Monthly Archives: May 2015

A toddler-inspired trip to Barcelona

Seven years ago or so, one of my bestest friends moved to Barcelona. I was gutted that she would no longer be around the corner, but there began a love affair with the Catalonian capital, a city that whilst I was living in London became my second home.

It’s been harder to visit as frequently now that I’m living in Devon, though it’s a short flight from Bristol, or a seriously cool adventure by ferry and road from Plymouth. Last summer we managed to make it out with Arthur for the first time, and discovered just what an awesome city it is with a toddler in tow.


I’d already been used to traversing the streets with my friend’s own children, but I’d panicked a little at the prospect of visiting with an eighteen month old, especially in the height of summer. I needn’t have worried though.


He loved toddling down tree-lined streets, eye-catching graffiti, a handy play park or an intriguing piece of public art on almost every corner. The whole culture is just perfectly set up for kids: no-one looked twice when we took him out in the evening for dinner, and with the help of the sling we could get everywhere we needed to on public transport.




On top of the general infrastructure though there are lots of things to do that are just perfect for keeping little people entertained. Having just booked our flights for this summer’s trip, I thought it was about time I revisited them!

1) The beach

It’s sometimes easy to forget that Barcelona is right on the sea. In fact, when I first visited as part of an InterRail trip nearly twenty years ago, I’m not sure we actually made it to the beach at all. The coastline has been developed loads in the intervening years and there are now a range of beaches to choose from, becoming quieter and cleaner the further you venture from the centre.


It was a real bonus in the August heat to be able to go and chill out and cool off – though actually the sea is lovely and warm in summer, especially for a little boy used to swimming in the bracing seas of Brixham!


2) The Olympic pool 

The sea is not the only option for a swim. In fact my favourite place for a refreshing dip has to be the Olympic pool high above the city in Montjuic.


The water is delightedly cool on hot skin, it never gets too crazy busy, and there is something brilliantly surreal about the setting. The views across the city are pretty much impossible to beat.


3) The Miro foundation

Whilst you’re up in Montjuic, it’s well worth paying a visit to the Fundació Joan Miró. The art is big and bold and beautiful – just right to capture the imagination of a toddler. And as an added bonus there is a roof terrace with more wonderful views and the chance to get up close and personal with some striking sculptures.



4) The cable car

If you’re still hankering after more views, the cable car back down the mountain is pretty special. I’d love to take Arthur back now that he’s babbling away – I’m so curious to know what was going through his mind as he stared wide-eyed at the world below.



5) The Sagrada Familia

For something completely different, it’s well worth checking out Gaudi’s magnificent church – a masterpiece which is still under construction.


From the outside it is unusual and impressive, and the soaring space of the interior is fantastic too. It is a welcome respite from the heat: Arthur was flaking as we waited outside, but soon perked up with the cool air and space to explore.



Make sure you book tickets in advance to avoid the massive queues – you can do this online right up to the day of your visit and I would definitely recommend you do.

6) The Aquarium

More respite from the heat can be found at the aquarium down in the old harbour. It was crazy busy on the day we visited, but that didn’t bother Arthur: he was entranced by the different coloured marine life and would happily have stayed for hours if we’d let him.



7) Parc de la Crueta de Coll

One other place that’s well worth a visit for some watery fun is the paddling pool in the old quarry at Parc de la Crueta de Coll. It’s a bit out of the town centre, but totally doable on the metro. You’re much more likely to be rubbing shoulders with locals than tourists, and for most toddlers it is a little slice of heaven.



(I know he doesn’t look too happy in the second pic, but I think he was just in a deep state of relaxation: basking in the sun whilst standing chest deep in cool water.)

8) La Boqueria

After all you adventures, you are likely to be in need of some refreshment. Barcelona is awash with great tapas bars and restaurants of almost every variety you can imagine, but it is the markets I love most, and La Boqueria is my favourite of those.



For little ones it is a feast for the senses: from fresh fish piled high to fabulous fruit to eat on the go. Definitely worth popping in, if only to soak up the atmosphere.

Even with all this, I feel like we have only scraped the tip of the iceberg of opportunities Barcelona offers for young families. It’s a good thing we’re going back in a couple of months: I cannot wait for more adventures – or for the blissfully deep sleep they inevitably induce.


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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Summer is here!

I’ve decided I’m calling it.

Admittedly it’s early days: as I’ve been writing this post the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard has been accompanied by the rain spattering the window panes. White horses skitter across the bay, and the leaves in the trees are being buffeted by a wind too strong to be called a breeze. But that’s just part and parcel of the season here in Devon.

And looking at the week in balance there is no doubt in my mind that we have crossed the boundary into summer.


It’s half term of course, so the streets of Brixham are filled with holidaymakers. Dangling lines over the harbour wall to tempt crabs into their buckets, clutching ice creams which drip deliciously over little fingers.

On Breakwater beach paddlers are venturing deeper and deeper into the sea, delightedly splashing in the icy water and sometimes taking the plunge and diving in for a swim.

It’s that for me that marks the transition into summer most clearly. I am still a fair-weather swimmer. I aspire to being one of the hardy souls who takes to the sea all year round, but I’m not there yet. This week, though, I made it in.

We’d managed to tire the toddlers out with stone-throwing, and leaving them dozing under the watchful eye of friends we headed for the water.


And it was glorious!

Pretty feckin’ freezing, obviously. We’d hoped to have a dip in Shoalstone pool, which whilst it wouldn’t have been warmer would have at least given the option of jumping or diving in. But pump problems combined with excessively low tides put paid to that, so we scrambled over the rocks instead. Feeling my way through the shallows I almost gave up, but my stubbornness took over and saw me through till that all-important moment when numbness takes away the worst of the cold and you can just concentrate on how wonderful it is, floating in the salty sea looking back at the shore, cobwebs of all varieties well and truly blown away.


We’d hoped to have another dip yesterday, but the sun wasn’t shining quite so brightly. It didn’t deter Arthur from paddling up to his waist – I think swimming kit is going to be an essential part of the arsenal when we head to the beach from here on in!


The clouds cleared as the afternoon went on, and the beach was still busy when I walked back from my council meeting at 9 o’clock last night.


So yes, I’m calling it: summer is here.

Stay tuned for more watery adventures over the weeks and months to come!

My word of the week is summer.

The Reading Residence

The evolution of fear

Out of all of the phases of development I’ve observed in Arthur so far, this one seems to me the most bittersweet. It appears to be emerging hand in hand with his increased understanding, linguistic ability and imagination, and all of those things are obviously to be desired and encouraged. But this emotion above all others is one which has the potential to hold him back, to curb his curiosity, to keep him firmly within his comfort zone.


This emotion is fear.

The first time I remember witnessing fear take over his little body was at a festival last summer. We’d bumped into a friend of ours, someone we don’t see very often but who had met Arthur several times since he was tiny. This time, though, he had a big orange beard. And Arthur was petrified.

He’s never been super-keen on beards, but this was something else. He went from being chilled and cuddly in the sling to screaming and trying to climb up me to escape, and no reassurance would convince him otherwise.

Several months later, I went to take him swimming. We were in a pool we’ve swum in many times before – in fact Arthur had his very first experience of swimming there when he was just six weeks old. But this time he suddenly became aware of the shadowy hole at the end of the pool which houses the cover. He wouldn’t go anywhere near it, and panicked even when I moved towards it. Over the half an hour or so we were in there he built it up so much that he wouldn’t actually stray from the steps at the very opposite end, and even then he was tense and wary.

Both of those were pretty much isolated incidents, and beyond trying to work out what was going on in Arthur’s magical brain I didn’t think too much of it. But in the past few months, as his language and memory skills have developed further, so has his capacity for fear.

He is particularly terrified of hand driers. It’s the sound of rushing air I think – he doesn’t care much for vacuum cleaners or hairdryers either, and is pretty wary of the extractor fan. But hand driers – the sort that are ubiquitous in public bathrooms – they are something else.

It’s got to the point now that if I even mention needing to go to the toilet when we are out a flash of fear crosses his face and he exclaims repeatedly ‘no hand driers!’. If I have to take him in with me, he will cower in the corner of the cubicle, trying to shrink away from the potential threat even if there are no hand driers to be seen. And heaven forbid one is actually activated in his presence! I brushed against one accidentally in a particularly cosy cubicle the other week and I thought he was actually going to climb over the walls.

The other thing that he reserves a special kind of horror for is doctors, particularly if they’re working in a hospital. I think I can trace this back to the immunisations he had when he was only eight weeks old. I will never forget his face in the aftermath – the look of ultimate betrayal he gave me. We are fortunate that he hasn’t had many dealings with doctors, but his dislike of them has escalated nonetheless.

We had to take him in to A&E over New Year with a particularly nasty bout of croup, and the way he screamed when the (very lovely, gentle) doctor tried to examine him took even the emergency room staff by surprise – though at least it showed that there wasn’t anything too seriously wrong with him.

It happened again at his two year check. I was chatting away to the health visitor at our community hospital whilst he happily played with the toys she’d set out when I made the mistake of mentioning this fear of hospitals. His ears pricked up, he looked around him, and he began to wail, scratching at the door to escape. It took both of our best efforts to calm him down enough for the most rudimentary assessment, and I’m just glad she was experienced and  open-minded enough not to conclude there was something seriously wrong with him!

This fear is one which is potentially a little tricky for us to get around, what with his dad currently training to be a doctor and all. Friends advised me to get Arthur a little doctor’s play set so that we could work to familiarise him through role play. I did, but he literally will not go anywhere near it – running away if I approach him with the cute little case in hand, eyeing it warily and keeping a wide berth if he suddenly realises it’s in the same room as him.

I guess the next stage is actually going in to see daddy at work. We’ve talked about it, and he’s gradually transitioning from being upset at the prospect of Leigh even being there himself – “No daddy work at hospital!” – to being able to discuss it without the rising panic.

I find it all very interesting, objectively, because on the whole Arthur is a very brave, very confident little boy. He’s intrigued by new experiences, loves getting to know new people, will pick himself up if he stumbles without as much as a whimper. But clearly there is something about these particular triggers that has captured his imagination.

Avoiding the things he is afraid of doesn’t seem like a sensible option: I don’t want him to become fearful, to put his demons in boxes and not face up to them. At the same time, though, it is horrible to see him quite genuinely terrified. So we will proceed very gently, easing him into a place where he can see that his fears are (largely) unfounded.

I’d be curious to hear about other people’s experiences around toddlers and fear – what it is that scares them, and how you’ve helped them to overcome it. I realise that to some extent being afraid is part of what makes us human, but I hope that I can learn to help him learn how to embrace his fears and use them to make him stronger rather than shrinking his world and shying away from the things that make him scared.




Evening light

Is it just me, or do the evenings all of a sudden seem to have got lighter?

I realise that *technically* the lengthening of the days is a gradual thing, but I swear this week someone has just flicked a switch. Suddenly we’re finding ourselves sitting down to dinner in broad daylight, and I’m having a hard time explaining to Arthur why he has to go to bed before it’s got dark…

Toddler sleep habits aside, it is pretty wonderful.

There is nothing that screams to me that summer is finally coming more loudly than when the days begin to stretch out beyond the afternoon. And it is when living here, in our beautiful little seaside town, really comes into its own.


What with all the hectic we’ve been juggling recently we’ve really appreciated being able to go out as a family in the evenings more easily, wandering into town and soaking up the views. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation that all three of us share as we venture out just at that point when normally things would be winding down. Arthur has taken the evening strolls in his stride, enjoying another burst of energy and of course the obligatory beach time.



We even got to sit outside at Rockfish for a bit the other night, gazing out to sea as the fishing boats trundled through the twilight with their catch. Arthur was absolutely transfixed as he watched the fish being docked – he hasn’t stopped talking about it since.



There is certainly something incredibly liberating about the extra hours of daylight this time of year brings, and it’s making me ever-more excited for the summer.




My word of the week this week is anticipation.

The Reading Residence

Amazing words: amazing women

I was sat on the sofa last night, wanting to write but lacking the words, too tired to drag myself upstairs though I knew I should, when my eye was drawn to a programme on BBC iPlayer: Women Who Spit.


I’d noticed it before, had idly thought I should check it out to feed my neglected love of performance poetry, but something else had always seemed more important. Yesterday though I clicked the link. And I’m very glad I did.

I hadn’t known what to expect, but here were five stand alone short films, each capturing a spoken word performance from a supremely talented female poet. From the first few bars of the very first poem I knew I’d have to watch them all: it was a bolt of pure inspiring awesomeness.

The words and the rhythm and the spirit and the sass pulled me out from underneath the detritus of the everyday.

I had become buried beneath the very real mess that is piling up on the surfaces of my life, my thinking blurred by the metaphorical steam rising from the watched pots of my first two novels as I wait for feedback from my agent. My notebooks are taunting me with their scrawls of unexplored ideas which keep moving just out of reach as I fail to battle through the seemingly endless tasks that have ranked themselves as more important.

These women reminded me that I need to carve myself some space to wrestle back control.

The first voice which made me sit up and take notice and realise that it was going to be a late night after all was Megan Beech, with her searing analysis of the sexism still ingrained in the BBC and right across our media institutions. I felt recognition, even pride, at her words: ‘I leave the house, get out of bed, because some things need to be said, and somebody needs to be the one to say them‘. I found myself nodding too as she proclaimed ‘we need to stop the laddish, loutish laughter at women displaying their intelligence; their eloquence and elegance and excellence‘. We need to aim high, be role models, get our voices heard.

This was reinforced by Vanessa Kisuule, with her insistence that we, as women, should ‘take up space‘. This resonated with me particularly at the moment because anxiety has been rearing its head again, making me shrink apologetically from the me I know I am deep down. I needed to be told: ‘don’t wait for approval‘, ‘give yourself the space to be fickle … to fluff your lines and make things up‘ and especially ‘don’t doubt the benefit of being the brightest you on the spectrum‘. Because it’s easy to forget.

Cecilia Knapp‘s approach was quieter, gentler, but no less powerful. She spoke of articulately of emotion and memory and the guarded face we show the world because ‘it’s fine, we’re fine, we’re getting on with it‘. Her words wove a tapestry of reasons for why she writes, and I found one of her concluding statements particularly resonant: ‘I write to find a version of myself I’m not at odds with‘.

After this quiet introspection Deanna Rodger‘s poem turned the focus out onto an unfriendly world: a fascinating précis of how the architecture of our cities is undermining our sense of community and duty of care to those who have nowhere to go. Spikes on the edge of pavements, bus shelters that provide no shelter at all, and awkwardly un-ergonomic benches that underline the transient nature of the comfort provided by the urban environment: ‘Sit here for a second it says… Slide here. Don’t stay’.

Finally I smiled and gently hugged myself as I watched Jemima Foxtrot battle it out with her inner demons in front of the mirror, a strong, confident woman longing for the day that we can ‘stop battling the haters on our mission to be free‘ and ‘look in that fucking looking glass and smile‘. Her words captured the ongoing fight that so many of us have to find peace with ourselves and the voices in our heads as ‘we hope together that all of this might be over one day‘.

I have loved performance poetry since I first discovered its power as a newly qualified English teacher trying to get inside the heads of teenagers in East London. There’s something about the lyrical wizardry that comes from a perfect combination of vocabulary and flow that finds its way right to my very core. These films had all of that, and it was reinforced by the visual poetry of beautifully framed shots and synchronistic edits to lend the words and the people who spoke them even more power.

I’m now working on internalising that power to get my writing mojo back. I’m particularly keen to revisit my own spoken word artist, Lili Badger, the heroine of my first novel. She hasn’t found a publisher yet but suddenly it seems even more important that I get her story out there. I just need to make sure I’m telling it right…

If you haven’t seen these films, I recommend you find half an hour somewhere, somehow to watch them. They’re available on iPlayer for two more weeks. I promise you will not be disappointed.


Muddled Manuscript