For five years our weekends and most holidays were spent at a tiny rented coastguard cottage on the Solent. It was in a row of ten, with shared gardens, and neighbours with petty issues, but it was amazing to be by the sea. Having said that there were long expanses in the mid winter when we simply didn’t use it. We couldn’t face the drive, the weather, the wind and the cold. We gave it up in January as it didn’t make sense to be paying for two houses. At first it was exciting to be in London, so much to see and do. I liked tramping the dirty pavements and going to cafes, and seeing random last minute films. There were friends to invite over and museums to visit, but having exhausted trips to the country to stay with out of town friends and with a five year old and an eight year old to keep amused, our small garden, (well more of a patio) is not enough to contain them. When we had friends over the other day the gang of children spent quite a lot of time climbing up the trellis to the flat roof outside my daughters bedroom while we all pretended not to notice that they could possibly fall through the conservatory style roof over the lunch table.
So I discovered the joy of a family health club. A family health club with a garden bigger than a patio, in fact there is more land at The Park Club in Acton, than in our local park. The Park Club has 27 acres. There are tennis courts, 2 swimming pools, tasteful playgrounds and space for children to run, and not be seen. Or occasionally seen but not heard. This is what we now do at the weekends. We take them and watch them swim, or swim with them, or sit, like we did last weekend having a three hour lunch on the terrace, while the children disappear and come back several hours later covered in sand, but at least we haven’t driven two hours to find that sand. Of course all of this doesn’t come cheap, but its less than half the price of renting that tiny dolls house cottage in Hampshire with the huffy neighbour and the sitting room the size of a dice. And we no longer have to lug a box of food and a huge suitcase, plus God knows what else, and unload it in the dark and sit trying to be chill but secretly fuming in the traffic on the way home.
I have also recently discovered a brilliant little book. Adventure Walks for Families in and around London by Becky Jones and Clare Lewis. Last weekend we drove to the Chilterns in the rain because I was determined and desperate to get out of London for a hearty walk. My husband kept muttering shall we turn around, but I just stared out of the window, thinking it would be fine. We followed directions to the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Walk. At first the children were hyped but also reluctant. My five year old sat at the bottom of a hill and refused to budge. We coaxed her up, (well my husband put her on his shoulders) and as we passed the famous windmill, used in the film, she climbed down and sped down the hill towards some black cows. I forgot to mention that by now the sun had come out and the landscape was stunning. The children ran and laughed and looked for certain items for a scavenger hunt, a feather, a shiny stone, a piece of poo etc. (again advice from the book) and from then on were in heaven. The walk was two and a half miles and completely restored us. The book also recommends pubs to visit and things to do in the car. Genius.