Friday, 31 July 2015

Blue Reef Aquarium and Dockyard

Yesterday I bought some tickets to Portsmouth on the train ready for our day out today at the Blue Reef Aquarium and Dockyard.  It was one of those times I wish I hadn't been so organised and (a) chosen another day to go or (b) just driven there spur of the moment.  You see, the problems started when we got to the station.  The previous train was cancelled, our train was 'delayed' (with no arrival time at our station yet) and the only one running was an all stopping train.  We got on that on the advice of the station staff and headed off. It was already delayed by 30 minutes so not a good start.  Almost 2 hours later we arrived at Southsea (we couldn't get as far as Portsmouth).   Off we hopped and found out where the buses go to the seafront and hopped on (I'd got bus extra cards with the tickets for both sides of the journey).  

Upon arriving, we had a nice little walk to the aquarium itself. It wasn't very big but it won my vote because just inside the entrance area were seahorses - my favourite creature.  We walked all the way around quite quickly. I have to confess it's not that exciting but then again, other than the Aquarium in Monterey, I've not found any to be that great.  However, once we were done, we went back in.

About half way around the aquarium is a lovely play area for children, with even a little cafe to buy lollies and snacks.  We had our picnic and the girls enjoyed 3/4 of an hour play.  Sadly, I hadn't thought about swimming costumes or a towel so just told them not to get too wet.  That worked....not!  Never mind, I'm sure they'd dry off as we walked along the seafront in the sunshine.

We got an ice cream from a gelatto stand - which was the best I've eaten - and then walked a bit further up to sit down and finish them whilst watching the ferries coming and going.  The girls were freezing so it was a quick change out of their wet shorts and t-shirts into their leggings and cardigans.  Oh well, better than nothing.

They had never seen a hovercraft so we watched one arrive and leave. They loved it. I thought it would be fun for us to go on a return trip to the IoW but when I checked the prices, it would have been almost £50 for us all which was far too much for a 10 minute each way journey.  

We walked along a bit further to the arcades (which I avoided like the plague - they just got their photo taken in the car without me putting money in - meanie huh) and then got the bus over to the dockyard.

Not really too worried about doing this again as we've seen it a few times now but we have an annual pass that's about to expire so worth another look around.  We just pottered over to HMS Victory and then to the NMRN where they could do their favourite thing - dress up!

Homeward bound we got the 2.59 train from Portsmouth and sat and waited. The 3.15 train was cancelled so those passengers boarded our waiting train. Then we waited some more.  Finally we were off...for 400 metres until we stopped again as there was 'congestion' from trains further ahead of us. Oh joy.  Having diverted the train around every station to Timbuktu and back again, we finally arrived at our station some 2hrs 40mins later.  To say it was not a good journey was an understatement.  Missed the bus that didn't bother to wait for our frantic waving and just left and had to wait another 10 minutes for the next one.  So it was fish and chips for tea that ended the day rather nicely.
Next time I'm going to pre-book some public transport, someone stop me!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Hawk Conservancy Trust

Today we jumped in the car and headed down the M3 to Andover to the Hawk Conservancy Trust.  I had seen vouchers for them on our local radio's website as part of a half price summer deal and thought it worth a go. I wasn't expecting a great deal - a bit of a 'bird world' really - so I am delighted to tell you that it was one of the best days out we've had EVER!

Easily found off the A303 (literally about 500 yards off it!) and plenty of parking.  In we went and began our look around.  We arrived with around 40 minutes to spare before the Wings of Africa flying demonstration so we visited some of the aviaries and looked at the birds.  The youngest two girls each got a card to find stamps to fill up so they were eagerly looking for those too.  Time for the flying demonstration arrived.

We hadn't thought to get there early and there were only seats at the back left. Oh well, at least the girls  could sit up on the back rest or stand.  The announcement came that you had to sit down properly so they were a bit disappointed...until the display began!  It didn't honestly matter where you say as birds swooped literally over your head and much of the time you felt like you had to duck!  What a joy.  Every member of the audience got an up close and personal experience.  Once the fantastic flying was done, the girls queued up to hold an owl.  They were wide-eyed doing this and loved it.

We then wandered over for a bit of pond dipping which was about to start. Four children at a time, with adults, and about 5 minutes each. Doesn't sound much but they were so engrossed with what they were getting out, and so excited, it was magical for them.  Hand gel later and we were off for our picnic.  

After filling up on our goodies, we went over towards the Valley of the Eagles display via lots of other aviaries (and a few more stamps).  We ended up being in the front row for this display, but like the previous one, everyone got a great view.  In fact, low flying would be an exaggeration - the vultures almost hopped from one head to the next!  The girls were loving this and the teen was beaming still.  Watching the hawks doing their thing and then one of the handlers trying to 'march' across in front of us without the hawks stealing the meat was hilarious.   Seeing the bald eagle coming in from it's flight over the downs was incredible.  

Once the show (hosted by a very funny commentator, who was the son of the man who set this all up) was over, the girls went for a tractor ride (all free) whilst J raced off to the Hawk Flying Arena and got to fly a Harris hawk!  

Back she came afterwards with this great picture and then we all got an ice cream (amazed at how cheap!) before having a walk around the lovely area of Reg's Wild Flower Meadow.

We started to head back and noticed that we were just in time for the Woodland Owls and Hawks Flying to start, so at the back we sat again, ducking down as owls flew over our heads, with much hilarity again from the handler of one little owl who, it seemed, didn't like heights!

Finally our day drew to a close.  I had primed the girls that I wasn't about to buy them each something from the shop but when we got in there and saw the prices, we all came away with something!  Little snowy owl soft toys were £4.99, magnets £1.50 and a lovely owl necklace for J was £5.99.  Very impressive and so nice that this wonderful place was letting all the visitors have the ability to take home a little something by keeping their prices sensible.

We are now considering family membership as sadly hubby couldn't come today as he was working but we'd like to go back...more than once!  What can I say - great handlers, beautiful birds and sensible pricing. The Hawk Conservancy has everything going for it!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Shut up when I'm talking to you

A great lyric in a Linkin Park song. However, I was doing a little shopping around Sainsburys today and couldn't avoid a woman with two very young children in a trolley walking around.  The slightly older of the children, a young girl, was asking for something in a quiet little voice and all that I heard was this awful woman, at the top of her voice scream "shut up" to her, and just carried on pushing the trolley. The little boy looked like he'd pass out if you said hello to him.  The little girl quietly asked something again and the woman, again shouted at her "Just shut up".  
Now I appreciate that children can be a bit of a nuisance when you're shopping and 'pester power' is something supermarkets along with other shops, play on with the goodies by the tills and we've all been asked the same thing by our children umpteen times BUT I don't think I've ever told my children to 'shut up' (actually I did once, but I seriously regretted it).  There is something about saying 'shut up' to a child that is...well, plain bloody rude!
Can you imagine how you would feel if you heard your child's teacher saying "shut up" to them or the class?  You'd be mortified.  Imagine your child saying it to you or another adult. I'd want the ground to open up and swallow me if one of mine did that.  So I couldn't think why this horrible woman couldn't think of any other way of putting it.  
Zip it.
Stop now.
Be quiet.  
They all sound fine don't they.  After all, aren't we as parents, teaching our children how to behave?

Monday, 27 July 2015

The baking cakes phase of life

We had a lovely walk this morning around RHS Wisley and then decided, when we got home, to do a little baking. My baking mostly consists of a kind of Victoria sponge from a receipe that my mum told me (and, amazingly, I have always remembered) or a variation of the same putting the mixture into fairy cake cases.  Always tasted nice but recently I have wanted to get a little more adventurous on the baking front. I blame this on my age. I must be entering 'the baking phase' of life.  I've even bought a book on it - 'Mary Berry's Baking Bible' (you can buy it through the Amazon link on the right).

Off I trotted to Waitrose to pick up the ingredients that I needed.  It would have been cheaper for me to buy out the cake counter, but where's the fun in that eh?
The girls were very excited about trying something new when I got in. We had opted for chocolate cookies and flapjacks.  First the cookies.  The girls loved melting the chocolate and butter over the heat - something I recall enjoying as a young girl when making chocolate cornflake cakes.  Clearly I held tightly to the saucepan handle as they stirred the mixture above the simmering water.   They thought this was very grown up.  Bit of patience for these as you have to let things cool in between so off they went to colour until it was time for the next bit.

That meant that J could kick off the flapjacks.  We could feel our arteries hardening just measuring out the ingredients but hey, you only live once right?  Got those in the oven pretty quickly and then turned our attention back to the cookie mix which was now cool enough to carry on working with.  Much stirring of flour into the gooey mixture by the girls (taking it in turns of course) and it was ready.  Spooned onto the baking sheet and put in as the flapjacks came out.

Note to self - buy a flapjack pan and do not use a baking sheet in future as said mixture spreads too far out, which in turn means a small part of it becomes too thin to lift properly and you have to eat all those bits that crumble away on the baking sheet whilst they are still warm...subsequently getting quite full and not wanting your dinner for hours now that you're full up *cough*

A couple of cooking sessions needed as there were a surprising amount of cookies.  They are wonderful - even if I do say so myself.  That bit of crunch on the outside and soft, moist mixture in the middle.  The giant chocolate buttons we put in set them off a treat.  I suspect we will be rolling around on the floor later unable to move due to a flapjack and cookie feast.  There *may* even be some left for hubby tomorrow!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Planting tea bags in the garden

Don't worry, I haven't finally lost my remaining marbles.  We're helping a fellow PhD-er with a project called The Tea Bag Index UK.  The idea is to bury some teabags for 3 months to measure decomposition rates in different types of soils.  Something that would be of interest to gardeners everywhere.  Our teabags arrived yesterday and today the girls helped to plant them in our garden.
N planting the Blue tea bags
We choose 3 different areas. One under/near some grass that wasn't growing too well (I see turf in our future), another in a flower bed, and the third around an area of our garden that seems to be just moss and clover (maybe more turf?).
S planting the red tea bags
The girls thought we were planting tea bags to grow tea trees. A fair assumption by small people who don't drink tea!  I did explain why we were doing it but they were more interested in finding great places to plant the tea bags and arguing over who was going to bury which colour pair.  N had blue, S had red and I had yellow (with their help of course).
So many weeds/clover/moss
I am fairly confident two of the markers will last but a little less so about the third which is near their swings and bug barn but we'll see.  Will let you know when we get our results at the end of the year.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Llama Park - It's got a nice playground

Yesterday the girls and I (hubby was working) headed off down to deepest, darkest East Sussex to visit The Llama Park.  I'd grabbed a 1/2 price voucher from Eagle Radio (great way to lessen the hit us parents have to endure during summer holidays) and as it had some great reviews on TripAdvisor so we were looking forward to it.  Let's face it, my girls do enjoy a good walk and seeing animals so it should be fun right?  Sadly, not really.

The M25 did it's usual thing of grinding to a total standstill for no reason at 10.30 in the morning, so it took us almost 2 hours to get there.  Nice empty car park when we arrived and in we headed to the shop and pay desk.  Showed our voucher, given some stickers and we were off.  First thing we saw was a super 'wooden' style assault course playground and a nice bouncy castle.  The girls wanted to go straight on but I suggested we have a look around first and then come back here to have our nibbles.  We did stop to see the peacocks and chickens first though and the girls thought the peacock displaying to a very disinterested chicken was really funny.

First shed had some alpaca in it with a great description of how alpaca differ from llama. I have now learned something new!  The girls weren't keen to stay here for any time as it was a bit on the smelly side.  Goats were next along with empty pig pens.  Where were the pigs?

We walked down the path towards the llama and more alpacas.  Most seemed pretty disinterested until another family brandishing a bag of food came past.  My girls had headed off to the reindeer as they really wanted to see those.  I didn't realise that reindeer click when they move/run.  Their splayed hooves kind of come together as they move and make this clicking noise.  You probably don't notice it on snow but in grass you can hear it quite plainly.  The reindeer were moulting which made the girls think they were quite scruffy until I explained why they looked so odd.

We got to the bottom of the hill and walked around a little piece of woodland and that's where we found the pigs. Seems they have a nice new outdoor area.  As we walked past, we realised the ones we had been looking at were only piglets still as the two huge adults came out of their sty and started snuffling about.

Back up the hill and across to the mountain sheep.  N wanted to see sheep you see.  She kept telling me that they are not proper sheep as they had horns so we had a little chat about how animals can look different depending what breed they are and where they live.  She seemed to accept this (and I sounded quite a knowledgeable mummy about such facts as another little girl heard me and then told her parents - hope I was right!).  That was it done. About 30 minutes and it was all over.  Not quite what I expected.

The playground was calling. The girls had a great time climbing around and going on the bouncy castle.  We stopped for our snack and a lolly in the cafe (very reasonably priced) and then headed back to the playground for another half an hour of play.  Swerving the shop and requests for toys/clothes/posters/books like a pro, we left to head back home on M-slow.  
Would I go again? No, I'm afraid not. It is probably more fun if you do the 'llama walk' but at £30 per person (yes, you heard me) it was way too much for our budget for a day. I was also disappointed that the donkey rides were £5 each as I felt that was pretty steep for a 2 minute walk around a paddock but fortunately our timing was such that they weren't running whilst we were there *evil grin*.