Another chapter perhaps?

The day Aunt Dot died had been a day like any other really. It was early summer, or late spring, depending on how you looked at it. Warm enough to give the tube trains that unique aroma of slightly sweaty bodies mixed with years of discarded food detritus and yesterday’s copy of The Metro stuffed behind the seats.

Thankfully Janice usually managed to avoid the tube. Five years of working in London had taught her that avoidance was the best tactic for coping with London Underground. Every morning, her train spewed out its over-packed contents at Victoria station and Janice made the dash across the station concourse with hundreds of other frantic travellers. A quick side step and a swift negotiation around the smokers hunched over their post-commute fix at the taxi rank, then she was able to set her course past Buckingham Palace, through Green Park and up Bond Street to Hanover Square.

Janice could have chosen any number of routes to get her to work, but from early November through to Christmas, the windows of Tiffany’s were irresistible. There was just something about the entire length of Bond Street actually, a certain mystique and aloofness that Janice found magnetic.

On the day Aunt Dot died, it was shoes that caught Janice’s attention. Bright yellow Swedish Hasbeens. They looked so pretty and odd, Janice was sure Dot would adore them. With their wooden clog like soles and pretty leather embossed straps, they straddled the line between funky and frumpy and would need a certain confidence to carry them off. Janice quickly snapped a pic of them on her phone, mentally promised to send it to Dot later and hurried on to the office.

The day passed in the usual blur of dull meetings, duller spreadsheets and the usual condescending, slightly offensive ‘banter’ her boss liked to throw around the office. Just to prove he was one of the lads and not the under-achieving, overgrown undergraduate drop out he really was.

She managed to escape at lunchtime and headed over to Liberty’s for a quick fix of the most expensive haberdashery department in London. Janice could barely sew on a button, but the row of Liberty print fabrics in colours drawn from the far flung corners of the old British Empire soothed Janice like a lullaby to her senses. It was her secret little Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The call came at 3pm. Janice had just finished assembling yet another laborious PowerPoint presentation when her phone started vibrating. Janice answered immediately, glad of the distraction, only just registering her mum’s name on the screen of her phone.

“Hello?”

“Janice. It’s me. Mum”

“What’s up mum? Is dad ok? What’s wrong?” Janice could sense immediately that something was up. For a start, her mum never called her during the daytime and certainly never during work hours.

“It’s Dot darling…” Janice’s mum started to say, before the tears that Janice could already hear in her mum’s voice started to fall.

“What about Dot mum? Mum? Mum! What’s happened?” Janice could feel the panic rising inside her, her eyes wide with frightened anticipation and the prickle of fear starting to work its way up her spine. Dot was the big sister substitute Janice had always wished for. She was the fun aunt that you always read about in sassy, coming of age novels. Dot was a friend, a confident, and a safe haven. It had never mattered that Dot was older than her mum; Janice had enjoyed spending time with her for as long as she could remember. Dot had been the family’s go-to babysitter from when Sarah and Mark, Janice’s older twin siblings had been babies. When Sarah and Mark embarked on their weekly whirlwind of swimming, judo, running club and music lessons, Janice would sit and drink tea with Dot in her chaotic kitchen instead.

Dot had always been there, as a never aging, never judging, and always-welcoming constant in Janice’s life. Her mind froze, refusing to think the worst but suspecting that the worst was exactly what had happened.

“She’s dead darling. Dot’s dead” whispered the broken voice of Janice’s mum.

“But…what? How? When? Are you sure mum?” begged Janice, frantically hoping her mum had made a terrible mistake. Maybe she’s drunk, Janice thought. That’s it. Mum is drunk and confused and there’s nothing wrong with Dot.

“Mum have you been drinking?” Janice asked.

“Well your dad’s just poured me a Balvenie, but…Wait a minute! I’m not drunk you know Janice. This is real, honey. Dot is…” Janice’s mum broke down in tears again and Janice could hear her gulping back the sobs, trying to regain her composure.

Janice could picture her, sitting at the oversized farmhouse style table in the middle of their family kitchen. Her dark auburn hair would be piled up on her head, held almost magically in place with a Biro. She would be twirling any escaped loose ringlets of hair with her right hand, a habitual nervous response that only the family recognised. An effortlessly stylish dresser, her mum looked comfortable in whatever she choose to wear, whether it was wellies and a waterproof or heels and a feather boa.

“I’m sorry mum, it’s just…are you sure?” Janice muttered, her cheeks burning with the shame of offending her mum.

“Yes, we’re sure darling. I’m sorry. I just wanted you to know, I didn’t want to wait until this evening.” Replied her mum as kindly as she could.

Janice sat, dumbstruck, the tears silently tracking their way down her cheeks. It felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. “Okay, thanks mum. For letting me know I mean. I’ll call you later. I just need to…” Janice’s words caught in her throat, if she didn’t get off the phone soon, she was going to vomit. Janice took a deep breath and said goodbye to her mum. “I’ll call you later mum. Love you.” Janice’s words trailed off, floating on a swell of sadness that threatened to overwhelm her. She slowly put her phone on her desk and covered her face with her hands.

How could Dot be gone? How on earth could that be possible? Janice glanced at her phone and accessed up her recent calls list. Sure enough, her mum’s number was right at the top of the list. She hadn’t imagined it unfortunately. Janice had a vivid imagination and could spend hours running through scenarios in her head, rehearsing conversations and imaging the outcomes. One day, she might just put all those mad ramblings down on paper and give everyone a good laugh. But this was one scenario that had never occurred to her. This wasn’t her imagination at work.

Dot was dead and Janice suddenly found herself physically craving her home-town of Speymouth. She needed a dose of the hills and an injection of sea air. She needed to see her parents and stand in Dot’s kitchen, see Dot’s things and say goodbye to her best friend.

This could possibly be chapter 2…

Janice wriggled her toes and snuggled further beneath her duvet. She knew without even looking at her clock that it wasn’t yet 6am and there was no way she was ready to face the day yet.

Her older sister Sarah would be up and out for her daily 5K run, leaving her impossibly handsome husband to wake their impossibly beautiful twin girls. Her older brother John was probably doing something equally wholesome.

From downstairs, Janice could hear the middle class droning of Radio 4 as her mum set the table for breakfast. They’d always been an up and at ‘em early type of family, which Janice secretly loved. But as she lay in the single bed she’d last inhabited as a teenager, the last thing she felt like doing was getting up.

Just 48 hours ago she’d been in her flat in South London. It was nothing fancy and far from being considered a trendy area. Heck, it wasn’t even up and coming. But it was where she’d lived for the past 2 years.

Too poor to afford a place of her own, she’d rented rooms in flat shares for years before finally admitting she wasn’t really the Female Professional all the accommodation ads asked for. She’d tried to fit in, really tried. But nothing ever quite worked out the way she hoped. Damned expectations getting in the way again.

Her first flat share had been in Richmond, close to her first job in publishing and Janice had thought it had sounded ideal. She’d dreamt about running on a Sunday morning in Richmond Park, drinks by the river on Friday evenings and lazy Saturday morning breakfasts overlooking Richmond Green. The reality was an area full of yummy mummy types that went jogging with their Phil & Teds and did yoga in full make-up.

Then there was Wimbledon. This would be the place that Janice finally felt like a grown-up. With the common for fresh air and all that tennis action, surely her desire to be an active, successful young woman would blossom in Wimbledon?

Nope. School run by 4-by-4 hell. Putney? Full of public school types that never quite made the rowing team. Wandsworth? Marginally better than Richmond and a bit grittier, but still not quite right. Clapham? Smug couple central.

Which is why Janice found herself in Croydon of all places. Twenty minutes to London Bridge by train and an authentic London street market. That was about all you could say about Croydon really. Oh and it was reasonably close to Gatwick and the M25.

But now she was back in Speymouth. A tiny dot on the Moray Firth Coast that liked to pretend it was a Proper Town. Technically it was a city, due to the cathedral, but at heart, it was just a typical Scottish seaside town. A dull town full of dull people stuck in the last century.

Janice could hear the running of water next door. Her dad must be in the shower and was bound to knock on her bedroom door within the next 10 minutes with a cheery cry of “Jannie! Got to be early to catch that worm Jannie ma quine!”

Exactly what ‘worm’ he was referring to, Janice couldn’t care less. She loved her dad dearly, but he was one of those eternally positive people that let nothing bother him. Just once she wanted to hear him admit that sometimes life was a bit of a pain in the arse. Just once, just to know he was normal. He didn’t believe in worrying about stuff he couldn’t control, which meant he worried about nothing. He left the worrying over minute details to Janice’s mum, that was her department.

To be fair, her mum and dad didn’t really have much to worry about in the grand scheme of things. Both were lecturers at the local college (dad taught the foundation art course and some evening classes and mum taught computer science). They had no mortgage, no vices and holidays were spent constructively learning the Art of Italian Cooking or Exploring the Vineyards of Burgandy. A tasteful campervan just the right side of boho chic was kept for quick weekend trips over to the West Coast.

“What’s so wrong with that Janice? Has 6 years in London turned you into a cynic as well as a bitch?” Janice’s inner dialogue always reverted to defending Scotland whenever she came home. It would have her voting SNP if she wasn’t careful.

“Okay, okay, you’re right. To each their own.” Janice conceded to her subconscious. Christ, she was talking to herself already and she’d only been home 24 hours.

Home. Was this home? Surely home was Croydon. That was where she lived 358 days of the year, only coming back to Speymouth for a week at Christmas if she couldn’t avoid it. And yet, too often she caught herself thinking about Speymouth as home.

Janice rolled over onto her side and reluctantly opened her eyes. Sunlight streamed in through the thin curtains revealing a pretty floral, Cath Kidston décor. At least her mum had taste when it came to decorating. Janice shuddered at the thought of having to gaze at Wet Wet Wet or Deacon Blue posters at the ripe old age of 26. She’s been deeply wounded when her mum had redecorated her bedroom a week after she’d moved to London, but she’d done a good job.

The sound of running water from her parent’s en suite shower stopped and Janice knew her solitude was about to be invaded. That was the thing about coming ‘home’. You were never left alone. People had to be continually checking on you, or asking you questions.

“Still here then? Fed up of all those people in London yet?”

“Any boyfriends Janice?”

“So…how’s the love life? Are you courting yet?”

It was all people in Speymouth cared about. When you’d be moving back, when you’d be getting married and when your first child would be born. All these things made Janice even more determined to never come back.

“Maybe I should just get myself knocked up and be done with it though” thought Janice. “That’d shock them. Wee Janice finally went and did something.”

Reluctantly, Janice threw back the duvet and swung her legs over the side of the narrow bed. If she could make it into the bathroom before her dad decided to launch his daily positivity attack, she could hide in the shower until he was safely engrossed in The Guardian and marmalade on toast.

Slowly opening her bedroom door, Janice peeped out into the empty hallway and finding the coast was clear, made a dash for the bathroom and swiftly locked the door behind her. Glancing at the fancy oversized shower-head, she decided a long soak in the bath was just what she needed to ease her grumpy mood. It was going to be a long day and she needed to protect her solitude for just a wee bit longer.

The funeral would start at 11am, followed by tea and sympathy at The Spey View hotel. A wave of nostalgia washed over Janice. Auntie Dot had always taken her to the Spey View hotel for high tea. They’d gorge on hot tea and toast before tucking into huge portions of steak pie and chips. By the time the cakes arrived, Janice always felt a bit sick, but could never resist a slice of millionaires shortbread to push her over the edge into gluttony. Poor aunt Dot. She’d always had time for Janice and was the only member of the family that spoke to her like a grown up.

“India? What do you want to go to India for Janice? Now don’t be silly, get yourself on that career ladder and get cracking those glass ceilings. Plenty of time for travelling when you retire. Now stop making excuses and get out into the real world.” That had been Dot’s response to Janice’s plan to spend a year travelling post-graduation. Janice smiled at the memory. Aunt Dot knew what it was like to be the younger sister, but she never let Janice get away with using that as an excuse for anything.

“You make your own luck Janice. Nobody is going to hand you a golden ticket. You’ve got to go out and grab it yourself quine. With 2 hands.”

A sample of something that might one day become something else

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Janice felt wretched. Why had she agreed to come back? The heat of angry tears threatened just behind her eyelids as she flicked the off button on the car stereo. She was not in the mood for the warbling of love songs tonight. Or any night for that matter.

Was coming home really that bad? Yes, yes it bloody was.

Grabbing her mac from the back seat of the car, she took a deep breath and surrendered herself to the coastal wind and drizzle. The suggestive coconut scent of the gorse bushes immediately engulfed her. She was 11 again, with skint knees and a dodgy blouse bought for 25p in Oxfam. Before life got complicated. Before expectations got in the way. A time when she could just be herself. Before womanhood and having to decide if you were a feminist or not, when homework was so easy it was laughable and boys were just the other half of the class that weren’t very good at talking in coherent sentences.

“C’mon Janice, pull yourself together. Get a grip.” Janice muttered to herself as she pulled her mac around her body and starting walking along the quarry path. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. Too late for the post tea time dog walkers and too early for the teenage cider parties, Janice knew she’d have Primrose Bay to herself. It was one of those secret beaches that everybody knew about locally. The only way to reach it was a 5 minute walk along a disused quarry track scared by long gone trucks, followed by an undignified scramble down a steep cliff path. But the scene and the sounds that greeted you once you set foot on that white sand were well worth it.

The funny thing was, expectations were always at the root of Janice’s problems. The youngest of 3 by a good 7 years and with 2 busy parents, her elder brother and sister had already achieved all the major milestones by the time she reached adulthood. Both her siblings had excelled at university, married lovely people, launched successful careers and produced a brood of gorgeous grandchildren. All bases were well and truly covered. Nobody expected anything of wee Janice, she was just an after thought.

“Just follow your heart Janice, we don’t expect you to follow the same paths as your brother and sister…” her mum used to coo, thinking she was being helpful. But Janice never really knew what that meant. Where did her heart want to take her? She was buggered if she knew.

Finally reaching the cliff path, Janice now regretted her choice of Birkenstocks as sensible footwear. The gorse bushes and brambles scratched at her bare legs as she pushed past them, ignoring the part of her brain that tried to suggest she would at least have some jam making to look forward to with all those brambles.

“You’re 26 not 46 Janice. Quit thinking about bloody jam.” She muttered under her breath as she negotiated the final stretch of path that led onto the beach,

Taking great lungfuls of air to try and chase away the tears that still threatened, Janice sat down on a rock smoothed by age and put her head in her hands. What the hell was she doing coming back to this godforsaken place?

“…because you don’t belong in London, that’s why” said the voice inside Janice’s head.

Janice shook her head and stared out at the horizon. The tide was coming in and the rhythmic whoosh of the sea rushing over the pebbles, forcing them to jostle for position was hypnotic. That noise had always soothed her, it was like a lullabye. Reassuring and strong, always there, dependable. Unlike…but no, Janice shook her head again. I’ve got to stop this, she thought. I’ve got to get a grip.

A movement caught Janice’s eye, just offshore and her heart leapt. The dolphins! She watched the calm sea closely and sure enough, a dorsal fin elegantly arced out of the water, closely followed by the flick of tail. Janice slipped off her Birkenstocks and buried her toes in sand so soft her skin barely registered it’s existence. She could smell the salty brine of the sea, the not entirely unpleasant whiff of rotting seaweed that reminded her of afternoons spent down at the harbour and an undercurrent of the coconut scent of the gorse that encircled the bay. The wind and drizzle had disappeared in typical Scottish fashion and the bay was based in sunlight. A smile slowly pulled at the corners of her mouth.

The dolphins were a good sign. A happy omen. Their presence always filled her with wonder. Where had they been? Where were they going? Did they know or were they just following some ancient instinct that told them now was the time to head west? Were they following their heart?

Janice closed her eyes and leant her head back so her face caught the glow of the setting sun. The warmth felt good on her face and she finally felt the threat of tears dissolve. This was her home. This little corner of Scotland was in her bones, no matter how long she had tried to deny it. What was it her granny used to say? You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Well, maybe it was time to make pig’s ear purses instead. Lined with Harris tweed they’d be all the rage. Janice suppressed a giggle and opened her eyes again. Two more dorsal fins arced out of the sea.

There now. Surely a life of escaping to this little bay of paradise on sunny evenings to watch the dolphins wasn’t so bad, was it? Janice thought.

“No, it’s not so bad at all…” Janice murmured.

Dreaming of an Italian family adventure


Tuscany

Yesterday I wanted to hibernate. The ex hurricane Bertha came to visit earlier in the week you see, unceremoniously crashed through our front door, stomped all over the country side with big hob-nailed boots, and gave us a great big smack in the face on her way out again. This is all figuratively speaking thankfully and our little McMansion on the hill remains weather-proof. The flooding to the surrounding area was quite dramatic though and the weather was more winter than mid-august. Unsurprisingly, conversation turned to holidays. The grandparents decided to kidnap our children for the night, so with the rain battering the windows in a vain attempt to enter our cosy house and the wind whipping down the street as if it were in a rage, glasses of red wine were filled as we reminisced over some old photo albums. (Is that not just a typical sign of middle age when red wine, photo albums and a cosy sofa is classed as an ideal night in?).

We started off with our wedding album, laughing at the drunken antics of our guests and trying to remember if that was great-aunt Sue or second cousin third removed Shirley with the flamboyant hat. Then we moved on to our honeymoon album. Two weeks in glorious Sicily that seemed like a lifetime ago. A perfect holiday where I wished upon a falling star (yes, really!) from a boat within view of Stromboli’s nightly show of erupting power…that was when I wished for parenthood.

We vowed to return to Sicily and promised ourselves we would spend our next holiday exploring Italy. I’d spent an odd, slightly disjointed summer in Tuscany as a student, waiting for the travel bug to bite and wondering what all the fuss about Inter-railing was about. I’m more of a destination person, enjoying the journey has always been an issue for me. So I promised my new husband that I would take him to Tuscany. I would show him the towers of San Gimignano, feed our souls on the art of Florence and fill our tummies with pasta, pizza and gelato. Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 13.59.36 But that wish I made upon a star during our honeymoon came true, so we now have 2 little people to cater for on any Italian adventure we embark upon. I’ve looking into camping, touring around Italy with a smart tent and eating pizza in front of a camp fire every night. But Hubbie has decreed that self-catering holidays are banned (LOVE HIM!) and he’s not so keen on the camping aspect either…I can sort of see his point. Holidays with young children are only a true holiday if they include some aspect of luxury we’ve discovered. Otherwise the cooking, the negotiations and the daily peace keeping just feel like you’re at home. But without the home comforts. Somewhere like Villa Pia would be ideal for our Italian adventure though. All inclusive, child friendly and in Tuscany. Perfect. They even offer cookery courses for the kids – how perfect would that be? We’d return from 2 weeks of Italian sun to the kids cooking us some Italian cuisine. My 8 year old foodie would be in heaven, while the 4 year old could exhaust himself on the trampolines. Meanwhile, I can’t stop imagining myself lying by this pool, something cold and sparkling in a glass within reach and a pile of trashy novels…well, a girl can dream.Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 12.44.17

 

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Clutter

I know it’s been ages. I haven’t written properly (on here anyway) since last year! It just hasn’t felt right, sorry peeps. But there’s been lots going on behind the scenes. Lots of living and loving and being, in the real sense. Just not so much going on in this little corner of my virtual world.

But today is different (probably because I’m procrastinating on some writing work of the paying kind). I’ve had a wee epiphany you see. I’ve finally realised that I cannot think straight if I’m surrounded by clutter. Or mess. Or confusion. It just muddles my brain and invades my creative thinking space. It makes me jittery and restless and I don’t like it.

For example, right now I’m sat at the kitchen table with 3 dirty glasses, a pile of freshly laundered towels and a box of Beano mugs the 7 year old discovered in a charity shop. The dishwasher is full of clean dishes and the sink is full of dirty ones. The thought of this alone makes me itch. But I’ve let all this muddle and mess stay where it is, all day, because I needed to just ‘get on and do some work’. But I haven’t ‘got on’ at all. I’ve faffed about, drunk coffee, nibbled biscuits, huffed and sighed and generally not been very productive at all.

And now I’ve written all that I’m suddenly struck by how dull it all sounds. But I’m going to press publish anyway because at least I will have achieved something today! Right, I’m off to blitz the kitchen. Maybe then I’ll achieve something more than a half-hearted blog post before the kids return from a day with the in-laws.

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This is where I really want to be today. Not working at my kitchen table but on the slopes learning to ski! More about that later though.

Putting the vital into vitality

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Ok, so I know I’m late off the starting blocks with this one and everyone and their dog has already blogged their new year wotsits.

But that’s just tough. It’s my blog and I’ll be 12 days late 2 months late to the party if I want to be. Fashionably late, of course.

So instead of having resolutions to stick to this year, I’ve decided to focus on a word. A single word that inspires me over the next 12 months (ok, 11 months and 2 weeks 10 months for all you pedants). So I’ve chosen Vitality. I want 2014 to be full of vitality. I want to feel vibrant.

Life lessons

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This one has taught me more in seven years than I ever thought possible…he forgot to include the update require for his little brother though!

One of the vey first bloggers I followed, the lovely Julochka, was writing about life lessons today. So I’m blatantly copying her and writing my list of what life has taught me so far:

  • no two children are ever the same, even if they look darn near identical and you struggle to tell who is who in baby photos
  • just because you’ve already parented one child to the ripe old age of 7, it does not mean you are an expert on subsequent children (see above)
  • salted caramel is highly addictive
  • my children are like puppy dogs. They need feed and exercised at regular intervals to be happy. Also prone to occasional accidental puddles.
  •  fresh cut flowers sitting on my window sill make me oh so happy and are worth the expense
  • when it come to chocolate, quality does count
  • no matter how much storage space you have, your junk belongings will expand to fill it
  • doing something you fear is good for your soul
  • judgey pants are flattering on no-one
  • sometimes it’s just easier to accept the quirks in other people that bug the hell out of you – they’re not going to change (nor should they) so deal with it
  • when it’s a choice between housework or messing around on the beach/in the woods with the kids, choose the beach/the woods. Every time.
  • cakes from supermarkets may look prettier than homemade, but they are all style and no substance AKA not worth the calories
  • a drizzle of honey and a splash of cream is the only way to eat porridge while holidaying in the Highlands. Totally worth the calories
  • emptying the dishwasher before you collapse into bed is worth the 5 minutes of pain. It will save you 20 minutes of pain the following morning.
  • no matter how hard you try to empty the ironing/laundry basket before going away on holiday, your mother-in-law will find at least 2 loads worth of dirty clothes and painstakingly iron every single item. This is a good thing and should not make you feel inferior.
  • ironing knickers however, is just wrong (see above) AKA life is too short
  • and finally, this one really is stolen from Julochka: sometimes you don’t know what you think until you write it
  • and finally, finally (also inspired by Julochka): writing is cathartic and healing and wonderful and precious and should never be overlooked. It is also considerably cheaper than therapy

What would your list of life lessons look like?

 

Tattie holidays win

Many years ago, the perfect holiday involved sun, sea, cocktails and a stack of unread books.

Fast forward to today and my idea of the perfect holiday has somewhat changed, as I’m sure it has for most parents. But after 3 days away in the Highlands, I think we’ve finally stumbled upon the perfect mix of ingredients that guarantees a successful family holiday. One where everyone is happy, tantrums are kept to a minimum and we return home with our sanity intact.

Now, I have to admit, when we started planning a little holiday to coincide with the tattie holidays (October half term for all you non-Scottish readers), I had my heart set on a gorgeous apartment in Turkey. There was a pool, lots of lovely little restaurants and plenty of wildlife and culture to explore if we felt like it. I had visions of lunching al-fresco on gorgeous Turkish tapas, sipping a cold beer as the sun set and watching the boys entertain themselves in the pool all day long.

But flying to Turkey would have meant a 3.5 hour drive to Glasgow to catch the flight out and the same drive on the way home (after landing at 11pm). So we decided to look closer to home. Lake District? Hmm…6 hour drive. West Coast of Scotland?…possibly. Edinburgh? Definitely in the top 5. But in the end we plumped for Aviemore. A mere 1 hour drive from our home. We found a hotel with decent sized family rooms that actually had bunk beds in a separate adjoining room for the kids instead of the ubiquitous lumpy sofa bed. But the best bit? Our hotel deal included dinner as well as bed and breakfast. No cooking! Hurrah!

The hotel also had a swimming pool, decent sized adventure playground, a soft-play centre right next door and was a lovely 25 minute walk from the centre of Aviemore. It was perfect. It was also full of families just like us, so there was no tutting at mealtime meltdowns (which we thankfully avoided) and although I was beginning to find the Italian buffet a bit dull by the third night, it was ideal for the kids – as much spag bol, pizza, macaroni and ice-cream as they could eat.

We filled our days with fresh air. The mild autumn weather was perfect for the many walks along river and loch that we took and we even ventured to the top of Cairngorm mountain (by Funicular railway, not on foot I hasten to add). The views around ever corner were breathtaking. Loch Morlich and Loch An Eilan sparkled in the sunshine, both wearing spectacular autumnal jewelled necklaces of burnt orange and red, while the scent of the pines trees was intoxicating.

Our photos don’t do the scenery any justice sadly. So you’ll have to trust me that each and every loch and every sun dappled, tree lined country road refreshed my soul in ways I had forgotten was even possible. We spent time together, just the 4 of us. We laughed and talked and giggled and ate and giggled and drew silly pictures and made up silly songs and giggled some more.

No, you can keep your swanky Turkish apartment (for now). For us, all we need is fresh air, a decent sized swimming pool, unlimited food and a make your own ice-cream sundae bar for a successful family holiday.

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Feeling the seasons

IMG_1338It’s autumn. There’s absolutely no denying it. There’s a distinct chill in the air as we walk to school in the morning. The beautiful, majestic ferns we can glimpse through the trees are losing their dignity and fading fast. The leaves are slowly turning golden and the nights…yip, they are most definitely ‘drawing in’.

But it’s all good. I love autumn. The colours, the smells, the opportunity for big hearty stews, bracing walks along the beach and of course an abundance of blackberries to pick.

I think autumn is my favourite season. Sunny days, still warm enough to enjoy being outdoors but the nights cool enough to enough long hot baths and snuggling under blankets. Putting your pyjamas on at 8pm, knowing you don’t have to leave the house again until morning. Lighting candles and enjoying a glass of red wine when the children are safely in bed. There’s something special about autumn. In my mind, it’s the best of both worlds – excuses to enjoy the great outdoors and the opportunity to hibernate in the evening.

Certainly one advantage of our move back home has been a sudden heightened awareness of the seasons. In this corner of Scotland summer can feel like it visits for a brief 2 week window before buggering off somewhere warmer. So we’ve been dashing to the beach ever since June with rallying cries of “let’s make the most of the sunshine while it lasts! Tally ho! To the beach we go!”. True, I did have to buy wetsuits so the boys could brave the near-freezing temperatures of the North Sea, but hey, it’s character building and they weren’t complaining (until they did actually turn blue. Oops).

We’ve had a cracking summer really, with only a handful of days where it was too miserable to contemplate playing in the park or wandering through the woods.

But now autumn has arrived, our rallying cry has changed slightly to “Quick! Let’s pick those brambles before someone else does or they all rot on the bushes” or “Quick! Let’s make the most of the daylight. This time next week it’s going to be pitch black at this time of night!”.

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We’ve become more aware of the changing seasons, more appreciative of the time/weather/sunshine/daylight we have *right now* and mindful that those things will all change soon.

It’s meant we’ve become more spontaneous. The dinner dishes can wait, the setting sun won’t. The floors can wait another couple of hours to be washed, those brambles won’t be ripe forever.

It’s a bit like childhood really. It doesn’t last forever. At times, it can feel tempestuous and unpredictable. But then a new day dawns and all is shiny and bright and wonderful.

So essentially, what I’m trying to say is, Scottish weather and the seasons up here are just like a toddler. Prone to changing their mind, sometimes set in their ways, unwilling to wait or be delayed unless it’s on their terms, but in the end, a joy to experience if you have the appropriate footwear and clothing. Just a shame the weather can’t be negotiated with. Oh hang on..that’s right. Neither can toddlers.