Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Center Parcs -- Days 3 & 4

Well, I forgot to blog about yesterday, but we didn't do much apart from swimming! Monday is changeover day at Center Parcs and we decided to have a lie in then swim all day to avoid the cars and packers/unpackers. We thought it would be fairly quiet, but not at all. It was packed, so obviously families leaving decided to swim before going home and many arrived early and came in. We stayed all day because the queues to get in and out of the pool were horrendous.

We booked dinner at Cafe Rouge for the evening because we'd had difficulties getting a table previous nights. Definitely worth booking in advance.

Today we had an itinerary booking: the Lost Bunny Hunt! Basically, a treasure trail on bikes. This wasn't until the afternoon, so in the morning we took the kids on the land train around the Park. It's an easy half hour and is a great way to look around the site and orientate yourself. During the ride we spotted several clues for the treasure trail, so we had an idea where we'd be going!

We disembarked at the Freewheelers Cycle Centre because we needed cable ties and thought they might have some. We were in luck, and thanks go to Ben who helped us out with freebies. We also bought CJ some ear muffs (he calls them ear moggs!), and they certainly came in handy today.

Here, we saw another clue for the treasure trail, and knowing that the previous clue was on the opposite side of the park (having seen it while on the land train), we took a photo to save us cycling too far later!

So, the treasure trail began at 2.20pm in pouring rain and windy conditions. We had already won before starting because most of the other families didn't arrive and the one that did decided to rebook because they didn't have their bikes with them!! Silly people :)

The trail took us all around Jardin Des Sports, up to Cascades and Nockatt Coppice (Firs area) and to the Village Square. We didn't need to go to Freewheelers again so we saved half an hour at least.

We beat most groups back (other teams had started at 5min intervals after 2pm) and received T-shirts each and badges.

Arriving back at the villa, we all collapsed in the bath and chilled out for the rest of the evening, listening to the wind and rain rather than being in it.

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Sunday, 28 March 2010

Center Parcs -- Day 2

A very unusual start to today; the kids slept to 7am which translated to 8am because the clocks went forward an hour. This meant we missed the majority of the Oz GP, just managing to catch Vettel looking sad (his place in my F1 Badger Fantasy F1 team is shaky), the Hamilton-Webber crash, and Jenson winning! We couldn't believe we'd slept through such a great race.

Anyway, a quick breakfast and we were again at the Subtropical Swimming Paradise for a few hours swimming. There is something slightly odd yet refreshing and relaxing about swimming outside when it is 9 degrees but 31 degrees in the water. The steam rising is surreal, makes you think you're in a geyser or on a different planet! My daughter loves the outdoor pool, so we spent quite a bit of time here today. I also was brave and took my son on the slides (not a fan!).

To anyone going to Center Parcs soon, I have a recommendation for you: you must have lunch at Made (at Longleat it is next to the Parcmarket). We had fabulous homemade burgers there, perfectly cooked, and the kids' chicken nuggets were awesome (truely). By contrast with Hucks which is awful and should be avoided AT ALL COSTS!!!

After catching up on the GP (& booking dinners at Strada and Cafe Rouge for later in the week), we set out for the Jardin de Sports on our bikes. It was drizzling slightly but nothing too bad. The kids enjoyed soft play while me and Ric enjoyed puddings and free drinks (bartender error!).

On the return journey we managed to cycle up the Azalea Boardwalk; anyone who has been to Longleat should understand how difficult this is! We stopped at the adventure playground near the Grand Cafe and Pancake House for the kids to have a run around. They both loved the zipwire and the slides.

The rain has already started tonight and I think it is forecast to continue all day tomorrow. Since it is changeover day I expect we will be swimming most of the day since it will be quiet. We're booked into Cafe Rouge for dinner so that is something else to look forward to!

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Saturday, 27 March 2010

Center Parcs -- Day 1

I can usually guarantee my daughter will wake us up at 6am, so I was slightly disappointed to be woken at 6.55am this morning, thereby completely missing qualifying for the Australian GP! Blimin' kids! Instead, we awoke to the gentle sound of birds tweeting. My son wasn't too keen on them, however: "Mummy, the birds here are noisy!"

We decided to swim today since the weather looked a bit miserable so we headed to Baby Dolphins at the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. This is a bit of a cheat's way to get into the pool earlier than everyone else. It starts an hour before the pool opens (9am) and you can swim in the wave pool once it finishes. The downside is you need to borrow a child under 3 (we already have one). We enjoyed the slides and outdoor pool; my son was brave (silly) enough to jump into the cold plunge pool (made him cry!).

After 3 hours we'd all gone a bit pruney so we went back to the villa for bacon sarnies and a nap (and Oz GP quali catch up). I then decided hubs hadn't worked hard enough this morning so we got the bikes out for a ride, which almost killed us after a lovely downhill section ended in a massive 1 in 8 climb. Should've checked the map first.

We got back to our villa and had a relax on the patio since the weather was so nice. The boy threw pine cones into the pond and little lady decided to run off to investigate our neighbours. After rescuing her we got the popcorn bucket out which kept them both quiet and tempted a couple of robins to visit. After retreating inside we saw more wildlife: rabbits, a woodpecker, chaffinch, blue tit, long tailed tit, and blackbirds, then the best sight ever, a pair of deer (doe & stag).

We ended the evening at Ortega with a simple dinner and holiday cocktail. Previous holiday cocktails have included black Russian, strawberry daiquiri and woo woo, but today I had a Cava Breeze (cava & vodka over ice with cranberry & lime). Yum. Tonight I shall be mainly trying to recreate it.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The misadventures of Sog

I think I should rename my blog to this post's title, especially after my exploits this afternoon. All in the name of my son and his toy car.

At hometime my son raced out of school and loudly declared he didn't have his toy car anymore because Charlie told him to throw it over the fence. *sigh* "Which fence?" I asked. "The one behind school."

My son's school backs onto fields so access to "over the fence" was available, just a tad difficult with a pushchair. But, the sun was shining, it was warm, the kids were content, "let's go and look for it" I gamely said.

Some difficult manouvres later and we had negotiated the bramble-filled kissing gate with pushchair (complete with 2yo inside) and children unscathed. At this point I asked my son whereabouts he'd been in the playground when the car had disappeared. "I can't remember."

Oh my God. About 800m of boundary to search then.

But how hard could it be to walk along the fence and spot a shiny red car?

Very. Nettles, dry sticks and branches, trees, brambles. I had to abandon my children and continue alone for a bit. No sign of a car, but I did find a go go crazy bone or whatever they're called. "We'll have that!" Also, many many half eaten apples. This, mums, is where your children's healthy snacks go. To make an orchard.

On the return journey I got my foot stuck in a rabbit hole and stung all my fingers on a nettle. Starting to get annoyed. "Are you sure you can't remember which part of the fence?" Silence. "How can you not remember?!" Quietly, "Erm, maybe near the wildlife garden." Is that a question or an answer?!

Wildlife garden it is, let's go. At that moment, while deep in a tree and covered in branches, my aerobics instructor walking her dog showed up. "Oh, hi!" Yeah, this'll be fun to explain.

We eventually found a car. It wasn't his, but it was yellow, and "looked cool" so we decide to take it home anyway and give it a wash.

His go go crazy bone and his new car are now next to his bed, his new favourite toys. Was it worth it? Well, don't tell anyone, but I secretly had a lot of fun, despite my still stinging fingers and sore ankle.

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Monday, 15 March 2010

Bahrain GP

Yesterday saw the beginning of the 2010 F1 season with the Bahrain GP. The Australia GP usually starts every F1 season so die-hard fans were already a bit miffed about that change. But the change everyone is talking about it the lack of refuelling during races (and resultant yawn-fest).

No refuelling was introduced this season as a cost-cutting measure. It means the return of low-fuel qualifying sessions, which makes those more exciting than last season. Also, the top 10 drivers must start the race on the same tyres they set their fastest lap on. So, drivers from positions 11 onwards get new tyres and a full tank of fuel and those at the front have worn tyres. Perhaps qualifying sessions will become more of a must-see than the race this season?

The first lap saw a bit of excitement when Mark Webber's engine blew a lot of smoke. I thought his engine had blown but it was most probably an over-full oil tank. The resulting thick smoke meant Kubica couldn't see and he hit Sutil, forcing both cars to the back of the grid. They both managed to finish the race, unlike most of the rookies (exception: Hulkenberg) and two of the new teams (Virgin and HRT).

I was impressed that both Lotus cars finished the race, well done to them. The HRT cars seem well built, Senna's car lasted a fair few laps. Chandhok was unfortunate to hit a bump he didn't know about and crash, but the guy had only driven 5 laps in the car ever! Hopefully he'll get more practice time in Australia. The Virgin and Sauber cars retired during the race.

We saw both McLaren cars gain places during their pit stops, but apart from that they were off the pace and not a real threat this race (hopefully they will pull back ground in Australia). The Ferraris (which went on to a 1-2 finish) seem fast, but with two engines used already they could have a problem. The Red Bull car seems fast but is already showing some signs of reliability problems (again); let's hope not. Mercedes, Williams and Force India appear to be steady mid-field cars that could produce some one-off great results but IMO are not title contenders. I wasn't paying much attention to Renault, except the yellow livery is very striking!

It was great to see Alonso win on his debut for Ferrari, although I would have preferred Massa to win (because he's one of my drivers in my Fantasy F1 team!). Sad for Vettel that his car lost power while he was leading, but at least he held off Rosberg to finish 4th. Lewis Hamilton managed to finish on the podium, but that was a lot down to luck and a little to being a great driver. And Schumacher finished a credible 6th, in front of Button (who I was disappointed didn't manage to keep up with Hamilton).

So, off the top of my head, those are the best highlights I can think of. Not a race that memories are made of. But, it's the start of the season and fabulous to hear the roar of engines again! Makes me long for Silverstone in July; I cannot wait to experience my first-ever GP. I just hope some rules are changed to make the race itself more exciting.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The excitment begins tomorrow

6.55 am, Friday March 12, 2010. BBC red button. The start of the 2010 F1 season!

To say I am excited is a slight understatement. I've been missing the roar of engines, the sight of a well-toned man in a fire suit, Eddie Jordan saying the stupidest things on live TV.

I remember the first GP I ever watched. Australia 1996. Stupid o'clock in the morning. It was the weekend of my then boyfriend (now husband)'s birthday. Me, him, and five others were staying at his parents' hotel in Blackpool. They all piled into my room "because it was the biggest and had a good TV". I tried to sleep while these noisy cars kept going in circles. In the end I watched the race and they all fell asleep! I was hooked, and have been ever since.

I loved how tense I felt at the start, praying no one would crash but still hoping someone would so we could watch drivers legging it back to the pits for the spare car; I was always amazed at the speed of pit stops, and had my heart in my mouth if they were working hard to overtake a car on track or if they made a mistake, or worse, if something went wrong; and I loved David Coulthard! Oh, and I cried when Damon Hill won his championship and I could hear Murray Walker crying too ;)

I went through some F1 wilderness years when I had my kids and didn't have time to watch a whole GP (and when ITV were ruining coverage with advert breaks). 2009 was my first full season when I managed to watch almost all GPs. And what a year! Back on the BBC, extra super duper coverage on the red button, iPlayer, website...and the lovely Jake Humphrey and DC! And I joined Twitter :) I actually joined because Brawn GP told me to. I had subscribed to their newsletter and they kept saying they were on Twitter so I thought, OK I'll join so I can read their tweets! I really enjoyed interacting with other F1 fans around the world, discussing news, strategies, live tweeting during practice, qualifying, and races. The 2010 season will be fantastic!

I recently tweeted about the drivers and teams I would be following this season. Someone finally asked " So everyone but Michael Schumacher?!" That's not strictly true. Me and my husband always supported BAR-Honda (because we had a Honda!), which then became Brawn. So, I am supporting Mercedes GP...but I'd rather MS retired again and let the lovely Nick Heidfeld drive :)

I'll be following McLaren because I like and rate Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. I like the ethos of Force India so will be following them. I support Mark Webber because he is great (and because I supported him and Red Bull when DC drove for them!), and I like Jaime Alguersuari at Toro Rosso because he is crazy! I'm supporting Rubens at Williams because of his Brawn background. I'll follow Lotus because they are a local team (they get mentioned on Look East a lot!) and Virgin because they are based in the North and I am a born and bred Northerner :) And I reckon Sauber could get points with speedy Kamui Kobayashi on board.

So if Renault, Ferrari, or HRT do well I will be unhappy!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Spring is springing

I've promised in several previous blog posts to upload photos of my Spring garden, so here they are.

It's always lovely to spot the green shoots of early bulbs poking through the ground. Here is one of three purple hyacinths that I bought myself last year in a pot and replanted once it had finished flowering.

These are my gorgeous daffodils just coming up, a double cream variety the name of which I cannot remember (but they were bought from Hitchin market!). Will be wonderful to see in flower later in the year.

This is a lovely bronze Carex, which I have just given a haircut to. Behind is a golden Lonicera shrub, which is doing a great job of brightening up my winter and spring garden.

The lovely dry flowerheads of Astilbe are a reminder of what's to come (and where not to dig!).

Finally, the beautiful red foliage of Leucothoe 'Scarletta' (thanks to my mum for reminding me what it is called!). It really cheers me up to glance at this specimen from the kitchen window.

Potatoes in, strawberries out?

Back in February, we had one fine day out of the many wet, windy, and snowy ones. On this day I decided I had to plant my seed potatoes else they wouldn't grow and be ready to harvest in June, when I need the bed for beans and courgettes.

The bed I'd set aside for potatoes was just over a metre square. It used to be home to my kids' sandpit, but since they hardly used it last year, and the fact it attracted ants and cats (despite being covered), I decided it was time it went. I dug the ground over well and removed large stones. The area had previously been dug over to quite a depth (about a foot) so it was fairly easy to do.

Potatoes need to be planted 6 inch deep and 12 inch apart. I prepared a deep 'cross' trench and planted 5 seeds. I then dug 4 holes on the diagonals and put a seed in each. That left 1 seed, which I saved and put in a deep pot to see how it would do. I finally covered the area in black plastic to protect from frost (we actually had snow 3 days later!).

After finishing the potatoes I had a quick wander around the garden, photos of which can be seen in my next blog post. I noticed that some of my strawberry plants have died. It seems odd that a whole pot can die but it's neighbour is OK. Still, I have a lot of plants from which I will get lots of fruit this year (which my daughter will no doubt eat before I have chance to pick them!).

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Gardening with a 2-year-old!

For the second day in a row the weather is warm and sunny. When I say "warm", I really mean "warmer than February" because we're nowhere near T-shirt weather yet! But it is bearable and dryish. So I went in the garden this morning with my daughter to have a look round and see what was growing.

I was really pleased to see my pots of crocus were in flower. They are a lovely purple variety that is slightly scented, so we enjoyed sniffed these together (more blowing than sniffing from my little girl!).

We potted up a lone seed potato that I didn't have room for in the ground a few weeks ago (still not blogged about planting my spuds!). It's nice and easy to sow or plant with a young child when the seeds are large because they can really see what they need to do and hopefully will learn lots.

After we'd planted the potato I decided to sow some early seeds to germinate inside. A quick look at the varied packets and I chose broad beans, peas, broccoli, sprouts, and sweet peppers.

It's a bit late for broad beans now but the "specimens" I have outside are blackened by the harsh winter and shooting again from their bases, so I thought I'd sow some more and try for a late harvest. The seeds are nice and big for my daughter to hold too, and she enjoyed pressing a seed into each little peat pot and sprinkling compost over the top.

We sowed three little pots of peas next, again these are nice big seeds for my daughter to pick out. She put two seeds into each pot, so we have six starting now. I'll sow some more next month for a succession of crops.

My daughter lost interest after the peas so she went to investigate her pedal tricycle and it's icy contents in the basket while I quickly sowed four pots of peppers, two pots of sprouts, and two of tenderstem broccoli. I'll bring these pots inside to begin germination and gradually acclimatise them to the outdoors as they grow.

After tidying up and a few circuits of the garden pushing a pedal bike, I weeded underneath my raspberry canes (no idea what to do with these, they look dead but then I can see buds, so I daren't cut them back...) and thinned my spring cabbages. I must remember to buy some netting to cover these so they don't get eaten like they did last year. I noticed that half my pots of strawberries are dead and the others are doing well, so I'm stumped as to why that happened. I think those that died are last year's plants, and it is the new offshoot plants that have survived.

I'll post some photos later.
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