A holiday in Suffolk (part 1)

We have spent most of the last week on holiday in Suffolk, a beautiful county in the East of England – hence being a bit quiet recently on the blogging front. Despite getting married in December we still hadn’t been away, my husband had booked some time off work, and we wanted to escape our house for a while as despite buying it just over a year ago there is still a huge list of DIY and house tasks we still need to complete (although I wonder if we will ever manage to do these with an active and inquisitive child around, especially as there are so many things I would rather do than paint wardrobes or sort out cupboards or research tiling).

Anyway. At the last minute we rented a beautiful converted cottage called The Seed Store, just a short drive from the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The cottage itself is wonderful, with the main living area surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows; perfect for soaking up the spring sunshine which we were lucky enough to have throughout our stay. You can look directly onto the field in front of the cottage, which was home to lots of sheep. Frida was in heaven, pointing at them and saying “baa baa”. Needless to say we did many trips outside to look at them!

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At home I co-sleep with Frida so we did the same on holiday, and made sure we booked somewhere with a comfortable looking sofa in case my husband needed somewhere to retreat to. I’m so glad we did this as Frida is still waking up very often, and this holiday was no different – possibly even more than at home, perhaps because the bed and surroundings were unfamiliar. Yawn.

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Although I was determined to get organised with packing, I predictably did not manage to do so and found myself frantically packing the just a few hours before we had to leave. This led to quite chaotic over-packing! My husband and I both ended up packing books for Frida, which meant we ended up with a lot. However, most of the time we spent indoors Frida sat flicking through them, so I don’t think it was too bad a move. We emptied a fruit bowl to use as an improvised Montessori book basket.

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I also packed a few of Frida’s favourite toys, though in hindsight I should really have been more confident in not bringing any toys with us as when she wasn’t looking at books she was busy crawling around, pulling herself up onto things, and trying to grab our sunglasses / phones / the laptop / our muddy walking boots. I set her toys up in a calm part of the living room, and she did use them, but not very much.

The toys I packed are: Grimm’s conical stacker / a few Holztiger animals / GALT pop-up peg toy / three circle puzzle / wooden rainbow sound blocks.

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Before leaving we were both a bit anxious about the journey as the longest Frida had been in a car was less than two hours. Again though our fears were unfounded; we timed both journeys so that Frida had a long nap, and then she was in a good mood for the rest of the drive (and whilst she napped we were able to listen to an audiobook – such a treat).

To make our lives easier whilst away, we packed our trusty IKEA Antilop, as without the tray it can be sat flush against the table, making family mealtimes easier.  We also decided to take disposable nappies as we didn’t know if we would have a washing machine to wash Frida’s cloth nappies. We took the potty as well as we wanted to continue Frida’s toilet learning whilst on holiday.

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Grayson Perry “Provincial Punk” : a day-trip to Margate

I love holidaying at home. When abroad or in another city I always want to explore, do new things, go to galleries and museums and wander around beautiful outdoor spaces, but I find it’s really easy to forget to do that at home and to get stuck in the save old groove of doing the old same things. Taking the time to really enjoy where we live can feel just as restorative, and leaves me feeling so much happier about living in the city and all of the not-so-fun things that also entails. So with S taking a couple of weeks off work, we are both keen to actually make the most of the time we have together as a trio.

Having Frida on the scene means we’re slightly more limited, both in terms of what we can do (bye bye cocktails, going to the theatre, or spur of the moment nights away) and in terms of affordability (taking a full year of maternity leave plus having recently bought our first home sadly means financial restraint). HOWEVER. This does not mean we cannot leave London. Enter a day-trip to Margate to see Grayson Perry’s latest offering, Provincial Punk at the Turner Contemporary.

Sunny Margate!

Sunny Margate!

I was feeling so smug that we had saved some money by booking our train tickets from Victoria a few days in advance. Thus I was quite annoyed when we got to our local station to catch a train to Victoria only to see that the train was cancelled! Cue huge panic about us missing our connecting train and an extravagant black cab journey to Brixton to get on the tube instead (guilt-inducing but so easy with a buggy and cheaper than buying new train tickets).

I managed to read a few pages of my book on the train – so nice. I don’t really get much of a chance to read any more unless F is asleep (and then there always seems to be laundry or tidying or showering to do), and the pile of books on my bedside table is starting to look at me accusingly.

We walked along the seafront to the Turner, then stopped in the gallery’s cafe for some obligatory cake and coffee before tackling the exhibition.

Cake from the cafe

Cake from the cafe

The exhibition itself was really good; a manageable mix of Perry’s pots, maps, video art, and tapestries. S and I are both big fans on Perry, so we knew we would like it, but it was nice to be proved right. The tapestries were probably the highlight for us, and despite sleeping through most of the exhibition and then waking up grumpy – nothing a bit of boob couldn’t fix – even Frida enjoyed looking them, staring in open-mouthed amazement. Although probably her favourite thing was being put back in her pram so she could play with the exhibition booklet. So fascinating, so pink.

S and I both love showing Frida art, and experiencing art with a baby definitely makes you see it in a different way. Colours become vital, bold shapes are amazing, patterns inspire awe. You take a step back and ask yourself how it would feel to experience the art without any preconceptions. It sounds very corny, but having a baby definitely makes you look at things in a new light. Flowers, trees, sunlight coming through curtains, the way wind feels on your skin, the sparkle of light on water – you start to appreciate these things again.

Although Perry is probably not entirely suitable for an older child due to the explicit content in some of his art (unless of course you are feeling in a very frank and open mood, in which case go for it!) it was a great exhibition for a baby.

Frida's favourite part of the exhibition

Frida’s favourite part of the exhibition

Exhibition aside, I really liked the layout of the gallery. There was an activity station for children where they could practice weaving with neon wool, an interactive cymbal structure (pictured below), good baby changing facilities and the biggest lift I have ever seen. It all seemed very child-friendly and some of the gallery assistants even came over for a little chat and to say hello to Frida.

Start them young...

After we were done we went for a little walk along the sunny sea front and Frida enjoyed some nice nappy-free time in the sea breeze, and then some poems and cuddles with her daddy as we listened to the waves lapping.

Sunny cuddles with daddy

Sunny cuddles with daddy

The train journey back was fairly depressing as were were near two mums travelling with young (still in buggies) children, who were speaking to their kids in such a horrible way that at one point I suggested to S that we might want to contact social services. It’s sad that it’s not an uncommon experience to witness behaviour from parents towards their children which is bordering on the abusive, and I’m never quite sure what to do in those situations.

Having a baby has definitely made me more sensitive when it comes to worrying about the well-being of other children – the thought of harm befalling Frida, or her being spoken to in the way that we were overhearing, makes me feel physically sick. A bit of a downer to end the post on, so here is a photo of Frida “standing” on the train table in her lovely crocodile jumper.

Always standing

Always standing

Cost: £30 train tickets, £14 cab fare, £14 for snacks and drinks in the cafe, £2 ice cream

Travel: black cab (oops), public transport

Would I recommend it: Absolutely. Brilliant (free!) exhibition, sandy beaches, ice cream. I also actually really enjoy train journeys, and with a two adults to one baby ratio you can even take it in turns to read. A lovely day-trip from London.

This post was one of my “holiday at home” posts, read more of them here

Travelling with a baby – some useful tips

This weekend we attended S’s grandfather’s stone setting. This meant being in Glasgow on Sunday afternoon. We live in South London, so this meant a fair amount of travelling with our three month old daughter. Though we were initially nervous about making the journey with a three month old it was absolutely fine (even pleasant, dare I say!), so I thought I would share our experience.

Our original plan was to fly up on the Sunday morning, then back again on Sunday evening, as we wouldn’t have time to take the long train back from Glasgow to London on the Sunday evening. However, the more we looked into flights the more it seemed unfeasible – in classic new parent style, we had managed to leave all the booking to the last minute, and the only flights we could find leaving that morning were at an ungodly hour from an airport far away. We are also not hugely keen on flying short distances if at all avoidable.

We decided to try and make the journey as easy as possible for ourselves by splitting it over two days, getting the train up on Saturday, staying in a hotel, and then flying back on the Sunday evening after the ceremony.

Train

I hate crossing London with the pram on my own (escalators, eek!) but doing the journey with S is a doddle. We crossed London to get to Euston, where we stocked up on M&S food for lunch and a Saturday paper – surely the perk of any train journey. We did have an incident whereby the Two Together Railcard was left at home, leading to a frantic dash to take photo-booth pics and get a new railcard made in the 20 minutes before our train left, but thankfully we just made it and we were on our way.

Baby on a train

We decided to book first class train tickets as the journey is a long one, and we thought it would give us more space. Although I was slightly worried about spending five hours in a fairly confined space with F, my fears were totally unfounded and she was wonderful. Mesmerised by the countryside whizzing past the windows, she had a lovely time and even managed a couple of naps. I love doing long journeys by train and this has reassured me that they are absolutely doable – in fact, really pleasant – with a baby in tow.

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Sleeping

We are co-sleeping with Frida, which meant that we had to find a hotel to stay with a kingsize bed so that we could all sleep comfortably. We booked a room at Hotel Indigo which was mercifully close to the train station and rocked up looking slightly haggard, as we’d walked in the pouring rain that we were shockingly badly prepared for (hello flip flops). The lovely man at reception was very taken with F (who reminded him of his own daughter) and decided to upgrade our room for free to a superking. Best customer service ever.

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Getting around

We had to take a cab a couple of times, so rather than booking one with a carseat which would also have to fit the tank buggy, we booked a Glaswegian black cab which you can roll the pram into and put the brake on. This was slightly nerve-wreaking as I found the first driver we had absolutely terrifying – gesticulating wildly and rambling like someone who had just done a line of coke – but actually a very convenient way to get around. I will bear this in mind if I’m ever stuck in London too.

Flying

I was absolutely dreading flying with F, but again the experience was so much better than I had feared. I think this was in part due to it being an internal flight so everyone seemed much more relaxed. No one made a fuss about us bringing the buggy, the seats weren’t as cramped as I had convinced myself they would be, and I don’t think F’s ears hurt her.

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I was also worried because we were flying at “witching hour”, ie. early evening when F basically wants to lie in my lap and nuzzle up to me and breastfeed at her leisure. She was also pretty overtired at this point as she hadn’t napped much all day and had seen lots of new people, but somehow she coped beautifully (copious breastfeeding / boob sucking probably helped!).

It’s worth remembering that if you’re taking hand luggage only, the changing bag will count as one piece, so pack light. We took more for F than we did for the both of us!

To pram or not to pram?

We decided after much deliberation to take the buggy with us. Although we were not really looking forward to having to wait around at baggage reclaim at the end of our flight, the idea of doing two days of travel with just a sling made us both very nervous as Frida doesn’t much like being in it at the moment, preferring to look out. It was absolutely the right decision as she was able to nap in it and keep dry from the lovely Scottish rain, and it also meant we were able to put all our bags in the pram (thanks to the massive UPPAbaby basket).

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We decided to take the pram without a carry case – we didn’t fancy forking out almost £100 for one – but I think if we have to fly again we will buy one as it would be far more expensive were it to break!

Some travel tips

Here are a few tips for anyone thinking of undertaking a similar journey with a baby:

1. Pack multiple outfit changes (which can be adapted for the changeable British weather) in resealable sandwich bags. This means that if there is a poo “incident” in one outfit you can easily find another in the changing bag and put the dirty clothes straight into a sealable bag, minimising unplesant smells and leaks.

2. If you are flying try and breastfeed your baby as much as possible, particularly during take-off and landing, as the sucking will help their ears. I’m sure this would also work with a bottle or a dummy. And don’t forget sucking sweets for yourself!

3. Look into first-class upgrades – they can be quite cheap and the extra space is definitely worth the money when travelling with a small baby. Having a table seat is especially helpful if you want to avoid the manky train baby-change facilities – we bypassed them and changed her at our table, far less revolting!

4. Keep a baby blanket to hand. Very useful for the changing temperatures as you go from street to cab to train to plane, and also wonderful as a makeshift headrest / arm prop for feeding your baby.

5. Give yourself plenty of time to do anything. As any new parent will be aware, babies have a special knack for needing to eat / be changed / be picked up and held on your shoulder and sung to in exactly the right way just as you’re about to do something. I have found it’s far better to have an extra ten minute wait than to be needlessly rushing and stressed that we’ll miss our train / flight / event.

I would love to know if you have any tips that I’ve missed!