A Haunted Halloween at Tatton Park (review)

October half term is here and like many parents, I’ve been looking for fun and imaginative activities for my 7 and 5-year-old girls.  So this weekend we headed to Haunted Halloween at Tatton Park in Cheshire with some friends, in order to get ourselves totally spooked!

Halloween at Tatton Park
The VERY haunted Old Hall

We love Tatton Park.  There’s always so much to do as a family, whether you’re visiting the beautiful gardens, Mansion House, Farm or the Old Hall.  There is also a fantastic adventure playground, picnic areas and places to eat and drink  (my favourite is the Gardener’s Cottage!).  We tend to visit every school holiday and see what activities are on offer as it’s convenient, easy to travel to (we’re based in Manchester) and a beautiful setting.

For October half term, Tatton is currently in Halloween or Haunted mode.  You can visit Secret Hauntings at The Old Hall, which has been named as one of the most haunted places in the country.   You can also follow a spooky “I spy” trail  to spot the eccentric treasures of the last Lord Egerton in the Mansion House, encounter a Mystery Maze at the farm, or go ghoul spotting in the Gardens.

There’s so much to do, it’s difficult to do it all in one day.  So with this in mind, and as it was a blustery day amidst Storm Brian on the day we rocked up (a very apt atmosphere for spooky wanderings), we kept indoors and headed to the Old Hall.


I can report if you love being creeped out, this is definitely the place to visit.  As we entered the Old Hall, we were told that our eyes “should soon adjust to the darkness, so not to worry”.  It was dark, and decorated with a number of creepy adornments including skeletons, candles, ghouls and bats.  There was a projecting light show of skulls on the walls.  However the spookiest feature was by far the actors – dressed as ghosts, with silent, stony faces and primed to chase us unrelentingly around the Hall or leap out at our poor, unsuspecting selves.  Other rooms were set up as creepy crypts of hell, with skeletal, gibbering forms and model creatures.  And all this within one of the most haunted buildings in the country!

At this point I should note to my readers that my youngest daughter – age 5 – had to be hurriedly carried out of the Old Hall by my husband!  It was far too scary and upsetting for her.  However, my 7-year-old was fine and quite enjoyed it.  Whereas my fellow 41-year old friend also screamed her way through the Hall and was in and out in around 4 minutes! I would consider your own children’s sensitivity (and also your own?!) to this kind of environment.  I don’t think we’ll be taking our 5-year-old to anything spooky any time soon.

However, next up we visited the Mansion House, which was totally fine, spook-wise, for all family and friends.

Halloween at Tatton Park
Eccentric clues at the Mansion House

The Mansion House at Tatton was home to the Egerton family from around the turn of the 18th Century, and is set amidst over 50 acres of gardens and a whopping 1,000 acres of landscaped parkland.  The collections and exhibitions inside the mansion are beautifully kept and well presented.  I love wending my way around old houses like this; my favourite room at Tatton is the old study, complete with columns of bookshelves full of dusty old tomes.  The kitchens are another favourite.  I’m a self-confessed oven-geek and very much enjoy a browse of the old range ovens used in days of yore to prepare hearty feasts.

For half term, the children are given an ‘I Spy’ quiz sheet to complete.  In each room there is a fact sheet for them to spot containing a clue which will give them the answers to their questions.  All the children enjoyed the quiz and it was difficult to keep up with them as they excitedly ran from room to room.  We spotted many eccentric objects collected by Lord Egerton on his travels around the world, including a table made out of an elephant’s ear!

We’re planning to return later in the week to both the Farm and the Gardens.  My 7-year-old spotted a ghoul through the window whilst in the Mansion House and now wants to see how many more she can find!

A Haunted Halloween at Tatton Park runs until the 29th October and is well worth a visit – just a note that the Old Hall is for the non-sensitive!

Disclaimer:  We were invited to review A Haunted Halloween free of charge.  All opinions are our own.

Fidgeting and focus in 7 year olds

fidgeting in 7-year-olds and adults
A closet fidgeter

The Summer Holidays were over and it was back to school for the girls and back to work for me.  My girls are now almost age 7 and 5 and have just made a start in Year 2 and Reception.  This is quite a milestone for me, my youngest now being in school full-time.    I dedicated some time to getting them both school-ready again, including some reading and writing practice, impressing on them the importance of ‘listening the first time’ to teachers, enjoying their learning and taking pride in their work.

My youngest settled very well, very quickly.  Reception still involves a lot of play and play-based learning.  It’s not a great deal different to her nursery class so far.  In Year 2, however (and to some extent, Year 1), the pressure on the children has increased considerably.  This year will see my 7-year-old take her Year 2 SATs (which, I believe, may be being scrapped in a few years’ time – but not yet!) which requires a lot of preparation and the ability to focus and concentrate for a period of time.

We’re still just over 3 weeks into the school year and already I’ve faced parenting school-challenge number 1 – how to help your child to focus.  Yes, my 7-year old was find it hard to “remain on task”, I was told.  She gets “distracted easily” and crucially, she “fidgets a lot”.  When I pressed the teacher to explain what exactly was happening, I found that the fidgeting was the biggest problem.  She has been given her own chair to sit on during carpet time, to “help her to focus”.

We took this on board as parents after week 1 and tried to understand what was happening.  We’ve tried a few things both at home and at school which I’ll explain in a while – they seem to be gradually working and helping our daughter to settle and enjoy her class.  But first I wanted to reflect on this phenomenon of fidgeting.

As I write this, I realise I’m intermittently bouncing my foot up and down and playing with my bottom lip.  Yes, you guessed it – I also a fidgeter.  Listening to my daughter’s teachers brought back some interesting memories of my own school days.  I distinctly remember being told to stop fidgeting whilst I was on the carpet!  As I paid attention to my own behaviour, I realise that rarely do I sit still (my husband will tell you that I sit completely still only after 8pm at night).  At work, if I have a particular report or presentation to write which requires concentration, I fidget.  I wouldn’t say it’s particularly noticeable to colleagues (maybe it is..maybe I should ask!) but I do move around in my seat, chew on my nails and mess with my feet or twirl my hair.  As per my ‘workstation assessment’ instructions, I get up at least every 20 minutes to walk around, chat to a colleague, make a cup of coffee or go to the loo.

The key point here is that I wonder if my fidgeting helps my concentration.  I certainly do manage to get the work done and to meet my objectives and targets.

A quick google of fidgeting in children throws up a few surprises.  There’s been a lot of research in this area, which seems to suggest that fidgeting does in fact help with concentration in some people, and particularly in those with ADHD (spawning the advent of the Fidget Spinner).  It can be a good stress reliever.  Fidgeters tend to be more prone to mind wandering or daydreaming – they have active imaginations and can be very creative.  Intriguingly, fidgeters tend to be thinner according to one article, burning around 200-300 more calories per day.

I found this interesting on a number of levels.  Is fidgeting genetic?  Why do some people fidget and not others?  Is fidgeting ok after all, and could it actually be helping my 7-year-old to focus?

The last point is a tricky one.  It’s been helpful to understand the motivation behind my 7 year old’s ants-in-your-pants-ness, but if I’m honest, my research was just the validation of what I already know.  She’s an energetic girl with a lively mind.  She doesn’t really like sitting still – it’s not in her nature.  Even if she’s watching TV at home, she will bounce from sofa to sofa, or just get up and do a few laps of the living room because she feels like it.  She likes sport (don’t know where she gets that from!) – particularly monkey bars and tennis.  But she’s also bright, enjoying learning musical theory currently and learning about science.  As her teacher told me (begrudgingly?) “she’s obviously taking in enough.”

It wouldn’t be OK to say “oh fidgeting is fine, do as much as you like as it’s your nature”.  The feeling at her school is that she can achieve more, or ‘take in’ more, if she can sit still for longer periods of time and that with less fidgeting, she’ll be less distracted.  Is this right?  I think, from observing my own behaviour, that it’s a balance.  I’m clearly a natural fidgeter, but over time I learned not only when to fidget, but how to focus whilst fidgeting, or even how to fidget acceptably!

My husband and I were also keen not to impress on our daughter that there is anything ‘wrong’ or ‘different’ about her – because there isn’t.  Some people fidget and some don’t.  Some people bite their nails and some don’t, some sit with their legs crossed, some don’t.  For school purposes, she needs to find a way to have a bit of a good old fidget, at the right time, whilst retaining her ability to listen and learn.

Simple, surely?  Well, at least we wanted to keep it simple and not make too big a deal of it for her.  So our method has so far been this:

  • Everyone’s different:  by this we just mean to let her know that some people fidget and some don’t, using myself as an example.
  • Practice makes perfect: If she fidgeted too much in the first week or so, then it doesn’t matter.  Like playing the piano, practising her own particular techniques takes time.
  • Techniques: We’ve also practised some simple ‘thumb twiddling’ and ‘foot twiddling’ techniques that aren’t as annoying to the teacher but still release a bit of energy.  We’ve also practised simple deep breathing – although this was not as effective!
  • Play when you can: Reminders that she can fidget and run around to her heart’s content at break times and lunchtimes.

We did briefly consider something like a fidget spinner, or bracelet she can fiddle with.  We did use something similar when she was around 4 years old – a fidget necklace.  But to us, and considering where she’s at and how she’s coping, we felt this was too much and perhaps a bit of a backward step at this stage for her.  I can totally see their usefulness, however!

So far, so good and we will see how the fidgeting progresses, or not, over the coming year.  Are you a fidgeter?  I promise, it’s an interesting exercise to monitor your own fidgeting in the course of one day!


Fossil hunting and rock pooling in Lyme Regis 

In my Summer Bucket List 2017, I mentioned our planned holiday trip to Lyme Regis where we would spend lots of time relaxing, building sand castles and admiring the views on The Cobb beach.

Well we’re here and we’ve been having a fantastic time.  Our cottage – an old shipman’ cottage – is a 2 minutes stroll down to the East Cliff beach and a short walk into the main town and the bustling Cobb area.

Lyme Regis holiday review
The view by our gorgeous ancient mariner’s cottage

There’s so much to do here. Sunny days can be spent on the beach, taking in the breathless views towards the Golden Cap, finding shrimps and crabs in rock pools, fossil finding and strolling along the seafront with its many bars and cafes. For rainy days, there’s so much to do; in the town itself there’s the Town Mill museum with it’s working watermill, the Lyme Regis Museum and the Dinosaur Museum to name a few attractions. 

Lyme Regis holiday review
The beautiful East Cliffe Beach- great for fossilling and rock pooling

The beach areas are great for families.  The Cobb is where the main events and activities take place, with lifeguards stationed at the Sandy beach area, plenty of amenities and cafes, the obligatory English deckchair for hire and so on.  It feels safe for the kids, which is all the more relaxing for the parents. 

Lyme Regis holiday review
Lots of rock pools!

We’ve never been rock pooling or fossil-hunting before. I was a little dubious we would find anything at all. Not naturally outdoorsy-type people, it makes our brains hurt to think of what equipment we would even need for such activities. 
As it turns out, no equipment is needed whatsoever.  Although I believe you have more success with lines and bait for the crabs and shrimps, when the tide is out a simple bucket will catch many tiny shrimps. It’s easy to spot the crabs dipping in and out of the shady rocks.  It’s a fantastic children’s activity; a good hour or so at a time can be spent pottering around the rocks, in sunshine or drizzle (we did both!).
Lyme Regis holiday review
Success! A fossilised ammonite.
Over at East Cliff, you can see many tourists with hammers and chisels, busting away at the grey Jurassic rock in their fossil hunts.  The tools are sold in the local shops, but you can simply use another big stone to tap along the strata of the rocks, as we found to our success!  Ammonites are most commonly found – a type of marine mollusc.  However, head to one of the museums to see some unbelievable examples of fossils found and read the story of Mary Anning who made some of the most significant geological finds of our time.

Lyme Regis town museum review
Fossilised Ichthyosaur in the Lyme Regis Museum

 At the Town Mill Museum, our two girls learned from one of the best volunteer guides we’ve seen how the working watermill worked and even had a try at milling their own flour.  We really enjoyed our afternoon here, topped off with a beer at the Lyme Regis Brewery across the way. 

Lyme Regis town mill
Learning the daily grind!

It’s important for us as parents to chill out on holiday and I can report that it’s been relaxing so far mainly due to the children being occupied…and helped by the discovery of a handy flask in our cottage.  Perfect for beach-coffees!

Lyme Regis holiday review
Solitary coffee on East Cliff Beach- great for rock pools and fossils

We’re only a little way into our holiday so more beach days to go.  I haven’t even mentioned the restaurants we’ve visited (separate review of River Cottage to come!). Lyme Regis is famous for the 1981 film version of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, so this evening we’ll be visiting the aptly named  French Lieutenant’s Bistro

Later this week we’ll be following in my pal Hodge Podge Days‘ footsteps and moving across to sunny Devon for more fun and adventures! 

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, Manchester (review)

Elizabeth Gaskell's House, ManchesterTicking off another item on the Summer Bucket List 2017, we visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester this weekend.

Another very conveniently sited family attraction, Elizabeth Gaskell‘s House in Manchester is the former home of Elizabeth and her family. I’m very familiar with her most famous novels, which include Mary Barton, Cranford, North and South, and Wives and Daughters.  In my (long-distant?) youth, I studied Victorian Literature as part of my degree and obsessed over Bronte, Eliot and Gaskell.

My eldest daughter, who will begin Year 2 in September, has recently been studying the Victorian at school, with a school trip to the nearby Dunham Massey House.  I thought this would be a good place for them to visit during the school summer holidays – educational and fun activities – what’s not to like?

Elizabeth Gaskell's House, Manchester
Victorian tea time for minis

We arrived to find a beautiful period home near Central Manchester at 84 Plymouth Grove.  It’s an impressive,  beautifully restored Grade II listed neoclassical villa with spectacular period rooms, villa garden and a lovely tea rooms.  It was the residence of William and Elizabeth Gaskell from 1850 until their deaths in 1884 and 1865 respectively, and one or more of their daughters continued to live there until 1913.

What’s more, we were most impressed with the volunteers, stationed in every room and manning the tea rooms.  They seemed so dedicated and knowledgable – we could ask them anything!

With 2 hungry youngsters, we actually began our tour of the house in the tea room, situated in the old kitchens and adjacent to the servants quarters.  My two girls (aged 6 and 4) were really impressed that they could sit at their own tea-table and enjoy a piece of home-made cake.

Elizabeth Gaskell's House Manchester
A Victorian lady and her maid

However, they were even more impressed to try out the Victorian costumes in the servants quarters.  This is my best photo of the summer so far – my youngest as a Victorian lady, perchance about to nip out for her afternoon stroll around the gardens following her tea, with her lady’s maid (not sure how good a lady’s maid my 6-year-old would make, however!).

We didn’t actually make it upstairs for quite sometime due to costume-induced hilarity.  However we eventually ascended and made it, back at the impressive entrance to the house.  the girls each had a turn at ringing the doorbell – a traditional wired system whereby a lever at the front of the house is pushed to ring the internal bell.

The girls were each given a clipboard with a pictorial list of items that they needed to find around the house.  The house has been beautifully restored over the years, having lain dormant for some time until the University of Manchester procured it in 1969.  Most of the items there are of the period, with many original Gaskell items held here also (these are kept behind perspex – for example letters, pictures, other personal items).

Exploring the house and activities

We made or way through William Gaskell‘s study, the morning room, drawing-room and dining room.  There are activities for children in each of the rooms, for example the magnifying glass and range of letters, much-loved by my two girls who were fascinated by the tiny, cursive writing.

We saw copies of letters from Charles Dickens which I found interesting.  Mrs Gaskell wrote for a periodical for Charles Dickens and some of her stories later formed the basis of Cranford.

We also found out much more from the volunteers about the life and work of the Gaskell’s and the lives of their daughters and servants.

I was particularly drawn to the Gaskell quotes stationed around the house – so appropriate still to modern times!

We will certainly visit the Gaskell house again.  The house and it’s volunteers host a year-round programme of special events and the loved book shop sells a range of new and second-hand books.  I bought Sylvia’s Lovers as I’ve never read this novel of Mrs Gaskell’s. It will provide me with my holiday reading!

Disclaimer: We were invited to visit Elizabeth Gaskell’s House free of charge.  Admission is £5 per adults – children under 16 go free.  All opinions are our own.

Never a truer word spoken!


Manchester Museum (Review)

Kicking off the items in our Summer Bucket List 2017, we spent yesterday at Manchester Museum and had a really great day.

I think the first thing to note about Manchester Museum is that it’s so easy to travel to. To my shame, I’m no public transport person, but I was persuaded by thrifty husband that the bus was by far the easiest and quickest option.  I grudgingly admit it was a good idea. The number 41/43 bus was every 5 minutes, much cheaper than parking in town and it dropped us right outside the door.

Manchester Museum
I’d read that the museum has activities for the kids on every day during the summer, which encouraged me to add it to the bucket list for preferably a rainy day (and boy was yesterday rainy).

We began our Museum journey investigating rocks, minerals and fossils.  Fossils are topical for us currently as we’ll shortly be holidaying on the Jurassic Coast where there are fossils aplenty.  We’ve never fossil-hunted before so it was timely for the girls to learn about how they are formed and view a few great ones.

There were plenty of dinosaur skeletons and footprints to capture the imagination, including Stan the T Rex! We were invited to take a selfie with Stan and of course were only too happy to oblige.

My two girls will shortly turn 7 and 5.  The last time we visited the Museum they were still toddlers.  Their age makes all the difference; they were immediately thrilled with the exhibits on offer, dashing around, pointing at bones, crystals, fossils and meteorites.

Manchester Museum
There are many selfie opportunities at the Manchester Museum

Onto the nature discovery and living worlds sections where again the girls were chasing around learning about the different animals and our impact as humans on the world.  They were fascinated with the beetle collections in particular – forcing themselves to look at them and pulling yuck faces!

We spotted four Book Benches from the Read Manchester project for kids.  They’re currently completing the Summer Reading Challenge so I liked this addition to the Museum activities.
We spent some time in the Ancient Cultures section. My eldest has learnt a little about the ancient Egyptians at school recently and she was hugely fascinated with the “actual, real Mummies” we saw.  Manchester Museum has an important collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts.  This is my favourite of the collections as I do love watching documentaries about the Egyptians.

The Vivarium is a good place for the kids to do a bit of poisonous frog and snake spotting and breaks up the usual exhibits nicely.  I had to remind them it isn’t a zoo – research takes place here and we saw a number of researchers in action.

Giant spider crab manchester museum
We had lunch in the lovely Muse cafe and then spent an inordinate length of time looking at the Giant Spider Crab (above).  Hideous looking thing.  The girls thought it was the best thing they’d ever seen.  Yuck.

We ended the day in the Discovery Centre being Story Explorers.  The girls did junk modelling and wrote their own stories about what they had made.  The centre also contained a huge reading tent and it was nice to end with reading stories.

We enjoyed the day and will definitely return.  My nearly-7 year old now wants to be a palaeontologist

Summer bucket list 2017

A summer bucket list – what a great idea! The summer holidays are fast approaching, with my two girls, aged 6 and 4 both finishing school this Friday.  It can be difficult to find entertainment for the kids during the school holiday period.  Organisation is absolutely crucial!  Preparing a bucket list is a great way to get focused, so heads up to HodgePodgeDays who gave me this idea via her own Summer Bucket List post.

I’ll certainly be stealing some ideas from the Hodge, particularly as we’ll be holidaying in the same area at one point in the holidays – North Devon.  We’ll also be travelling to Lyme Regis and plan to do much more with our 6 week break from school.

There’s so much to around Greater Manchester, where we’re based.  I admit that I can become panicked by the range of activities on offer; can we fit it all in??  Well here goes with the list:

  • Fruit picking at a local farm.  I’m aiming for Kenyon Hall Farm in Cheshire.  I hear they still have some fruit left such as Tayberries and Blackcurrants.  We missed the strawberry season, but we did have a few in our own garden.
  • Explore Secret Stories at local National Trust site Tatton Park.  We’re lucky to have some absolutely fantastic National Trust properties around Greater Manchester.  We try to get to most of them each school holiday as they involve a great mix of learning and fun outdoor activities.
  • Visit another National Trust property, Lyme Park in Disley.  My girls love it here. On a sunny day they can potter around the stream adjacent to the main visitor centre.  We can spot if the tadpoles we saw back in May have sprouted into frogs! We’ll take a picnic and I can just lie down (a recurring theme regarding myself this summer holiday).
  • Another National Trust one – Quarry Bank Mill.  We haven’t been here for a while and there’s usually some fantastic activities inside the Mill and outdoor fun in the gorgeous gardens.
  • Spend lots of time relaxing, building sand castles and admiring the views on The Cobb, a beautiful beach in Lyme Regis on the Jurassic Coast, where we’ll be spending some time this summer.
  • Go fossil hunting on The Cobb and surrounding beaches of Lyme Regis.  We’ve never done this; I’ve never done this, even as a child.  I find myself wondering about this curiosity – how many fossils can there possibly be?  Do they run out? Become extinct?? I’m told there are fossils a-plenty and i can only imagine my girls’ reactions on finding their first hoard.
  • Visit Westward Ho! Beach in North Devon, another planned holiday spot.  Stolen from The Hodge’s bucket list, this is another beautiful spot.
  • Go crabbing.  Again an activity that we have never done before.  I’m a little alarmed by this and may in fact pass the whole activity over to my husband, being quite frightened of the pincers and such.
  • Visit the Elizabeth Gaskell House in Manchester.  Manchester has a great many Museums and we’ve been to most of them.  I was an English Literature student and enjoyed Cranford and North and South.  The House has a range of children’s Victorian-themed educational activities, so we’re definitely visiting this summer!
  • Again on the museum theme and one for a rainy day, we intend to visit the Manchester Museum.  If we can visit prior to our Lyme Regis, the Jurassic sections should prepare our girls for the fossiling ahead!
  • Visit Chester Zoo. A friend and I are planning this.  We’ve been quite a few times, but there’s always something new to see.  I love the giraffes, my friend loves the primates and my girls love the lions!
  • Eat lots of nice food.  I’m sure we’ll find many excellent eating establishments in Lyme Regis and Devon.  There are plenty of great ones in Manchester, too and it’s not always easy to find the time to try them with the children.  One we’ll definitely be trying is Vapiano in The Corn Exchange in Manchester.  We have kindly been invited for a meal and I hear they have a great kids menu.

That’s quite a list for 6 weeks and I’m hoping for good weather for quite a few of these.  Check back and see how we’re getting on.

Coping without social media 

social media coping without

I’m back again, after my self-enforced social media vacuum – no social media for Lent.   This was a big deal for a once Facebook-obsessed meme-monster.  Lent is a good 6 weeks, not a piffling few days. A good time, then, for inner, personal reflection rather than outward “look what I’m doing now!” exhibition.   Or even, “look what I’m thinking now!” scaremongering (more of this, below).

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest – my otherwise constant daily and hourly (and minutely?) companions were duly deleted from my iPhone.   I welcomed the break, having experienced the weight of negative feelings which I was increasingly linking to my use of social media.  A break would help me to assess what was happening, how I use social media now and how I could perhaps get a more positive experience from it in the future.

It’s quite timely that I write this blog post today (although I’ve been jotting down some feelings throughout the Lent period), when the image I’m seeing a great deal on social media just today is this:

Crush the saboteurs I don’t read the Daily Mail, which is arguably the point! The front cover today has become a meme, ‘gone viral’. Luckily, with my newly developed social media ‘emotional resistance regime’, I can choose not to dwell on the demonic May poster and resulting comments and opinion.  But before I delve into the outcomes of my time in the wilderness, I’ll take a look at the reasons why I decided it was all getting a bit too much.

Reasons for leaving

  • Negativity, or even downright apocalyptic drama on social media

I’ve never been more switched on politically than right now.  We’re living in one of the most tumultuous political and social eras in recent history and no-one knows what’s going to happen.  What do you do when you’re uncertain about the future and happen to also live in a time when information is immediate? Some people might choose to switch off. If you’re like me, you might Google ten times a day and fervently scroll through Facebook and Twitter feeds. Someone out there must know what’s going to happen?

I personally became swept up in the drama of Brexit and Trump. The more I looked for information or reassurance, the more horrified and demoralised I became at the often vicious and aggressive commentary happening on social media.  At one low point, I found myself navigating to the Fox News Facebook page and reading comments to news posts – I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing this unless you’re particularly emotionally resistant to extreme racism, trolling and division!  My own actions were akin to forcing myself to look at the world’s worst slasher movie out of morbid curiosity, but the effect was to come away feeling slightly more downhearted.

  • ‘Notification anxiety’

I don’t know if anyone else has this feeling. It’s probably on the OCD scale, like I must know where all remote controls to TV and streaming devices are at all times and they must also be neatly lined up on the coffee table.  Similarly, if there are red notifications in the top right hand corner of my Facebook or Twitter app on the iPhone, I can’t stand it.  I have to clear them off or it niggles me.  Oh to be free of the niggle for 6 weeks…bliss.

  • Distraction from the most important things…

Obviously, a combination of notification and world affair anxiety was distracting me from the single most important thing in my life – my 2 beautiful daughters, aged 6 and 4.  Increasingly, I’d find I was looking a phone instead of responding to questions, or just not paying attention to what they’re telling me about their day.  I’m the one that complains of how they say “I can’t remember!” when asked about their day at school.  So why was I incessantly looking at social media when they try to talk to me?

  • Boredom

I think my final reason for taking a break was plain boredom and tiredness.  Too much of the same thing.  The same people, the same groups, the same kinds of photos, the same negativity I was increasingly being drawn to. My thumb was also getting sore from scrolling (is there a name for this? ‘Scroller’s thumb’ maybe!? ).  Added to this, it was the end of a rainy, dark February.

How did it go?  I’ve been assessing myself through the 6 week period, taking note of what I missed, if anything, and how I felt.

The positives of no social media

  • Less anxiety and more relaxation!

I was obviously ready for this as peace came quickly.  For the first 1 1/2 days, I did feel at times a little lost, akin to the feeling where you think you’ve forgotten something – a letter you were meant to post maybe, or a task or reminder you’ve forgotten to act upon.  After the first day or two, this feeling disappeared.  I did, over the course of the 6 weeks, miss a few things which I’ve set out below.  But these feelings were few and scarce.  I certainly wasn’t pining for any social media at all.

  • More time spent on other activities

… and of course this means I had more time for arguably more positive pursuits!  I have certainly listened to my children more and enjoyed observing their expressions, the way they speak and move.  We’ve done more cooking and baking than ever before in such a period of time.  They even helped me make Mary Berry’s self-saucing lemon pudding – quite technical for a 6 and 4-year-old.   I’ve also read a lot more – both fiction and non-fiction, online, via my kindle, and even – shocker – in print. I’ve also had far more time to cross off to do list items, which included some major changes in our household.

I have to admit that the urge to fiddle on the phone didn’t get the better of me entirely.  My ASOS shopping app got a fair battering, as did the Met Weather app, weirdly.   I did avoid news apps however, for obvious reasons, my thinking being that if WW3 is about to start, surely someone will just tell me?

At one point, I got addicted to reading answers to questions on Quora, until my husband reminded me that, technically, this is also social media.  However, look up ‘mysteries’ on there if you’re looking for a wacky read.

What did I miss?

This is important as it reflects how I’m going to be using social media differently going forward and my new ‘emotional resistance regime’.

  • Twitter

I missed Twitter, but for one reason only –  connectivity with my local community.  Is my yoga class on, this evening? What events are happening in the local area this weekend? When is that new bar opening?  There are a couple of local Facebook groups that I perhaps missed a little for a similar reason; however these do also tend to get bogged down with negative comments, for example “oh that’s just what we need – another wanky bar in the area”.  So I conclude Twitter is best for local community information.  

And that’s basically it.  I didn’t miss Facebook at all, or Instagram or Pinterest.  However it did give me time to think about how I might use these apps differently.

My reflection took me back to the emergence of social media and how we could connect more easily and immediately than ever before.  This is still valid, but these connections can be used more positively.  What do I need them for?  What’s important to me and how can I use them for the betterment of myself rather than to feed negative emotion?

It’s a work in progress, but my main points are this:

  • I’ve switched off notifications.
  • I’ll look at Facebook, but once a day. There are key friends and groups I’ll navigate to.  I can’t avoid the memes and news stories of the day, but I won’t be drawn into reading more about them, particularly the commentary.
  • I have lists set up on my Twitter account, one of which is for local community groups and accounts of local interest. This is the one I’ll browse, and again maybe once a day.  I do have a separate account for work (I work in cancer care) – it’s informative  and helpful to look at this feed so I’ll glance at this, too.
  • No Fox News or the like, on either Facebook or Twitter!
  • I have also defriended a few people (obvious Trump supporters – I’m not apologising for that, either. I just don’t want to read their sh*t. Not so bothered about Brexit supporters as long as I feel they had reasoned arguments rather than a snap response to divisive issues.)
  • Instagram, Pinterest. Well, I’ve recently, given my age (40, no less) become interested in gardening and household improvement, for which these apps can be useful.  My new regime includes taking a look at these apps perhaps more frequently, but to research practical issues that are positive for my family.

It’s a basic ethos: social media can be positive, but only if I utilise it as positively as I can.  In addition, less is more and I need to put the phone down.

My new outlook on social media comes at a testing time, with a snap general election on the way on June 8th!  I’m aware of the negativity that’s begun already, but I think one day in to the announcement, I’ve done a decent job of not dragging myself down with it.  A more relaxed and refreshed me, with a less sore thumb!


Babe, the Sheep Pig at The Lowry, Salford Quays (review)

Babe, the Sheep Pig at The Lowry, Salford QuaysToday I’m breaking my ‘no social media for lent’ rule by reviewing the most excellent Babe, the Sheep Pig, which we saw earlier this week at The Lowry, Salford Quays.  Has to be done – it was such a good show!

Babe is a great story for young children (although we saw quite a lot of older children and adults, too!) – a story of friendship, adventure and bravery.  I remember reading the book by Dick King-Smith when I was younger and it was one of those early books that I couldn’t wait to read more of, couldn’t put down.

This production features a West End cast and is adapted by Olivier Award winner David Wood who has also adapted the likes of Goodnight Mister Tom, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it follows Babe’s rise to become a world famous sheep-pig. Babe arrives at Hogget’s Farm and is taken in by the trusty sheep-dog Fly who becomes his adopted Mum, learning to lead the most comical sheep! He makes lots of animal friends on the way and faces a number of piggy trials and tribulations.

Babe the sheep pig lowry
Stunning puppetry of the world’s cutest pig

The highlights of this production for us were the stunning puppetry and music/percussion. The clever music gave a sense of momentum and created atmosphere at key parts in the story.  My girls, age 6 and 4, were enthralled by the puppets (and as an adult, we could easily forget they were puppets at all – so clever!).

It’s not easy to entertain young children for 2 1/2 hours in the Easter holidays – but Babe certainly did.  The audience got involved at key parts in he production and this created a sense of fun and adventure that the children could be part of.

The Lowry is also an excellent venue for children. It’s easy to get to, it has lots of restaurants and shops at The Lowry outlet across from the theatre. The theatre itself has a number of bars and cafes. My girls really enjoy visiting.

Babe is on at The Lowry until this Saturday 15th April.  Book tickets on The Lowry website or visit the Babe the Pig Live page for details of the UK tour. 

We look forward to more Lowry shows in the future- next stop Fantastic Mr Fox in the summer!

Disclaimer: My family were invited free of charge to review Babe the Pig Live. All opinions are our own.

Horrible Christmas at The Lowry (review)

Last night, we took ourselves off to The Lowry at Salford Quays to see Horrible Christmas.  

It was an absolutely fantastic show – a great opportunity for our family to spend some fun time together at Christmas.  I was howling with laughter at one point and our two girls, age 6 and 4, loved it. 

Horrible Christmas
Part of the Horrible Histories tour by the Birmingham Stage Company, the show tells the very funny story of how Christmas comes under threat from a bad Santa dressed in red – “Sydney Claus” played brilliantly by Chris Gunter.  It’s up to one young Wendy Watson to save the day, helped by Shirley Holmes.  

I love the Horrible Histories series and the show has reminded me to encourage my two girls to read/watch more of it. This show focussed on Victorian villains, Medieval monks, Puritans and Tudors, telling us how they celebrated Christmas in an extraordinarily funny way. 

My absolute favourite was King William’s rap (“I’ve got the crown, so get down!”) – not to be missed.  There were plenty of songs and actions for the audience to join in with, including a tune about how to stuff a Tudor turkey in King Henry VIII’s day. It involved a woodcock, a pheasant and a chicken – I remember well.  The Tudors were obviously fond of the 4-bird roast!

We travelled through time, learning about Charles Dickens, Oliver Cromwell, King Henry VIII, St Nicholas and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  The show lasted for around 2 hours with an interval which was just right for the ages of my children (they managed to sit more or less still and the songs/actions meant they had an excuse for a wriggle every now and then!). 

If you can manage to get tickets for the show this Christmas, I recommend this show which is loads of fun for the family.  The Lowry is a fantastic venue, with lots of restaurants and shopping centre on the doorstep.  

Merry Christmas! Let the festivities begin! 

Disclosure:  We were invited free of charge to review this show.  All opinions are our own.  For more info please visit The Lowry website.

The best Christmas story ever, by a 6 year old 

Every day, I empty the school bags of my 6 and 4 year old girls.  Usually, alongside school notes and such, there are colourful drawings and scribbles a-plenty.  Nice as they are, I can’t keep all of them and find myself trying to stick them all on the fridge until we can’t reach the milk without fairy drawings falling on our heads.

Occasionally, there’s an absolute gem in those bags.  

This one will certainly get a re-telling by my husband one day in the future – forming part of his father-of-the-bride wedding speech.

Written by my 6 year old, it’s a heart-warming story of the magic of Christmas.  I hope you enjoy. 

Santa needs a wee

One day, Santa was riding his sleigh. But it was so fast, it made Santa need a wee and he didn’t notice he was doing the wee already.

A little bit of the wee came out of the sleigh hole already.  When Santa had finished, his pants were wet.  After a few minutes, the Christmas magic made his pants dry so he lived happily ever after. 

The end.