Alex’s Arty #100forChildsi

My first sketch for the #100forChildsi challenge. Yes, i did it very quickly.

My first sketch for the challenge. Yes, i did it very quickly.

The short version of this story, without the biographical waffle, is here. It’s the most important bit, and I’d love it if you would read it and consider donating. 

It’s a funny thing, but I didn’t realise until very recently how much I wanted to be an artist.

I have always wanted to be a writer. It’s my favourite part of my job, I go to Urban Writers Retreats, I read lots and I think about writing a lot. But, if I’m really honest, other than professionally – and here on this blog – I don’t do that much of it. I find it hard to write except in specific ways and spaces. It’s not something I find easy to do scribbling down a few ideas by hand; I need a laptop, a lack of diversions, a focus.

Writing will always be my first love. But it’s not really the form of creativity I employ most of the time. What I do – what, I’ve only just recently come to realise, I’ve always done – is draw.

As a child, I doodled incessantly. My rough book and homework diary were covered in sketches and lettering, particularly the recurrent themes of skirts and dresses, shoes and boots and mirror writing. I drew a lot of eyes with dense, spiky eyelashes; bottles were another favourite so I could shade in the curves and give them a little bit of three-dimensional depth. My art teacher – ah, wonderful Mrs Aplin – told me it was a shame I didn’t continue on to GCSE art, and I assumed this was because she was kind and tactful. It occurs to me now she might have meant it, but it’s rather too late to ask. When we could choose a number of subjects for free general study at A Level, I was right back in the art room, making theatre masks (one was unspeakably awful, like some sort of horror movie sex doll) and then hastily changing track to ink and watercolour, where I was merely a bit crap, and sometimes okay. I remember once doing quite an involved pencil copy of the cover of a magazine and realising that – albeit in a lumpen, potato-y kind of way – it was recognisably similar to the source material. (The cover shot in question was of Jan de Bont; that stayed with me because of the infamous scalping story). And this really has been the essence of my life in art: everything’s always looked more or less how it was meant to, kind of – but not exactly.

And so gradually, I began to wish that I was “good at drawing”. That I was some miraculous talent who could seamlessly translate what was in my head onto paper. Who could have a gift for a dash of colour here, a smear of white there, which would just so render the shape, lighting or depth I wanted. I was drawn to deceptively simple, cartoonish sketching – since my favourite artists range from Edward Hopper and Francis Bacon to Mary Blair and Oliver Jeffers, I’ve never been about photorealistic, perfect portraiture, but about colourful, sometimes impressionistic, worlds. I wanted to be able to swish a pencil across a page and instantly create an understanding of the form I was going for in someone else’s mind. But, I wasn’t born with the talent, so…

So, yes, for a relatively smart person, I can be pretty stupid, huh? Of course there are natural talents, but as a very smart lady, Stacey Conway of AXES, once reminded me about her own musical abilities, it takes a shitload of hard work to turn the seedling of talent into the blossom of good art. And I wasn’t really doing that hard work. Or at least, I didn’t think I was, except for maybe that time I doodled – while listening! I always listen – through that meeting, and when I bought acrylics and created Moomin pictures for Ramona, and when for several nights in a row Ash would sit with me and challenge me to draw various animals in minute-long pencil sketches, or every single time I mapped out any project, content calendar or presentation in diagrams and sketches, or all those times I said “I can’t explain this, let me draw it for you”. I’d been practising all along. Just not regularly enough or in a focussed enough way to make it really come together.

Late last year, I decided to carry a notebook and some fineliners around with me all the time. At least once a week or so – alright, maybe once a fortnight – I’d sketch something, and while I was on holiday a week or so ago I spent two days at the V&A, one of them mostly devoted to sketching. I’ve become semi-serious about getting better, thinking of characters to develop, and even planning a stop-motion animation that will involve painting and crocheting some sets. But I’m used to having big ideas and then distracting myself away from completing them.

And then, #100forChildsi happened. I was challenged to get sponsorship to fulfil a life’s wish. And I felt pretty embarrassed, because the kinds of life’s wishes that Child’s i grants – well, God it makes my droning about lack of talent extraordinarily pathetic. These are children who for one reason or another have been abandoned, and found themselves in emergency care. And Child’s i works on the principle that children are better off in homes than institutions, and where possible they’re best off with their families. And so it reunites family members and helps children avoid orphanages. Now that’s what I call fulfilling a life’s wish.

Next to that, my lack of commitment to something I enjoy is pretty ridiculous. So I’ve joined the #100forChildsi team to raise £100 by doing a drawing or sketch or painting every day for 100 days and snapping the results for Instagram (or at least bits of them – I reserve the right to edit down the really rubbish stuff!). And I’m asking family, friends or generous strangers to encourage me by helping the extremely deserving charity, which is pretty tiny and punches well above its weight. Your money will be put to good use. My JustGiving page is here, and you can see what the rest of us have pledged to do on the team page. You can also find out more about it there, and maybe join us. Everyone is welcome, bucket list in hand.

Now, best get moving so that I have enough time to do my next sketch tomorrow…

Five reasons to love Collectif clothing

collectif I’m sure you’re all very smart and knew all these anyway. But it’s rare that I get all that excited about clothes – I like them, but I often struggle to find affordable stuff that fits and that is worth getting excited about. And I will always enjoy days in battered Uniqlo jeans and my 1980s EPCOT hoodie.

But anyway, just in case you didn’t know about this – or perhaps feel the same way – here are my five reasons to love Collectif.

1. It’s vintage-inspired without you having to actually look for vintage stuff. Which, while it’s lovely and addictive and incredibly rewarding, is also time-consuming and frequently disappointing (especially if, like me, you only ever find things you like in teeny, tiny sizes). Plus, vintage looks look awesome with flats. Which this never-wearing-heels-again woman is pretty happy with.

2. The size range is respectable, going from 8 to 22, and using a roughly 1940s ratio for the fit – which means that if you have a relatively broad waist-to-hip ratio, things will fit beautifully. And though I’m quite tall at just short of 5′ 9″, the longer skirt lengths means they still fall just below the knee and look fab. I’m a 14 in M&S but a 16 at Collectif, but I don’t care about going up a size when things fit perfectly (and we all know M&S is a bit of an ego massage anyway).

3. The prices aren’t low, but they are much lower than many similar brands. I ain’t never giving up my love for Vivien of Holloway, but I can’t afford a £100+ dress very often at all. So for everyday looks, Collectif is a much more accessible source. And there are excellent sales – I bought at least one skirt for just £15.

4. The service is a joy. Easy, quick returns (sadly, not everything can look good), stupid questions answered with grace and charm, and unexpected postal problems swifty resolved.

5. There are high street stores too! I haven’t actually visited one yet, but I’m very much going to. As soon as I can risk the dent to my bank account.

My favourite pieces so far have been this sturdy yet elegant navy cotton anchor-patterned cardigan (which, in spite of my shoddy photography, rightfully got much Instagram love), a slinky, high-waisted skirt and, well, another gorgeous high-waisted skirt. A nipped in cardigan, a stretchy VoH belt, some ridiculous earrings and a smear of silly-bright lipstick – it feels like do-anything armour on days when looking confident helps you to feel the same way.

Anything I’m less keen on? Well, cigarette pants look awful on me, but I don’t think I can blame them for that. Oh, and I’d love to see an even bigger accessory collection.

And hey, now it gives me plenty to wear at Bea’s

No sponsorship, just an honest bit of love because I felt like it.

Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms, Bath

photo 3Back in mid-February, I was lucky enough to have a few days off to go and do Fun Things, like spend an extended period of time with a good friend I usually only get a few hours out and about with. As I had tickets to a signing with one of my favourite authors which also happened to be within striking distance of an old friend who is also a supremely talented author (and to whom, as teens, it turns out I recommended the first author’s books), we squeezed in a fab two night stay in Bath.

I’ll likely blog some other thoughts about why Bath is a must visit another time, but one of the highlights for both of us – teatime obsessives the pair – was fitting in a visit to Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms. My friend K found the place online, and we were immediately keen, what with it being a lovely theme and by far one of the most reasonably priced teas we’d seen.

We ambled over around 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon, ducking in just as the weather was looking a bit suspicious, and being seated at one of the window tables for two. “Vintage” at Bea’s is wartime – WWII to be specific – and the decor is heavy on the tchotchkes and bric-a-brac, but with particularly themed areas, such as a small arrangement of utility fashion, furniture and crockery placed near the air raid shelter themed loos downstairs. The stairwell is papered with posters; Keep Calm does make an appearance, but feels welcome in this setting, if no other (alright, maybe not the cheesy cupcake one) and the tea sets are charmingly mismatched.

The staff are incredibly helpful and friendly, and we quickly ordered. I couldn’t resist trying the oolong tea – I’m a bit obsessed as my Tumblr suggests – and K had the traditional English Breakfast. All teas are loose leaf and, if the enormous gold canisters behind the counter are any indication, come from JING. I’ve bought gorgeous silver needle from JING before, and tea-loving friends often recommend it, so this, I felt was a good sign. My tea arrived with a little hourglass for accurate brewing.

The standard afternoon tea includes a round of finger sandwiches (salmon, egg and cucumber if I remember rightly – two of each), a scone with cream and jam and two generous slabs of freshly homemade cake in two flavours. The assortment changes daily, and we got chocolate cherry and lemon drizzle. There is always one option available with no gluten based ingredients, though I don’t know if the kitchen can be classed gluten-free, and there are some savoury options that can be modified or swapped out, but if you need a totally GF menu it’s best to call at least a day in advance and they can make appropriate arrangements – though they don’t generally take reservations except for private parties of 10-20 guests.

The sandwiches were made up at the counter after we ordered, so were fresh, soft and buttery; the scones were lovely and light. The chocolate cake was lovely and crumbly, but the lemon was the absolute winner for me – a gorgeous balance of sweet and tart with a dusting of cute sugar shapes and a particularly good texture.

There is a function room downstairs for parties, and a trip to the loo – while disquieting for anyone verging on the claustrophobic – is worthwhile if for no other reason than to poke (figuratively) around the little displays.

Afternoon tea is £9.95 for one or £19.95 for two – not including the price of the tea, if I remember rightly – but to stop in for a cup of tea and a cake will cost from around £6 per person if that’s all you fancy. The menu is also heaving with delicious sounding breakfast and lunch dishes, which I will definitely try on any future occasion that I’m lucky enough to be in the area.

And though I did wear a tea themed cardigan and a slick of 40s pillarbox red lipstick, next time I might even fully dress for the occasion just for the fun of it!

Note: This was an entirely personal trip, paid for by us, and is not a sponsored or requested review. I just think you should go there, because I liked it.

On raising an inter-faith kid

I haven’t written much about the religious element of our household because frankly I think of blogging as a little bit like having a private conversation in the middle of a crowded pub; yes, I’ll reveal quite a lot about my life, but on the understanding that a bunch of randoms are listening in. And frankly, the very last thing I want to talk about with the randoms of the Internet is religion. And yet, I find myself writing this. We’ve navigated Christmas and Hannukah, Pesach and Easter are around the corner – it just seems like the time to get a few thoughts down. I can’t promise they’ll make much sense.

I spend most of my time online surrounded by lefty, feminist, yogurt-crocheting types like me, and of course they’re largely atheist or agnostic; those that aren’t, like the awesome Hannah Mudge, are excellent, but actually I don’t want to immerse myself too much in that part of the Twitterverse either. This is partly because I feel like faith is a fiercely private thing (one of the many reasons I object to state-funded religious education despite being a signed-up member of a particular faith), but also because a lot of what I come across is very much about a particular faith – so often evangelical Christianity, which to this Greek Orthodox-raised kid is as foreign as any non-Christian denomination could be.

If my adopted surname isn’t too much of a giveaway, we also ain’t a one-faith household.

I’ve thought about blogging what we do to try and tread that line between faiths and opening our daughter up to the idea of faith in general, but really, we’re stabbing in the dark as much as anyone. Had I married someone ‘like me’, I’d have done the default Christening and never thought about it twice; now, confronted with being unable to make that choice for her, I wonder why I thought it would even be okay to do so. I mean, I spend so much time hanging out in spaces where all we talk about is broadening girls’ horizons and choice, choice, choice, and here I’d be trying to sign her up from birth to a club she can’t even understand.

Equally, I know that she might find herself partially excluded from part of her identity. Many reform and liberal Jewish groups will be glad to welcome her with open arms; should she ever want to become more conservatively Jewish, however, she’ll find she has to convert, despite her father’s blood. Judaism is matrilineal; this is considered to be for spiritual as well as practical reasons. There is certainly quite a lot of hand-wringing over intermarriage – or, to use a phrase that literally has me squirming in my chair with irritation, “marrying out” – in the Jewish community if letters from Disgruntled of Golders Green to the JC are to be believed. (I think my favourite was the one from the woman who said gentile women having children with Jewish men were “finishing Hitler’s work”).

I kind of feel it leaves her on even footing, though. Should she choose to identify more closely with either tradition, she’ll have to go through the process of becoming a member of the group from scratch, more or less – though at least the traditions of both will be familiar to her. No matter what, she’ll observe apple dipping, candle lighting, fasting and chometz avoidance in addition to temporary veganism, icon kissing, wine sipping and egg smashing. She’ll witness both, at different times of year and in different households; on a more frivolous note, she’ll also get way too many presents. She’s started to refer to herself as ‘half-Greek, half-Jewish'; although the latter is not a nationality and the former is not a religion, it’s only the beginning of a process through which she’ll come to understand her place in the world from a cultural and religious perspective.

And you know what? No, I don’t worry about her getting confused. I feel I should be somehow apologetic about this, but I’m just not. I can’t see how being descended from two such rich and beautiful traditions can be anything but wonderful – even were she to end up never being fully part of either. Before the theology even comes in to play, there are different, yet often complementary, languages and music and art and literature and thought and spirituality and ethics and history. I feel she’s incredibly lucky to have all that to draw on from such a close perspective, especially as with a writer mum and artist dad she’s likely to be creative in some way or other (and really, isn’t everyone, somehow? I reckon there’s creativity in practically any path, if you’re open to it).

So there are my thoughts. Garbled and emotional, for sure, but show me a parent who’s totally sorted and I’ll… probably feel guilty about it.

TMI, parenting and trusting your instincts (with added Frozen)

Do you ever get principle fatigue? Where you know, you believe and you accept that something is anger-making, worth getting angry about and should be changed, but you just can’t seem to pull enough of yourself together to care right this minute?

Genuinely, I think that’s where a whole lot of those incredibly irritating “bigger things to care about” comments come from. I mean, such a statement is self-evidently nonsense (not a zero-sum game, people), but I think it might come from that place of information overload. A place you reach where, even if you haven’t even done any particular activism lately, you just feel too tired to.

I’m at that point with so many things at the moment, but particularly parenting issues. I have reached the pinnacle of Too Much Information.

For example.

I grew up fat. I am thinner now than I was as a teenager. All those “wow, remember when I had a tiny waist and now I’m so wide!” stories are a mystery to me – that never happened. I would have loved an atmosphere where I didn’t go to a slimming club at 14. Or where one week I lost 4lbs because I’d been really sick and hadn’t eaten, and told them that but was still congratulated, and the following week I was cautioned to ‘be careful’ after gaining back half a pound now I could keep food down. Where I could buy clothes from the same places as the other girls. Where I could dress my age instead of trying to make clothes designed for 40 year olds work.

Of course part of it all is about the messages you get from your parents; as a girl, your mother’s modelling of body positivity is important. But I’m not here to shred her for every negative thing she said, or celebrate her for every positive thing she did. The fact is, she did her best and has always been an excellent mother. I understand that more than ever now.

Over the past year, there’s been a drip feed of articles about body positivity across the very brilliant communities I’m a part of, and the wider media too. In essence, this should be a good thing. However, like many things that go through the media wringer, it doesn’t quite arrive in the same state it started out in. “Girls of three reject fat dolls” because of “mothers’ griping, fathers’ sniping” decides one article. In another, “experts” decide that mothers “have the biggest impact on girls’ body image”. These are just a couple of examples, but there are many, many more. What I love about the gender-positive communities I take part in, is that there is a critical and interesting conversation around these – talking about how “mum” does not exist in a vacuum, and she didn’t just pick these negative ideas up out of nowhere. There are plenty of positive tips and affirmations and support in learning to give up destructive “fat talk” and those are awesome. I just feel like I can’t really bear one more of these stories being picked up by the wider media because all I can hear is “It’s. Your. Fault.”

Parents have ultimate responsibility for their kids’ safety and development, yes, but we are not magical creatures who can, the moment a person lands into our lives – be it through our own body, our partner’s or a surrogate or birth parent’s – suddenly forget all the conditioning and crap we carry with us. We will have flaws. Furthermore, we all know Philip Larkin was a bit right.

Now, I know what people will say at this point. The argument goes one of two ways.

1. If you’re feeling guilty, maybe you should reassess, and you’re not doing what’s right for your family.

2. These articles are only meant to help, not to put pressure on. THE MOMMY WARS AREN’T REAL, MAN!

The problem with the first one is that it’s ridiculous. First, it assumes that everyone is in a position to live exactly how they’d like in their ideal world, just by making a few simple changes like eating oats for breakfast or running a marathon. Obviously rubbish. Secondly, it assumes that guilt just evaporates if you try to address everything you worry about. That might be true of some things, but I suspect some worry and guilt is more habit than an actual gut sign that something is wrong.

The second one sort of is and isn’t true. I do think the Mommy Wars are massively overstated and some articles are linkbait trolling. And no, each individual article is of course, NOT ABOUT YOU. But the overall culture that is created when we keep repeating these tropes that parents are the ultimate pinnacle of influence – and therefore the insinuation that we can control all outcomes - is damaging. It is putting pressure on. It is, collectively, saying that there is no responsibility on the individual until they become a parent, and then there is ALL THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR EVERYONE (presumably even for non-parents, since they are never asked to take responsibility for anything more difficult than a cat, right? After all, if you don’t have a kid, you can’t possibly be a whole person).

And this is the point at which my head explodes and I simply can’t take anymore. Because yes, of course raising children is a mammoth and serious responsibility, but there is just no way that I can get it all right. No. Way. And, no matter how it looks from the outside, neither can anyone else.

Now, I’ve written, repeatedly, about things I think about and do and think are important when raising a child – like this piece about consent and making children kiss and hug friends and relatives that I wrote just before the issue hit the news, which I’d call very prescient of me except that I’m hardly the first person to have written about it. But I hope I’ve never suggested that this means I get it right all the time. In fact, I’m planning a follow up piece on that one to talk about some of the issues that came out of the first – and maybe consider practical ways to make it easier to make this a natural part of parenting. But then am I contributing to this feeling of TMI if I do that? Am I just adding to the noise?

Of course, one could just not read this stuff. But aside from the fact that I both personally like being part of the parenting community and it is highly relevant to my job, I don’t think “just don’t look” is a very convincing argument in a world where media are everywhere. That’s just silly. It is not possible to ignore the world, and to some extent we must all engage with it. And so – that sense of responsibility burned into my soul – I must ask myself hard questions about contributing to my part of it, and how I can do so without encouraging the feeling of being burnt out that I am rapidly boiling over to.

And so I come to parents trusting their instincts. It’s a powerful thought, this, but it’s phenomenally difficult to do because – contrary to intuition – you can’t shut down the flow of information altogether and expect this to happen. You can’t turn off the taps, because you need a drip feed of stuff that helps to keep you ticking, keep you thinking and keep you understanding the instinctive and deliberate things you do as a parent. How do you fit that filter to your mental tap? How do you decide what you let in, and what you don’t? Is it only the stuff you already agree with? We do that to a greater or lesser extent anyway, but you do have to challenge yourself occasionally.

That’s the tricky bit. I’d more than happily parent by instinct, if I always knew which instincts to trust. I know I can’t trust the ones that tell me never to let her out of my sight or do anything by herself, so I willfully ignore those thoughts in order to help her grow and be resilient, capable and brave. I know I can trust the ones that told me it was fine to feed her peanut butter whenever because we have NO history of allergies anywhere. Also the ones that say she does not have to be clean all the time. Ooh, and the ones that say I’m allowed to get seriously peeved at her, as long as at the same time I also listen to the ones that say that walking away and counting to ten before getting down to her level and talking it out is WAY more effective than yelling, even if yelling is what I really, really want to do.

Essentially I need to go from this:


To this:




Disneyland Paris with a Pre-Schooler: Sequoia Lodge

If you’re interested in more of a general overview of staying at Disneyland Paris (aka DLRP), please read this post first. If you’re all about the food, head here. None of these posts were in any way suggested by, paid for or anything to do with DLRP – this is just a family holiday report.

If you’re planning a trip to Disneyland Paris, one of the first questions you’ll need to ask yourself is “which hotel?”. There are several considerations – on site or off? If off-site, a Disney affiliated hotel or not? What the hell is my budget? – but this particular posts assumes the possibility of choosing a Disney resort hotel, but perhaps not having the budget for the gloriously convenient Disneyland Hotel – the one which sits proudly over the gates of the Disneyland Park itself.

There isn’t really a low-budget Disney option per se, but don’t make too many assumptions based on Disney’s rating system; its ‘keys’ are not exactly equivalent to usual star ratings. For what it’s worth, Sequoia Lodge is a 3-key hotel and this does seem to roughly translate to three star, but I’m not sure this necessarily applies across the board.

Based a 15 minute walk – or short bus ride – from the station and parks, Sequoia Lodge is spread over a main large hotel building (whose exterior shots on the DLRP website in no way do it justice) and several low lodges that extend back through the land surrounding the property. The theming is rather suggested by the name, and the towering evergreens clustered around the property don’t disappoint; we even spotted a rabbit bouncing around in the grass!

Approaching Sequoia Lodge

Approaching Sequoia Lodge

Buses run from directly outside the hotel every 15 minutes (allegedly; it’s was actually often a lot faster than that), but it can also be walked in that time. Due to the colder, wetter weather and easily tired legs of the youngest of the party we didn’t try it, but I’m told it’s a lovely walk. If you’re ridiculously energetic, a run around the hotel grounds would make a great start to the day.

When arriving, there was a temporary-looking security tent set up outside the front door, which rather ruined our first impressions; more to the point, the only people who put their bags through the scanner were the ones who ambled over out of that British sense of Doing The Right Thing. The rest simply charged straight past unchallenged – so quite what the point of it was, I’m not sure.

The main reception is spacious and lovely, all wood panels, crazy paving and bear statues. The desk staff were quick and efficient, providing one person from each room with a pack of tickets, maps and general information, and booking the breakfast sitting for the week. For this, you’re handed little colourful tickets marked with the day and sitting time (it’s the same time all week). Pay attention to when Extra Magic Hours are; if you’ve paid to book a Disney hotel you surely want to take advantage of these. In our case, Fantasyland in Disneyland Park opened from 8am, two hours ahead of general opening hours, so we opted for a 7:30am breakfast, deciding 7am was just that bit too early.

Sequoia Lodge reception

Sequoia Lodge reception

Also in the main building is the concierge desk, which is great for booking restaurants, character meals and dinner shows, and giving you information about special events and the local area. Beyond that, heading back and down, are the two restaurants; the Hunters Grill and Beaver Inn Tavern, while on the same floor there’s the lovely Redwood Bar and Lounge (complete with roaring open fire in winter) and a small but well-stocked shop with Disney Parks merchandise. There’s also a themed posing area for character meet and greets; I understand that it’s common for characters to frequent Disney hotel lobbies around check-in time, and my daughter was incredibly delighted to find Pluto waiting for us when we arrived.

The Redwood Lounge

The Redwood Bar and Lounge

The only request we made was to link our bookings on the website and ask for adjoining rooms if possible; we didn’t check to see if this had been done, but it had. It might have been easier to accommodate us because it was term time, but we had two lovely double rooms linked by a connecting door in the Big Sur Lodge. This was towards the back of the complex, next door to the lodge which houses the swimming pool.

The whole hotel underwent a substantial refurbishment in 2011, bringing an apparently much-needed coat of paint and some new Bambi theming in the rooms. Annoyingly, I’ve misplaced the photos we took inside the rooms, but will post them as soon as I can track them down! Decor is quite dark, but not dingy; the dark woods contrast beautifully with paler walls, and the result is lovely and cosy. The bathrooms are compact, but contain everything you need (bathtub with a showerhead, shelf and towel rail, loo), with an external sink. Tap controls were easy to work out, and water pressure was great. The only complaint was that housekeeping was a little spare with the mouse-eared toiletries. These were just a bottle of shower gel and a Mickey-imprinted soap; it took til day 2 to get an extra bottle or two, and there was no array of the kinds of knick knacks you find even in cheap chains these days, nor signs indicating that you might be able to grab a spare toothbrush etc. There’s also a wall-mounted hairdryer of the kind I tend to refer to, childishly and with accidental punnery, as ‘mouse-fart dryers’ because they usually provide about that level of warm air; I brought my own, though my mother-in-law used the room’s dryer and declared it perfectly adequate.

Our room contained two standard doubles, so did feel a little crowded, but to be honest we weren’t there much. There was a large chest of drawers and a TV that wasn’t used because we were too busy being out and about; opposite the sink there was a small clothes rail and the all-important room safe. There is no mini-bar or fridge.

The adjoining room only had one bed, a fairly vast king-size number, and therefore felt much bigger despite being the same dimensions. Both were perfectly clean and in an excellent state of repair. The connecting doors came in very handy on the night we stayed in the parks and my in-laws took care of our three-year-old, as they could put her to bed and keep an eye and ear out from the adjoining room without disturbing her with light or TV sounds. For bigger families, it could also be a useful way to put the youngest, who have to sleep earlier, in a separate space while others stay up later. We didn’t opt for any sort of child bedding, as our daughter is big enough to sleep in a normal double by herself and indeed she did so perfectly comfortably.

Beds were lovely, and a medium softness which is perfect for me; I have a bit of a knackered back so hard or very soft beds are hard work for me (too hard, and my hips and lower back ache; too soft and I strain my back trying to turn over!). Pillows were so deep we both dispensed with the second one.

The setting is beautifully peaceful and dark (though you can see hints of Disney Dreams! far off!), and being apart from the main building there was very little noise; there was one occasion when I heard a rather loud family bumbling in late-ish – as the parks were closing at 9pm and Disney Village started wrapping up by 11pm, there was no reason to come back staggeringly late – but the walls and doors were solid enough that it wasn’t a major issue.

Breakfast is orderly and plentiful, with a range of cereals, baguette and ciabatta rolls, cold cuts, cheese, jam, chocolate spread, butter, marge, fruits and yogurts. There’s a machine with hot chocolate (decent), coffee (according to Ash, coffee-flavoured hot water, but he really likes coffee) and hot water for various teas, plus apple and orange juice on tap and plenty of jugs of cold milk. Scrambled eggs or other cooked options range in price from €3-4.50. Ash tried the scrambled eggs, and said they were fine, but nothing to write home about. We found it very easy to get in and grab a table, but my sister’s family – who went during October half-term – found very long queues and crowds.  Bearing that in mind, you should consider the earliest, 7am dining slot if you’re visiting during school holidays because of older kids, and are keen to get in and out in time for EMH.

I didn’t personally experience the evening buffet at Hunters Grill, but my in-laws took our daughter and all three of them were raving about it; my mother-in-law counted 20 options for dessert and said they were in much more generous portions than in the park (for more about park food in general, read this post). She and my father-in-law – self-confessedly not always the easiest person to feed – found the range and quality of mains on offer very impressive and felt that despite it being one of the more expensive buffets on property (around €30 per adult, and more than half that for kids), it was one of the best value.

We sadly didn’t have time (or energy!) to visit the swimming pool, so I can only go on general impressions I’ve gained from reviews on this one; it usually gets a very good reaction, with only a handful of complaints saying it was on the cold side.

Cast members (staff) were universally helpful and pleasant; though a couple of times we encountered staff who were not fluently bilingual I’m not really sure that’s a cause for complaint – after all, Miss, this is France.


Overall, I would certainly recommend Sequoia Lodge as an excellent mid-range place to stay; the frills are fewer than you might expect from three keys, but the comfort and cleanliness are probably more than you’d expect, so I guess it balances out! I didn’t go into the Hotel New York, which was undergoing its own renovation, but the outside was a bit uninspiring and surgical-appliance pink; if you want to stay on site but don’t have the megabucks to stay in the Disneyland Hotel (and who does?!), then I think I’d skip the next one down and opt for the gorgeous surrounds of Sequoia Lodge anyway.

The only request we made in advance was to link our bookings on the website and ask for adjoining rooms if possible; we didn’t check before arrival to see if this had been done, but obviously it had. It might have been easier to accommodate us because it was term time, but you can always call and check after booking, by ringing the central reservation line.

Ten New Year wishes for my three year old daughter

Morning Pickleface!

We’re all feeling a bit the worse for wear today, and sadly it’s got nothing to do with partying but with things like fevers, snot and raging colds that Will. Not. Die. Not even on the promise of a wonderful new year! The buggers – oops, I mean, erm, boogers?

Anyway. While you sleep off the Calpol and I create a Matterhorn-sized pile of damp tissues, I have been rubbing my addled brain cells together to think of what I wish you for 2014. Of course, a list of ten can only ever be limiting, and I’m sure that many, hundreds, thousands more wishes of every size will present themselves to me before, oh, the end of the day, but here’s what’s on my mind, right now, as we blearily rub the crust from our eyes and gaze out on 365 fresh days of possibility.

1. I wish that you will crest through the fear phase and show more flashes of your fearsome, awesome side. The threenager period took me by surprise as my previously fearless daughter – who will still hurl herself off the sofa without a second thought and never has unbruised knees – suddenly started to fear things. Weird, random things. Bears. The pirates in Peter PanI Want My Hat Back. Anything new that hadn’t been thoroughly trailered and spoilered. The toilet! And those fears would come and go, and apply to some things and not others, and mean that you could go on Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast three times in a row and gleefully shoot at a huge, deafeningly loud Emperor Zurg, but you ran away from the telly when Toy Story 2 was on and he grimaced on screen. I mean, I get it – I’m a person with a bunch of weird fears myself, who can enjoy Expedition Everest but balks at the idea of ever doing Splash Mountain – a ride it took me until the age of 29 to brave – again. But I also want it to pass because I don’t want fear for you. Except a healthy fear of breaking all your bones, which is the one you don’t seem to have picked up…

2. I wish that you will finally nail this toilet training thing. I knew, like all the family from me and your auntie down to your cousins, that you would be around 3 when you cracked it because every single one of us has rocked up quite late to this party, but a recent burst of pre-schooler resistance has dragged this, erm, shit out way longer than necessary. We’re going to get a handle on this, and soon, right? Right. *high five*

3. I wish that you will continue to develop this growing interest in art and painting. I love how you’ve started to observe things and actually tried to draw what you see – do you know how hard that is?! Well obviously not and I’m not telling you because I don’t want you to think of things as hard, but it is. I also love how your passion for drawing has reignited something in your dad, and started me down a path of sketching and daubing that I’d seriously lost touch with. With two artsy parents, it’s inevitable you’ll be exposed to this stuff, and I really hope you find as much joy and satisfaction in it as we do – more, in fact, since I will always wish more of everything good for you.

4. I wish that you’ll keep up your beautiful manners. Seriously, I’m so impressed! I know you sometimes struggle to speak up when you’re shy, but your many pleases and thank yous are a joy to hear. I frequently second-guess my parenting skills, but no-one will ever be able to question this.

5. I wish that you’ll keep asking questions! My proudest moment reading your nursery ‘report’ wasn’t all the stuff you can do – I know you can write your name, recognise letters, count, build, draw, spell a bit – but the bit where A wrote “when she doesn’t know, she asks questions”. Kid, if you’ve cracked that now, the world is your sea creature of choice. Seriously. It’s so much harder than you think for adults, so if you can get in the habit now, you are So. Sorted.

6. I wish that you will never let me off the hook. Look, I know the job I signed up to. I love the job I signed up to. But it’s a total attention suck of the highest order. When you take my phone out of my hand and say “put it down, Mummy” you are doing a great service to me and yourself. But to make this wish happen I promise to really be with you when I’m meant to be. No more crafty little phone checks when I think you’re busy by yourself. I will mark out time to work and time not to work. I promise you that. No more excuses.

7. I wish that you will gain further understanding of your boundaries. I love that we’ve got into the habit of establishing your bodily autonomy, and you can be very clear about when cuddles, kisses and tickles are welcome and when they’re not. You’ve learned that we respect your opinion on this, and that we expect others to as well. Long may this continue.

8. I wish that you will keep playing Tickle Monster. Because the sound of your hysterical, unexpectedly deep and totally joyful chuckle literally pumps the blood through my heart.

9. I wish that you will keep surprising us. Whether it’s with your impressive vocabulary or your intense sweetness, your unfettered imagination or your madcap sense of humour, I hope you keep making us stare at each other and go “where did that come from?!”. Because that is never not brilliant.

10. I wish that you will watch anything other than Tangled. Please. For the love of God. I love it as much as the next person and Flynn Rider is, well, I think quite popular with many mums, but seriously, there are many not-scary films you could intersperse your 4 millionth and 4 million and first viewings with. That one time you agreed to The Aristocats gave us all hope, and I’m sure you’ll watch Frozen again when it’s out, but we need some variety yes? Good.

You know what, Stinky? I think we can achieve all this and much, much more. 2014, we’re ready for you.

With all my love,

Mummy x