Thursday, 29 September 2011

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Extended Family Holiday - the planning

Three generations: nine grandchildren (aged 1 - 18), four children, three partners and two grandparents all in the same space for a weekend. A weekend to relish or a recipe for disaster??

This is what we are doing next weekend in honour of my brother and his family's return from a year in NZ and my eldest teenager's coming of age. The latter happens at 18 not 21 these days, although there is a movement  amongst the teenage section of society for it to be 16 with the nauseating American "Sweet Sixteenths"...but that is another blog for another day.

OK so some call me a control freak, I like to think "natural leader". Either way I struggle with the balance between my desire to organise everybody and everything in my life and not hack all my friends and family off. So when my sister in law (who I suspect has a similar personality type to myself) suggested I organise activities in advance I was given permission, and off.

We are visiting one of those Truman Showesque holiday parks: glass dome, water slides, smiley happy people, bikes,trees and squirrels. You know the ones......we certainly do having spent most of our family holidays there when the teenagers were tots. We decided on three villas between the 18 of us and therein lies the first mistake. Whilst it worked out cheaper this way it would have been less of a logistical headache to just book one per family. We all have odd numbers of children (except youngest sister who has the more conventional two but her 1 year old doesn't count as a bed.) so this meant cousins going in with cousins. Without boring you with the details it was a bit like that how to get a fox, goose and bag of beans across a river puzzle. Having solved this dilemma I am moving on to Palestine and Israel this week.

Then comes activities. There are hundreds to choose from and although the spreadsheets were beckoning me (get behind me Satan) I suggested we opted for mainly the pool and bike rides. Not only are they free it means I won't have to spend the weekend marshalling people with a whistle. Ok, ok, we all know that's what I really want to do but for the sake of family harmony I will resist. Getting us all in the pool, together should be challenge enough in itself.

Travel plans were another cause of paracetamol ingestion. My youngest and eldest teenagers are away at ballet school on Birmingham and we live in the North East. Next sister down (I am the eldest...had you guessed?) is coming without her dh as he will be windsurfing in Ireland so she and daughter are coming on the train. Brother is coming from North Yorkshire with his three offspring but his dw will be coming up from London where she is on a course. The nearest train station is about half an hour away. Bring in fox, goose and bag of beans again.

And finally food. There is a genetic thing passed down on the X chromosome in my family about providing food. My grandmother had it, my mother has it and so do I. We NEED to do it and we are never knowingly undercatered. So having fought my mother off I am doing the catering. Parameters are one vegetarian, one teenager on a no/low carb regime, one small child who likes very little to eat when away from home, requirements for breakfast, morning tea (its a kiwi thing), lunch, afternoon tea and supper;kids version and adults version. I have compiled a menu of food that I can precook and freeze and mountains of cake....that is this weekends task.

So all suggestions for, and experiences of, this type of holiday gratefully received:)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Where is Day 2?

As I know I have so many avid readers (not) I thought you may be wondering where is the next installment of the c2c trip. I have started a new blog for cycling stories, its called the puttering pedaler
Day 2 is on there, the rest to follow
This blog will continue to be about my smallholding calamities....honey harvest video coming soon :)

Friday, 16 September 2011

C2C for beginner cyclists - Part One

So we have been married for twenty years, an achievement in our eyes, but how to celebrate? A romantic meal at an exclusive restaurant? A weekend away to some East European city? A UK country hotel break? No - lets pedal from the West to the East coast of England. Never mind that one of us (me) doesn't even own a bike. If we can survive twenty years of marriage surely our relationship can stand a long distance cycle ride together....can't it?

On 1st September 2011, twenty years to the hour since we stood at the altar sharing vows I find myself in a cycle shop in Gateshead muttering slightly different oaths under my breath. After an hour and a half we emerge with a new bike, inner tubes, pannier rack, gloves and the all important padded shorts. That evening we have ordered the relevant Sustrans maps and I am actually feeling quite excited by the idea.

I believe that most people take some time to plan (accommodation on the route is not plentiful and I am NOT taking a tent) and to train. But, oh not we. We are going to be setting off just one week later.

So this blog is for all of you who are googling C2C in the hope of finding out how hard it really is. I did this numerous times in the week before we set off, but is one person's definition of  "a relatively tough climb" another person's (mine) definition of  "tantrum inducing and marriage threatening sheer agony"? What exactly is their frame of reference?

My frame of reference is: I walk the dogs most days for 45 mins to an hour, I don't go to the gym, I don't run and in August, whilst on holiday I went for three 20-30km bike rides. Other than that the only training I did was three 5-10km rides between the 1st and 8th September up and down hills.

We took the train from Newcastle to Whitehaven. You can not book bikes on this route and I understood only 2 bikes were allowed on each train "at the guard's discretion". However, worry not, it was no problem. There were at least 5 bikes on the stretch between Carlisle and Whitehaven. As we arrived about 3.30pm we had decided to do only 20 miles that afternoon to our first stop.

The first job was to find the start and dip our rear wheels in the Irish Sea, as tradition dictates. After that it was a 2 hour pedal to Lorton and a very luxurious B+B - they even have a spa in the garden. The comfiest bed I have ever slept in and lovely food.

Don't be fooled by all the blogs telling you that the first section is the easy bit. Ok, harder is to come but don't forget this is the Lake District...there are hills. That said it wasn't too bad. There is a long gentle climb out of Whitehaven, along an old railway path. I felt confident I could manage this as there is only so much gradient a train can cope with (I've read Thomas the Tank Engine). It was quite manageable, if a little boring. The second hour was along winding hilly country lanes. A couple of these had me in the lowest gear but none of them were too big. What Sustrans are very good at is keeping you off the busy roads, so this section was enjoyable as for every uphill there was a "wheeeeeee" downhill. I would advise putting your companion in front of you, there are a lot of bends and if there is a car coming its probably best that they hit it not you, as long as the life insurance is in place.

So here ends Part One...more to follow

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Sad Tale of The Three Little Ducks

Once upon a wait, this isn't going to end well. I can't start with that or I have to finish with...and they all lived happily ever after, and they didn't.

When I last posted I was very excited about my cute little fluffy yellow ducklings. Well they grew bigger and followed me around like the mummy duck I was. Youngest dd returned from ballet boarding school with the comment "right, that's normal, ducks wandering around the kitchen" As the good mummy I am, I tried to encourage independence and took them for walks out to the copse where the hens live (much to my neighbours amusement).

And this is where it starts to go wrong. Leaving them with the hens on a sunny afternoon I walked back towards the house, stopping to chat with one of the neighbours who was returning from a walk with her dogs. Unfortunately the ducklings had squeezed out through the fencing and followed me out of the copse. Her German Shepherd puppy thought it would be fun to play with them. He really did no obvious harm but one of them died (in my arms...aaaahh) 5 minutes later, from shock I think.

So then they were two. I decided I had to wean them off me so when they were fully feathered they moved outside permanently in to their own duck house with run. Once the chickens were used to them and vice versa I took the run away to allow them a little more freedom. And here it starts to go wrong again.

If you are in the least bit squeamish stop reading now. One night we were late closing them up and for some reason the ducks had chosen to sleep in the bigger hen house. Thinking there was no problem with this my ds just closed the door on them. What he didn't realise was we had rats burrowed underneath this hen house.

The next morning the most gruesome sight met me. One dead duckling with slashed neck pulled half way down a rat hole. It was far too big to be pulled all the way down. I managed not to vomit and did the brave thing...ok ok I didn't. I made dh (he does have some uses and likes occasionally to feel that he has a useful role to play) go and deal with it.

So then there was one. Ducks are community minded creatures and don't like the solo life so I decided I had to get a new one and quick. I found (thanks to facebook friends) someone who bred them in Weardale so the very next day I dragged 2 of my teenagers and the 2 French teenagers we had staying on a 75 minute journey up hill and down dale (well it showed them rural England) to buy another duck - black Indian Runner this time. By the time we got back the lonesome duck had in fact made friends with the chickens and really didn't show any interest in the new addition. However after a couple of days they realised they were the same species, if different colours and now hang out together all the time.

Rats are now poisoned and gone and ducks happy and healthy. Moral of the story.,....animals are animals, not humans and I am NOT a mummy duck!!!