I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

Castle life, Aga strife, slummy mummy, average wife

Happy Holidays, Celebrity Guests and Big Pants

A minute ago I was dreading the thought of seven weeks of school holidays and now it’s all over; they’ve been back for weeks, and  we are well into bramble season.

Once again my Instagram account betrays the truth and implies we had a scorching hot summer spent mostly at the beach. I do maintain it wasn’t as bad as the whingers are making out though – the temperatures at least made it to double figures this year and I have visible flip flop marks on both feet.

pizza-hut

We managed to grab a week away from castle chaos but were forced out of our Tiree comfort zone due to lack of available accommodation. Instead, we ensconced ourselves in a luxurious log cabin in the highlands, which compensated for being no where near a beach by being relatively close to an actual city (Inverness).  They also had free irn bru on tap and as as many tunnocks tea cakes as you could scoff (quite a lot as it turns out).  Highlights of the week included soft play, a pool with flumes and a multiplex cinema.  The kids experienced Pizza Hut for the first time and were more excited in Pets at Home than they had been at Edinburgh Zoo. I was denied a trip to 24 hour Asda but the excitement might have been too much – there was a high chance of me popping in for school uniforms and coming out with some nested coffee tables, a steam mop and a trampoline.

Safely back in our commercial dead-zone in Kintyre, the remaining 6 weeks flew by. I loved the lack of routine and with no school run in the morning, my blood pressure plummeted and I practically stopped swearing altogether. (Notwithstanding an audible “FUCK YOU” to the Aga, following a nasty finger burn. This was immediately copied by the youngest of course).

fuck you

Other memorable moments included a visit from internationally renowned adventure cyclist, Mark Beaumont who we had the pleasure of hosting with his film crew during a promotional extreme sport challenge around Argyll. When my husband first told me this might be a possibility, his boy-like excitement was met with an indignant, ‘WHO???’, from me. This was swiftly remedied by a quick Google session during which I learned all about his amazing cycling tours round the world and from Cape Town to Cairo among other incredible* challenges.

He is a very impressive man (particularly when emerging from our downstairs loo in tight Lycra**) but extremely humble and down to earth. His wife was lovely too and we all took turns in holding their tiny baby while intense planning sessions were happening over breakfast. The final footage (#wildaboutargyll) may or may not feature our grumpy 4 year old who refused to move off the front step and our keen eldest who attempted to catch up with Mark on her Disney princess two wheeler as he sped through the arch.

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There is no point in denying it.

Spending time gawping at a real live athlete had a positive effect on me and I decided to start jogging again. I’d reluctantly started working through the ‘couch to 5k‘ app back in May, following my 42nd birthday and a very unsubtle gift from my mother. She’d disappeared upstairs to rummage in her present bag, leaving me to imagine all sorts of wonderful gift possibilities from her many recent travels with dad (South Africa, Australia, New York, Liverpool…). Picture my face when I opened the M&S outlet store bag thrust into my waiting hands, only to pull out a pair of giant support knickers that made Bridget Jones’ substantial undies look like g-strings. “They’re very practical”, she shrilled. Indeed, but I have contraception covered, thanks mum. Anyway, it did get me running, briefly. I didn’t quite get to 5k – more like couch to garden bench but this time I’m more determined than ever.

Ignoring sarcastic remarks from my husband about weak bridges and pot holes, I’m now running (plodding) a reasonable 5k around the estate and I’ve been deemed “very fit” by our practice nurse who took my blood pressure recently. Since we are about to go into gin production, this will likely all go to shit but I am enjoying the label while it lasts. Also, those pants are actually amazing and make a multitude of spare tyres disappear. Cheers mum, I take it all back.

*Utterly bonkers

** I did swither about a photo but thought that might be deemed inappropriate

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Hebridean Hideaway

I am back in my happy place (i.e. away from my ironing pile). We are on our annual pilgrimage to the Isle of Tiree for a whole week of spending lots of time together in close quarters. So far so almost relaxing.

The journey to get here borders on the off-putting as it involves a 3.30am wake-up, a two hour twisty drive and a four hour ferry trip. Our hopes that the kids will sleep in the car on the way are always dashed and the little darlings manage to summon vast amounts of energy from hell-knows-where as soon as they are trapped on the ferry with limited entertainment.  I caught myself staring enviously at the parents of two pre-teen girls nearby whose sullen daughters totally ignored their mum and dad for the whole four hour sail.

Having not taken a long-haul flight since the Blair Administration, when we finally arrived I experienced the closest thing to jet lag in nearly ten years and crashed out halfway through a Good Housekeeping* article (How To Look Good in Selfies. Noted.).  The kids continued to bounce around like lunatics as they explored our (different from the previous three years) holiday house, culminating in a monstrous meltdown from the youngest who declared, “THIS HOUSE IS NOT TIREEEEEEEE”. Quite.

Appeased by giant Jenga, Nutella on white bread and 10pm bedtimes, they have settled in admirably. It also helps that my parents are also holidaying here in what must be their 33rd consecutive year (bar one**). We are on the other side of the island (5 miles away) this year but still see them everyday as mum needs her WiFi and Wimbledon fix (their cottage has remained largely untouched by modern technology in the 33 years)  while poor dad gets cajoled into playing My Little Ponies with the girls.

It’s very hard to put into words what I love about this place (because I am on holiday and cracking open the Strongbow™ at lunchtime) so here are some of the photos I have been posting on Facebook, just to piss off everyone on the mainland who are experiencing much shitter weather:

Tiree machair

Glorious machair

Ballevullin Beach, Isle of Tiree

Beachy mornings

Crochet blanket

Rainy afternoons

A swing park with a view

Play parking

Stunning Ballevullin beach, Tiree

Despite living very close to the sea, I can’t get enough of the sea.

I love that the Tiree 2015 album is almost identical  to the Tiree 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 albums but with slightly bigger and curlier-haired children in the photos. Old friends I’ve known from childhood are also holidaying here with their kids so it’s lovely to see the next generation relentlessly digging holes on the beach and frolicking in the waves.

We are nearly mid-way through the week, and already I am dreading leaving.  We have been blessed with better-than-predicted weather so have enjoyed happy mornings at the beach before retiring to the cottage for leisurely lunches followed by afternoons of blissful inactivity. Niall watches Wimbledon and deals with near-catastrophic bio-mass boiler issues back home, I crack on with my latest epic crochet project and the girls amuse themselves, twatting about pretending to be dogs or ponies or spies. It’s heavenly. Thoughts of epic laundry piles and monstrous baskets of ironing have been quelled by copious amounts of Strongbow™ and the obligatory Prossecco.  There is also still so much to do: the seals (we never make it), the north end (ditto), the pottery, the gallery, the weird shop that sells everything, run by a family that seemingly hasn’t aged for forty years (Niall thinks they are vampires), boogie boarding,  pony trekking and the annual lawn boule tournament which my mum takes Very Seriously Indeed.  I think we’ll need at least a month next year.

 

 

 

*For years I’ve been persevering with Glamour and occasionally Cosmopolitan, though they leave me feeling utterly inadequate in every way. Recently, however, I had an epiphany in the doctors waiting room whilst leafing through a Good Housekeeping. I loved reading about  Clare Balding’s style secrets,  how to detox my finances (should I ever accumulate any) and coping with empty nest syndrome (one can dream) and I have now fully accepted that I am well within their demographic. Also, I can steal my mum’s copies.

**dad took us to  Australia for six months, on sabbatical.  After much discussion, Tiree was declared too far for a holiday

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Life’s a Beach

so THIS is what happy children look like

so THIS is what happy children look like

We had our first taste of summer 2015 last week. It was glorious – expansive blue skies, temperatures in the late teens and daylight til 8pm (which causes it’s own bedtime problems but that’s another blog post entirely). Me and the girls, and the dog, have been spending a lot of time at the beach which is so much more enjoyable now they’re a bit older and can be trusted not to toddle into the sea and drown or eat seaweed, stones and/or dead things.  I even managed a solitary stroll along the beach whilst they played happily together* on the rocks. Lost in my favourite pastime of searching for sea glass and pottery, it was only when I reached the end of the beach that I became aware of the panicked shrieks from base camp. “I NEED A POO MUMMY” echoed accross the Kilbrannan sound, alarming several seals and an elderly couple from Skipton** who’d pulled up to enjoy the view.  Turning swiftly on my heel I legged it back to the rocks, stopping only very briefly to pick up the odd gem of pottery (I really can’t help myself) and desperately hoping that I had baby wipes and a plastic bag to hand. Who was I kidding – I stopped all that ‘being prepared’ shit months ago, becoming arrogantly complacent when the youngest mastered toilet-training. Luckily I am as resourceful as I am unprepared and achieved a successful clean-up job with a used tissue and an empty crisp packet. Mummy 1, poo nil.

Another blissful afternoon was spent on a different local beach with nursery friends, whilst the eldest languished in school. It was bordering on perfect – picnic food,  crab nets, paddling, no poos, no “SANDY HANDS!!” hysteria and pockets full of beach treasure. Knee deep in the water, gazing out at the best view in the world, lunacy took hold and I decided the only thing that could make the moment more perfect would be a swim. Stripped to vest and pants (luckily only my poor friend bore witness to this sight), I waded back in and shrieked like a stuck piglet as I got deeper and deeper. There was no going back and with an audible scream of “FUCKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT” ringing out across the bay, (I can only hope the kids thought I was saying “bucket”), I submerged my shoulders and took some strokes. The shock of this not killing me nearly killed me but I was under and swimming and loving it. I assumed it would be a quick in-and-out job but it really was delightful and I even managed to get my head under. The first swim of 2015 – done!  It wasn’t even a one off – after a very, very moving funeral last week, I decided the only thing thing for it was to Carpe the very warm diem and have a swim in the sea.  It was incredibly life-affirming and therapeutic, marred only by the three year old falling off a rock and landing on her head. She was fine, although it might be quite hard to tell for a while….

Hailstones in May in Scotland

Summer in Scotland. #funnynotfunny

After digging out my summer wardrobe (2 pairs of shorts and a scabby vest top), predictably the weather turned and for nearly four days it was the bleak midwinter again. Sleet, hail, wind and rain battered our ancient windows and we were back to lying in bed listening to the cacophony of drips landing in buckets in the attic.  I even had to turn back from a shopping trip into town as three cars were stuck on our hill because of the ball-bearing-esque hail stones. Conversation at the school gate simply consisted of all the mums huddling in the tiny covered entrance shrieking “WHATTHEACTUALFUCK??” as we reminisced fondly about the previous weeks beach activities.

That’s Scotland for you, which I light-heartedly said to our paying guests from Germany, half-way through their unseasonably cold and miserable week. The lady smiled sympathetically as if to say, at least we are leaving this Godforsaken land in a few days. The man just glared, silently. Fortunately the sun did reappear for their last two days and they left, all smiles and vowing to return.

I’ve packed away my shorts again and we’re all back in winter woollies with the fires on. The sea looks about as inviting as a bath of cold baked beans but I’m clinging to the memories of those two wonderful swims and wishing hard for the warm weather to return. I may even shave my legs next time.

 

 

*clearly hell was freezing over at this moment in time

**yes I do talk to everyone, yes I am turning into my mother

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You Can’t Hurry Love

Today is polling day and in the early hours of tomorrow we will know Scotland’s fate. My turmoil continued long after posting my ‘no’ vote two weeks ago but now I feel at peace and ready to accept either outcome. My biggest fear is that nothing changes if it’s a ‘No’ and everything changes if it’s a ‘Yes’. That and the prospect of back to back re-runs of Take the High Road*.

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The worlds biggest Wendy house.

Luckily there has been a big distraction to take my mind of the ‘Neverendum’ which involved another kind of union. We hosted a family wedding at the weekend which was a fabulous culmination of two years of planning, preparation and silent prayers for September sunshine. Having met 47 years ago, and been romantically involved for a fair few decades of that, the bride and groom had waited a long time for their perfect day, and by all accounts it was.

It was the kids’ first wedding since they missed their uncle’s big day due to vomiting and diarrhoea. There was no such luck this time as over-excitement predictably turned to extreme boredom three minutes into the church service, after I’d ran out of wine gums. They passed the next 57 minutes with a competitive game of ‘pew hurdles’ in a race to see who could get to Granny, two rows in front then back to uncle Kenny, three rows behind. The whispered apologies were a useful ice-breaker for the hundreds of relatives I was meeting for the first time.

It was very moving to witness this lovely couple exchange their vows and felt very poignant considering the length of their partnership. The mood was lightened considerably though during the singing of the register. The groom’s sense of humour tickled everyone as the dulcet tones of Elvis Presley sang out the lyrics, “Wise men say, only fools rush in…”. Laughter rippled around the little church and truly set the tone for the rest of the day – love and joy and celebration.

The sun shone all day and the marquee looked fabulous with its castle backdrop. It took a bit of getting used to as it was erected a week before the big day and was considerably larger than we anticipated, however it quickly became a giant play pen for puppy and children and I quite miss it now it’s gone. Things are slowing returning to normal although our house does resemble Elton John’s mansion due to the volume of leftover flowers we are happily fostering.

It was a such a privilege to make this amazing day possible (although admittedly Niall did most of the hard work while I de-thorned some roses and shovelled up some dog poo from the lawn) and there is a decidedly Boxing Day feel about the place now. The bride and groom departed today and the remaining guests leave tomorrow. There are no more distractions from the referendum results which are now just hours away so I’m going to neck the remaining wedding Chablis, cuddle the sleeping puppy and pray that we will all still be friends in the morning. See you on the other side.

*think Acorn Antiques meets Eldorado set in Auchtermuchty

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All Change

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Lots and lots of this

“It turns colder, that’s where it ends…”*

Summer, you did us proud again. We’ve loved every minute and have banked some fabulous memories to see us through the winter months. Thank you for the sun tans, the wild swims, for being too hot for the evil midges, for allowing us to be outside much more than inside and for showing all our (paying and non-paying) guests just how amazing our little edge of nowhere can be. Same again next year please.

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Plenty of this

I realise it might be little premature to close the door on summer but this is Scotland and there has been a distinct drop in temperature this last week and a definite yellow tinge to a few of the trees. I’m not packing away the ambre solaire just yet but I’m squeezing myself into ill-fitting jeans rather than too-tight shorts and have even required a raincoat a couple of times this week.

There is also a Big Milestone approaching which brings the holidays to a natural end – our oldest daughter is starting school this week. At four and half, she is six months younger than her two classmates so we had the choice of keeping her at nursery for another year. It was a tough decision but in such an intimate environment, where she already knows the names of the entire school (12 pupils!), it seemed to be the sensible option. Time will tell and any issues will no doubt be flung in my face when she’s a stroppy teenager – “I WASN’T READY!!!” *door slams*. I can just picture the scene…

It feels like a new era is beginning. We will no longer have the flexibility of popping “up the road” on a Friday morning, for a long weekend and as the school day starts half and hour earlier than nursery did, I’ll have to seriously adjust my morning ‘fannying about’ time and Get My Shit Together. School seems to be a whole different ball game from nursery. There is a compulsory uniform for instance. They were encouraged to wear it at nursery and the other five pupils willingly did, but not so our little rebellious madam who frequently pitched up sporting a ghastly Disney princess frock and one occasion, her leopard print onsie. I’m not looking forward to that daily battle but must admit to being secretly chuffed that she’s showing early signs of non-conformity. (I would be more chuffed if she chose to non-conform in something other than Disney though).

Totally eclipsing First Day At School excitement is of course, puppy excitement. Our third child substitute (it’s time to call a spade a spade) arrives TONIGHT! Ideally when both the children are asleep so they will wake up to the pitter patter of tiny paws. It’s not great timing in terms of trying to bundle Zoë off to school for her second day but it does mean that India will have a playmate in her absence.

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Home improvements

So it’s all change again at the castle but all for the better – notwithstanding the inevitable chewing of antique furniture and piddling on ancient rugs. Each generation has left a legacy of doggie damage somewhere in the house (a ripped portrait here, a gnawed table leg there) and I’m sure Crumble will also leave her mark. The children certainly have. Their chosen victim was the 150 year old rocking horse that graces our playroom. I stupidly left them unattended with poster paint for a few minutes and returned to find poor Dobbin had been given a makeover. I was fleetingly livid but calmed down quickly when I realised they were merely adding to Dobbin’s legend. These include stories of losing her mane and tail in mock battle and most famously of all, great grandpa’s brother posting marbles through the hole in her bottom, which still rattle to this day at a fast gallop.

 

*yep, Grease. Can’t remember my Shakespeare.

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Desperate Housewife

I’ve been feeling pretty pleased with myself lately as I finally seem to be getting the hang of living in a castle, hundreds of miles from the nearest Primark, with two despot ‘tweenagers’ and a workaholic husband. There is a happy rhythm to our lives at the moment and we seem to be bumbling along quite nicely. It helps that the schools are off so there isn’t the usual frantic last minute rush in the morning, hunting for shoes, stuffed sheep and random items for show and tell – pine cones, shells, dental floss etc. This is despite the day generally starting at 6am so by the time we’re running 10 minutes late for the nursery run, I’ve been up for over three hours.
My time management has definitely improved and I seem to be most productive in the early hours, when sane people with considerate children are still tucked up in bed. On a good day, by 9am, I have often ironed a load of bed linen, made a pot of soup, completed a 20 minute fitness dvd and made a few cushion covers.

You can never have enough.

You can never have enough.

My latest fad is soft furnishings, ever since a talented friend showed me how to work the ancient sewing machine my MiL left behind. There is a ready supply of material all over this house which is begging to be upcycled so It’s a cheap hobby at the moment and I can furnish the holiday cottages with my finished creations, once I’ve filled up the castle.

I’ve also rediscovered crochet recently after a long break due to bad associations. I made a ripple blanket for a family baby whilst watching the box set of Breaking Bad and the whole experience left me traumatised. I loved making the blanket but that overrated, soulless series left me cold and unable to pick up a hook for months. Thank God for Homeland 3 which arrived via a friend last week and which we are binge watching at a rate of three episodes a night. I’ve made 16 granny squares (another cushion, there is still space on the Chesterfield) and am half-way through a hat.

'Nuff said.

Nuff said.

If I was ever worried about morphing into a ghastly Martha Stewart/Bree Van Der Kamp hybrid, there are plenty of days when things don’t go according plan. This week alone I have unwittingly flashed the stonemason from the bedroom, pranged my MiL’s car in Tesco car park and served coffee to an important client of Niall’s in the “I’m a twat” mug.

 

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Iron Lady

Happy feet

Happy feet

As usual our Tiree holiday was over before we knew it and suddenly we were doing tearful farewells at the pier and battling the post-holiday blues on the ferry home.

It was wonderful week, with all the obligatory Tiree activities and (more importantly) inactivities, ticked off. Beach walks, evening swims, crab hunting, sunset boules matches (VERY competitive. Girls v boys. We lost. Mum is still not speaking to me.), rainy day (just one) pottery painting (the worlds most expensive egg cups), trashy crime fiction on the beach, three crochet projects on the go, Nutella with EVERYTHING, ridiculous clothing combination (shorts, fleece, gillet/jeans, walking sandals, vest top). I could easily spend a fortnight there and am insanely jealous of my parents who stay for three weeks.

I really can’t imagine going anywhere else on holiday although Niall has tentatively suggested we perhaps go somewhere different next year. I’m hoping he’ll forget this nonsensical idea but I feigned enthusiasm to buy myself some time. (SHETLAND was even mentioned! We may as well go to New Zealand…).

Luckily the sun is still shining and we still have a beach within spitting distance so I’m warding off the PHBs and throwing myself back into my role as subordinate housekeeper. I have taken on even more responsibility lately so I need to stay focused. As well as my usual change-over tasks and laundry activities, it has now fallen upon me to iron all the bed linen. Through a sad chain of events (dear Margot’s sudden passing and poor Barbara’s deteriorating arthritis) this heinous task is now part of my increasing workload. Never one to play the martyr*, I have thrown myself into this extra duty and have weirdly found myself almost enjoying it. This is no doubt helped by the ancient press we have acquired to speed things up. It is in stiff competition with the Aga for giving me third-degree burns but I’m gradually getting the hang of it and can get half a load done during a podcast of Desert Island Discs.

I draw the line.

I draw the line.

It’s weirdly therapeutic and although I’ve only got a few finger prints left on one hand and some scars for life on the other, it is immensely satisfying seeing the finished stack of pressed linen. I’m careful not to outwardly express too much enthusiasm though as it’s a slippery slope to family laundry and before I know it I’ll be grudgingly ironing my husband’s shirts and trousers. I’m afraid I’m just not that kind of girl.

*shut up Louboo and Sazza**
**My sisters. They know too much

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Summer Loving

LIterally TENS of people on the beach

LIterally TENS of people on the beach

Hello summer! It’s been hot, hot, hot (Low twenties. It’s all relative.) for what feels like ages so we’ve been making good use of our beautiful local beaches. Playgroup has twice abandoned the village hall in favour of the beach which has been fabulous and so much more relaxing for us wrung-out mothers. The kids seem to get along so much better outside and although  there are odd moments of violence and aggression, generally they are all the best of friends which is so vital, being such a wee community.

We recently lost a lovely pal who moved back to civilisation and this had a huge impact on our little group. She was a brilliant person to know and inspired us all to be better parents and also, miraculously, take up exercise! I found the latter easier than the former but I’m really trying to do things differently, be more patient and generally not lose my shit so often. Like right now, for example.  I am trying to steal a few moments to write my blog but my despot two-and-half year old is going bat-shit crazy because giant Paddington Bear is quite clearly too big for Action Man’s tank and she is demanding I rectify this futile situation immediately. The old me (yesterday) might have matched her glass-shattering decibels with a few expletives and thrown said toys dramatically out of the room but I managed to rise above it, create a distraction and restore calm. No shrieking, no swearing. Go me. Hopefully I’ve changed in time to save me a fortune in therapy fees later on. (Theirs, not mine – I want ALL the therapy).

Swims in the sea are also helping my mental health and we have fallen into a lovely routine of popping down to our little beach at around 4pm for a dip and a paddle. It is blissful and wonderful to watch the children gaining confidence in the water. Being non-swimmers just isn’t an option for them, living where we do. They should get plenty practice this week as we are off on our annual holiday to Tiree for more of the same. I can’t wait to be there again, my remote home from (my remote) home. The gruelling journey began at 3.30am this morning but we are now safely aboard the Clansman, happily stuffed with the mandatory CalMac breakfast and succeeding at ignoring the children as they pester random strangers and torment unassuming doggies. I am also ignoring the fact that it is currently pissing down and visibility is pretty much zero. It will be fine once we get there – the sun ALWAYS shines on Tiree.

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Summer-ish

We have had a whole fortnight of fabulous weather, way down here on our phallic peninsula. The trees are looking wonderfully leafy and the disease-carrying, non-native, invasive rhododendrons* are bursting into bloom all over the place, along with the more politically correct cherry blossom. Winter coats have been tentatively stored away and welly boots have been discarded in favour of pumps and flip-flops and, this being Scotland, also still welly boots.

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Allie says it how it is

I seized upon the warmer temperatures to brave the sea for the first time this year. With a gang of sundry relatives, visiting pals and our Canadian WWOOFer, we trooped down to the beach, nicely glowing from an afternoon lounging in the sun and psyching (some of) ourselves up for a dip. It was much breezier by the sea, however, and I quietly hoped any ideas of stripping off and getting in would be swiftly abandoned. I hadn’t banked on our Canadian WWOOFer having a moment of crazy however, and suddenly she was knee deep, then properly submerged. The screams could be hear for miles around and I don’t mind admitting I was having second thoughts. However, with my sister for company (and life-saving skills), I waded in, took several deep breaths and dived under. It was wonderful. Chilly, bracing, so cold it was almost burning, but wonderful. They say it takes years off you, in which case I am turning 35 on Monday. So there.

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There has been lots of this sort of thing

The weather has made such a difference to our New Zealand visitors as it’s so much easier to keep five children entertained when the sun is out. Activities have largely included throwing themselves down a grassy embankment, making dens in the bamboo and larking around in our brand new wood-fuelled hot tub. This is the stuff memories are made of and I think even two and a half year old India will always remember this visit. I can’t bear to think about their departure in just over a week but before that is the whole reason for their visit! My brother-in-law’s wedding is now imminent and the excitement is immeasurable. All that’s left to be done is a swift eye-brow pluck and the application of some industrial foundation, preferably with a trowel, in an attempt to disguise four years of no sleep. I also have to work out how to cram nappies, wipes, jelly babies, calpol, tissues and an emergency sick bowl into my elegant purple clutch. Whose idea was it to invite the children?

*apologies for the Daily Mail description but they really are bad news

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