Snowflakes and snowdrops

Today felt like the first real day of spring, and not before time – January was a long, slow slog and today was one of the days when the fog began to clear (just mental fog, sadly; despite the sunshine I could feel the mouth-coating sensation of London air pollution just the same). This is still going to be quite a rambling blog all the same, as so much happened when we were in the January fog; I can’t quite believe it has only been four weeks.

It was that same week when Londoners were advised to stay indoors because the air quality was so bad, and the global event we’d all been dreading was approaching – the wretched inauguration – that our own minor crisis happened and I found myself calling for an ambulance at 5.30am. 

The Mr, it turned out, had pneumonia and managed to knock himself out getting up in the night to get medicine for the toddler, who was also ill (with tonsillitis, which later turned into an ear infection). Thanks to the awful air quality I had a hacking cough, too, and so we were all lost under a cloud of illness for the next few weeks. Pneumonia, it turns out, takes weeks to recover from, but he is doing much better now, thankfully.

Outside was mostly all gloomy and cold anyway – there were even a few snow flurries, but not enough real snow to excite the children. I certainly learnt that a chilly blast of snowflakes can make a toddler extremely miserable in a very short space of time – so much for the current depreciation of snowflakes as feeble and pathetic!

When I did get to go outdoors in better weather, I at least had something to admire in the back garden – we had a much-needed tidy up of the shrubs and bushes which were beyond my capabilities, by the excellent, and local, Capital Trees

The bay and olive tree we inherited from the previous owners had barely been pruned by us at all, and it’s a huge improvement to see them properly shaped rather than running wild. The cherry tree will also be getting pruned back later in the year once it has bloomed.

Then this week, finally, I was properly cheered when the snowdrops bloomed in our garden, and today with the weather finally improving we went to the Rookery to see what else was out – and to my surprise, lots was already.

Hellebores, crocuses, camellias, more snowdrops and the gorgeous buttercup style flowers I have not yet been able to identify…I was thrilled to see so much out already, and it has only just occurred to me that the entire slope is south-facing, and very sheltered, so no wonder it puts on a good show so early on.

This is, I guess, what we have to keep on doing – put on a good show. I put in a good hour tidying the front garden when I got back home and felt all the better for it – and days are getting longer, the daffodils and hyacinths will be up soon, and if they are putting on a good show, the rest of us can too.

The Twelve(ish) Books of Christmas

This blog is rather unapologetically taken over by Christmas at this time of year, and I realise the posts have got rather repetitive (though rest assured I am not missing out on my annual wreath round-up, no siree). 

And then I remembered I had not done a post about my favourite Christmas books. Hurrah! Problem solved. And then in a piece of perfect serendipity, I was reunited with a favourite Christmas book I’d loved and lost years ago: 

 

The Lion Christmas book was a book I poured over for hours, all year round – if I ever wanted to evoke the spirit of Christmas, I simply picked it up and dipped in.

It is the perfect Christmas anthology in that it has a balance of stories, crafts and baking ideas, poems and non-fiction (‘Christmas traditions around the world’, etc).

There is a lot of religious content, but much of it used to explain Christmas traditions – the origins of St Nicholas, the legend of a frosty spiders web inspiring tinsel – and it tells the Christmas story beginning to end, including Herod and the flight to Egypt, so it pulls no punches there.

It is sentimental, terribly naff and much too godly for my tastes now, but I still love it. I was thrilled to find a copy on a charity bookstall and after years of wondering if I’d ever see it again, am delighted to own my own copy once more.

The first Christmas book I remember, though, I have never parted with (and no intention of ever doing so). I was surprised to discover that my copy from 1981 is a first edition, I assumed it was much earlier than that, as the feel of it is more 1950s-60s.

Nevertheless, Lucy and Tom’s Christmas is very reminiscent of my 1980s childhood in lots of ways, but with an added bit of Shirley Hughes magic – look at those lush borders around the edge of the page, hung with gingerbread men and all sorts of other goodies. 

In Shirley Hughes’ world, there are always roaring fires to come home to, snow at Christmas, real candles on the tree, (who ever does that, nobody in 1981 that I knew of) and Salvation Army bands playing in the town centre. 

None of that was really part of my childhood, but the book still takes me back there in other ways, as there is much that reminds me of the Christmas build-up – the home-made cards, the nativity scene, the waking up early on Christmas morning. 

It’s the tiny details that make this book lovely – the cotton wool snow and gold paper star on the Nativity is a particular favourite picture of mine, but it is also famous for acknowledging the times when Christmas isn’t so much fun.

Tom has a meltdown and goes out for a walk with Grandpa. As the book says ‘Just the two of them. The sun is very big and red’.

Simple, beautiful, and instantly brings back the memories of Christmas tantrums or cooking disasters or sickness (and she never ate blackcurrant Fruitella again), but also pitches you into a moment of pure sentiment if you, like me, wish you could have had just one more Christmas with your grandad or granny there.


Moving on from the slightly melancholic to cheerier things, I bring you Mog’s Christmas. This is much more Christmas as I knew it in the 70s/80s – more garish and kitsch, with streamers, balloons, tinsel and paper pom-poms, but rendered in Judith Kerr’s trademark soft pastel shades, it feels very homely and familiar. 

There is still snow, of course, and the story is so slight you could blow it away like a snowflake, but who cares, it’s Mog, and I love her.

That covers the top 3 books from my junior Christmas reading era, and to take it to 12 will mean either a very long blog, or several. 

I’m not sure I can even get to 12 books without more research and digging back into the memory banks, but I can do a quick run-down which hopefully may prompt me to return to this topic next year.

4. The Box of Delights: I loved the celebrated TV series as a child, but the book I’ve read countless times, one of my default comfort reads.

5. The Dark is Rising: such a well-loved fantasy book that it now has a Christmas readathon associated with it. I could write essays about this book, let alone one blog!

6. A Child’s Christmas in Wales: a staple of our family Christmas, especially the lovely edition we had illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. 

7. The ‘Little House’ books: all of them have a Christmas chapter, but my favourite is By the Shores of Silver Lake, where the Ingalls family are left behind in South Dakota when nearly all the other prospective settlers go back East.

8. The Armourer’s House: one of Rosemary Sutcliff’s less well-known books, set during the reign of Henry VIII, but it reaches its climax at Christmas and delivers a supremely happy festive ending.

9. What Katy did at School: for the marvellous scene where Katy and Clover unpack their Christmas boxes and find all kinds of goodies inside. Actually the Christmas chapter in What Katy Did where she plans all kinds of surprises for her siblings is rather sweet.

10, 11 and 12 still remain unclaimed. Not even considered A Christmas Carol yet, as I suspect I’ve read it far less than the number of times I’ve watched A Muppet Christmas Carol. Another 12 months to see if I can think of something to fill in those gaps!

So, children, what have we learned?


Day out at the Horniman

It is almost the end of half-term, our first term of the Big Girl being at school. The week has gone by in a flash, bringing back memories of half term holidays gone by – the big rush to get everything done which we no longer have time to do during a regular week, buying vests and winter coats, the homework hanging over you, the frantic washing of school clothes – but it has also been a brief respite from the new regime and a chance to catch my breath.

So, how has it been so far? The bits which are easier than I expected – the settling in, and the parting at the school gates, not nearly as bad as I feared. We can go right into the classroom, I can hang up her coat and bag and see her settle down on the rug to begin the first task of the day, so it’s a very gentle process. There were a few grumbles the first week, but since then it’s been pretty smooth, and she is (as I fully expected), happy to be there. 

I dreaded the morning routine itself – the slog of getting out on time every single day, the clean clothes, the tidying of hair and cleaning shoes – but once you are locked into the rhythm, it just becomes what you do. I haven’t, as far as I know, left the house with toothpaste smeared on my cheek or in slippers, but hey, there’s plenty of time for that yet.

I expected to feel the anguish of ‘letting go’ of my child at the school gates; I worried that she’d ‘belong’ to school and not to us any more, but this couldn’t be further from the truth – she rushes out of school ready to tell me about the day, (luckily she’s not the classic schoolchild who forgets everything the moment they’re outside the school gate). 

I hear all the news and gossip, what she had for lunch, what happened at break time, what she made that day (so MUCH handmade craft & stuff coming home every _single_ day). 

Most of all, I know she was ready for the big change – she does talk sometimes about ‘missing preschool’, but there is no doubt the challenge of school has been a Good Thing.

Where the strangeness of it has hit me is in the little things – the fact that I had to clear out the Big Girl’s clothes drawer, and realised she hardly needed new clothes any more, just endless school polo shirts, whilst her little sister has an ever-growing pile of hand-me-downs to squeeze into. 

The fact that, even though the school day is so much longer than preschool, the day seems to flash by, and 3 o’clock comes round faster than I ever imagined. 

And I look forward so much to that walk home, her scooting alongside me and knowing we have the prospect of a quiet hour with cup of tea and a sit down waiting. Our days are less busy now, no more day trips or afternoons in the park after preschool, but getting home earlier means a calmer, better paced evening routine, which I appreciate.

The fact that when she leaves school, she doesn’t just tell me about her day, she asks what I’ve been doing with the baby sister, where we went, what we had for lunch, is lovely. She wants to know everything about everything right now, it seems.

Her curiosity about the world is undimmed, her enthusiasm, her own individual self-possessed self remains. I worried that school would be a cookie cutter, stamping out individuality, grinding down children into learning machines, in this bright new world of academies and SATS (or not so new, thinking of Gradgrind), and I know it’s early days, but I hope she’ll get through the system without losing too much of her spark. 

Now, just 7 1/2 weeks till Christmas. Bring it on…


Half term in Wales

A Major Incident

For most of us, the idea of being witness to, or involved in, ‘a major incident’ is probably something we idly imagine, or hope never to experience. When it actually happens, it is such an odd and disconcerting experience, I thought I had better put it down in writing before I forget. 

I have been in proximity to a major incident before, the tragic events of 7/7 – although thankfully not a witness, I was inadvertently quite close by, trying to get back to my office after being evacuated from the tube. But my memories of that day have become very much mingled with the collective memories of my work colleagues and the images which filled up the news night after night.

This time, thankfully, there were no fatalities, so the experience has become much less upsetting and more fascinating, realising you are a bystander to an event which has taken over the news on a slow news summer day.

We were going to the seaside on Bank Holiday Saturday, and had made very good time getting out of London – avoiding the south circular meant we’d barely been stationary by the time we got on the motorway. Then, suddenly, the unwelcome sight of traffic slowing down ahead.

We ground to a halt, and almost immediately saw that people were getting out of their cars. At first we were incredulous – surely if it was a crash on the other side we’d be moving fairly soon, why risk getting out of the car? – and a sense of distaste at the thought of rubberneckers, if the accident was serious. 

It reaffirmed my instinct that I am not a rubbernecker – I am terminally nosy, but I don’t want to see bad stuff, and I don’t want to see others suffering. But then, as more and more people got out of their cars, I searched for ‘M20 traffic’ on Twitter and discovered that what had actually happened was a motorway bridge had collapsed onto a lorry (or been hit BY the lorry – at this point it wasn’t clear).

Then, I started to have a different appreciation for the ‘rubberneckers’ – perhaps, after all, these were the ‘citizen journalists’ who were communicating the news story as it happened; as we waited, many people around us were tweeting pictures and video footage to local radio stations, getting the word out there fast and perhaps saving other drivers from wasted journeys.

With two children getting bored and fidgety in the back, we did eventually get out of the car, but I didn’t feel very comfortable doing it – there were still motorbikes (police and otherwise) weaving through the cars, and people opening car doors unexpectedly, but it was too surreal and odd not to take the opportunity to walk on a motorway.


This photo shows where we were, right in the middle of the jam, about 40-50 cars behind the bridge itself. We saw the air ambulance hovering but didn’t see where it landed – it was already being reported on social media that there was only one injured person, and unbelievably, it was being said they had only sustained minor injuries.


Still, even knowing it was not a fatal crash scene, I didn’t want to go any closer. I didn’t actually see the broken bridge or the trapped lorry myself, despite being so close – it is odd, but somehow I knew I didn’t want to be one of the gawpers. 

The atmosphere at this point had  changed, though – we all knew no-one had been killed, miraculously, but we all also knew we might be there a long while, so a bit of Blitz spirit had kicked in – people were chatting to each other, football was being played on the other side of the barrier and a remote control car being driven around. People were climbing the nearest stairs up the embankment and bringing back cold drinks, apparently from a local golf course. 

We had thankfully brought packed lunches for the children and lots of water, but I *was* beginning to wonder when I’d get to go to the loo. (We’d been stationary for about 80 – 90 minutes at that point).


We began to notice a few drivers were turning around near us – at first we thought ‘no way’, surely they would just get stuck in amongst the traffic facing the right way, surely there was no way through?  

Then we noticed they were going through a gap in the central reservation a few hundred yards behind us, and by then lots of engines were starting up. Clearly we were not going to leave the motorway driving forward, as it wasn’t safe to go under the hanging half-bridge, so we had to turn round to get out. 

We joined the queue weaving through the stationary cars, and in only a few blessed minutes we were being waved through the gap by a police motorcyclist. Oh the joy of being on an empty motorway speeding away from the jam, and the relief of it being finally over, and the pity for those still stuck on the wrong side!

Our day out at the seaside was not to be, but having been cooped up in the car for hours, we couldn’t just go straight home. We realised we were very close to lovely, tranquil Ightham Mote and there couldn’t have been a better place to rest and recover ourselves. 


From there we had a smooth journey home, and we saw from the news that the rest of the traffic was cleared within three hours. 

It certainly wasn’t the day we planned, but it was simply a huge relief to have been able to drive away unscathed from something that could have been an awful tragedy. 

The wider implications of what happened – the state of motorway bridge maintenance, the height of the load which hit the bridge, are still at the back of my mind, and I’m sure it will be a while before I feel comfortable going under motorway bridges again, but for now, the ‘major incident’ can become one of those ‘I can’t quite believe this happened to us’ tales we will remember for many years.

And to repeat the advice I’m glad I had already taken – full packed lunch and lots of water. The children ate two lunches that day in the end, but without the distraction of food I don’t know what we would have done.

Walks around….the Lake District

Our summer holiday this year was desperately needed by the time July arrived – the end of June had been spent in a post-Brexit state of gloom, and despite the comfort of knowing that in London we were surrounded by many fellow Remain voters, we also fixed on the upcoming escape from the city as a respite from the traffic, trains chaos, muggy air and the general unpleasantness of London in summer.

After our trip to the New Forest last year, we decided to be a bit more ambitious and go for the Lake District – a longer drive, but we took the very civilised and humane route of breaking the journey in both directions overnight, meaning we didn’t have more than 3 hours stretch of driving at a time. To those with small children, I urge you to do the same. It made the journey so much more bearable, and we even got lucky with London traffic in both directions.

We couldn’t replicate the thatched cottage in the New Forest, sadly, and our Lakes barn conversion turned out to be smart and functional but rather dull inside, although the thick walls made it beautifully cool on hot days, and the location certainly made it very special – we were only just outside the tourist honeypot of Bowness, but we were right on the edge of proper countryside.



(This was the view on the first evening we arrived, misty fields after a day of rain. The rain didn’t last!)

Our goal for the holiday was to continue in our hunt for buggy-friendly walks, and helpfully the National Park have a fantastic network of Miles Without Stiles – everything from proper buggy routes up mountainsides to short walks to viewpoints suitable for motorised wheelchairs. It really is a brilliant idea and became our bible for the week when planning days out.


A view from our first walk, Elterwater to Skelwith Bridge.

From the list on the Miles Without Stiles page, I think we did the following: nos 6/7, 8, 11, 13, 17, and 41. Some were circular routes around tarns, a couple we had to retrace our steps, but the most ambitious and exciting was certainly the Windermere Western Shore walk. 

This walk starts with arrival by boat from Ambleside and a climb up to Wray Castle where we had a picnic and a quick nose inside the castle, but not for long, as we had a good bit of ground to cover – this was by far the longest walk we attempted, but being a lakeside path, it was mostly all flat and gentle going, and in shade the whole way.

Windermere from the lakeside path

We did have to put on a bit of speed towards the end as our final goal, the ferry back to Bowness, waited for no man (well, there was a later ferry, but we decided to push on for the 4pm boat rather than be kicking our heels for another 40 minutes, and we still – just – had time for ice creams before we got the boat). 

That walk was certainly the most pleasing in that we didn’t have to retrace our steps at any point, besides the thrill of arriving and leaving by boat, but some of the others had real highlights – our walk along Coniston Water took us past the impressive farm building of Coniston Hall Farm, with its huge chimneys and a grass slope up to the first floor to access the hay barn.


It just seemed incredible that this ancient building is still in use as a farmhouse (though admittedly part of it is derelict). It must surely have some ghost stories attached to it, I feel!

The walk to Skelwith Bridge along Elterwater also had a great incentive – lunch at the half way point at Chesters by the River, a place so chichi it really shouldn’t be allowed in fell walking country, it is so far removed from the traditional hikers cafe, but the fact that the portions of food are HUGE and prices quite reasonable, does make it acceptable to walkers. You must only be allowed to eat there if you are doing some strenuous exercise afterwards to work it off, though.

In terms of keeping the children happy (beyond the regular application of ice cream), we had a couple of big hits up our sleeve – Brockhole visitor centre, which had a very good playground and lovely gardens to wander in… 


Flowerbeds at Brockhole visitor centre

…and, on our one wet morning, I took the Big Girl to the World of Beatrix Potter which was surprisingly endearing and not nearly as annoying as I’d feared – the garden modelled on Mr McGregor’s garden, although teeny tiny and in no way resembling a proper kitchen garden, was a real gem: the fact it had just finished raining meant the whole garden was shimmering with raindrops.


Mr McGregor’s Garden

My other highlight was evening walks down to the edge of Bowness village where, by dint of a bit of searching for the exact best viewpoint, I managed to take some pretty good sunset photos: 


As far as family-friendly holidays go, I think this worked well – we did struggle to keep the almost-walking toddler entertained, true – timing her naps around the activities we wanted to do was tricky, and we had to make sure she got exercise too.

We really didn’t want to resort to soft play just to give her a chance to stretch her legs, so we had to make stops on our walks to let her crawl around – factoring this into the day was a big change from the previous year.

The boat rides were a bit hairy too, with her clambering around; it meant we had to sacrifice the lake views and sit below decks to ensure she didn’t launch herself overboard. That was the moment I remembered fondly the previous summer when she was so much more, um, portable….and immobile.

What I did like was that every single outing we did was within close reach of the Windermere and Coniston areas – we really didn’t have to go beyond the immediate area to find fun things to do. Of course roads were slow & windy in places but nowhere felt *too* far away.

This did mean we didn’t get to the legendary Pencil Museum in Keswick (saved for another day!) nor did we go anywhere close to the part of the Lakes I knew from my childhood, the Duddon Valley – but it was refreshing to find that, even in the midst of what I had dismissed as tourist traps, we could find a bit of peace and quiet – on some of the walks we passed only a handful of other people. 

Of course, it will never be repeated, as we’ll never have a holiday outside the school holidays again, (well, not for years) but it was good while it lasted.


Tarn Hows

‘Tis the season to be glittery…

It’s been a peculiar start to Christmas – windy, but not remotely cold, everywhere still green and fresh but not sunny or cheerful; we were in short sleeve t-shirts yesterday which felt very odd. Then, just as we were hanging the decorations, we were hit by the unwelcome arrival of the infant tummy bug. 

Nothing like a wave of baby vomit to dampen the festive spirit, and to throw into relief the contrast between the Instagram-filtered ideal Christmas and the slightly more rough-and-ready reality – although Christmas scented candles and home made pomanders do help cover the smell of Dettol and sick quite well. (The pomanders were courtesy of the Christmas festival at Morden Hall Park – a craft activity supposedly for children, but I enjoyed it so much I made a second one when I got home).
  
Luckily the sickness has receded and we can start to feel a little more cheery now. There has been no great effort at creativity from me this year (pomanders excepted) – hands are quite full enough, frankly, but a few decorations needed a bit of mending and tinkering with, so that has made me feel like I’m doing something constructive.

We have a smaller tree this year, after last year’s effort ended with an unfortunate fall, and I’ve even been so restrained as to hold back some of the larger decorations for reasons of space. I have allowed a few new favourites to creep in, though….

  
This jolly reindeer was a bargain from the local Cancer Research shop.

  

  
These lovely baubles were a gift from a friend who went to Mexico – if other people are going to start getting me decorations, well, next year we could be here all day….

  
Then these red-hatted and jumpered figures I bought because they reminded me fondly of the Danish tree decorations my grandparents gave us when I was little, although these ones I’m afraid came from IKEA. 

And it does feel slightly, now that the tree has Mexican baubles on it, plus Viennese rocking horses and Canadian puffins, as if it is becoming gradually more eclectic and less exclusively Scandi-themed. And that, I think, is OK. 

In any case, I think this year will be the last one where I get any sway over the tree – the big girl already moves things around to her preferred locations: ‘not THAT branch Mummy!’ – and of course everything she’s bought home from preschool has been liberally coated in glitter. 

We have glitter on the sofa, glitter on the floor, glitter on the baby and glitter on every inch of the table, despite endless rounds of wiping. 

It can only be a matter of time before glitter rises up to overwhelm us all – in the mean time, I will enjoy tinkering with my tree, whilst the small humans still let me.

Christmas blog part two – my round up of my favourite wreaths – is being fine tuned as I type. (There are some real good’uns on it this year). Until then, here is the slightly smaller, slightly chaotic, but still resplendent 2015 tree.

  
(I know it looks like there’s a big bare patch at the bottom. It bothers me too, more than I like to admit – but these branches are actually much flatter and smaller than they look in the picture and no good for hanging anything on. Would be ideal for tinsel, but I don’t do tinsel).

 

Walks around Suffolk

We had a second shot at a family holiday this year – we decided rather than take a single fortnight in one place (a little draining for all concerned where small children are involved), we’d take the opportunity after our New Forest holiday to house-sit for my parents-in-law in Suffolk. 

Having two weeks away at either end of the summer, both only a few hours drive from home, broke up the season nicely and is definitely the way to go with a three year old and a baby – long haul can wait! 

Living over the border in upwardly-mobile Essex as a child, Suffolk seemed to me to be the real essence of East Anglia – and I have stayed loyal, after all, I married a local boy!

As we lived close enough when I was young to visit fairly often, it became a regular weekend and half-term destination, and got under my skin in a way other less-frequented places never had a chance to.

The big skies, sea walls and reed beds are all part of my inner landscape, and the bits I particularly love – Blythburgh church with its angel roof, the ruined windmill on the marshes near Walberswick, and the woods around the (electricity & hot water-free) cottage where we stayed – are places I revisit endlessly in my dreams and daydreams.

This is what I wanted to discover again, and the childhood memories I wanted to create for the Big Girl – although perhaps with wifi and hot running water this time round.

We didn’t, in fact, make it to Walberswick – saved for another time – but top of our list was Orford Castle, which the Mr and I visited on our first weekend away together 5 years ago. (We went on a long hike up the estuary alongside Orford Ness on a very hot day, didn’t have enough water with us, arrived back in Orford hot and bothered – a true relationship test!)

  

The castle is pretty darn spectacular, with enough spiral staircases and secret chambers to keep a small child entertained, but it was Orford village itself I remembered most fondly.

It is just as chocolate-boxy delightful as I remembered, (including the celebrated Pump St Bakery) although every cottage and verge seems to have a line of cars spoiling the view. (We parked in the tourists car park, don’t fret).

  

However, I found a few lovely car-free views thanks to a convenient alleyway taking us past allotments and cottage gardens, which led to me musing how much nicer villages would be if they all had car parks on the outskirts and everyone who lived there had bikes or golf buggies to get to their houses.

  

There are many practical reasons why my Prisoner-style idyll probably wouldn’t work, but the wander round Orford was certainly good food for thought, and gave me scope for many future daydreams.

   
   

We also walked a stretch of the sea wall path which the Mr and I tackled last time, (turning back sensibly early to get to the Jolly Sailor for lunch), but it did make for a buggy-friendly walk which could have continued for some time – a circular walk taking us back to the village would have been even nicer, but we could see stiles and single track footpaths through fields which probably wouldn’t have worked.

  

I have run out of time to go into the rest of the week in too much detail, but we had a proper seaside day out at Southwold, home of my favourite pier in the world (and here’s the view from it):

  

(I can’t make up my mind about Southwold, as I know it has a reputation for being overrun by Latitude hipsters and Down-from-Londoners, and the high street certainly feels a bit too chi-chi for me, but it still has an authentic seaside feel without the overwhelming tide of cheap plastic tat you get elsewhere. Anyway, I digress).

We also went to Jimmy’s Farm (great entertainment for a 3-year-old, much cheaper than other farm attractions, but felt very corporate), Hadleigh (another lovely old town for pottering in) and Felixstowe (perfect for kite flying) plus a lot of chilled out family time in between. And one other place that was so good it will get its own blog entry, so watch this space!