Beddington Park – The Swans Need Our Help

Beddington Park is one of our many local parks. It has football pitches, an outdoor gym, a play area, a great cafe and a huge area to walk around. Within this huge area is a lake, populated by ducks, geese and swans. Recently, this note appeared.

Beddington Park swans notice 2017

We decided to have a walk around there. Despite living so close to the park I’d never spent a lot of time around that part of it. We had some bread and it made sense to try and do what we could.

Beddington Park

When we arrived at the park it was cold. The kind of cold where if you keep walking you warm up, but a hats and gloves kind of cold where you need to wrap up well. H was on her scooter, she had wanted to cycle around the park but having been ill the previous week I suggested she should take it easy!

Shaun was horrified as we drove there… but it made sense parking near the Pavilion Cafe so we could have some lunch there afterwards. This gave us plenty of time to stretch our legs, feed the swans and try and find some cygnets.

Beddington Park

There’s a big bridge which goes over the lake, ideal for looking for cygnets. Unfortunately we couldn’t see any. There were swans, so we fed them, hoping that it was enough.

Beddington Park

It was good to get outdoors again. H had three days stuck inside as she had a temperature that wasn’t shifting. I’d worked from home for two of those days, and Shaun did one day. We needed to breathe again, but not go too far. There’s so much to do at Beddington Park – even if it’s walking around, scooting around, playing or having a quick spot of lunch there. There are even BBQ’s dotted around the park which you can use (although I wouldn’t fancy it in this weather).

Beddington Park

The full text of the letter in Beddington Park :

The swans on the pond are struggling as they are so hungry. The adults are coming and going as they are quicker to realise there is little natural food for them. The cygnets are still learning.

Having sought guidance from the Swan Sanctuary please feel free to feed them bread despite what you have been told.

To share fairly I take a full loaf and skim the slices individually across the water. Someone will no doubt say to you that bread is no good for them. They’ve got little else at the moment so let’s help by at least feeding them.

Rita Mullins
Friends of Beddington Park

Beddington Park

Country Kids

Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond by Sam Hearn

Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond is the first fiction series that Sam Hearn has written and illustrated. We are taking part in a blog tour, here’s our review.

Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond

Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond is a story about John Watson starting the Baker Street Academy. While there he meets Sherlock Holmes and Martha Hudson, and the three of them try and solve a mystery.

The story tells through various ways which appealed to H. She liked the comic book illustrations and detective notes. You also read the story through school assignments, media reports and Watson’s blog.

Holmes and Watson go on a school trip to one of London’s top museums which is home to the world’s most famous jewel, the Alpine Star. But, someone has stolen the jewel.

They find the jewel, and the police close the case. Yet Sherlock Holmes isn’t so sure that it should be. John and Martha work with him to try and solve the mystery.

Our copy of Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond arrived on a day H was off sick from school. Until the postie had arrived she had been ambling from one activity to the next, not focused on anything. Since she started reading the book she hasn’t put it down. It’s a winner here.

It’s a nice easy read, and with the pages laid out like they are, it makes it a good attention-grabber. There’s plenty going on inside.

H says “I like that it’s like a comic strip, but also like a book. It’s half comic strip, half book. I like the detail in the pictures and how everything is in a logical way”

I asked her what she means by logical

“so it makes sense” she replied. “I like the blog part too.”

I asked her about the story

“They find the jewel, but it’s a fake. I like how Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and Martha Hudson all realise this and work out how to find the real one.”

I like how the start of the book has a few pages of character introductions. That kind of thing helps me a lot!

In summary, Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond is a good, fun read which she hasn’t put down. H recommends it for 7-10 year olds who like books that have mysteries in them which get solved.

We have one final question. Who is Sam Hearn….?

Just Who is Sam Hearn

Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond is published by Scholastic. You can buy it now from all good booksellers, plus of course, Amazon. (affiliate link)

Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond Blog Tour

Dobble – a Great Fun Family Game

Have you heard of Dobble? We had, and it intrigued me. A card game which was suitable for all, pretty easy to learn how to play, and is down to observational skills. It has been on our wishlist for a while now, and we were lucky to be sent it by Esdevium Games right before Christmas.

Dobble is a really straightforward game. In fact, it’s so straightforward we were playing it within two minutes of opening the tin. The rules are really simple – there are 55 cards. They have eight pictures on them. You turn two cards over at a time, and spot the matching picture.

dobble cards

That might sound easy, but it isn’t – often the pictures are different sizes. Sometimes we’ll play and I’ll spot loads in a row, but then H will spot as many too – it’s a very random but good game.

This is the bit where maths come into it. There are over 50 symbols, there are 55 cards and only one will match per card. No two cards are identical either. With 8 symbols on each card, I’m still trying to get my head around how they manage to do it. It’s really simple and really clever.

dobble tin

H loves Dobble – she played it over Christmas with her cousins, her Nana, her Aunt, her Uncle and of course Shaun and I – and everyone enjoyed it. It’s the simplicity – and that everyone is on the same level.

You can expand on the simple game, and have tournaments. The Dobble instructions have points per image too. We haven’t gone there yet as we’re still having too much fun with the basic game!

playing Dobble

There are also other mini games you can play which again we haven’t got to but will. There are five games in total.

I love that it’s a simple, straightforward game that up to 8 people can play. It doesn’t take long to master – it’s like an easier version of snap – you just need to spot the symbols and there will be a match every time. There’s a simplified version for younger children, Dobble Kids.

You can buy Dobble now – it’s available through all good retailers and costs £10.49. Amazon have it here (affiliate link) The link on Esvedium Games is here.

We were sent Dobble to review, it gets a big thumbs up from us and is the kind of game we’ll be buying people for presents this year – it’s a lot of fun!

A Trip to Folkestone and Sunny Sands

Folkestone always made me think of ferries. That’s about it. Same as Dover, again ferries, although Dover of course has white cliffs too.

Every New Year we make a trip to the seaside. As creatures of habit we’ve always alternated between Brighton, Eastbourne or Bognor Regis as they’re about the same distance. This year we wanted to try somewhere different – and Folkestone won.

Sunny Sands is right next to the harbour at Folkestone and is the loveliest of beaches. In January it’s pretty quiet, but I can imagine it would be busy in warmer months.

Folkestone mermaid

As you enter the beach, to the right is a statue of a local Folkestone girl, modelled in the same way as the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen. She’s sitting on the rocks looking out at the sea. The Folkestone Mermaid. I love finding quirky things like this!

Unfortunately the light didn’t let me get a good photo, but you get the idea.

Arches at Sunny Sands

Along the sea wall at Sunny Sands are archways. They’re sea defences which have recently been restored to help preserve the coastline for years to come.

You sink into the sand at Sunny Sands like it’s a giant memory foam mattress.

The beach itself was great, loads of space to walk by the sea and of course H went for a paddle with her shoes on for a second time. I have no idea why. Fortunately we had spare socks and her wellies back in the car.

Paddling in shoes at Sunny Sands

A quick bite to eat for our lunch (fish and chips for the non-vegetarians of course) and we wandered around. I would love to live by the sea – as soon as we got out of the car my aches and pains went away immediately and I felt like I could breathe again.

When we visited Sunny Sands this was my favourite photo. I love the reflection of H in the sea, but also how carefully she’s trying to get her feet wet. She succeeded again. I stand by my claim seven year olds are a bit crazy.

Look at those deep footprints in the memory-foam sand. Squish…

Sunny Sands Folkestone

We’re joining in with Country Kids this week – and it isn’t that long before we’re staying at Coombe Mill – I can’t wait!

Country Kids

ChewyMoon Snack Boxes – Our Review

ChewyMoon Snack Boxes have just launched and we received one to try out. H can be fussy with food and I’ve stuck with the same snacks after school, so I liked the idea of a bit of variety. Even better if someone else does the hard work for me!

ChewyMoon box

ChewyMoon Snack Boxes are mail order letterbox sized child-friendly snacks. Seeing as I have a child who loves getting things in the post, it felt like a good match.

I used to be a Graze Box subscriber and wrote about it here. I used to love getting snacks in the post as I’m a creature of habit. This is still the case, but also means H has the same lack of variety in her snacks.

ChewyMoon snack box

ChewyMoon Snack Boxes are like child friendly Graze boxes. You get five small boxes with a snacks inside. Here’s what they say : We at ChewyMoon aim to provide parents like yourself with healthy snack alternatives for children. ChewyMoon offers the UK’s first nutritionally balanced subscription snack box for children between the ages of 4 and 10. Our snacks are made from natural ingredients, with no refined sugar or nasties. We provide five snacks in a box, together with a ‘fun pack’ comprising comics, fact cards and totem toys, making our box just as much fun as it’s healthy.

Our ChewyMoon Snack Box arrived and H claimed everything straight away. The cards are fun – we already have a gazillion YoYo cards from Bear Snacks. This means we now have another set of cards to collect. If you get 25 you will win a ChewyMoon toy – there’s more information in the FAQ section.

ChewyMoon box open

We took snacks out and about with us, and saved for after school. She definitely prefers dried fruit over nuts. We’ve now signed her up to receive a box each week – and you have an option not to include nuts.

Within the ChewyMoon interface you can rate the snacks. If there’s something you know your child won’t like you can mark it up that way. Of course if there’s something they do like you can rate that too.

ChewyMoon rate snacks

Each box costs £4.99 – and that includes postage. It’s pretty good value and I like that she can choose which snacks to go for. I like that they’re easy to take with you on a day out or keep in the cupboard for after school. Everything is recyclable.

You can try a ChewyMoon trial box at a cheaper price, or just go for the regular box which can be cancelled at any time.

We were sent a ChewyMoon box to try, all opinions are our own.

2016 in Review

What can I say about 2016? It has been a strange year, but one where we got things done. A year when friendships got stronger or just disappeared completely. Where we did things and they actually happened. It has been a good year with plenty of memories, and as a family, one I know we’ll remember. Especially H now she’s at the age where your memories stick with you.

Here’s our 2016 in review.

The 1st January was spent in Brighton. We traditionally go to the seaside at the start of the year to get some cold air and breathe again. We usually alternate between Brighton, Eastbourne and Bognor Regis and it’s usually very closed and quiet apart from the odd Fish & Chips place. I like it because it’s cold, closed, dark and fresh and crisp; nothing like bringing in a new year that way every year.

We took out Historic Royal Palaces membership and headed to Hampton Court early on in the year, showing H somewhere I used to love going when I was her age. My Auntie Florrie lived in Teddington and that whole area was somewhere we spent a lot of time when we visited London back in the seventies.

H had her first horse riding lesson. It’s too expensive to keep up, unfortunately. She loved it though.

Horse Riding at Deen City Farm

I had always wanted to visit Kensington Palace as it intrigues me. You’re visiting somewhere next door to the almost-untouchable current Royals. Anyway, it was an interesting place. HRP membership covered that.

Hampton Court

March and we were back to Hampton Court as my friend got an invite to preview the Magic Garden, so we popped along. It didn’t disappoint!

Hampton Court Magic Garden dragon and water sand play area

March also brought H’s first proper gig – Adele at the O2. It was both of our first time going there. I booked us a hotel nearby so we didn’t have to get all the way home afterwards – and had a brilliant evening. H loved it too! Adele is one of her favourites and I’ve enjoyed working on her records for these last few years.

The following day we took the Thames Ferry to the Tower of London using our HRP membership to get in free. Again, loads of fun and we got our money’s worth.

Easter was an Emmett’s Gardens and Chartwell visit, as our National Trust membership was getting a bit unused, and National Trust always have the best Easter Egg trails. It didn’t disappoint.

Our Merlin Passes were also quite neglected so we made our first trip to Legoland, choosing a rainy day which was a bit cold. It seemed to work, and we got on most rides without a queue. We even managed Mia’s Riding School three or four times in a row before I had to stop.

When your gas boiler is switched off for safety reasons, Leaky Flue Safety Warning Gas Boiler

April brought the weird stuff. We found out we had a carbon monoxide leak at home, which explained a lot of things. Forgetfulness? Tick. Feeling sick a lot? Definitely. Just being sick without any reason? Been there, done that. Our boiler was taken out of action and a plan was set, to get central heating put in when we went on holiday in July. Mainly as it would be so disruptive so we wanted to be away from it all. Every morning I had staggered to work like I was hungover, wondering when the virus would shift. It had never occurred to me it was this. Once the boiler was shut off I never felt like it again. We’ve since bought more carbon monoxide alarms. Too close a call. But why did it affect just H and I? I think because Shaun falls asleep downstairs and would often leave the heating on. I’d go to bed at 11pm and eventually come downstairs to shut off the heating at 2am. Because the leak was in the loft, both H and I were exposed to it more than Shaun as he was downstairs.

That’s my only explanation.

I got out to some gigs in April too – Lush reformed and I had a rare night out. Just getting onto a train and going across London was making me pretty nervous. It was a great night, I had far too much to drink, and the night was to be repeated a month or so later but with Shaun while H went on a sleepover.

Getting to work became an issue. Southern Trains were becoming increasingly rubbish and I was having a lot of palpitations. One day I got into work and burst into tears which isn’t like me at all. One word – perimenopause. I’ve done several things to calm the symptoms, they still happen especially the anxiety, but I’m learning to control it. I had a Mirena fitted which is helping a lot too. I had a journey home with the best train driver ever.

Wembley Stadium players warm up

May also brought our annual trip to Wembley to watch the Women’s FA Cup Final. It’s good fun, cheap and I’ve already bought tickets for next year – they’re on sale now – and kids go free. It’s a great atmosphere!

We also saw Horrible Histories at Hampton Court – a great setting for a great show. H and her friend M really enjoyed it.

We popped to Kew to view Kew Palace on our HRP membership. Don’t forget to print out your 2 for 1 vouchers beforehand like we did… you don’t get in free to Kew with HRP, you get a discount. 2 for 1 works out a bit cheaper too – meant we had more money to spend in the shops there!

June brought our second trip to Wembley. I bought tickets for England’s last friendly before the World Cup. H has finally seen Harry Kane play football (and Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker). Next season we’ll try a Tottenham game. We missed the National Anthem thanks to it taking forever to get into Wembley, but caught the majority of the game.

harry potter tour broom training

June also brought our trip to the WB Studio Tour. H is a fully-fledged Harry Potter convert now – she has seen all the films and knows more about each character than me. She has also read my books more than I have… We all really enjoyed it – even Shaun who tolerates it (and usually falls asleep in the films). We’ll be going back when we can save enough money – maybe for Hogwarts at Christmas in 2017.

June also brought a trip to Southampton to see the touring production of Mary Poppins on stage. The production was nowhere near London so we decided to make a night of it, and booked into the Ibis there (which H loved as it had a bunk bed over our double bed). We had seen it way before H was born, and loved it again. Zizi Strallen is an excellent Mary.

BML with mary drinking fizz

June also brought BritMums which I really enjoyed, hanging out all day with Mary who is excellent company.

July brought the Bottersnikes and Gumbles preview where we interviewed one of the characters and found out the recording didn’t work. My memory was still a bit rubbish so I can’t remember anything he said either. I fail. H was interviewed for CBBC but it wasn’t used (I thought that might happen, she was quiet).

Yurt Life at Kingsdown Centre - wonderful setting!

July was also the start of our holidays, heading to Cornwall again. We stopped in Weston Super Mare on the way down, wandered around there and made the most of late evening beach walks, donkey rides, fish & chips and relaxing.

The following day we arrived at Hallagenna Cottages in St Breward, and had a lovely week there discovering loads of new places. Up the road at Coombe Mill The Boy and Me gang were staying. H and The Boy both got on famously, so next year we’re going back to Coombe Mill to stay!

OMG We're Staying at Coombe Mill next year face

I love Cornwall. Great beaches, great weather and having a proper holiday is always a good thing.

On the way back to London we stayed in a Yurt at the Kingsmead Centre which was loads of fun!

We used our Merlin Passes and visited Weymouth Sea Life on the way back to London.

H in front of the Disneyland Castle

August arrived. We had a short break to Paris planned which didn’t break the bank. We stayed near the Eiffel Tower for a couple of nights. After that we headed to Disneyland Paris and H didn’t have a CLUE! She also got in for free as if you’re six, then that’s what happens. She was seven the following day – and it counts from check-in date. We also managed to do Jedi Training Academy. So that was her surprise 7th birthday treat. We had glorious weather and needed a month to recover afterwards.

In September H moved up to Junior school. She has settled well and is loving it. Her confidence is growing too which is great. She also started Brownies and had moved up a level in swimming at the end of summer to Stage 5.

Because it was a new school we didn’t do a huge amount in September, although made it to Hampton Court again.

H and Milo the Giant African Millipede from Wild Fangs

October was busier though, with H’s birthday party which she really enjoyed.

At the end of October we headed back to York to see my mum, staying there for the first time in a long time. H loved spending time with her nana, and I loved stopping and recharging my batteries. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the whole of half term off, so we took H out of school for two days so she won’t get her 100% attendance this term.

We visited Fountains Abbey with my sister and her boys too.

We also found time to visit Alton Towers which I’d spent plenty of time at in the eighties. I recognised parts, but not that much really, although I’d occasionally have moments where I’d say “Hang on? Wasn’t The Corkscrew there?” and be right.

Fireworks at Carshalton Ponds

November was Bonfire Night which was fun – we stayed by our local ponds and had great views, rather than enter the park and have some views. The end of the year is all about saving money! I booked a ticket for Blogfest earlier in the year and attended but it wasn’t the same. I don’t think I’ll be going next year.

We went to Epsom Downs and saw the supermoon which gave me lots of silhouette photos I do love to take. We planted Miffy Tulips, and got some mesh to put over our plant pot so the foxes won’t dig it up. H did her Brownie promise and remembered it, and I wore my leaders uniform for the first time and felt like I had confidence to do it.

December. We had the school fair (which H helped me on the stall with – see, this is a new confidence she’s found. She used to hide behind me), she has moved up a level at swimming to Stage 6. She has lost two more teeth taking it to 10 total, and is almost there with her handwriting at school, holding out for a pen licence.

Completely unexpected, but H was Star of the Term as voted for by her teachers. She ran up to me incredibly proud in the playground. Their note sums it up. I love that the unexpected things make everything feel even better.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

We went back to York for the York Panto which was Cinderella. H got her name read out in the shoutouts part of the production which she loved – and she got a Wagon Wheel! I am still persuading her not to eat it…

We had two visits to see Father Christmas. One was at Chessington Garden Centre and the other at Tottenham’s ground. Of the two, the Tottenham one was the best – he was really warm, fun and engaging and had H chatting. I asked him if he could make sure Tottenham win the league for my present and we all left feeling cheery (but I don’t think he’ll have much luck with that, another good season would be good).

We’re finishing the year off inviting neighbours around to our house. This is a big one for us – until now I’ve felt like our house is too small, though a friend did it last year and made me realise it could be done. Then we had H’s party which proved over 20 people could be in our house with room to spare. My biggest problem had been our heating. It was fine us living here with the crappy heating which I always hated and felt like it only warmed the landing upstairs and our front room – but now we have proper central heating. This house is welcoming again… though I suspect our 1st January trip to the seaside may need to be postponed by a day… that and I’m sure our car won’t make it there and back!

So what will 2017 bring? I know my aches and pains and anxiety aren’t going to go away, but I’ve found if I keep myself busy it helps it not be at the forefront of my mind. I’m going to progress with my training to be a Guide Leader though I’m still not sure I want to be in charge. But we’ll cross that bridge…

We’ve taken out Historic Houses Association membership so at some point we’ll get to Hever Castle which we’ve wanted to visit for a while. We’ll probably need to buy a new car as ours is on its last legs.

See you, 2016. You’ve been busy.

Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham

A week ago H and I headed to North London as I had bought tickets for us to do a Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham.

Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham various sights

The Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham was a new one for us – and was a bargain at £10 each. I’ve been desperate to take H to White Hart Lane for a while now especially with all the changes.

Before she was born, Shaun and I would go almost every home game we could. My gentle brainwashing has ensured H is also a Tottenham supporter. This was a big deal for H as it could be the only time she got to see the ground. We can’t afford to go to games and they don’t have friendlies on over the summer any more thanks to the stadium works.

It’s about now I should point out I loved the 1983 film ‘Those Glory Glory Days‘ (affiliate link). It shows a love of Tottenham from a group of girls who sneak into White Hart Lane. They stay overnight to get tickets for the FA Cup Final while wandering around the ground. H has watched the film with me and also enjoyed it. We were travelling to York that evening so any ideas of hiding in the ground and staying overnight weren’t going to happen, mind.

Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham old ground

So what did the Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham involve?

We met in the club shop. The group before us had Chirpy, the Tottenham mascot leading them around, so we missed out. We went into the main building – and straight to the press room. H and I got our photo taken (I was sat in Poccettino’s chair) and I was too busy grinning to try and look like I was giving a serious press interview.

After that we had some views of the new stadium from the press area – you can see how it’s growing. It’s going to be enormous.. maybe we will get to a game when we’re back there.

Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham home dressing room

We headed down to the dressing rooms. The player shirts were there and of course everyone went for Harry Kane. H went to Aldeweireld’s instead, so we got a few good pictures as the Kane-Alli-Lloris section got quieter!

I was surprised at the size of the area – it’s quite small. I thought changing rooms would be much bigger, but then I guess all you do is get changed, don’t you?

Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham cool stuff

A quick walk up the tunnel and to the pitch side and I was happy. We got to sit in the seats the management take during a game (they’re heated too), and gaze out at the ground.

H was quite keen to take it all in. This is her team and she had finally made it to the ground. I pointed out where we used to sit behind the goal on the South Side – you can see Shaun and I in the background of most pictures when Paul Robinson scored a goal. It was great.

Then it was time to visit the big man. The whole point of doing the Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham. He was just up the tunnel and in his own little blue and white room. Father Christmas was blue and white too. You know what? He was flipping brilliant too. He asked H questions, got her talking about stuff and heck, even I told him what I’d like for Christmas… (Tottenham to do okay this season)

Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham meeting Santa

We must have spent a few minutes in there, he was fantastic. H got two presents as well – a Tottenham annual (which is good as we’d thought about getting one in the club shop but hadn’t) and a little teddy which she has cuddled every night.

After the Father Christmas Stadium tour at Tottenham we headed back out, past the Hall of Fame and to the main office. I grabbed one last photo with H before we headed back south of the river, but with happy memories in place. I’m happy as she has finally seen White Hart Lane before it’s demolished.

H is happy as, in her words, she said “Mummy, I don’t know if you saw, but I touched Harry Kane’s shirt. I’m NEVER washing my hand EVER AGAIN!!!” – and I felt a moment of proper pride, this is the start of hero worship. Ew.

The Father Christmas Stadium Tour at Tottenham cost just £10 each. We had a 45 minute mini tour, our guides were brilliant and gave us loads of facts and information. I’m pleased we did it. I just wish White Hart Lane would exist next Christmas as I fear H might be too old for it the year after!

Cinderella at York Theatre Royal

I have been going to the York Panto since it first started in 1977. There has been one consistent force since then, the actor Berwick Kaler. This is his 38th panto. This year we headed out to see Cinderella at York Theatre Royal.

Berwick Kaler in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal
Berwick Kaler in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal – photo by Anthony Robling

Cinderella at York Theatre Royal is 2016’s panto. This is the fourth production over many years, and of course is a story we’re all familiar with.

The ingredients for a good panto :
• slapstick. Essential, and must be executed well
• a dash of anarchy in a child-friendly manner
• the obligatory water scene
• a cast who work well together
• plot – not essential, but needs to get where it needs to be
• ad-libs
• corpsing. It is acceptable to laugh at anything you weren’t expecting which happens during the panto, especially if you are a castmember
• catchphrases that return every year
• very famous people are NOT essential to make a panto good

I would say if there was a tick box of these essentials, then Cinderella at York Theatre Royal has them all. There has been one big thing missing this year though.

Berwick Kaler, the co-writer and the longest serving Panto dame in the country had a pacemaker fitted back in August. He’s fine now, and is back in this year’s performance. His trusty sidekick Martin Barrass had a horrible motorbike accident in September. He is recovering, but has had to miss this year.

Suzy Cooper and Harry Hughes plus mice at Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling
Suzy Cooper and Harry Hughes plus the young people’s team as mice at Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling

Other regulars are present and correct. David Leonard (long-serving too) is back as the baddie – Baroness von Naff. Suzy Cooper has also done over 20 years at the Theatre Royal, and returns playing Cinderella. Making up the numbers is AJ Powell who takes what would be Barrass’ place alongside Berwick Kaler. They’re the ugly sisters Priscilla and Hernia.

AJ Powell, Berwick Kaler and David Leonard in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling.
AJ Powell as Priscilla, Berwick Kaler as Hernia and David Leonard as Baroness von Naff in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling.

The production starts with a song ‘It’s a Pantomime!’, and Berwick is on stage. I always well up a bit when he stands at the front, and says “me babbies, me bairns”. It gets me every time! I’m not sure when he started saying it, but it’s something which has always been there and that I’ve grown up with.

The story follows the classic Cinderella tale but with a few variations. The ball happens, the glass slipper is lost, and Prince Charming’s love needs to be found. There are references dropped into the show from 2016 – Brexit, Trump, Pokemon are three that I think happened. Pokemon had my nephew laughing out loud.

Cinderella has the usual films which feature in key parts of the show. They don’t disappoint. We get Carpool Karaoke with Suzi Quatro and Berwick Kaler which is good daft fun. Then there’s a Rocky Horror Picture Show tribute featuring Harry Gration. This had me laughing out loud and cheering by the end.

The York Rescue Boat features too. The boat works on the Ouse and Foss and has had a horrible busy year. There is an option to donate to them in the programme too.

Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling
Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling Charleigh Webb (as Charleigh), Harry Hughes (as Buttons), Scott Wallace (as The Newcomer), Hermione Lynch (as Prince Charming), Jake Lindsay (as Dimdini), Danielle Mullan (as Fairy Godmother), Jack Lansbury (as Prince’s Equerry), Lauren Newton (as Lauren)

There are plenty of references to things around York including the obligatory mention of the suburb Clifton Without. Wagon Wheels feature (we got one!!) and more. No more Newcastle Brown this year for the daddies, they’ve changed the beer!

People travel from all over to see the York Panto. I can’t even try to explain it, it’s bonkers. It’s Cinderella, but not as you know it. You’ll go once and you’ll want to return.

What I love about the York Panto is that it works on every level. We were sat up in the gods where I could hear my mum laughing out loud. Shaun was enjoying it, and I had H and her cousin next to me who were both laughing out loud.

It’s a small production – it runs without understudies. If someone gets injured, the show must go on. I do remember Berwick Kaler getting hurt one year and having to be careful in the water scene the following night. It’s a brilliant production and it’s the same cast, bar the children dancers, every night. It’s a team.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to bring H to the York Panto. Every year when I lived in York or went back for Christmas we would go on Christmas Eve. This year we went the day before, and we’re still talking about it! This might be as H got a shout out by Berwick and the gang during the songsheet section!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Cinderella at York Theatre Royal runs from 8th December 2016 to 28th January 2017. Just go. You won’t regret it. The York Panto always makes The Guardian Top Panto picks every year (possibly as Alf Hickling is an old York lad so he too grew up with it).

Thank you to James the York Theatre Royal Communications Manager for sending me the photos! 

The Dyson V6 – One Year On

Last year we received an invite to try out the Dyson v6, and I promised a follow-up post. Which then didn’t happen as life got too busy, stuff happened and it’s a year on. But I’ve finished work for the year – so now I have time. So I thought it might be nice to do a Dyson v6 update.

me trying a Dyson v6 out

Dyson v6 is a cordless vacuum cleaner. We received one last year after attending a workshop. I was curious back then – we have our old Dyson which was our primary cleaner around the house. I assumed the v6 would be for those in-between jobs.

Not so.

The Dyson v6 has in fact replaced almost every method of cleaning in our house. It fits into our new cupboard where the leaky boiler used to live. I’ve even taken to bringing it to other people’s houses to do the cleaning, especially where there is glitter. It’s powerful and it does the job.

The only thing it doesn’t do is clean the dust from our blinds, everyone’s least favourite job. It could if we took them off the wall and put them on the floor, mind.

Dyson v6 Absolute

It has changed everything. Now little jobs are easy to do – after all, a few crumbs on the floor wouldn’t justify getting the big cleaner out. The Dyson v6 is small enough to do that and powerful enough to give the area a good clean.

Even H wants to use it. The novelty hasn’t worn off, she seems to enjoy doing a spot of cleaning with it, and I’m not going to stop her. I feel happier with her using it as there’s no chance she’ll pull the plug out of the wall with it being cordless.

It’s great for tricky to get to areas, and doesn’t lose its power. You get around 20 minutes of use on the normal setting which is enough for us to do the essential areas of the house. The turbo setting does use up more battery power, but is best used for tougher mess (like glitter).

That’s the other thing – battery life. I was curious, after a year would the battery charge drop off after a shorter period of time? This hasn’t happened to us. The Dyson v6 gets used a lot of times during the week – maybe five or so times. We’ve had no problems at all.

My friend cuts our hair at home. I hate cleaning wet hair out of the carpet – it never seems to pick up. Not with the Dyson v6 – it picks it up with no bother at all. In fact, my friend was so impressed she has bought one for herself.

I’ve found that the more people who have come over to try it out (always a good way to get your friends to do your cleaning!) the more seem to have bought one for themselves. It is light and has been great with my back having the problems it does. Our old Dyson DC04 is sitting gathering dust in the cupboard since the v6 arrived.

We were sent a Dyson v6 to review via Currys/Joe Blogs. All opinions are our own. Our previous post is here

Booking a Reptile Party – What to Look Out For

H recently had a reptile party for her seventh birthday.  It’s important to look out for certain things when you book a reptile party and was something I hadn’t thought enough about. Here are some top tips for booking a reptile party.

Stroking Tiny the African Bullfrog with Wild Fangs
Stroking Tiny the African Bullfrog with Wild Fangs

Booking a Reptile Party – The Most Important Things.

• Is the Reptile party host DBS checked?
They don’t have to be. If you’re providing entertainment for children, it makes sense to have one. While it isn’t compulsory, it’s a reassurance.
• Do they have public liability insurance which is valid and up to date?
From the internet: “Public liability insurance protects you if clients or members of the public suffer personal injury or property damage because of your business”. This is pretty sensible if you’re working with animals, especially spiders and snakes. Right?

A blurry Sebastian the Corn Snake from Wild Fangs
A blurry Sebastian the Corn Snake from Wild Fangs

• Does the company have handlers who have experience or have qualifications?
Don’t be afraid to ask about their handling techniques or methods. Don’t be afraid to ask if they have reptile handling qualifications.
• Do they have a performing animals licence?
Not all reptile handlers do. Ask to see a copy of their certificate if they do. If they don’t, then why not?
• Do they have a website? Is the website up to date?
Check their Social Media accounts as well. READ REVIEWS! You can find reviews on Facebook and everyone is Googlable. If someone is good they’ll be being talked about. If someone provides a poor service, everyone will also talk about it. You make your mind up.
• Are they accredited by the Children’s Activities Association?
Some reptile handling companies are. This means their policies and procedures have had an independent body assessing them.

Booking A Reptile Party – Things to Ask.

• How many reptiles will they bring?
This could help you work out the most number of children to invite. They will be able to tell you.
• Will more than one creature be out at any one time?
This is a BIG question. You’re paying the handler to be in control of the creatures. If there are two creatures out, which one are they in control of? This rings alarm bells to me. Could you trust yourself to get a party guest out of bother if the handler is with another set of children? What exactly are you paying for? The animals or the handler? Both, of course.

H and Milo the Giant African Millipede from Wild Fangs
• Is it okay to put a snake around your neck?
There are no rules or guidelines saying that you can’t. Lots of companies do it, and it isn’t bad business practice. Some reptile handlers are working towards a regulated industry to have this stopped. If a snake is around your child’s neck, the reptile handler should be close by. It may be more acceptable with a smaller species as long as the handler stays in contact.

How to correctly handle a tarantula, something to think about when booking a reptile party
Samantha Weller’s son Tyler at his party, handling a tarantula. Reptylers stepped in at the last minute when the original party was cancelled.

• Does the host put spiders on heads/faces?
They should not. This is dangerous. The spider could blind you for one. If you see photos of a tarantula on someone’s face or head, avoid. Oh, and the spider isn’t keen on human breath either! This is DANGEROUS. Avoid. More to read here.
• What are the chances of conflicting animals being out at the same time and in the same vicinity? For example, a chameleon next to a snake.
This is dangerous. For obvious reasons.
• Is hand hygiene promoted?
It should always be, from start to finish.
• Is there ever a time you shouldn’t handle a snake?
When it has just fed or has shed. Ask your handler this, see what they say.
• Are children left unattended?
Children should never be unattended with most animals, especially snakes.

Booking a Reptile Party – The Booking Form.

What you need to see:
– Company address
– Email address
– Phone number
– Clear terms and conditions
– Ask to see a copy of risk assessment and handling procedures documents too
What are they providing, what insurance do they have (get it in writing), and make sure you know what their cancellation policy is.
Think of it this way. If you book a soft play party for your child you get tons of pages to read and sign before booking. It isn’t unreasonable to expect that from a reptile party company too. Plus sometimes reptiles can get ill.

BIG ALARM BELLS if you don’t see a company address on there and an email and phone number. Messaging in Facebook isn’t a good way to contact someone. Remember our experience? You can get blocked by the company.

Booking a Reptile Party – Payment.

In an ideal world, you want to put down a deposit and pay the balance at the party. Some places might not ask for that, or might offer you a better deal if you pay in full. Bear in mind, if you need to cancel, your options will vary depending on how you paid.

Most companies will ask for a bank transfer. Maybe they’ll ask for Paypal too – most people accept it. Please make sure you send the money as a business – not as friends. You can’t issue a claim to get your money back, and you’re not friends with the reptile company. You’re entering a business agreement. They’re likely to be doing it to avoid PayPal fees.

Booking a Reptile Party – On the Day.

We received a list of the creatures that would be coming the previous night. This helped as I could let the other parents know, so they could pass it on to the children. A good reptile handler will keep you informed and you won’t need to chase them for anything.

These useful hints have been compiled with help from the Reptile Party Facebook Group, plus additional help from Lee at Reptylers and Maria at Amazing Animal Encounters. Thank you Andrea for the group existing, as without it we all wouldn’t have learned as much as we have about reptile parties.

The photos are taken from H’s excellent Harry Potter  Fantastic Beasts Themed Party that we had, where Wild Fangs were our entertainment.

Other excellent and recommended Reptile Party Companies.