Book Review – Us by David Nicholls

Us David Nicholls

I really enjoyed ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls a few years ago (although have avoided the film, as I think it would be pointless to watch it having read the book) – so I had high expectations of Us.  My only niggle of doubt was it was about 50 somethings rather than 30 somethings this time – and I thought it might be out of my reference points (being such a spring chicken!!)

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

David Nicholls brings to bear all the wit and intelligence that graced ONE DAY in this brilliant, bittersweet novel about love and family, husbands and wives, parents and children. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2014.

‘I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.’
‘Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?’
Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home.
He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together.
So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.
The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.
What could possibly go wrong?

I have to say I really enjoyed this too!  It pretty much fills in Douglas and Connie’s life together – just not in chronological order – jumping from the current story of ‘the trip of a lifetime’ with flashbacks to other times during their marriage. It keeps you hooked right the way through – with teasers about past and future events.

I also realised I am worryingly like Douglas – hatred of glitter, having to have a plan for everything, thinking that trying to name a quiz team is more painful than a minor surgical procedure……

It doesn’t have the blow to the solar plexus ending of One Day – but still is not predictable at all.

I would really recommend this one!

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Lapland UK v Lapland – compare and contrast!!

Back in 2006, when we just had our 2 eldest kids, we took them to Lapland, along with one of my sisters and her family. Now we’ve added two more children to the Price family – we felt that they ought to have the same experience, so we looked at going to Lapland again this year. However, my sister had to visit Lapland UK for work last year (the first year of it operating in Ascot) and said it was brilliant – and like being in Lapland itself – so we thought we’d give it a go!

So here you have our thoughts on Lapland UK v Lapland!!!

1. The Price. This has to be a major consideration. Now Lapland UK is not cheap (we paid £79.50 per ticket – children and adults the same.) But this is a fraction of what we would have paid to take a family of 6 to Lapland with flights / hotels / food etc. We went to Lapland itself with First Choice (who have now moved all of their Lapland trips over to their sister brand Thomson) and everything was included – flights, transfers, accommodation, food, cold weather clothing and consequently it cost thousands. Also, it may have changed in 8 years, but we went for the most expensive hotel we could find in Lapland and it was still fairly basic!

2. Timings. When we went to Lapland we did the 3 day tour. This was great as we could fit loads in – but there did also seem to be a lot of hanging about too. Having said that, I think a 1 day trip to Lapland would be exhausting! Lapland UK was a 3.5 hour experience (although we did get there super early having whizzed down the M40 from Birmingham to Ascot – but there were colouring activities and coffee and cake to entertain us all before going through at our allocated time.) I think such a trip has to be done near to the Big Day itself – and spending a few hours is much easier at this busy time of year than a few days.

Waiting to go into Lapland
Waiting to go into Lapland UK

3. Activities. A lot of the activities are the same – making toys, decorating gingerbread, and meeting Father Christmas

Gingerbread decorating in 2006
Gingerbread decorating in 2006
Concentrating much more at 11 than 3!
Concentrating much more at 11 than 3!
Serious gingerbread decorating
Serious gingerbread decorating
Gingerbread decorating
More gingerbread decorating

– but there were things we did on the snowy plains in Lapland (husky sled riding, snowmobile riding, reindeer sleigh rides, skiing) that aren’t replicated in Lapland UK.

In a Lappish tent in 2006
In a Lappish tent in 2006

There was, however, ice skating – and at no extra cost (which I was impressed by!) – and we were able to meet a husky (real) and a reindeer (person dressed up!) as well as look at some real reindeer too.

I just love skating!!
I just love skating!!
Skating fun!!
Skating fun!!

4. Food. In Lapland we ate A LOT of reindeer! On pizza, as steak, in bolognaise. I don’t recall having it for breakfast – but we probably did!! This was particularly disturbing for the children who weren’t happy at eating Rudolph, thankfully they couldn’t read at that stage so we could lie about the menu!!

At Lapland UK there was a coffee shop in the waiting area before you go in (pretty pricey – but good quality) and then a snack bar once you were in the Village Square. After we’d eaten bratwurst and drunk gluhwein (hot chocolate for the kids!) we found there was also a restaurant (that could have been sign posted better!!)

Hot chocolate (not gluhwein - honest!)
Hot chocolate (not gluhwein – honest!)

5. Meeting Father Christmas. This was done brilliantly at Lapland UK. I suspect there was more than one FC (shhhhhhhh!) – but you weren’t aware of this, as the house we went to was hidden in the depths of the forest – and then you walked back out through the reindeer pen (and shop, obviously!)  Father Christmas really knew his stuff – about what the children had been up to recently, what presents they wanted etc (all completed via the website before you go – shhhhhhhhh again!) There was no queuing, it was all very slick. I remember waiting for ages to see FC in Lapland, and then he could barely communicate!

All seeing Father Christmas back in 2006
All seeing Father Christmas back in 2006
With the lovely huskie presents
With the lovely huskie presents

6. The staff. From the elves, through the reindeer and husky herders, to Mother and Father Christmas themselves – all of the staff at Lapland UK were excellent – and obviously spoke perfect English.

Checking the lists!
Checking the lists!

One of the problems we found with Lapland was that FC himself could barely converse with the children and some of the other staff were definitely holiday reps rather than performers. Everyone at Lapland UK was performing their role with great pride. Having said that, the husband still reminisces fondly about our Elf in Lapland – Candy Cane – who was a very pretty Scandinavian girl………

7. The weather. When we went to Lapland it was cold. The coldest I have ever been in my entire life – about minus 20.

All wrapped up from the cold
All wrapped up from the cold in 2006

Real ‘don’t breathe through your nose it will all freeze shut’ type of cold! You are provided with clothing – but it is still bitter (and you spend half your life stripping off or putting clothes on when you go in and out of places!) Obviously you don’t get that at Lapland UK – well, unless it’s particularly freaky UK weather! We were blessed with a gloriously sunny day – and I suspect that some of the outside areas, walking through the forests / the village square / ice skating – would be much less fun in British drizzle – but it was perfect for our visit.

Walking through the forest to meet Father Christmas
Walking through the forest to meet Father Christmas
In the forest!
In the forest!

The forests and areas you walk through are all dusted in ‘snow’ but obviously you don’t get the metres of snow to play in – but for snow-hating me, that’s a definite plus for staying in the UK!!

Conclusion
There have been lots of horror stories in the press about places in the UK trying to replicate Lapland and failing miserably – leaving lots of disappointed families in the run up to Christmas. Well, I can safely say that Lapland UK is not like this at all – and delivers on all levels. The quality of the buildings / displays / outfits / people / gifts / professional photos / even the toilets are all amazing. We don’t mind spending money on a day out if it is worth it – and this most definitely is.

Family Price!
Family Price!

We would thoroughly recommend Lapland UK to anyone wanting an impressive festive experience for a fraction of the price of a trip to Lapland. Although having looked back at our photos of Lapland – maybe we will need to go again next year………..

This is not a sponsored post – we paid full price to go to both of the Laplands!!

Chicago – by 3 Mums off the leash for 4 days!!

Back in October the husband and I had a fabulous trip to New York for his belated 40th birthday. Well, earlier this month I was lucky enough to go on another transatlantic jaunt, this time with 2 of my friends – off to see another friend who is now living in Chicago. Our combined knowledge of the Windy City was gleaned from US TV programmes – mostly ER – so the fact it was by a lake, it snowed a lot, and everyone uses the ‘L’ train were about our knowledge limits!

So – here is what we gleaned from our trip away – about Chicago (sort of!)

1. Breakfast can be exciting. When you are responsible for little people, you have to show some element of restraint before – say – lunchtime. But this is not the case when you’re temporarily let loose from the shackles of motherhood!!

Bucks fizzes and a Bloody Mary at Heathrow,

Breakfast at Heathrow
Breakfast at Heathrow

Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast on a Saturday…

Dunkin'[ donuts for breakfast
Dunkin'[ donuts for breakfast
Bellini’s with brunch on a Sunday (although admittedly this was only 2 of us – it had been a big night on the Saturday!!)

Bellinis for brunch
Bellinis for brunch

Note:  Dunkin’ Donuts does not make you diabetic after one visit.  I went to the loo not long after breakfast at DDs – and my wee smelt weird (#TMI!), I was momentarily convinced that I had been turned diabetic by having a donut and coffee for breakfast – then remembered I’d had asparagus the night before – phew!

2. The Windy City. I had always assumed that Chicago was nicknamed The Windy City due to the wind whipping in across Lake Michigan.

On the shores of Lake Michigan
On the shores of Lake Michigan

(which it does A LOT – and is particularly noticeable when you’re on the top of an open top bus!)

An open top bus ride
An open top bus ride

But it is actually a historic reference to the politicians there being full of a lot of hot air.

3. Americans go MAD for their national anthem at ice hockey games. We were lucky enough to go to see the Chicago Blackhawks play against the Montreal Canadiens – and we did it in swanky, corporate hospitality style!!

Enjoying the corporate hospitality at the Chicago Blackhawks
Enjoying the corporate hospitality at the Chicago Blackhawks

When the US national anthem was played the whole place ERUPTED – I have never heard anything like it (but then there’s never that much noise at Villa Park except at a Take That concert!!) I almost felt patriotic!

The National Anthem
The National Anthem

The game was interesting – although the breaks every few minutes for scantily clad girls to sweep the ice was a little distracting – they did sort of need to get on with it (or that may have been because the combo of jet lag and free booze made me a bit (more) impatient!!) The Blackhawks won – yay!!!

Ice sweeping in very short shorts!
Ice sweeping in very short shorts!

4. Open top bus tours rock. My best friend’s husband and I forced our other halves to do a Barcelona bus tour earlier in the year – and I was pleased we all wanted to do the same in Chicago. However this time I didn’t need to worry about sunburn – it was most definitely wind burn that was the risk!! We saw LOADS of the city – learned lots of random facts – and managed not to completely freeze (although had to have a quick coffee break to warm up half way around!)

Merchandise Mart - the second largest building in the US (after the Pentagon in case you were wondering!)
Merchandise Mart – the second largest building in the US (after the Pentagon in case you were wondering!)
The church Al Capone and other gangsters used to frequent
The church Al Capone and other gangsters used to frequent
The Chicago skyline
The Chicago skyline

5. Starbucks serve beer. Honestly – who knew?

Beer in Starbucks!
Beer in Starbucks!

6. You can watch more Premiership live TV in the US than at home. We watched Villa win – which is a miracle in more ways than one!

Villa v Leicester
Villa v Leicester

7. The world is a small place. Turns out one of my Chicago resident friend’s friends went to the same church as me in Birmingham back in the 90s! He remembers me playing my flute in the church band, I remember him being one of the super cool Uni students whilst I was still a young schoolgirl. Random who you bump into at a house party on the other side of the Atlantic.

It's a small world!
It’s a small world!

8. Going on the ‘L’ train is really exciting if you used to watch ER. Sadly we didn’t spot Drs Greene, Ross or Carter – but the whole thing – tracks, carriages, stations – looked really familiar. And the platforms have lovely booths with heaters in for warming up.

The 'L'
The ‘L’
Waiting for our first trip on the 'L' keeping warm
Waiting for our first trip on the ‘L’ keeping warm

9. Perspective is everything. We had ‘fizz Friday’ in a fabulous apartment on the 51st floor of a block looking out over Chicago and the lake with AMAZING views. It felt like we were on top of the world. Until the next day, when we went up the Hancock Tower – and it dwarfed the building we’d been in the day before.

We visited a fabulous apartment on the 51st floor
We visited a fabulous apartment on the 51st floor
Looking down to the 51st floor
Looking down to the 51st floor
The view from the Hancock Tower
The view from the Hancock Tower

10. Friendships never end. It is quite sad to quote the lyrical genii that are the Spice Girls, but it is true! With some friendships it doesn’t matter how many miles or oceans separate you, you are still great friends.

Four friends, four different drinks
Four friends, four different drinks

It is also amusing to see the same stresses / fun of family life in downtown Chicago as in semi rural Worcestershire (Why will boys not do their homework as soon as it’s set? Why won’t girls brush their hair properly?)

Just need to persuade all 4 husbands that we need a girls’ weekend away again next year………..

Golden Hour Greatness??

This morning the 11 year old and I had to whizz to the shops – and The Golden Hour was playing on Heart FM (radio station of choice in the car). It was 1985 – the year in which I was the same age as she is now! There was the inevitable pre teen eye rolling as I sang along to Wham and Madonna.  I hope that in 29 years time, she’ll be doing exactly the same and embarrassing her own kids!!

1985-wham-in-conce_1715731a

But will the tracks of today stand the test of time like ‘I’m Your Man’ and ‘Gonna Dress You Up’………

Are tyres sexy?

If you’d asked me 20 years ago about tyres, I would immediately have thought of the Athena poster of the bloke stripped to the waist holding some tyres. Along with the naked man cradling a baby, and the girl hitching up her tennis skirt, these were the iconic pictures of the late 80s / early 90s adorning many a bedroom wall. Oh, and just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about – and in no way an excuse for a gratuitous shot of a semi-naked male model – here it is…..

Tyre picture

20 years on, I’m a mature and responsible mother of 4 (if I write it often enough maybe it will become true!?!) and I realise that tyres are actually quite important!

The folks over at Mumsnet in conjunction with Michelin have done some research and found out that whilst 97% of Mums surveyed think they should take responsibility for tyres, 73% still consider it a ‘blue job’. Here are some more of their findings.

Michelin infographic 27.11.14 v1

I’ve been on a car maintenance course – but I have to confess that when I had a blow out on the M5 / M6 slip road, I called the AA to change the tyre for me.  However I am more than happy to check tyre pressures and pump up if necessary (well, as long as I haven’t had a manicure that day!!)

Now, maybe it’s because my best friend lives in the French Alps and one of my sisters lives in Munich, where winter tyres are the norm, but we have for a number of years swapped the tyres on our cars to winter tyres come November and then back again in the Spring. Our local garage is happy to store the off-season tyres for us free of charge (a bit like packing away your summer clothes come the start of a new school year in September!!) I’d thought winter tyres were primarily so we were prepared for snow – so was interested to learn of the other benefits.

MTOP_SNACKING_UK_DAD+CHILD_M&R3

MTOP_SNACKING_UK_DAD_M&R1

Michelin are always looking at ways to understand more about how we use our tyres (in a driving way – not in a ‘looking manly in a garage’ kind of way) and have produced this video.

So tyres are very important – even if not that sexy most days!!

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. The infographic, images, survey findings and video have been provided by Mumsnet/Michelin. I have not been paid for this post, although participating bloggers will be entered into a prize draw (fingers crossed for that!)

Wicked Wednesday – 10 December 2014

She has a bed. Her siblings and parents have beds. We have a spare bed. We have comfy sofas – but no – teddy is the best place to fall asleep:

Teddy as Bed

 

And just for fun – here’s teddy leaving Costco looking like he’s doing something unmentionable to the trolley!!!

Teddy and trolley

 

This is my entry for this week’s Wicked Wednesday over on BrummyMummyof2s blog – see what other people have posted!!

brummymummyof2

 

 

Babies – The Photo Gallery Week 211

The theme for The Photo Gallery over on the Sticky Fingers blog this week is ‘babies’ – and for this I have no shortage of photos, having had 4 of them!!

We had a girl and a boy in quick succession – not like an 18 minute twin gap, but an 18 month, all a bit of a blur gap! But after a traumatic birth with both (I had 200 stitches after number 1, and number 2 was born blue and still in his sack) we decided we’d ridden our luck and that would be it – so husband had the snip.

Fast forward 4 and a half years, and I’m stood in M&S in Redditch weeping, buying my little boy grey uniform trousers as my baby was growing up and about to start school. Before becoming parents (and realising what we’d let ourselves in for) we’d always said we wanted loads of kids – and so husband didn’t need much persuading to have his vasectomy reversed and within 6 weeks we were pregnant again!!

And as I have an issue with odd numbers (freakish I know) we always knew that we’d have 4 kids – so number 4 came along pretty soon afterwards!

This is the first photo of all 4 of my babies together – and I still get a bit teary eyed looking at it…..

4 children

Although not teary eyed enough to have number 5 (and 6)……..

Do go and have a look at other people’s ‘babies’.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery