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.

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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.

Project 365 – Week 11

We’ve had a busy week, and it has been great – although it has flown by.

Sunday 8th March. We went to Thorpe Park. Our Christmas present from Shaun’s mum and dad were Merlin Passes, and they had their annual Merlin weekend. We got our tickets and arrived just after 10am, got on a few rides, met with friends and had a brilliant time. I was surprised at how much there was for younger children as Thorpe Park has always been billed as something for older kids – and H got to be properly scared for the first time in her life, finally understanding that grown ups are weird (we enjoy being scared like that), and that rollercoasters are tons of fun!

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Monday 9th March. Back to work, and so on and so on. I was sent the Blue Peter book awards finalists books, all of which are wonderful and I know we’re going to end up buying more by some of the authors. I picked up Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl book for World Book Day for H at the end of the week. 

blue peter book finalists

Tuesday 10th March. After school H and I had dentists appointments, though the best part of that was the nice weather and a run to the park where the old Air Raid Shelter is all grassed over and filled in, the perfect hill to go down on a sledge (it just hasn’t snowed properly here for at least two years – since I bought my sledge, in fact).

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Wednesday 11th March. The Book Trust want us to take a photo of our bookshelves, to help promote their #shareyourshelfie campaign – plus it’s really easy to donate. This is H’s bedside shelf which is packed full of books that have been read many times, or that she’s mid-way through. I donated £3 to them by texting ‘BOOK10 £3’ to 70070.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Thursday 12th March. Last Friday H had Book Character Day at school, where all the teachers dressed as Hogwarts teachers. This got H a bit more curious about Harry Potter which we’ve chatted about a few times and I’ve pre-warned her could be scary. I gave away my copy of the first book so bought it again (had to make sure the covers match my other ones) and she’s enjoying it so far. So I guess this means we may need to look into the Hogwarts Tour at some point when she’s finished it.

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Friday 13th March. I have new purple shoes. I got over my fear of colours and wore them for work on Friday. They have little holes in the front which air gets into, almost like I’ve got air conditioned holes in there. It’s lovely!

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Saturday 14th March. Chessington. The second Merlin passholders preview weekend and a chance to properly discover the area – plus we’re only 30 minutes up the road. We got on tons of rides and had a brilliant time. It was so quiet most rides had a 15 minute maximum queue – or in Sea Storm’s case, you could get straight back on it. It was great for getting on the more popular rides quickly as I’m sure once it gets sunny some will have an hour’s wait. I think we’ve nearly made back the money on the Merlin Passes too – just a trip to Legoland and I think we’ll be in credit! Shaun and H are pictured on Sea Storm – a simple little ride but loads of fun. The best thing about Chessington was it didn’t aggravate my back on the rides, so we all had a brilliant time and I got involved – in fact, a few times all three of us were on the rides. Fantastic.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

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Chessington in the Rain

Chessington World of Adventures is just 30 minutes up the road for us, and is somewhere we’ve never been – that was until we bought a Merlin Pass, which started today. Of course, it was pouring down for most of the day, and while the whole park isn’t open until March, we did wonder if it was possible to still have fun, so here’s my review of Chessington in the rain!

Chessington World of Adventures

Chessington in the rain is probably not the first thing on someone’s mind when thinking of something to do on a rainy day. We would have gone the following day except H has a party – and really, we were curious what was there. It’s all well and good looking at maps online but you only really get a feel for a place once you’re there. As Premium Merlin Pass holders we could do lots of things at no extra cost, though actually to be fair there’s only a few hours in the day you can do it anyway, so most things were achieved!

chessington in the rain

We spent the bulk of our sheltered time in two places – the All-You-Can-Eat buffet (which came in at £20 with our Merlin discounts) and the SeaLife area which looks small, but packs a lot into the space – and which we enjoyed very much. Add to that a discount in the shop afterwards and I can see how we’ll end up making our money back on our passes once the season gets into full swing.

3- jellyfish

SeaLife – deceptively small, and plenty inside, including jellyfish, which I love watching. The stingrays got pretty close too, and H got to put her hand in the water to have a shrimp tickle her hand which she started off nervous about, and found it quite fun in the end.

sealife tickly shrimp

We wandered around the grounds – most shops were open, and the remnants of the Christmas displays were still out – Christmas songs over the speakers, which I know will change in a day or two when it will just be Zoo Days. The monkey area at Amazu (which also had the most gorgeous of capybara’s) also has the treetop walk, which H slipped over in – Shaun kept her company up there, but with it being wet the slide was closed, so they didn’t stay there too long.

There were reindeer although we missed the meet and greet, and donut stands which couldn’t keep up with the demand (always a good excuse to tell a cold and tired five year old when she’s desperate for some), as well as a Gruffalo show at the Africa Stage which lasted for around 25 minutes.

gruffalo chessington in the rain

We arrived around midday and stayed until closing at 3pm – it was nice to get a feel of the place, and actually, Chessington in the rain is absolutely fine – there really is plenty under cover to do. There was a lot more we could have done as well, we’ll be back to do that as soon as we can!

Chessington’s website is here