Finding ways to bond with teenagers @ Ikea

Posted October 10, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , ,

Sharing a few ideas for bonding with a teenage daughter, and hoping you’ll share them too, especially as this trip involved Ikea. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Meatballs at Ikea.

Meatballs at Ikea.

A few weeks back I realised I had one daughter in Paris (that’s where she lives), another was out shopping in London. My husband was at football and I was with the dog in the woods. On paper we are a family with little in common. But it is fun – and pays dividends – to try and do something special with individual children. And as they get older, this definitely gets more important. I was given this tip by a friend who has two older daughters and an older son; plus step children. I’m pretty certain my friend meant take your growing kids out for an adult-sort of treat, like coffee, or breakfast or a special meal. Now I have experience with an 18year old and a 15 year old I think that sometimes the treat should be something very particular. And it may not be something you’d normally do.

Changing rooms
The house has changed since my oldest daughter moved out for her gap year working in Paris. It’s a lot quieter… but it’s also a chance for my 15 year old to flourish without having to define herself by her older sister all the time. First move has been to change Nell’s room around (with her agreement). Her wooden bunks were freecycled (quite sad) but it was good to know they will be reused in a third home. To make that room feel more grown up it needed a double duvet, duvet cover and something else – rug, cushion, whatever.

In theory I could have found something from the piles of material I have at home. But given that I suspect Nell will have this duvet for a long time (she’s been sleeping under a single duvet cover that I used at boarding school in the 1970s!), it seems like a better gift to find a new design that she likes and belonged to her from the start… For that we had to go to Ikea via tube and bus.

Ikea is my idea of hell. Admittedly quite a nice sort of hell with FSC-certified timber, pleasant staff, a good temperature and clean toilets.

However it is a temple of consumerism and the sheer choice, plus bargain value prices, make it very easy for me to end up buying much more than I want (never mind need).  Luckily Nell is a better shopper than her mum – honed by a lack of pocket money, a lifetime of environmental messaging and a jealous respect for babysitting earnings. As a result she is very reluctant to buy anything, even if I am paying.

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Turning Swedish in Ikea.

In the end we got slightly lost and spent at least half an hour going round the showrooms of make believe bedrooms and kitchens. I think Nell was entranced by the choice, and the newness of everything. We recovered by standing in the queue for the restaurant. I’d been told the Swedish meatballs are good value and taste just like Swedish meatballs so Nell’s plan was to try that. I’m not used to queues – they definitely take me back to horrible school days. But as Nell pointed out she is at school, and she always has to queue for lunch.  We didn’t break into song but it was quite fun chatting about what things might taste like, and of course a novelty that everything was Swedish-themed.

And thus I learnt quite a few things from my daughter including a dose of patience, and respect for what she has to put up with in order to get a daily hot lunch.

Then we tried Ikea shopping again via the market place. I do love the clever wording Ikea uses… “market” sounds so much more fun than following a wiggly shopping corridor to the exit. We managed to load our yellow shopping bag carefully and so only reached the till with just a duvet, duvet cover, a furry rug and a Swedish brand of crisps.

Over to you
And I think we had fun… It was certainly lovely to see Nell’s pleasure with the new bedroom decor.

Is it worth going to Bletchley Park?

Posted October 6, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , ,

A friend took her primary school aged kids round Bletchley Park, a place I’ve been meaning to visit since reading The Secret Life of Bletchley Park in my book group and then watching The Imitation Game with my teenagers. But will it make a good day out?  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Utter junk becomes an arty dalek cage.

Utter junk becomes an arty dalek cage. Notice the number of useful spy kit items, including dark glasses and moustaches.

Either everyone wants to be a spy, or Bletchley Park has a way of appealing to every generation. When I asked a lovely lady in the café which is housed just by the Mansion, in Number 4 hut, why Bletchley Park was so busy despite it being a wet Saturday her look of astonishment almost made me laugh. “This isn’t busy. You should see what it is like in the summer!” was her follow-up.

“But why is it so busy?” says me, still at a bit of a loss as to why people seem so interested in an old requisitioned house, a load of sheds and a very big computer, Colossus. “It’s the film isn’t?” was her response. “Ever since the Imitation Game there’s been a lot of people here – and loads of Americans!”

https://youtu.be/S5CjKEFb-sM

So is it Benedict Cumberbatch who’s made Bletchley Park a must visit? Or is it the extraordinary story of Alan Turing’s cracking of the Engima code? Are all these people here today mathematicians, linguists and engineers? Or did they have relatives who worked here? Or is it the fact that this place has the best audio visual tour I’ve ever seen – great quality, short snapy info and super simple to use?

Without getting hold of an exit survey I’m not going to be able to answer those questions… but a trip to Bletchley Park is brilliant with a teenager. And you could easily bring along younger children, who are so often up for anything, as well as an older relative who might remember WW2.

There’s so much about WW2 that I hadn’t realised. For starters Bletchley Park is where many women got the chance to do exciting – and secretive – work. They had to sign the Official Secrets Act, and as we now know this meant for years no one knew what had been going on in this corner of Buckinghamshire, conveniently located opposite Bletchley train station.

In July 2011 the Queen made a speech at Bletchley Park praising the workforce. In 1939 there were 200 people, but by 1944 there were 10,000 working at Bletchley – of which two-thirds were women. Clearly women got the chance to escape – often controlling – families, use their brains, feel needed, be part of the war effort and enjoy romance.

Hut 8 is where Alan Turing and his team cracked the Enigma code. Nell and I especially enjoyed seeing the desk where he would have worked, complete with an old-fashioned typewriter with a note in it saying he’d gone to lunch. The film makes it seem like so few individuals cracked Enigma, but going round Bletchley it’s clear that the combination of superbrains was what made cracking an almost impossible cypher was how it was done – and without Polish input it would have been much slower.

I was also rather taken by the use of pigeon post during WW2. In one hut there was a parachute for a pigeon. At the time there were 400 pigeon handlers in the army working 20,000 pigeons. Pigeon racing is far less popular now but a display at Bletchley Park suggested that there are around 30,000 racing pigeons in modern racing lofts.

  • http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/
  • Cost: Expensive (£16+) but if you plan to come by train download a 2 for1 entrance and show this with your train ticket to get half price entry. Tickets are valid for a year so if you live in nearby Herts or Bucks or plan to visit a few times then it’s much better value.
  • Getting there: We took an off peak train from London Euston. There are three or four trains an hour and the station is a well signposted 4 minute walk from the entrance to Bletchley Park.
  • In the gift shop: clever prezzies for clever people (eg, mugs emblazoned with the message ‘Weapons of Maths Destruction’).
  • Follow up reading: The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclar McKay

Over to you?
Where else have you found that works well for entertaining all ages?

How can I still go on an adventure?

Posted June 5, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Are you up to see new things, meet new people, shake up your thinking? If so maybe your kids are too? Here’s a day trip or mini break idea for going to Salisbury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, who also writes interviews for the revamped Islington Faces Blog website (do go have a look!). 

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Stonehenge is always a special spot – but even in May it can be windy enough for a hoody.

A few months ago I resolved to have an adventure every Sunday. As I live in London and rarely seem to leave it you will already have guessed that my definition of what makes an adventure is quite easy to achieve. I do not have to spend six months planning the route and another chunk of time negotiating how to put my life, family, job etc on hold while I walk backwards across the Amazon, carrying a fridge wearing a onesie.

I want my adventures to be something that I don’t do very often, at least a bit memorable and involve some physical effort. I want it to be my adventure not me paying for a cinema ticket.

This week was half term so Nell and I decided to take a mother/daughter mini break. My husband stayed at home to supervise our eldest, Lola, doing her A level revision. Actually Lola doesn’t need much supervision but it seems only fair to offer her copious amounts of food when she gets bored of her own cooked beans, toast or pasta. The dog stayed home to keep Dad & daughter company.

Life detail sorted meant Nell and I could book an AirBnB in Salisbury, cycle around the lanes (see this post here) and then go and look round Stonehenge.

Looking at the most iconic of British sites – Stonehenge with its 3000 plus years of history  – is not a cheap outing. As a family we’ve been there before too, staying at the YHA in Salisbury and then getting a bus out to the stones for the English Heritage members only 8am viewing. Lola could remember doing this, but it was a total blur to Nell who I guess was about four years old at the time.

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Neolithic home. There’s room for a fireplace in the centre – I guess the smoke filtered out through the thatch roof.

Stonehenge is magnificent. And the new Visitor Centre set someway back from the Stones and the busy A303 makes the visit far better. We took a bus from Salisbury rail station. This cost £15 for adults, £10 for children return (EH members get free entry) rather than the £35 package that gave you travel and entry to Stonehenge, Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral. (The cathedral is actually free, although you are supposed to pay a £10+ donation to go in). The double decker bus journey was hilariously bad – on the way out it was very late leaving and the loudspeaker commentary inaudible. I can’t imagine Brits (unless they are like me without a car) tolerating the “traveller” mode you need to approach this journey with. But… the staff were friendly and it worked well on our return journey with the OId Sarum stop off. It’s also perfect for the Italian school parties and other budget conscious travellers.

With 1.3 million plus visitors a year Stonehenge is of course crowded. But apart from the queues to swap pre-purchased internet tickets and for the loos the whole system worked brilliantly. There’s a model Neolithic village by the centre with some very creative swirly thatched roofs. Also an excellent museum which mixes history, time team style reconstructions (the face of a man whose skeleton dating back 5,500 years was found in the area which has already found at least 4 modern men who could be his look alike) and a rather sardonic commentary about past visitors’ taste for Stonehenge memorabilia. One man  in the early 1900s bought the stones on an unplanned trip to Salisbury. Others were content with “lurid” pink and green china mugs and memento plates.  Nell loved the reconstruction and was able to ask loads of questions to the excellent wandering English Heritage guide. Why is his eye colour blue? How do you know he grew up in the area? Etc Etc.

We lazily took the courtesy English Heritage hopper bus up to the stones, rather than walking (which would have been fun too). At the stones a local farmer and her dad were selling the first season’s strawberries. Armed with a box of fruit we spent an hour looking, sitting and clicking the free audio guide to find out more about the various stones. And then we walked along the footpath – about 20 minutes- across the downland with larks trilling above us back to the visitor centre.

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Surprising views from these old steps – an airfield and a ruined cathedral. When Eleanor of Aquitaine was imprisoned here she’d have had rather different views.

Next stop was Old Sarum. This is an amazing place to visit – an old ruined castle with a surprise on either side – a grass airfield where helicopters were practicing landing and taking off .v. the outline of the immense old cathedral which was replaced by the speedy building of Salisbury Cathedral.

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Re-enactment at Old Sarum. Read an interview with a man who regularly re-enacts here.

Old Sarum is not at all busy, a shame really, but we managed to walk in on a day a re-enactment was taking place which meant we caught a glimpse of medieval knights fighting on foot. As it was the end of the day, about 5pm, some of the re-enactors were buying treats for their kids/selves in the little shop. It was fun seeing Medieval ladies pull out their debit card to pay for mini milks and magnum.

Technically this wasn’t an adventure – but it felt like one to us. Why? We saw and photographed some very special places. We talked to various new people (including an Italian family with a young baby; two Hong Kong visitors; English Heritage staff; bus drivers). We navigated to new places. We sought out new things to eat (bought from the stalls in Salisbury Market Square). And we came face to face with a 5,500 year old man: who looked just like us. Going to Stonehenge was a brilliant experience for a history-loving teenager, and a lot of fun to do together.

Useful info (Salisbury and Stonehenge OS map 130/Explorer)

  • English Heritage – annual membership from £43.50 (but it’s going to be more!)
  • Stonehenge (open 9am-8pm)
  • Book a Stonehenge Tour bus from Salisbury railway station to and from Stonehenge (stopping at Old Sarum).You can do this on line or from Salisbury Tourist Information Centre.
  • The 333 has a special summer solstice service (£10 return), for June 21-22.
  • Use the Cat Tavern, 11t South Western Road, Salisbury, SP2 7RR (just by the railway station)  to store your bags so you don’t have to lug them around (£4 a bag) which is open from approx 8am to 11pm. Tel01722 327955

 

How can they call themselves Generation No Hope?

Posted May 11, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Why do I keep puzzling over the way young people behave, and what can the 40-50somethings who raised them do to support teens?… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see 

Upstairs at the party by Linda Grant is all about unsupervised university life in the 1970s at a red brick uni (and it just happens to be where I went though 10 years before). i read it with my bookgroup and was amazed to see how much it made each of us reflect on our early adulthood.

Upstairs at the party by Linda Grant is all about unsupervised university life in the 1970s at a red brick uni (which just happens to be where I went 10 years later). I read it with my book group and was amazed to see how much it made each of us reflect on our early adulthood.

My daughters are teenagers so I meet a few of their friends – and my friends’ children. I’ve also taught applies studies classes with students at two universities. Currently I’m mostly coaching students at an arts university in London: a very creative place. My favourite exhibit in the current main atrium exhibition is a huge text work saying “Show us, don’t tell us”.

But my students have a serious problem turning up at class.

And yes, it could be because I’m a rubbish teacher. But let’s pretend I’m not.

The kids at school seem ok but the current batch of first years I’m working with seem frightened to learn or make mistakes. The third years were never great turner-uppers either, but considerably better than this batch of first years. However despite not always being consistent academic strivers they will turn up at a tutorial and say “I want to get an A, or a first for this class”. It’s a perfectly acceptable dream but it’s one you can only achieve if you can put the hours, effort, reading and brain power into it. Telling your tutor you want an A isn’t the most effective way to get a top grade!

I remember my uni years as distraction-central. By the end of three years I was confident in everything except getting a first in my degree subject (and not surprisingly I didn’t). At uni I remember being cold and broke and often happy. I don’t remember my spirit being broken. But that’s what seems to be an increasingly huge problem for the students I meet now.

IF YOU FOLLOW MY OTHER BLOG HTTP://ISLINGTONFACESBLOG.COM (interviews with people who live or work in Islington) PLEASE HAVE A LOOK AT IT AS I’VE JUST MIGRATED THIS TO A NEW WEBSITE (so you won’t be following using wordpress any more). IDEALLY FOLLOW VIA FACEBOOK OR TWITTER.

Life paths are never quite what you expect.

Life paths are never quite what you expect.

The mobile (like a pram in the hallway?)
The Year 1s – who are 18-19 years old as few have taken a gap year – are dependant on their phones. It is a huge strain for them to be parted from the pleasing ping of a new message. Quite a few operate two phones. Their focus is extremely limited, even if their ability to multi-task is pretty good (allegedly).

Perhaps what’s more striking about this new generation of students is the number who have mental health issues. These are very broad and can range from difficulty sleeping, via panic attacks and stress from being asked a question in class through to very serious problems. Not eating well is pretty much obligatory unless you are a student who super eats well, and instgrams it too.

Alcohol plays its dangerous part, though perhaps less for London students (it’s the price of a pint down south!).

Naomi Klein's book highlights the problems with capitalism and climate change. It's depressing, small wonder that the upcoming generation value instagram likes - massaged reality - over the messy facts of reality.

Naomi Klein’s book highlights the problems with capitalism and climate change. It’s depressing, small wonder that the upcoming generation value instagram likes – massaged reality – over the messy facts of reality.

It’s got to be instagram perfect
Everyone knows how to pose for a perfect selfie and has a whats app and insta account meaning news and reality are filtered. This may be fine, it may protect from a hard life at home or some kind of trauma but could it be part of the problem?

At Migrants Organise they tried running a poetry workshop for young people – creating a group of half refugees and half British residents. After one session in which the refugees talked about their journeys to the UK and their experience of homelessness the other half (the secure youngsters from the UK) simply didn’t come again. It’s hearsay but I’m told they found the experience of hearing about horrors of another kind of life totally traumatised them. They couldn’t bear to hear it. So they voted with their feet and stopped turning up.

No one had blamed them.  But not knowing doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Are they a generation who value instagram likes – massaged reality – over the messy facts of reality?

A spoof ad from the witty and wonderful adbusters, pic owned by http://www.adbusters.org/spoofads/

Camel cigs were so cool… but here’s a spoof ad from the witty and wonderful adbusters, pic owned by http://www.adbusters.org/spoofads/

Brand loyalty
Or is the bizarre acceptance of brands as a positive thing part of the problem? No one is perfect – especially women who look at the advertising mirror of young gorgeous photoshopped women in new clothes and judge themselves harshly against this.

There seems to be an absence of a critical gene – except for the face in the mirror or when tagged maliciously on Facebook.

1980s throwback
I came of age in the ’80s. We took pride in being cynical, enjoyed irony – liked our own creativity. And managed life without phones… Life was simpler and even if I graduated into a recession the buzz of living and independent adulthood was irresistible, even if I decided to downgrade my ambition when I figured out I couldn’t be head of the UN. 30 years on I still hope things will get better and my career will continue to be something I enjoy and stay good at.

But my anxious university students fret over the lack of jobs, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of hope – often without making the effort to try and get these things. Worse I don’t know how to energise or console them. Something has gone wrong when a 19 year old can look around the empty classroom and say “we’re generation no hope”. This is not the way a non-ironic late teen or 20something should be thinking.

My generation raised these kids. We did something very wrong – it’s personal, and political. And I haven’t even mentioned the need for them – and us – to tackle climate change…

What is it we can do now to help? Do you have any ideas? Please share.

What’s all the fuss about bucket lists?

Posted April 9, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Before you draw up a bucket list, think hard. You might be gifting it to friends, or causing a family drama about how many kids you should have had… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Nicola with her two daughters. (2015)

Nicola with her two daughters. (2015)

Everyone has a bucket list nowadays.

What used to be a wish list of dreams – things you might love to do one day – has taken on not just the status of a corporate to do list but also a certain mystical reverence. It has become something that must be done, and if not by you then your nearest and dearest.

When 15 year old Vaishali Bance Suhayr died recently, after years of poor health, her family took over her bucket list. According to the Evening Standard her aunt went swimming with dolphins, her mum wrote her name in concrete and her eldest sister is planning to skydive and crowdsurf. Actually it’s a really lovely way to remember someone… another auntie is to scuba dive, another plans to walk the Great Wall of China and her dad is going to milk a cow. All things Vaishali had put on her list.

If you plan to keep your family busy after you’ve died then a bucket list is essential.

Except I don’t have a bucket list.

Shock
So on a date night with my husband (at Plum & Spilt Milk’s secret first floor bar in the super posh Great Northern Hotel at King’s Cross) we tried drawing up a list of some things we’d like to do, or hadn’t yet done over a glass of Punk IPA (him) and Essex-grown wine (me). His list is mostly places he’d like to visit. But then to my shock – and I’m hoping he’s joking – he added, “Have a son”. We have two daughters and I’m 52, so I won’t be producing the son he’s never mentioned he’s wanted before.

It was unsettling.

And I don’t think his teenage, feminist daughters will be best pleased by this news either.

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Dad and daughter digging for ancient relics in a mole hill (2011).

Thus it was serendipity that the first story on the radio we woke up to the next morning was how the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has just discovered that his Dad was in fact not his biological father. Rather cruelly he’d been obliged to have a DNA test after journalists started snooping around his elderly mum’s personal life. Justin Welby is 60, and allegedly had not a clue that his genetic origins were in anyway questionable. Rather sweetly a top tweet has said something on the lines of how appropriate for a Man of God, now he knows what Jesus must have felt… (!)

In contrast I felt rather smug hearing poor Welby’s discovery… perhaps such revelations will help my DH remove such an outrageous desire for a son off his bucket list. Because children aren’t always the right chip off the old block. Even a much longed for son or daughter.

This post is to warn anyone tempted to dream up a list of things they want to do – either while they still can, or just because YOLO – that you have to be careful what you wish for, because if it comes true the consequences may well turn your life upside down.

But it’s also interesting: having children is such a steep learning curve, but the mix of genders arriving in your home does seem to affect that experience. I’ve loved having two daughters, and I reckon I’d have been happy with boys too. I remember years ago when bleary-eyed from a non-sleeping baby, overhearing our next door neighbour who had three sons, saying how much harder it was to raise boys. She then added that having a girl didn’t really count because they were so much easier to entertain. Obviously she was joking (and I was super-sleep deprived, never mind accidentally listening in), but how different are gender-blended families? Is my husband right – did we make a fatal mistake by settling with just two kids? Not that there’s much I can do about it (and nor do I wish to).  In fact I’m rather more inclined to count our blessings.

Over to you
What do you think? Does just having just boys or girls in your family make you less of a mum or dad? I know the answer is of course not, but I’m asking for your secret thoughts on this -not your politically correct ones…

Where are the kids?

Posted February 10, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , ,

How much freedom do you give your kids? I didn’t give mine enough when they were little according to a smart-thinking dad and geographer, Daniel Raven Ellison, who is deeply concerned about the lack of free range children. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Exploring London with dad and dog isn't the same as playing out in your nearest bit of woodland. Find out more by reading research by Daniel Raven Ellison

Exploring London with dad and dog isn’t the same as playing out in your nearest bit of woodland. Find out more by reading research by Daniel Raven Ellison

“Where have all the children gone?” sang Cat Stevens.

Or rather “where are the kids?’ as my husband might say… Mine have come home from school and are making some pasta before homework. They got to school on their own, and back again, but they haven’t done any exploring today.

OK, it’s February and cold, but what if it was a warm, long summer holiday day with light until late evening? where would they be then? Would they be out and about? Probably not.

Daniel Raven Ellison, a fascinating explorer and campaigner, has done research about children playing out and his work is published in London Essays at this link http://essays.centreforlondon.org/issues/green/londons-empty-childhoods/ I totally recommend reading it.

It’s sad research, but he has a positive outlook arguing:

London is full of great childhoods, so let’s let children out to enjoy them.

Can parents do that? Let me know what you think.

 

 

 

In praise of a day in the woods & other microadventures

Posted January 21, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , ,

What did you do at the weekend? Or more challenging: what did you do after school? The same as you always do? Or something which makes your heart sing – either doing it, or remembering it? This post takes my family to a pub-crammed village famous for inspiring artist Stanley Spencer and Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame in Berkshire on a micro-adventure. Nothing too strenuous happened – you might just as easily call it a day trip. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Impressive den in Quarry Woods near Cookham. This area inspired Wind in the Willows writer Kenneth Grahame.

Impressive den in Quarry Woods near Cookham. This area inspired Wind in the Willows writer Kenneth Grahame.

Big adventures are fun, but they are often hard to organise, and expensive. Of course you don’t have to cycle the Alps to have an adventure. You can have them in the UK, but as so much of British outdoor life is weather dependent getting a party together (especially of mixed ages) to do something on a set day you can all make can be easily spoilt by grey skies, a stiff breeze and a downpour.

And so micro adventures were born.Big adventures are fun, but they are often hard to organise, and expensive. Of course you don’t have to cycle the Alps to have an adventure. You can have them in the UK, but as so much of British outdoor life is weather dependent getting a party together (especially of mixed ages) to do something on a set day you can all make can be easily spoilt by grey skies, a stiff breeze and a downpour.

The name appears to come from Alastair Humphries, see his website here.

But a micro adventure can just be going somewhere different, or going somewhere you know well and really exploring it in a different way.Instead of going on mega trips occasionally – he was 24 when he decided to ride around the world by bike (which took four years!) – he goes on little ones, often. I love this idea. I need my adventure quotient topped up, ideally outside. For me one exciting walk a week is enough, but I also try to keep bigger adventures on the go in case I lose inspiration. At the moment my family is finishing off the New River Walk (approx. 30miles from Hertfordshire to London along a stream that is neither new, nor a river). We just do a short stage when we fancy. I’m also planning to walk a lot more of the Thames Path.

The shelter we put up... view from our fire! Learning skills at Conkers in the National Forest. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

A shelter Nell and I put up while learning outdoor survival skills at Conkers in the National Forest – lighting a fire in the rain and then toasting marshmallows on it. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Alastair’s website is all kids in sleeping bags roughing it without tents – you can do that in a garden too, it doesn’t have to be a super glamorous overseas location. His current challenge is to get people to commit to spending one night a month under the stars for a year. It’s a lovely idea and you’d learn so much from it. I’m thinking about it… but rather suspect that I won’t.

Alastair is super creative (he funds his blog by asking people to shout him a coffee – the £2.50s add up and as a result he’s got a fab site). His adventures are incredibly varied and I am sure would be happy to spend a day climbing a tree to really develop a sense of what that particular oak is really like, and which little critters and birds visit it.

My micro-adventures tend to focus on taking the dog for a walk in the woods. There is nothing I like better. Although if you can throw in an art gallery and a nice cosy pub I’ll be extra happy. So visiting Cookham in Berkshire (the train from London goes to Maidenhead, then you change for the 10 min ride to Cookham) was perfect.

Coming down the chalky side of Winter Hill some teenagers were playing on the shallow flooded meadows. it was icy and couldn't hold their weight but they were having such a fabulous time 'moon walking' and sinking up to the top of their wellies. it looked a lot more fun than spending the weekend on your phone.

Coming down the chalky side of Winter Hill some teenagers were playing on the shallow flooded meadows. it was icy and couldn’t hold their weight but they were having such a fabulous time ‘moon walking’ and sinking up to the top of their wellies. it looked a lot more fun than spending the weekend on your phone.

I followed a 7-mile walk through Quarry Wood and up steep Winter Hill then down a chalk hillside for a last one and a half mile stroll along the River Thames back to Cookham and the Stanley Spencer art gallery in the old Methodist church.

Cookham, or “village in heaven” as the crabby but talented Stanley Spencer called it. His art is full of portraits of the locals and local scenes. I love the way flowers twine themselves into his pictures and the majority are making Cookham the ultimate destination.

To improve a micro-adventure it helps if there are options for all your party. So my husband, Pete, went on the Stanley Spencer guided walk around the village, my teen daughter turned up late for a quick tour of the gallery and then met me and Pete in the pub. We stayed on for tapas and another cheeky drink while she took the earlier train back to London for a David Bowie tribute gig…

There are at least six pubs in Cookham, and all seemed to serve food (there’s also the Teapot Tea shop in the high street which had delicious looking cakes). We tried the lovely old Bel & the Dragon, an old coaching inn. But a glass of white wine cost £9!! So for the next round we went to the Old Swan Uppers where for £7.50 I got a half of good beer, an even better glass of wine and a packet of crisps. Both were dog friendly, and both had lovely staff and roaring fires. My family wanted to talk about Spencer – his art and wives. I managed that, and was also happy to talk over my route which had included a quick detour to see the house that Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame lived in while writing the book. Behind is Winter Hill’s thick wood (and beyond that Quarry Wood), both very obviously the model for his book’s scary Wild Wood – home of Badger and those evil weasels who go on to take over Toad Hall. The house is now a prep school, Herries.

Just being outside was incredibly reviving. When I got back into the warm I felt tired and content – happy to go along with my family’s suggestions. And the dog just lay down and slept. My plan this year is to keep a day a weekend as free as I can so that the micro-adventure habit can blossom. Perhaps what I like best about this plan is that anyone can come along, but it’s still fun if you’re the only one who wants to head outdoors.

  • Walk route was in Country Walks near London by Christopher Somerville. I used the 1994 edition, but this links to a much newer version. Somerville is my favourite walk guide -his routes are great because you don’t have to have your nose in the book. It does help if you can bring an OS map too though.

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