Chugga Chugga Choo Choo..

I wish all our trains were this happy.

In recent weeks I have joined our daily commuters in the not-so-adventurous journey into London. I get the high speed train which takes me into St Pancras in shockingly 25 minutes, which is a very expensive alternative to avoiding a 1.5 hour journey on the slower Charing Cross train, to only get the tube to the other side of London. I must say, commuting has become a rather pleasant and, dare I say it, relaxing experience on the high speed. You rarely find a group of loud obnoxious teenagers hogging up all the seats and drunks are pretty much unheard of. I guess they would rather spend the extra dosh on a few more tins and get the peasant wagon.

Not to be classist or defamatory to people who get the Charing Cross train, I mean, my husband gets it for gods sake. Realistically though, the drunks and yobs are not willing to pay more for the same vandalism they can cause on a ‘cheaper’ train. I use the term ‘cheap’ lightly, because we all know how ridiculously expensive both trains have become. The Charing Cross train takes an hour to reach its destination, and with an annual season ticket, it will set you back £3,380. The St Pancras International high speed train is a comfortable 25 minutes, for an even pricier £4,368 with an annual season ticket. Isn’t it ironic that the longer you are on the train for, the less you pay; for an extra £988 you can pay to not be on the train.

And yet we factor in the losses because our time is so precious to us, we would rather pay to retain few more minutes of our lives. The train has become a rich man’s toy, leaving the rest of us in deficit. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

When East meets Westfield.

After counting down the days for two years, Westfield Stratford City finally opened it’s doors to public yesterday. Needless to say, I was fucking ecstatic. I ventured down after work arriving at around 5:30pm (yes, high speed is FAST). It was chaotic, as I anticipated, with people shuffling through the crowds, some deciding to randomly stop and loiter before shuffling some more. There were an assortment of people, but mainly young locals who had decided to stop by after school for a gander, not really intending on buying anything (hence the loiters). I presume the real hardcore shoppers were there at early doors.

The shops themselves were eerily quiet; the sales assistants were folding clothes with a bored expression on their face as if it was just another day. Obviously with the exception of Primark, which was manic. Strangely the clothes were not sprawled across the floor, as you would find in pretty much every other Primark in the country; a big well done to the sales assistants, that must have been hard to maintain for the full 12 hours they were open.

A not so big well done to the sales assistants in Forever 21, particularly one (I did not catch her name, let’s call her Jane) who was very rude to me. Approaching the fitting rooms with my five items, the assistant led me and another customer to our rooms. Whilst I was following, Jane grabbed me by the arm and stopped me in my tracks. She asked me rather flatly whether I had a ticket, so I informed her the other sales assistant had told me to follow. Disbelievingly, she said ‘but the other customer is with her‘, to which I responded ‘and so am I‘. The other sales assistant turned around and pointed to my cubicle and Jane strutted off without an apology. What a way to start your first day.

Another amusing experience in Forever 21 happened whilst I was browsing. A lady asked me, ‘which top do you prefer?‘. One was bright orange and sparkly, the other was black and equally as sparkly. I responded with the black top, which obviously was an insufficient answer as she pursued in asking another three times. Her reason for this persistence being, ‘you can always trust a Chinese opinion‘. Now I do not wave the racist flag very often and this was a very light-hearted comment, however I found it odd given the circumstance. Imagine if I said the same to her, ‘you can always trust the opinion of a black lady‘. That would be outrageous!

Shaking my head and brushing the awkward conversation aside, I attempted to contact a friend I was meant to be meeting. I quickly discovered that there was not one place in the centre where I could receive a signal on my phone. After attempting to call various people, I went to seek help from the concierge desk. The manager was incredibly helpful and offered me her phone to contact my friend. I could not get through as she was also in the centre and was clearly having the same issues. After attempting to call numerous times to no avail, I shuffled along to Carphone Warehouse to see if they had knowledge of any network problems. The nice, very East London, sales assistant was aware of the issue and informed me that it had been ’13 hours man’ since she last got a text.

At that point I decided to give up on my shopping venture and head back home. Sadly I did not meet the friend in the end, but all in all, my experience was positively interesting. The centre boasts of everything a shopper might want; you have the mainstream stores for a bit of stability and a selection of independent ones to throw in the mix. It is shiny and spacious, the shops are strategically categorised together and you feel at ease. Amazingly Westfield is only a 20 minute train ride for me, so I will definitely be heading back there very soon. Bluewater was once my love, but alas, I have found better…

A Hair-Raising Experience.

After much deliberation, last night I came to the conclusion that DS most definitely needs a haircut. We contemplated growing it out, so he can look like one of those cool surfer kids. This would be the only age he could have long hair without dreadlocks jokes and the whole nits issue. We might still do this, however this time it would probably be more beneficial to have manageable hair come the start of nursery. He will be irritable enough without hair draping over his eyes.

When DS was around 14 months we took him to Rush in Canterbury to get his haircut, which was a horrific experience. They were young, stylish and most definitely not baby orientated. DS kicked and screamed as we forced him to sit on Daddy, whilst I tried my best to amuse him by glamorising every item possible in my bag. He threw everything I gave him across the salon in protest, until I revealed my shiny phone. I showed him all my photos and played him a few videos of himself at the park, and he eventually calmed down.

I learnt from this experience well, so last night I set off finding various distractions to fill up my magic bag. Instead of videos on my phone, I had an ingenious idea to use the iPad. I downloaded an episode of Bob the Builder and some kind of clip from a children’s film that was free on iTunes, along with an In the Night Garden app and one with flash cards to improve DS’ vocabulary. Next to go in the goodie bag was his favourite book, his wooden car, an apple and a hair brush. With all of his most adored objects in one bag, I was optimistic this haircut would go well.

This morning I made a phone call to Toni & Guy in Bluewater, my opening sentence being;

“Hello, I am looking to get my son’s haircut today. He is 20 months old, do you cater for toddlers his age?”

She started informing me of a promotion they have Monday to Wednesday (baring in mind today is Friday), which was half price for a children’s haircut with an adult’s haircut. Unwilling to spontaneously spend double the money on my own haircut just to buy into the promotion, I asked how much a children’s haircut would be today.

She responded, “it is £20 for a children’s haircut”

to which I replied, “that is ridiculous, he is only a baby, barely a child”

“Well this is Tony & Guy. We do not cut babies hair”

“Well I guess you should have answered my initial question. I will take my money elsewhere”.

After speaking to this rude girl, I called Look Fantastic in Gravesend to continue my quest. The girl at Look Fantastic said we could come in whenever and it would cost a reasonable £5.

DS was very happy running into the salon, however he immediately tripped over his own feet and fell to the ground. This was not a great start for what was yet to come. He began to cry hysterically and refused to sit on the chair. I propped the iPad on the table, switched on Bob the Builder and constrained him on my lap. This was a long and arduous battle with DS constantly thrashing about, hitting the hairdresser’s hand whenever she came near. He had worked himself up into such a state that he became overheated, so I removed his t-shirt and cooled him down in his undergarment. After a few minutes he began to settle, I swapped Bob for the In the Night Garden app and he was vaguely amused by Iggle Piggle dancing across the screen.

After around 40 minutes, DS’ haircut was finally finished and he was happy enough to start babbling away to the hairdresser. I gave him his apple and his smile was even bigger. Mission accomplished!

Your Revolution is a Joke.

I remember a few months ago watching Aljazeera news with a slice of toast, observing the riots spread across Syria, Egypt, Jordan and many other African countries, unaware and unfazed; it was not that I did not care, but as an outsider watching events unfold felt very surreal. I turned to DH and said, “I can’t imagine this would ever happen in this country, the British just moan and move on”.

Make sure you stock up on that basmati rice; not that you understand Mr Prole, but as you loot, the market is crashing. This will probably cost more in the future.

Of course the riots over the past few days in London are nothing by comparison, they are malicious, unmotivated and undoubtedly disgraceful. Watching the news this time was not a surreal experience, it was very real, it was 40 odd miles away. I have been obsessively checking various newspaper websites, Facebook and BBC News 24 is continuously in the background to ensure I do not miss out on anything significant. I spent the majority of yesterday in a constant state of panic as DH insisted on going to work. Luckily I was just paranoid and nothing actually happened, I would hate to be proved right.

These teens from deprived areas of London speak of ‘fighting back’ against the government and the ‘rich’, however there is no substance in their cause. They are children and do not fully understand why they are angry, blaming others for their despicable behaviour and joining in with their fellow criminal chums. Although increasing police numbers on the street last night proved a success in London, I fear as we move into next week and the streets are left unsupervised, hell will break loose again. These children have the idea planted in their heads after the Tottenham incident, but why do they think it is now acceptable to burn down buildings and terrorise local residents? Nothing has changed, this could have been done last week, last month, last year.

We all live by a mutual agreement set by society and its norms. I do not burn cars, steal or create social disorder because by being a part of this society I have agreed not to. There is nothing physically stopping me from doing these things but I understand right from wrong. The problem we have with these degenerates, is that they live in a society that does not encourage these norms. Written across the television last night the BBC advised parents to keep their children at home; what makes you think the parents are not cheering them on? These children behave in this way because of their upbringing and their surroundings. Who better to teach them the tricks of the trade than their beloved parents.

I am angered, upset and disgusted by the events in London, which have spread like a pandemic all over the country. These youths have no understanding of the consequences of their actions, nor do they care. They cannot be fully blamed because they have been conditioned to behave this way, however this is no justification. If we did not have such a corrupt government, I would probably support Marx’s idea to remove parental responsibility and allow children to be raised by the state. Maybe we should just enforce this on the proletariat, the rest of us are doing okay.

Summer, Summer, Sun Come Shine..

Enough of CBeebies..

One of the hardest things about the summer holidays is finding cost-effective fun for the kids, and of course, yourself. As promised in my previous post, here are reviews of my top five outings in the past, in no particular order. Obviously check the prices on their individual websites before you get going, please do not take my every word as fact!

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle

Where is it? Bodiam, near Robertsbridge, East Sussex, TN32 5UA.

What is it? An extravagant castle with a moat that was built in 1385. The inside has been destroyed and is now filled with grass, however the stairs and the outskirts of the castle remains. It is situated in a quaint village with a stream running through the picturesque greenery; perfect for a picnic or a walk with the dogs.

Cheap? Adults £6.80, Child £3.40. It might work out a lot cheaper to purchase the annual membership if you plan on making a few trips to National Trust. Also, between 1st – 26th August, up to two children can get in free per paying adult/member. Don’t forget coins for parking if you are not a member.

Facilities? The only toilets available are in the car park, which is also home to the tea room and gift shop. Literally just outside the entrance of car park there is also the Castle Inn pub.

Anything else? This is one of the  most amazing castles I have ever seen. For those who want a little bit more, they also hold activities for kids; when we visited, they were firing bows and arrows at various targets for £2.50. I would also warn you, if you are talking small children, make sure you have some reins or a pram. I almost had an anxiety attack over DS attempting to run down the steep hills and charging towards the moat!

Shorne Country Park

Shorne Woods Country Park – DS trying to play with the older kids.

Where is it? Brewers Road, Gravesend, Kent, DA12 3HX.

What is it? An extensive park with beautiful gardens and wildlife. There is also a play area for children of all ages – an enclosed park for the younger kids and a large adventure play area for the big kids. DS loved the swings, but he preferred running around screaming with a football. They also have various events and activities for children to join in.

Cheap? Free entry, however there are parking charges (Monday – Friday £2.00, weekends and bank holidays £2.50).

Facilities? The eco-friendly visitor centre also has a cafe.

Anything else? There isn’t much shading, remember to bring a hat and sun-cream!

Farming World

Where is it? Nash Court, Canterbury Road, Faversham, Kent, ME13 9HY.

What is it? A farm with all sorts of animals, varying from pigs, sheep, horses, birds, llamas, goats and cows.There are also several children’s play areas for all ages and tractor rides for the bigger kids. There are lots of events you can go to, sometimes if you dress the kids in a particular theme then it is free entry.

Cheap? Adults £6, Children (3-15) £5. I took DS when he was 16 months and he loved it. He didn’t fully understand but it was a fun way to show him the drawings in the books exist in real life.

Facilities? They have a cafe that is pretty busy. We bought a pack lunch and sat in one of their many benches scattered around the farm.

Anything else? Bring the antibacterial gel and lots of wipes.

Camber Sands

Where is it? It is situated in Rye, East Sussex. A useful postcode for the Sat Nav would be TN31 7RB.

What is it? It is a lovely sandy beach with dunes. I have a vague memory of a fun trip to Camber Sands when I was a child, and on that small dose of nostalgia, we set out on our adventure.

Cheap? Of course, no entry fee! You may want to research the local car parks or whether there is residential road without parking restrictions you could sneakily leave your car at. On our outing, the local farm were charging £5 all day for cars to park in their open area, which was much cheaper than the standard car parks run by the council.

Facilities? There should be toilet facilities, and there are usually small shops and cafes around. We had fish and chips for lunch, however it is very busy during lunch time (obviously!) so expect to wait a while. DS and I were wondering whether Daddy had done a runner as he had been gone an hour and a half to get lunch! You may want to go prepared with a pack lunch or take down the post code for the nearest Tesco.

Anything else? Lots of sun cream, nappies, wipes, water, cheap sandals, a hat and an all-in-one swim suit. We found a UV sun tent helpful, as we could store our belongings and it gave us a shaded area. Do not wheel the pram over the sand, as it will probably break. We overpacked for DS and completely forgot about ourselves, which left DH looking like a lobster… For a more in-depth beach survival guide, this is a good website.

Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle

Where is it? Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN3 8JN.

What is it? Scotney Castle is made up of two houses, separated by a large hill and a beautiful garden. It has a lovely picturesque moat and the ruins of an old castle.

Cheap? Garden: Adults £8.10, Child £4.95, Family £22.50. House and garden: Adults £12.60, Child £6.30, Family £31.50. Similarly to Bodiam Castle (above), it would be cheaper to purchase the annual membership from the National Trust. You can also gain free entry for kids between 1st – 26th August, up to two children can get in free per paying adult/member.

Facilities? There is a tea room, baby changing facilities and a gift shop.

Anything else? Standard sun-cream and maybe bright clothing; there is a lot to explore and you might find your little one playing hide and seek. Be wary of the moat, there is not a barrier and is very dangerous for young children.

So I guess all you need to do now is get dressed, get the kids dressed, pack their bags, pack yours, make the sandwiches, load up the car, grab the camera and the Sat Nav, lock the door… Have I forgotten something?!

School’s Out.

The six week break from school has officially commenced. Last week it was hardly believable, but now as we tumble into Tuesday after a long weekend, the tiredness is settling in and  parents nationwide are trying desperately to make fun-filled days. Obviously DS does not attend school at his age and I am not a pro-rata worker, but I do sense a slight comradeship with parents who do fit into the above categories. As I said farewell to Canterbury last week and have embraced motherhood once again, I somehow feel that this is only a temporary adjustment and in the next six weeks, normality will resume.

In the spirit of summer holidays and celebrating our newfound time together as a family, we have been on various days out. We ventured to Bodiam Castle on Sunday, which was an hour drive away. The scenery was stunning and the castle was extravagant to say the least. We have a ‘young persons’ (13-25 year olds) annual membership each with the National Trust, which works out cheaper than individual or ‘joint’ memberships. We have a vague interest in history and the stories that follow, but we mainly signed up for the memories we would make. Magnificent buildings and the extensive open space pose great potential for good photos. DS loves running freely in the open space, swinging his arms side by side as he toddles along.

My boys watching the ducks at Bodiam Castle.

It is worth looking into annual memberships for the National Trust and English Heritage, as it brings variance to your trips and spurs you on to actually get up and go. On both websites, you can locate on a map where your nearest National Trust/English Heritage sites are; it is important to research this before committing to a membership to ensure they are within a distance drivable from your home, otherwise it may be a bit of an effort to get your money’s worth. It is a great way to get kids interested in history, architecture and keep their minds stimulated.

I have been researching into various play centres and fun days out for DS, but it is difficult at this time of year as the activities are mainly aimed at older kids. Another issue I have come across is trying to find cost-effective outings, as businesses often use school holidays as an opportunity to squeeze parents dry. I did discover A Whale of a Time, which advertises ‘£1 Mondays’ on their website, however upon arriving yesterday I found out this is only valid during term time. Disgusted at the 500% increase to £5, I decided against this and took DS to Bluewater‘s outdoor play area instead which I did not have to pay for. This change of heart would have been impossible if DS was any older, but oblivious to the world at 19 months, he did not care too much about walking away. £5 is an extortionate rate for under 4’s, especially charging a baby who would rather chase a ball. Do not be afraid to walk away for any reason, you should not have to compromise yourself.

I will review various attractions I have visited in my next post, giving my overall rating on service, level of enjoyment and cost. I will also comprise a list of places I wish to take DS in the coming weeks. Watch this space.

A Let Down.

I have rented five properties thus far, each with different landlords/letting agencies. I would like to think I am a pro at renting now, however there seems to be a lesson to be learnt each time. As we have now fully received our deposit back, I thought I would share my experience of Heritage House and enlighten/warn any future renters.

Our previous apartment in Canterbury was a charm when we first moved in December 2009. DS was only three weeks old then and we had mould issues at our previous flat (which Connells did nothing about) so we had to lose a month’s rent and move into a new property promptly. Because we were moving at an unusual time of year, we managed to haggle our rent down from £700 to £630 a month. This was such a good price for a two bedroom city centre apartment with Whitefriars shopping centre literally seconds away.

The first 10 months of our tenancy was perfect. The lady who initially dealt with our property from Regal Estates was friendly and eager to help. She had empathised with our need for privacy, with a lack of curtains and being on the ground floor, she took our situation and made it her own. She convinced the landlord to pay for our curtains, on the condition that we chose them and DH would install the curtain poles in each room.

 

She stopped working for Regal not long before the renewal of our tenancy. There was an interim period where we were passed to various administrators and our emails were lost in transition. This is around the time the cistern in the toilet broke and was leaking water. Concerned that our water bills would increase, we contacted Regal on several occasions to alert them of the issue, however this came to no avail. They eventually called a plumber months after we initially emailed them, who did not fix the situation. Many correspondences and visits from the plumber later, our cistern was finally fixed 6 months down the line.

This issue did not end there. Our fresh water and waste water bills arrived soon after, which both had doubled in cost from the same period as the previous year. We raised this issue with Regal, highlighting the section of the tenancy which states the landlord should be liable for any cost incurred by the tenant, due to a fault in which the landlord did not rectify within a reasonable time frame. This was dismissed as they counteracted our claim with their ‘professional’ advice from a plumber, who had spent only five minutes reviewing the toilet. They said we may have had more showers, increased our usage of the washing machine or had more dirty dishes to clean, owing to the fact we have a growing baby. I did not appreciate this attempt to use my baby to subside the issue.

During this meeting I had with the manager of Regal, the new lady who took over my property sat there quietly, almost cowering behind her boss. I spoke off-topic and asked whether it would be possible to have a rolling contract when it came to renew again, to which she responded,

“I am not sure, I would need to ask the landlord. I see you have previously paid 3 months rent up front, I’m not sure if that was because you came from a foreign country?”

Funnily enough, speaking with clear diction in an English accent, I am not a foreigner. I did email this manager later on in complaint of her rude ignorance, incompetence and lack of customer service. Unsurprisingly, she did not respond.

After this occasion, we decided to seek the ‘professional advice’ they were so keen on. South East Water check our external pipes and the toilet, to conclude that they are all in order and it was most probably the broken cistern which caused our overpriced bills. Despite this, Regal have not compensated us for their incompetence, nor have we received an apology.

The next issue we came across was when the lock on our front door broke. DH attempted to dismantle the lock to fix it, ignoring the fact that he is not a locksmith. To no ones surprise, he could not put the lock back together and we had to call Regal to resolve the situation. The locksmith came the following day and spent only a few minutes putting the pieces back together and fixed what had originally gone wrong. We later received a bill from Regal for £35, half of the overall bill, because DH had dismantled the lock. Regardless of DH’s naivety in thinking he could fix the damn thing, the locksmith would have needed to dismantle it anyway. His work was definitely not worth the total cost of the bill. Lesson for the future: If something breaks, do not bother trying to resolve the issue yourself.

I find this whole experience with Regal shocking and cruel. It is despicable how more measures are not made to protect tenants; the tenancy appears to be solely made to safeguard landlords, who have no qualms in manipulating you for your money. I do hope that enough pressure is put on the government to rectify this, as it seems the demand for rental properties are soaring.