To school, or not to school, that is the question…

We’ve just got home from a wonderful Bank Holiday weekend away in Wales. We had a sublimely good time. The girls put up their own tent, walked miles, climbed Snowdon and came home relaxed, fit and healthy. So my question is, why should my ten year old now have to return to school for a week long extravaganza of SATS tests, when she could be outside in the sunshine, having a jolly good time and learning lots about herself and life in general.

I feel like a complete heel making her go to school so she can suffer the stress of her teachers, when she should be learning – not sitting for hours each day in silence, regurgitating the largely irrelevant stuff they’ve been pumping into her for the last couple of terms. I had expected that by this time the SATS would have been filed in the only appropriate place – the bin. But no, our daughters’ school is still playing the game.

Well I would like someone to explain how this is doing anything positive for my child, or for any other child in her year. For that matter, I don’t even know what it’s doing for the school, other than giving a number of the staff high levels of stress and a lot of sleepless nights.

I wish I had the guts to simply keep her out of school for the next few weeks. No one is going to convince me that climbing Snowdon was less character building than a week of ridiculous tests.

Climbing Snowdon

In August 2007, we went camping near Harlech for two weeks. We thought that while we were there, we’d walk up Snowdon with the daughters, who by then were old enough and strong enough to manage the ascent. Well we really should have known better – we may have had plans, but the weather in Wales certainly wasn’t going to let a little thing like that get in its way. For a fortnight we watched from our hillock as the clouds grew thicker and dropped lower and lower every day. By the end of the first week, it had begun to rain almost all the time.

When it was time to go home, the camp site owner gave us a discount for being brave enough to tough it out until the end of our holiday. But we didn’t get up the mountain. In fact we never actually saw the top of Snowdon, so dense, low and persistent was the cloud that covered it.

So last weekend, nearly four years later, for some unimportant reason, we decided that we’d have another go. We grabbed our camping kit and our walking boots and headed off to deepest North Wales – full of optimism. And guess what? We did it!

I just can’t believe how lucky we were. We arrived at our campsite outside Beddgelert on Friday afternoon, in glorious sunshine – and for the first time in my memory, it stayed sunny for four consecutive days.

On Saturday we set off up the path from Rhyd-Ddu. The daughters were a bit daunted when we hadn’t reached the summit after half an hour, but they’re built of strong stuff, so on they went.

It was very windy, but the sun never once slipped behind a cloud, so we had the most glorious walk. Naturally, this being Wales, the summit cafe wasn’t open, nevertheless, we were well prepared with food and drink, so after a few pictures and a sit down to admire the views we felt we’d done well. Fortunately we have bladders of steel, so no problem there.

There were LOADS of other people there – I suspect most had walked up the Llanberis path.

Prize for the most bonkers people we met must go to the mountain bikers – just thinking about it makes me feel ill even now, but you’ve got to admire their spirit. Personally I’d be worried about the state of their lower anatomy – but I guess that’s their business!

So an excellent day for us, and for a great many other people too. I don’t think you get too many chances to experience something like that in that kind of weather. And best of all, the daughters loved it. It’s given them the most tremendous feeling of personal achievement and they want to go on now to walk up more hills and mountains – roll on the Lake District!

Scenery from the Rhyd-Ddu path

Claydon House, Buckinghamshire

Number Two daughter and I paid a visit to Claydon House, near Aylesbury, this afternoon. It’s one of those places that makes a good afternoon trip. I’m not sure you’d want to spend all day there though, unless you decided to walk around the fields – very lovely, especially at this time of the year when the lambs are about.

So why visit Claydon? Well, it was once the home of Florence Nightingale’s sister Parthenope, so there’s a lot of Florence Nightingale memorabilia in the house, including the room she used when visiting the house. It was also the home to the Verney family, (I understand that part of the house is still occupied by the family), one of whom was King Charles I’s standard-bearer at the Battle of Edgehill – where he was ‘slayed’ as his tomb in the adjacent churchwill tell you.

The house contains some excellent portraits. These are the kind of portraits that I love – pictures of people where their character seems to shine through – there’s all sorts, from the haughty to the coquettish – with pretty much everything in between.

The house also has some remarkably decorated rooms, which The National Trust has done a good job of making more accessible. Don’t miss the Chinese Room, where well to do visitors would be given tea. It’s so over the top, you’ll want one in your house too.

This afternoon there was a lady showing examples of items from everyday life from years back – it was fascinating – I recognised some of the pieces, but was intrigued to see others. Daughter loved it too. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that give you the most pleasure.

Claydon was meant to be a much bigger edifice than it now stands, and it’s a strangely unbalanced house, probably because of that, but it’s quirkiness is one of its attractions.

There is a second-hand bookshop in the courtyard, where I managed to get a copy of the biography of Richard III, by Michael Hicks. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to the Wars of The Roses and the people involved, so I was pleased to get my hands on this book.

The tea-room was welcome. We really needed a cup of coffee and a slice of coffee and walnut cake – yum. There’s also a little restaurant if your tastes run to that – or you’re making more of an occasion of it.

There are other attractions too, including a gallery, but that’s not really our thing, so I can’t tell you what that was like.

What could Claydon do to improve the visitor experience? Well I have to say, they’ve improved a lot since we first went years ago. Today it felt very friendly. The room guides were chatty and pleasant and definitely child-friendly. There’s lots to do and you can actually SIT DOWN in most rooms.

My only gripe is the signage to the newly sited ticket office – it’s in the wrong place. I got the impression from the ladies there, that this had been noticed, so hopefully, by the time you go, they’ll have added a couple or repositioned one or two. But that’s a tiny gripe – really being horribly picky.

Ascott House Afternoon

Well, true to my word, yesterday afternoon (after the snail racing…) number two daughter, her friend and I went off to have a stroll around Ascott House and the gardens.

(Sorry the pictures are very dark – it was a bit hazy/misty – don’t let that put you off seeing Ascott for yourself)

It’s the nearest National Trust property to our home, and every year it opens at the time when the daffodils are in flower, and every year, without fail, I manage to miss that, and instead end up going just as the daffs have really gone over. No different this year – drift after drift of sad looking brownish flower heads. Maybe next year?

Anyway, there’s so much more than just the bulbs to enjoy at Ascott. It had been quite a few years since I’d been inside the house there – it really isn’t somewhere to take small children – unless you have nerves of steel, or a very short rein.

But yesterday, we all decided to have a look around inside before we took to the gardens.

I suspect that this is not a house where children are particularly encouraged. It’s main claims to fame are its pictures and its china – neither will hold the attention for very long of young children. We quickly decided to create our own entertainment, in the form of counting the number of horses we could find in pictures or sculptures. This was made especially challenging by the race painting over the mantlepiece in the Library.

Our count was 165, but that really could do with independent verification.

For me, the highlights of the house were the cut flowers and flowering shrubs decorating the rooms, and the ‘secret’ door in the Library, which ‘holds’ amongst other titles ‘Log Book of The Ark’. Go and see it for yourself .

I’ll go back another day when I don’t have the children in tow to have a good look at the pictures. There was a lovely Gainsborough of a lady with ginger hair, wearing a blue dress – also in the Library, which was beautiful – must go again for a longer look.

The gardens at Ascott are its real attraction. The house itself might not be what you’d call child friendly, but the gardens are another matter. I’m not suggesting that they have been designed with children in mind – quite the opposite, but they are equipped with all the essentials that children need for a good time outdoors – plenty of places to run around, and even better, hundreds of places to hide.

Just the water feature I've been looking for.
The yew sundial

Take my advice though – agree a meet-up spot before they go off exploring – it’s too big a garden to be wandering about trying to find them at the end of your visit.

For us grown-ups, there’s lots to enjoy. The garden contains little mini-gardens, so you have grand water fountains close to an intimate herbaceous border, a tranquil sunken garden near a yew sundial – and loads more. This is a truly gorgeous place to stroll around.

The established South gardens are wonderful, with their extensive views out across the Buckinghamshire/Bedfordshire border – one chap yesterday was telling his party that he could see the roof top of Mentmore Towers – perhaps he could.

But don’t miss the newer gardens laid out to the north of the house. These are a modern extravaganza – light-hearted and quirky. Yesterday I was particularly enchanted by the circular pool with the blossom trees all in flower. If you painted it, people would think it was allegorical, maybe it is. I loved it.

The girls enjoyed their trip. Much hide and seek was had, and we all went home content.

Snail Racing

The daughters are on their Easter holiday, so as you can imagine (or may be are also going through), there’s a pretty frequent need to provide ‘something to do’.

Youngest daughter has a friend here today and later we’re all going to have a walk round the National Trust gardens at Ascott House in Buckinghamshire.

This morning the girls have inevitably been playing on the Wii, and watching some dreadful childrens’ TV programmes, but guess what? About an hour ago they decided they want to do some snail racing!

This is all thanks to The Woodland Trust who sent the girls an activity pack recently, which contained a race track and instructions no less.

So off we all trooped into the garden to select our runners (sorry, should that be sliders?). Imagine my pique – no snails anywhere. This is really insulting, because every year I feed the little b****ers and their shell-less relatives hundreds of pounds worth of delicious baby plants. So you’d think that when you actually want a couple, they’d be more than happy to oblige.

We tried watering the borders a bit, to encourage them out of their dark hide-aways, but no luck.

Finally, I plucked up courage and went ferreting in the old flowerpot pile, under the eaves of the wood shed. And voila, tucked into the bottom of a small plastic 7″ pot, were three assorted snails.

The girls have now set them up on the race track and the starting gun has sounded. I took my camera to capture the excitement at the finishing line – but they aren’t exactly rushing towards the finish post – in fact, we may be here some time. Chat amongst yourselves. I’m going to have a coffee.

If there’s anything to see before we go out, I’ll let you know.


Books & Music Intentions

Ok, I admit it, I’m a bookaholic. I read because I am. You get the picture. We’re the house that has to hire an extra lorry to carry the books if we move house. We don’t have a library – good grief, nothing so organised – instead books are liberally strewn around the house on a motley lot of book shelves, beside beds, on the top of the toilets etc, etc.

So it would just be churlish of me to blog and not have a little section for the reading matter, because, well let’s face it, I  spend a lot of time doing it.

I very rarely review books on Amazon (not unheard of, but definitely not an everyday occurrence). The thing is, I like to let a book ‘sink in’ before I decide if I’d recommend it to anybody else or not. And I’m often conscious that although I might not like something, another person might like it very much – who am I to say. So here, I’m going to simply say what I think as I think it – good or bad, happy or sad.

As for music – well I’ve realised that at different times in my life, music has been especially important. I’ve come across CDs that have immediately transported me back to the time or place when I played it first. It’s like the soundtrack to my life and an expression of my emotions.

So entirely for my benefit (but hopefully for your entertainment), I’m going to keep a note here of what I’m listening to, and what I’m feeling about it.


Visits Intentions

Now the one thing that is certain is that I’m a girl who likes to get out. I love home, but I was born with a healthy dose of wanderlust genes too, so I tend to get out and about quite a lot, it keeps me sane.

Although I have a special interest in historical places, this category isn’t necessarily going to be about them exclusively. Instead I’m going to use this section to record my thoughts on the wider range of visits out that I get up to.

I might get a bit boring here, because one of the places I walk along almost everyday, is the Grand Union Canal. It’s where I get my exercise, but also and perhaps most importantly, it’s also where I get my head together – so if I start to drone on, feel free to pass over those posts.

The Grand Union Canal

Having said that, it’s nearly Easter and the time of year when lots of historic houses open up for the first time after the winter closures – I can feel trips coming on.

Posts here might be spasmodic, but that’s just the way it is.

Home-Life Intentions

Home-life is where it all happens in my life. In this part of the blog I intend to talk about any aspect of day-to-day life that tickles my fancy. It could be as mundane as a discussion on the height of my ironing pile, or as sophisticated as the philosophy of motherhood (unlikely I think, but not impossible).

So what I’m actually saying is – don’t know until the moment what I’ll talk about, but it will loosely be related to stuff that happens in or around the home.


Mostly Motley hits the ground limping…

Hello. Welcome to Mostly Motley, the home to various fragments of trivia from a woman who at forty-something is still wondering what I’ll be when I grow up. But never mind that, all the good text books on blogging (are there really any good ones?), say you should specialise – don’t go too far off your subject, stay with a theme … well stuff that. My brain doesn’t do single-minded. So instead, I’ll bore the pants off you with whatever manages to fire me up long enough to stop whatever else I was up to, and sit down at the Mac instead – should give plenty of room for manoeuvre.

I’m off now to play with the settings here and there – don’t stick around, go and do something more interesting and come back later – who knows, I might have something to say by then.