M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech City

There are the things in your diary you really look forward to as they approach. Britmums Live was one of them for me, admittedly less so for the event itself and more so for some quality time with friends. Sara-Jayne and I decided to share a room, club our funds together and splash out on a room at M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech City.M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityM by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityI say ‘splash out’, but I doubt anyone can question that you get what you pay for at a Montcalm hotel. I was absolutely devastated to find out as I checked in that I had free access to a spa. I know I overlooked this when booking but I used to hate the idea of a spa, however having recently celebrated a special birthday for a best friend in a spa hotel, I am a convert.
I felt my afternoon was a little less full for not being able to take advantage of the facility.

I’ll also admit to feeling dressed in the wrong attire. Anyone who knows me well knows I am an ill-informed goth. On this particular Friday I chose to rock up in my coral sweatshirt with gold font ‘Winging It’ emblazoned across the front. To a hotel where guests and employees all received the memo about black attire- it feels that stylish.M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityAs I inspected my room all qualms about not spending my afternoon in the spa were quashed, for I spotted the pièce de résistance of the room, the place to while away some time without interruption. M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityAnd it was lush. I read. Answered emails. Wrote a blog post. Chatted on the phone. Perfect.

And then Sara-Jayne rocked up. And I had to come clean. Her dream of an evening away from the family relaxing in a bath was over.

We only had a shower. It was a great shower. But yes. That’s me- lover of a great shower, hater of the bath talking. It’s true, our room didn’t have a bath- and that’s a bit rubbish.M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityThe good news is as well as the fandangled technology which is explored a little in the taster video at the end (but not half as much as I found out- the curtains close at the push of a button, you have numerous colours for your mood lighting, the room fragranced to your preference… the list really does go on), most importantly, the bed is fantastically comfy. M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityYou do pay for the luxuries you get. And when I phoned the hubby I joked that all I ever need is a good shower and a comfy bed.

But I admit, every once in a while, we’re worth the luxury, I’m worth spending a little extra on.

The evening away with a friend catching up.
The morning spent taking the time with our appearance.
The day spent just being a person, without immediate responsibility.

Would I do spent this sort of money all over again?

Definitely.

Heacham Manor, Norfolk

I was looking forward to staying at Heacham Manor in Hunstanston. We have accommodation on-site at work so the chances of escape at slim. Many years ago I worked on-site Monday to Wednesday and the days you were told it was fully booked were cause for celebration – the bid for freedom. 

And so I thought the stars were aligned, there was no room at the inn, and Heacham Manor popped up on the booking system. It wasn’t somewhere I had stayed before, and the name implied it would be a good stay.

As it was I didn’t get to really enjoy it. This is the photo I took as I was leaving:Heacham ManorI had need to work until 5pm which meant the drive on South Wales would mean a late arrival. I contacted the hotel in advance to let them know. When I arrived, slightly ahead of time I was warmly greeted. After the long, non-stop drive I was of course at my most conversant:

Hotelier: “Please could I take your car registration number?”
Me: “Oh. I’m sorry. I don’t know it. I’ve taken my husband’s car. It’s silver.”
Hotelier: (Nodding understandingly) “That’s fine.” (Reads notes) “Oh, and you’ve arrived in good time.”
Me: “I know. I didn’t hit anything on the way here.”
Of course I was referring to traffic.

Obviously appreciating who they were dealing with, they kindly offered to show me to my room.

I guess this was the bit where I was caught off guard. Heacham Manor has a wide range of accommodation. I think (from talking to colleagues) all their deluxe rooms are within the main building, standard rooms (mine) are a short walk from the hotel itself, and they also have pet friendly accommodation as well as self-catering. I was really impressed with the diversity.

I wasn’t as impressed with my room- although it was perfectly fine and more than for the budget. It had a smell to it- again, nothing offensive, but I had come to think of it as the ‘Bircham’ smell (the next day colleagues nodded, for the first time the acknowledgement that that was what it was), I thought the ‘Bircham’ smell was solely restricted to our on-site accommodation, and it made me uneasy. I did appreciate, it’s the little things, that along with a good range of teas, that there were biscuits. I sense budget constraints have meant a lot of hotels have stopped, having missed an evening meal for the non-stop journey, I was overjoyed and allowed them to represent my well-balanced diet.Heacham Manor roomI was really impressed with the bathroom. If you know me you know I don’t function without a shower. I was really happy to find, despite any initial misgivings, that the bathroom was wonderfully kitted out. With a shower and a bath, and a really good shower. Well I was happy.Heacham Manor showerAnd whilst I had brought my new camera in the hope of visiting the beach the next morning, which I understand to be a short walk across the golf course, it was absolutely weeing it down. Which was around the point I realised I had left the house without a coat. 

Again, colleagues who have stayed have commented on how good it is to leave the office and enjoy the fresh air and views. I believe them. Criticism comes easier than a compliment. 

A love of London Bridge

In my head I was going to stay in a different hotel for every work visit, to explore new places. I only seem to be managing this on an occasional basis. As my eye searches available hotels I keep returning to the same one. And whilst I try for a little variety, I keep returning. To London Bridge. And all that surrounds it.

I love London Bridge. I love exploring the contrast of old and new. The wonder of the science which underpins the beauty of the surroundings. The wonder of how much life evolves from water to road, from brick to steel and glass.

I love the hotel I stay in – the views of the Tower, the Harbour, the River, or the Bridge. How on earth do you choose a view when given the option?

My to-do list is telling me to sort my hotel bookings for the next few weeks. I’m putting it off. I think I’d like to explore the South Bank with my new camera a bit more, but my eyes are distracted by London Bridge.London Bridge Around London Bridge Over London Bridge London Bridge From London Bridge Under London Bridge London Bridge Views around London Bridge

Premier Inn – Euston

My children think all hotels are called Premier Inn. They have good reason, Premier Inn’s have been perfect for all of our trips as they are really family friendly when you just want a bed for the night, for three raucous, excited children. I also use Premier Inn for overnight stays with work, and recently when I found my week split between London and York I used the Premier Inn at London Euston as my bed for the night.Premier Inn London EustonI have to be honest, once you’ve stayed in one Premier Inn, you really have stayed in them all. Some of them may be newer builds, and some of them do feel from the facade and reception like upgraded hotels, but once you’re in your room you are in familiar surroundings.

London Euston is a newer Premier Inn, nearer to Euston but within easy walking distance of Kings Cross – St Pancras. It’s an odd location as the entrance is on the side street with the restaurant overlooking the main road. 

For the first time I used the self-registration system, I was feeling the need for complete anonymity- I just wanted a bed for the night. Whilst the system was slow it worked, and I found myself being able to spend my stay without having to utter anything other than niceties- which suited me fine.
And this is one of the good things about Premier Inn, other times I do feel social (scary I know), and the team are always really friendly, when I turn up with two 5 year-olds and a 7 year-old they are always super accommodating and great with the children. Premier Inn just seems to adapt to its very broad customer base.
Premier Inn London EustonAs you’ll see from this quick video, the facilities within a Premier Inn room are really all that you need.

With everything clean and convenient, and the bed really does meet the sleep guarantee. There’s nothing not to like about Premier Inn for a good overnight stop. The only down side of my room is the photo below. Where I got to do my make-up, so far away from natural light with two horribly fluorescent lights wasn’t great. A tv over the desk is the culprit for this, I just wish there were some mirrors nearer the window.Premier Inn London EustonDownside over, there is no doubting Premier Inn’s offer value for money, especially in London where hotels can be expensive. It is always worth being flexible on dates if you are thinking about a stay as you can really search down some great prices.

 

The Tower Hotel, London

I hope you’ll indulge me, it was a night at Guoman’s The Tower Hotel which inspired me when I had been struggling with content for my blog. I love to bake you see, and my hope of baking ever week has fallen short, but what’s not been falling short is my night’s away with work, and I’m lucky- some weeks a Travelodge will be the only hotel within budget- and every now and again, I’m lucky enough to stay in wonderful hotels.The Tower HotelThe Tower Hotel falls in this category. And whilst I’m not sure to many it looks that great from the outside, it has the most wonderful backdrop, and the interior and the customer service more than makes up for any perception of ‘concrete’.

The Tower Hotel sits conveniently next to Tower Bridge, a short walk from the aforementioned tube station, and a stone’s throw from St Katharine’s Dock which offers some great eateries and bars. In my limited experience of staying sporadically at the Tower Hotel for the past six months, the hotel is most popular with group bookings, usually for black tie dinners.

So you could forgive me for always feeling out-of-place. My first stay in the hotel last year saw me approaching the receptionist saying in hushed tones “I think I’m booked in here.” such is the grandeur of the hotel. When I returned the following evening because I couldn’t persuade my room card key to work she remembered me (no mean feat given there are usually at least six people on the front desk at any time and it’s always busy). 

And since that first experience I have returned to the same standard of customer service. When my visits are less sporadic I am greeted with “Welcome back” and less so I am reminded of the locations of all key areas of the hotel.The Tower HotelFor the accommodation itself, I am always a little unintentionally wary. The rooms do feel dated, although this is always pessimistic of me. I judge every hotel by the quality of its shower (even in the early days of babies it is a truth that I cannot function without a shower), and The Tower more than stands up to the test.The Tower HotelThe Tower is also one of the few places I will happily pay for room service. If I am not meeting up with friends or colleagues I am most likely to find a local Pret or supermarket and bring food back. I’m not one for eating alone. The food at any hotel will be more than exceed the cost of bringing food back, but I feel at home enough at the Tower to make hot food an option.

One of the main areas of customer service I love at The Tower is that they ask what room you’d like. I love to eavesdrop on the responses, because whilst on the whole I think I’m accepting with a hotel like this I’m happy to push my luck.

Many will say “as long as I have a bed for the night”, but if like me you look confused they’ll ask “a higher floor or lower”, I’m a sucker for a view (my home is testament to this) so I automatically say “higher”. And on the basis you’re selective, dependent on availability you’ll be asked about your preferred view- the Tower, the Bridge, the River, the Marina? The hotel team are great at making sure you have the room you want. I’ve also heard people asking for the refurbished rooms. I have no idea on this one- I have always been more than happy with the allocated room.The Tower HotelSo here’s a quick spin of the room:

Despite a promise to stay in a different hotel going forward to get some great material for my blog, my new camera has been delivered, so I’ve booked this hotel again – I’m a sucker for London landmarks!

Living Arrows 14/52

I have an unbelievable amount of favourite photos from our week away in Todmorden, so much so that I can’t choose one for this week, and have done my best and concluded with one of each.
I love that they are in three different locations, of three different adventures, of the many adventures we are lucky enough to enjoy when we return ‘home’.
We are fortunate that on holidays we get to spend all this time together. Yes, there are times when my voice is hoarse with empty threats, but there are all the times when I get to wallow in their offerings, that their love for me being more than mine for them.
These are the holidays when I realise how patient ‘parent-friends’ were with this ‘non-parent couple’, of how much they create the perfect childhood for my little people, creating a home to which my children always want to return.
My children maybe Welsh to me, but I suspect their heart, like their birthplace, will always lie in England.
Walking to Orken Woods, Todmorden Playing in the secret river, Eastwood, Todmorden Playing at Centre Vale Park, Todmorden

Living Arrows

Pandamonium at Chessington

aI couldn’t believe how lucky we were when an invite arrived to explore Chessington’s 2016 offering – on CM’s 7th birthday. How could I make a birthday party better than one offering Pandamonium?Pandamonium at Chessington

2015 introduced the stage show of the Penguins of Madagascar, creating a bridge between Chessington’s animals and theme park.

2016 is very much a part of the zoo, but using technology associated with theme parks. A UK first, sees a family of life-like animatronics panda getting up close to families.

The children were more than impressed. The boys were hook, line and sinker for the parent pandas. Completely grasping the need for tenderness and to gain trust through the Panda bow.Pandamonium at ChessingtonCM was a little suspicious. But. The moment she saw the baby Panda. She burst with excitement and love. And when she was given the opportunity for a nose kiss. Well, what could make a better birthday?Pandamonium at ChessingtonI was really impressed with Pandamonium, because it offers a version of a once in a lifetime experience, because it is was a perfect balance for children of all adventure. And  because I watched my children absolutely believing.Pandamonium at Chessington And of course Chessington has even more on offer in 2016.

A fantastic glamping experience, with exclusive access to some of the offerings of Wild India, would create an absolutely perfect set of family memories.  

And launching the 30th Go Ape Adventure in the UK, Chessington now offers a Tree Top Adventure and a Tree Top  Junior Adventure, allowing a family to Go Ape together.Smokehouse Grill at ChessingtonWe were lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the newly opened Smokehouse Grill and try a taster menu. We were more than impressed with the smoke taste that filled the meat, CM loved the macaroni cheese, and Mr J was a complete convert to Chocolate Beer. This is definitely a place to challenge perceptions of theme park food, and definitely worth a stop off for refuelling when visiting the park. Smokehouse Grill at ChessingtonWe also visited the updated Trail of the Kings. The children were over the moon to get up close with gorillas, tigers, and lions, and came away absolutely invigorated with all of the animals they wanted to visting the following days.Trail of the Kings at Chessington

The overall feel of the updates to Chessington balances the excitement of the theme park. After a night’s rest in the fantastic Azteca Hotel (Please can I tell you again how wonderful it is to have bunks for three children so we genuinely have a family room!?!), we had a fantastic time across the World of Adventures- and, despite making the most of the day, we didn’t have enough time for everything. Meaning with the additions, a two-day break at Chessington would definitely be time well spent.Pandamonium at Chessington

Disclosure: We were invited to experience #Pandamonium as guests of Chessington World of Adventures. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Favourite memories – our honeymoon

Putting together our wedding album and trawling through photos obviously led to whiling away time moving onto photographs of our honeymoon.

Our honeymoon in 2010 was our last trip abroad, we went from a couple who holidayed quite a bit in Britain as well as short and long haul flights, to a couple who returned from honeymoon pregnant with twins.

Our honeymoon kept the bar high for holidays, we decided on short-haul as CM had recently turned 1 and we weren’t ready to face long haul (taking hubby on long haul is enough of a trauma). Deciding on Kos was a bit of a no-brainer. I had been there as a 16-year-old and loved the Island, going back I knew it would provide our family with perfect hospitality. And, we were fortunate enough that my parents flew out for the second week to look after our daughter, which meant we got to see lots of the island. We travelled at the end of May, which seemed to offer absolutely perfect weather- the blue skies every holiday relies on.

Our resort was fantastic, with a children’s pool separate to the main pool, this would be CM’s first introduction- and our memories are of her screaming the place down one day, loving it the next, and screaming again the following day. My contrary daughter!Babies holidaying in Kos It would also be the holiday where chocolate ice-cream would be discovered, and devoured.
Babies holidaying in KosAnd it would be a holiday to explore, to island hop and explore the beauty of history and nature.
Holidaying in Kos Holidaying in KosEvery holiday creates the most amazing memories, and we have been so fortunate to have photos which hold the moments so close.

I love that CM has been able to experience ‘foreign lands’ to get a taste of a travel bug so early on in her life.

I hope her brothers don’t have to wait long to board a place to discover their new lands.

And I hope we carry on having photographs like this, dotted around the house, to remind us just how much our family is growing.
An alternative honeymoon in Kos

 

 

A trip to London with a 6 year old

It’s taken a while to write this post, defeatism, #mummyfail, and the rest. It will quickly be followed by a post about taking four year-olds to London- far more successfully- lessons learned are a speciality of mine.

Our children are used to mummy going to London, it happens every week.
And so, like everything else, the fact they can’t see it increases ten fold their desire to have it.

When I heard about Kids Week it created an idea in my mind about a perfect trip to London for me and my girl.
I gave CM the choice and she decided she really wanted to see ‘Charlie & the Chocolate Factory’.
And me, being me, wanting to ensure our time was at its most productive, decided it would be a good idea to get tickets for both days of our trip.
Seeing ‘Wicked’ tickets remained available after the initial ‘fight’ for tickets, and yes, first and foremost because it’s my favourite, second because CM’s Christmas production had been ‘Wizard of Oz’ and third because it would be a great use of time, and it was a 5+ age, well I booked tickets for that as well.

I sorted a family railcard knowing my truth, that whilst coach travel is far more reasonable in price the truth is I’d rather travel by train for comfort and expedience. Well, the railcard has more than paid for itself given the other trips we’ve made.PaddingtonI tried to save money by booking a Travelodge. Some of the Travelodges (like Old Street) have really improved since they upgraded their beds. Our one at Euston was noisy, both outside and inside, not great when, as it would transpire, you’re coping with a meltdown as midnight approached.

On our trip to London, I learned the most valuable lesson.

The best things in life really are free.

I feel like I spent a fortune in London- and the reason I feel like this is because I wasted money. I got cross about it and shouldn’t have.

An example is that CM really wanted to go on an open top bus. I checked this out and thought buying tickets with a tour company at Trafalgar Square would offer value for money. That would usually be true. If every other tourist in London didn’t have the same idea. And your daughter hadn’t decided after 30 minutes she didn’t like open top buses.

I wish we had stayed having fun at Trafalgar Square.Trafalgar SquareEven this long after the event, I’d say the Tour rep wasn’t great. Encouraging families to sit at different ends of the bus isn’t the warmest welcome for a 6-year-old. Poor commentary also got my goat. But yep, more than all of that was not making the most of the exorbitant cost of the ticket.

What I thought of beforehand, which given the seats we got on the top deck I wish I had gone with- was just buy an Oyster card and go on public transport!! If you really want an open top bus after half an hour of sitting on the top deck of a usual red bus, go and pay the prices for a tour, but you might save yourself a pretty penny if it isn’t for you. 

After disembarking the bus, fortunately near enough to Buckingham Palace, yes- definitely this is the place to go for any tourist including 6 year-olds. CM saw the queues to get into the palace and really wanted to go inside, I wish I had thought to investigate this as an option beforehand- the queues really weren’t for me, but yes, for every wannabe princess I guess this would be a great ticket.

We did have a great time taking photos, especially around the Victoria Memorial.
Buckingham Palace, London with a six year old.Unfortunately I was to lose more points for not letting CM play at the play area opposite in St James’ Park. I justified this to myself by how busy it was and how many smaller children there were. Hindsight says I wish I had let her find out for herself- it really wasn’t worth the strop which was to follow. 

We headed across to Westminster, because by this time we were both getting a little frustrated with a lack of fun, but daddy phoned to suggest a photo at Big Ben was one he’d really appreciate (not for the first time I wondered what our life would be without mobile phones).Westminster

Overlooking the Houses of ParliamentFrom there we grabbed some lunch and enjoyed Southbank. And I was over the moon that we both shared a love for this part of London. We explored the Southbank Centre (again I did loose brownie points for not having tickets for the slide from the top of the Centre), and I discovered if I gave her credit for discovering things I didn’t know about I was rewarded with the best of moods.Enjoying summer on the SouthbankThe evening would see the ultimate fail of the trip. We picked up food from M&S at Euston, and had a picnic on our bed, in line with CM’s request, and then went across to Victoria to see Wicked. We had fantastic seats.

Before the curtain  had dropped for the interval we were on the underground to our hotel. Whilst I thought I had prepared CM for the storyline, I had failed to remember the massive dragon which embraces the stage, whose eyes turn red when Elphaba loses her temper, and which scared CM beyond belief.

Kids Week had it in their 5+ years listing, and I do think there were children younger than CM there, but since I’ve also found theatre recommendations which suggest 7+ years. I know I can only beat myself up over it.

And that’s what happened. CM was upset she had let me down. She then decided she was homesick. Meltdown resulted in her falling asleep. Resulted in mummy crying in the bathroom. Vowing that if CM woke the next day and wanted to go home we’d board the first train. And if she wanted to stay, I’d do whatever she wanted.

She woke re-energised (unlike me) and the day was hers.

We spent ages outside the hotel at this office building. As people turned up for work CM spent the time running up the paving and sliding down. It felt like a scene from ‘Big’. Who wouldn’t prefer a slide to work?ArchitectureWe went across to Oxford Circus, where they were giving out Lucozade Pink Lemonade. What a proud daughter phoned her dad to say how happy she was to have a pink drink- for free!

We walked down to Hamley’s ahead of its 10am opening, and little did we know what was about to happen. It seems every day they invite young people to open the store. And fortunately l I have a daughter who will volunteer for Everything. And so, this mummy, who was cursing herself for being the worst ever, got to witness the excitement as her daughter opened Hamley’s!! (Best mummy forever points).Opening Hamley's Regent Street LondonFrom Hamley’s we went across to the Science Museum as I had heard great things about it (which I thought would make it similar to Eureka! in Halifax). It didn’t turn out to be that way, CM was too old for the tactile children’s stuff and not old enough or the more ‘science’ stuff. We left. But again, caught off guard, there was a street entertainer with giant bubbles, I lost my daughter for over 30 minutes, under the spell of bubbles.Science MuseumFrom the museums we headed back to central London, and to Covent Garden, and CM fell under the spell of more street entertainers. Street entertainment at Covent Garden LondonWe then headed to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, positive I had adequately prepared CM. This time we got to the interval. I sent a celebratory text to hubby that maybe I was a good parent after all. Five minutes into the second half we left the theatre. Very realistically, Augustus Gloop had gone up the shoot, CM was scared.

I took the best learning I could from the day before. Headed back to Trafalgar Square and treated her to Pizza Express ahead of the journey home.

However many months on, CM is as eager as ever to come to London with me, with specifics. That the theatre I take her to see should be like the theatre we see in Cardiff.

Once again I am left wondering why I am so eager for my children to grow up. Why didn’t I get tickets for the tried and tested rather than pushing boundaries in a place in which they are unfamiliar?

As life would have it, we did create the best memories. Who wouldn’t want a picnic on a bed and to open the best toy shop ever.

Mummy just needs to stop micro-managing. To let her child be the child she’s promised she can be. And to live.

Did someone mention Kids Week 2016?

Driving home for Christmas, a holiday in Todmorden

It had been four years since we had been back to Todmorden. The town we lived once we became a couple, the town to which we brought our children home.

Wanting to wave farewell to 2015, we decided the best place we could do this was in Todmorden. Some internet searches to find a perfect place for our family of 5 and Miller, our Cocker Spaniel, resulted in us stumbling upon a Sykes Holiday Cottage on the tops of Todmorden.

Whilst it wasn’t a drive I was happy to take, Mr J is a pro where Todmorden roads are concerned, and the cottage made for a perfect location for our break. A wonderful host was patient with our late arrival time, and the cottage had more than everything we needed to make a perfect ‘home from home’. And we were fortunate, Todmorden was hit by the flash floods on Boxing Day- the day before our arrival- and as always, hit badly, our home on the tops was unscathed- for which we were grateful.
It meant we had a week rediscovering Todmorden and spending time with friends, the perfect therapy.A view from our Sykes Cottage Sykes Cottages in TodmordenFortunately, Father Christmas had seen fit to send me Dr Martens rather than heels, and I managed to cobble together the perfect footwear for our week away.Essential Yorkshire bootsAnd the great thing about being back was not only the chance to catch up and spend time with some of our favourite people:Centre Vale Park, TodmordenBut also getting some much-needed fresh air, blowing away 2015 and welcoming 2016 with some of Todmorden’s best views.

Because I guess that’s always been the dilemma, we traded one view for another. The difference is our new view of the coast is sort of flat- completely spectacular but looking out rather than being in.

Todmorden, offers the Pennines.The PenninesAnd at 6 and 4 years, the children were ready to face the challenge, to see the places we had taken them as babes, of Gaddings Dam:Twin boys at 5 Gaddings DamOf Stoodley Pike:Walking up to Stoodley PikeView from Stoodley PikeThe best place to welcome in 2016.Conquering Stoodley Pike

We’ve promised ourselves we’ll get to Todmorden a lot more now, and hopefully reap the benefit of all seasons.

But for now, we have the memories.