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Rosie Scribble

Old clocks

With the passing of the years comes the realisation that the time stretching in front of you is not infinite and needs to be spent well.

There are a number of things I want to be doing with my limited free time. Now that I’m commuting to London each day that free time has become increasingly precious.

I want to spend it with family, and relaxing, reading books in coffee shops with hot chocolate and marshmallows, and doing absolutely nothing.

I also need to spend more time helping the teen with her school work, or at least making sure she’s on top of it all in these crucial GSCE years.

Efforts to help with homework haven’t really worked as I’ve discovered I don’t actually understand half of it. Make that most of it.

It’s some time since I was able to calculate the perpendicular height of a triangle, or had the will to. Adult life has not required me to use that knowledge for several decades. But I can at least make sure the teen is studying the right books, or Googling the right things as seems to be the way these days.

I also want to write. I spend most of my holiday time crafting stories and starting novels that then sit in my head for the rest of the year because I don’t have time to pick up the thread.

Old fashioned typewriter

Except it turns out I do have the time, I’m just not using it in the best way for me, and for us as a family.

I’m spending it packing boxes for my subscription box business, which I do enjoy, and I love the ethos behind it, to deliver positive messages to tweens and teens. But it isn’t something I can continue long term in its current form.

BE YOUR Own kind of beautiful

It won’t disappear, but whatever I decide to do with it will mean I’m left feeling better about how I’m using that precious free time.

Spending my work day in the wonderful world of children’s books has made one thing very very clear. It’s time to write my own.

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I’ve always been drawn to the luxuriousness of a designer label. The quality of the fabric, the cut, the attention to detail.

I don’t actually own any, apart from a handful of Ralph Lauren tops and a coat by the same name. Hobbs and Whistles are where I go now if I want to splash out on something expensive. It’s more a case of admiring from a distance.

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There’s nothing worse than that restless feeling you get when there’s something you feel you just have to do, but you don’t. The jitteriness that gnaws at you and the ‘do I/don’t I?’ debate that ends up looping round your head for days on end.

For me it was the growing urge to write a blog post. It’s been building up over a couple of weeks, ever since I started spending part of my work day researching bloggers and finding myself dipping back into the blogosphere.

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chessington-halloween-6

Family time offline and away from it all seems increasingly rare these days, with work commitments and monthly trips overseas. But all work and no play makes for incredibly bored children during half term week, so I took some time off and we spent the afternoon at Chessington World of Adventures to experience their Halloween event, or ‘HowlOween’ as they call it.

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Train station

The problem with blogging is that as soon as you start updating your little comer of the Internet, you quickly realise how much you’ve missed it and you keep coming back.

Except not a lot happens on the daily commute between home and Reading. There aren’t really many delays to moan about, no one does anything unusual and I haven’t fallen out of the train door and made a fool of myself.

I’ve taken to reading books, such is the lack of activity going on around me. The peace and quiet wouldn’t be an issue if I wasn’t back blogging. Now I need someone to burst into song, cause a commotion, do something – anything – that would provide valuable blog content.

But they don’t. All is calm. These journeys pass without incident.

Until I return home late in the evening and it turns out I need to provide ingredients for a school cooking class the very next morning. Letters that have sat at the bottom of school bags for a week need to be signed, a deposit for a school trip needs to be paid, and five pages of a homework diary needed to be signed right this instance.

And on top of all that, worst than anything else by far I’m told, comes the announcement that we’ve run out of ketchup.

All of this as I set foot through the door.

I realise that in the life of a full time single working mum, train journeys that pass without incident are to be savoured.

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It happens every time. I discover something brilliant on Netflix and binge-watch the entire series, or five.

First it was Lost, then Breaking Bad, The Good Wife and Homeland.

This time round it was House of Cards. All four series in 4 weeks. That’s a lot of viewing. You do the maths.

But now I’m left in that place again. The Netflix hole that enters your life when a series you love ends.

Nothing feels quite the same.

The characters are gone, the story is over. There nothing to fill its place.

Occasionally you forget the hole exists and settle down in the evenings as you would normally do, only to remember that Frank Underwood has said his final line to camera. There are no more episodes to watch.

Logging on to Netflix is pointless. It’s the series, the characters, the drama, the acting you’ve been hooked on for the last few weeks that you want. Everything else is irrelevant.

So here I am, blogging instead of watching Netflix. Allowing time to pass until I can accept Frank and Clare Underwood are gone for now. Until different characters and a different storyline can take their place.

But not just yet. It’s far too soon.

 

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Couch to 5K

in Fitness, Running

Running kit

If there was the opportunity tomorrow to meet with all the old school bloggers I used to tweet with every day, I wouldn’t go.

Not because it wouldn’t be great to connect outside the walls of Facebook but because I feel older, more unfit, less comfortable with impact of the passing of the years.

We’re all younger today than we will be tomorrow. I’ll no doubt look back in years to come and wish I looked as old and tired as I do now.

So aware of my need to be a little bit fitter, a little bit healthier and a little less keen to put my feet up each evening even after a long day of commuting, I’ve taken up running.

Technically it’s less of a run and more of a light jog but running sounds better. Let’s skip over the times when it actually becomes a walk.

Running doesn’t suit me. My legs ache more than they should and my knees haven’t quite decided if they are going to allow me to continue much longer.

But I’m persevering. Thanks to the NHS’ couch to 5K app I completed my first ever 5K despite not being able to run the week before because my left knee swelled up. Six weeks before that I’d never run at all. 

Couch to 5K

It took a week to recover from the 5K and I’m only just getting out there again. My calves ached from the hills. I could only hobble down flights of stairs and wearing heels was impossible. Anyone would think I’d run a double marathon, not a little over 3 miles.

The next goal is to complete another one in a quicker time. I’m totally ruling out a 10K. I’ll leave that to the youngsters.

Now I’ve put it out there on the Inter-web that I’ve taken up running it’ll act as a motivator to keep going. And in the absence of anything else – because near 13 years olds don’t like to be written about online – it gives me some much needed blog content.

Without that there’d be months of silence. Oh hang on …

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Public footpath sign

A favourite memory of childhood is getting up while the rest of the house was still asleep and heading off on my bike in search of wild poppies in the fields a short distance from us.

I was reminded of that today as I headed off to explore the woodland about a mile from our home. No bike this time but a camera instead, I headed away from civilization and into the darkness of the woods for a couple of hours.

Entrance to the wood

It’s partly an effort to get fitter but mostly the opportunity to escape my laptop, the Internet and enjoy a slower, more relaxed pace of life in the Great Outdoors.

Woodland leaves

Totally unaccustomed to exploring the countryside I went out in totally inappropriate footwear. Converse trainers as it happens.

Woodland walk

The deeper into the wood I travelled the darker and muddier it got. A more sensible person would have worn boots.

IJ didn’t come with me – because why would anyone want to log off a computer and go for a walk – so I went alone and enjoyed some rare peace and quiet and the chance to think without music blasting out in the background.

Wooden logs

Apart from startling a deer, getting temporarily lost and nearly falling in the mud twice, the trip passed without incident.

Narrow path in the woods

I came very close to trespassing on private property but diverted my course just in time. It’s not that obvious exactly where you’ll end up when all you’ve got ahead of you is more mud.

Muddy walk in the woods

The slightly random birdhouse stood out against so much green and brown. It was close to the grounds of a school and likely put there by the staff.

Birdhouse

These mammoth tree roots caught my eye too. Rare to see them so exposed, they looked a little out of place.

Tree roots

8km and 11,000 steps later, my legs ache, my hair is totally windswept and my trainers will never be quite the same again.

Woodland flowers

But there’s really nothing better than switching off and getting back to nature for a while.

River Wey, Surrey

I’ll be doing it more often.

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This was in fact our second visit to Thorpe Park in as many weeks. My five-year-old nephew has become obsessed with the place, even though he’s only tall enough to go on a handful of rides. And the easiest way to end a five-year-old’s repeated requests to visit the park again, is to actually visit, which is how we ended up back there once again.

Thorpe Park watching the rides

It’s my favourite of the Merlin theme parks. I love the fact that it’s spacious and clean and because it’s mainly aimed at thrill seekers, the rides for younger children are rarely busy. We waited an average of five minutes for our favourite rides – Mr Monkey’s Banana Ride, Rumba Rapids and the Flying Fish rollercoaster.

Thorpe Park Mr Monkey's Banana Ride

IJ, now approaching 13, loves rides, but hasn’t yet plucked up the courage to brave the huge ones (like Stealth, which takes you from 0–80 mph in under two seconds, and Nemesis, a hanging rollercoaster with speeds of up to 50mph). The Corkscrew in Alton Towers was as terrifying as it got in my day with its one, possibly two loops. Times have changed.

Thorpe Park Stealth ride

This time she did try Thorpe Park’s Quantum. It’s a giant flying carpet a little like a pirate ship but this one that goes over the top, travelling the full 360 degrees. My stomach can no longer cope with anything so fast and furious so I was more than happy to watch from firmer ground below.

Thorpe Park Quantum

This visit, with IJ a little braver, I joined her on the spinning water ride Storm Surge for the first time, which we both loved. It was a 30 minute wait but worth it to ascend to a height of 64 feet and come sliding down in a life raft.

Watch for guests at the bottom of the ride who, just went you thought you’d survived it without getting wet, spray you with water at £1 a go. My brother and nephew were the guilty party in this case. We refused to speak to them for a full ten minutes.

We’re a fan of water rides (that you don’t get wet on), so we went on Storm Surge because the log flume at Thorpe Park is no more. You can get a glimpse of the disused ride over the fence that (mostly) keeps it out of view. It’s slightly spooky to look at sitting there abandoned. We prefer the log flume at Chessington World of Adventures so it’s no use huge loss to the park.

Thorpe Park Derren Brown Ghost Train

A short walk from its former home is the new Derren Brown ghost train ride due to open later this month (note the May 6th opening date has been pushed back). IJ’s class is going to try it out soon on a school trip to the park. She thinks it sounds brilliant. I think it sounds terrifying. The words Derren Brown and ghost train conjure up something mind blowing that leaves a lasting effect on you, and not in a good way! I’ll let IJ’s school friends try it out first.

We contemplated trying out Tidal Wave but decided the weather wasn’t quite warm enough because you really do get soaked. Not unlike the log flume that once was, the ride plunges you 85ft into the water below, creating – as the name suggests – a tidal wave.  

It’s fun to watch though and if you stand in the viewing area you can feel the spray as it hits the water. Stand in a certain spot and you get completely drenched.

Thorpe Park Angry Birds Land

It’s one for the summer months when we return. I’m planning to relax on the beach with a book and an ice cream and leave the bigger rides to the thrill seekers. I’m sticking with the dodgems, Tea Cups and Angry Birds Land.

Merlin Annual Pass image

Special thanks to Merlin for our Merlin Annual Passes. I’m a Merlin Pass Ambassador for 2016. We’ve been provided with family passes for the year but all opinions are my own.

For more information on Merlin Annual Passes visit the Merlin Annual Pass website. For details of Thorpe Park visit ThorpePark.com.

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We decided to start this year as we mean to go on, with lots of family trips out and a great deal less time wasted indoors. So being a  2016 Merlin Annual Pass Blogger Ambassador meant we could spend New Year’s Day at Chessington World of Adventures.

Thankfully for those of us who stayed up until midnight and weren’t quite ready for the usual day of rollercoasters that Chessington offers, only a small section of the park was open. We were able to enjoy a handful of rides, the arcades, the Sealife Centre, the zoo and the fabulous new Penguin Bay at a far more leisurely pace.

Chessington arcade

It didn’t stop the kids running around and exploring, and going on one ride after another, but it meant the adults could take things a little more slowly and observe from the sidelines when needed.

For the youngsters in the group – IJ, 12, and her cousins, 7 and 4, the Amazu Treetop Adventure with its walkways between the trees was a particular favourite, and on a bitterly cold day it was wise to keep moving.

heChessington Treetop Adventure

I fell in love with the new penguin enclosure, Penguin Bay. It was still being build went we last visited at Halloween so it was our first glimpse of it, and although it’s quite small the bonus is that you can get up really close to the penguins. From the observation point you can actually see them dive underwater, which was fascinating to see.

Chessington penguins

We’re often guilty of only spending times on the rides when we go to Chessington, but now we’ve seen the penguins and spent more time exploring the zoo, it’s a section we won’t neglect next time.

It was a little cold to stand and watch the penguins being fed while their keeper told the audience more about them, but that’s also marked on our list for next time.

Chessington penguins

Next to the Amuzu Treetop Adventures are these unusual creatures, which are apparently the largest living rodents. I’ve no idea what they are called. The one on the left seemed keen to pose for the camera.

Chessington Zoo 2

Expect lots more updates from the 32 attractions that comprise the Merlin Group. We’ll be visiting many as part of their ambassador programme as we’ve been given complementary Merlin Annual Passes. We made great use of the one we had last year and if you visit theme parks regularly they are definitely worth it, as paying individual admission prices on the door can quickly add up.

The BIG New Year Sale

The Merlin Annual Pass is currently on sale if you’re interested in purchasing one or several, with prices starting at £99.

With a Merlin Annual Pass, holders can experience some of the UK’s biggest and best attractions, including the Coca-Cola London Eye, THORPE PARK Resort, Dream Works Tours Shrek’s Adventure! London, Chessington World of Adventures Resort, Cbeebies Land at Alton Towers Resort, LEGOLAND®, Windsor Resort, The National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham and more. Special benefits and discounts will also be unlocked.

Premium Merlin Annual Pass holders get priority entry to all of Merlin Entertainments’ UK attractions as  well as exclusive short break offers, three Share the Fun vouchers where a friend can join you for just £10, three Fastrack vouchers at Resort Theme Parks worth £5 each, money saving perks as well as complimentary parking at Resort Theme Parks.

The BIG New Year Sale ends at midnight on Monday 15th February 2016.

For more information please visit www.merlinannualpass.co.uk.

MAP Ambassador Rosette

Special thanks to Merlin Annual Pass for our family day out at Chessington!

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2015 tags

Usually at this time of year I’d write a round-up of my favourite blog posts of the past year. It would be a way of looking back over the year’s blog content and reminiscing a little at the things we’d done and the journeys we’d had.

But this year a full time job, a three-hour daily commute, my own business and a 12-year-old child (not in any order of importance) has meant that lots of exciting things have happened this year, there just hasn’t been the luxury of time to write about them.

I must try harder in 2016 even if it means throwing together a post on a train, a little like I’m doing now. (Note: I’m not on a train, I’m just throwing this post together.)

So instead I’m reflecting on the posts I could have written but didn’t, because it’s been another happy, crazy unpredictable year. Let’s just assume I did write them. Here are a few highlights:

The obligatory Christmas post where we enjoyed a blissful few days relaxing with family, and for the first time in years we could spend it at home rather than travelling back to the north (as my parents live near us now). No travelling across the country, battling with suitcases on a packed (and probably delayed) train meant it was perfect.

Our trip to the X Factor Live Final at Wembley Arena, which was one of the best nights we’ve ever had. IJ loved seeing Reggie and Boolie as she’s a huge fan. Showing my age, I was more wowed by Rod Stewart, although Little Mix were exceptional and Louisa Johnson was without doubt the deserving winner. Seeing all the work that goes into a live production was fascinating, particularly the fact that the crew were building the set in the ad breaks!

The blog about my new job at an edtech company in London, which I enjoy so much I actually don’t mind the commute. Despite thinking my years of sitting on early morning commuter trains were over, I realised I’m still drawn to the bright lights of London and couldn’t be happier.

All the blog posts about observations I’ve made during my daily travels – particularly the morning I sat next to a photographer who spent the entire journey photoshopping three beautiful, slim models to make them look even slimmer and even more perfect. There was so much I could have written. Perhaps I’ll return to that one.

The blog post about launching my monthly subscription box service, which was a definite highlight of the year and has kept me busy doing something I love, despite not having many hours in the week to do it. I love having something that is mine that I can grow and develop as I wish, and that in it’s own little way gives back to others too.

Then there were all the blog posts about our days out, mostly to London where we love staying overnight in hotels that are really too expensive for us. The usual blog posts I write reflecting on life a little, the occasional rant about some injustice I’ve allowed to get under my skin and the blogs about blogging, because I often fill this blog with them too.

And not forgetting all the posts I wrote about IJ, now twelve and totally awesome in my unbiased opinion. She’s majorly into YouTube at the moment, both watching and creating videos. The highlight of her year (after the X Factor) was seen all her YouTube stars at the premier of Joe and Casper Hit The Road.

We didn’t have tickets the the premiere. We just accidentally wandered into it and were then allowed right up to the front where the stars were all being interviewed. That would have been another great post if the extra hour I’d like in my day had ever materialised.

So that’s about it. A whole year summed up in five minutes. All that’s left to say is Happy New Year. See you on the other side!

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Hello blogosphere

in Life

I get the sense this blog is trying to tell me something. When I logged in this morning it felt as if it was shouting at me. It was full of comments waiting for approval – all highlighted in an angry shade of red.

But it wasn’t just that.

The majority of the comments were telling me where I could buy cheap cosmetics online and the best place to find Louis Vuitton bags. The message was clear. Firstly, I need to update my spam catcher plugin, and secondly, I need to stop neglecting this blog.

Either that or I need to improve my beauty routine and buy a new handbag …

The blogging absence hasn’t been deliberate. It just ends up slipping to the bottom of the priority list when life is so busy, as it has been. Thank goodness for schools, teachers and that sense of routine that returns with the new school year. Work while parenting in the school holidays with no childcare is a guilt-ridden hell.

But that was then.

Now, it’s a new school year and a new chapter, which is what I love about September. It’s a time to start new exciting projects. A time to look back and reflect about what went before, plan for the future and take next steps. I actually prefer it to the New Year, which just doesn’t have the same sense of the newness about it for me – more a sense of nervousness about the unknown and what might be.

So with the busyness of summer behind and with it the need to stop juggling far too many things, I’ve got my weekends back and a little more time on my hands, to blog, to relax and to clear my head.

The result is a new excitement about life again and a desire to start blogging about it all. Or at least some of it. This is the internet after all …

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Sun through the trees

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Girl with red hair in Thessaloniki

Walking along the promenade on a stormy evening in Thessaloniki it was the girl with the bright red hair that caught my eye. Sitting with her friend the two teenagers were laughing and chatting together as they rested by an ancient monument celebrating Alexander the Great.

I felt it summed up the area perfectly: a mix of old and new, past and present, ancient Greece meets modern day. A place with a youthful vibe steeped in thousands of years of history.

Located in Macedonia, 540km north of Athens, Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece and home to more than one million people. Founded in 315 B.C by Cassander of Macedonia it was named after his wife, Thessaloniki, the sister of Alexander the Great.

Thessaloniki Greece

I spent five days there as part of this year’s Blogtrotters Greece tour, exploring both the newer and older parts of the city, checking out a selection of the local restaurants and mixing with some of the locals.

I found it an intriguing place with its lively bars, restaurants and pretty cobbled backstreets all set against a backdrop of ancient historical buildings, monuments and relics.

Restaurant on Old Street Thessaloniki Greece

Cobbled side street, Thessaloniki Greece

Modern apartments have built up around Roman ruins as if someone dropped a jigsaw puzzle and mixed up the pieces.

Apartments next to Roman ruins Thessaloniki

Roman ruins in Thessaloniki Greece

The modern restaurants opposite the ancient Turkish bathhouses, and the office blocks that rise up in the background, all exist in sharp contrast to one other.

Restaurants and offices by Turkish bathhouse Thessaloniki

Turkish bathhouse Thessaloniki Greece

There are cosy coffee shops, outdoor markets, boutiques and shopping malls, all a short walk from each other. You’ll find churches next to apartment blocks and small family run businesses just a street away from larger international brands.

Street art in Thessaloniki Greece

Outdoor market Thessaloniki Greece

There are fish markets and flower markets with one smelling substantially more pleasant than the other.

Fish Market, Thessaloniki Greece

Flower stalls Thessaloniki, Greece

Overlooking it all is The White Tower, the most famous landmark of Thessaloniki, built during the Ottoman era falling the fall of the Byzanitines.

It’s a former prison with a grisly past, now a museum telling Thessaloniki’s history over five floors and offering stunning views over the city (that would probably look better on a sunnier day).

The White Tower Thessaloniki Greece

View of Thessaloniki from The White Tower

To the visitor the different pieces of Thessaloniki shouldn’t fit together, but oddly they do.

A clue as to why it works lies in its history and its people. Greeks, Ottomans, Jews and Armenians lived together for 500 years, which has resulted in a city rich in different tastes, languages, traditions, beliefs and cultural values growing and existing together.

The city itself has built up in layers over several centuries with influences from King Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, the Romans, Byzantines and the Ottomans,  merged with western ideas and eastern traditions. The result is something unique.

Umbrellas Thessaloniki Greece

What keeps the city alive and gives it its vibrant and welcoming feel is its young people. It has a strong student community thanks to the presence of Aristotle University and the University of Macedonia.

Areas of the city, such as the port, have also been developed in recent years to appeal more to the younger generations.

The port in Thessaloniki, Greece

Old warehouses have been converted into bars and restaurants, which have increasingly grown in popularity, like the Kitchen Bar overlooking the water’s edge – all changes that helped Thessaloniki become the European Youth Capital, 2014.

The Kitchen Bar Thessaloniki Greece

The Kitchen Bar Thessaloniki

Old and new, past and present. The girl with the red hair and her friend were sitting metres from the waterfront, relaxing away from the lively buzz of the city. It is an area where young and old alike hang out. Couples sit together looking out into the water. One elderly man sat there fishing, alone with his thoughts.

An old city with a young heart, more characterful than beautiful, Thessaloniki is like a treasure trove waiting to the explored, with something to offer everyone and many hidden gems along the way.

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Blue sky

Many years ago when I used to blog every day and spend the majority of my time on Twitter, I’d grow twitchy if I missed a day’s blogging or if I found I had nothing to blog about.

The solution would have been to go out and do something worth blogging about. Instead I stayed indoors staring at my computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike.

Then I would click around the internet and comment on a few blogs before tweeting some more.

I’m not sure Instagram existed in those days, and there were certainly no Pinterest. If they had been around no doubt I’d have spent my time on there too.

In many ways those were happy, special times. Unique times in the evolution of the blogosphere.

I look back with fondness even if far too much of my life back then was spent online. It gave me the confidence, eventually, to seek a life offline and I’ve ended up with the slightly more balanced life I have today.

The purpose of writing all this is because today I’ve had the same twitchiness. The same urge to write a blog post. The same feeling of unsettledness struck when I realised it was nine o’clock and I hadn’t posted anything new on here.

So I’ve logged back on after logging off to write a quick post.

There’s not a lot to say except returning to the daily routine after my Greece trip has been far easier than expected. There’s reassurance in the nine to five, of regular bedtimes and early morning school runs.

The main highlight, all of that aside, was looking up from my mobile phone and noticing the virtually cloudless blue sky. Not in Greece, but here in the UK.

Plus this eagerness to blog, to put something down on screen, even if it is mindless waffle, it’s a blog post, it’s blogging. During my trip to Greece, surrounded by 40 other bloggers, I realised I’d missed it.

So here’s to blogging, routines and mindless waffle. Without them, life wouldn’t be quite the same.

My fingers have now stopped twitching.

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