What I learned while travelling home with my kids

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen that we’ve just got back from a month in Trinidad and Tobago, where I’m from. It was our first time back in four years. We’re grateful to have been given the opportunity to have an overseas holiday as a family and to help our kids grow their connection with a country that is a part of who they are. I’ve no idea when next we’ll make it over, five tickets to the Caribbean is a hefty goal but as I readjust being back in Cornwall, here are a few reflections.

Home is where I’m raising them

This is the first time I’ve been back and known that Trinidad and Tobago is no longer my home. The deep ache I felt when we landed  there on a visit four years ago has dulled considerably. It’s a beautiful country. I am grateful for the childhood I spent there and for its ongoing place in my life but I’m also relieved to no longer feel so torn between places. I miss the people I love who live there but home is where I’m raising my children. So much life has happened in the thirteen years I’ve lived in the UK. I have little concept of what life as a parent or even simply as an adult would look like if I lived there. It’s bizarre that simple chance can change the course of your life this way.

Jet lag is worse going West to East

We experienced this two years ago when travelling East for my brother-in-law’s wedding in Thailand and we get hit with it every time we’ve come back from Trinidad. Now that we have three kids who are finding their way through it, it’s quite something in this direction, not least because they are ALL on different schedules right now!

They want to know about my past

I was really surprised by how many questions my seven and four year olds had about my childhood: what I did, where I went, what it was like. My four year old, especially, was in a constant stream of this. I don’t know, I never thought about this trip meaning learning more about me. And actually, I also realised that I don’t talk much about Trinidad and Tobago at all and about my memories. When I was little, I loved hearing about the “old time days” from my parents, peppered with anecdotes from when they were children but I’ve supplied so few of my own. Could this be because I’m not surrounded by cultural and physical markers that would jog old memories for me?

It’s hard meeting people and sightseeing

Gosh, I should know this as I find it exhausting as an adult. Yet, I had such big expectations of the kids and then had to pull back and to give them a break when it was all too much.

I am done travelling with preschoolers

Man oh man, I know from a fair bit of experience that you can do long hauls with little ones but I’m sure glad I’m unlikely to ever have to again. Between the multiple outfit changes for everyone and the overnight journeys where working out sleeping positions is a game of Twister, I think we’ll give it a rest until my youngest is at least four, should we get the chance again.

Every child is different

That said, all our travels have convinced me that how one child travels at a certain age does not dictate how another will. My first two struggled terribly with long haul flights as babies. My youngest was perfectly content to and from Thailand at 5 months old. Travelling with my eldest at any other age has been a dream. She in no way prepared us for things that came up with the younger two.

Mosquitoes are utterly relentless

At this stage I have tried everything that does not contain DEET. I am convinced that the only two things that work in rainy season are covering up and DEET. Please feel free to share magic secrets if you have any.

Kids can connect across cultures pretty easily

It’s been so brilliant seeing my kids play with other children while we were out there and connect with adults who made the effort with them as well. At some points, meeting new people was just too overwhelming but a lot of great memories were made, friendships sparked and even more reasons to keep in touch.

I revisit my own childhood

There is a sense in which I revert to being a child myself when I go back which is such a complex experience  to navigate now that I’m also in parent mode when I visit. It’s little things like this being the first visit on which I’ve driven a car. But it’s also the much bigger things, like having to shelf confronting some painful personal issues because the priority while out there was keeping it together for my kids. And there’s the stuff that come up with straddling cultural expectations. For instance, my children call adults whatever we call them and it no longer comes naturally to me to refer to everyone as “auntie” or “uncle” and that’s certainly not on Laurence’s radar.

It’s possible that they may choose to live somewhere else someday

I always, always leave wishing we didn’t live so far away from my family. This time was no different in that respect. But this time it fully came home to me that my kids might also choose to migrate some day, that I might have to hold the future loosely, with simple trust.


Planning our trip to Trinidad and Tobago

This post was written on behalf of Clickstay

So we are going to Trinidad and Tobago this summer…for a MONTH! Well, Laurence is going for two weeks because of work but the kids and I are making the most of getting over there for the first time in four years by staying that bit longer. Send me all your positive thoughts, prayers and vibrations for the transatlantic flight back on my own with three kids. I’m well intimidated but we’re a tiny team and it’ll be worth it.

When people find out I’m from Trinidad and Tobago they usually ask how often we get to go back. We mainly live on one income and with five tickets to buy, it’s easier for my parents to come visit us, even if we have made that more challenging by moving to remote Cornwall. With their help we’re finally making it out there and it feels like such a big deal, not least because we have no idea when we’d manage it again.

That’s why we’re planning ahead and thinking carefully about what we want to achieve with this trip. Seeing family and friends is a given as it’s my home country but it’s a holiday too so we’re thinking about how best to slow it down somewhere hot, sunny and beautiful. We also hope this will be a chance for the girls to start making longer term connections with a place and culture that’s an important part of their own identity. Certainly, at seven and four, Talitha and Ophelia are likely to remember their time there.

We’ll mainly be based in Trinidad, the bigger, faster paced, more urban sister isle where I grew up and where most of my family lives but we definitely want to make some time to chill out in Tobago which offers more of the classic Caribbean holiday vibe. We may also look at spending some time in the capital city, Port of Spain, just because it’s not something we’ve done in the past as my parents are based in South Trinidad.

I’m thinking of options for combining seeing people with the holiday thing and I think getting a villa could be an ideal solution so I’ve been taking a look through the properties on Clickstay. It allows you to stay somewhere self-catered with a swimming pool, generally in great locations, while splitting the cost of food and accommodation with whomever you’re staying with.


Image from Clickstay website

I really like the look of this Clickstay villa in Mount Irvine in Tobago, for instance. The location would particularly suit Laurence as it’s near the surf. Villa prices compare with hotels and Air BnB’s we’ve researched and we’ve found in the past that set ups like this allow us to enjoy quality vacation time with grandparents, for instance, without getting too much in each other’s space.

I’m keen to really document our time out in Trinidad and Tobago since it’s a big deal for us and it’s a bit of a “different” destination for a lot of people but one I think is worth considering. Perhaps I’ll pop a little bucket list on here before we go and I hope to put together a small guide for families once we’ve been. Let me know what you’d like to see and if you’re living out there, I’d love your suggestions. I haven’t lived there since I was nineteen and haven’t visited since Talitha and Ophelia were three years old and six months old so the proposition’s changed quite a bit this time around. We’re getting properly excited now!

Thanks to Clickstay for working with me on this post.


Valley Fest – Delilah’s first festival

Though it was only at the beginning of last month, Valley Fest now feels a long time ago. If you’re anything like us, though, you’re already daydreaming about festivals for next year. Maybe this will give you some inspo.

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We opted to spend just a few hours at the festival on the Saturday as we didn’t want to overdo it with a newborn. It was pouring with rain and really put our waterproofs to the test! Luckily the babe I was sheltering with a broken umbrella was fast asleep for most of it.

We hung out for a bit in the green energy tipi where innovations were on display and they gave us some fascinating demonstrations on energy harvesting. I was particularly interested in the compostable tent, Comp A Tent, which biodegrades, offering a solution for those who abandon tents at festivals. We happened upon this tipi by accident because we weren’t given a map or any information, which we really could have done with but no matter, we muddled through.

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Then we hit the big tipi to take in some folk music before grabbing crepes and boardgames and a trundle back to the car in the mud. It was wonderful being out in Chew Valley, overlooking the lake. It’s a great spot for a little festival like this and close enough to Bristol that we could have gone home for the night if we fancied. Actually, we opted to go stay with my in-laws who live in a village nearby. Another year, we’ll camp.

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We made it over earlier on day two and it wasn’t raining so we took in bands both in the tipi and at the main stage. Talitha loved getting her hair wrapped in what we’re calling a festival braid – I can’t remember if it’s actually called that! She still has it in now! Ophelia had her face fully painted for the first time and actually fell asleep while it was being done, sweet girl.

The rest of the time, we wandered around Valley Fest, taking in the sights. We were fortunate enough to bump into Eleanor and her daughter from The Bristol Parent and hang with them for a bit. Ophelia and Delilah were pretty worn out by the end but Talitha was completely in her element. I think she could easily have stayed for longer.

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That makes me look forward to hitting a festival or two next year. We may even come back and do this one as it’s a bit smaller and less hectic but still with lots of good stuff going on.

We were given tickets for Valley Fest in exchange for coverage.


Our visit to Longleat Safari Park

The last day of my mother’s stay this summer is immortalised as the day a monkey pooed on our car. Seriously, my kids thought it was the best souvenir ever. In fact, our visit to Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire was one of the best family days out we’ve had and a real memory builder I was especially glad we got to share with my mum.

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We had conflicting suggestions on when we should arrive but wound up getting there for lunchtime as it’s tricky for us to get us all out of the house at the best of times and we were cleaning for an estate agent to come around and take photos the next day. So we packed lunch and had a little picnic on one of the tables next to the giraffes before walking over a rope bridge to see wallabies and lemurs. We got back in time to see the giraffes feed then headed back to the car for the safari.

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We spent maybe a couple of hours driving through. The kids were spellbound. We all were. Well, Delilah was mainly feeding (yes, none of them were in their car seats – the cars were going at snail’s pace). I think the most memorable bit was driving through the monkey enclosure when a monkey jumped up and hung out on our car (see monkey poo reference above). Laurence had prepped the car but the monkeys still managed to nab the cover of the soap container for our windscreen wipers.

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Afterwards, we stopped for supper at one of the restaurants before hitting the mini zoo bit where we looked at parrots, walked through the butterfly house and the girls took turns holding a snake! We then stocked up on treats from the sweet shop in preparation for the end of day parade in the square.

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Longleat gave us tickets to visit for its 50 year anniversary celebrations and as part of that, there was an evening parade featuring African singing and dancing, pretty impressive floats (a couple splashed the audience to the girls’ delight) and donkeys being led around and scooped up after (their poo was also a highlight).

We wound up staying until past the girls’ bedtime which isn’t something we’d normally do but it was well worth it and both kept talking about our day there for ages after. We’ve meant to visit Longleat ever since we moved to Bristol six years ago but just never got around to it, partly because we felt it was expensive. Now that I’ve been, it seems a bargain for the experience and that’s even with needing to take it slow with a six-week-old. I’d be up for trying it again during their Festival of Light later this year as I’ve heard great things about that too. We might even get there a bit earlier to do more of it next time.


Mini adventures in Dyrham Park and the South West Outdoor Festival

On the way to a workshop in Bath recently, a friend who was giving me a lift asked whether we’d taken the girls to Dyrham Park, a nearby National Trust property. Her children now grown, she fondly remembered the days they’d spent there when they were little.

When we recently made the most of a last snatch of summer by heading to Dyrham Park for the day, this was very much on my mind. These little outdoor adventures with the children, these are our memories.

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With lots of wide open space, the girls found the perfect spot to fly their kite. There was the gentlest bit of wind but their optimism wasn’t misplaced. They took it in turns to fly it, thrilled with this small, brilliant thing: a kite in the sky.

We became National Trust members a couple of years ago because we wanted to inspire our kids’ love of the outdoors while feeding our own. It occurs to me that for that to really happen, we need to slow down so we can stop, notice and enjoy what they do.

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While an adventure in our books might involve kayaking down a river or throwing an axe, for them, searching for mini beasts, balancing on a branch or even just stopping for a picnic is hugely exciting right now. In a way, that’s a relief because we’re restricted in how much we can reasonably cope with as a family with a newborn baby.

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We managed to make the time for all of those things and more mini adventures, Talitha rolling down a hillside while her little sister found tree hollows to dip in and out of. They managed tick a few more things off their 50 things lists.

All in all, it was a day worth capturing on film below and I’m glad we did. It’s an uber short video. Take a look and let me know what you think.

We’re conscious that as the kids get older, we’re going to want to up our game and push out further in what we do as a family. We’ve done a lot of camping and hope to keep that going. I’m still learning to ride a bicycle but I’m hoping that we’ll one day all cycle together. Basically, we’re saying yes to more wild swimming, more foraging, more time having fun in nature and more seeking genuine microadventures.

The National Trust’s South West Outdoor Festival promises to be a great starting point for inspiration and information for anyone looking to push out further into new outdoor challenges. It’s a new festival in stunning Heddon Valley in Devon with activities for all ages ranging from stargazing to kayaking to bushcraft.

Alongside a cracking lineup of speakers and workshops ready to whet your appetite for the wilderness, there’ll be storytelling, local bands, film viewings, an outdoor bar and the chance to hang out around a campfire in desperately beautiful Exmoor.

The festival is set for Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th September, which could be a brilliant way to shoot into the Autumn when many of us, especially those with kids, could be tempted to go into hibernation mode instead of continuing to pursue life outdoors. It could be just the time to learn to raft as a family or sneak in that last camp out before the seasons properly change.

Weekend camping tickets are £60 for adults and £25 for children. You can check it all out on the South West Outdoor Festival website.

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This post was brought to you by the National Trust


Hoo Haa! Festival and easing in to life with three

My mum left two days ago to go back to Trinidad and Tobago after a few weeks of staying with us. Between Laurence’s paternity leave and her stay, I’ve only had a handful of days on my own with three children. I’d probably done solo bedtime just three, maybe four times in those six weeks and I’d certainly fallen well out of the habit of taking Ophelia to the toilet!

It’s been a real blessing not least because Laurence has started a new job which is taking him away for one full night and two bedtimes/wakeups a week. In a way, it’s good that he was working in London a fair bit while I was pregnant because two nights with three kids feels much less daunting that five with two.

At any rate, I’m really grateful that my mum was here to help me ease into life with three children, not least because I doubt I would have managed so many days out with them on my own this summer. Or I would’ve taken them but been a sweaty, shouty, stressy mess.

One of those outings was to Hoo Haa! Festival at Colston Hall in Bristol. It’s an innovative music festival aimed at children and their grown ups. We enjoyed it so much last year, we couldn’t miss this one. Most of it was free with film screenings, community art projects and lots of musical acts in the foyer but there were also ticketed gigs throughout in the theatre spaces.

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My mum bought the older girls tickets to go see Wild Things the first day. They left Delilah and I behind and returned much delighted with their interactive musical journey, brandishing crowns they’d made as part of the show.

The second day, I’d bought tickets to go see the Vervain Folk Band with Lilliput Family Concerts since their cello concert was such a hit with my girls a few months ago. Talitha opted to continue at the church holiday club she’d been going to all week instead, which was nice in a way because we could give Ophelia more attention. My brother also joined us so it was actually the opposite of me being outnumbered by children!

The theatre was stripped of chairs and we all sat on the floor. Children were free to dance, which many did, and the players took time between songs to introduce their instruments. Afterwards, the kids could go up and try some of the instruments, which Ophelia did. The concert was as much for me as for her as I relished listening to traditional folk favourites.

The big excitement of the day was seeing CBeebies’ Andy Day (think Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures) perform. In fact, when he did his free “dino raps” in the foyer, Ophelia even abandoned her chips to go sit on my brother’s shoulders to see Andy. He found it amusing when I explained that the mop-haired guy on stage was a bit of a celebrity, amongst the five and unders, anyway.

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Afterwards, my mum and brother took Ophelia to meet him. She bought the girls his CD, which he signed and got a snap of her with Andy for Talitha’s sake. Talitha was thrilled to know Ophelia had met him (and Ophelia was pleased too though she looks like she’s wondering what on earth is going on). They’ve been playing his CD over and over ever since. Even Laurence and I have to admit it’s a welcome addition to the car repertoire.

We finished the day on a high by going to see Andy Day again in a musical take on We’re Going on a Bear Hunt which were sent tickets for in exchange for coverage. The performance came complete with full orchestra and someone dressed up as a bear. With actions, singing and a chance at the end for some children to form their own orchestra on stage, we all got to participate in that well-loved bedtime classic. In fact, we’re still singing the story whenever we read it now!

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Hoo Haa! has become a Bristol summer staple for our family. I really recommend checking it out next year if you’re around or keeping your eye open for other children’s gigs on at Colston Hall. We’ve yet to be disappointed.


Eight reasons we’re looking forward to The Good Life Experience

Laurence was the first to spot The Good Life Experience. “If there’s any festival I want to go to, it’s that,” he mused, “but we probably can’t this year because of the baby.” I looked at the calendar. The 16th-18th September would make Delilah almost nine weeks when we went. Could we really do a festival with a baby that young?

Then again, Talitha was six weeks when we took her to a festival. We just didn’t camp. The most stressful part of that experience was that I wasn’t used to breastfeeding in public – not an issue now. We did camp with Ophelia at four months. Maybe, maybe, oh why not? Worse comes to worst, we’d just ditch the camping bit and sleep somewhere local.

So we were delighted when The Good Life Experience offered us tickets. Here’s why we’re excited about going.

1. It’s a festival with real zest for the outdoors
The Good Life Experience plugs into the yearning many of us have developed for reconnecting with nature, rewilding and pursuing simpler experiences in the outdoors. From axe throwing to wild running, foraging to adventuring, abseiling to yoga, there’ll be lots of wilderness inspiration with a great lineup of people who are genuinely out there living their passions and are excited about getting others involved.

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2. It’s about so much more than the music
This is a festival that’s as much about books, craft and The Great Outdoors as it is about the bands. There are masterclasses in henna decoration, pumpkin carving, mosaics, woodcarving and more. The Meek Family who’ve written about their many outdoor adventures and their experiences worldschooling will be there as will a pop up library, a mobile bookstore, author and adventurer Ben Fogle, and Mark Shayler of the Do Lectures.

3. But also, it’s about the music
There are a few familiar names in the lineup like Mercury Rev, Cerys Matthews and Gilles Peterson but we’re also looking forward discovering music. We’re particularly looking forward to taking in some rootsy folk and gypsy groove. It could be fun to check out the brass band too. We’ll definitely have to pack ear defenders for the kids.

4. We like that it’s a smaller festival
So many festivals have blown up over the years and become grimly overcrowded. We’re hoping there’ll be a bit more breathing space at The Good Life Experience.

5. There’ll definitely be the chance to learn something new
Apart from the crafts and books I’ve already mentioned, the festival is teeming with opportunities to leave having picked up something new, whether it’s an insight into bee keeping, a Welsh phrase or some swing moves.

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6. We love its commitment to small business
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that a couple of the organisers are also behind Pedlars vintage shop, the festival’s bias is towards smaller businesses that display careful and creative craftsmanship, sustainably making beautiful things that last.

7. We’re looking forward to eating real food
There’s also a strong lineup when it comes to food. There’ll be campfire cooking sessions, authentic southern style barbecue, The Independent on Sunday’s weekly food correspondent Bill Grainger, food writer and television presenter Thomasina Miers, craft beer and a farm shop, to name a few.

8. The festival is equally aimed at children and adults

The Good Life Experience claims to aim everything at children and adults alike. We’re really hoping this is true. Certainly I can imagine making flower headdresses in the WI tent with my girls, checking out a children’s author or joining in a campfire singalong. Less segregation between ages, more experiences together, please.

To find out more about the festival, check out them out on their website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Adult tickets start at £69 for a non-camping weekend ticket and whether camping or not, kids 11 and under go free.

Thanks to the Good Life Experience for having us as guests!

Photographs 1 and 3 by James Fibonacci, Photograph 2 by Nenad Obradovic