25 August, 2012

The draw of the Yorkshire Dales

We've just come back from a superb, relaxing holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. This area of the UK is stunning and has some amazing sites and places to visit. Here are a few of our favourites:

  • Jervaulx Abbey is a ruined 12th century Cistercian monastery. The ruins are quite magical -- peaceful, carpeted in wild flowers, and surrounded by beautiful scenery and grazing sheep. There is also a lovely tea room across the road where you can sit outside and munch yummy cakes. Perfect after a visit to the abbey.
  • The Forbidden Corner is billed as "the strangest place in the world" and this is indeed an apt description. It's an extensive folly in the grounds of a stately home. Originally built by the home owner for his children, the Corner was opened to the public in 1994 and was a runaway success. Our kids loved exploring the grotto, the mazes and hidden passages, and the surprise water fountains -- be prepared for a soaking!
  • The small town of Richmond, where we stayed, is well worth a visit with its castle, interesting shops and river walks. We were especially enchanted by the remains of nearby Easby Abbey -- another set of picturesque ruins that the kids enjoyed exploring.
In fact, we had such a great time in the Dales that we chatted, idly, about the possibility of moving up there. The peace and quiet, the rural landscape, the slower pace of life, the prevalence of local businesses are all really attractive. Yet there are downsides. My husband spent the week frustrated by the (very) intermittent mobile internet connection (he couldn't check out the weather forecast or opening hours using his iPhone). Property isn't quite as cheap as you think it will be -- the area is desirable and the prices reflect that desirability. You need to drive to access almost any amenity -- a large supermarket, a cinema, etc., etc.

Perhaps relocation isn't an option for us urbanites after all...

On the last day of our holiday my husband announced (only slightly tongue in cheek) that he was looking forward to getting back to his own bed and his internet connection. I agree wholeheartedly about the bed -- there's nothing like your own. As for the internet connection -- well, I'm just about to publish this blog post and  catch up on my unread email. What do you think?

19 August, 2012

Another four star review for "A Matter of Degree"

Book reviewer Miranda Stork has given my novel "A Matter of Degree" four stars on Amazon!

Her overall opinion: "I thought this was a perfect book for light reading, for example if you were on holiday or just chilling in the garden for the day. I did enjoy it, and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading contemporary women’s fiction, but wants the added twist of another genre mixed in. The writing was very good, and I can’t wait to see what else this author comes out with!".

You can read the full text of the review on Miranda's blog here: http://bit.ly/TNIhaR or on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/PIAGLG.

Thank you Miranda!

"A Matter of Degree" is light and fun -- perfect in this hot weather. Why don't you give it a go?

18 August, 2012

It’s a small world...isn’t it?

I visited a model village with my kids last summer and something really quite surprising happened. I bumped into someone who I had last seen over twenty years ago. This was a young woman (back then) who I had known for just three months over the summer when we were both students. We’d been working at the same summer camp in the States and then travelled together with a group of other students.

The funny thing is that we hadn’t kept in touch over the intervening years. We said goodbye at the end of the three months and I really didn’t expect to see her again. It wasn’t that we’d fallen out or anything like that—just that the relationship had been a fleeting one.

So imagine my surprise when someone called my name out of the blue while I was watching my kids play in the model village’s playground. It took me a few seconds, but I pretty soon worked out that this person was none other than my old student acquaintance. Seemed like neither of us had changed that much over the years. Quite a relief in some ways, I suppose.

Anyway, it transpired that she was now married like me, with two kids roughly the same age as mine. She had been a student in Sheffield and had stayed up north until very recently, when she moved down south to be near her parents (cost efficient childcare!).

Neither of us lives very close to the model village. We just both happened to take a trip there on the same day at the same time and happened to bump into and recognise one another. And it wasn’t even definite that my family were going to the model village that day—it had been a toss up between that and another attraction. If we’d opted for that other attraction, I wouldn’t have bumped into my old acquaintance.

So what are the chances? It makes you wonder how many other people from your past you may have brushed shoulders with and just not recognised. Maybe that old adage about it being a small world is true after all.

11 August, 2012

It's school uniform time again!

It seems like we've only just broken up from school and already I'm thinking about replenishing my kids' school uniform.

I don't know about you, but we never get to the start of a new school year without having to buy something new, even if it's just socks. And then there are new school shoes, of course. I'm adamant that shoes should last for the entire school year, but by then my kids' footwear is in tatters.

So, I'm building up to our annual trip to Marks and Spencer. It may be boring, but at least good old M&S has the advantage of combining quality with (reasonable) value. What more can I say? But this trip always seems fraught with problems. Either they have the style that we want, but not the right size; or they have the size but not the style; or, sometimes, neither. In which case we have to resort to the internet. But how can you buy plimsolls on line and be sure they fit -- or anything, for that matter?

Oh well, the upside is that we always stop for a lovely cappuccino (or hot chocolate, in the case of the kids) once we've failed to buy everything that we need!

10 August, 2012

Can working parents have it all?

In a recent interview for Radio 4’s “Woman’s Hour”, Edwina Currie commented on MP Louise Mensch’s resignation. The thrust of her comments was that while women can have it all, they can’t do it all.

I’m not sure that I agree with Currie’s definition of having it all.

In the course of the interview Currie talked about how she had managed her personal and family life in order to fulfil her obligations as an MP. This involved always employing others to care for her children—first nannies and later boarding school. She even mentioned a succession of “rent-a-grannies” who taught her children essential life skills such as manners—something she declared that she would have been useless at doing.

This sounds to me like a failure in parenting, rather than a family management technique. After all, what’s the point in having children if you never see them? A large part of the joy of parenthood is spending time with your children, teaching them, passing your values on to them. And that joy, by the way, is gender neutral.

I’m not denying that combining a high-flying career with parenthood is incredibly difficult. I made the decision to step down from a senior, highly-paid post in order to spend more time with my children, and I still occasionally feel the odd twinge of regret. But in fact I love spending more time with my kids, and my family life works much better as a result.

I agree wholeheartedly with Currie that women (or men, for that matter) can’t do it all. But I don’t agree with her that we can have it all. Two partners with high-flying careers and children don’t sit easily together. Something has to give, either career or family life. And a situation in which a working parent rarely sees or interacts with their children does not, in my books, count as having it all.

04 August, 2012

Queuing at my outdoor pool

A few weeks ago my family and I visited out local open air swimming pool. Yes, hugely surprising, I know, given the gallons of rainfall that we’ve had recently. But right at the beginning of the summer there was a really warm weekend day. Remember?

Anyway, the net result of said warm day was that the world and his wife (well, my local community and his wife) flocked to the outdoor pool. Now, our pool used to have a sensible system in place—three swim sessions a day with everyone thrown out at the end of a session and new people admitted at the beginning of the next session.

But this sensible system has changed. What happens now is that the pool opens first thing in the morning and stays open all day long, with no separate sessions and everyone allowed to stay as long as they like. This means that if you decide to go swimming in the afternoon, for example, there’s a good chance that you won’t get in at all. You’re reduced to queuing until enough people come out that you reach the front of the line. And this can take a very long time, as I can attest from my personal experience a few weeks ago.

If you’ve got young kids, queuing at length in the heat can be difficult—even more so if you’re forced to give up in the end. Why don’t the powers that be at the pool recognise this? Especially since the majority of their customers are indeed families with young children.

I should also point out that a system generating long queues simply encourages people to play dirty—queue jumping by joining friends who are further ahead in the line, for example. But that’s another story...