Those Magnificent Flying Machines

P1040011Where we live the skies are full of birds: kookaburras, cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets, ducks, seagulls, and the occasional pelican, to name but a few. But we don’t often hear the roar of a motor overhead. Perhaps this is why Ickle and Mivvy have developed a fascination with flying machines.

We scan the horizon to spot aeroplanes before they disappear from view. And we jump up and down and wave like crazy when the local helicopter zips in and out. Much in the same way that, on Tuesdays, we race out of the front door to greet the rubbish truck as it rolls down our street. Mivvy has recently announced that she would like to fly. (She would also like to catch her shadow and touch the moon.)

So, on our holiday in the UK, Daddy Ickle and I took both girls on a family expedition to the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Ilchester, Somerset. I haven’t visited this destination for as long as I can remember. Housed in a huge hangar is an equally huge collection of naval aircraft, from the early days of flight through to the current day. Exhibits include beautiful old biplanes, a range of flying machines from WWII, helicopters, and – this one truly takes your breath away – the first British-built Concorde.P1030982Opportunities abound for hands-on/interactive experiences. Ickle dressed up in naval gear (a radical departure from her usual princess get-up); we dived into a life raft. I braved the simulated helicopter ride through to Hall 3, where I found myself on board the fleet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, alone in the semi-darkness. So what did it feel like to be an naval officer on watch? Um. A bit disorientating. In fact, I struggled to find my way back to Daddy Ickle and the littlies.P1030997P1040004We stopped at The SwordFish Restaurant, actually more of a classic canteen (think bacon, eggs, pies and chips) for a quick snack, before heading to the museum’s adventure playground. Despite the weather (yup, we copped a lot of rain during our stay), the girls scrambled up cargo nets, conquered balance beams, and steered a model ship into harbour. Mini naval cadets in the making. Magnificent.

Another Stuffy Stately Home

P1030919The rain was tipping down; I was feeling slightly apprehensive about the day ahead. I had arranged to meet friends at Barrington Court, a National Trust property tucked away in the Somerset countryside in the UK. The main draw hadn’t been the Tudor manor house, but a special nature day they were holding in the grounds. I figured the girls, big and small, could run around in the fresh air and let off steam.

Doom and gloom, I thought, as I looked at the raindrops scurrying across the car windscreen. We will have to go *inside*. Ickle and Mivvy will run amok amongst the antique furniture and furnishings with us in hot pursuit. We’ll be whispered about in loud voices by visiting coach parties of stately home enthusiasts. No, this was not good at all.

And then, as we drew into the car park, the rain decided to stop. So we squelched across the lawns to look at the wildlife specimens on display (a hedgehog’s spiny pelt, a grass snake, various animal bones…and so on). Then the girls tried their hand at some classic English games – skittles and quoits.P1030885P1030908P1030917 And we all admired the beautiful gardens and giant koi. It was fun, and way better than I had hoped – not even the teeniest bit stuffy.P1030873P1030878We did summon up the courage to venture into the old stately home, which incidentally has been empty of all furniture and furnishings since 1991. The remaining architecture and fittings are beautifully impressive and well worth a visit. And so is the *surprise* in the Long Gallery: a feathered friend who has only recently taken up roost in the rafters. Want to know more? You’ll have to visit Barrington Court to find out!

A Classic Country Fair

P1030807“Look, Mummy, it’s the Australian flag!” exclaimed Ickle as we approached the castle grounds.

Erm, not quite. We happened to be in deepest Dorset, in the UK, heading to the Sherborne Castle Country Fair. Billed as “One of the South West’s premier one day events”, we were expecting big things.

Despite having spent the best part of my youf in Sherborne, I don’t recall having been to the Country Fair. Set in grounds landscaped by Capability Brown, no less, the event attracts masses of people: 17,000 through the gates in 2015. Every man and his dog was there this year. Many of them sporting tweed ensembles (the men that is); the ladies had opted for hats that wouldn’t have looked out of place at Royal Ascot or Flemington.

The programme was jam-packed with livestock displays, gymnastics routines, dragon boat racing, horseback falconry shows, car stunts, and so much more. Everywhere we went, something was going on.

P1030824The girls loved the traditional Punch & Judy show. They sat on straw bales and yelled “Judy” at the tops of their little voices as Mr Punch fed the baby into the sausage machine.

P1030828Ickle and her daddy braved the helter skelter.

P1030830And I had a peek at the ferret racing, which had drawn quite a crowd.

All-in-all, it was a colourful, lively and classic English country fair.

The Other Side of the World

UK 2016-001Why has it been so quiet on Icklegen of late?

Because we have been on the other side of the world. Obviously. Light years away from computer technology and the blogosphere.

Well, not exactly. The UK may be a long way to go (an exhausting 24-hour flight away to be precise, and let’s not forget the ensuing jet lag), but we were still *connected*. Just not that active online.

But very active elsewhere. We had family and friends to see, a very special wedding to attend, and places to explore. It wasn’t a whirlwind four weeks – we tried to pace ourselves, honest! – but we created some wonderful memories to carry with us until our next visit.

Rather than reduce these to a few lines each, I am going to treat you to a few individual posts over the next couple of weeks. Or sooner if I find the time to tap away on my trusty keyboard. Although given that it’s the end of July already, that might be a little ambitious…

Here’s a taste of what’s to come:P1030824Punch & Judy, ferret racing, and so much more at a classic country fair.P1030879The discovery that visiting an English stately home and gardens isn’t so dull after all.P1040011Getting up close with some pretty amazing flying machines.

Cardboard Cubby

P1030757It’s the perfect time of year for cubby houses.

Ickle and Mivvy love their snug little hideaways. Our usual efforts involve a couple of chairs, bean bags and a funky floral sheet draped like a tent. Indoors on a rainy lazy day. Sometimes the tea set comes out to play too, and the girls enjoy a snack or two in their secret abode. Nothing like a tiny plate loaded with sultanas and miniature biscuits.

This week, though, we have enjoyed blissful still sunny mornings on the lake. So, I dug out a cardboard cubby that has been tucked away in a flatpack for a couple of years. Just waiting for that special moment. After a battle to construct it, which I won, we headed outside for some fun.P1030764Boy-next-door charged over to join in the action.  And three little pairs of hands set to work with brushes and colour. For a while. Then, the budding artists clambered in and out of the partially-painted cubby, before transforming it into a truck depot. And a very pretty one, too.vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvP1030771

Creepy Crawlies

P1030717Yes, we may live in a land teeming with weird and wonderful creepy crawlies, but there’s always space for a few more.

This weekend, Ickle, Mivvy and I created a colourful collection of giant bugs. The original concept came from a fabulous craft book, Creative Crafts for Kids (Hamlyn), gifted to Ickle by the lovely Auntie KT. What a refreshing change to leaf through paper pages rather than trawl the web for inspiration! And with 100 fun projects to try out, there’s no shortage of ideas*.P1030691We adapted the original colour scheme, opting for green and yellow paper rather than black. Ickle’s new craft box came up trumps with an amazing selection of sparkly pipe cleaners, perfect for our project. Check out our creations in progress:P1030698P1030715P1030702And the fun didn’t stop there. As you know, Ickle and Mivvy love to paint. So they went blob-tastic, transforming their insects with crazy spots and dots.P1030721Ta-da!P1030722*I think the craft book is great. So I’m recommending it. For free.

Roarrr!

Hurry!  Only a few days to catch the dinosaurs at Newcastle Museum before they head elsewhere.P1030681Although ‘catch’ is probably not the appropriate word in this context. The tyrannosaurs* were ferocious meat-eating predators with powerful legs, heavy jaws, and very strong teeth. We humans wouldn’t have lasted at all long had we overlapped with the dinosaurs. Lucky for us, then, that they were wiped out by a giant meteorite in the Mesozoic Extinction Event 66 million years ago.P103067066 million years ago. Imagine that. I can’t. Such a huge number, the mind boggles. In fact, so much about dinosaurs defies comprehension, and the exhibition brilliantly showcases the wonders and mysteries of these primitive creatures. 10 life-sized specimens from the tyrannosaurs family were on display, including the king himself, Tyrannosaurus rex (Scotty), who measured an estimated 12 metres in length. Guanlong wucaii, early relative of T.rex, was also present. This feathered fiend has got dinosaur experts the world over oohing and aahing, as it confirms the link between tyrannosaurs and birds. Yup, people, T.rex was a bird in the making.

Wow! I hear you say. You managed to gather all this information at the exhibition with your littlies in tow? And the answer is: Are you kidding?! I read the headers on the day and left the small print to late-evening Internet research. But I didn’t need the detail to enjoy the visit. And nor did the tots. The dinosaur specimens wowed us with their strange forms, giant size, long tails, and scary teeth. Especially T.rex, whose shadow had a mind of its own, and would reach down to grab unsuspecting visitors as they passed underneath.P1030678The interactive side of the exhibition was fun. Ickle and Ettie particularly enjoyed being in their own dinosaur movie, although things did get a little loud at one point. And Bear tried very hard to jump up and down to power a meteorite large enough to wipe out the creatures we had come to see.P1030673We combined our visit with a play in the museum’s Mininova soft play area, morning tea on the lovely grassy lawns outside, plus a coffee and scoot along Honeysuckle.

*Tyrannosaur comes from the Greek “tyrant lizard”.

Flip Flop Tree

20160221_111745-001Australia is renowned for its eucalypt forests and acacia woodlands and shrublands. But never before have I found mention of the flip flop tree.*

We found this unique specimen on one of our family excursions to the beach. We had opted to head to Reids Reserve in Swansea Heads. Mivvy conveniently dropped off to sleep on the way there, so Ickle and her daddy went exploring, while her mummy sat in the car and played around on her mobile phone. Nothing like a bit of downtime ensconced in the driver’s seat.20160221_111819-00120160221_111853-001And father and daughter found a beautiful pathway leading to a sandy beach and honey-rock slab a stone’s throw from the ocean. And on the way there, of course, the flip flop tree.20160221_112611-001The access to this stretch of paradise is strewn with rocks so it was a bit of a scramble, but nothing like our recent rock-hopping experience. Ickle and Mivvy had huge fun playing together in the channel, with the water swooshing gently in both directions (this is definitely not the place to be when the tide comes in). And Mivvy enjoyed picking miniature shells off the rocks and examining them, while Ickle went for a climb to observe the ocean at closer range.20160221_113305-00120160221_114259-001We were tempted to pick a pair off the tree on our return to the car, but decided we’d leave the unusual blooms in situ for others to enjoy.20160221_111807-001*Well “thong tree” really doesn’t have the same ring about it. (In Australian English, flip flops are known as thongs.)

Pots of Colour

P1030651It was Daddy Ickle’s birthday last week and the girls, especially Ickle, were very keen to make him something (as well as a cake, that is). So I trotted off to Bunnings, our fave store of the moment, to purchase some raw materials. Nothing too complicated; the idea was to have fun.

And, have fun, we did. Painting is not a regular activity in our household as Ickle and Mivvy manage to make a huge amount of mess every time we attempt it. Leaving yours truly the exciting task of clearing up, while the girls run riot elsewhere in the house.P1020321But this was a special occasion, and Nanna L. had come over to play too, so I had additional support. Ickle and Mivvy surpassed themselves – I’m sure you’ll agree that their pots for Daddy are works of art. I  particularly like the personalised hand prints on each saucer. I later added names and dates, although Ickle’s trademark pink did make this slightly unnecessary.

They didn’t stop at the pots either. Ickle painted both her arms bright pink up to her elbows; Mivvy managed to spatter most of her body, face and hair with a rainbow of colours. And both girls were having so much fun that the session spilled over onto sheets of coloured paper…not to mention the table, chairs and floor.P1020327So Nanna L. whisked the budding artists off for a warm bubbly bath, while I attempted to remove all traces of the morning’s activity before Daddy Ickle got home. I didn’t fare so well with hiding the pots. “Come and see what we made for your birthday, Daddy,” urged Ickle that evening. Ah. So, not a birthday surprise this year, then.

[Photo credits: hand prints and coloured paper on the line – Nanna L.]

Paper Plate Snowmen

Bet you thought we’d forgotten about Christmas thank-you cards this year…

But no. They have just been a while in the making. Ickle and Mivvy spent a fun craft session stamping paper plates a couple of weeks ago, and I hit on the idea of sending their creations instead of cards.P1030638Only then I realised there might be a slight problem…envelopes. A bendy plate is not the most practical shape to send by post, especially overseas. And I figured it wouldn’t be the most cost-effective solution either, although I don’t believe international postage rates have been increased by the walloping 40% that has been applied to domestic mail this year.

So, I sat on the plates, figuratively speaking. And had a think. For a while. Then both girls conveniently dropped off for a nap at the same time on Saturday and it was time for paper plate action. I Googled “paper plate thank-you cards” and my search immediately returned these wee chappies. They didn’t take long to make, and I didn’t worry too much about the occasional misshapen snowman. After all, the real things are often a bit lumpy.P1030642The eyes, mouths and buttons really finish them off. In fact, if I were organised enough about Christmas cards, which – let’s be realistic here – I’m not, I’d make them again later this year with the littlies. With paint and stickers and cotton wool. Although, on second thoughts, they might be a bit bulky for the post too…P1030645[Edit 2 Feb 2016: A whole paper plate is a tight squeeze even in an A4-sized envelope; the snowman cards neatly slide into an envelope half that size. Just in case you were wondering!]