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.

Our Easter Weekend

Good Friday was a trip to Emmett’s Gardens and Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home.  We did the National Trust Easter Egg hunt at Emmett’s Gardens, somewhere we haven’t been before. It was a gloriously sunny day too, and the perfect weather for being outside and relaxing. I felt like my break had started! We’ve been to Chartwell before, so just wandered around the grounds. H was three when we last went so didn’t remember anything about it, whereas I remembered a lot more than Shaun!

Emmetts Gardens and Chartwell

I did stare at the house, wondering how people with so much money could justify living in such gigantic houses, but reading the Chartwell Wikipedia page, Winston Churchill couldn’t afford to live there as it was too big, so a friend bought it, he lived there for a nominal rent until his death when it was given to the National Trust. It’s a huge house…

Ebb and Flow Sutton Afternoon Tea

Saturday was a trip to the cinema to see the excellent Zootropolis in 3D – and it didn’t disappoint. Shaun spotted the Breaking Bad reference (these things always go over my head), and we all enjoyed it a lot. H enjoyed it so much she went to see it again today with Holiday Club! We popped to Ebb and Flow in Sutton afterwards for Afternoon Tea – at £10 each (and we only needed two for the three of us) it was a bargain, although I was high on sugar for ages afterwards!

H Easter Eggs 2016

Easter Sunday came, and H got WAY too many Easter Eggs – the lucky girl won one at school, and got two from her childminders! The day itself was a bit wet, and in fact, there were hailstones, so what better an idea than to go to Legoland? It’s just over an hour for us to get there, and we always seem to time it on a rainy day that brightens up, making the most of the short queues. We did loads! H got on rides she wouldn’t have dared go on a year ago – and we ended up on Mia’s Riding Adventure three times (I couldn’t do it any more after that – it is amazing though!). When we’d parked up and got into the park the sun came out – and we got a decent day of sun, with some rainy patches. We were dressed for a cold, wet day so ended up having plenty of fun!

Legoland Easter 2016

Easter Monday was a horrible weather day. H decided she was going to be sick (she wasn’t), and it was so rotten, and we had been so busy that we stayed at home and had a lazy day. I think we deserve it!

Heartlake City is Open for Business at Legoland Windsor!

Today Shaun and H went to Legoland, mainly as she’s pretty obsessed with Lego Friends and was desperate to see the new Heartlake City area now it’s fully open!

Lego Friends Heartlake City Legoland Windsor

Heartlake City is the central area of Lego Friends where all their shops are. Legoland Windsor has revamped the old High Street into Heartlake City, so Shaun and H popped along for a visit today.

Lego Friends Heartlake City Legoland Windsor

It was rammed at Legoland, so they did the sensible thing and bought a Q Bot Mobile – so you don’t have the gadget, it just works on your phone. It meant they got to do a lot more than if they’d braved the queues, and now we’ve made our money back on our Merlin Passes it made sense.

Mia's Riding School Lego Friends Heartlake City Legoland Windsor

Heartlake City didn’t disappoint. The main ride there, Mia’s Riding Adventure was a bit too much for H though, as she fancied the more sedate rides – imagine a large circular area where everyone sits, which turns around as you move from side to side. Definitely one for older kids, but at five she wasn’t keen – but she loved everything else – especially the more interactive area, where you can build extra parts onto Heartlake City via an iPad type tablet.

Lego Friends Heartlake City Legoland Windsor

Around Heartlake City you can find Mia, Andrea, Stephanie, Emma and Olivia models, and at Olivia’s house you can help build a home for one of her pets. Emma’s Ice Cream Parlour is close by and serves up delicious desserts!

Heartlake City Show

There’s also a Lego Friends show which is in the same area as the Pirate show, called ‘Friends to the Rescue’, an action packed adventure full of songs.

The train which goes around a lot of Legoland has been renamed the Heartlake City Express – though remains the same as before.

Keep an eye out for a large Taylor Swift Lego picture too! We’re not entirely sure why it’s there, but it’s impressive anyway!

Legoland Windsor Taylor Swift Legoland Windsor

Shaun and H made it home by 9pm, exhausted and happy. Going on how much H wanted to go to Legoland again, and having the Qbot’s, both of them had a brilliant time – and a lot of that was thanks to Heartlake City – go and visit!

Legoland Windsor

We visited Legoland Windsor last Easter (2014) when it was fairly busy. Since then we’ve had Merlin passes bought for us as our family Christmas present so we decided it was time to revisit.


Legoland Windsor is an extremely popular theme park, as you’d expect. It has been open this season for just over a month now but we have reason to go back another time.

We wanted to try and get to some of the areas we hadn’t been able to get to last time as well as revisit some places we liked. We were meant to go over Easter but H was ill, so we ended up going a week later – and this actually was a much better plan. It was pouring with rain as we left home, the kind of rain that would put anyone off going anywhere, especially an outdoor theme park. The rain was due to stop between 10-11am, and turn into a pleasantly warm day – so it was worth risking.

We made it to Windsor in just over an hour, there were no queues into the park and we got parked up and inside really quickly. Once inside I activated our free Wifi in an attempt to follow the Lego Movie trail (we only found Emmett and Benny, though Shaun thought he spotted Wyldstyle) heading straight to the Imagination Zone which we had enjoyed last time. We decided to aim towards Lego City, which was pretty rammed. In fact, most things seemed to have long queues in this area so we decided to try another time. Instead we headed to Atlantis, mainly as the queues had been so prohibitively long last time we wanted to see if it was do-able. It was – we were on the ride within five minutes!

Legoland atlantis

H loved Atlantis too – we all did, being in a submarine-like vessel going “underwater” amongst sharks and various fish, as well as Lego models. The ride was quite short, but it was good being so close to everything – it got a big thumbs up from us!

After Atlantis we decided to head towards Squid Surfers – with a quick detour to Dino Safari which H and I went on, again queueing for no longer than ten minutes. Squid Surfers was my favourite ride last time, mainly as you get to press buttons on the outside and squirt the riders – or more often than not, yourself! Once we got to Squid Surfers Shaun and H decided to go on there, and this was probably the longest queue of all the things we decided to go on, at around 20 minutes. Shaun and H got on the ride while I stood squirting them. Whoops. They were drenched. I didn’t realise I was THAT bad..  Afterwards we stopped for a burger and chips before heading down the street that is now Heartlake City (from Lego Friends) – which makes sense as most of the range seems to have shops and places to eat… no plastic croissants or bagels though.


Last year there was an area you could drive diggers (which H enjoyed) which is now being made into Heartlake City. H LOVES Lego Friends – so we know we’ll be going back at some point when it opens (currently May – it’s all boarded up at the moment). This also meant the little train that goes around Legoland Windsor isn’t working as the station is being done up as well.

H was still pretty wet, especially on her feet so we needed to buy her some new socks (using our Merlin Passholder 10% discount) – the stores at the entrance had a decent enough selection. None of the shops in Heartlake City had them – which is kind of weird as it’s next to a lot of the water rides.

After that we wandered towards Land of the Vikings and Knights Kingdom, where there were more rides to go on, and a play area which gave us a sit down while H climbed all over it.


It was around now it struck me – Legoland Windsor was so quiet that nobody was really using Q-Bot’s – their paying queue jumper thing which winds me up every time I see someone using it. It was really pleasant. Everyone got on the rides quickly, and everyone who works at Legoland is cheery and asks how your day is going, sounding like they geniunely care (rather than because they’re being told to say it).

There was a small table to build a Lego Robot for £3.50 which H did on her own and enjoyed, we found a coin squashing machine to add another coin to her collection, we got lost in the maze, and finally persuaded H to go into the Lego Star Wars area, as well as the Viking’s River Splash (again, a five minute wait at the most, and a handful of Q-Bot users by then who were probably cursing wasting their money on them).

It was a really enjoyable day – and we got a lot of rides we hadn’t done before out of the way. There are still a few we haven’t done, but I was pleased we were able to do quite a lot. We’ll be back at the end of May once Heartlake City is properly open unless we get an exclusive Merlin deal (I doubt it) – H is super excited to go, and I’m hoping it’ll be open then!

Project 365 Week 15

Sunday 5th April. We headed to Hatchlands Park near Guildford to do their Easter Egg trail as we’ve done most of the National Trust properties near here and wanted to do a different one. Every time we go to Hatchlands or Clandon Park we end up taking a stupidly long route which is brilliant – but we almost always forget it’s just up the road from Polesden Lacey. So I’m hoping if we type this we’ll remember when we go back to see their bluebell wood. Anyway, it was loads of fun and had a Robin Hood theme, ending with H bouncing on a space hopper on their front lawn. They even had archery and pony trekking for the Easter weekend, as well as a craft area to make your own arrow – loads of fun and it even cheered up Shaun and I after the rubbish news the day before.

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Monday 6th April. H was unwell overnight – the bug Shaun and I had, so it was an easy day – a 2am wake up and looking after her the following morning meant our plans to go to Legoland were put on hold. It did mean we could work on her box garden for her home learning at school, which looks pretty ace! There’s cress growing in the middle!!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Tuesday 7th April. 48 hour exclusion applies, and so I worked remotely looking after H. There was quite a lot of work to do and I got most of it done which was a relief. I’m lucky that I’m able to do that with my job – especially when you’re dealing with a slightly bored five year old who can’t go to holiday club.

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Wednesday 8th April. Back to work, back to Holiday Club, H had a trip to Battersea Park Zoo today which she enjoyed. I got a delivery of Mr Kipling’s cakes from Britmums which cheered my day up – THEN I realised it was Mum Friendly’s fourth birthday. So Happy Birthday to me.

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Thursday 9th April. Just work, holiday club and being happy as Shaun is working in Croydon at the moment so gets home nice and early every night for a change! Having said that, we’re tired out – so it was nice to settle with potato wedges and a Fry’s Curry Pie (and they’re delicious and vegan too) after H had gone to bed. I’m so glad I bought an Actifry at Christmas as I’m finding it really handy for making meals quickly and healthily.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Friday 10th April. Shaun didn’t need to go in to work today so worked remotely from home, and didn’t bother taking H into Holiday Club for her last day – so he worked and played until I got home from work, and H seemed happy enough playing outside and watching Annie. We did our walk down to the Honeywood Museum and around Carshalton and felt happy and lucky to be living where we do.

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Saturday 11th April. Legoland! It was pouring with rain in the morning, but I’d checked forecasts and it was meant to be very warm and sunny by 10am, but with a breeze. We got to Legoland by 11am, and most rides had a 15 minute queue which meant we did loads! Afterwards we headed into Windsor, parking by the Thames for free (hurrah!) and right by the castle, trying to find somewhere to eat. We found a lovely local family-run restaurant Viva L’Italia where we got some pizza and pasta which was WAY cheaper than all the chain restaurants nearby. Yum! Afterwards we watched it get darker as Windsor Castle lit up and the Jubilee Fountain got pretty.

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