Are We Nearly There Yet?

A couple of days before our drive up to Edinburgh ‘someone’ left the keys in the car overnight and drained the battery. I’ll not say who, other than to repeat a phrase I overheard Janet say to the AA man,


“… yeah, he’s a tit!”


That same person also reset the code on the car stereo in the process, a code we don’t have, and so it was that we set off on our five-hour drive in silence, but for the enthusiasm of two kids who didn’t appreciate quite how many minutes five hours equated to.


To give Janet her dues she’d convinced the boys that the long drive was part of our adventure, but then why wouldn’t she when we all knew she’d be asleep long before we’d even reached the motorway.


That’s not to say she wouldn’t interact. Oh no, much like when she’s dozing on the sofa in a pool of her own dribble she’d still shout out random answers to questions that hadn’t been asked. It’s like having Father Jack as your co-driver.


As a child of the 70‘s/80‘s the words safety and car only shared a sentence when discussing Formula 1. Seatbelts were there to swing off as you bounced around the back seat, high on Sherbet Dips and Flying Saucers, until your dad lost the plot and expelled expletives we only ever heard between Bedford and Glasgow.


When we upgraded(?) our Fiat 500 to a Morris Ital Estate we were allowed to sit in the boot, staring our impending death in the face as the lorry who’d earlier been happy to honk his horn on request grew ever more impatient at our attempts to climb a hill at barely 20mph. Happy days.


Without the luxury of being able to pack the kids with the suitcases, and needing to limit the incessant ‘are we nearly there yet‘ to a tolerable level, I decided on a list of ways to entertain them. This is that list. The good, the bad, and the ‘for the love of God not again!’


I should probably add that we did borrow my sisters DVD player, which for reasons known only to Janet was to be saved for the latter part of the journey. For that point when my dad would have threatened to leave us on the hard shoulder if we so much as thought about kicking the back of his seat one more time.




The default go-to game for any car journey. Also known as I-despair.

Janet likes to choose something she spotted behind a tree, on a distant hill … in 2007.
Luca hasn’t quite grasped the concept, choosing a letter long before he’s thought of the answer.
And as for Sonny’s “T”, I’m not having it that he saw a three-legged sheep?


Landmark Bingo


Draw up some cards before you leave with landmarks to tick off on the journey. Janet went one better by printing out … Chinese Landmark Bingo!


Turns out there’s fewer Great Walls and Terracotta Warriors on the M6 than you’d expect.


OK, so they were English landmarks written in Chinese. A great way to teach the boys Chinese apparently, had the only Chinese speaker in the car not been snoring away in the passenger seat.


Still, it passed an hour or so, and Luca was only a Forbidden City off a full-house.


Counting Cars


Choose a colour and each one that overtakes wins you a point. We played this a lot, largely due to Sonny’s refusal to accept defeat.


For what it’s worth go for silver or black, and not as Luca gave me, pea green?


Story Telling


Take it in turns to add a sentence, and in the process discover your children are watching far too much TV.


Despite my best efforts to instil a fairytale theme it still finished with a battle to the death between Sooty and Thor. A modern take on David and Goliath I suppose; if David had access to heat-seeking laser-beams of molten lava?


Alphabet Animals


Taking it in turns to come up with an animal for each letter of the alphabet.


Xerus inauris (a type of squirrel). You’re welcome.


I went to the shops …


… but I wish I’d just ordered it online when the kids were in bed.


To be fair, Sonny likes this game if for no other reason than his imaginary supermarket sells packets of poo, buckets of wee and many other things that raise serious questions about my parenting.




One thing you can wear on your head.
Two things that can fly.
Three fruits that are red.
Four characters from CBeebies.
Five reasons why I retain my will to live.


And finally, something I wish I’d known before we left, download programmes on the BBC iPlayer to watch on your phone! Why did no one tell me you can do that? Throw in some apps to play and you could forget everything above and instead just pray your phone battery survives beyond Carlisle.


As it was my patience lasted until the Lake District. From there on it was Wreck It Ralph and Toy Story all the way.


As for the journey home, I was much better prepared. I waved Janet and the boys off on their own and stayed behind to help their Auntie Jackie pack up and move back to Manchester.


My journey home was in a van with their cousin Ben for company, and a thirteen year old is far easier to entertain.


I say entertain, he might argue otherwise as I added my own commentary and backing vocals to the top 100 guitar riffs of all-time on Radio 2. Well, it’s what long journeys are really made for.


{This post was written in association with Park Dean Holidays. All words and opinions are my own.}

Azteca Hotel Review



Last week we were invited to the launch of the new Azteca Hotel at Chessington World of Adventures.


The boys have never stayed in a hotel before, and with Luca having FINALLY broken through the 0.9m height restriction for rides it was too good an opportunity to miss.


Had we Janet been paying, the price for a one night stay peak-season is roughly £350, for which you get:

  • Tickets to the theme park, Zoo, and SEA LIFE centre.

  • An overnight stay at the Azteca Hotel.

  • Breakfast.

  • Animal meet and greets.

  • Use of the Splash pool and gym.

  • Evening entertainment.


By staying at the hotel you also get:

  • Free parking

  • Early entry (9am) to the theme park and priority access to certain rides.

  • Use of the Fastrack queue on all rides before 11am.

  • Exclusive evening access to the AMAZU Treetop Adventure and Wanyama Village.


The hotel has an Aztec theme throughout (who’d have thought it?) Amazingly my impromptu lesson on all things Aztecan during the drive down was pretty near the mark; except for the pyramids which in my head were so far off the mark they *may have been in Egypt.

(*They were. I’m not proud).




azteca-safariThe hotel lobby makes for an impressive welcome, looking out over the safari park with its giraffes, zebras and ostriches. The boys attention however was taken by the two large tortoises in reception giving each other a piggyback. No, it was definitely a piggyback. It was!


We stayed in a Discovery room which sleeps five (2 adults and up to 3 children).


Now if this had been a social experiment it would have been cancelled early due to dangerous levels of over-stimulation. Seriously, if you suck out all their enthusiasm with a six-hour drive then throw them into an Aztecan Narnia with a welcome pack, their own bunk-beds, and their own TV. Then throw in as much ice-cream and chocolate as they can eat for dinner and it’s a miracle we got them to sleep the right side of midnight … a week on Tuesday!


azteca-discovery-roomOverall our room was very impressive with all the facilities you’d expect including free WiFi. I only had a few little niggles in so much as our room was missing a bin and the plug in the sink didn’t work, but I’m sure both would have been resolved with a call to reception had it bothered us more.


We also had an automatic door with a mind of its own that needed a lot of convincing we wanted it to close, but again it wasn’t anything that detracted from our stay which was VERY comfortable.


My only other small gripe was the noise. It wasn’t excessive and you’d expect to hear the odd door closing, but there was also no doubting the rooms above and either side of us were occupied. Maybe like our two their kids were bouncing of the walls with excitement, but for the money invested in the hotel it would have been nice if some of it had gone on sound-proofing.


amazu-treetop-adventureOne of the benefits of staying at the hotel is you get exclusive access to the Wanyama Village and AMAZU Treetop Adventure after the park has closed to the general public, which the boys loved.


Luca noticed the height restrictions and unsure as to whether he met them sneaked through like a ninja on tiptoes.



tribal-dancersThe entertainment was wonderful too. Aside from the cocktails and canapes we were treated to stilt-walkers, illusionist and the boys favourite, tribal dancers.


Luca is a little obsessed with dancing although I may struggle to find him a class that teaches him how to spin bowls on every limb or juggling hats.


Dinner was an all-you-can-eat buffet in the Temple Restaurant and served a decent selection of food.


As well as meat, fish and vegetarian dishes there was also a specific kids section which to their credit at least attempts to lure them into choosing a healthier option.


temple-restaurantThe food, though nothing spectacular was still pretty good, and there were certainly no complaints from the kids when it came to desert with endless ice-cream and a chocolate fondue fountain.


The price for an adult is £19.459.45 for under 12‘s) which might elicit a Northern penny-pinching grumble from me but I guess it’s about average for a hotel of this type.


The staff however were superb, particularly when it came to interacting with the kids. There were characters for Madagascar walking around and an interactive volcano type thing(?) in the middle of the room too, so I guess when you consider it’s more an experience than just a buffet tea I should probably leave my cynical mutterings at the door.


Breakfast was a similar experience with a wide selection of cooked food, cereals, pastries, fruit and smoothies.


chessington-ride1Another benefit of staying at the hotel is you get into the theme park early (9am) with priority access to certain rides.


Unfortunately the two we chose weren’t working so our hour was for the most part wasted but we did get to look around SEA LIFE before the crowds arrived.


You also get to use the Fastrack queues before 11am so it should be possible to get on most of the more popular rides before lunch.


It’s impossible to have a day at a theme park without comparing it to the others, particularly that towery one in Alton, and Chessington comes out on top for me.


chessington-ride2The queues for the most part felt shorter and I didn’t feel quite so ripped off when buying food and drinks or attempting to win an over-sized teddy.


Luca discovered that he most definitely is a thrill-seeker, and never more thrilled than when he sees his brother feeling the complete opposite?


Sonny discovered his cockiness at not being frightened to go through Hocus Pocus Hall was VERY misplaced, again much to the amusement of his brother.


And Janet and I discovered we really should make more time for family days out.




We had a fantastic time, which if measured by the size of Luca’s tantrum when he realised we weren’t staying at the hotel for longer, was off the scale! Thankfully he was fast asleep before we’d even left the car park.


I asked the boys what their favourite part of the trip was. Their unanimous response was,




As for the hotel, overall we were very impressed and I’d definitely recommend booking a stay if you can afford it.


Would we go back? As wonderful as it was I personally couldn’t justify the cost during peak-season. Obviously it’s substantially cheaper off-peak, so maybe then I could be convinced otherwise.


The problem I’ve now given myself is that the next time we stay at a hotel the kids will expect to see giraffes roaming the car park, and lets face it, the chances of seeing that from the window of a Travel Lodge in some generic industrial estate is pretty slim.


{We were provided with a free nights stay at the hotel and tickets for the theme park for the purposes of this review. All opinions are honest and my own.}

Turning Forty

marks-marblesI made it to forty! I know, I’m as surprised as you are.


Looking back it’s been a tough few years. I lost my job, my house and for a year or two my marbles, but I’ve come out the other side blessed with meeting Janet. I’ve helped spawn two gorgeous boys (even if I am a wee bit biased), a wonderful family and despite everything thrown at me, a renewed hope and optimism for the future. So rather than analyse it too much I’m going to tick the decade off as a success and run. Fast!


It’s a cliché to say life begins at any age but for me forty is pivotal. Come September Sonny and Luca will both be at school full-time and my role as a stay-at-home dad will be on shaky ground, particularly as Janet is doing the shaking.


Until now I’ve coasted through life on luck and circumstance. I like to pretend I’ve a laid back attitude although I’d struggle to argue against it being called downright laziness.


That’s not to say I’ve not worked hard, and never harder than convincing Janet to lower her standards to such a level that she considered me a worthwhile partner, but career wise I’ve been stumbling into jobs since I was eighteen.


For my birthday my mum gave me a folder with all my achievements and school work in. Amongst the certificates for school triple jump champion and grade two cornet (I know, multi-talented) was my work experience report from when I was fifteen. It makes interesting reading ….


“The week showed me I wasn’t ready for an office job, and salesmanship was not a career that would suit me.”


(For the last twenty years I’ve worked in an office and been a Salesman).


“I’m not yet mentally or maturely ready for a full-time job, instead I would like to study before re-assessing my position. I feel a job with computers would suit me more.”


So that’s what I’m doing. I’m re-assessing. I was never cut out to be a salesman despite my best efforts so instead I’m going to study Computing and IT with the Open University; it was meant to be!


I think Janet suspects my plans to study are a desperate attempt to put off going out to work again, and I probably didn’t help my case by leaving a course prospectus on the table labelled ‘Do Animals know Love’, but for the first time in my life I’m going to shape my own future and it’s exciting. Choice over circumstance. Career and path in the same sentence.


And who knows, by the time I qualify I may even be ‘mentally and maturely ready for a full-time job’, even if it will have taken thirty years to get there.

40th Birthday Picnic

I’ve been in a stubborn state of denial about turning forty. I only acknowledged the date in order to insist on no boozy nights out, no “Look who’s 40!” scrawled on a bed sheet and left to litter a local roundabout, and definitely no surprise party!


Thankfully my family saw beyond my grumpiness and arranged a picnic in Lyme Park …