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.

04 July, 2017

Birthday celebration

We had a lovely celebration at the weekend for my husband's birthday.

Firstly, we visited Broughton Castle -- a sixteenth-century moated manor house near Banbury. This is a beautiful place to explore. The castle itself is very interesting to wander round and the staff are welcoming and helpful. The gardens, which run down to the river and are full of cottage garden flowers, are lovely too. Broughton is privately owned, which seems to result in an unusually relaxed experience. Visitor numbers are small compared to the many National Trust properties that we have visited and there are some nice touches, such as guests being able to borrow picnic blankets to sprawl on the lawns. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip here.

Later on in the evening, we had dinner at our favourite Thai restaurant in Abingdon -- the Zabb Thai. The food, as ever, was beautifully cooked and tasty, and the service was superb. We love this place!

04 June, 2017

The Miser and Mexican food

We had a good bank holiday Saturday last week.

We travelled to London, parking as usual at North Ealing station (our favourite station!) and catching the tube into the centre. Our kids wanted to do some clothes shopping, so we spent a not-terribly-thrilling morning waiting outside the changing rooms in New Look and Forever 21 on Oxford Street.

The main event of the day was a matinee performance of "The Miser" at the Garrick Theatre, starring Lee Mack and Griff Rhys Jones. I had been given the tickets for this show for my birthday, back in February, and so was really looking forward to going. We thoroughly enjoyed the show -- it was farcical, but very amusing and great fun. The kids also really enjoyed it.

We finished up with an early supper at our favourite London Mexican restaurant -- Cantina Laredo. As usual, the food was tasty and the service very good. We were also early enough to take advantage of their pre-theatre menu, which is quite reasonably priced.

It was then back to North Ealing by train and onward home and to bed.

21 May, 2017

NGS in Headington

We had a lovely afternoon today visiting the gardens that were open in Old Headington for the National Garden Scheme.

Old Headington is a beautiful part of Oxford that used to be a village in its own right. It is full of very attractive stone-built houses and quiet, winding streets, and it is particularly appealing since it is just a stone's throw from the hugely busy and congested new Headington.

We saw several gardens -- some large and some small, but all very pretty. The NGS is a really great way of getting ideas for improving your own garden through looking at all the things that others have done.

We had tea at Ruskin College, which was very pleasant -- brownies, scones and cookies at just £1 a piece! We finished off by popping into St Andrew's Church in Old Headington, which has an interesting history and is very beautiful.

09 May, 2017

Different Class

I recently finished reading "Different Class" by Joanne Harris, which I really enjoyed.

This is  a dark novel that takes place in St Oswald's, a grammar school in North Yorkshire. The main protagonist is Roy Straitley, who has taught Latin at the school for his entire career, and is now nearing retirement. The book flips between 1981 and 2005 and centres on a disturbing set of events that took place at the school in 1981, exploring the way in which they impinge upon the present (2005). One boy, Johnny Harrington, is centre stage throughout -- first as a pupil at the school and then returning twenty years later as the new 'superhead' whose mission is to bring St Oswald's back from the brink.

The plot is tense and twists and turns throughout. It is only at the very end of the book that you fully understand what happened all those years ago -- and, more importantly, who was responsible.

Harris' prose is a pleasure to read -- tightly crafted, funny and very intelligent.

If you're looking for a book that is both gripping and thought-provoking, I would highly recommend this one.

Junk in the loft

At the weekend, we started on a task that we've been meaning to do for a while -- tidy the loft. Over the space of twelve years in this house, we've put things up there without thinking too hard (we may need them again at some point in the future, you never know...) and so the space has been getting fuller and fuller.

We did a first pass and removed quite a few things -- old baby clothes, cardboard boxes, broken lamps and lampshades, old rugs that had seen better days. But the funniest thing was that we brought down seven (yes, seven!) child car seats. These were for various ages -- full baby seat, toddler seats, booster cushions -- and were used in our two cars for our two children, but it still seemed like a ridiculous number. And, what's more, it's not the total number that we owned -- we got rid of one or two a few years ago!

Things are definitely looking clearer in the loft, but we still haven't finished the job -- we'll do a second pass next weekend. Hopefully we won't find any more car seats lurking up there, though!