermae Bath Spa. We went on Sunday morning, which meant that we didn't have to queue for too long to get in. We always enjoy relaxing in the pools and dipping in and out of the (this time newly-refurbished) steam rooms.

Other things that we enjoyed were lunch sitting outside at The Cornish Bakery in the heart of the city and dinner at the swish, modern Mint Room Indian restaurant.