24 February 2011

If you go down to the woods today...

...you're likely to find snowdrops!

Today's trip was to Belsay Hall, in search of snowdrops, fairies and sunshine. We found all three! And a certain small person had her first ice cream of the year, which must be something of a record for February. It was lovely and warm in the Quarry Garden (even the rhododendrons were flowering), and we saw more snowdrops than you could shake a stick at.

We also did a fairy trail, which led to (a) an in-depth discussion on the merits of the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and (b) a 'reward' of a chocolate bunny and a sticker. Not sure which was more educational...

Today's budget: £1 for an ice cream (we're English Heritage members, so saved the £16 it would have cost us to get in!)

23 February 2011

Books and chairs

We made use of our local assets today - visiting Gateshead Central library and the Shipley Art Gallery, which are just round the corner from our house.

The library's always fun - especially now it's been completely refitted. The new children's section is huge, light and bright, and they seem to have also had an influx of new books. We had a whale of a time searching for books by Cressida Cowell (we watched How to Train Your Dragon recently, and M was very taken with the idea that there were a series of books behind it), and read far too many Julia Donaldsons.

The best bit, though, is the new self-service machines. They're so simple that a five-year-old can work them quite happily - and M was entranced by the fact they give you a printed list of what you've borrowed.

This afternoon we headed to the Shipley, to see their Sit Down exhibition, on tour from the V&A Museum of Childhood. It's all about chairs and seating for kids, with chairs of all ages and shapes - everything from an 18th century high chair to a beanbag. There's an interesting selection of items, but very few that you can actually sit on, which was rather disappointing. The 'interactive' bit was quite poor, in fact - a Goldilocks and the Three Bears-style table with chairs to try out suffered from not all the chairs being there. I get the feeling that the exhibition was probably considerably larger originally - it really didn't live up to expectations, and was certainly nowhere near as good as some of their previous efforts (the Supremes costumes and the Penguin covers spring to mind).

M did draw her idea of a great chair, though - I especially like the cat servant who caters to your every need:

Today's budget: £0 (Our library books weren't overdue!)

22 February 2011

Cycling: bribery will get you a long way

Today involved a lovely lunch with friends, followed by a long cycle ride from Ryton along the Tyne to Wylam. It's about three miles along the river bank, I guess, on a fairly flat, wide path. This picture's slightly blurry as I was cycling along at the time, but you get the idea...

We saw lots of ducks floating downstream, huge clumps of snowdrops on the sandy banks, and a fair few golfers on the fairway. The main attraction, though, was the Boathouse in Wylam itself - we'd promised the kids crisps (and us beer) if we made it all the way there.

Rather pleasingly, the older ones and M wanted to ride home again - so we tackled the path in the gloom, before a long push up Station Bank in the dark.

Today's budget: £6.10 on beers, orange juices and crisps.

21 February 2011

Castles, cheese and cake

We decided to have a trip up to Alnwick today, to go to Barter Books, which is one of the largest secondhand bookshops in the country. Its schtick (aside from the fact that it's located in the old railway station) is that you can take a bagful of books and they'll give you a value for them...which can then be spent on yet more books.

We're currently in credit, and were looking for all sorts of stuff today. There's a great children's section, more cookery books than you can shake a stick at, and everything from fiction to railways, maps or music books.

M came home with several new Paddington books, a Dick King-Smith, a book about pasta (that's my girl - start with the cookery books early!) and a Peter and Jane (3b - I remember them well). Orb's collecting Ian Fleming's Bond novels, and managed to find Goldfinger. My masterpiece was the delightful Make a Meal of Cheese, published in 1973 by the Cheese Information Service. It contains such gems as cheese roundabouts, cheddar curry and crunchy cheese bobs, illustrated with some lovely 1970s brown and orange photos. I have been politely requested not to make any of the recipes it contains...

Our other two missions in Alnwick were to find (a) tea and cake and (b) castles. The first was surprisingly difficult - there don't seem to be that many good teashops in Alnwick. We eventually found Grannies on Narrowgate, which did a pretty good selection.

Castles were easier. M's project for school this week is to do something to do with castles, whether it's making one, drawing one or whatever. We've been taking photos all week of anything castle-related, so Alnwick scored highly for having a real, live castle in all its damp, rain-soaked glory.

Budget for the day: £8 on coffee, hot chocolate and lots and lots of cake.

20 February 2011

Gateshead Quays

It was another cold, dank February day today, but we had to get out of the house. We've been trying to cycle every weekend over the winter, in an attempt to give M some practice before we head to Denmark this summer - so far we've hit the Newburn-Wylam trail, Chopwell Woods, Hamsterley Forest, the river at Stockton on Tees, and Newcastle Quayside. Today it was Gateshead Quayside's turn. We've lived here in Newcastle or Gateshead for the last...ooh, far too long...and have never gone upstream along the river from the Tyne Bridge.

Today only M was on her bike - some days it's warmer for us to walk really really fast alongside her, rather than cycle very slowly.

We discovered that:

- the bridges don't half rattle alarmingly when a train or metro goes overhead
- there's a fair amount of seaweed along the path
- the new houses at Dunston staithes look rather nice (but that they're beaten hands down on architectural merit by the staithes themselves)

After an hour or so, we were cold and in need of cake. So we headed to IKEA, where you can get cinnamon buns and a cup of tea for 50p.

Today's budget: £1 for tea and buns. Bargain.

19 February 2011

Despicably good

It's half-term. Hurrah!

Actually, it's probably one of the few times over the last few years that I've liked the fact it's half-term - before M went to school there was always much moaning about families cluttering up the place and the usual activities being cancelled.

All that's changed now, though. After two months back at school, it's nice to spend some time with her properly (and we're very lucky that we both work freelance, so can take a bit of time off).

So this week's going to be a bit of a mini-holiday. But a very Gateshead-based one. All our holiday cash is being saved up for Denmark in August (yes, we liked it so much we're going back again), so we have a minimal budget for the next nine days.

Today's treat, given that it was pouring down with rain/snow/sleet outside, was to head to the Saturday morning matinee. We like the Saturday morning kids films at the Empire. They're on at not a bad time (10.30am), it's £1 a ticket, and you can round off the experience with buns from the Chinese bakery round the corner. And we loved today's offering - Despicable Me. It's the story of how an evil supervillain called Gru finds his life changed by three orphan girls. He plans to use them in his plot to steal the moon - but is completely bowled over by them, and ends up becoming their dad.

There's lots of laughs (M loved the fart gun), and some delightfully witty dialogue for adults - especially when Gru's reading the three kittens book that the girls love. And there's quite a good plot too, with minimal nauseating American schmalz (quite remarkable, given there's three ballet-loving small girls at the heart of proceedings). Definitely one to watch (especially if you have a small girl yourself).

The buns were good too. I don't know how Bread Point do it. They produce rack after rack of gloriously pillowy, doughy bread buns for 60-90p a time, filled with things like spiced pork, char sui, curried beef and Thai chicken. Perfect stodge.

Today's budget: three tickets to the cinema £5.10 (it may be £1 per ticket, but there's a booking charge for lazy people like us who want to guarantee a seat, but not get out of bed too early)
lots of buns at the Chinese bakery: £4.90

Total: £10

15 February 2011


And thrice bah. I'm ill with tonsilitis, stuck in the house and grumpy as hell. What I really want to be doing is pottering about in the sunshine in the garden, secateurs and trowel in hand. There's also the small matter of an allotment, which I may have not visited since about October (ahem).

Instead, I'm whiling away the hours feeling guilty about not working and listening to Radio 4. Now I love Radio 4 dearly, but I haven't half listened to some tat over the last few days. Melodramatic dramas. Pseudo-intellectual discussions (yes, most of those involved you, Mr Bragg). Incomprehensible (and unfunny) comedies.

Oddly enough, the best of the lot was You and Yours. Don't laugh. I know it's normally terrible. But yesterday they had an inspired segment on the PR stories they'd been sent which were tenuously linked to Valentines Day. It made me howl with laughter (quietly, of course).