Back to School

I suppose I should write the obligatory back to school post. As a parent blogger I think it’s in my contract. I also have a confession to make, but more on that later.


As of next week they’ll both be in school full-time. Sonny is already there, Luca however is still within the graduals stage.


A week in and we’ve just progressed from ‘finding the school on Google Maps’ to the ‘slow drive past the gates'; or so it feels. OK, so he’s now in until lunch-time but still, just how long can they drag this malarkey out for?


And as the fateful Monday approaches where I have a full five hour window between school runs, so Janet’s list writing becomes ever more frantic. She has more than one list. She has a list of lists. By the weekend I’m expecting a spreadsheet to drop into my mail-box. It doesn’t bode well.


I caught a glimpse of one of these lists. I saw duvet and laundrette in the same sentence. I saw decorating. On a section titled ‘deep clean’ I saw rooms I didn’t even know we had!


loose-womenNow I admit to not helping my cause when she asked me to send her a photo of their first day.


Turns out she wanted to see them in their school uniforms, and not as I’d assumed, a photo of me spending some quality time with them there Loose Women and a cup of coffee? Because it’s all about the kids apparently!?


But now to the confession, for which I need to take you back a few weeks to the end of last term.


On Luca’s last day of nursery there were tears. Lots of tears. Parents and teachers exchanged gifts and hugs, and outside I discovered Urmston’s equivalent to the wailing wall. Now I admit that I don’t get it, although I may just be dead inside?


Nothing of their educational journey thus far has made me emotional to that degree. The closest I came to tears was when I had my last cooked breakfast at the local cholesterol café before the summer holidays.


That was until Luca’s first full morning. You see I’m used to tears from Sonny, he’s the emotional one. Luca has his mothers heart of stone. A stubbornness and cock-surity(?) that I assume comes from being the second child?


And yet, as he lined up on the playground with the older children towering above him, he looked frightened. For that brief moment he looked like the barely four-year old child he is. Wide eyed. Scared.


As they were led inside some of the children were in tears, some refused to let go of their parents leg, and I watched on as Luca took two big deep breaths before giving me a timid thumbs up. He was being brave and I’ve never felt more helpless and yet proud at the same time. There was a brief glimpse back with nervous smile, and he was gone.


Now I admit it. I welled up. I welled up and but for nearly getting run over by a car outside the school gates probably would have burst into tears. You see it turns out I’m not dead inside after all! I may be on an emotional life-support machine but still, there is definitely a pulse in there!


And it made me realise something else too. I treat Sonny and Luca the same. I bundle all of their emotions, experiences and expectations together. Everything Sonny has gone through I subconsciously think Luca has too, and it’s not fair.


Somewhere along the line I’ve forgotten Luca is a year younger, and a year less mature. I’ve forgotten that although he’d been at the school nursery, and despite his bravado and confidence, he was still going into big school for the first time. And I’d forgotten just how damn scary that can be.


So when I picked him up that afternoon we stopped at the shops. We bought a big bag of sweets, came home, and watched Sooty. Together.


And I listened to him tell me all about his day, as if he was the first child to have ever had a first day at school. And I also made a promise to myself. To never forget he’s the younger brother.




I’m thinking of changing the kids birthdays. It’s for the best.


I mean it’s not like they remember their date of birth yet. They still work off the ‘how many days until’ calendar.


It’s not like I remember their date of birth yet. I still work off the ‘ask Janet’ calendar.


A more memorable date would suit me all concerned.


For a start there’s the doctors. I have to announce our arrival by keying in their date-of-birth into a machine. It’s rare I’ll get it right on my first attempt. By my second guess there’s a queue forming behind me. There’s no need for that kind of pressure. What happens if I get it wrong three times in a row? I really don’t want to be going home to tell Janet the machine swallowed our child and I need to go back with my passport and two forms of paternal ID to get a new one.


Then there’s the summer holidays. Both their birthdays fall at the back-end of August, just before they go back to school. What kind of sick joke is that?


That’s six weeks of playing with old toys and their long-lost pieces. Forty Two days battling against the inevitable park fatigue. 1,008 hours trying to rebuild their LEGO police car that was written off in an accident on the stairs six months prior and whose missing pieces I know damn well rest in the reclamation yard that is the hoover.


And all this whilst knowing there’s a Narnia of new toys hidden at the back of the wardrobe, carefully wrapped in ribbons of my own sanity just waiting to be played with.


So I’m selflessly proposing they can have my birthday. Having turned forty it’s not like I’ll be needing it for another ten years anyway. So I hereby announce that their new birthday will be the *26th July.

(*subject to change once Janet reads this).


As it was they had a great birthday this year. Or so I thought.


Sat in the barbers Sonny was asked how his birthday was. There was a long pause. A long pause interrupted by Luca, who chipped in with,




Disappointing? DISAPPOINTING? What four-year old describes their birthday as disappointing?


Mine, that’s who!


For the record, it was anything but disappointing! No really it wasn’t, a lot of thought and effort had gone into this year.


Thanks to my August advert amnesty we knew well in advance what they wanted, and it was duly delivered. However to find the source of their disappointment you need to go back through their presents.


LEGO Marvel Superheroes for the Wii U – check.
Some board games – Monopoly Junior and Ker-plunk.
Chatter teeth – as requested.
Superhero Mashables – thanks granny.
Even more LEGO – no problem.
Birthday tea in McDonald’s – if we must.
Chocolate birthday cake – Marks and Spencer’s finest.
A new t-shirt – Ah.
A new hoodie – see, here’s the problem.
A read it yourself book from the 70’s – Oh c’mon Janet, what were you thinking?


You see as the stay-at-home parent I like to think I’ve taught them the virtue of gratitude. What I’ve failed to address however is the feigning thereof.


If previous birthdays have taught us anything (and clearly they’ve not) it’s that they don’t particularly appreciate clothes, but then as a four and five-year old why would you? Just how much fun is there to be had from a zip?


It also wasn’t helped by their expectations. For reasons known only to Sonny as he unwrapped what was clearly a squishy piece of clothing,


Sonny: “I hope this is a remote-control helicopter!”

Me: “Eh? You’ve never mentioned a heli….”

Sonny: “A jumper? This was NOT on my list!”


There was a list? OK, so I need to work on his appreciation of Monsoon.


The t-shirt was met with similar disdain.


And then,


Sonny: “I know what this is, it’s a DVD!”

Me: “Ah, possibly not. Is it mummy?”

Janet: “Open it and see!”

Sonny: “It is, I can tell by the shape!”

Me: “It might not be”

Sonny: “It’s a ………….”


It’s hard to describe the look of utter contempt on his face, other than to say it was similar to how I imagine he’d react if I took a shit on his cornflakes.


This was the offending item….




So I need to work on his appreciation of literary classics too. And on Janet’s last-minute “I was just passing a book shop and thought…”. And my own “what the hell is that?” face.


As it was they DID have a great birthday, and they even enjoyed reading Peter and the Wolf, even if the moral that Luca took from it wasn’t that Peter shouldn’t have lied, but rather he should have just bought himself a lion. Hard to argue with his logic.


We even extended their birthdays until the weekend so we could have a meal out in Manchester with all the family. More cake and yet more presents, all of which they were genuinely grateful for. And over those last few days before the new school term started, so was I!


Just for my own piece of mind I did ask them again how their birthdays were.


Luca: “GREAT!”

Sonny: “Brilliant … how many days is it until Christmas?”

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 Parkdean 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.}