Saturday, 17 June 2017

9 Things My Dad Taught Me

It's so easy to celebrate Mothers; how they shape us and everything they do for us. Sometimes Dads get a raw deal - merely the person who passes the phone to your Mum when you ring home. So today I want to acknowledge a massive influence in my life and all round good egg. Here's just some of the things he's taught me over the years...

1. How To Ride a Bike

Standard dadding stuff, I suppose, but I'm gonna start off on a slightly soppy note and say how lucky I am to have had my dad in my life to teach me to ride a bike. Granted, I look like a circus clown if you get me on anything without power steering these days, but way back when he was convincing me that I didn't need him to hold onto the back of my seat or taking my stabilisers off, I felt like a tiny superhero.

On My Way To Steal Yo Man (and presumably put him in my giant basket)

2. Spit On Your Work

Some of the advice my dad instilled in me as a young teenager didn't make sense until I was a working adult. 'Spit on your work' means not letting others take credit for your ideas or efforts. There's been a few times I helped others out only to be overlooked for opportunities and recognition, but I soon learnt my lesson.

3. Don't Buy The S*n

Back in 1990 during the World Cup, my Dad and I were on a train in London when he started flicking through a copy of the Sun newspaper that someone else had left behind. Only a year before, the paper had lied about the events of the Hillsborough disaster and the boycott of the paper in Liverpool began. Never one to read the tabloids anyway, my dad explained to me how these papers operate and the powerful influence they have on working class people.

The S*n: Nothing Could Be Further From the Truth

4. How To Look After Your Car

Ever the incidental feminist, Dad made sure I was put to good use from an early age helping to replace the Montego's fan belt, change air filters, replenish the washer bottle, and check the oil. Fifteen years later I'd be able to change a flat on my own car outside a nightclub at 3am wearing high heels and hotpants. Thanks dad.

5. To Keep Your Powder Dry

Still only 99.9% sure I know what this one means, but let's just say it's something to do with gunpowder. It can best be explained with a whole heap of other phrases: keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open, stay on the ball, and don't play your hand too soon. This advice has come in handy with work issues I've had where I've had to bite my tongue despite my urges and play the long game instead. In practice, I'm still not very good at this one - something I've inherited from my Mum's side of the family!

6. The Jeremy Kyle Show Exploits People

JK used to be my guilty pleasure and I would effuse glee whenever he uttered his famous phrases "Why don't you put something on the end of it then!" or told people that they should "Walk over hot coals to see your kid".

My dad would wander through the kitchen looking for things he couldn't remember he was looking for, and shake his head whenever he saw me watching Jeremy Kyle in their house. "It's tantamount to exploitation" he'd say; "No better than the Victorians walking round asylums to laugh at the wretched".

7. Know Your History

Us Evertonians say that you "if you know your history, it's enough to make your heart go wooooooah".

So from Dave Hickson aka The Canonball Kid in my dad's school days to 'The Golden Vision' Alex Young and the 'Holy Trinity' in the 60s, he's passed on his memories that make up important parts of the tapestry of his, and therefore my, Liverpool roots.

Little things like the flicker of the lightbulb in his first office job, the taste of the tea at the Pier Head waiting for the last bus home, the smell of the fire in Nanny's back kitchen. You can't google this stuff.

Family history, military history, social history, natural history, and feats of technology and engineering over the years. I used to think there wasn't anything my dad didn't know.

Of course, he's a smart and articulate man with nigh on encyclopaedic knowledge, but he'd be the first to say himself he doesn't know everything. It just seemed like he knew everything because he bothered to teach me; he bothered to talk to me about anything and everything and share everything he knew, even if he'd had nobody to really teach him.

8. That Films Really Aren't Scary If You Turn the Sound Down

I still remember the day I first watched Ghostbusters (the first one - not the testosterone-curdling reboot with the 'Ghostbusteresses' that all the grown up 80s kids got so upset about). There's a scene in the library which always made me jump, and to help me to see that there was nothing to be afraid of, my Dad turned the volume right down and played the scene slowly. The ghost didn't seem as frightening in slow motion and without the sound effects.

When I was a bit more grown up he talked me through the 70 separate shots that make up the infamous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho - with the chilling score adding to the illusion of a frenzied attack, but with very little in the way of actual gore.

9. How To Be Prepared For An Emergency

Think your dad worries too much because he makes sure you've got your keys and phone when you go out? Ha! Amateurs.

My dad makes sure I drive round with a spade in the boot of my car every winter and a foil blanket (like they give marathon runners and traumatised people) 365 days of the year. Despite the fact that I only ever drive to his house or Waitrose, I know how to use these space blankets to keep warm overnight, collect water, and signal for help. Who needs McDonalds Drive Thrus and iPhones when you've got a space blanket, huh?

Me waiting for the AA and/or to die of embarrassment

By my front door I have an Evac bag, which contains a torch, passports, copies of household insurance documents, a first aid kit, matches in a waterproof container, a Swiss Army Knife, and some more space blankets.

My dad is 70 odd years old and he still comes to my house to test my carbon monoxide sensors, smoke alarms, and to tell me if my emergency exits are impeded by crap in the hallway: "You have to be able to find your way blindfolded".

I've never actually had to practice blindfolded, but I'll bet you two space blankets and a pen knife that I know which of my windows are easiest to climb out of in the dark.

This all probably sounds over the top - and yes, after Chernobyl I wasn't allowed to play out in the rain for a year - but my dad spent many years working in emergency planning and disaster management and takes this shit very seriously.

When I was a kid, towards the end of the Cold War, he had a place in a bunker in London if things kicked off (the kind of place where only one of them has a gun and they all have to hope that person doesn't go batshit crazy) but he opted out - what would he want a place in a bunker for, he reasoned, if his family were left on the outside.

So for that, and much much more, I'll always love him and be grateful for everything he's taught me.


Friday, 16 June 2017

The Perfect Base for Sightseeing - Travelodge Liverpool Central The Strand

The perfect location for the Albert Dock and Liverpool One shopping, I discovered that Travelodge Liverpool Central The Strand is a handy base for both tired tourists and lazy locals after long day exploring the city!

My dad is a keen family historian. Sounds a bit boring doesn't it? Yeah, I think my mum would agree with you there. So she plays absolutely no part in it, and mocks him mercilessly for only being able to trace a few generations back, despite paying years of subscriptions to and pawing through countless archives in the records office at Liverpool Central Library.

So much so, in fact, that sometimes he takes a little family history break on his own, studying old censuses and marriage certificates for as long as he pleases and staying over at the nearby Travelodge Old Haymarket. It's close to Lime Street Station, the World Museum, and the business district, and you can get breakfast at the delightful Lovelocks Coffee Shop just a few doors down (check them out, they're lovely!).

So with Fathers Day coming up, I was going to book two rooms at the Old Haymarket hotel as part of our Dad & Daughter 'Who Do You Think You Are' trip - our very own tour for two through Liverpool past and present discovering family heritage and the city's history.

In fact though, as our plans expanded, we headed to the Travelodge Liverpool Central on the Strand instead: just over the road from both the world renowned Albert Dock and the Pier Head, home to the famous Three Graces.

Source The Pier Head

Our rooms were on the 8th floor - a designated 'Quiet Floor' - and a better night's sleep I haven't had in absolutely years! Admittedly some of this was due to having walked 8km around the city with my dad, checking out the library on William Brown Street, having a pub lunch on North John Street, in and out of museums, and stopping to examine war memorials. It was absolutely nothing to do with having a lovely meal and one or two glasses of house red at Gusto at the Albert Dock, honest.

The Travelodge breakfast is definitely worth paying for, especially if you've got a busy day of sightseeing, events, or business ahead of you. It's self-service, which means you can have as little or as much as you like (no prizes for guessing which end of the greed spectrum I'm at - I think I've told you about my 'Buffet Behaviour' before). You can choose from cereal, granola and yoghurt, or a cooked English breakfast. There was non stop tea, fruit juice, and - the big draw for me - Lavazza coffee.

The Beatles Story, Albert Dock

The breakfast set us up for the day and we were able to explore The Beatles Story at the Albert Dock to relive my dad's teenage years, and learn about the city in my great great grandparents' day at the Museum of Liverpool. After that we check out of our rooms and took our overnight stuff to the car. The Travelodge doesn't have its own car park but its only a 5 min walk from the very well lit and safe Q-Park at Liverpool One which is worth every penny (plus you get £5 off your 24 hour stay courtesy of Travelodge).

Check in and out was super easy, and there's a Tesco slap bang next door for all those essentials you might forget: toothpaste, shampoo, plasters, gin...

The rooms were spotless. And I mean spotless. I'd rather stay in a clean simple room than one with chandeliers covered in dust and dubious stains here and there. When you've spent all week covered in Petit Filous and scraping raisins off the bottom of everybody's slippers, the last thing you want is to be muttering "you've missed a bit" under your breath as you go round subconsciously inspecting the room.

The staff were really nice but what else would you expect from the friendliest city in the world? For around £38 for a midweek room (ours were a bit more - about £55 - because of breaky and being on a 'business floor') it's a real bargain for such a bloody good location.

Whether it's for a city break, tracing your family's roots, doing the whole Beatles thing, or just somewhere to get your head down after a night out, it's virtually impossible to find better value and location in a world class city.

Stay with your mates, take the kids, go as a couple, or book a couple of days away for you and your Dad!

To book at the Travelodge Liverpool Central The Strand and get heaps more information, visit their website or follow Travelodge UK on Twitter and Facebook for the latest offers and more reviews and photos


Monday, 12 June 2017

Highs & Lows: 48 Hours in Amsterdam

I took my first child-free trip out of the country since becoming a mum on what started out as a cosy cultural weekend for two to Amsterdam but somehow descended into a girl gang hell bent on sex shows and getting high.

What I'd ideally had in mind was travelling the canals, local cuisine, and going off the beaten track in search of the real Amsterdam but there were some considerable changes of plan. Here's the lowdown on the best and worst bits...

Where We Stayed

My urge to skip this bit is so very strong because the 'Weekend for Two' ultimately involved three other girls joining us, narrowing our search filters to now fit 5 people, and odd numbers are always a bugger to accommodate.

The new, larger group essentially comprised two pairs of existing long term friendships. And then me. That's fine, I said, when they found somewhere that could house all five of us for the weekend with one double bed, one double sofabed, and one single bed. I could sleep by myself which suited me fine.

Not so fine when my single bed involved climbing a fucking ladder with no handrail, to kip on a foam mattress on top of the ensuite bathroom cubicle in a space so small (and yet so very full of duvet) that I can now totally relate to how hamsters feel in their cages.

I won't furnish you with the link because I really don't recommend you staying there, but it was in a good location (Rokin, not far from Dam Square) so not all was lost. Positive mental attitude and all that; at least it was a good base from which to tick off my list of sightseeing goals in Amsterdam...

How We Got Around

Two things I wanted to do in Amsterdam was go on a boat trip and to hire a bike. Neither of these things happened so I can't tell you anything remotely helpful on that front. But if you stay fairly centrally then it's easy to get about on foot, and wandering by the canals and over bridges was fun for people watching.

Just the sheer amount of canals makes it a refreshing landscape compared to back home. Even if the Brummies will tell you they boast "more canals than Venice", I still believe that you can't beat Amsterdam.

What We Ate

I'd love to tell you how I enjoyed the best meals of my life in Amsterdam, I really would. But the truth is that the closest thing to the best European meal of my life was some really nice lamb on a rainy day in Brussels that made my Top 5 many years ago. But then again, that was also the weekend that involved bedbugs and a hotel full of drunken Scottish footy fans, so it's swings and roundabouts really.

Amsterdam didn't even make the Top 50 best meals because sadly, our weekend included a trip to KFC, three trips to McDonald's, and a full English breakfast in an Irish pub. Because of course it did. Brits abroad and all that.

I did manage to enjoy some waffles and crepes, but I'm not sure if the penis shaped lollipop that I somehow ended up with at one point is indicative of Dutch national cuisine.

Where We Went

Remember me saying how I had high hopes for a cultural weekend? Well yeah...that didn't happen.

Saying that though, the one thing we did manage to achieve which we all agreed on was visiting Anne Frank's House. This was the highlight of my trip and made the whole weekend worthwhile. So much so in fact, that I went off on one of my famous tangents and dedicated a separate blog post to it - Anne Frank's House: Is it Worth the Visit? - which was really popular and got retweeted by the museum itself which made me dead chuffed. Even if nobody had read it, I was keen to write it because it was such a special experience for me.

In a nutshell, if you do visit Amsterdam then it's a moving and important experience that I think is as relevant today as ever. The queues are long, and in early spring still quite cold standing around, but absolutely worth it.

Sex Museum

The same can't be said about the Sex Museum however, which despite being cheap was half an hour of my life I'd rather have spent back in McDonalds or wandering round the streets (apparently unable to read a map despite all of us being professional adult women).

The Sex Museum gets loads of visitors which creates something of a bottleneck at busy times (like our apartment, Anne Frank's House and most of Amsterdam - it's a tall narrow building) and as a result you end up shuffling inch by inch through the ground floor exhibition which is like being stuck in a nightmarish clockwork Carry On film.

(That's disrespectful to Carry On films actually since they were practically my sex education as a youngster and I'm as well versed in double entendre as I am in bottom slapping and dirty laughs).

It doesn't get much better as you move around, via narrow winding staircases: the pièce de résistance of a giant gloss willy is nothing to write home about and the film reel of the wonderful Josephine Baker didn't work, so that too was a disappointment after a long climb upstairs.

The best bit - and I struggle to describe it as that at all - is the collections of erotic photographs throughout the ages which at least has some social and historic interest.

In all, it exists as a smutfest, mostly enjoyed by giggling teenagers, but is tame, tacky, poorly laid out and doesn't educate or entertain. Give it a miss.

Casa Rosso Sex Show

Now I've thought long and hard about going into the ins and outs (it's ok, I'll stop now) of visiting one of Amsterdam's sex shows in this blog post, and it has occurred to me that it's probably not everyone's cup of tea so I won't go into too many details here.

Originally when there was talk about going to a sex show, I thought to myself I'll give it a miss. I'll find a nice café (not coffee shop - I'll get to that later) and read a book or people-watch while I wait for the others. That didn't really seem possible so I went along to the show with the others. Not exactly against my will, I might add, but as we queued outside the Casa Rosso I'm sure I saw the last bubbles of my cultural weekend dream drowning in the canal.

If you think you might want to check out a sex show when you visit Amsterdam then I've written about it separately to save your blushes...

What We Bought

We bought weed, which wasn't as easily available as the last time I was in Amsterdam (I was disappointed to find out that the Grasshopper was now a lovely restaurant - although next time maybe I'll pop in for a decent meal!) and after some confusion we ended up popping to the equivalent of an off license and making our purchases through a counter protected by a perspex window before settling into a coffee shop/bar for the evening.

Since I managed to get a Rizla stuck on my eyelashes and dropped my souvenir lighter in a pint of Heineken, I'm going to suggest you go elsewhere for tips on this aspect of Amsterdam tourism. But at the very least, if this is something you're interested in doing, you'll need to know the difference between a Café and a Coffee Shop: a café is where you'd go for a coffee, and a coffee shop is where you go to smoke cannabis. I know, I know. Imagine my surprise when I thought I was ordering an ordinary Lemon & Poppyseed muffin like at Starbucks...

I skipped the usual souvenirs of clogs and Delftware and picked up a Miffy toy from Schiphol airport on the way home for my little boy. In the arrivals hall back in the UK, he immediately told me he didn't like it and asked if I'd brought any sweeties home instead. It's at this point that you start wondering whether another 48 hours in the hamster cage eating Big Macs would be easier after all...


Saturday, 10 June 2017

Dad Date @ The Slug & Lettuce Liverpool

Me and The Best Dad in Liverpool™ went to check out the new menu at the Slug & Lettuce Liverpool ahead of Fathers Day and yes, in true 'Dad Joke' fashion he asked if he could get extra slugs with his lettuce. Honestly, can't take him anywhere...

Dad Dates

Not sure if 'Dad Date' really works, are you? But if you can have 'Mate Dates' then why not? After all, this is the bloke who taught me to ride my bike, catch a ball, and that films really aren't scary if you turn the sound right down. The least he deserves is the occasional pint and a bite to eat, right? 

So as part of our little family history jaunt round Liverpool, we headed for a spot of lunch at the Slug & Lettuce on busy North John St before an afternoon of trawling through records in the library, recreating our own version of the BBC's 'Who Do You Think You Are'.

Slug & Lettuce

I must have walked past the Slug & Lettuce I don't know how many times and never been in before; I'm not much of a drinker and just never had it pegged as a lunch spot - perhaps because it's in a fairly nondescript building in a city surrounded by much more beautiful architecture - but we were in for a nice surprise. It's really spacious and even though it was a bustly lunchtime we had no problems finding a nice table by the window for some serious people watching. 


I don't normally have more than one course at lunchtime unless I know for certain I'm going straight home for a mega nap, but I liked the look of the Salt & Pepper Shrimp Bombs which come in a cute little kilner jar with some seasoned mayo so started with them.

Dad didn't fancy a starter as he wanted a 'proper dinner' and chose the Cumberland Sausage & Mash which he described as 'lovely' and I think was made all the lovelier by the fact that my mum never makes it at home. 

They had the usual pub grub fare on the menu which oldies like my dad always love - Scampi & Chips, Cottage Pie, etc - and what I thought were some pretty good veggie options too like Butternut Squash Lasagne (with spinach, goats cheese and pea shoots), Grilled Halloumi Tortilla Salad with avocado and edamame beans, and (if you count fish as vegetarian option) Fishcake & Superfood Salad. So it's a pretty safe option if you're taking your dad, grandad, or the Golden Girls in your life out for something to eat but still want some decent meat-free choices for yourself or teenagers. 

I am a sucker for small plates and could have teamed my shrimp starter with jalapeños or steamed buns but went for Bacon & Avocado Ciabatta instead. It was just the job but I didn't manage to finish the sweet potato fries that came with it, so called it quits before dessert while my dad managed the Lemon & Lime Tart Wedges with a brew.

They've got a load of little puddings that you can mix and match for £7 and I was really tempted but knew I'd never get off my arse if I didn't stop eating, and we had places to go and things to see that afternoon. The fact you can add a slice of cake to your tea or coffee for just a quid, or have a Baileys Iced Latte (which is basically my idea of heaven), took every ounce of my willpower to resist but we had to get to the Western Approaches museum before it closed and had big plans to take some silly selfies with the Cilla Black statue on the way.

Good Service & Family Friendly  

The team were fab (I think my dad wanted me to leave him there with Jackie the lovely manager instead of having to hang out with me all day) and the service was quick and friendly. The loos (which were v clean, I'll have you know) were down a flight of stairs and couldn't see any sign of baby changing facilities but the pub was child friendly and there's babycinnos for 50p and a really appealing and healthy kids menu so even though we didn't have my 3 year old with me, it's handy to know they cater for kids and I'd happily take him in there for something to eat without breaking the bank next time we're in town.

Perfect for...

As well as half term families, the place was full of couples of all ages from teenagers to bus passers like my dad, ladies who lunch with fabulous hairdos and handbags, grandparents with small children, work mates in suits, and some overseas students taking a break from their walking tour of Liverpool. Maybe there were some other daughters taking their 'Arl Fella' on a Dad Date, I'm not sure, but we should make that a thing!

If you're staying nearby at the Hard Days Night Hotel, Aloft, or Z hotel, then it's a good alternative to the pricier restaurants on Castle Street and if you're visiting the famous Cavern on Mathew Street or shopping in Liverpool One then it's a good place to have an unhurried lunch and a drink without paying over the odds. The fact that they also do breakfast and brunch is handy for early checkouts from hotels and serviced apartments.

I noticed on the menu they've got loads of offers on like 50% off food, 2-for-1 cocktails, deals on Tanqueray and Prosecco (we all know I hate gin but I have to respect a bargain when I see one) plus mini cocktail sharing boards for the after work and weekend crowd and cocktail master classes for girls' nights out (or 70 year old dads' nights out - let's not be sexist or ageist here). 

So if you're taking your Dad out for a bite to eat - and especially if he's a true Scouser who'll never let his daughter pay - then you know where to head for a Dad Date that won't eat into your inheritance too much!

Book a table HERE or follow the good people at Slug & Lettuce on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Jurassic Kingdom - The Animatronic Dinosaur Experience

I went Dinosaur spotting at Jurassic Kingdom - the UK's fab new animatronic outdoor experience - with my fellow explorers aged 3, 7 & 9 at Birmingham's beautiful Botanical Gardens, before the family friendly attraction moves on to Manchester, Blackpool, Glasgow, Newcastle, and Leeds.

"I'm a Dino-saur, I'm a Dino-saur, I'm a Dinosaur, a Dino-saaaaaur"

They should be the words to the Jurassic Park theme tune. Try it for yourself and you'll agree. I'm a Dino-saur, I'm a Dino-saur... They should, shouldn't they? That's how I always recognise that piece of music and can be called upon in a split second should I find myself in a pub quiz music round situation.

It's also where my knowledge of dinosaurs begins and ends. I don't know my Paleolithic from my Triassic - and a Velociraptor might as well be a feminine hair removal device because I am absolutely clueless when it comes to all things prehistoric.

But what I lack in knowledge I make up for in enthusiasm, so when I got the chance to take a gang of kids (from my family - not strangers) to Jurassic Kingdom which is currently touring the UK, I knew it would make me the Best Aunty/Mummy in The World - at least for the day.

Location, Location, Location

The location was great - the carefully curated landscape of Birmingham Botanical Gardens made the journey of discovery exciting. Everything that I loved as a child, the kids loved too: hidden steps, meandering paths, and winding slopes.

The Botanical Gardens is an absolute sensory treat - there's heaps of shady spots for picnics, a wonderful array of textures in the trees, plants and stones, and colours galore from the flowers and shrubs. It's also a lovely venue for some of the open air theatre events that they have planned throughout the summer, if you are in the market for an evening picnic and a spot of Austen or Bronte.

Sense & Suitability

As you can imagine (for anyone who needs to take volume levels into account) it was full of excited children, a few school groups (we visited during term time), and some of the dinosaurs roared quite loudly if you stood close by them. My 3 year old wasn't at all scared, but I did see a primary school child in the queue refuse to go in because he was so frightened of the life size T Rex in the entrance. (Shout out to Abunassir - you do you, kid). I didn't see any upset children while I was in there, and there were many kids much younger than mine so I would say by and large it is suitable for all ages.

There is one dinosaur which is depicted as being attacked/bitten by two smaller dinosaurs so if you think that might be upsetting for a very small child then that's just about the only thing I can think of - and even that is stationary and doesn't make a noise I don't think.

For the older children, the hunt for the next dinosaur and trying to guess its name before reaching the sign kept my clever niece and nephew occupied. Entry to the attraction also allows you as much time as you like to stay in the grounds, so all of our kids enjoyed the play area and the new, smaller, tree tops playground. There was face painting available (for a small fee) but on such a hot day I was glad when none of the children were interested.There was also the beautiful glasshouses with tropical plants and flowers inside, which for some reason my son is absolutely mad about but which was a bit uncomfortable to stroll round in very warm weather.

My Top Tips

Normal parking in the Botanical Gardens is suspended during the Jurassic Kingdom event, and is open to Blue Badge holders only. Parking on nearby streets is for maximum 2 hours so if you're planning a day of it then you might have to be prepared to move the car (which is what I did and left the kids safely with the other adults), really research a good parking spot, or get public transport to the Botanical Gardens.

"Told you we should've borrowed yer Nan's Blue Badge"

Take a picnic. There's loads of good spots in the shade to keep kids comfy while you eat and I took the buggy to cart round all our picnic rugs and cool boxes. There's outlets for ice cream, food stalls, and refreshments if you want something extra.

The toilets by the gift shop/exit are much bigger and better than the smaller ones at the end of the glasshouses. But, it means running the gauntlet through the gift shop so be prepared for requests for expensive toys and personalised pencil sharpeners.

When you offer the kids a Mini Milk and they tell you they want a Magnum

Photo opps. Most of the dinosaurs are cordoned off and can't be touched let alone climbed on. But there's some great photo opps dotted around the place - see if you can find the dino head to poke your head through, one of the dinosaur benches, or a prehistoric egg to climb into.


Book your tickets to Jurassic Kingdom on Tour HERE and check out more pictures and reviews by following them on Facebook Twitter or Instagram


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Anne Frank's House Amsterdam: Is It Worth a Visit?

Anne Frank's House is ranked TripAdvisor's number one destination for sightseers in Amsterdam. The wartime hideout for the Frank family was made famous by young Anne's teenage diaries which gave the world tragic insight into life in hiding from the nazis. But is it worth the visit?

During my weekend of highs and lows in Amsterdam (as one of a group of 5 girls) the one place we all said we were keen to visit was Anne Frank's house, so I was pleased to finally get to experience the important historical location first-hand.

The fact that one of the group revealed on our way there that "I haven't got a clue who Anne Frank is - I've never even heard of the woman" led me to believe that perhaps I wasn't amongst the keenest of military and social historians...

The Queue 

The wait was long and the wait was cold - extremely cold on a wintery day - and the queue moved very very slowly. Tickets are available online in advance but because these Dutch canalside buildings are typically tall and narrow that means one thing for masses of people wanting to see the same tourist attraction: you have to wait for people to leave before you can get in. 

We waited around 3 hours on a Saturday morning and although the rest of the party seemed underwhelmed (I'm not sure what they were expecting but I'd like to extend my most honest and cringing apologies to the Jewish family who overheard one of the girls say with a completely unintentional pun: "Well that was an anticlimax - can we go to the Sex Museum now?") - I thought it was a really special experience.

History Brought to Life  

Having read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was a youngster, and being taught about the persecution of the Jewish people (and many others) by a wonderful German teacher who made us really take time to absorb what happened, I thought I knew enough history about Anne Frank and her family to get by. I wasn't even sure I'd learn a great deal more by visiting. But to simply be in the building and to learn so many more details was overwhelming.

I'd had the presence of mind to tell the others to go on without me, and to meet me in the coffee shop at the exit (incidentally there is also a 'Gift Shop' of sorts; mostly books though - not sure there's much of a market for Anne Frank tea towels). This allowed me to absorb everything around me: the narrowness of the staircases, the ephemera encapsulated in display cases, and Anne's own handwriting right before my eyes.

I won't give away any 'spoilers' as such, because if you visit Anne Frank's House then I think it'd be nice for you to go on your own journey around the building. For me, it really changed my imagined version of the family's hideaway that I'd grown up with. It made it more real and it made it more terrifying; even though I was only a kid myself when I first learnt about their story and now I was a grown up - supposedly hardened to these things.

My Personal Journey  

When my mother was only a little girl she came across a copy of the Picture Post in her grandmothers house and was absolutely terrified by what she saw. The Picture Post, in case you're not entirely ancient, was a photo-journalism periodical that ran for about 20 or so years from the 1930s. Although we're talking about a good few years after the end of the Second World War that my mum came across the magazine, there were still startling images being reported in the press from the concentration camps.

The Dutch, my Mum told me as I prepared for my trip to Amsterdam, were eventually reduced to eating tulip bulbs for food because the nazis were taking everything away from the ordinary people. My mental image of life in the city during wartime was gradually being dismantled.

This particular edition of the Picture Post in Nanny's house, which left a lifelong impression on my Mum, belonged to a relative who'd bought it out of particular interest to the family. My great uncle, you see, was one of the British Troops who liberated Bergen Belsen (the nazi camp where Anne Frank had died only a matter of weeks before). It's natural for families to be proud of their brave relatives, and I think we're proud of all of our relatives who went to war. Not necessarily because they did anything overly heroic or fearless, but because bravery is about doing your best in the face of fear.

It's also natural for your mind to pick up on how stories like this affect you. Of course, there's no reason why Anne Frank's life should have any bearing on mine, and it's not trying to make her fate 'all about me'. It's normal to find common ground, to empathise, to see how her family's story was just a few short weeks away from overlapping with mine. That's what makes us human.

I moved on from the displays of personal belongings and photographs of happier times, to the concentration camp records and eye witness reports, I thought about what it must have been like for my great uncle. For ordinary men who hadn't received ANY prior information about what lay ahead of them through the forest the day they discovered Bergen- Belsen, and about the lifelong impact it must have had on them.

He returned home, Uncle Mick. There'd been Blitzes in Liverpool and my family lost loved ones and neighbours. But the legacy of the Holocaust is beyond comprehension. Ordinary people. Children.

Future Generations

My visit made Anne Frank more than the smiling face on the cover of the book I read when I was 13. Despite the passage of years, despite the difference in language and culture and change in technology, she was a child, just like I was once. Just like we all were.

The black and white photographs and the new millennium might make it seem the very distant past, but this was my Mother's generation. Not my grandmother's, or great-grandmother's: My Mum's. The same Mum who won't use her bus pass because she doesn't want to be a 'Twirly' but still gets her nails done on OAP Wednesdays in town. Who drags my Dad round John Lewis and makes him hold her handbag while she tries on jackets that don't suit her then complains if he looks disinterested.

She had sisters and relatives the same age as Anne and her sister Margot Frank. As children, they all wore the same bows in their hair. They played the same ball games. Their skipping songs may have had different words but were they really so different, these little girls? The Frank family and others just like them were snuffed out. They couldn't grow old like my parents. No retirement, no grandchildren, no tea and cake in Debenham's Café, no learning how to use Netflix, or struggling to send a legible text without your reading glasses on. How can it seem a world away but be the same generation?

Anyone who knows me or has read my previous of blogs will know that I've got a lot of time for social and military history (having a lot of time for something is different from making a lot of time for it, though!). I'm not an expert in anything because even the Second World War itself is such a massive sprawling subject. I love the Imperial War Museum (both in Greenwich and in Salford) and the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, and I suppose you could say that none of this is particularly new to me. But if it's new to you - Anne Frank's story, the Nazis in Amsterdam, or the war in general - then please make the trip anyway. Wait in the queue. Stand in the cold. Swerve the Sex Museum (it's shite anyway) and make your own quiet personal journey around Anne Frank's House. You might not think it's relevant today but it is. It really is.

Teenage diarist, the smiling Anne Frank, with diary excerpts:


Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Day We Caught The Train - or - A Mum & Son Day in Leamington Spa

Britain's favourite dynamic duo - me and my 3 year old son - spent the day in Royal Leamington Spa in the heart of England. 

By 'favourite' I mean 'one or two people are fond of reading our adventures' and by 'dynamic' I mean it is always a massive concerted effort on my part to go on the briefest and easiest of days out. Or even the corner shop if I'm really honest. 

And while we're on the topic of transparency, we didn't actually even get the train. But in the beautiful regency town centre park Jephson Gardens, you can find the monument that was featured on the cover of Ocean Colour Scene's 1996 debut album Moseley Shoals. Of course, 'The Day We Caught The Train' gets stuck in your head and I was taken back to my teenage years...

Instead of taking a true teenage trip down memory lane though, I was on official Mum Duty, and what's more - trying to keep 3 year old Primo who is recovering from Chicken Pox, away from any disapproving glances or children who haven't yet caught it.

We hung out in the Pump Room gardens, home to an unloved and probably unused bandstand that's seen better days (would be great to see bandstands make a real comeback wouldn't it? And even build new ones!) and visited the small museum and art gallery inside the Pump Rooms themselves where the gentry would once have 'taken the waters' and attended balls in the town's assembly rooms. The assembly rooms were shut, so all I had was my imagination based entirely on Jane Austen adaptations and a solitary poster advertising Ceroc lessons or some such dance class that puts me in mind of painful singles clubs for the terminally unfortunate.

We crossed the road to Jephson Gardens and enjoyed nearly every inch of it. From the beautifully planted Victorian style flower beds to the purposeful sensory garden and wildflower patches, it really hit me how much work must go into maintaining somewhere like this. There were teams of gardeners tending to plug plants and hedges, winding paths, and sculptures made out of tree stumps.

It was changeable weather so the promised picnic turned out to just be eating our sandwiches on a bench but it was lovely to watch the world go by and the soaring fountains which were surrounded by ducks, geese, and swans. Primo loved the small Glasshouse with a little fishpond and trickling water feature, and beautiful tropical plants inside. The highlight of his trip, he will tell you, is finding a rock with a hole in so big you can fit your arm in. I'm sure the Royal Leamington Horticultural Society will be delighted that all their hard work was appreciated.

When the sun went in it got a bit chilly, so I went to check out the Aviary Cafe in search of a hot drink. We shared a slice of carrot and walnut cake and I had a hazelnut latte and it came to about £7 which is a bit pricey but it was a cool place and the staff were friendly - as were some of the doggy customers which are always a hit with us!

If you find yourself in Leamington Spa, there's quite a few family friendly things to do for free and I would definitely recommend having a stroll around Jephson Gardens. You can feed the ducks, hire a boat on the river Leam, or have a picnic. They've actually got a few parks in the town itself so it's like picnic spot heaven: the smaller Christchurch Gardens at the top of the main road ('The Parade')  has tennis courts, as does the larger Victoria Park which also has a proper little old fashioned bowling green and skate park. On the edge of the town is Foundry Wood, created on the site of the old Ford Motor foundry which closed down some years ago. They run forest school events for children and even a woodland singing class!

The town centre has a cluster of familiar family friendly restaurants in the pedestrianised Regent Court, such as Las Iguanas, Turtle Bay, Gusto and Nando's. There's also loads of fab independents to choose from as well. A little bit more time and money, and we could definitely hang out in Leamington Spa a lot more.

You might also like to read: Pirate Festival Weekend in Liverpool and Mum & Son Summer Saturday in Liverpool

in Liverpool

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