Budgie Smugglers in Brittany

We were all really ready for a holiday. Waiting until the last week of the summer to go away has advantages and disadvantages.The biggest advantage being that at some French campsites the end of the summer is considered off-peak and the prices fall dramatically but the activities and kids clubs always stay open until August 31st so there is still lots to do – at the good ones anyway.

This year we were holidaying in a group. My parents, their three daughters with husbands and five children. So imagine the domino effect of hilarity that burst forth from the females in the group when my observant sister posted one of the rules that she had astutely observed from the campsite booking forms:


“Have you all got budgie smugglers packed?” she asked laughingly.

My concerns about how exposed I would look in my bikini totally evaporated. The husband would have to wear speedos. This was the best news I had heard all year.

In response to the post about the compulsory budgie smugglers, the exchange went like this:

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Before I ordered neon yellow speedos with budgies on the front for the boys I needed to know if this rule was actually upheld, so I called the campsite Yelloh Village L”Ocean Breton.

Answering the phone the person at the end of the line confirmed that yes this rule was true.  Men had to wear tight lycra shorts. It was a hygiene issue. It was not a joke and that it was upheld at all times.

I immediately called my sister to share the good news. We proceeded to laugh uncontrollably, without breathing, for around five minutes.

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Unfortunately we didn’t have time to place an order for 7 pairs of bespoke briefs and lycra swimwear was not that easy to find, fortunately Decathlon turned out to be a winner, which made sense when I realised that it is French owned. Not only did it have all manner of tight lycra for the boys, it had swimsuits for £1.99 and amazing microfibre towels that were so small I could fit about 25 of them in my handbag*.

We opted for the Daniel Craig style square short brief and as my son was trying his on he told me he wouldn’t wear them. He didn’t want everyone to see his big thighs.

I was shocked. He is nine. With nine year old thighs. “Your legs are amazing. They are the reason you can run so fast,” I said.

“Can we get these long ones?” he asked. They looked more like cycling shorts. I decided not to let him in a bid to try and encourage him to lose the self-consciousness. “No. But we can get Dad the same shorts as you.” I said, which cheered him up a bit. But I think what really made him get over it was his Grandpa who proudly wore his speedos and didn’t give a flying truck what anyone thought. I think this really helped my nine year old get over his initial wariness. As did the pool, which was brilliant. It was heated,  had four slides, a lazy river, two indoor areas with a little VW camper van to play in. Ironically as everyone adjusted and proudly sported their lycra, the rule did not seem to be strictly enforced. But most of the boys wore their budgie smugglers anyway. I think they preferred them.

*We stayed at Yelloh Village campsite L’Ocean Breton and it was FANTASTIC. We have stayed in quite a few French sites and this is by far the best so far. I’ll write a blog about that soon.

The beaches in Brittany are perfect

*I did not steal 25 towels. Honestly

Goodbye Messi, you were a superstar

“He was definitely alive yesterday,” I said to the husband as we both looked down upon the rictus corpse of Messi, the 2 year old gerbil who had mysteriously perished overnight. Next to Messi, curled on the floor sobbing heartily was my 9 year old son who had just discovered the tiny motionless body of his first ever pet. He had found him sleeping forever in front of the coconut shell house that my son had used his pocket money to pay for.

Hearing the commotion little sister ran upstairs and burst into her brother’s room. “Has Messi died?” She asked incredulously. Death has been a popular conversation topic for my 6yr old lately. As I was kissing her goodbye before I went to a wedding in Italy a few weeks ago she looked at me intensely and said: “Don’t die Mummy.” Fortunately I made it, but here we were facing an actual death in the household.

My six year old erupted into tears (which were more theatrical and ten times louder than her brother’s): “You never let me play with him and now he is dead,” she yelled and then held her head in her hands as she let the feelings of self pity and injustice wash over her.

I took the hands of both children and suggested that they both say something nice to Messi.”He might not have got to heaven yet so he might still be able to hear you,” I said. The 9 yr old told Messi how brave he was, especially when he had escaped certain death following the sustained attack from his domineering cannibalistic brother Ronaldo. The six year old said she wished she had played with him more, while shooting a dirty look at her heartbroken brother.

Meanwhile the 9yr old had dried his eyes and had begun creating a coffin for his little pet. His rugby boot box was tipped open and gerbil bedding was lovingly spread around. Messi’s red ceramic food bowl was placed next to his corpse. The box was then gently carried into the garden while we began a discussion about where he would be buried.

As we sat around the table the six year old marched into the kitchen wearing her Doc McStuffins medical kit. “I’m going to fix him and make him alive again.” she declared brandishing a pretend blood pressure monitor that was going to “puff air back into him”

I could see where she was coming from. Messi in eternal life did look a bit deflated. We gently explained that this would not work, so she turned her attention to Grandpa instead and started fixing him.

After much consideration Messi’s final resting place is now a large ceramic pot containing a white and orange Port Sunlight rose bush, which Messi will feed as he decomposes. He was also white and orange so my son declared this most appropriate. Messi may be dead but the circle of life continues.





Santa’s Little Helper

“I going to punch you in the face,” she shouted at the elf before grabbing him violently and bopping him on the nose.

At the Ballantyne house we had slightly misunderstood the concept of “Elf on the Shelf”. We thought that our job was to stop the elf doing naughty things and report back to Santa at the end of the advent period. But apparently the elf is actually watching the children. Any bad behaviour and he grasses them up to Santa who redistributes their gifts to more worthy infants.

I can’t believe I missed such an excellent opportunity to get them to behave. What a fool. However if I change it now I will have to return all of Georgie’s gifts. You see her treatment of the naughty little elf has been bad enough that not only would Santa refuse to give her any gifts he would probably take his evidence to the police and have her serve a prison sentence for assault. Continue reading “Santa’s Little Helper”

A ferry good adventure…….

No matter how hard I tried to fight off these fears I kept replaying these horrible scenarios in my head with varying levels of violence and all leading to certain death by drowning. Instead of being fun and excited Mum, I was terrified of dying Mum.

Taking the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo was going to be a big adventure. We would squash in to our bunk beds and have a midnight feast and tell funny stories before getting a solid 8 hour sleep in, and then arrive in France refreshed and excited. The two and a half hour drive to the campsite would be a breeze.

It did sort of go that way, for the Husband and the kids at least. After boarding the ferry at around 7pm we all had some pizza and the kids went wild in the (very small) soft play before we headed over to the bar. Entertainers had the kids dancing and singing as we drank cheap cocktails. Mojitos for £4 with actual rum in, and a double measure at that. I was most impressed. Who knew there was all of this fun to be had on board? Anyone who has done this before of course but it was all new to us.

By 10pm we went down to our cabin. And by going down I mean all the way down to deck number 1. It was lower than the garages. I immediately began to panic.

Deck 1: The floor of the boat is all yours

If the boat sprang a leak we would not stand a chance. So of course all I could think about was the variety of ways in which the boat might start sinking.

The way that I saw it there were three main things that could go wrong:

  • A terrorist would sneak a lorry full of explosives on to the boat and detonate them and we’d find ourselves sinking into the Channel in the middle of the night
  • There would be a massive storm that would damage the ship and cause a slow leak. We would flee our cabins running like rats up the stairs only to find that everyone else had the same idea and we were slowly crushed in the stampede. I’d push the children up to higher ground only to find that the cage like doors were locked, blocking our escape (yes like in Titanic and yes I know that they don’t lock people down below anymore but it didn’t help when I was catastrophising)
  • A killer would start murdering people in their cabins starting at the bottom of the boat. Obviously some clever detective would be on board trying to solve this heinous crime but it would be too late for us.

No matter how hard I tried to fight off these fears I kept replaying these horrible scenarios in my head with varying levels of violence and all leading to certain death by drowning. Instead of being fun and excited Mum, I was terrified of dying Mum. So I stayed quiet as Norm got the kids ready for bed.

I recognised the warning signals that a panic attack was coming. I was lying in bed hyperventilating, so I did circular breathing, which helped. I thought about all of the people who work on the boat and how they do this every day. And I thought about the kids and how a panicking mother would ruin their excitement. I managed to control myself, just about but getting to sleep was another matter. Every time I drifted off I’d wake up and remember that we were basically lying on the floor of the boat and I’d stick my foot out to check that water had not begun its deadly ingress into our cabin.

Of course each time I did this the floor remained resolutely dry.

Once the kids were asleep I tried to wake the husband for some reassurance. His brand of tough love involving cold hard facts about how safe boats are, might have helped. But he was snoring and would not be easily woken. I left him alone and picked up my new Jack Reacher novel (by Lee Child). But when it got to the exciting bits where people were fighting and lives were in danger I started panicking again so I stopped that and persevered in my quest for sleep.

It was 4am the last time I checked my phone. At 6am the husband’s alarm went off. I assumed that was what it was when annoying music started playing too loudly in my ear. He thought it was too, until he picked his phone up and saw that it was resolutely silent. It was the boat’s morning wake up call. We had an hour before we would arrive. I smiled with relief and went and had a shower in what felt like the smallest bathroom in the world.

We were in France! (where we had an utterly amazing holiday and the kids ate snails. More of that later)

*According to former naval officer Hubbard (aka Boba, aka my step-dad), the location on deck 1 would be where least movement is felt and so would have been an optimum location for prevention of seasickness. As I would rather be sick than drown I’m asking for an above water line cabin next time.



Holiday Business

But alas, beneath the facade of a content, laid back, chilled out, well groomed holiday maker is a woman on the edge of launching her 4 year old daughter into the sea.



See the calm and relaxed lady waiting for a ferry to take her from one idyllic holiday spot to the next. See how carefree and happy she looks with her shiny hair, cool shades and bright as a button summer’s day jacket? See how cute her son is sitting in front of her obediently wearing his sun hat and waiting patiently for the next boat. But alas, beneath the facade of a content,  chilled out, well groomed holiday maker, is a woman on the edge of launching her 4 year old daughter into the sea. For lying by her feet is a child who just spent the last 20 minutes crawling along the floor, hanging on to Mummy’s ankle and screaming for “a carry”. Even when the family reach the queue for the boat the child refused to stand up and spent another 20 minutes lying on the floor in protest. Every now and then she would look up at her mother and fill her with hope that the stand-off was over but instead she spat out the immortal words “I hate you Mummy” before giving her brother a good kick.

It was all his fault you see. If he hadn’t been sick several times, needing lots of love and attention from Mummy who was taking him home to rest and drink water and watch films, then she wouldn’t have felt so neglected and then refused to walk anywhere. Unfortunately stupid Mummy only has one pair of hands so with Daddy carrying Archie and Mummy carrying two scooters, helmets and a beach bag there was simply no way Georgie was going to be lifted up. And that was quite simply unacceptable, especially as Archie had been carried for ages and he was 7.

“I don’t care if you are carrying the Olympic fucking torch. Put it down because I want a carry RIGHT NOW.”

Fortunately the sickness didn’t last long and it didn’t spread so the holiday was not a disaster. We spent a lovely week in Mudeford, Dorset renting a fabulous house called Lazy Days, the name of which just about sums up our week. It was within walking distance of the beach and the weather was lush. We spent our days catching crabs, surfing (on our bellies!), swimming, walking and obviously eating A LOT. We visited Moors Valley National Park which was amazing and FREE (£9 to park) and spent a morning at Quomps  Splash Park in Christchurch which the kids totally loved as it involved water fountains, sprinklers and lots of screaming (also FREE). We went body boarding on Boscombe Beach (again FREE). We took a tour of Highcliffe Castle which overlooks the Solent and had afternoon tea and tried on the traditional clothes (Norm loved it), as well as a lovely day out in Lymington with some of our family who live there.

Norm and I even had the chance to abandon the kids and sneak off for a date one night. Christchurch Harbour Hotel is walking distance from the house and we demolished the six course tasting menu at the Upper Deck restaurant.

So despite the vomit and tantrums we had a lovely time. Next stop France where the blog will mainly be about wine and falling off my bike. Conveniently Norm’s bike doesn’t fit the child seat on the back so I have to pedal Georgie around. I predict trouble…….


Car talk

“My farty face looks good”

Driving home from a friend’s house tonight and the kids decided to make history by not having a massive fight in the back of the car. Instead they began a conversation that you could not ever imagine.  Unless you are under 7…..

Georgie (4) “I am ready to do my name changing now Archie.”

Archie  (7) “Paaaaa haaaa haaaa. Your name is Georgie.”

Georgie “My name is Rainbow Dash Rainbow, because of all the beautiful colours” 

Archie “Paaaaa haaaa haaaa. Look at my two nipples Rainbow Dash. They look good.”

Georgie “My farty face looks good”

Archie “Baddy punch farty face is coming” (Baddy punch face is the “baddy” in all of our made up stories)

Georgie “His underpants are too tight”

And they both become hysterical. And so do I. 

Bank holiday morning so far

6:40am “Mummy I got a bogie” yells 3yr old from her bed.

6:30am – husband’s alarm goes off and wakes me up despite the fact that neither of us are working today
6:35am – youngest starts singing/yelling “let it go, let it go….”
6:40 – “Mummy I got a bogie” yells 3yr old who has generally had a face full of snot since spring sprung (hayfever)
6:45 – Go and see 3yr old to wipe her nose. “Listen Mummy. I play my music but not loud,” she says having learned where the volume switch is on the keyboard that she starts pounding at.
6:50 – I climb into her bed hoping to lull her back for half an hour of snoozing. She ignores me and starts bashing a balloon against the wall. “Don’t let it go on floor Mummy”
7:00 – what the hell is that beeping? 7yr old’s digital watch alarm is beeping. And beeping. And beeping.
7:05 – I get up to try and find the sodding watch. 7yr old stays asleep.
7:15 – dog hears all the fun so jumps over baby gate that is supposed to keep him downstairs. He scuttles into my room and gets into my bed. In my spot, which is not even cold yet. Husband hugs dog tenderly, perhaps aware that wife will not be giving tender hugs this morning as she asked him to “turn that bloody alarm off so we don’t all wake up at dawn” yesterday.
7:30 –  7yr old is up. “Stop shouting Georgie I want to go back to sleep” he yells as he makes his way to the bathroom.
7:40 – I look at the dog in my bed. My husband snoozing. 3yr old laughing. 7yr old on the toilet. And I feel pretty lucky really.
7:45 – Coffee time. Except we have run out. Arrrrgggghhhh

Centre Parcs: a weekend in Woburn


It was my idea to spend £1200 between six adults and three children for a 4 bedroom lodge at Centre Parcs in Woburn for a weekend during half term in February. So I was feeling the pressure. What if it was shit? What if everyone hated it and I’d made them spend £400 each?  As I was responsible for herding my family off to Woburn Forest I was desperately hoping that it would be worth every penny and impress us with its fabulousness. But did it?

Continue reading “Centre Parcs: a weekend in Woburn”

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