Monday, 17 August 2015

Brewer's Fayre, Dennis is there

I'm never one to turn down a meal out, it saves on washing up, and I can get to try things I wouldn't make at home.  So when we were invited along to our local Brewer's Fayre restaurant to have a look at their newly revamped children's play area, Play at Brewer's Fayre, and have a spot of lunch, you know it wasn't going to be a difficult decision.

Castle, of the falling down variety
So, off we popped on Saturday to Caerphilly, usually more notable for cheese, being the birthplace of Tommy Cooper, and having a somewhat falling-down type castle.

Rock on Tommy
But we weren't interested in comedians, cheese or castles, we were all about the restaurant.  We've actually visited this restaurant before, and while the food was fine, the soft play was dated and not the most exciting, so I was interested to see what had changed.  As soon as we arrived, Squeaky spotted someone very special, being very naughty indeed.  Dennis the Menace had also come to have a bite to eat, along with Gnasher.  And they were wreaking havoc in the way that only true menaces can.  Dennis and Gnasher, along with the rest of the Beano gang, are Brewer's Fayre's children's menu stars, and the restaurant have regular special issues of the Beano to keep young people (and adults) occupied while waiting for their dinner.

Dennis, menacing
The unsupervised soft-play area has been fully renewed, with a toddlers area, as well as three levels to climb, run, slide, squeeze, push & balance.  According to Squeaky, the soft play was "Awesome, can I go now please mummy?"  I'm no expert, but all the equipment was clean, and looked brand spanking new (as it should do).  There were giant beanbags to land on at the bottom of the slide, which makes a refreshing change from a ball pool, the contents of which usually end up everywhere but where they were meant to be.  There were plenty of friendly staff on hand to chat with the children, and make sure everyone was playing safely and having a good time, but they were clear that parents were responsible for supervising their own children, no running away to hide in the bar!  A face painter had even come along especially for the launch day, and was busy making the children look stunning. I'm never going to try anything more complicated than an England flag during the rugby world cup, she was that good!

Do you know how difficult it is to take photos in soft play?
One thing that soft play centres do extremely well is build up an appetite in even the fussiest of Squeaks.  So we were very grateful that Brewer's Fayre offered us lunch as well as a play.  I really like the children's menu, it's got a good mix of sensible, child-friendly foods, without relying on chips and beans with everything.  Squeaky being the child she is, she opted for pizza and garlic bread, while I remained true to my Slimpod and settled on the chicken salad.  Both were delicious, but we had to save room for desserts.

Desserts, ah, yes.  We do love a good dessert.  Squeaky didn't have a great deal of choice, because I'd already picked our meals in advance, and know that she tends to have eyes bigger than her belly when it comes to ice-cream sundaes, so instead I picked for her what she called an "ice cream Saturday", or in other words, the Cookie Double Dare - vanilla ice-cream sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies.

Cookies & face paints
The cookies were perfectly crisp on the outside, yet chewy in the middle, which had the added advantage of helping her very wobbly front tooth on its journey to meet the tooth fairy.  It would have been a little embarrassing if her tooth had come out while we were in the restaurant, so I'm relieved that it waited until we got home to fall out.

We had a great visit to the Caerphilly restaurant, and it's firmly back on my radar as somewhere to call in for a meal, snack, or even just a cheeky coffee when we're out & about, especially if Squeaky can run around like a loon for half an hour or so.  The food was fab, with some great menu choices, and the staff were really friendly and welcoming.  You can tell when people actually mean it, rather than just going through the motions, thinking about payday.  And I'll leave you with something that really made me smile.  Attention to detail, this was the carpet in the soft play zone.  How much fun is this?

Disclosure: I was invited to attend this launch event, and provided with meals and soft drinks for my family free of charge. I was not obliged to write this post. I have not been told what to write and all opinions are my own. Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive payment for their use.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Be Not So Busy

Ok, this is one of those posts that I have to start with a disclaimer.  This post is not written with any person in kind, aside from myself. It is not about you, your friend, or that person we both know, smile at in passing, but don't really like much. It is not. To paraphrase Carly Simon, "you're so vain, you probably think this post is about you." However, to borrow a phrase from a friend of mine's facebook status the other day, if the shoe fits, feel free to wear it.

Reassess, yes that's the word.  I love blogging, I'm endlessly grateful for the opportunities it affords me and my family, to try new things, go to new places and make new friends.  But how much of my life does it swallow up, and what is the real impact on my family?  I'm finding that rather than enjoying experiences, I'm spending more of my time lining up the perfect photo, thinking about how to word things for the blog.  Rather than living in the moment and having fun, it's all about how I can write things up into a blog post. And that's not the point.  I didn't become a parent so that I could blog about it, I started blogging because I became a parent. Parenthood is the primary thing, not blogging.  A blog post takes maybe an hour to write, then you add in the time it takes to take and edit the photos, the thinking time, the time promoting on Facebook and Twitter, and even then I hear from those "in the know" that I'm not doing enough, I should be on G+, Instagram and Periscope (wtf is periscope, anyway?) as well.  I can't do that, I'm busy with my family, and my job.  Blogging is meant to be fun, not an obsession.

Be not so busy being a parent blogger that you forget to be a parent.  That's my new motto. I've had a bit of time off from the blog, you may have noticed. I'm back and refreshed, but with a new attitude. Quality not quantity in terms of posts, quality AND quantity in terms of family life.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Hello Blogosphere

Why, hello there internets. How are you? I'm muddling through. Just taking a bit of a break from it all, but normal service will be resumed just as soon as I figure out what normal is.

In the meantime, why not sit back with a slice of cake & a g&t?

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Mam, can I just have a word?

The phrase guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of every parent outside our school gates of an afternoon.  The immediate thought process goes something like this...

  • What has she done?
  • What has she said?
  • Where has she thrown up?
  • Which part of her is bleeding?
  • What has someone else's child done to her?
Fortunately, this week's bout of terror turned out to be none of the above.  Instead, she was having an attack of end-of-term-itis, coupled with being a touch oversensitive to the needs of a tv character.  We've had a good old chat, and done the whole "no secrets" and "you can tell mummy anything" conversations, as well as giving her a mental list of other people she can talk to if she doesn't want to tell me.  I'm as happy as I can be that there's nothing more serious going on than just being in need of a week's break and the chance to wear a princess outfit every day.

Katie Morag - Who does not need to leave Struay, tears or no tears.
But be honest with me here. Am I the only person who gets that fear go through them when the teacher wants a "quick word".  Even when the teacher is considerably younger than you?  I still feel like I'm going to get detention, told to write out "I must not pull faces in assembly" 100 times, and have a letter sent to my mum.  It's amazing how school never quite leaves you, isn't it?

Monday, 11 May 2015

Time for a change

I've never been a skinny minnie, to put it mildly.  I'm not all that unfit - I can swim a 5k, and do a 3 1/2 hour Zumbathon without actually keeling over, but the only thing I can run is a bath, and while I can swim, me in a swimming costume is not a pretty sight.  So it's time for a change.

I've dieted in the past, who hasn't?  Sometimes I've lost weight, but eventually I fall off the wagon, usually with a fairly hard bump, and it all goes back where it came from.  I've been a member of a gym, but I get bored after a fairly short time, when I realise I can't read on a treadmill, and I don't like looking at myself in the mirrors.  (I don't mind Zumba, I can't see myself in the community centre's breezeblock walls, and everyone is so NICE it doesn't matter that I wobble even when I shouldn't).

So, time for a change of approach.  I've always had a slightly wobbly relationship with food. It's been my comfort, and it's been my downfall.  I craved pepperoni pizza while I was pregnant with Squeaky, and the cravings still haven't gone, despite the fact she's 5!

I was offered the chance to join in a trial with Thinking Slimmer, who are the people behind the Slimpod.  They've given me (and a group of other amazing bloggers) the chance to try out the Slimpod for ourselves, in return for sharing with them how we are getting on.  You know me though, I can't keep that to myself, I'm going to tell you as well.

Truth be told, I have kept it to myself for a little while, I wasn't sure whether you'd really want to know.  But I've been listening to the lovely Trevor, a cognitive hypnotherapist, before I go to sleep (and often while I'm asleep) for the last few weeks, and I'm honestly noticing a difference.  I'm not snacking so much, I'm choosing different foods, healthier foods, and I'm making better choices.  It's slightly strange being part of a group, but being remote from them, kind of the opposite to slimming clubs.  But for me it works.  I've come to the conclusion that you can't change for anyone other than yourself, and that includes competing with others.  I'll never be you, you'll never be me, it's a waste of good energy to try.  But I can be the best me, and I'm using my slimpod to help me be the best me I can.

Want to join me?  Well, don't go away, there's something exciting coming very soon!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Munching in Munich!

I was going to get all travel-blogger style and give you a full run down of our recent two-day jaunt to Munich, where we got caught in a monumental hailstorm, rode to the top of the Olympic tower, learned to negotiate the German rail system without speaking a word of German, and drank many good cups of coffee, and even more good beers.

But really, this is me.  We were visiting a friend, and only had a couple of days, which is nowhere near enough time to do the city justice.  I want to go back for a week and fill in the gaps that I didn't have chance to explore properly.  With an umbrella to deal with the next hailstorm, obviously, though considering the wind I might well have a Mary Poppins moment & end up flying all the way to Austria.  Being my blog though, I have got some photos to share with you.  You know the sort.



Being artistic at the Olympic Park

Beer. One of many.

If Frozen's Elsa worked in a Beerhall.
I'm slowly trying to improve my photography skills, bit by bit.  It's tough though, when time is limited and you're enjoying reality, to have the opportunity to set up a perfect shot.  This time I didn't have Squeaky dragging my arm down & making me run to the next streetlight, but even so, while I try to take a good shot, I also take many, many mediocre ones and more than a few outright bad ones.  I'll never be David Bailey (or insert other favourite photographer here), because life moves too fast for me.  But I'll have some fun along the way, and if some turn out good, all the better.

Friday, 8 May 2015


It's the time of year where the papers would normally be filled with those horror stories of parents being fined for taking their children out of school for a family trip to, well, anywhere really. This year we've had a slight reprieve due to the double whammy of the election & royal baby, but give it a few days now & we'll see photos of sad parents clutching their fine letters, and people spouting off that "it never did me any harm" (In the interests of full disclosure, I used to go on holiday in school time & have a degree, so yeah, it never did me any harm)

However, in these days of Callio and fixed penalty notices, as well as the obscene cost of childcare, family holidays during the school holidays are becoming a necessity.  The cost of an extra 2 weeks' childcare negates any possible saving of going on holiday in June, at least around here.
I see complaints about the cost of going away in the school holidays everywhere. But honestly, it doesn't have to cost more, all it takes is a little forward planning. The holiday brochures for 2016 have just come out, and that means there are free and cheap child places available.

In Summer...

We've booked our summer 2016 holiday already, and were able to secure a free child space for Squeaky, in August at a hotel with all the children's activities she could desire (basically a chocolate party & mini-disco) without breaking the bank.  To the extent that we've got a whole year before we have to actually pay for the holiday!  One third off the price to go the week earlier when we couldn't get a free child space, and actually £150 cheaper than going before the schools break up, believe it or not.

We're lucky in the respect that we only have one child - there's usually a limit to the number of free child spaces available per booking (a good reason to go on holiday with the grandparents maybe?), and there is definitely a limit to the number of free child spaces available on any given flight.  But even one free space in a family of 4 or 5 presents a significant saving.  And the cost of childcare for 2 or 3 children? Well, if you haven't got family nearby to ease the burden, the summer break can be financially crippling.  Childcare vouchers only go so far, and they rely on your childcare providers being registered - which not all are.  Same goes for Tax Credits, 70% of childcare costs is a help, but not enough.  The last choice is taking time off work - 5 weeks paid holiday per year doesn't meet the 6 weeks summer holidays, never mind the other 7 weeks of school holidays per year, sick days & last-minute inset days, unpaid leave can be the only way.

I'm not saying I agree with the term time holiday rules, but there is an equation to consider - is the (possibly) increased cost of the holiday offset by the other costs if you take time out from the school calendar - after all, school aren't going to take the children off our hands because we went away in June, are they?  Much as Squeaky's teacher may say she'd happily keep her, I'm sure she doesn't really mean it.

What do you think?