26 September 2010

Days out, no 3, 456

Yesterday's outing was a birthday special treat for one of M's friends, held at Walby Farm Park in Cumbria. It's not somewhere we'd ever come across, as it's a fair drive (almost an hour and a half) from Gateshead, tucked away near Carlisle, the M6 and the fells.

The farm's your standard kid-friendly visitor attraction, like many others across the country. There's farm animals, an adventure playground, a soft-play and slides inside, and even a maize maze. But I liked the attention to detail - there's lots of signs explaining the farm animals, and work around the farm - and the very non-moneygrabbing feel. Too often you can wind up paying an entrance fee, and then forking out lots more once you walk through the door for trips on this and goes on that. Here, the entrance fee was pretty reasonable (£5.95 for adults, slightly less for kids), the food/drinks/ice creams weren't extortionate, and the only extras were a jeep barrel ride across a field.

Aside from the rather fantastic indoor slides (which are suitable for larger kids and adults too, hurrah!), M loved the go-karts, and almost ran off with one of the very cute guinea pigs. Sadly, Rustle the cat would have made short work of him, so we had to leave him there. We also got pretty lost in the maize maze, and totally failed to complete the challenge of finding the Roman 'tents' hidden within. I blame the map.

All in all, it was a good day out (and it really is a full day - including a picnic, we stayed for 6 hours). Might have to go back to play with the guinea pigs...

20 September 2010

Extraordinary measures

We hopped up to Belsay Hall yesterday (not literally, obv), to catch the last dying days of their Extraordinary Measures exhibition. Belsay's a great place to go with kids in tow - it's got extensive grounds you can picnic in, there's a 14th century castle to scramble around, and the house interior is gloriously empty, and free of tutting curators.

Best of all, though, they have the most fantastic art exhibitions. Years ago we went to the Sitooteries exhibition of pavilions, and more recently Picture House, which had the spooky Hereafter mirror which showed you images of past objects and previous visitors layered with a time-delayed ghost of yourself moving around.

Extraordinary measures was equally appealing. We loved the Slinkachu 'day trip' photographs, and were fascinated by Ron Mueck's realistic sculptures - especially the 2m tall wild man. It all had an Alice in Wonderland feel - you never knew if you would feel enormous or tiny in comparison to what you saw.

So we took our own large and small photos in the quarry gardens:

That last one's quite terrifying...

14 September 2010

Days out, no456: Souter lighthouse

It's not quite as 'iconic' as Fraggle Rock, but Souter lighthouse is great for a cheap day out.

You have to pay to go in the lighthouse itself (unless you're a National Trust member), but there's all sorts to do in and around the grounds that's free. [I should point out, we thoroughly recommend going inside - it's fascinating. You can see the old lighthouse keeper's cottages, climb to the top of the tower and see the light, and most importantly dress up in pirate costumes.]

We like:
  • visiting the vegetable garden and playing spot the vegetable
  • clambering over the pirate ship and train in the walled garden
  • buying ice creams in the shop (mini Milks are only 40p)
  • following the cliff-top path along and then down to a fantastic pebbled beach - there's lots of scope for skimming pebbles, rockpooling and general scrambling about
Usually it's blowing a force 9 gale - there's lots of space for flying a kite too.

13 September 2010

Cats, dogs and mice

The lovely people at Random House sent us Three by the Sea last week. It's the latest picture book by Mini Grey, one of our favourite children's authors. I can recite Biscuit Bear word for word, but never tire of reading it as the illustrations are so funny. (And any book that ends in a cake shop will always have pride of place on our bookshelves).

So we had high hopes for Three by the Sea. And we were right. It's another fabulous book, illustrated in the inimitable Mini Grey style (check out the brilliant book titles in Mouse's kitchen - it's her attention to detail that I love). What I also love is that the story is as good as the illustrations - so often you find that you're reading absolute drivel, even though the pictures are beautiful (Angelina Ballerina, take a bow...).

Anyway, back to the plot: three friends (a cat, a dog and a mouse) live in a house by the sea - until a mysterious stranger (a travelling salesman) shows up. He offers each of them a special free gift...but it turns their world upside-down. It's a tale of friendship, loyalty and making compromises - but without any of the schmalz that can often accompany themes like that. In fact, it's laugh-out-loud funny, both for adults and kids. M read it with me, laughed like a drain, and immediately demanded it again. And again. I can see I'll soon be able to recite this one too...

UPDATE: There's a lovely set of pictures on The Guardian website, with Mini Grey explaining how she creates her images: www.guardian.co.uk/books/gallery/2010/oct/01/mini-grey-gallery

11 September 2010

The perfect Saturday

1. Matinee film at the Empire cinema in Newcastle

At £1 per ticket we don't really mind too much if the film isn't wonderful. Today's (Planet 51) wasn't bad - plot/characters not brilliant, but gorgeous visuals of a 1950s-style alien planet. Definitely worth £3.

2. Buns from the Chinese bakery

Bread Point, just on the outskirts of China Town in Newcastle is the place to go. £5 buys you an enormous box of buns - filled with ham/sweetcorn, sausage, Taiwanese chicken, char sui pork, pork mince and our favourite, 'peanut milk'. It's probably some tooth-rotting conglomeration of peanut butter and condensed milk but we don't care.

3. The allotment in the sunshine

Some weeding, digging up of things and picking is usually the order of the day in September. Today I dug up potatoes and beetroot, and picked yet more chard, and a huge punnet of blackberries. It was beautifully sunny, and there wasn't a slug in sight.

4. Bicycle riding

M's learning to ride a bicycle without stabilisers on. She's just about mastered balancing and freewheeling after a lot of riding up and down the street - next stop, adding the pedals back to the bike for some proper riding.

5. Strictly Come Dancing

It's back! The perfect eye candy while eating 'telly tea'. I'm looking forward to seeing what Ann Widdecombe makes of Craig Revel Horwood.

6. Making blackberry and apple jam

See 3. It was a *lot* of blackberries. There are now five jars on the kitchen worktop, gradually cooling down. I may need to try some out on some toast before I go to bed...