Gin for the win!

I like gin.  I am blaming this on my mother, as back in the 70s drinking alcohol during pregnancy wasn’t frowned upon – and she liked a gin!

A couple of years ago Mum and Dad bought us a trip to the Sipsmith’s Distillery in London.  It was an interesting way to spend a couple of hours – but the gin consumption was very limited – and you had to stand up in the distillery for the duration of the presentation.  This sounds a bit of a first world problem – but was exhausting.  So it was good – but not great.

Since then I’ve had a number of gin and gin related presents off them – and then for this birthday they bought me a gin tasting session at Loki in Birmingham – which we did last weekend.

I’d not been to Loki before, and from outside it looks like an unassuming shop in the Great Western Arcade in Birmingham.  Once inside it’s amazing!  There are hundreds of different bottles of wine and other alcoholic beverages – but the difference is, you can taste them! There are 5 different machines, each holding 8 bottles of wine at exactly the right temperature – and you can select a taster, a small glass or a large glass of any!  Perfect for trying out new wines before committing to a whole bottle.

But I digress – we weren’t there for wine – we were there for gin!

The Gin Connoisseurs Course was run upstairs by Carl Hawkins – or as he is more commonly know, The Gintleman. (Do not fear – I will not recount all of the ‘hilarious’ gin puns – I don’t want to steal Carl’s thunder should any of you decide to go on one of his courses!!) Some of you may have heard of the Jekyll and Hyde pub  – or gin parlour as it markets itself – in Birmingham, and this was Carl’s baby some years ago. He’s also worked with a number of the local gin brands – so he knows his stuff!

There were 19 people (sitting down, so already a higher scorer than the Sipsmith’s tour!) around the room – and I would guess we were pretty much in the middle of the age range.  Initially everyone was very reserved and quiet (apart from my husband, obviously!)

Lined up on the tables there were 8 different gins and 8 different tonics that we were going to try – with 8 different garnishes too!

Carl started off with an introduction to the origins and history of gin.  Some of this we’d heard on the Sipsmith’s tour – but Carl was a great raconteur and it was really interesting. I’m a total geek – so learning about the origins of phrases like ‘mother’s ruin’, ‘Dutch courage’ and ‘blind drunk’ was really interesting.

Then we started on the gins!

Thankfully we’d been given a card with all of the gin / tonic / garnish combos we were going to sample (which is a good job – as after about 4 I would have been struggling to write!!) Then, in the manner of speed dating, we had to rate our neat gin (by circling the number of choice) and subsquently rating it again with the tonic and garnish added (by marking the number with a cross).

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We started with a huge 58.8% proof navy gin (which was V V strong, but I may have undermarked!) and then carried on.

Of the 8, there was only one I’d tried before – Gin Mare, another present from my parents (honestly – it looks like they’re encouraging my gin habit?!?) – but there are plenty I would now try again.

And the range of tonics – and in one case Ginger Beer – was great.  As Carl pointed out – a large proportion of your gin and tonic is tonic – so why buy a fancy pants gin and then put a cheap tonic into it?  (My ‘favourites’ at Ocado now include Fevertree and Double Dutch tonic variations!)

Everyone loosened up after about gin 4 – and it was a really lovely afternoon.

Admittedly as the gin consumption progressed we were undecided between popping to Greggs next door for a sausage roll – or the deli across the road for posh cheese, meat and pastries to soak up the booze – the deli won #classy.

Having attended the course we were able to get a discount back downstairs in Loki – and left with a bottle of Malfi Lemon Gin (think limoncello on steroids), a bottle of Warner Edwards Rhubarb gin – and a nice bottle of red wine for good measure!

All in all I would thoroughly recommend Loki and The Gintleman to anyone – it was a fabulous afternoon.  I’ve also seen that The Gintleman does tastings in your own home – so  that’s definitely something to consider in the future!!

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This is in no way a sponsored post – I’m just sharing the love of gin!

 

 

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Disneyland Paris – the epilogue!

This has been in my drafts for FOREVER – so thought I should finally get around to actually posting it!  We’ve been away twice since then!! #holidayaddicts

So, I’ve blogged about our half term trip to Disneyland Paris, from my proposed behaviour plans in the prologue, to the ‘fun’ in the rain for Day 1, the lunch with Princesses on day 2, the ‘sod Mickey when there’s Messi’ of Day 3, the Snapchat filtering of a world famous painting on Day 4, and an emotional balloon release on Day 5.

But I thought I’d compose some advice on matters learned from our trip (and I will try and be the bigger person than just to say don’t bother with Paris, save up for Florida as they do Disney properly…………..)

Hotel
If you can – stay in the Disneyland Hotel, and if you can – book a Castle Club room.  This means you get characters at breakfast every day

mickey

(the Disney ones – and sometimes the world famous footballer ones too!! #LionelMessi) which reduces the need to queue for them at other times.

messi

The fact that you’re between the parks means you can pop back for a battery recharge (metaphorically and for your phone) during the day.  You also get to enter the Disneyland Park earlier than the general public (although only certain rides are open for these Magic Hours).

The one thing I would say is that having a Castle Club room with a park view is fantastic (we stayed in Walt’s Apartment with a connecting room as there are 6 of us) but it is noisy.  You have a great view of the fireworks from the comfort of your room – but equally little kids may not sleep through it!  Then when the hoardes leave the park it can be quite raucous (and it’s not very ‘Disney’ to shout at them to shut up from your window……..).  Then the Disney music plays until around midnight and starts again at 7am – and for us this had a Halloween ghostly theme (last time it was Christmas music though!)

fireworks

 

Food
We struggled keeping everyone happy (but we do have 4 kids with differing tastes!)

We had an absolutely amazing meal in the California Grill in the Disneyland Hotel – but the kids meals didn’t have fries, which immediately meant child 3 had a meltdown.  The food was beautifully presented and the wine exquisite (but it is really, really expensive!)

Lunch with the Princesses in the park was also excellent in terms of quality (again no French fries) and a great way to get a few more characters off the tick list.

cinderellas

The best all rounder meal, though, was in Chez Remy in Walt Disney Studios – great quality food – INCLUDING FRIES!!!!

cork

Fastpass
If you’re staying in a Castle Club room – and I think most of the Disney Hotels – you get unlimited Fastpasses for all of the rides that offer that facility.  At certain times of the day these are great (generally in the mornings) but at some points, the Fastpass queue can be longer than the regular queues – madness! And not all rides have the Fastpass option.
Sometimes using single rider queues can also be a way to beat the queues if you’re happy not to sit together in a group – I guess this depends on kids ages and such like.

Going into Paris
We paid to do a Disney trip into the centre of Paris.  This involved queuing for a coach at another hotel and driving through really slow traffic to get there.  Once in Paris we were dropped off to reconvene a few hours later.  We couldn’t face the coach trip back and ditched them in favour of the very reasonably priced train (double decker train at that) back to Disneyland Paris.  It was a straighforward, easy train ride – and so much better than hanging about and a coach.

Once in Paris then there are loads of different options for hop on / hop off trips – or even just walking – which we did loads of!

trocadero-jumping

The kids loved seeing some of the historic sites (although I’m not sure Leonardo was expecting teens to put Snapchat filters on the Mona Lisa……..)

the-mona-lisa

I am sure there are loads of other top tips I can offer – so if you think of anything then ask away – but there we go.

We’ve done Disneyland Paris…………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step away Bridget, they’re my pants!

bridget-jones-the-edge-of-reason-2004

Back long before Bridget Jones was having her pants removed by Daniel Cleaver, I was already a fan of the control pant.  They were  ‘special occasion wear’ to make me look slimmer when ‘out-out’.  I have to say that a few times (ok, most times I wore them!) they ended up in my handbag by the end of the night, as after you’d been to the loo and wrestled them off and back on a few times (which happened with alarming regularity when you were a 90s ladette drinking pints with the boys) it just wasn’t worth the effort, and so going home commando was the better option. Honestly – life as a trainee accountant was life on the edge!!

Anyway – over the years I’ve been through many iterations of the control briefs in different shapes and colours.  Some even had poppers ‘down below’ reminiscent of a late 80s body suit!  Which was a) a bit dangerous after you’d been drinking and you were trying to do up the poppers without trapping anything in them or b) you completely forgot to do it up altogether and it ended up working its way out of the top of your jeans (a surprisingly frequent sight to be seen in nightclubs throughout the era!!)

But 4 children and 4 stone later you find even more foundations are required  – and my current Spanx go from bra strap to knee.  However these new ones have a magic invention – a cotton double gusset* area so you don’t have to wrestle them off to go to the toilet!

Now my husband didn’t understand what I meant – so after wiggling in to them on Saturday I cocked my leg up to demonstrate and he is still traumatised!!  His exact words were ‘Oh my God, I think I just saw an ewok’!!!

 

But I can report they did the job brilliantly – and I managed to use the double gusset perfectly all day at a wedding on Saturday and so didn’t end up with a moist* gusset at all!  I think you might need to be careful to sit in a ladylike manner (which obvs I do at all times) for fear of doing a Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct otherwise – but given they are down to your knees, you’re not exactly going to be wearing a mini skirt (or if you do, you will look very odd!)

I am definitely ‘plus size’ and these give me a bit more body confidence – and they also negate VPL (visible panty line) issues, which even  the skinniest of people can suffer with {evil laugh}.  They also give amusing anecdotes so that everyone can laugh at you over Pimms and canapes!

I should point out that this is not a sponsored post, I have paid full price for all of my underwear – and will definitely be adding to my Spanx collection very soon.

 

 

* words I hate

 

 

 

Winning at School Shoe Shopping is Winning at Parenting

School shoes

‘Shopping for School Shoes’ is a topic to instil fear into most parents – and with the 4th child starting school in September this meant buying new shoes for all 4.  School shoe shopping expeditions in the past have resulted in tears from children, me and, I suspect, the shop assistants – so I decided to divide and conquer, and take the children in pairs to reduce the stress (or prolong the agony – depending how optimistic we were feeling!!)

I’d taken the eldest 2 shoe shopping in Worcester – as a practice run on the train for their new schools in September (this also provided a new haunt for Pokémon go hunting – which is a good motivational tool this summer!)  After texting a friend who is proficient in shopping in Worcester (amongst other places!) we found the shoe shop she recommended and with frightening efficiency (and a bit of Googling of uniform requirements) pairs were bought for the 13 and 11 year olds with absolutely no tears or shouting #miracle.

I was concerned that this had lulled me in to a false sense of security, and hence buying shoes for the younger 2 was going to be horrific, so we headed off to our school shoe shopping regular haunt of Humphries in the Kingfisher Centre in Redditch.  Youngest child chose some with absolutely no stress at all (helped by the fact that the shop assistant had the same name as her) so the only one left was the 6 year old – who does have a reputation for being ‘feisty’…..   This had all of the hallmarks of being the nightmare.

The lovely assistant brought out 3 pairs in her size – and there was one Startrite pair I particularly liked, so I used all of my ‘mother of 4 kids’ wiles and went for the whole reverse psychology technique.  I told her the ones I liked were far too grown up, and her big sister hadn’t had a pair like that until she was at least 9 years old, so at 6, she had to chose one of the other 2 pairs.  Of course, that meant the Startrite ones I liked were clearly the most desirable shoes ever.  After some umming and ahhing I ‘gave in’ and let her have the ‘grown up’ ones!!

Winning at school shoe shopping is winning at parenting.  #boom!

 

 

Isle of Cumbrae

As a child I used to visit the Isle of Cumbrae – a small island a 10 minute ferry ride off the West Coast of Scotland from Largs – due west of Glasgow.  The holidays were to visit ‘Aunties’ of my Dad’s – one of whom was billeted on my Grandparents during World War 2 to make small arms in Birmingham, and she ended up staying until my Dad – the youngest of his siblings – got married to Mum, and then Auntie Una headed back to live with her family in Millport – the town on the aforementioned island.

I remember holidays consisting of cycling (it’s 10.5 miles around the island, and is what most people do when they visit!), walking, horse riding, putting 2ps in the amusements, going on the fair rides at the Garrison,

and rain

and midges.

It was an annual event to go to Millport in the 1980s, we were there when Live Aid was on the TV and I was there for my only visit in the 1990s when Princess Diana was killed in Paris.  Subsequently we went as a family with my parents, sisters and our families back in 2003 when I was 8 months pregnant, and we ended up cutting the holiday short as my blood pressure was really high and I didn’t fancy being helicoptered off the island to give birth.

So now it was time to show the Pricelets where Mummy had spent many a holiday.  Given they’re more used to Dubai or Florida it was going to be very different – but I hoped memorable.  Fingers were firmly crossed for good weather – I wasn’t talking Dubai or Florida – just dry…….

We have a 7 seater car at home – but with us, 4 kids and  loads of luggage (you have to pack for 4 seasons in one day going to Scotland!) we would have been overloaded – so we hired a mini bus from our local Enterprise car rental (who, on an aside, were great – and I would highly recommend them!).  We headed off up the M6 on Bank Holiday Saturday – and as far as Manchester we did fine – it was all a bit busy around the lakes, but a stop at the fabulous Tebay services saw us revived and we headed on up through Glasgow and out to the coast.

Millport 1

When we got to Largs I was *slightly* excited as we waited in the ferry queue.  The 10 minute Caledonian MacBrayne ferry ride across from the mainland to the Isle of Cumbrae was stunning – we could have been on a Med cruise!  I kept saying to the rest of the family ‘it’s not normally this sunny’ – which could have been the mantra of the entire stay!

Millport 2

We’d looked at self catering properties to stay in – but there were only a couple of options for a family of 6 and 1 was fully booked and the other my sister and her family had stayed in a couple of years before and they’d had issues with it smelling of dog and having no WIFI!  Given the husband and I had to work – and our kids are used to free flowing internet access – this was definitely a no no – so we booked a couple of rooms at Westbourne House.  I’d chatted via email with the owners – Jane and Stuart – before we arrived and they sounded lovely (and had kids a similar age to our eldest two) – and I wasn’t disappointed, they were great!  The rooms were well appointed, the breakfasts were beautiful – and I’m not sure we’ve ever stayed anywhere with a better view.

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The first evening we wandered into Millport town centre, grabbed fish and chips from the chip shop, and ate them at the park.  Classic British seaside town action – and probably a first for the kids!

Millport 6

Millport 8

The next day we first went to the town graveyard to try and find the graves of the ‘Aunties’ I’d grown up with.  This was like some kind of Anneka Rice Treasure Hunt task – and we weren’t doing very well.  Thankfully the phone signal was briefly good enough for me to call my parents and they pointed us in the right direction and we found all of the graves.

Millport 7

We then headed up to the highest point of the island.  There was obviously some family pride at stake trying to get on top of the marker point – the Glaidstone (I didn’t – the stone needed to remain standing for many more years!)  The view was amazing (and remarkably there was 4G reception #winner)

Millport 9

We’d also booked to go on the Waverley – the last sea going paddle steamer in the world (although I must confess to telling the children ‘you know that boat that takes you from the car park to Magic Kingdom at Disney in Florida – well, it’s kind of like that’).  I’d gone on many trips on this fantastic vessel as a kid, and my sister and her family and my parents had done it the summer before.  In all cases cagoules were the order of the day and it was freezing!  But not on our trip!  It was practically tropical!  We sailed over to Arran – drank prosecco and pop, ate crisps and chocolate and admired the view – perfect!

On the Monday we decided to do what everyone does on Millport – cycle around the island.  Back when I was a kid the local bike shop (there are others, but Mapes is the original and the best – and having just searched for their website, I’ve found out it’s for sale – the end of an era as it’s been owned by the same family for 70 years) had a tridem – so basically a tandem but for 3.  The Homer family cycled on that loads! However now it’s in retirement – so we managed to rent a bike that seated all 6 of the Prices.  We’d been warned it would be a tough ride, and was really for pootling along the front – but we were optimistic.  We were also wrong!  We got as far as the Lion Rock (one of the 3 rocks the island is famous for) and gave up and turned back. It was exhausting.  To be fair we’d geocached that far (this was before Pokemon Go, when geocaching was still a thing!) but that was quite far enough for one day.

Millport 3

Lunch in the pub and playing on the traditional fairground rides (the same ones from when I was a child – albeit in a different location) were the order of the day – and some clambering over the AMAZING crocodile rock!

We ate in the lovely Harbour Restaurant that evening – a definite recommendation – but be careful – it appears to open on random evenings, so be careful to plan for a night it will be serving you!

The next day we did cycle around the island properly – bikes / trailers / tag-a-longs for all family members and we did all of the geocaches as we went around the perimeter of the island #boom.

 

When my sister and her family had been there 2 years before they’d managed every single geocache on the island apart from one – which was out on one of the Eileans (little islands) a boat ride from the main town beach.  It was a journey we’d done lots as kids (in fact there is an infamous family story of the aforementioned sister doing a poo in the dingy when she was about 2 whilst Mum rowed out to the first Eilean!  Thankfully, as the eldest child, there was no space for me in the boat so I’d had to swim alongside them – so avoided poo-gate!  Oh how we reminisced about Auntie Charlotte’s poo!!!!)  Anyway, the husband and the eldest 2 hired canoes to row out there – and they found the missing geocache!  The 4G signal might have been rubbish – but my son was still able to send a photo of it to his cousin! To be honest, once we’d got this geocache, we couldn’t really be bothered with all of those on the internal area of the island – this was the golden one!!!

The little 2 and I stayed on the beach – and it was beautiful.  The sun was shining, the sea was glistening – and we’ll ignore the fact I loathe sand!!!

We’d had a great time – totally made by the weather (it would have been a completely different trip if it had rained!) – but we were all getting on top of each other.  The bedrooms were fab – but that was all we had.  There was no bar / snug to chill out in – and so we were either ‘out’ or all 6 of us were squashed into bedrooms.  The kids were niggling with each other, we played musical beds every night – and all in all it was a bit tiring.  We’d had a fab time – but we decided to call it quits 24 hours early so we could remember a fabulous holiday – and not the time the children killed each other in the middle of the night because they’d nicked the duvet!!

The next morning Jane served us another one of Stuart’s fabulous breakfasts, and we headed back across on the ferry.  We then stopped off at Nardini’s (the local Italian ice cream place – and family business of Daniella Nardini who was one of the stars of ‘This Life’ back in the 90s – for all people of a certain age) and all had far too much sugar for the time of day!

Millport 28

It was then a  trek back down the M6 home – we had a pitstop at Gretna – to show the kids the history of weddings there, and the great new maze – and to stock up on supplies for the rest of the journey.

All in all, it was a fabulous few days away – and one I’m sure the children will remember far more than their 5 star trips to other significantly further flung places.  I will freely admit we were super lucky with the weather – even the locals admit 5 consecutive days of pure sunshine and 20+ degrees in May / June is unheard of – but all in all it was amazing.  I’m so pleased that revisiting a childhood haunt wasn’t a huge disappointment.

I would thoroughly recommend staying with Stuart and Jane – and they’re currently extending their caravan park – so you can have your own space, still with that amazing view.

Millport will always be a very special place to me (although if my parent’s plan to go and live there when I was a small girl had actually come to fruition – who knows where I’d be now!!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My name is Libby and I’m a Fitbit addict…

I have been a massive fan of my Fitbit Charge HR since I got it for my birthday in 2015, I’ve worn it religiously since and so monitored every step, flight of stairs, minute of sleep for many months.

Fitbit

So imagine my devastation when it stopped working last week.  After a particularly energetic boxing session it just stopped counting steps – and no amount of resetting would get it to work, and then the screen died completely.

Now I know Fitbit customer service is brilliant and will send you a replacement (and they subsequently have – thanks Fitbit!) – but that would mean waiting for 5-7 working days, which seemed like an eternity stretching out in front of me (pathetic I know!) and I’d also secretly had my eye on the new Alta – so with Amazon Prime I could have that the next day so I ordered one immediately (how did I ever function without Amazon Prime?!  Even if my mother doesn’t approve of their taxation arrangements, they do make my life much simpler!!)

So the next day – after a seemingly wasted 24 hours (steps without wearing your Fitbit are just so pointless………….) my shiny new Fitbit Alta arrived.

Fitbit Alta

I very excitedly set it up – but couldn’t get the ‘buzzing’ function to work.. I read online that the vibration is a lot more gentle than the Charge HR – but unless the feeling in my arm was going, I was certain it wasn’t working.  I Googled (oh dear, more people my Mum doesn’t approve of tax-wise) possible fixes, but nothing worked.  Therefore I contacted Fitbit and a new Alta was on its way.

Thankfully the initial one still counted steps (phew!) – but I hadn’t realised just how much I relied on the vibration function for alarms / call alerts etc, so it was a real relief when a fully functioning Alta arrived a few days later.

A number of friends have asked me for my views on the Alta (being an oversharer means people always know I have an opinion) so here goes!!

 

FitBit Charge HR

Pros

The Charge HR monitors EVERYTHING – including the one thing that makes it unique amongst the FitBit stable, your heart rate.  This is really interesting (yes, I’ve checked it after many different activities!!) and you can get pretty graphs when you log on to the website.

The Charge HR also counts the flights of stairs you’ve gone up and down (I’m still not sure how it does that – potentially magic?!).  This has made me park on a higher floor in the car park and walk up and down the stairs more regularly at work rather than saving everything I need to take down until the end of the day.

It automatically registers sleep and exercise (I think some of the other FitBits don’t do that – although don’t have any personal experience)

You can set it to buzz for an alarm and when you’re receiving a phonecall.  This worked brilliantly for me as I often don’t end up in my own bed come the morning (annoying children, nothing more exciting!) but I know I will still be woken up.  It also means if you’ve left your phone on silent in your handbag you don’t miss a call (or if you’re in a meeting you can still be alerted without looking rude and having your phone out!!)

Cons

When I bought an HR they only came in black – since then the range has increased so you can have it in 6 different colours.  However, whichever you buy you’re stuck with that colour – you can buy ‘bling’ to brighten it up, but the base colour remains the same.

It is quite a chunky size, and so looks quite cumbersome and not very feminine – particularly if you’re going ‘out out’!  (And you couldn’t not wear it, as then you wouldn’t get all of the steps when you’re dancing / walking home from the pub etc).  The strapmark I have after a week in Scotland getting a tan makes it look HUGE!

It’s not splashproof so you need to be careful when you wear it.  I didn’t wear it for the mud run I did because of this (I’m still a bit bitter about the missed step countage!)

** Edited to add:  I’ve just been shown by a friend that it is splashproof just not fully waterproof – I shall be less careful in future.**

FitBit Alta

Pros

It’s BEAUTIFUL – sleek and stylish and much less ‘functional’ in its looks.  You can also change the bracelet for other options – leather, metal, beautiful designs – meaning it can look more like jewellery.

You can set it to alert you with a gentle buzz as an alarm, when you receive a call or text message (it tells you who it’s from – and with a text also shows you the content) and also if you haven’t done your 250 steps that hour.  Pretty much all the buzzing functionality of the HR and then some.

Again, as the HR, it automatically monitors your sleep and exercise.

The battery seems to last a lot longer than the Charge HR (even though I’ve perfected the ‘charge it in the car to not waste a single step’ routine).

Cons

It doesn’t measure flights of stairs.  I didn’t realise before I bought it and was a bit sad to start with. But this was mainly because it was the one target I managed to hit most days – so I guess, if I already hit the target it doesn’t matter?!

It doesn’t measure heart rate – I don’t think this is the end of the world though, I guess it depends what you want your FitBit for.

Sometimes it doesn’t want to sync with your phone app.  I never had this happen ever with the HR.  However if I turn wifi off and on again it tends to then work – so who knows why!!

 

Overall I am a total FitBit convert / addict.  The customer service has been great with both problems so whilst reliability has been an issue (and even worse for some friends) it has never been a major issue.

I also love the fact that you can connect with friends who also have FitBits and do workweek hustles or weekend warriors to see who’s done the most steps.  One of my workweek hustle groups is lovely – we chat most days, and whilst it is a bit competitive – mostly we’re just competitive with ourselves and hitting our own 10,000 steps per day (even if that means walking around the house / garden as midnight approaches!!)

And it’s definitely got me walking more – 100% – so that’s got to be a good thing?!

My name is Libby and I’m a FitBit addict………………………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue playsuit?!?

Blue playsuit

Get in from work, open up the Next delivery that has arrived during the day.

First item – nice tunic top, size 16, sensible length, capped sleeves – perfect for a 40 something mother of 4.

Then the next item – ‘blue playsuit, size 16’.

WHAT HAVE I DONE?!
It’s that internet shopping after too much wine again,
Why on earth would I have thought that I’d look good in a playsuit,
I’m going to have to trog into Redditch to return it or get the slightly creepy delivery man to come and pick it back up…..

Check item tag – it’s the age 16 one I ordered for Daisy as her age had sold out.

Panic over.  The people of Alvechurch are safe and will not need to see me in a playsuit. Phew.

Home from home (if you live in a mini Downton Abbey?!)

Every few months the husband and I try to get away from it all (‘it all’ being the construction company we run and the 4 kids!!)  We rarely get chance for ‘date nights’, so this is the time for us to reconnect as a couple (that sounds so tossy)  Sometimes we fly off somewhere far flung – but this week we had just 24 hours away, down the road in Broadway on the edge of the Cotswolds.

We’ve stayed at The Dormy House hotel before and had a wonderful time, and then we received an email from their sister hotel, Foxhill Manor offering an activity break we were intrigued.  So – dinner, bed and breakfast in the Sunday Times Hotel of the Year 2015 – along with some segwaying and shooting – what’s not to love?!

Being the right side of Brum – the Farncombe Estate (home to the Dormy, Foxhill and The Fish) – is only 45 minutes away, perfect for a quick escape from reality.

Due to the husband having an important work meeting first thing (can’t really complain, it’s our work that means we can do such things) we didn’t set off as early as we would have liked, so we thought we’d be cutting it fine to make it in time for our time slot of 2.30pm for the ‘activities’.  Thankfully we arrived with a few minutes to spare – so had chance to check out our fabulous room (Birch).

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and do the important things like connect to the free wifi (and for the husband to take calls to provide DIY SOS services to some friends whilst I had a mug of peppermint tea!)

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Then we were collected by our instructor for our activities.

We started off with rifle shooting – it would appear my husband’s mis-spent youth shooting random insects (actual insects, not code for anything else!) with an air rifle in Falcon Lodge stood him in good stead to be a good shot with the rifle.  Unfortunately I wasn’t so great (humph, as we are very competitive!!)

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Thankfully we then moved on to pistols for which I appear to have a natural eye (my career as an assassin may still happen) and I whipped him (as in scored better, not pistol whipping, that would have ruined the whole romantic night away really). Eat your heart out Lara Croft (if she was wearing a floral shirt with a double chin…..)

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Next it was segways.  The husband has already been on the kids hover boards (in fact he even did some dusting whilst aboard) but I have steered clear as I’m not a big fan of such things.  But I promised I’d give this a go.

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There was quite a bit of swearing shrieking, but after 10 minutes I’d sort of got the hang of it.  Then the instructor took us out of the ‘tennis courts’ – one of the few flat bits on the whole estate – to go on a ‘safari’.  This is where it went downhill – literally!  Given I’m not a fan of going down a slope on a bike – I should have guessed that I wouldn’t enjoy it on a segway!  Within seconds, I’d stropped off it and set off marching down the hill – very reminiscent of pretty much every skiing holiday I’ve ever been on!

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Thankfully once it flattened out I coped with getting back to the front of the hotel.

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And within 2 minutes of being back in the hotel I had a glass of champagne from the trolley in the lounge in my hand #perfect.

We were then taken to meet the chef who explained about the meal for that evening.  I am sure if we were fussy about food they could have been obliging, but we’re not (back to those double chins again!) and so went with the fabulous menu offered – we could also chose what time we would eat.

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’twas then back to the lounge for more fortifying champagne, and a bit of cake for me.  Husband isn’t a cake fan (fool!) and so asked if he could have some cheese, and a beautiful ploughmans’ appeared from nowhere. Now that is service!

After an afternoon nap, Pointless on TV and a relaxing bath with Cotswold Life magazine (when in Rome and all that) it was down for pre dinner drinks.  Yet more champagne!  Half of the 8 rooms were occupied during our stay – and we chatted to 2 of the other couples before dinner in the lounge.  We are both quite sociable people (you’d never guess from all of this oversharing would you?!) so we were fine chatting away – but I do think this is one bit that might be a bit overwhelming for some people – as it is such a small hotel, there is nowhere to hide!!  We were also brought some lovely hors d’oeuvres to soak up the fizz!

Then it was dinner – which was stunning. Not overly fussy – but really tasty.  The food itself is included in the overnight price – as are the drinks in the lounge – but you do have to pay extra for any drinks with the meal.  We started off with Bathtub gin and tonics (the brand, not out of the bath, that would just be weird).  I loved it – but the husband didn’t – so I had both #winning.  The wine list is extensive – and we went for our usual safe bet of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  The house Sauv B is from Chile – and the husband has a hatred of all Chilean wines – but the staff persuaded him to try it, and it was actually really lovely, so we’d try that one in the future I think.

After our 3 courses in the dining room we retired back to the lounge for the husband to have a cheese board and port in front of a roaring fire – a perfect end to the day.

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Before we retired for the evening I did pop to the ladies – and it is fabulous (I was a bit gutted I didn’t take my phone with me – to take a photo, not just because it meant I couldn’t play Words With Friends whilst on the loo!).  Each of the 4 stalls has a different James Bond photo in it – I went for Daniel Craig in the end.

The next morning we were up bright and early as we had massages booked over at the House Spa at the Dormy House at 9am.  Breakfast was wonderful – a mix of buffet and then anything you wanted cooked.  We both went for Eggs Benedict – and it was recommended we had it with their local bacon – and it was awesome.  It would have been lovely to linger over breakfast, with never ending tea and coffee and the morning’s papers – but the spa was calling.

2 full body massages later, I floated to the pool to wait for the husband – but 30 minutes later he hadn’t materialised, I began to wonder if the masseuse couldn’t wake him after he’d fallen asleep !  I went on a search to find him in the spa lounge, fully clothed and working!  He’d decided an hour of relaxation was quite sufficient – and was cracking on with emails sipping lemon and ginger tea.  I headed back down to the spa for 20 lengths, a sauna and a steam room before getting dressed ready to head back to reality.

A lovely lunch in The Potting Shed followed -before the drive back home.  It may have only been a 24 hour escape, but it was truly wonderful – and we very much hope to repeat it in the future.  We’re even considering an exclusive use booking for a weekend (as otherwise children under 12 can’t come, and I’m not sure our 3 youngest would think it fair to be left at home whilst we only took the eldest!) – so if any of you are up for it?!?

 

I should point out this is not a sponsored post, we paid full whack (and quite a considerable whack at that) for the night – but it was worth every penny. 

 

 

 

Grand Central Birmingham

If I had to list things that I like – after the obvious family and friends – then the following things would feature high up the list:

So imagine my delight when all of the above could be combined into one evening!!

I was invited to take part in a focus group about the new advertising for Grand Central, and offered a behind the scenes nose around the site which is due to open next month.

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I’d never been involved in market research before – so it was all a bit intriguing.  I arrived at the management suite at Grand Central (the shopping centre that is being built above New Street station in the centre of Birmingham to replace the old slightly grim Pallasades. There were 4 other members of my group, and we were all 30 / 40 something parents.

First we talked a bit about Birmingham and what we all love about it (variety of shops / bars / restuarants, the fact the centre is compact, the mixture of architecture, even The Owls got a mention!) and what we’re not so fond of (the traffic, difficulty parking, how busy it can be)  We then talked more about Grand Central and the advertising that was being proposed for it.

Now I have to confess to not knowing much about what Grand Central was going to be.  I knew there was going to be a huge John Lewis (obvs!) but not much else.  I wasn’t sure what other retail and dining options there were going to be.  I wasn’t sure whether it fitted into the same space that the Pallasades did, or how it was going to connect to other areas of Birmingham. And I have to say 90 minutes into the various discussions we had – and looking at the proposed adverts – I was none the wiser either!  Thankfully today I’ve discovered the Grand Central Birmingham website which gives loads of information – and has made me much more excited at the shops and eateries we’re going to have.

The whole process of a market research focus group was really interesting.  Being able to waffle on about your own thoughts on stuff (rather than just typing it down here into the ether) was fun.  Whilst our overall feelings, as a group, about the adverts was quite similar – we did discuss it all, and changed each other’s opinions at times.  It all felt very ‘safe’ and as if you could say exactly what you thought without fear of being ridiculed.  Whether that was just because we had a lovely group – or the particular facilitator we had – I’m not sure.  But I really enjoyed it!

And once the ‘work’ was over, we got to don our full health and safety personal protective equipment and go and have a look round the site…..

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And site it is.  It is VERY much still a working site.  Whilst the main atrium is in, and the escalators down to the station – there is still a lot of work to be done. And I mean a lot.  Floors / walls / lighting and that’s before the shops can even think about shop fitting with their own branding, shelves, stock etc!  And it’s all going to be ready for Thursday 24th September 2015…..

I was ‘slightly’ incredulous at this – but maybe the 3,500 people they have on site at the moment are startlingly more efficient than my workforce??

The frontage to the new John Lewis is hidden from prying eyes by roller shutters – but the width of the frontage is HUGE, it’s got to be 4 times the size of the entrance to John Lewis in Touchwood, Solihull.

The huge open plan space is amazing – and the light that will flood the place is immense – even down to the platforms, for the first time ever!  The roof is made out of the same material as the Eden project domes – and is self cleaning (even from seagull and pigeon poo – of which there is a lot in Birmingham). And throughout the mall, the height of any counters or tables is limited to 1.4m to ensure that people have a clear view around at all times.

Currently Westfield in London has the biggest footfall of a shopping centre at 42 million (2 million more than our very own Bull Ring) but Grand Central is predicting 45 million in the first year of operation!  The key will be to get the dwell time of these visitors to increase so that it’s seen as a proper destination – not just the exit route from New Street.  Maybe people will go and visit our Grand Central like I did as a tourist to Grand Central in New York!

And in exciting news – it will still be accessed by ‘the ramp at McDonalds’ (anyone from Birmingham knows that location!) and you will be able to walk all the way through to the Bull Ring through nice free flowing walkways, not random 90 degree turns like the olden days.

I should point out at this point that all of the above facts were from me paying attention to the lovely ops director who showed us around, and I have not independently verified any of them!  But his passion for the project oozed out of him (as did his excitement at having a Nando’s arriving!!)  The bringing together of a transport, retail and dining hub is incredible – and the fact that one of the (if not the?) busiest station in the UK has kept running through the regeneration is amazing.

However – having been very excited that an off peak return to New Street was only £2.80 from Kings Norton, the train home had a platform change and was delayed by 35 minutes – so let’s hope the trains standards can match that of the shopping facilities above…………

But I can’t wait to go and see Grand Central in all its glory when it opens next month.

Review: Diet cupcakes?!?

A while ago I reviewed some products that Exante diet kindly sent me to try – and since then I’ve bought some of the shakes and bars to have, particularly when I’m in a rush, or need a breakfast before working out that I’m not going to vom back up again after 10 minutes of a cardio workout!!

Anyway – the lovely guys at Exante messaged me to see if I’d like to try some of their new range of cupcakes – well, how could I refuse!

The box arrived and I excitedly opened it looking forward to trying a cupcake – and found out it was packets that you had to make up!  Initially I thought ‘what a faff’ – but I guess it does stop you just stuffing them blindly in your face when you have to think about making them – so maybe that’s a winner?!?

Anyway – whilst I must be the only person in the country (or so it feels from my Facebook timeline on a Wednesday evening) who isn’t Great British Bakeoff obsessed – my daughters are – and what’s the point in having loads of kids if you can’t make use of child labour!  (The day the eldest could make me a G&T was a very proud moment.)

So children 1 and 3 were voted cupcake makers!

Each set of packets (one for the cupcakes, one for the icing) makes 2 cupcakes – so we decided to use 3 of each so all family members could try them.  The 2 cupcakes would be a meal replacement and contain 200 calories and 16.7 grams of protein – so very similar to the shakes and bars throughout the range.

And so – the cupcake baking began:

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Cupcake 1 Cupcake 2

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They didn’t exactly rise evenly – and I have to say that I’m not sure Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry would have been that impressed with the presentation!  But surely the taste is the main thing……

And so – the other members of the Price family verdict:

12 year old ‘They work really well as a diet food, because they are so disgusting you never want to eat cupcakes ever again.’

5 year old ‘I don’t want one, they look funny, can I have an apple instead?’

Husband ‘Oh my God these are disgusting, why would anyone eat these, don’t let the children eat them.’

So not exactly universal praise…….

They do taste very synthetic – particularly the icing (it is the brightest pink I have ever seen!) – but I guess I am more used to ‘protein’ based flavours than the rest of the family.  If you were being hardcore on Exante and were really missing cakes then I guess maybe they would be ok – but they are definitely my least favourite of all of the products I’ve tried.  And the faff of making it all also massively counts against them for me.  I’ll be sticking to the shakes and bars in future.

I was sent this product to review for free, but all opinions (as you can probably tell!) are my own.