Christmas in Suffolk

We are finally back in London, after almost a week away at my in-laws. They have a lovely house near the Suffolk coast, where Mr Techno grew up. Ever since we got married, Mr Techno and I have alternated which family we spend Christmas with. This year was his family’s turn.

We had a full house for the Christmas break, with the three of us, Mr Techno’s parents, his younger brother, and his older sister with her husband and daughter, who is just a few weeks younger than Tom. We were then joined for Christmas itself by his aunt and uncle, grandmother and two cousins.

One of the lovely things about a big family Christmas in the countryside is that there is always someone wanting to go for a walk, or to take the toddlers to the playground. With no work and no responsibility for the cooking, Mr Techno and I were able to make the most of the outdoors, especially as the weather was unseasonably mild.

We explored the Suffolk coast, taking Tom on his first ever trip to the sea.

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And his second trip too…

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We explored the garden.

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And the playground.

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Of course, we did spend most of Christmas day itself indoors. There were presents to be unwrapped.

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And too much food to eat.

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And family to bond with.

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Unfortunately, the break was slightly ruined by an onslaught of some kind of tummy virus, which ran through the whole family like wildfire. Fortunately, though both toddlers had it, neither were too sick. Several of the adults were laid low for several days.

Still, illness aside we had a lovely time. I hope you all did too!

 
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

A Festive Country Weekend

Though London is fun at this time of year, I am always pleased when we get the chance to escape the city for a day or two and get out into the countryside. Mr Techno and I have a great group of friends from our university days, and we all try to meet up a couple of times a year for a country weekend.

Usually we have to rent a cottage, but we got lucky this time as one of the girls’ parents were on holiday and kindly offered us the use of their house whilst they were gone. Her dad is an apple farmer and they have this great, old house in Kent, with more than enough room for all of us.

Mr Techno picked Tom and I up from nursery on the Friday evening and we headed straight down, arriving just half-an-hour after Tom’s normal bedtime. The timing was perfect, as he went straight down to sleep, so we could concentrate on catching up. We are the only ones of this group to have a kid. In some ways it is good – Tom has a lot of very indulgent adults in his life – but it does mean that the others aren’t really aware of the needs of small children. We are lucky that Tom is such a good sleeper, so we do at least get to enjoy adult time!

On Saturday, we were all very excited to go on a proper country walk. In fact, we were so excited that we decided to go on two walks.

The first was a wander around the farmland, which took about an hour. We all went, including the four dogs. Mr Techno and I quickly realised the buggy wouldn’t be able to cope with the terrain, so we ditched it. Tom walked some of the way, and then we took it in turns to carry him.

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Of course, we had to stop off to visit the horses.

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And the chickens.

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And the ferrets. Tom was less sure about the ferrets – they tend to be a bit bitey. He took shelter leaning against Mr Techno’s legs.

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After lunch, Tom went down for a nap. Mr Techno and a couple of the others stayed home, whilst the rest of us headed to Bewl Water for a longer, very muddy walk.

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After all the walking, we definitely felt like we had earned some food. We cooked up a big Christmas dinner. Tom went to bed and the adults enjoyed the food, wine and company. Knowing I’d have to be up early, I flaked out just after midnight, but some of the others were still going strong at 3 am.

Needless to say, Sunday was a rather subdued day. I had to get up at 6.30 as usual with Tom, so had a quiet start whilst everyone else…recuperated. Once they appeared, we had a lovely lazy morning, grazing on leftovers and reading newspapers by the fire. Tom and I did escape outside for a while as well – he had started chasing the dogs around the house and clearly had some energy to burn!

We headed back to London after lunch, thoroughly refreshed by time away from the city with some great friends.

Forest Kindergarten Open Day

I was very excited on Saturday to be going to an open day for Hackney’s new outdoor nursery, Free Range Urban Kids (FRUK). The group was founded by two local mums about a year ago, but has just now got all the right registrations in place to start offering full nursery days, rather than just the two-hour sessions they ran previously. They are accepting children from the age of three, which means Tom is still too young, but are also offering 2 hour ‘stay and play’ sessions twice a week for 0-3 year-olds and their parents. They are opening officially in January, so we were pleased to have a chance to go along to see what will be on offer.

Outdoor nurseries or forest kindergartens are relatively new to the UK and still pretty rare. The name is pretty self-explanatory – they are childcare settings where sessions take place pretty much exclusively outdoors, no matter what the weather (in a year of running their sessions, FRUK say they have never had to resort to their back-up indoor option). It is a movement that started in Scandinavia, but is beginning to spread to other parts of the world, in part due to the growing anxiety about the lack of time children now spend outdoors.

The philosophy of FRUK and forest kindergartens in general is very close to our parenting approach. Sessions are very much child-led and focus on free play  in nature. The staff at the open day talked a lot about the importance of teaching children to assess risk themselves, rather than removing them from it. So while they scour the play area before sessions start to remove any needles, used condoms or other unsanitary items often found in parks first thing in the morning, mushrooms, rose bushes and other plants are left in place. The children are taught not to lick or taste anything, and to identify plants that might be harmful, so they know not to touch them. They are encouraged to climb trees, swing in hammocks, and get muddy. They are taught to use tools, such as small hack saws and peelers for whittling wood. There will be a fire for warmth and cooking, so children will learn to respect both the uses and dangers that fire represents. Principles taken from the Montessori and Reggio approaches are brought into session planning and setting up the space.

I couldn’t get any pictures, as obviously there were lots of other kids wandering around and the nursery have a no phone policy, but the set up was impressive. Sessions are held in an enclosed area of Millfields Park, which has both a wooded area and an open space. A log circle was set up in the woods, with a tarp to keep people dry (thankfully not needed). Various toys, rope swings, and messy play stations were set up amongst the trees. They have a little tented toilet for the kids, and another tent for quiet time, reading and rest. Out in the open area, there was a wormery set up and a mud kitchen. There are various fallen trees and logs that the nursery have asked the park rangers to leave for climbing and imaginative play. It’s worth a visit to the nursery’s Facebook page to see pics of the site.

We had a great time at the open day – we toured the site, looking at the various play options and, in Tom’s case, trying to eat them (he sampled chalk, a lot of leaves and some clay. Enforcing the no licking rule may be a challenge with him!). It was especially nice to meet some other parents who are as mad about the outdoors as we are – sometimes I feel like a bit of the odd one out at Tom’s lovely, but very mainstream, nursery.

The only minor drawback is that the 0-3 year-old sessions will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are both work days for me. However, I have spoken to Mr Techno, and he seems up for taking Tom on Tuesdays, so I’ll be signing them up (pending confirmation of fees). Roll on January!



Monkey and Mouse

 

A Wintry Day in Lloyd Park, Walthamstow

After all the dire predictions that this winter would be the coldest winter in half-a-century (and other similarly doom-laden statements), the incredible mildness of the autumn months had lured me into a bit of a false sense of security. So it was a bit of a shock to look out of the window on Saturday morning and discover it was actually snowing. Quite heavily. And it is still only November.

I quickly grabbed Tom, and woke up Mr Techno, excitedly pointing out at the falling whiteness. Unfortunately the snow fall was relatively short, and none of it settled, but Tom was fascinated to see it.

Though the snow was brief, the cold was not, and we experienced our first properly cold day of this winter so far. After a morning of reading stories under blankets, we’d had enough of being indoors. Luckily the day had become one of those lovely clear days you get sometimes when it’s cold. I felt like a bit of a change from our usual haunts, so we headed into Walthamstow to visit Lloyd Park.

I love Lloyd Park. It’s a bit of a way from us, so we don’t get there that often, but it’s a really pretty park and, best of all, is home to the William Morris Gallery.

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The Gallery is housed in the childhood home of William Morris, one of Walthamstow’s most famous former residents. Most people know of the Victorian designer for his pivotal role in the Arts and Crafts movement, or his signature nature-inspired wallpaper patterns, but Morris was also a fervent socialist and a campaigner against the harmful ‘restoration’ of old buildings. In fact, in 1877 he was one of the co-founders of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the organisation I now work for.

As you can imagine, I have been round the Gallery a few times. I haven’t taken Tom as yet – though the Gallery is very family friendly and has some great exhibits for kids, they are better suited to slightly older toddlers (I’d say three and up).

We gave it a miss on Saturday as well, preferring instead to explore the gardens and park. It is really well equipped – play areas, basketball and tennis courts, a skate park, bowling greens, and open spaces. There is also a Children’s Centre, and, most importantly for trips with kids, two cafes – one in the Gallery and a more, ahem, affordable (read dirt cheap) one by the play area.

Tom, however, was interested in one thing only. The park has a moat, which is home to several species of ducks, Canadian Geese, and moorhens. Tom was in love. There was no hope of dragging him away from his new feathered friends, so I resigned myself to missing out on the playground. It’s just a shame I hadn’t thought to bring any bread with us.

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Despite the cold, we had a lovely afternoon in the park and were thrilled to see so many families doing the same. Plus Tom actually wore his hat and mittens for once, so we’ve finally justified buying them!

Life Unexpected

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Family Visit to NT Sutton House

It’s rare for Mr Techno to have a day off at the weekend (perils of restaurant work) and there was no way we were going to waste the opportunity sitting at home. However, the torrential rain this Saturday was a bit much, even for us, so we decided that it might be a good time for a more indoor visit!

I’m ashamed to say we hadn’t yet been to our local National Trust place, despite the fact that we are members and both Mr Techno and I used to work for the National Trust (at the beautiful Greys Court near Reading). Add to that the fact that I work for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and you will see just how shocking this is! Clearly, something had to be done to remedy the situation.

There are comparatively few National Trust places in London, but we are lucky to have one not far away. Sutton House in Hackney is a Tudor house, originally built for Ralph Sadleir, who was a member of Henry VIII’s court. The house is brick built, which is unusual for the period, and deceptively large, with rooms spread over three storeys.

Some of what you find at Sutton House is what you would expect from a National Trust site; Georgian wood panelling (cleverly hinged to reveal the Tudor brickwork behind), some good insights into the conservation work done at the house, and a lovely little shop. But this is not your average historic home. Sutton House was squatted during the 1980s, and the Trust uses some of the rooms to show this fascinating stage in the house’s history. So while some rooms are more ‘typical’ and focus on the Tudor history, one is dressed as a squatter’s bedroom, complete with pairs of jeans thrown over the furniture, slogans against empty housing and a graffiti wall. Events at the property echo this past – in fact the cafe was being set up for a punk gig that evening, which was a bit of a shame because we missed out on the requisite National Trust scone and tea combo. (I’ve just read that last sentence back. I am officially old.)

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Although it was a wet weekend day, we shared the house with only one other family and a handful of other visitors, giving us the chance to wander freely. We parked our sopping wet buggy up by the cafe – buggy parking space might have been an issue had there been more families visiting, but as it was the volunteers were happy for us to leave it there. The other family had a toddler roughly the same age as Tom, so the two of them enjoyed little spurts of play as we crossed over on our meanderings.

Most of the rooms were surprisingly toddler-safe, with very few breakable objects to be threatened. In fact, the whole house was very child-friendly – there were toys stashed away in some of the chests downstairs and upstairs we found tents set up in two of the rooms. One was allegedly an example of a recuperation tent from the Crimean War, complete with dress up kit and notes on herbal remedies, whilst the other had no explanation that I could see (I think it was part of an artist’s residency that is being set up currently, but couldn’t swear to it). Either way, they were perfect for little ones to explore. There was also some kind of feeling game set up in the kitchen – of the put-hand-in-box-and-guess-contents kind – bit old for Tom yet but good for older kids.

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The thing we did miss out on is Breaker’s Yard – the outdoor space around the house which has been transformed from unused space into an urban garden (one of Boris Johnson’s ‘Pocket Parks’). It seemed to have been closed up for the winter – or at least for the rainy day – which is a shame as I very much want to see the caravan which has been done up as a stately home. They had some great-looking events in the space over the summer, but somehow we never quite made it to any of them. Next year maybe.

Though we did miss out on Breaker’s Yard (and cake!) we had a great afternoon at Sutton House and will definitely be going back.

MummyTravels



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