A Letter to my children – Ode To Friends

Person Gather Hand and Foot in Center

Friends are everything to us, but if I can teach you anything it is that friends will come and go.  Those that have come and gone are no less important in the journey as those that have stuck around.  Men, women, girlfriend, boyfriends, husbands, wives, illicit lovers, they all play a part in who we are.  Every time we leave them, or they leave us, we swap a little part of us; helping us grow from our experiences.  I have friends who have long since disappeared into the world somewhere, but still the memories still live on.  There are those friends who don’t take part in my current life, but I know if we met up, we would instantly start chatting about anything and everything.  There have been friends who were absolute saviours, who passed through with just that purpose in mind, will live forever in my heart, but probably never be seen again.  There are work friends, fun friends, friends I met on many a training course, who helped me through those endless hours of learning, friends I met for one night and one night only; all of those people who have shared my life at some point, as well as all of those people who are still waiting to share a moment of life with me. Friends will come in all shapes, sizes, genders, races and they all come with a little something to add to the passage of time they join us for, equally, they need something in return, this is not a one-way arrangement.  Friends will take a little part of us, whether they stay or go, but be prepared to share, it is part of the experience.

Free stock photo of people, friends, happy, fun

There will be those people who inspire you to carry on, as well as those that inspire you to be anything but like them.  There will be those that give you funny stories for late night drinking sessions, probably because the stories came as a result of late night drinking sessions.  There will be those that go onto great things and you can proudly say you knew them.  There will be friends that stick around and you wonder why; don’t worry, there will be a reason, you just might not know it yet.  Sometimes people leave you and sometimes you leave them; it is hard to break up, but it is the end of a chapter and time to start a new one.  Heart break will happen in both love and friendship, it helps build who we are and lead us on a path of life.  Hearts heal and are all the stronger for it.

Four Toddler Forms Circle Photo

So, child of mine; take heed; people will come and go.  They will be gone for any number of reasons, but a little piece of them lives on in you.  You will never be the same again, every single second changes who you are, but never forget those past moments, take it from one who knows, even the bad moments serve a purpose.  Sometimes I reflect on things that are better forgotten, but every time I do, I learn something more from it.

If I can give any advice to you, my beautiful, strong women to be, it is to choose your friends wisely, don’t rush to let someone into your life, but equally don’t dismiss those that are different.  Trust and share, enjoy every minute, mourn your losses, but not for too long and celebrate every friendship for the amazing thing that it is.


#MeToo – A Note to My Daughters

It might seem that I am quite late to pick up on this one, but for me it is such an important issue that I have thought long and hard about how I can write something that could really mean something.  I thought now would be a good time to write something that my daughters can read in years to come, hopefully by then, the battle to validate our female selves will be over.

There is a very fine line between over exuberant sexual advances, awkward passes, inappropriate attempts to get the attention of the object of our desire, and the need to take power through sexual means.  That phrase in itself seems strange, in that a person you desire could be classified as an object; a clumsy turn of phrase, but so much could be read into it.  People, not all people, but many people, like the company of others; young and old, there is a continual search for that soul mate, life partner, one true love.  Call it what you want; it’s all about partnerships, so how do we create this equal ground of mutual respect that leads to long-lasting, comfortable and balanced relationships? Does it stop in our personal lives?  Surely, relationship building and respect comes into all parts of our lives.  We expect the ones we love to respect and value us, so why not have the same expectations for everyone else? I feel that education and enlightenment is the key, along with teamwork.  This thing we call life is hard enough without causing rifts between us.  Men might have had a balance of power in the past, but possibly they would say that women had a balance of power in a different way.  Let’s talk it through, not battle it out.

I am not a lover of the word equality as it suggests that we should all be the same; we are unique beings and in no way are any of us the same.  We are amazing, special, different, similar yes, but mainly we are individuals.  People should be respected for who they are, what they are, who they choose to be and the decisions they make.  There should not be a battle to be recognised as equal, but just to be recognised, nurtured and encouraged to grow.  What is the point of this life if we are not able to be who we are and be happy?  My attitude to life changed massively after having the children; possibly it all fell into place.  I found my purpose, this made me look back on how I undervalued myself and put up with negative behaviour, whilst in pursuit of ‘life success’.  I never found out what ‘life success’ was, but I certainly met some people who wanted to stop my search, both male and female.  Now I feel the need to be strong, be me, and be the best role model I can be for my children.

Men and women, women and women, men and men; whatever the mix, there is a desire to be with another person, often in a physical way, but not always.  It can be difficult; I’m sure many of us have had that friend who wanted ‘more’, but the feeling was just not mutual.  Did that person take advantage, make an awkward declaration of love or lust?  Probably.  How we deal with the awkward moment of finding out if the other person is interested is one of the mysteries of being human.  One of the hardest things to deal with is the rejection of a failed pass, but as both men and women we need to find a way of handling this kindly, to avoid those negative moments when things can turn sour.  I’ve had those negative moments; things have turned sour, I have been abused verbally and physically, by both complete strangers and people I called friends.  Back then, I accepted it as how things were, but now I would tell my daughters to stand up and say no more.  That is not what my children will grow up to accept, they will not accept being undervalued, and they will not accept abuse for saying no.

What happens when things take an even more serious turn?  Domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, abuse are all ways of taking the power / control; by taking away the body or mind of another, the balance of power shifts to the abuser because of their physical and mental strength.  Abuse is not always physical, it is equally painful and destructive when mental.  Rape is not always about a person being physically forced into a sexual act, it is also about the mental control an abuser has.  These relationships are not about your everyday relationship building, or about the awkwardness of rejection, they are far darker and often difficult to anticipate, or accept that they are happening at the time.  Hindsight can often lead to a clarity that might not have been there when an abuser was in control.  It is not always about a dark alley and a complete stranger, it is often about a person you trust, or feel that you should trust.  They can be convincing, overpowering in their conviction that what they are demanding is right.  But if anyone has the slightest doubt about a situation then walking away is the only answer, not always an easy answer though.  It is so easy to say and so hard to do, how we get into these situations is never straight forward, but for me, I know that my lack of self-esteem and confidence made me easy prey for manipulators.  Confidence and self-awareness is the key, believe in who you are and who you can be.

As a young woman, the hardest thing is anticipating and understanding the potential danger of a situation.  The most important lesson I can teach the girls is to ask questions, never be embarrassed to ask, “What is going on here, what is it you think is going to happen?”  I survived men in positions of power asserting their position to manipulate situations to achieve their aim, but I never want my daughters to feel that anyone is more powerful than them and, in a position, to demand anything.  This is not just about sex, this is about power and manipulation; as women for too long we have felt that we should conform, should do as we are told, but that time is over, our time is now.

I grew up in a world so far removed from today.  My mum grew up in a single parent family with no contact with her father at a time when this was not the done thing.  I believe it made her quite independent, which she then passed onto me and my sister.  I grew up in a Yorkshire farming family; it couldn’t have been more old-fashioned if it tried; men worked and women kept home.  Dad was always on the farm and Mum looked after us and the home side of things.  But beyond that, she broke the mould and set off on her independent journey to find herself.  So even though, it was the full on traditional story there was also something completely different about it.  I wanted the same thing for the adult me; a family life, but with that little twist.  I never want to rely on a man, but I enjoy having one around.  I want to be independent physically and mentally, but still enjoy companionship and sharing my life with someone.   But I also want to see good in everyone, which left me exposed in the past; some would say that I want to fix those that are missing the good part of them, so I possibly set myself up to see and experience more of the negative things out there.  I will always be there to help someone find their true self, but I will no longer open myself up for abuse in doing so.  Be kind girls, but do not let yourselves be used.

I’ve had some unfortunate incidents with men and women; people in power and also friends; incidents that have taken away that feeling of control, made me feel insignificant and belittled.  There is no need to go into details, but what I need to pass onto my children is that, they must never feel like this.  If something doesn’t feel right, then there is a strong chance it is not right.  If someone makes you feel sad, or unsure of yourself, then maybe they are not worthy of your time.  I don’t feel this is a gender issue, this is about people in general.  There are too many people who feel the need to over power another person for their own benefit, this is not OK and we need to stand up and say “No!”  To my girls; never feel that you can’t stand up and say no.

The right to say ‘no’ is always there; up to the very last second.  The word ‘tease’ was bandied around a lot in the past, to the extent that many women and men went ahead with something they didn’t want to do, because they thought they had ‘led someone on’.  It is never too late to say no; if it doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right.  Women are taking control of their feelings and listening to their instincts.  We are not hiding away or covering ourselves up for fear of sending out the wrong message; there is no wrong message, we are out and proud, beautiful and strong.  We all do things that we regret, that is part of the learning process, but don’t spend time regretting, spend time learning and moving on.

This is in no way just about women; I have heard some horrific stories of male abuse, as well as witnessing male domestic violence from a partner, there is no case for men versus women on this, was are all one voice when it comes to #MeToo.

Our Favourite Outdoor Activity Centre – Alice Holt Forest.

We have been taking the children to Alice Holt Forest pretty much since day 1 of their lives.  It is an easy option for us, as it is so close.  There were a few years where we lived in Wiltshire, but we still used to come back to the old favourite and meet friends there.  We are back now and can say that it has seen quite a few changes in the 8 years since our oldest was born, but it just gets better.

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We have braved it in the rain, but it really is better in the sunshine, or at least dry weather.  We are regulars in the winter too, but it calls for wellies.  It is not the easiest place to get to from outside of the area; follow the sings to Birdworld in Farnham and you will find it.  Sadly, parking has become a bit of an issue over the years; there is a really big car park and in the dry weather, they open up an overflow area.  However, recently it has become a victim of it’s own success and there are sometimes long queues to get in.  There is an Alice Holt Facebook page, so it is worth checking that before setting out, as they advise if the parking is in an issue on there.  Parking is not cheap, but it is all that you pay for; if you decide to go regularly, you can buy an annual pass.

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The forest has accessible paths, as well as off road options for walking, scooting, biking and riding.  We started out with buggies in the early days and had no issues getting around.  We then progressed to scooters; we found that there is a slightly worrying moment on one of the downhill slopes when they get a taste for freedom and whizz downhill at pace, but it comes back to bite them when they have to scoot back up it on the way back.  There has been many a stagger up that hill carrying child and scooter.  We have one bike rider at the moment, the jury is still out on whether the younger one will take to it or not; Alice Holt is ideal for bikes though, especially in the early days of cycling as the paths are smooth and easy to cycle on.  As the bike is now too big for the car, our preference is to walk around.  We have a favoured route which takes us to the best play parts, we then finish off with a play in the playground.

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There are many different trails to follow which are all well mapped out.  I would like to say that it is not possible to get lost, but I disproved that when I decided to do the Gruffalo trail with a group of kids who liked to go off course to scramble in ditches and up hills.  We eventually found the Gruffalo and all his friends, as well as the way out.  I can get lost everywhere though, so I am sure for everyone else, it is really easy to get around.  The Gruffalo trail is a trail of wooden sculptures; you can guess what you will be looking for.  There is currently A Highway Rat trail too, but that is just posters, not the life-size sculptures like the Gruffalo trail.

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There are several play areas along the way, as well as the main one in the centre, they are all wooden, so be prepared for them to be a bit slippery and dress for dirt.  They are really safe though and all come with a soft-landing area, for any slips or falls.

The central area has a range of swings, climbing equipment, slides, a roundabout and the pirate ship. Everything is very sturdy and well maintained, there is a wood chip and soft rubber all around the equipment for safety.  It is near the toilets, café and car park, for those who just want to play and not walk.

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Dogs are very welcome, which presents a problem for my 2, as they are terrified of them; dogs will be off the lead.  I am not sure if this is forest policy, or not, in the more public areas, but it is a fact to consider.  On the upside, if you have a dog, it’s a great place to take it.

There is usually either a café, or an ice cream stop for us, but that is not essential, my children would disagree as apparently ice cream and hot chocolate are essentials.  The café has expanded over the years and has quite a large selection of food on offer now.  It seems to be good quality at the usual price, i.e. quite expensive, but it is convenient and saves lugging a picnic around with you. We had an unfortunate incident with a 5-year-old and the high stool though;

“I can do it Mummy, no I won’t fall off…. argh!”  Splat went 5-year-old and ice cream! She was fine after her fall though.  None high stools are available too.  Obviously, the cheaper option would be to picnic; there are so many places to picnic, take a blanket though as the tables fill up fast.  BBQs are pre-bookable, but it is not something I have done, so I am not sure on the cost; it would be a great place to get a group of people together for the day and share the cost.

Toilet facilities are limited to the main block in the forest centre, so be prepared for a bit of wild toileting if you have younger ones who can’t hold it.  The toilets are a good size though and we have never had to wait for long, plus there are the usual facilities for nappy changing.

If you want to add to the experience, you can book into Go Ape, but there is a charge for this.  This would really make a day of it though, it is something we are planning for the summer as so far, we have not gone for it.

Alice Holt really is a great day out for very little cost, we never seem to get bored of it even though we have been going for years.  The children are not great walkers, but as the walking is broken up by play areas, getting them to walk is not a problem.  The route we usually take, along with a playground stop, takes around 2 hours, but add in some of the other routes, plus lunch and you can easily fill a day.

Disclaimer:  I have not received any payment or been asked to review Alice Holt, the opinions expressed are my own.

A Day Out at Fareham Fort Nelson – Royal Armouries

Today was a rare day when the girl’s Dad has an inspired thought for a day out.  In fact, it’s more than rare, it’s pretty close to a miracle.  I had been thinking about a trip to see The Poppy Wave at Fort Nelson since I heard about it, just never got around to planning it.  We saw the poppy display at the Tower of London and loved it, so this seemed like such a lovely idea for somewhere outside of London.

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The journey for us is not far, and fairly simple, as it is just off the M27 between Portsmouth and Southampton.  We chose a sunny, but not too hot day and for once, it didn’t rain on us.  They were obviously expecting extra visitors to the Fort because of the poppies, as they had laid on quite a few members of staff to help with parking.  When we arrived about 11.00 ish, there were plenty of spaces; even though it was grassy, the ground was not muddy or water logged, despite some pretty heavy rain the night before.

Fort Nelson is free entry, with a small parking charge of £3.00, which is amazing value for money, despite that though, some people were parked on grass verges to get a completely free day.  We were given a ticket on arrival for parking, which we had to take to the reception desk, this was a result, as it meant not having to give up valuable change, as we could pay by card.

Simple journey, kids not too moany on arrival, easy parking and good weather; we were all set to see poppies.  This is going to be my only moan; the queues.  We queued for a bag search for at least 15 minutes, but the girls were easily entertained with climbing the fence and running around, making friends, so the queuing was not an issue for them.  After the bag search, we then queued again for another 5 minutes or so, to pay for the parking.  Apparently, without the parking ticket, we could have skipped that bit and gone straight into the museum at that point.  But, we had to pay so we paid and managed to steer the children past the gift shop, to then join another queue, which led into another queue to get up to see the poppies.  All in all, I would say that we queued for around 40 minutes.  But it was all very British and polite; to be completely honest the queuing system paid off, as when we finally made it to the wave, there were not crowds of people blocking the view and there were plenty of photo opportunities, without including random strangers in the back ground.

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The poppy wave is open to view until June 2018; it is really cleverly done and I believe, worth a trip to see, as it is something so different.  It is not huge, it only takes 5 or 10 minutes to walk around, pose for photos and generally take in, but after that there are plenty of other things to see.  We were given a free activity sheet for the children, but it was a little advanced for a 6 and 8-year-old, they entered into it though, as kids love a piece of paper and a pencil.

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Now, I wouldn’t say that we are interested in military or naval history, but we found that we enjoyed the time at the rest of the museum far more than we expected, in fact, we had even planned to move on to Porchester Castle afterwards but ended up running out of time.  There are walls to walk around, tunnels to explore, indoor machinery, tanks and guns to look around, as well as an indoor museum with lots of history to see.  There were guns that had been turned into a sort of computer game, which you had to pay £1 for, but proved very popular.  There were things to touch and play with; the girls tried their hands at semaphore.

There is a café in a marquee, so I am not completely sure that is always there or just there for the poppy display, but it was spacious and clean.  The food was the usual high price, but good quality.  The obligatory sandwich box for the kids and even a gluten free sandwich option for us difficult to feed people.  Outside was an ice cream stand that looked like it was permanent, but we managed to steer them away from that, having already bought snacks in the café. There are plenty of picnic benches and places to eat, so a café trip is not necessary, which could make this a really cheap day out.

Loads of toilets; extras had been brought in, which were the portacabin type with the blue water, which the girls thought was hysterical.

Access is a bit up and down, but there are lifts and flat areas, buggies are no problem, but I couldn’t’ say how easy it would be with a wheelchair, I saw some people carrying a wheelchair down the stairs but did wonder why they hadn’t used the lift.

No dogs allowed, which could be an issue for some, but for us, it was a dream as my two are both terrified of them.

As with every museum, there is a gift shop, which can be a torturous process.  But there was a selection of reasonably priced kid’s items, divided into boy’s and girl’s items, which I thought was quite funny, but needless to say, my two followed the gender divide as intended.  We left with a couple of pens and a keyring for just over £5.00, as there was a £1.00 discount if you had paid for parking.

All in all, it was a relaxed and simple family day out.  We could have stayed longer in the museum, or let the children run around on the grass areas more than we did, so it could easily have covered a whole day.  Even though, much of it is indoors, I would recommend a dry day for it as the running around part seemed to be the highlight for my two.

The disclaimer part: I was not asked to do this, or paid for it, the opinions are mine and just offered as a review of our time there.