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Posted on 17th June 2012 in family/ homework

10 year old has been asked to make a drum for homework…

He somehow managed to enlist our help and then slope off while the hard work was done! We’ve adapted an old tin do you think that’s cheating?

We’re hoping for an A+


New blog!

Posted on 17th June 2012 in Blog/ family

One of the most frequently asked questions I hear in the office at work is “so what’s for dinner tonight then?” and as I’m utterly obsessed with food (just ask my ever expanding arse!) I’m starting a new blog which will be daily dinner tweets!

You can find it here.

And follow it on twitter here.

I hope you like it :)

Woburn Safari Park – excellent!

Posted on 7th June 2012 in days out/ family/ review


We took a ‘spur of the moment’ trip to Woburn Safari Park this week and it was excellent, we saw lions and tigers and bears!

We booked a family ticket online before we went which made it slightly cheaper and went along not really knowing what to expect as although we’ve been to Colchester Zoo several times, we’d never been to Woburn.

Driving through the animals was just amazing, it was so exhilarating to see them up close and looking as relaxed and ‘at home’ as possible. They calmly wandered around between the cars and the boys were very excited by how near they came.

We were a bit worried at one point as a wolf seemed to have walked out of his ‘area’ and found himself among the bears! But even though they were only a cars length apart they gave each other nothing more than a bit of a look! Thankfully.

We had a giggle near the bears as there is a big sign saying ‘Keep driving, bears break wing mirrors’ and as we passed it the boys suddenly fell into fits of giggles – turns out they’d misread the sign and thought it was warning us to keep driving in case the bears break wind!

The monkey enclosure was lovely, apart from all the silly people dropping sandwiches out of their windows to entice the monkeys over! Not a great plan as it usually resulted in 5 or 6 monkeys fighting on top of your car as the people in this nice shiny car soon found out!

The monkey by the back wheel had literally just slid all the way down from the roof – no doubt scratching the paintwork as it went!

We stopped for lunch in the restaurant and were pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the food and the price.

We then took a walk through the lemur enclosure followed by a swift walk around the ‘on foot’ areas as it was raining slightly and then hopped back in the car for another trip around the car safari through the zebras, giraffes, rhinos, elephants, tigers, lions, bears, wolves, monkeys, bison etc etc etc!

It was a brilliant day out that wasn’t spoiled by the rain. We did have a bit of a giggle at the guy who wanted his money back as they wouldn’t let him drive through the lions and the monkey – in his convertible! (They would have thought he was meals on wheels!)

Great Grandfather’s Dancing Dog

Posted on 9th February 2012 in #thegallery/ Enid Blyton/ family/ grandfather

My grandfather was a man of great presence.

He liked good manners, courtesy, politeness and was often intimidating.

He spoke of his own father (a man I never met) with quiet respect. He spoke of being spanked and punished for his frequent cheeky outbursts. He described an austere man who I had always assumed was remote and authoritarian.

After my grandfather died, I found these:




They are little cards with carefully illustrated pictures of animals – much in the style of Enid Blyton – aren’t they gorgeous!

On the back of each, if you can make it out, is an inscription:

Not so remote and austere after all huh!

I think my favourite character is the little dancing dog :) I’ll never know what he named them and if he did little stories to go with them, but I can’t help smiling when I look at them.



Take Control Of Your Finances: Step 1 #MoneyMonday

Posted on 6th February 2012 in #MoneyMonday/ budgeting/ CCCS/ debt/ family

As mentioned last Monday in my introduction to ‘Take Control Of Your Finances‘, I am going to be posting a blog each Monday which will help you to take control of your finances.

Some of it may seem obvious, some of it may seem too simple – but until you put it into action you’ll never know how well it could work.

Wouldn’t it be amazing not to worry about bills and unexpected payments?

STEP ONE: Assessing Your Current Financial Situation

Bizarre though it may seem, debt can be as hard to shake off as an addiction to alcohol or cigarettes!

Also, much like the AA 12 step programme, admitting that you have a debt problem is the first step to solving it.

Wait until you have a clear afternoon with a few hours spare – in the few days preceding it, every time you have a spare minute search out paperwork. Get an empty drawer, old shoe box or even just a space on a shelf and put every piece of paper that you can find (even all the unopened scary stuff that you’ve hidden in the kitchen drawer) which relate to finances there; things like bank statements, credit card statements, rent/mortgage statements, utility bills, wage slips, benefits notifications, bailiffs letters, phone bills, shopping receipts etc etc.

The idea being that when you get your free afternoon there will be a huge scary pile of papers there for you!

Make a cup of tea and take the pile to the centre of a room and sit on the floor with it (really) take the top piece and look at it – let’s say that it’s a bank statement, put it to one side on the floor and that is then the start of your ‘bank statements’ pile. Take the next piece, let’s say that it’s a gas bill, put it in a different position on the floor and that is then the start of your ‘utility bills’ pile. Keep working your way through the original pile of paperwork until you have assigned every piece to it’s appropriate pile. You should end up with several smaller, more manageable piles.

Reward yourself with another cup of tea and maybe a biccy or two!

It’s easy to give up at this point – don’t.

This should give you all the information you need to assess your current financial situation.

At this point you’ve got a couple of choices:

* Make an appointment with your local CAB or call the CCCS – these are professionals who will help you, for free, to work through your paperwork and establish your current situation.

If you can be patient and methodical then you will be able to do this yourself, but if you find the whole thing too daunting then pick up the phone to the CCCS – it’s what they do all day, every day and they will help you without any kind of judgement. I’ve used them myself, they are nice people. Having said that, it might be worth completing the follow exercise before you call them so that you’ll have all the necessary figures to hand.

* Work through it yourself.

To work through it yourself, you will now need either a computer with excel (or similar), or a lined notepad.

If you have access to a computer and are confident using it, try this link from Money Saving Expert. Follow the instructions and you should soon arrive at an overview of your financial situation.

If you are doing it ‘old skool’, grab your lined pad, a pen and a calculator – and another cuppa of course!

Start at the top with any monies that you have coming in, something a little like this:

List absolutely every source of income that you have here – you might get regular income from something that I’ve not thought of but it is essential to add every single penny to your list so that you have an accurate figure.

Draw a line under it when you’ve done and add it up to obtain a total. It is important to convert all the figures so that you are adding them all in the same way – ie monthly or weekly. For this process I find it easier to convert everything into a monthly figure so that you know your total monthly income. (For any payments that you receive weekly, x them by 52 and then divide that figure by 12 to get the monthly amount.)

Then repeat the process for your ESSENTIAL outgoings:

It’s a short list isn’t it? That’s because this list is limited to your ESSENTIAL outgoings only. If you have anything else that is truly essential then add it to this list: prescriptions, school meals, hair cuts, essential clothing for example.

Once done, draw a line under it to create your monthly total – this figure SHOULD be less than your income figure.

Then repeat this process with a list called NON-essential outgoings – on this list you put your credit card minimum payments, mobile phone bill, store cards, personal loans, finance agreements, catalogues etc.

Again, draw a line under the list and add up the figures to create a total for your non-essential outgoings.

At this point – if your essential and non-essential outgoings total (added together) less than your income then you are doing fine and simply need to budget better.

If, at this point, the two outgoings totals are more than your income then we will need to look further into ways to bring them all into line.

Either way, now take a new sheet of paper (or start a new spreadsheet) and make a list of all your creditors (people you owe money to) – make 3 columns and put the company name on the left, the total amount of the debt in the middle and the minimum monthly payment on the right:

It is vitally important to list everything here. Once you’ve finished total the 2nd two columns so that you have a total debt outstanding figure and a total monthly payments due figure.

Now you definitely deserve a cup of tea! You might well fancy something stronger but hang on just a little bit longer as we are nearly done for today!

You now have all the information you need to assess your finances.

Keep it all separated and neat either by starting a file if you have one spare or by keeping in carrier bags inside a box or draw so that every time a new piece of post comes you can add it to it’s appropriate pile – keep on top of the filing from today so that you don’t have to repeat the sorting process over again next time!

If all of your monthly outgoings are less than your monthly income then you simply need to look at ways to manage your day to day finances better. You’ve already made a good start and now need to keep on top of the bills as soon as they come in.

If you over spend on unnecessary items, try working out your surplus money each month and then splitting it into 4 envelopes. Allow yourself one envelope a week as a way of disciplining yourself.

Take a look at the ‘demotivator‘ on Martin’s Money Tips, it’s a great way to put yourself off buying a latte on the way to work and you’ll be taking a packed lunch before you know it!

If, however, your outgoings are more than your income then over the next couple of weeks we will look at the ways you can reduce your outgoings and manage your debts. I assure you that no debt problem is unfixable. No matter how much you owe or how little you have coming in, there are ways (legal ways!) that can get you debt free. Although it is natural to worry about your finances, don’t let them depress you and don’t let them ruin your life. There is a way out.

If you can’t wait – pick up the phone and call the CCCS 

The School Place Debacle!

Posted on 17th October 2011 in applying for a school place/ family/ schools/ secondary school

Who would of thought that sending a child to school could become so complicated? I didn’t, somewhat naively as it turns out as apparently it is very very hard indeed. Possibly even harder than splitting the atom.

Brief situational overview:

Child 1 – year 7 – currently at school in county A.

Child 2 – year 6 – currently at school in county A.

Family are living in county A and moving to county B but do not yet have a date for exchange of contracts.

For child 1 in county A, a mid-year out of county application must be made asap. We have been told it will be rejected and that we must then appeal and that we have a 50% chance of winning the appeal – if we can show school class is not ‘full’.

For child 2 in county A, a mid-year out of county application must be made asap and we have a good chance of getting into the school we would like.

For child 2 in county A, a year 7 place (for Sept 2012) in county B must also be applied for by the 31/10/11 – with proof of address in catchment in county B…

Admissions team at county B say we must apply through them.

Admissions team at county A say we must apply through them.

Ideas anyone?

We Love Center Parcs!

Posted on 1st July 2011 in Center Parcs/ family/ holiday

We are just back from a week at Center Parcs (Elveden), glad but sad to be home as we had such a lovely time.

A little information, if you’ve never been to Center Parcs – you stay in a villa in the forest, normally near some water. This means that you are constantly surrounded by wildlife in it’s natural habitat. I love it. This week I have hand fed several ducks, ducklings, coots, squirrels and even a deer!

As well as the abundance of nature, there is an undercover complex which houses a sports centre where you can go climbing, play badminton, table tennis, squash, bowling, pool, snooker and much more. Center Parcs is also well known for the ‘tropical paradise’ swimming centre. It is indeed a tropical paradise and hours simply disappear once you are inside! As well as a general pool area, there are lots of branches off with varying slides, hot tubs, separate Pirate’s Cove for younger children and 2 outside areas – swimming outside in a forest in warm water has to be done to be appreciated. One of the outside areas is a salt pool which always seems to help my son’s eczema. The other is much warmer and has an area that has a current which leads you to ‘the rapids’ that whizz you around in the fresh air!

We went from Monday to Friday, here is a quick breakdown of our week:

MONDAY – arrived about 11.30am, unpacked, had lunch, spent 2 hours in the pool, had a BBQ at the villa with family who were also staying. The children were amazed to see 2 deer in our back yard!

TUESDAY – the children enjoyed a ‘bird of prey’ experience. This was excellently conducted by Keith who introduced us to a range of birds and all the children got to hold them and stroke them. They all loved it and couldn’t believe they’d had an owl, an eagle, a falcon and a hawk on their hand!

A massive thank you goes to Keith for an interesting and entertaining display. He clearly loved the birds and they all loved him – he’d raised most of them from eggs so they thought he was their mum! At the end of the display he let us all stroke a baby falcon who he was raising and training.

After the birds of prey we had lunch at a Starbucks which overlooked a large lake then headed back to the centre for more swimming. My 2 boys were a bit nervous about their swimming ability before we went, but by Tuesday they were racing us down the rapids without a second thought! Late afternoon we spotted the deer again at the rear of our villa and I wandered out holding a slice of bread, it took a few tentative steps towards me so I crouched down and held out the bread, it took a few more steps and was literally a couple of feet away from me when I threw the slice towards it – it took it and ate it. It was wonderful. It also waited while I fetched 2 more slices for it to eat! Tuesday evening we had dinner in the Sports Bar which is by a large outdoor play ground, the rest of our group had dinner in Cafe Rouge which they also said was fantastic. Compliments to Levi and Kay at the Sports Bar – despite it being busy they were both friendly and very attentive.

WEDNESDAY – started off with presents and balloons as it was my brother’s 40th birthday and my nephew’s 10th birthday! Then we spent a few ours in the swimming centre before sneaking off to have lunch on our own while nanny babysat the boys. We went to Bella Italia for lunch where we had really great anti pasta and a cheeky bottle of wine! I’m not 100% sure of the waitress’s name (we think it was Christine) but she also deserves praise – dark haired lady, with a northern accent, very warm, friendly and welcoming. Wednesday night we walked across to the Gastro Pub (Forrester’s Inn) where we again had brilliant service, this time from Gail. Plus great food and wine while the children were able to dive in and out of the play area. I’m not sure my brother appreciated the candle they put into his ice cream but am sure my nephew did!

THURSDAY – we filled Thursday with bike riding, swimming, lunch again at Starbucks where we sheltered from a sudden downpour and lots of playing with the squirrels! We had been leaving out monkey nuts for the squirrels and special seed for the birds which they came up to the villa for every day – most mornings when you open the curtains there are birds waiting outside to be fed! On Thursday we were in the villa with the patio doors open when a squirrel appeared at the door – so we placed some monkey nuts on the floor and he grabbed one and ran off. Almost immediately another squirrel appeared and did the same thing! We put more nuts down and sat back on the sofas to watch. We soon discovered that it was 2 different squirrels, one of them took two nuts each time and shoved them in his mouth before running off, the other very gently took one nut at a time. Thursday night we had dinner at Hucks – great service again this time from Nick (to whom I apologise for calling Frank all night!). We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the menu, as we had mistakenly thought it was more of a childrens’ restaurant than an adults’ one. The children had the freedom of choosing from a well stocked buffet and then got to play in the play centre while we enjoyed a very relaxed evening.

FRIDAY – all packed up and out of the villa by 10am like good holiday-makers – but then we stayed for a few hours in the centre where the children played pool, went on the outside play area and took a last walk around the park. Just before we left the villa, one of the squirrels appeared at the back door, it stepped in and looked around for the monkey nuts – which were all gone! I offered it some bread which it all but sneered at. As a last resort I offered in a chocolate digestive…… it took it from my hand and scampered off with it! We saw it about 20 minutes later at the front of the villa still nibbling away at the biscuit which was almost as big as it was!

We had a lovely week. The park is wonderful, relaxing, peaceful and beautiful. The Villa’s are well stocked, comfortable and soon feel like home. All of the staff we encountered couldn’t have been nicer and the facilities are brilliant – there truly is something for everyone.

Here is our mural of the week, drawn on the chalk board that is inside the villa!

I really would recommend @CenterParcsUK as a holiday, seems to me that it has something for everyone. The staff are all faultlessly polite and friendly. Don’t just take my word for it – take a look for yourself.

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