Duncan starts school

September 8th, 2014

Duncan's first day at schoolAfter much anticipation (Emma and Duncan have been playing schools for months), Duncan finally got to experience the real thing today. He’s well used to the walk to school and Christine didn’t have any problems leaving him (he got there early enough to bagsy a LearnPad which had his full attention). I, meanwhile, got to drop Emma in the junior school playground and lost track of the number of times I was told ‘you can go now’! Duncan’s only there for mornings to start with but, if the state he was in this evening is anything to go by, they’re going to have to try a lot harder to tire him out.

Guernsey Camping

September 6th, 2014

GuernseyThis post could equally have been called ‘Not the Austrian Alps’ as that was meant to be our summer holiday destination but we left things too late and somehow it ended up being too expensive or too complicated to get there. I’m not sure how we ended up on Guernsey instead though other than perhaps it is easy to get to from us with a choice of flights from Southampton or ferry from Portsmouth, Weymouth or Poole. We took the last of these which provide to be a bit of a rough crossing (Emma ensuring that we were in the majority of families that had at least one sick child).

We were staying at La Bailloterie camping which had a definite feel of end of season about it. Perhaps not surprising given the weather for the first few days we were there. We managed to dodge the showers fairly successfully though, enjoying the local beaches and visiting some of the many underground attractions when the rain became more persistent: La Vellette Underground Military Museum is full of memborilia from the German occupation but could do a better job of telling the story whereas the aquarium just looks tired. Thanks to a tip off from Christine’s brother we also enjoyed the view from Victoria Tower in St Peter Port (you get to let yourself in using a key from the nearby museum).

The weather brightened up as the week went on and we expanded our range of beaches. Originally we’d planned a visit to one of the neighbouring islands but after the ferry crossing nobody fancied it much! Instead we settled for walking across the causeway to Lihou Island.

All told, a good break and, although Guernsey has some fantastic spacious beaches, I’m not sure we’ll be rushing back there. It just seems a waste to spend 3 hours on a ferry and arrive at somewhere which is still very English (the local supermarket stocked produce from Tesco!). Time to start booking next year’s holiday in Austria…


August 18th, 2014

National Motor MuseumI was back in sole charge of the children today and we decided to head over to the Beaulieu Estate (good value with just one adult and Duncan still under five). Emma was keen to act as tour guide following her school trip to the Motor Musuem. After a quick trip round the Top Gear exhibit (lost on the children and, to a large extent, me) we took the monorail down to the far end.

The Secret Army Exhibition held promise but sadly the showcases were too high for Duncan to really see anything and the audio-visual presentation was pretty lack lustre. Palace House was next up. As a nice touch, all of the notices within were written in the first person by the present Lord Montagu whose family has owned the estate for nearly 500 years. The children also enjoyed the games laid out on the lawn although we did have to hide under the adjacent hedge when a rain shower came through.

After lunch we headed in to the Abbey (remains of) and enjoyed a very information falconry presentation by Paul Manning in the cloisters. Nearly four and a half hours in to our visit we finally succumbed and took the vintage double-decker back and entered the National Motor Musuem. The preponderance of ‘do not touch’ signs meant that it was a relatively fleeting visit as the children were largely only interested in things that they could climb on!

The day ended with the obligatory ice cream. It remains to be seen whether we make use of the offer to return free of charge in the next 6 days, or indeed the ability to return to just the museum at any point of the next year (as a result of giving Gift Aid).

Not the Isle of Wight

August 17th, 2014

We were originally thinking about a day trip to the Isle of Wight today. We thought we’d leave the car at home and get the train and ferry which, with a railcard, is actually cheaper than just getting the ferry even before you factor in parking. Then we started to look at the logistics: the free bus from the train station to the ferry terminal seems to be perfectly timed to miss the incoming train and then to miss the ferry so you end up waiting around for an hour in Southampton. Then when you get to the island, you have to get to Newport before you can get the bus anywhere else. Before you know it there’s hardly any of the day left, and we just threw up our hands in despair and decided to go somewhere else instead!

Emma Tree ClimbingWe ended up at the National Trust’s Hinton Ampner which was hosting a ‘Family Fun Day’. On arrival we went straight over to the advertised tree climbing. Unfortunately Duncan was too young but Emma thoroughly enjoyed her rope climb up in the to branches of a massive oak tree. It was a shame that we had to wait so long and that it started to tip it down when she was half way up. I was just glad that I’d borrowed a helmet and was stood under the tree taking photos when the rain arrived!

Emma with painted faceIt wasn’t long before the sun came out though and we had a lovely picnic in the grounds with an accompanying live band. Emma then wanted to go in search of the promised free face painting. Another long wait ensued and, as her departure time approached, the lady would no longer do full face patterns, but the effect was worth the wait (at least for Emma). We then did one of the trails where, as he filled out his quiz sheet, Duncan demonstrated that his writing is improving nicely just in time for school. He also demonstrated his ability to annoy Emma by somehow always getting the rubber stamper before she did! The children were suitably rewarded with plastic medals and, as Christine went off for a run, we picked up more medals on a quick tour of the house.

We finished up the day flying Emma’s pocket kite. It was nice to have had a trip to Hinton Ampner where we weren’t completely zonked after a night of orienteering (our previous two visits) and we spent just four pounds plus petrol money which certainly wouldn’t have got us to the Isle of Wight!

Museums & Shoes

August 16th, 2014

Great Hall, WinchesterI was on child minding duty again on Friday and there was much debate on what we should do. Emma was insisting on Manor Farm and Duncan wanted to go to Winchester, probably just to be contrary as he couldn’t say what he actually wanted to do there! Emma was brought round to Winchester when she realised that it could involve a trip to a shoe shop!

We parked at the top of town and went up Westgate before heading over to the Great Hall. Emma then seemed keen on following the sign to the military museums. We went in search of the visitor’s centre to get some guidance on which of the five museums we should go to but the content of the visitor’s centre itself seemed sufficient to satisfy Emma. We sat and had our lunch amidst the (converted) barracks which is a lovely peaceful spot away from the crush of the High Street. It was also a good excuse to check out this area before November’s Urban Event!

It was then time to hit the shoe shops. Mercifully Clarks offered up school shoes for them both without too much pain but Emma is also angling for some late summer sandals which we failed to find. We then went to the Winchester City Museum which I’ve passed on numberous occasions but I don’t think I’ve ever been in before. Sadly I didn’t get to take much in as we had to race round looking for the faces on our clipboard as part of the children’s trail before dashing back before our parking expired.

Duncan must have found the whole experience pretty tiring as he then dropped off to sleep on the way to his swimming lesson (and was therefore particularly recalcitrant when trying to get him ready). Roll on the weekend and shared parenting duties!

Countdown Coding

August 16th, 2014

I went along to the Southampton Code Dojo on Thursday evening. I think it’s safe to say I was amongst the older attendees (most appeared to be undergrads or postgrads at the Uni although there was one guy who was sufficiently young to need his Mum to accompany him!). A pre-event poll had settled on Java as the language (Python had been outlawed as too popular and I guess Java was the lowest common denominator after that). Following pizza and beer there was another poll to select the challenge: the Countdown numbers game, before being numbered off in to groups. There were only three people in mine with one claiming no coding experience (despite being in the Computer Science department!). We spent far too long looking for an intelligent solution before doing the sums and deciding that brute force would suffice. My brain wasn’t entirely in gear (perhaps due to a day spent with the children?) and we didn’t manage to complete our solution before being timed out. We were in good company though with only one out of the six groups completing the exercise. It has reminded me that coding can actually be challenging in its own right (the challenge at work typically coming from legacy code, integration with other products, or simply politics).

Moors Valley

August 2nd, 2014
Percy the Park Keeper Trail

Percy the Park Keeper Trail

A visit to Moors Valley Country Park was on our hit list for the summer. We decided to show some faith in the forecast and set off from home in the rain. It was still threatening when we arrived so we decided to leave the bikes for a bit and I took the children round the ‘Percy the Park Keeper’ trail whilst Christine went for a run. An hour and a half later we finished the trail which must have been all of a mile and a half long but had twenty stops on the way with questions to fill out. Duncan carefully filled out his answers as well (thing he needs some practice on his numbers!).

We had lunch in one of the playgrounds and were eventually available to drag them away with the promise of the play trail. The sun was out in full force by this point and it was a very pleasant stroll through the woods with the children enjoying each piece of the equipment immensely. Once we got back there was just time for an ice cream before returning home, the bikes not having left the car! Duncan later declared that he would have enjoyed the day had we been cycling!!

Look Out

July 26th, 2014

The Look OutThe summer holidays are now in full swing. Christine and her Mum took the children to try out the latest summer trail and new wild play area at Mottifsont yesterday. Today, I got to join in the fun as we joined friends at the Look Out Discovery Centre, near Bracknell (familiar to many orienteers as the base for many a Star Posts event). We’ve not been in to the Look Out since it gained the Discovery Centre suffix but were suitably impressed as it packed a lot in to the small space. Indeed, despite having many of the same exhibits as Intech, they seemed to do a much better of providing short explanations suitable for children. The children particularly liked the ‘Build it’ exhibit and spent ages winding tiles up the conveyor and then sending them straight back down the chute! We probably also benefitted from the sunshine keeping the hoards outside. Despite being there for nearly six hours, we didn’t make it further in to the forest than the playground.