10 September 2014

Anti Social Media


Enjoy this blast from the past while you're reading. All will become clear...




Over the summer holidays I unplugged. This post about turning off electronic devices and spending summer outdoors struck a chord with a lot of people. It was picked up by Child Psychiatry UK and was also Netmums' Blog of the Week.

We did have a good summer. The boys enjoyed soccer camp. We had days out at Gullivers, the Milton Keynes beach, Pirate Golf, soft play, local parks and friends' houses. We had a jolly week in Hunstanton and spent a very long, very full, weekend at my in laws. We saw my mum too. We celebrated birthdays. We got new shoes. Okay, that last bit wasn't fun, but you get the idea. We were busy. We got plenty of fresh air. I took my book into the garden, not my phone. I only did a tiny bit of work in the evenings.

Now the boys are back at school - Year 2, oh my - I have time to get back to my online life. I'm finding it difficult to come back. That first tweet, that first Facebook update, that first Instagram felt difficult. Does anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable after a social media break? Joining back in is a little daunting.

When I was young, the end of the summer holidays was signified by the arrival of the fair on our village park. My brother and I would watch from our bedroom window as the the waltzer and the dodgems arrived on the backs of brightly painted trucks. We'd shout down to Mum with minute by minute updates. We'd go back to school on the Wednesday and the fair opened that night. We'd go for a look round then, to see what was there. We would usually go properly on the Thursday night, holding a handful of 10 pence pieces. I can smell the onions cooking, see the red, blue, orange, green and yellow flashing light bulbs, feel the force of the rickety rides and hear 'Feels Like I'm in Love' by Kelly Marie, like it's yesterday. We'd come home with our friends, holding a half-dead goldfish, a battered bag of candy floss and a half-eaten toffee apple.

Now the end of summer is marked by a back to school blaze of photographs of children in their too big school jumpers, stood outside front doors. Pinterest is full of autumn crafts, Halloween nonsense, bonfire toffee recipes and Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. And don't get me started on the Ice Bucket Challenge. It's all a bit too look at me in your face for me (apart from the back to school photographs, I love those).

Last year September to December flew by as I fitted in preparing for my family Christmas, with PTA duties and my freelance work. It's a busy time, but I want to enjoy the run up to Christmas this year. I want to have time to decorate the house, make cards, decorations, wreaths and gingerbread houses without feeling like I'm up against it all the time, like it's a chore, a job to get ticked off the endless to do list. Something has to give, and I now know what it is. My online life.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post called What is the Point of Social Media? Revisiting it today I realise that I still feel that way. I'm not that active online, although I can spend hours quietly nosing around blogs and bloggers, news websites and Pinterest. I often feel like this is wasted time, when I could be more productive. Perhaps it's time to keep the laptop closed more often and for longer?

Is is just me? Am I just being anti-social?

Do you have the balance right? I'd love to know how you do it.



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28 July 2014

Unplugged




I remember my summer holidays in the 1970's. The days were long and sunny. We called for our friends and had adventures in the woods. We found monster caterpillars. We made camps in the garden, we played Mummies and Daddies (there were a few kisses, but it was very innocent).

We rode our bikes around the village. We went to the park. We swung as high as we dared and jumped off onto the dirt. We all clung to the bright orange seesaw, trying to bump everyone else off. Our hands smelled of the metal of the climbing frame. We sat under the trees and collected beech nuts. We played in the grass cuttings.

We went to The Dump, but avoided the old mattresses so we didn't get fleas. We made dens in the hedgerows. We descended on our mums in rotation, and scrounged ice pops and iced Ribena. We came home for lunch and tea. No one wore a watch. No one had a mobile phone.

How I would love my children to experience that kind of summer. To have that much freedom.

The closest my boys get to having adventures is when they find a corner of our secure garden and start digging in the mud. I sometimes let them walk to the post box together. They are out of my sight for twenty long seconds.

Play dates are arranged. The wide school catchment area means that we usually drive to friends' houses. We also arrange to meet in the local park and take a picnic. We walk there and I love letting the boys run across the field to get to the pirate ship. I follow behind, watching them like a hawk.

In these fearful times, where everyone is a potential child snatcher, I just can't let go. I can't give them the freedom they need to learn to play, to look out for one another and be responsible. They are still only six and five. Maybe in a couple of years I will feel more confident and give the the chance to blossom.

Until then I need to give them the best, most fun summer holiday experience I can. This means keeping the laptop closed. I'm switching off for the summer, at least during the day. I don't want my children to remember their summer holidays as mum sitting at the laptop and them glued to electronic devices (as much as they love Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and the gang).

I want us to go out and get hot playing football, cricket, badminton and golf. I want us to walk, run and cycle. I want us to eat picnics, hide in the long grass and find banks to roll down.

If I ignore you on social media, it's not personal. It's not you, it's me. I want to live life unplugged this summer.



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Reasons to Love Living in Milton Keynes #12 - Gulliver's Land Theme Park

Review


There's a theme park in Milton Keynes, practically on our door step.

Gulliver's Land is almost Lilliputian, compared with it's bigger, noisier, well-known, busier cousins. It may be small, but it is perfectly formed. Still, there are over 70 rides and attractions. That's enough to keep me and my children occupied all day and we got to do everything we wanted.

The park is officially opened at 10.30, with a ribbon cutting ceremony, but you are let in the entrance before then. There is a carousel to get you warmed up, and a cafe with fairly decent coffee too.



Rides

Once inside everyone headed for the new ride, the Twist and Joust. I think there were logistical issues getting people on and off the ride as the queue moved very slowly. I guess there would be teething problems when a new ride opens. This put us off a little and we didn't try the Twist and Joust this time.



There were plenty of other big rides - with tiny queues -  to keep my 5 and 6 year old thrill-seekers happy. They LOVE the log flume and the Python roller coaster. Me, not so much. If it was up to me I'd stick with the gentler rides, like the wonderful, gentle Jungle River ride and the tea cups. I may have closed my eyes and screamed on the big rides, but I am proud that I didn't swear.

We have a new fridge magnet. It's a photograph of my children enjoying the log flume, and me screaming my head off. No, you're not seeing it.

This is more my style, being chauffeur driven in the Vintage Cars.



It is difficult when you go to a theme park with two young children. There are only a few rides (like the Tug Boat) where you can take them both on with you. Mostly there is space for one adult and one child and nowhere to leave other children. On some of the rides (like the one pictured below), six year old Presley was tall enough to ride alone, with me accompanying five year old Cash in the chariot behind him.




I'd recommend taking one adult per child under 140cm tall. Luckily we were joined today by my friend and her son. We were able to take it in turns to go on everything, with one adult left to hold the bags and watch the children.

The signs indicating who could and who could not go on a ride were excellent and perfectly clear. The staff measured each child and were clearly enforcing the rules. They were vigilant and safety-conscious. This gives you confidence, even though some of the staff looked quite young. Having said that, I am 44. A lot of people look very young to me.

Attractions

As well as the rides for all ages, there are other attractions that the children all enjoyed today. There is a massive ball pond for smaller children, a very good rope climbing frame, as well as traditional adventure playground equipment.

We had fun in the maze.



The small soft play area kept the children occupied while my friend and I sat on a comfy sofa drinking coffee.



Eating

There are many places to eat at Gulliver's. In the food court there is a good choice of food from around the world, including a fresh tasting tuna salad (not sure where in the world it was supposed to be from...). There is also a pizza and pasta restaurant.

Slushies, cold drinks, coffee, crepes and ice creams are sold all around the park and the prices are reasonable.

Presley enjoyed his £2.50 hot dog.



There are plenty of picnic tables and a grassy area at the far end of the park where we spread out our picnic blankets. There are bins galore and Gulliver's have addressed the problem of the wasps that were quite a nuisance when we visited last summer. They have hung fake wasp nests in the trees and we didn't see a wasp all day.


Facilities

The park is pretty well maintained, although the boys were disappointed that three of the four mechanical diggers were out of order. Some areas could do with a lick of paint, but it would seem that there is an ongoing upgrade happening.

The toilets were clean and they were evenly spaced throughout the park.


Want to go to Gulliver's?

There are Gulliver's Land theme parks in Matlock Bath and Warrington, as well as in Milton Keynes. Also in Milton Keynes is a Dinosaur and Farm Park, a Splash Zone, a campsite and a new Nerf Zone. We went to a birthday party in the Nerf Zone last week and all the children there LOVED IT.

For up to date prices and all information check out the Gulliver's website.

You can find also Gulliver's on Twitter and Facebook




Disclosure: I was given free entry for myself and my two children in exchange for this review. I have not been told what to write.




Other reasons to love living in Milton Keynes:

MK International Festival
MK Dons Football Club
The sausage and cider festival
The Stables at Wavendon
Milton Keynes Museum
The wildlife
The well-planned new city
Furzton Lake
The Concrete Cows
The 'Beach'
The green open spaces



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24 July 2014

Reasons to Love Living in Milton Keynes #11



The IF is a ten day festival of family events, music, comedy, cabaret and food and drink.

I've manged to get to just three events out of hundreds (if you also include the Fringe).


Hurry to Middleton Hall (outside John Lewis) where you'll find this amazing space-age space.

It's a luminarium. Inside you're cocooned; immersed in light, colour and sound.




It's a warm and calming experience. We went as a family and could have stayed for hours. The boys loved it. They had a map each and led us around the 'rooms' where we sat, layed or rolled around.






I also went to Kaffe Matthews: The Lock Shift Songs where you lie on a sonic bed and listen to and feel a journey along the Grand Union Canal from London to Milton Keynes. This was another awesome sensory experience.

A few of my friends from Rock Choir sang on the recording. Again, I could have stayed longer. The bed was extremely comfortable and I really didn't mind sharing with a stranger...



Finally, on Monday, Andy and I went to see Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds perform a set in the Stables Spiegeltent at Willen Lake.

The Bad Shepherds play punk songs on folk instruments and they are amazing live. While the banter between the songs was amusing, this trio are seriously good musicians. I was blown away by their versions of 'Down in the Tube Station', 'The Sound of the Suburbs' and 'Once in a Lifetime', among others. I had a lump in my throat listening to 'Ace of Spades', as Ade introduced it by saying that it was Rik's favourite song.

The IF runs until 27th July.

Other reasons to love living in Milton Keynes:

MK Dons Football Club
The sausage and cider festival
The Stables at Wavendon
Milton Keynes Museum
The wildlife
The well-planned new city
Furzton Lake
The Concrete Cows
The 'Beach'
The green open spaces



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Review: The Summer Menu at Pizza Express




Andy and I went to a Pizza Express on our first date. When I was asked if we'd like to review the new Pizza Express Summer menu, I jumped at the chance.


The first thing I tried was the Hugo, a cocktail of Prosecco, elderflower, mint and lemon. It was seriously good. You must try it.


Andy and I both ordered the Bruschetta Con Funghi to start. It was good, bready, creamy and very tasty. I would have preferred the red onion not to be raw, and would have liked more mushrooms, but the kick of chilli was spot on.


I had the Pizza Da Morire ("Gorgonzola D.O.P, crispy pancetta, leeks, artichoke, mozzarella, rosemary, chilli oil."). It was perfect. Super-thin base, perfectly cooked and a wonderful balance of flavours.


Andy had the Summer Special, Pizza Pollo Forza ("A fiery pizza; chicken marinated in smoky chilli powder, garlic and dried chilli flakes with chargrilled red & yellow peppers, roquito peppers, mozzarella and tomato, finished with Gran Moravia cheese, parsley and chilli oil"). He also loved his pizza, especially the sweet, fiery roquito peppers. 


The boys had their usual, dough balls and American pizzas. They also enjoyed the children's activity menu and crayons.

Sadly, we were all too full to order dessert. Heartbreaking, I know.

Overall we had a good experience at Pizza Express. It's always a reliable restaurant. We haven't had a bad meal there. The staff are friendly, the place is clean and the food is, well, it's pizza. Who doesn't like pizza?

One little quibble... I was surprised that there was no Summer Special menu on our table. I had to ask for the Hugo. It was not on the regular menu. The waitress said she hadn't heard of it, but she was new. She went to ask and returned with my drink. Happy days.

We went to the Pizza Express in Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre. Our meal and drinks were free of charge, in exchange for this review.



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