Exploring Bournemouth

The next stop on our trip was Bournemouth, right in the heart of beachfront Britain. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have made it onto my tourist map – however we came down to spend a few days with cousins I hadn’t seen for 38 years, and I am so glad we saw Bournemouth! Despite the rather inclement weather it was lovely to see the coast, and nearby Christchurch. Here’s what we loved:

Catching up with family

This was one of the absolute highlights of the entire trip – and in fact, the past few years :). I haven’t seen my cousins since I left England as a one-year-old, and the kids had never met their second cousins (or is it third cousins? I’m never really sure). We had a wonderful few days exploring Bournemouth together, and Little Miss in particular was devastated to leave them behind. This was a really emotional experience for me too, as I don’t have many cousins on my Sri Lankan side that I see regularly. It was just wonderful.

Swimming at the beach!
Fun playing board games on a rainy afternoon.
Fun playing board games on a rainy afternoon.

 

The English beach

Apparently Bournemouth is the sunny beach spot in all of England – except when it’s windy and cold, like it was unfortunately in the two days we were there! That didn’t stop the kids from swimming though – crazy!

The wildflowers growing along the coastline are just beautiful.
The wildflowers growing along the coastline are just beautiful.
A classic shot of Bournemouth's beachfront.
A classic shot of Bournemouth’s beachfront.

 

Christchurch

We had planned to spend one day in a nearby picnic and adventure playground. However it was quite cold and windy, so we left the kids to have a marathon Harry Potter movie-fest while the older folk decided to explore nearby Christchurch child-free 🙂 It is a lovely historic town, with a beautiful minster and gardens, and a bustling quay.

The minster at Christchurch.
The minster at Christchurch.
Christchurch is incredibly picturesque.
Christchurch is incredibly picturesque.
We went for a walk around the beautiful gardens surrounding the minster.
We went for a walk around the beautiful gardens surrounding the minster.

All in all, we loved out stay at Bournemouth. It’s well worth  visit!

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Chichester and Arundel

Okay, it’s official. I am in love with Chichester. It’s exactly what I pictured England to be – picturesque green hills, beautiful gardens, quaint cottages and towns and a castle within driving distance. We have been very blessed by family friends and are staying in a beautiful home while the occupants are on holidays, and the kids have loved it. Here are some pix:

Every home needs a side gate like this!
Every home needs a side gate like this!
I desperately want to live in a home where vines grow around my kitchen window!
One of the many beautiful views in the rolling green hills of Chichester.
The view from the backyard.

Arundel Castle

Arundel is a gorgeous town in Chichester with an amazing Norman Castle which is nearly 1000 years old. We spent the day here and loved it. The castle is the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, and they actually live in part of the castle, while the rest of it is open to the public. It is spectacular, and has been maintained beautifully. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos inside, but let me tell you the library is to die for 🙂 Here are some pictures of the outside of the castle, and the gardens.

This is the view as you approach Arundel Castle. It is just amazing!
This is the view as you approach Arundel Castle. It is just amazing!
The part of the castle currently lived in by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
The part of the castle currently lived in by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
The view from the top of the medieval keep.
The view from the top of the medieval keep.
The gorgeous gardens!
The gorgeous gardens!
More gorgeous gardens...
More gorgeous gardens…
And more gorgeous gardens!
And more gorgeous gardens!

Arundel Castle is a must see, and I would have liked to have had more time to explore Arundel town as well. I hope you make it here one day and enjoy it as much as we did!

Harry Potter tour at Warner Bros Studio

So Potter fever has been pretty rife in our house for the past six months. I’d been recommending the books to Picasso for some time, but he took a look at the first few pages and wasn’t really interested. The dense language and slower pace of the first few chapters makes Harry a bit harder for kids who aren’t voracious readers to become immersed in. So in January I read the first chapter to both Picasso and Little Miss, and they were hooked – particularly Picasso. We barely saw him as he proceeded to read all seven books and watch all eight movies in quick succession! And Little Miss is not far behind, as she is now reading book four. With all children firmly Harry Potter fans (and their parents too), a trip to the Warner Bros studios about an hour outside of London was not to be missed.

I had originally planned just to go ourselves (you can get there by public transport and but tickets at the gate) but unfortunately left it too late, and all the tour companies had bought up the tickets on the day we wanted to go. The benefit of going yourself is that you’re not pressed for time – with the tour bus we had about three and a half hours to wander about the studio – and I’d read reviews that said you need longer. Probably an extra half an hour or so would have been nice, but I felt as though we saw and did everything we wanted to. Anyway, we LOVED this tour. This was one of the absolute highlights of our time in London, and I think our trips anywhere. It was amazing and magical and so much fun. Here’s what we loved:

The Great Hall and the studio rooms

When the first films were made, J.K Rowling had not finished writing the series. So that meant the producers (and probably Rowling herself) did now know which props and sets would need to be used again in the later films. Consequently, everything was kept – thousands of props and costumes and sets which on any other film set would have been destroyed – and it’s all set up in a giant room at the studio. It just feels so amazing to walk through it all and see the incredible detail, and the countless hours of work that goes into a film like this. Here are some pictures:

The wonderfully impressive Great Hall.
The wonderfully impressive Great Hall.
One of the stone animals in the Great Hall.
One of the stone animals in the Great Hall.

 

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Me standing in Dumbledore’s study. The detail was incredible.
No corners were cut making the sets - every painting you see was created by an oil painter, taking months of work.
No corners were cut making the sets – every painting you see was created by an oil painter, taking months of work.
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Snape’s potions class.

The Studio Backlot, Cafe and Outdoor Sets

This is where you can make your way through Platform 9 and three quarters, jump aboard Hogwarts, buy Butterbeer and see Privet Drive – just amazing!

Abbie-Rose at the Platform with Hedwig and Cruikshanks.
Abbie-Rose at the Platform with Hedwig and Cruikshanks.
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You can climb aboard the Hogwarts Express and see the cabins made up as sets.
Hagrid's motorcycle!
Hagrid’s motorcycle!
All aboard the Knight Bus!
All aboard the Knight Bus!
Butterbeer anyone? It was delicious - an ridiculously expensive!
Butterbeer anyone? It was delicious – an ridiculously expensive!

Behind the Scenes Peek

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was seeing how all the special and visual effects for the magic and the magical creatures worked, as well as getting a glimpse into how sets are put together – from concept drawings, to models, to the final product.

The first cardboard model of Hogwarts which was used to plan film shots.
The first cardboard model of Hogwarts which was used to plan film shots.

 

Various masks for the characters.
Various masks for the characters.
The finished product of one of the creatures!
The finished product of one of the creatures!

Diagon Alley

The Diagon Alley set was truly magical. Walking down the cobbled street you could really imagine being a witch or wizard!

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Truly amazing!

 

Olivander's wands!
Olivander’s wands!

The 24:1 Hogwart’s model

While many location shots were filmed at Alnwick Castle, a 24:1 model was built for wide sweeping shots of Hogwarts. This model was my favourite part of the tour. It was just beautiful.

Picasso standing in front of the model gives an idea of the scale.
Picasso standing in front of the model gives an idea of the scale.
The other side of the model.
The other side of the model.

The Gift Shop

And of course, last not not least, there is the Gift Shop! We spent an hour in here and went a bit crazy 🙂

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you simply can’t miss this tour! And if you’re not – become one! It really was one of the best days we’ve had.

London with kids

So our UK and France holiday has begun – and what better place to begin than London?

I thought I’d share my thoughts on seeing London with a troupe of kids in tow. The way our itinerary worked out, we only had two and a half days for London sightseeing, and while thankfully the long days (it doesn’t get dark here in summer until 10pm) meant we could really squeeze a lot in, if I was planning the trip again I would have allowed longer. The “underground” here is amazing and you can get around fast, but hopping onto the tube and zipping around from sight to sight is draining for kids. Anyway here’s what we did and loved!

The London Pass

These passes weren’t cheap, but we were really glad we bought them. With entry to heaps of sights included, plus the Hop On Hop Off Bus and River Thames Cruise, it was worth it. And the kids were super excited it meant 10 per cent off in the gift shops and cafes 🙂

The Hop on Hop Off Bus

Definitely a winner. A great way to see London, and while it’s a little slow due to London traffic it means you get rest weary legs, and get great pictures.

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Tower of London (including the Crown Jewels)

I think this was our favourite stop, and honestly you could spend an entire day here. We saw the medieval palace and the Crown Jewels, which the kids loved. I would have loved to have seen the Bloody Tower but you just have to miss some things!

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Thames River Cruise

This was included in the London Pass and was a real treat. The young English tour guide gave funny and lively descriptions as we passes various sights and under bridges, and it was lovely seeing Westminster for the first time from the Thames.

Westminster, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey

Little Miss was so excited to see Big Ben and it did not disappoint! It’s much larger than you realise from pictures. And the Abbey was incredible, although by that time (it was one of the last stops) she was pretty tired. We had afternoon tea at the Abbey and it was delicious.

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The Science Museum

The kids loved it, even though I wouldn’t have bothered if I’d been on my own. It was interesting, but I would have preferred the Victoria and Albert Museum. When you are travelling with kids that’s just the way it is!

Buckingham Palace

We missed the Changing of the Guard but the kids really enjoyed seeing the palace. It doesn’t really take very long either.

Harrods

One simply must go to Harrods in London! What an incredible place. Of course I could only afford some tea, cards and a half-price carry bag but it’s absolutely amazing. You have to see the cafe, dining hall and patisserie, even if you don’t buy anything.

Hyde Park

We were so lucky to have had perfect weather, and Hyde Park really is the jewel in London’s crown. The gardens are stunning, and the squirrels are delightful. A great place to stop and rest and eat an ice cream.

 

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Poundland

Kids being kids, they were just as excited to find Poundland (where everything is, as you guessed, one pound) as they were about seeing Buckingham Palace. I had pooh-poohed Poundland, and then had to eat humble pie. You can get snacks, bottled water, sundries and other items  – all for one pound! It was exciting.

All up, we absolutely loved London. A note of caution – apart from Poundland, it is expensive to eat, so budget accordingly. Also the coffee is not very good and you have to pay for public toilets! And I’d allow a few more days if possible (we lost a day to the Harry Potter Tour, which I’ll write about separately). But make sure you go! It is such a wonderful city, and even the normal houses and buildings are so interesting and beautiful to see.

Girl power tunes

There’s nothing more awesome than totally rocking out to a girl power song when you’re a bit down and depressed. I was thinking this the other day as I was driving along in the car, feeling pretty sad and stressed over some horrible events that had happened, when Katy Perry’s Roar came on. I sang it at the top of my voice – and I have to say it totally made me feel better!

So I thought I’d helpfully compile a list of my favourite songs to sing when the world takes a massive swing at you.

  1. Fighter by Christina Aguilera. I tend to blast this one up loud when someone has done something crappy to me. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as turning an attack into a something that makes you a better, stronger person.
  2. This is who I am by Vanessa Amorosi. I just LOVE this song. I feel like I spent so many years not embracing who I really am, and this is kind of like a personal anthem for me.
  3. I don’t want to be by Gavin Degraw. Girl power songs don’t have to be written by girls! I’m all for gender equality 🙂 Like This is who I am, this song is all about just being who you are.
  4. Titanium by Sia. I literally say these lyrics to myself  when difficult things happen. “You shoot me down, but I get up, I am titanium.” It makes me feel invulnerable, and I really like that.
  5. Shake it off by Taylor Swift. Because sometimes you really do just need to shake it off, right? Little Miss and I completely agree on this.

I love all of these songs, but my absolute favourite at the moment is This is My Fight Song by Rachael Platten. Every time I hear it, it gives me goosebumps. I think it’s especially meaningful because I heard it for the first time when a dear friend was battling advanced brain cancer, and I sang it for her. I also love Rachel’s story – she’s 34 and only just hit it big, after years of playing her music to audiences no bigger than about 20 people. I just love how her time has finally come, and she’s roared onto the stage with such an awesome song that probably encapsulates her stage of life right now.

How about you? What do you listen to when you need a reminder that you can totally triumph over whatever it is that has got you down?

 

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You are enough

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about being authentic.

One of my dearest friends sent me a link to a TED talk by social researcher Brene Brown on vulnerability (I highly recommend watching it here when you get the chance) and probably the thing she said which struck me the most was this:

I am enough.

I know it doesn’t seem like rocket science. But this is a concept I have struggled with for so many years – am I enough? If I don’t get the highest mark, am I enough? If I’m overweight – am I enough? If my kids muck up at school, am I enough? If my house is always a mess, if I fail at my job, if I stuff up at parenting, if I publish a book and no one buys it – am I enough?

It was kind of a light bulb moment. So I decided right then and there – yes, I am enough.

And, because the universe is awesome, I had the opportunity to test my newfound revelation right away.

That same week as my epiphany, Souljourneyboy and I were due to go to our 20-year High School Reunion. Now, I have obviously known about this event for some time, and I had grand plans of losing – about 12 kilos.

It became apparent to me a week out that, sadly, I wasn’t actually going to achieve that goal, since I hadn’t, you know, started dieting. So I decided that I could at least get my hair done, as the highlights I had done a few months ago are half grown out and I don’t think they really suit me all that well. Also it’s been ridiculously humid and my curls have this 1980’s Helena Bonham-Carter thing going on which is, well – kind of frightening.

But of course I had this madly stressful week where there’d been no time in between uni exams and work and piano lessons and art class and lapidary club (yes, Picasso does lapidary of all things, but that’s a story for another time) to find time for the hairdressers.

Finally, on the day before the reunion, I found myself in an exhausted heap, faced with a choice – either I could just sink into my comfortable couch for a few hours and read (which is what I really wanted to do) or I could drag myself down to the shops and book in for the hair appointment (which I knew I wouldn’t enjoy).

Then I reminded myself – I am enough. Realistically, would anyone care what colour my hair is or was? Why did I care? Why would I spend precious hours doing something I didn’t really want to do, all because deep down inside I was worried about not being enough?

So I chose the couch and the book – and crazy hair – had a wonderfully relaxing day, and decided not to care.

Then something really interesting happened. At the reunion – which, by the way was fabulous – I couldn’t believe how many people stopped me to say how much they enjoyed my blog. And even more wonderfully, they all said the reason they enjoyed it was because of my willingness to be authentic.

You can’t be truly, authentically vulnerable unless you are happy to accept yourself the way you are. Unless you know that despite all your shortcomings you are indeed, enough. And yet accepting ourselves is so hard to do, mostly because when we are real about our struggles and our failures, we open ourselves up to criticism and judgement.

It’s so easy to sit back and justify your own life and decisions by the failures and struggles of other people around you – you know, when that inner voice says, God, I would NEVER put my child into care/let my child behave like that/wear that dress/eat that/let my house look like that/make that choice like SHE/HE did. 

That’s the scary part of being vulnerable – you put the bits of yourself you usually hide away on show. You are forced to be truly honest with yourself, which, let’s face it, can sometimes be confronting.

But you also open up real conversations, authentic experiences and connection with others. You open yourself up to change and growth by looking at your inadequacies face-on.

And that’s what came home to me at the reunion – all these lovely people thanking me for expressing thoughts and feelings they had struggled to articulate, people who feel a bit better about their lives and experiences because I was honest about mine.

For a writer, that’s just about the best feedback you get can, I think.

I don’t claim to have reached some pinnacle of inner understanding, and I’m sure there will be plenty more times (today, probably) where I have to remind myself that I am enough.

But I hope by me sharing this you will remind yourself of it too.

And, by the way – I am absolutely sure that not a single person noticed my hair at all 🙂

So let’s all try to remember:

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Oh, to be seven

Of late, I’ve been watching Little Miss and thinking that seven years old is just about the perfect age to be. After some reflection, here are my reasons why it’s just the most delightful age….

It’s super easy to make friends

I took Little Miss to a school holiday workshop the other day, and she was nervous at first because she didn’t know anyone else. When I picked her up afterwards, she told me she’d made a new friend. I asked her how they had become friends and she frowned at me, puzzled by my question. “She asked if I wanted to be her friend, and I said yes”. I love it. It’s fast, direct and you know right away where you stand. Why do we complicate friendships as adults? The next time I meet a fellow human I like, I’m going to try it.

You can do flawless cartwheels

I can only imagine my body would go into some kind of toxic shock if I attempted a cartwheel or a handstand. Little Miss is able to spend most of her day whirling around or upside down, and never seems to get tired. Totes jel.

You still believe in magic

Little Miss has an ongoing letter exchange with the Midnight Garden Fairies. She writes them notes and leaves them flowers, and they draw her pictures and tell her all about the fairy realm. She delights in magic, and I delight in the memory of the magic I once believed in. It’s seriously the best thing about parenting.

You’re discovering amazing books for the first time

The Enchanted Wood. Narnia. The Twits. I feel as though her joy in reading these wonderful, wonderful classics for the first time rekindles the delight I felt when I was her age, devouring Enid Blyton book by book.

Who’d like to turn the clock back to seven with me?