Category Archives: Sophie is travelling

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“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

It was dark and foggy when we arrived back at Exeter station last night, and this one cut quite a figure in his pyjamas and leather jacket, wearing my bobble hat and clutching his new monkey.

He led the way through the empty corridors and back towards the car, where after a weekend of London adventures he fell asleep within seconds – and stayed asleep till he woke up in his own bed this morning.

This boy totally has this travelling business nailed.

Adventures in friendship

The unschooling diaries: weeks forty-three and forty-four

As I type, the rain is beating against the windows and the wind is howling its displeasure in every nook it finds. There is something comforting about being inside, with the crackle of the fire and the glow of the computer screen, but still a bigger part of me is yearning for the simplicity of the temperate outdoors – or more specifically, for a yurt in Lanzarote.

We had the most glorious holiday there, last week. I feel almost guilty for having had such a lovely escape at a time when the world was plunging into new depths of disastrousness, but it really was the perfect place to be. Beachfront tapas, good wine, fervent discussion under the stars.

We cooked up this plan as the summer in the UK drew to a close with one of my oldest, bestest friends and her family. They are currently living in a yurt, and I was eager to show them the yurtastic idyll that is Lanzarote Retreats. We’ve been there already once this year, but it has been such a year that Easter feels like forever ago. And besides, to launch into this adventure with friends was a whole new level of awesome.

Especially for Arthur.

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Emily’s oldest daughter is mere weeks younger than him, and over the past few years, during sleepovers and festivals, they have formed a quiet bond. Her youngest is now old enough to be a proper little person, and the three of them, during our week of adventures, became thick as thieves.

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There is something lovely about watching children come together when they are faced with experiences that are new and unusual, watching them make sense of the spectacular windows on the world that travelling affords.

These three embraced the adventures they were offered in parallel, bouncing their interpretations off each other and finding solace from the strange in the familiarity of friendship.

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And that friendship was built in lego bricks, in early mornings and stolen moments back at the camp. Arthur brought with him a little stash, one which he swore on the plane on the way over that he would not share. That didn’t last long, though.

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Holidaying with friends is not something I have done often, but it is something I really hope to do again – soon. Especially with these ones.

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I am always proud of Arthur’s ability to play alone, but it was wonderful to watch him create a world with these girls. In the closing hours of our commune he had begun to refer to them as his sisters. I don’t think that relationship will be lost, somehow. Though I wish our respective homes were not quite so far away.

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The whole experience really made me think about community, and socialisation, and how we are going to create that without the status quo of school. We need to find the people near us who will make us glow like these friends do. But whilst we’re working that out the nourishment this magical break gave our souls should last for a good while yet.

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“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

We spent last week in Lanzarote.

It was a bit of an unexpected trip. We never normally go away in the autumn, and apart from places where people we love live we never normally go back to the same place twice. But after an amazing visit in the Spring we could not resist a return when the chance arose – and the way this year is panning out I was supremely glad to have the opportunity for a bit of an escape.

I’m still digesting the photos and the memories, but these two moments stood out for me: admiring the expansively beautiful view at Mirador del Rio and studying the otherworldly forms at the Jardin de Cactus.

Arthur was simply in awe of so much that he saw. It really is a very special place.

The joy of travelling with a three year old

The unschooling diaries: week forty

Travelling with kids gets a pretty bad press. It is, patently, harder than travelling used to be pre-parenthood: there is another person’s needs to factor in after all, a person who can’t actually contribute anything to the logistics of the whole process.

But what they might lack in organisational skills those little people make up for in a whole host of other ways.

We spent a few days in Barcelona last week. It is one of my all-time favourite cities, helped along by the fact that one of my bestest friends has lived there with her family for the past seven years. Visiting them feels a lot like going home (in an unashamed global citizen – thank you very much Theresa May – kind of way), and I love that my son is starting to get to love the city too.

The anticipation started before we even got on the plane.

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We had woken early, leaving home in the dark soon after six to drive to the airport. Arthur slept all the way, and was still a little disorientated when we got to check-in. He perked up as we headed towards security though, full of questions about what the machines were looking for, and why we had to put liquids in a little plastic bag.

We answered as frankly as we could, and smiled as he bravely stepped up to walk through the scanners and waited for our bags to make their way along the conveyor belt.

On the other side: breakfast, and then the excited scramble to the gate.

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Once we were on the plane, Arthur expertly secured his own seat belt, and listened intently as the safety message was relayed. He passed away the journey with a movie on the iPad, interspersed with chat about what we were going to do once we arrived and a little bit of Spanish practise.

He is so used to travelling now that he no longer needs much of our attention, at least not on a short flight. Leigh slept, and I wrote a blog post. And as we came into land we all peered out of the window with anticipation.

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Our little holiday itself was fairly uneventful. We hung out with our friends, we enjoyed the cultural acceptance of children that meant we could enjoy a drink and some tapas whilst they played in the street, we noticed things in their barrio that we might previously have taken for granted because Arthur’s observations and questions threw new light on the everyday.

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We had one day when we ventured further afield: we were keen to go for a swim, so planned to take the cable car from Montjuic to Barceloneta. We set off up the hill, but when we reached the station we discovered it was closed. Arthur was gutted, so there was no denying him when he spotted the cable car up to the castle even though we’d only intended to get the funicular down to Paral.lel.

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It was an unexpectedly awesome trip. Whilst Leigh and I gawped at the views Arthur gave us a running commentary on the mechanics of our transportation. He was fascinated by how it all worked – and whilst I generally prefer not to think too much about that when I’m suspended high above solid ground it was strangely liberating to answer his questions.

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We eventually made it to the beach, and though the pool we were aiming for was not hugely accommodating to kids the sea was fresh and clear and alluring. Our friends have pretty much finished their sea swimming for the year, but the water was warm by our standards, and Arthur delighted in playing in the surf. It was just on the edge of safe, but with Leigh and I taking it in turns to shadow him he was able to test his limits and work on his confidence in the water – one of the most crucial strands of our makeshift curriculum.

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Back with our friends over dinner, it was lovely to watch Arthur bonding with their daughters. Seven and nine years old, I have known them both since infancy: they were really my first initiation into motherhood, and will always hold a special place in my heart. When we were in Barcelona last summer Arthur was still only two, and whilst they did their best to be kind to him he was not yet playmate material. This year all that had changed.

They played, and chatted, and laughed. Over dinner Arthur began exploring some Spanish words again: I love that he’s interested in the concept of another language, and I’m keen to take advantage of that as much as I can.

Our country might be tightening its borders and distancing our neighbours in Europe with every new utterance, but that is not the future that I want for my son. With this special link we have with Barcelona, and with this wonderful aptitude for travelling that Arthur is revealing, I have a feeling our horizons will only get broader from here on in.

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

On the road again…

We got back from a wonderful weekend in Barcelona last night (more on that to follow), and are now en route to London for another whistlestop visit.

My routine is completely shot, and I’m trying desperately to reel in my to do list before it spirals completely out of control.

This one, of course, is taking it all in his stride.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

London calling

The unschooling diaries: week thirty-seven

I love our life in Devon, the sea swimming and beach exploring and cliff walking, but sometimes it is pretty awesome to switch our scenery around and hang out in the city.

The big smoke seems to be calling us a lot at the moment, and last week I had to make the trip up on my own with Arthur. It was a whistlestop visit, and I admit I was dreading it a little bit. But turning what could have been a chore into a bit of an adventure definitely helped.

He’s getting to be quite a seasoned little traveller, and insisted on picking up a magazine for the journey before we boarded the train. Not to read, you understand – but those little plastic toys are just so alluring…

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It was actually a really chilled out journey once we’d got comfy. We had a breakfast picnic, and Arthur was very happy to snuggle up with a movie whilst I caught up on some writing.

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When we got to town, we had a whole afternoon at our disposal before my appointment the next morning. I had in mind a very specific quest: to visit Kings Cross Pond before it closed forever. We missioned it across the city and set off into the forest of cranes and tower blocks – a highly unlikely setting for a natural swimming experience!

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But nestled between the building sites there was a little oasis of calm, and I relished the opportunity to have a dip – even if Arthur did decide it was a bit too cold.

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After our swim we set off to meet a friend – no particular mission this time, just a couple of hours to meander and soak up what the city had to offer. Arthur was drawn to the fountains in Granary Square, made particularly alluring by the sound installation that accompanied them. He stood completely mesmerised before creeping closer until his head was almost up against one of the speakers.

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Unexpected public art was definitely a theme of this trip, and Arthur especially liked the swing we came across in the middle of the street. I’m sure the grown-ups love it too, but there was something pleasingly incongruous about watching Arthur going about the very serious business of swinging whilst everyone continued on their way around him.

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I’m pretty sure Arthur decided that the whole city was a playground to be honest – from random swings to balancing along water features whilst he raced leaf boats over the little waterfalls.

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And then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, I realised that we were just around the corner from The Railway Children at the Kings Cross theatre and couldn’t resist some last-minute discount tickets.

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It was already past Arthur’s bedtime, and as soon as we sat down he curled up on my knee for a power nap. Fifteen minutes later though he was woken by the sounds of steam trains and singing and sat completely rapt as the story played out in front of him. It was his first proper theatre experience and he was quite blown away by it all – especially when a real-life steam train pulled onto the stage!

The next day was a bit less exciting as I had a meeting to attend, leaving Arthur playing patiently with his hot wheels cars and chatting away to his toy dog, Merlin who he had insisted on bringing with him in a special doggy sling.

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We did manage to fit in a visit to one of his favourite actual playgrounds – we very rarely visit them in Devon, so it always feels like a bit of a treat. He’s been to this one on trips up to London before, but not since he was much smaller. As soon as we arrived he set his sights on the biggest of the three slides on offer, and circumnavigated it several times, trying unsuccessfully to clamber up the ropes to get to it. Then, though, he watched as a boy not much older than him approached it from a whole other angle – and of course he had to follow.

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After all of this adventuring Arthur was well and truly knackered by the time we began our long journey home – we both were!

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It was well worth the effort though. I am already looking forward to the corners of the city we will discover on our next trip…

Lido love

I have loved to swim outdoors for as long as I can remember.

I didn’t often, when I was growing up: my first seven years were spent in the middle of the Welsh countryside, and after that, Birmingham. My over-riding memories of swimming during my childhood were the nights spent coughing with an aching head and burning eyes after spending the afternoon at our local leisure centre, contrasted starkly with the freedom of swimming outdoors on holiday – in outdoor pools, the sea, lakes – it didn’t matter, just as long as I could escape the cloying claustrophobia of chlorine-filled air.

I moved to London aged sixteen, and soon after discovered the Oasis sports centre in Covent Garden. It was a bit of a revelation. As often as I could, I would step off the grey and dusty streets and into its little outdoor pool – it was surrounded by tower blocks, but up above there was a rectangle of sky, and that made all the difference.

Several years after that, having gravitated towards East London, I found the lido on London Fields. It had only recently re-opened, and I was instantly won over by the brightly coloured poolside changing rooms and the trees peering over from the park. It was a relief from the city heat in summer, but it was in the winter it really came into its own: stripping off the mummifying layers to swim lengths between the warm water and crisp, cold air. It made me feel so alive, clawing my soul back from the S.A.D. that threatened to engulf it every year as the darkness crept in.

It’s not surprising, really, that I have found myself so consumed by Shoalstone since I moved to my new house by the sea.

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There is, after all, a narrative to continue: but it was only by listening to inspirational writers, artists, campaigners and fellow lido lovers speak at the first ever National Lido Conference last weekend that I realised it had always been there.

It felt a strange thing to be doing as I headed up to Portishead on the train and the bus: two whole days discussing outdoor pools. I mean, I loved my local lido, but I was always a little self-conscious about how much it meant to me – I’d never quite been able to put my finger on the reasons why.

And then as people began to speak I realised that there was a whole tribe here to which I very much belonged. This wasn’t just about pools. It wasn’t even just about swimming. It was about community, about equality, about inspiration, about freedom. It was about finding meaning in the chaos, about connecting with people and with nature, about the very essence of what it is to be alive.

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I had gone to the conference with a very specific and practical hat on: that of local councillor and chairperson of Shoalstone Pool. That persona, which sometimes feels accidental, is almost entirely separate to my writerly one, however much my town has begun to inspire my writing.

It soon became clear though that my other hat was just as welcome here – the one that dreams of better worlds, and tries to make sense of this one through carefully crafted words on a page. More than that, the weekend helped me to make sense of my entire self – the self that I’ve become – and to see how it has been woven out of the strands of my past that I thought I had long since left behind.

I realise that all sounds a bit bonkers. Maybe the euphoria was simply the result of that age-old therapy of immersion in water. As part of our weekend there was of course the chance to swim – in Portishead Lido, and in the nearby Clevedon Marine Lake.

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Both were wonderful, in their very different ways – as was bobbing along next to almost-strangers, deep in conversation about this love we shared and how it might shape our futures and that of the pools we have taken guardianship over.

I know I have returned with a new passion for making Shoalstone the best that it can be, and with a sense of being part of a community that I never really knew existed. But I have also returned with a stronger sense of myself as a writer, of someone with stories to tell and a bubbling desire to get them out into the world.

Not bad for a day and a half of lido chat – and even better for the fact that all it will take to reignite this passion if ever it begins to fade is to slip beneath the waters of one of the many outdoor pools we have at our disposal in this country. First stop: Kings Cross Pond this afternoon, and hopefully Parliament Hill Lido tomorrow too.

Arthur and I are on our way up to London on a far less exciting mission than seeking outdoor swimming opportunities, but one other thing last weekend has taught me is that they are never far away – and I intend to take advantage of them whenever (and wherever) I can.

 

Writing Bubble