Friday, 29 July 2016

Family Friendly Restaurants to Dine at Near You

Loose Ends are all about having a great time,
and that means a great time
for each and every member of the family.
There’s nothing worse than taking your knee-high nearest and dearest
out for a bite to eat
only to have to run the gauntlet
of disapproving stares
every time
their table manners
fall short of immaculate.
But equally, you don’t want to be stuck with leftover turkey dinosaurs when you’d rather be tucking into something more adult. So here is Loose End's pick of restaurants which manage to offer a family-friendly atmosphere and food which appeals to gourmets of all ages.

It’s a chain, we know, but we think Giraffe gets a lot right when it comes to family-friendliness. Its reach is fairly wide, too: you’ll find Giraffes throughout England, three branches in Scotland, and they’ve even made it to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Our absolutely favourite branch of Giraffe is at the Brunswick Centre, just a stone’s throw from Great Ormond Street Hospital, right in the heart of Bloomsbury. If you agree with us that it’s never too early to introduce future generations to the joys of pioneering medium-rise modernist architecture, you’ll love it as much as we do.

Menus vary somewhat depending on your location, but tend to take an international approach, featuring spicy yummies such as Kerala Cauliflower Bhajis and Penang Bang chicken. If you prefer to graze the Anglosphere, burgers and fries (including very good sweet potato fries) are well worth a try.

There are wholesome and appealing kids’ menus, too, and we’ve found that staff go out of their way to accommodate the needs of families. In fact: Giraffe is so amazing we wrote a poem about it once.

Ginger Bistro, Belfast

We haven’t eaten at Ginger ourselves, but we had to include it simply because we’ve heard such great things about it (on the strength of which we’re tempted to book a mini-break in Belfast). We love the idea of modern Irish cuisine based on seafood, and the restaurant’s stripped-back interior—illuminated by Moroccan and South East Asian-inspired lighting—appeals to our bohemian side.

Ginger bistro clearly isn’t a finger-food and finger-painting sort of restaurant. There’s no kids’ menu, but the establishment does declare itself to be child-friendly. You can’t book a table online or by email, though: you need to give them a call and do it the old-fashioned way.

Jamie’s Italian

We’re not fixated on huge nationwide mega-chains, we promise you, but Jamie’s Italian deserves a special mention for the quality of its interior décor, the broad appeal of its menu and the welcoming attitude of its staff. We recently went to lunch at the Chelmsford branch of Jamie’s with a total of five adults and two energetic boy-children (one aged 5, the other 18 months), and we all had a whale of a time.

The grownups tucked into fried squid, pasta carbonara and giant pork chops while the little ‘uns gnawed at pizza margarita and played ‘who can get repeatedly stuck behind the sofa and scream the loudest’. Staff charmed the 5-year-old by demonstrating the art of slicing salami, and good-naturedly returned the toddler to us when he roamed too far.

There are branches of Jamie’s Italian in most regions of the UK, so check it out when you fancy some adult nosh and the offspring want familiar favourites.

Bush Pepper, Newquay

If your kids could give Ned Kelly a run for his money in terms of larrikin behaviour, Newquay’s Bush Pepper is the restaurant for you. Stand-out dishes feature fresh local seafood, Australian specialities like Kangaroo sausages and an unusually varied and delicious vegetarian menu.

Booking is definitely a good idea because this isn’t the biggest restaurant in the world, but you’ll be glad you made the effort. You can even charm your children into early morning good behaviour with the promise of Bush Tucker breakfast or home-made banana bread. Yummy.

More company, more fun

We hope you enjoy the restaurants we’ve chosen. But don’t forget that eating out is about more than just good food – it’s also about great company. Why not download the Loose Ends app and use it to make your next restaurant outing a bigger, better, more sociable experience? Take a look at our beginners guide to get you off to a flying start.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Pizza Express and Ice Age Collision Course #PizzaExpressIceAge

Saturday we headed off to Pizza Express for a late lunch, followed by Ice Age Collision Course at the Cinema. That'll be the 5th movie that Lottie has seen - yep you can take a baby to the movies. She either stares at the lights and marvels at the sounds OR breastfeeds OR sleeps OR normally covers all three in one film. She's easy going really, my smiley baby girl. 

Originally I had intended joining everyone in London to Pizza* en masse followed by the movie at Fox HQ - how cool would THAT have been?!? But it turned out we couldn't make it so it was a family day out, instead of a blogger day out and for so many reasons it was wonderful. Yes, we didn't get to meet Sid and Scrat, but we made lots of amazing memories as a family and discovered one of the best branches of Pizza Express in the process. But more on that later. 

Pizza Express have teamed up with Ice Age Collision Course, so while you are eating, in addition to the ordinary activity sheet you get an Ice Age one, where you can enter a competition to win a family trip to Hollywood and VIP tour of the world famous Fox studios! Plus amazing goody bags, gift cards, Ice Age toys, and pizza making parties to be won EVERY WEEK. See here the terms and conditions of the Pizza Express Ice Age competition.

If you liked Buck then you'll be glad that Buck is back as you see below...

P.S. I've made pizza a doing word, as in "to pizza". It's like "to hoover" except a lot more fun and way more nutritious. So many fresh ingredients yum! And way more colourful than that there blooming acorn.
Scrat’s epic pursuit of the elusive acorn catapults him into the universe where he accidentally sets off a series of cosmic events that transform and threaten the Ice Age World.  To save themselves, Sid, Manny, Diego, and the rest of the herd must leave their home and embark on a quest full of comedy and adventure, travelling to exotic new lands and encountering a host of colourful new characters.From Producer Lori Forte and Directors Mike Thurmeier and Galen Chu, ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE will be opening in cinemas 2016 and stars returning cast members Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Simon Pegg, Keke Palmer, Wanda Sykes with Jennifer Lopez and Queen Latifah.Joining the herd are Stephanie Beatriz, Adam Devine, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Max Greenfield, Jessie J, Nick Offerman, Melissa Rauch, Michael Strahan, Neil deGrasse TysonICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE IS IN CINEMAS JULY IN 3D AND 2D 
So back to our trip. Lottie recently received a Tot Seat to review and even though it fits nearly every chair known to man it's not a good fit on ours indoors so I have been laying an egg to try it whilst dining out, as that's what it's for anyway. Oh my golly, she was so very thrilled to be able to look all round herself without an adult blocking her view, she literally scanned every inch of the restaurant (which she liked as did we) and refused, for ages, to look at the camera. I know, unusual for my model baby who normally loves nothing more than to look down the lens of a camera. First she busied herself with pulling her tights and then, I couldn't resist it, she's SO close to 6 months I tried her on the cucumber in Aaron's starter. She will literally be 6 months and weaning in a week. So I can say, she had her FIRST taste of solids in Pizza Express. I soon realised that the slices of cucumber in Aaron's starter were too slim for me to have a good grip of, so once I established that she loved the taste and loved sucking on them I asked our waiter for some chunky bits. I had already gotten to know him as a good egg, for which NOTHING would be too much trouble so I felt confident making the request. Given he has a 1 year old of his very own, he brought TWO bits and they were both big enough to chew (in a teething type way) and long enough for Mummy to hold while Lottie had a munch. She sucked so hard she hollowed them out so I had to cut off the end, start again, and then switch ends on each of the two bits. It was a lot of fun and she was utterly thrilled with herself.

Aaron was eating from the rather fabulous Piccolo menu which has dough balls to start, pictured below. As it says on the menu it comes with a fresh salad of crunchy red pepper, cucumber and fresh tomato. It's £6.95 which is fabulous as that's for 3 courses AND a bambinoccino. That's bambino, not baby! Get the jargon right and impress your waiter ;-) I will be uploading a video and I myself got it wrong on there ooooppps!!!
I had the cheesy dough balls which are called Dough Balls Formaggi. They are baked with Gran Milano cheese and served with garlic butter, priced at £4.35. Pictured below.
Daddy as always, likes to be different, so he ordered the Calamari. You won't believe it, but he loved it SO much he ordered it again, but by then he had his pizza so our WONDERFUL waiter jokingly said "shall I make it a side dish now?" It's @lightly crumbed crispy calamari rings served with Caesar dressing, lemon and fresh parsley. To die for! He let me have.... one! :-)
Aaron adored the drink that our waiter chose for him. I can't find it on the menu, but I remember him assuring us that it would not be fizzy - Aaron hates fizzy drinks thank goodness and they don't have them on the Piccolo menu anyhow. They have milk or juice. Actually, I am back with an edit, it's the Passionfruit Lemonade from the additional "fancy something special" menu and clearly went down a treat! And it's not fizzy but is delicious! Served with ice.
So, continuing with the "fancy something special" menu (which is attached to the main menu) I ordered the Barbacoa Romana pizza as recommended by my good and trusty waiter. He said it is spicy but not too much and he was dead right. Enough to blow away the cobwebs but not enough to be troublesome. Be warned it is huge. 2006 to 2012 I worked near a Pizza Express and was in there every week. I'd never get full from just a pizza and would always need starter and dessert, but the Barbacoa is bigger than your plate, which I noticed as my waiter moved it around to cut it. As it overlapped a bit all round. We were in there for 3 hours, so I just grazed on it until I got it down to one remaining slice which I took away (I wasn't about to throw away any of that baby!).
Aaron chose pasta not pizza as his main meal and adored it. He particularly loved spooning the Parmesan cheese on to it. I was worried he wouldn't like the taste of that, being used to cheddar at home, but he thoroughly enjoyed his meal. I swear he is made of pizza and pasta. Good ole staples for children. Before you have kids you think they'll love chicken nuggets and chips but that is not at all something you could give Aaron often. He loves colourful nutritious made from scratch food, not just frozen food bunged in the oven. He's got very discerning taste actually, always has done. And LOVES eating out. He was spoiled at a young age as I was still working then.

Little Miss will like her food too and this is just the beginning:
I have proper coverage of her exploration into eating on the video I've made, but not yet edited. It will be a Vlog on my Channel hopefully in the next couple of days.

Aaron loved the dot to dot and the word search on the activity sheet and that kept him happy for ages, which is probably how we were so easily able to stay in there very close to 3 hours. Before he got onto the Ice Age activity sheet he decorated a chef's hat with stickers the restaurant provided and our waiter so generously agreed to wear it. It made Aaron's day decorating the hat but he was beyond thrilled when he saw our waiter with it on. I captured his joy:
The restaurant has been decorated with Banksy in mind and you can see one of them behind Aaron. There are several dotted around and they're awesome. You can read about them here: Refurbishment of locally themed Pizza Expresses continues. I cover all but one of the pizzas of wall wrap vinyl artwork in my video.

Stupidly I told Aaron that he needed to draw his favourite character from the movie with a pizza to win us a trip to America. Had I remembered that working on this promotion means we wouldn't qualify I wouldn't have even told him that but he got so flustered that our trip or no-trip would hinge on him, that he had to get through FOUR pieces of Ice Age activity sheet paper and in the end got all tearful. Silly Mummy I shouldn't have told him. He doesn't do pressure and is a bit self conscious about his drawing but it is cool as I now know I need to draw with him lots in the school holiday and I needed a kick up the bum and an incentive to do that anyhow.

Luckily his tears ended the minute he saw the dessert. Not because of the ice cream or the beautiful cone. Not even because of the beautifully displayed fresh strawberries. No! He was thrilled because he has never had a babyccino before and this was a BAMBINOCCINO and he was over the moon with it. Warm milk with a few chocolate sprinkles thrown on top. He was a right proper little gentleman. I should have reminded him to stick out his pinkie finger.
Hubby could not be persuaded for love nor money to have a dessert even though he simply loves chocolate fudge cake and loves brownies. His excuse being that he was full. Well he did finish a meat feast pizza! They don't do one called that but he got close by altering one with some help from our waiter friend. I know! Can't take him anywhere. We go to a posh pizza restaurant and he wants a meat feast. He did love it though and finished it to the point of bursting but then he did have the Calamari twice!

The waiter suggested the Leggera Tartufo Limoncello for him as it is only 230 calories and perfect for a full person, but he found it too "tart" - I happily took it over and loved it so I ate BOTH of the desserts you see below. No wonder I loved the limoncello, listen to this: 
Under 230 calories. Full of southern Italian flavours: creamy Sicilian lemon and Fior di Latte gelato with a liquid centre of limoncello
It tastes like a meringue, but like icecream too at the same time. Truly amazing!

But my heart was set on a dolcetti so I got one. The Salted Caramel Profiteroles.

Personally I prefer my photos of these to the ones Pizza Express has online:
Clearly in my branch, presentation is everything and it's not just Banksy that gets that right! Hmmmm! The fresh mint was just as good as the earlier fresh strawberries. The freshness and flavours at Pizza Express grab you and don't let you go. So when you leave you have a very wholesome full feeling, which sustained us through the movie. Like I have a spare space in my tummy for pudding always, it turns out I have a popcorn tummy too as I still downed a bag of sweet popcorn nay bother :-)

Before I let you go dear reader, this was hubby's pizza
And then it was off to the movies for us. After 3 hours of eating with us, we let Daddy have two hours of downtime whilst me and the kids (oh I love saying kids plural) went to see the movie. Aaron has all of the previous ones on DVD so he was thrilled to see this new latest version.

What's funny (as you will see on the video once I edit it) is that Aaron ran into the bushes before we went into the restaurant and like a good ole explorer came back with TWO pine cones that he found. Due to the focus on the ACORN in Ice Age it did kind of make me chuckle, but perhaps that's just me........ I guess you had to be there.

I'll leave you with this:
It's a great movie go see it!
The Piccolo menu is fabulous go eat it!
Pizza Express is a wonderful restaurant go visit!
No but seriously, all words and photos and opinions are our very own. It only leaves me to say that we were provided with a complimentary meal (not film, I should have gone to London for that and seen it in the exciting Fox HQ like everyone else) for the purposes of this promotion. Gosh we milked it though. Pizza Express is very classy so we were not restricted to a voucher. Oh no that is so de classe. Oh no, we could have starters, sides, mains, pudding and a couple of drinks. As I am breastfeeding and Daddy was driving, we substituted extra Calamari for alcohol. Oh and Lottie's cucumbers bless her. Don't forget, she started her weaning journey AT Pizza Express. SO cute and something I will never forget.

I was so excited to work with Pizza Express we sorted the film ourselves AND gave our water an £8 tip as he was AMAZING. But apparently he is always like that and not just because we were there as part of the Ice Age promotion. It was an amazing family meal out and will be remembered for years to come.

Can't wait to share the video with you all once I have uploaded all of the many clips and edited them. I've made a start.

Actually I just went through my photos which reminds me of two things I forgot to say. I had the Bottlegreen Raspberry Lemonade and it was amazing. I had two!!!! Also, crayons in restaurants are normally shite, but not so in Pizza Express, they had these amazing extendable ones which I have never seen anywhere before.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Mummy and Me June 2016

I want to join in with Mummy and Me, after having seen a link to it on Twitter late last night (when I should have been sleeping).

I want to record these precious days/weeks/months with my babies, before Aaron becomes a tween and refuses to pose for shots as he already sometimes does of late.

So without further ado, I want to share some pics and hook up with Mummy and Me over at Life Through My Eyes.

This first pic is us on Sunday morning, when we were enjoying a very lazy day. That is until I decided to mow the lawn, to save Daddy a job on his days off. 

Lottie is refusing to look at the camera and as it was in selfie mode I knew that but took it anyway, to document the real life, which is that she is easily distracted and therefore hard to capture. So this is it, our everyday. Except it's the weekend so there are no school uniforms or school runs. Except that reminds me, it got to about 4 p.m. and I realised I had not washed it all, so a small load was put on an economy wash, and then out on the line at 6 p.m. Despite it being a scorcher of a day, they were cold to the touch when the sun went down (as the washing line is in a shady part of the garden) so my mistake and tardiness meant they got finished in the tumble drier, which I didn't regret as folding them straight from there means NO IRONING and I am all about the time savers and life hacks!

This next pic was taken Saturday 25th June on the way to BritMums Live (#BML16). We had travelled to Paddington where my Aunt met us. I left Lottie with my Aunt whilst Aaron and I ran to the public pay loos. We were meant to be continuing on with the next leg of our journey, Underground, to the 5 star Montcalm London City Hotel (Moorgate) no less (thanks Coca Cola), but I saw this stand and couldn't resist a shot so that I could hashtag and tweet it.

So I ran, despite being under pressure for time, grabbed lil Lottie and the lovely lady on the stand recorded us for posterity. Always time to squash in a photo, especially when you are a blogger who likes to capture everything.

It was an early start so we also have a selfie on the train and that was the second train of the journey. How I did it with 6 year old, suitcase, buggy and baby I will never know but I am so very glad I did. I did learn though that a case being on wheels is no help, as it is the old sort where it angles to the ground and as you are wheeling it you feel like you are carrying it too, which meant it was too heavy for Aaron, so despite the smiles you see here, I was exhausted as I was wheeling buggy with the right hand and pulling a suitcase with the left hand. I really, at this late age of 43, need to learn how to travel light! Will I ever I wonder. Regular trips to Ireland with their strict luggage restrictions was getting me there but it's over a year since I've been. I digress, but my Mummy I miss you. Now that's a post/pic I would like to see: MY Mummy and Me.

The last one from #BML16 I promise. This was when I changed into a shoulders out top (which I now know are all the rage) for the Bibs (blog awards, nothing like the Tommee Tippee one Lottie is modelling here). No need to change into a dress, but what I loved about this was, it's a crop top, so not much fabric to be lifted for breastfeeding and I had a Bravado Nursing Tank (Vest) underneath which means I wasn't showing my midriff and back off to everyone. 

The top is from Primark (current range as I only bought it Thursday 23rd June) if you fancy it and it was on Sale, so there may not be many left.

People around me had a good view (which is why I was self conscious about breastfeeding but I got there and for someone who wouldn't feed in public as recently as February it is a huge achievement) as I was at the very front, so as to record all of the Bibs. I actually ended up loading them onto YouTube as 14 separate videos. They're worth a look if one of your favourites won something and just to get an idea of what the vibe is like. Very very snazzy (Susanna and Jen and the stage looked amazing), but people didn't applaud nearly enough or nearly as much as bloggers attending normally do and I have been to every single BritMums Live.

As you can see from the pic, Lottie was just mesmerized. She was pretty much like that all day. Either looking at bright lights or being fussed over by people. Taking her was definitely 100% the right decision.

As you will know from my last blog post, Lottie didn't just accompany me to #BML16, she also joined me for an evening at Brooks Guesthouse which means she is now the youngest travel blogger I know. She was a very good girl and I now feel confident that I can literally take her anywhere.

Being a Mum for the 2nd time is so less daunting as you're so much more likely to be flippant about the worry of what you can and can't do. Which means you're way less likely to get that penned in, cabin fever feeling, of being isolated at home. It is so so liberating. It's also lovely when people don't mind her being there and actually embrace it. Gives me a real warm fuzzy feeling all over. Me and my girl. Oh I have waited many many years to say that.

The sling you see here is a Rockin Baby one called Rose of My Heart. The photos on their website don't really do it justice though. It is a ring sling and the loose fabric that dangles down (that you pull to tighten) has a zipped pocket in it, which was FABULOUS for keeping my smart phone close to hand and readily available (and safe) at #BML16. Trying to find that link, just had me reading the description and I have discovered that the polka dots are not just a lining and it is in fact reversible. No idea what Lottie would look like with a black and white polka dot sling instead of our usually rosey pink floral affair but I am willing to give it a go (watch this space ha ha)!!!

I never ever used ring slings with Aaron (but am now a convert) and in fact only had one baby wearer back then 2010/2011, which was a Moby Wrap. I never use my Moby Wrap now with Lottie as I upgraded to the Wuti Wrap from We Made Me which is way more breathable and much lighter. Sorry this pic was meant to be photo heavy and text light but it just hasn't worked out that way. 

Anyway I will end with this Mummy and Me pic. Daddy is there too, with an arm :-) but we printed the full unedited (uncropped) pic in all its glory on a card for Father's Day...

Nicola... Life Through My Eyes

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Brooks Bristol Guesthouse for a Blogger Shindig

Last week I spent an evening at Brooks Guesthouse Bristol and what a lovely night it was. I am breastfeeding, so Lottie of course came along. That girl gets to go to some seriously exciting places, although when I showed the videos of BritMums Live #BML16 to Aaron he was disgusted with her raspberry blowing and said with disdain "why did you bring her?" "you should have left her with me and Daddy!" - oh dear I have passed my high standards on to him.
But back to last week. It was organised by the amazing Heather Cowper. A bloggers' networking event that gave us the opportunity to have a drink, some nibbles and a snoop around the guesthouse which turned out to be far from ordinary. Even more of a shock when you went there not knowing what to expect.

My favourite pic of the night which I posted on Instagram is below but this is the full size version in all of its glory, without the limitations of the square. Yep in Bristol street art is everywhere although normally it isn't quite as tag like as this piece.
What you see above is the lounge which is adjacent to the bar and breakfast/dining area in a very bright and spacious open plan arrangement. It felt bright and airy even with all of us bloggers there.

This is a boutique style guesthouse where the owner has handpicked each and every piece of furniture so that it tells a story and compliments the theme she is aiming to create. If you love interiors you will be very at home here. She deliberately allows the establishment to be extraordinary to represent the city that is its host. 

The cost of staying is SO affordable given you are literally in the very heart and hub of the City - when you are on the roof you literally look down and into the famous St Nicholas market. The guesthouse knows only too well what it has to shout about and proudly boasts its bragging rights here: Why Choose Brooks.
Upon arrival, I had no reason to believe this was anything other than a classy boutique guesthouse. I started to realise it was a cut above the rest when I entered the lift that was internally wrapped to look like a library:
That journey in the lift took us to 3 beautifully cosy rooms that I know I would be very at home in. Warm, inviting, impeccable interiors, a certain quirkiness and spotless. If the same-i-ness of the big chains leaves you with disdain-i-ness, then this is the intimate place for you, where you feel like you're staying with an old friend.
This, above, was the very first room we viewed - a triple room with 3 singles. I loved the Cole & Son wallpaper, the crisp white inviting bedding, and the wooden tongue & groove wall panelling. But little did we know, this room was hiding a secret. You see those bedside drawers above? Well they conceal a vanity unit. Take away the bedside lamp and open the lid. I thought it was going to be a desk or a writing bureau but no! There is a mirror inside the lid perfect for you to sit and do your makeup or if you are a blogger take whacky selfies with the room as your backdrop.
I can't describe the room as well as the owner does herself, so this is what they say on their website:

Our luxury compact rooms are all about enjoyment and comfort with a choice of double, King, twin and triple bedrooms – all serviced daily. Modern and thoughtful, every bathroom is freshly refurbished with floor to ceiling travertine tiles, hansgrohe power showers, heated towel rails demisted mirrors & electric shaver points and luxurious White Company toiletries. And for the utmost comfort, all our rooms include:
  • John Lewis  Pocket-sprung beds and Avoca blankets
  • Hungarian Goose down duvets and pillows
  • Cole & son wallpaper and wooden panelling
  • Colonial style Wooden shutters, a retro chair
  • Bespoke  wooden hospitality chest with Tea, coffee, hot chocolate and biscuits
  • Flat-screen TV/DVD, iPod dock and radio-alarm clock
  • Free Wi-Fi (available throughout the house)
  • Hairdryers & full length mirrors
The best was yet to come though, as we were taken up to the room and the USP of the guesthouse was about to assault my eyes. I was quite literally blown away and given the weather conditions I very nearly was! Joking! But yes, Summer did temporarily leave us for a few days and it was drizzly that night.

On the roof of Bristol's Brooks Guesthouse are FOUR American style Airstream (Rocket) caravans. They are so retro and so remarkable. Even more news worthy is the journey to get them up there! Now on the night itself we had no gossip*. Nobody snogged anyone! But upon posting our photos, as a group, on Instagram, it soon came out, in the comments, that Bristol's very own Queen of blogging Fritha got engaged at the caravans.

*Actually that's not strictly true. Although no gossip was created that night, I did hear some, but then that's always gonna happen when a group of bloggers get together!

So, do I really need to post a pic of the Airstreams given the amazing quality of the pics Fritha shares in her post linked to above? Well I will do, just incase you don't click on the link you lazy reader ;-) And you've twisted my arm, you want to see the interior right? Okay then:
A gentleman came out of his "room" only to bump into a gaggle of bloggers and he let us have a looksie. Thanks so much to him. Of course there wasn't a free one to look at! With style this good, they are of course often fully booked. Book in advance to save disappointment. There are 16ft, 18ft and 20ft rockets to choose from!

Back down to the guesthouse itself where we were treated to wines and cheeses from the vacinity of their new hotel in Hereford: a stunning 22 Bedroom Georgian Manor: Brooks Country House - Hereford:

Affordable luxury meets country house glamour, this is a perfect retreat to escape modern urban life. The hotel is newly refurbished from top to toe, combining the best of local British food, fine wines and cool, classic design with warm, genuine hospitality. 

Brooks Country House is a stunning 22 bedroom Georgian manor house set between Hereford and Ross on Wye. The manor house, once at the centre of a 1000 acre estate, sits on 13 acres in the Wye Valley – an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and overlooks an expanse of former parkland, now owned by the National Trust. In a beautiful corner of rural Herefordshire, this is the best of British countryside: swans on a lake, pheasant and ducks, lambs on undulating hills, mature trees and dreamy views in every direction. The quaint towns of Hereford and Ross on Wye are a stone’s throw away.

So sadly then it was time to call it a night and as with most social engagements I was the last to leave which gave me a chance to speak to the lovely lady on night duty. She had the same warmth and attention to detail as the guesthouse itself. Helped me outside with my buggy and baby. She also took this fab pic for me, which shows you, the caravans really ARE on the roof!!! With stunning rooftop views of the heart of Bristol and beyond.
Lottie really enjoyed her first foray into travel blogging. I hope this new endeavour takes us to lots of new places.

If you would like to see more of the night then we all shared pics across social media under the hashtag #BBBrooks.  

Brooks has guesthouses in Edinburgh, Bristol, Hereford and Bath, with Hereford being the newest. 

Disclosure: this is not a paid for post. All opinions and photos are my own. A group of us were welcomed for a bloggers' evening 30th June, by the owner of Brooks.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

#BML16 Blog Post | BritMums Live with Baby and Coca Cola

Staying at The Montcalm meant that this ^ was my view the very second I exited my hotel. No time to take a deep breath - it's a case of dive straight in - but I paused from pushing the buggy to take the above pic, as you do.... I'm a blogger ... but first and foremost, as always, I'm inherently an archivist too, so it's in my blood to try to capture everything, be it in notes or photos (or pre-baby my brain, as I used to have an AMAZING memory *cries at the loss of it*).  I swear though, I must have worked in a museum as a curator in a past life.

Now that I am an Instagrammer almost more than I am a blogger, I of course also notice DETAIL so I also had to capture THIS photo (below) because of the CLOCK. 6th conference at the Brewery and it took having Instagrammer goggles to notice it. Even nerves and trying to style my way along the cobbles (who am I kidding) didn't stop my need to CAPTURE but the bloody famous Instagram's need to SQUARE things off cropped the clock out, so here is the original pic, showcasing my reason for taking it, in all of its glory (p.s. I love the picture quality from my new camera phone and its ability to capture light):
I would share a picture of me and baby/buggy taken ...
... just outside the hotel entrance
... just before these cobbles
... seconds before the moment the above captures...
... BUT the hotel porter took it and he even took two... BUT they are not at all flattering, so on my camera phone they will remain. Hey, I like to share but I do have my limits.

I was feeling very wobbly on arrival. I didn't think I was a stickler for routine or the sort of person who is thrown by something being different, but just because registration was upstairs for the first time ever and they couldn't find my name badge for the first time ever, I was just about to break down in tears. BUT an absolute bloggy angel who I've known for years came straight up to me, the gorgeous +Charlotte R.B who my very own Lottie shares a name with. Thank you gorgeous lady. She's pictured to my right. Charlotte blogs at Berice Baby.

At BritMums Lives in the past delegates have been majority "old timers", minority "newbies", so you'd literally walk around feeling like you knew, or recognised everyone at The Brewery. I've attended 6 times in a row (I know it was Britmums' 5th birthday but there was Cybermummy at the Brewery beforehand). But for the first time ever, I actually felt like the newbie and definitely us old timers were outnumbered*. Thankfully I was never more than a few metres away from a smiley face that I DID know. Also, being that Instagram's my new favourite platform, sometimes the person you know is someone you haven't met in real life before, but you feel like you see them everyday. Like Essex Kate (pictured on my left) and her precious baby Sophie for example. Kate is on Instagram here: Essex Kate which reminds me I am yet to check out her blog Counting to Ten.

*of course I do not know if the statistics back up this gut feeling.

Now the lady in this picture, Nadine from Juggle Mum, very much deserved this hug for so so so many reasons, not least of which was the fact that she single-handedly FOUND my name badge. A seeker of the badge who succeeded where so many others had failed, despite the fact she was so busy with so much to do. She's been my saviour in recent weeks too. Thanks chick you rock! She's also the editor so do check her out!

Even back in the days when ALL of my bloggy mates would be at BritMums Live I never did stay in a group with them all day/days, nor did I move around with them like a school of fish. I'd always break out and wander round the hub or go off to the toilet and as a result I'd always end up meeting someone new and getting absorbed in a chat that otherwise wouldn't have happened. So given that I am independent in this way, it shouldn't have been no real big shakes that a lot of my old bloggy buddies were not there, BUT sometimes it did mean I felt lonely in a crowd, a feeling made worse by the lack of sleep (I *always* get weepy when tired). One person I have sometimes been stuck like glue to at BritMums Live and Mumsnet Blogfest is Jenny and Jenny you were missed.

The night before, i.e. BML16 "eve"

I had insomnia Friday night even though I skipped Fringe drinks, so as to rest and fully enjoy The Montcalm with my lil family of 4. Also, why stay near The Brewery only to travel over and back to Camden. I couldn't face it, or the logistics of bringing Lottie or the worry of leaving her behind when breastfeeding. After leaving home at 08:30 to arrive at The Montcalm at 13:30 to meet Coca Cola at 14:30, I needed some down time prior to a busy day ahead where BritMums Live would be trying to achieve in one day what it ordinarily does in TWO.

BUT alas, despite going to bed at 10 p.m. I slept at 3 a.m. I couldn't even get up and make use of the time as everyone (Lottie, Aaron AND Daddy) was asleep EVEN night owl nocturnal Daddy. So, I just lay in bed vicariously following the night-out exploits of people who were story telling their fun evenings on Twitter and Instagram. Even continuing to do so into the early hours. 

I think the reason I had insomnia is I was BUZZING after a mind blowing symposium (what even is that?!?!?) with my great Sponsor for #BML16 Coca Cola that was held on the Friday afternoon. We (myself, Michelle Purple Pumpkin Blog, Mari of Mari's World, Claire of Evans Crittens, and Al from The Dad Network) even got a goodie bag as if they hadn't done enough for us already (train tickets, room in The Montcalm and ticket for #BML16).

I was supposed to wake up at 7 on the Friday but Lottie had me awake from 6 and she'd woken a lot in the night and each time she did, I stayed awake for longer than usual listening to the ballot counts from the Referendum unfold. So I knew how it was going to turn out before the world woke up. We then rather ambitiously walked to our nearest train station which with a 6 year old, a buggy, a baby and a large suitcase was perhaps a little crazy of me. But my 6th sense and psychic side won out as even though we got there 20 minutes early it was JUST BEFORE a huge downpour and we were safe and sound UNDER the train platform shelter. Hoo ha! Sometimes a plan comes together however accidental. Arriving at our next station wasn't quite as fortuitous as we then had to go down two flights of stairs to a subway and the down lift was out of order. Thankfully one angelic man helped with the buggy whilst another angel carried my heavy suitcase down (I never travel light no matter how hard I try). Luckily the UP lift was working and things began to feel more relaxed. Until I discovered that one of my angels was getting the same London bound train as me and as we strolled, he shared how the referendum result effects him personally, or more accurately 2 of his 4 sons. I could have, and nearly did, cry!!!! Anyway, he then got on a different carriage and...

... I was left to negotiate the mystery that is: where do you put a buggy on a train? 

I hadn't thought this one through, so I did THIS. Clearly this only works if you board before everyone else and literally HOG the luggage compartment. Luckily the overhead areas are so generous, people tend to avoid this shelf area as it is too far from their seat and too near to the doors. 

Had this not worked I am not quite sure what I would have done. Once the buggy was ensconced in there, which was really the only place it could go, I then had to jiggle, bounce and feed Lottie on my knee, which was easy on the way to London, but not so easy on the way home when I really wanted to have my table open. Luckily on the way home the lady who checked our tickets took pity on me and gave me complimentary "stuff".

The journey to London was easy enough, as Aaron spent it drawing on the tablet - I was so impressed with his creations. The journey back, he was watching Goosebumps on his portable DVD player. He's always been a good traveller to be fair, which gives me one less thing to worry about.

But back to the event eh!
The bottom right hand side picture of Lottie above may not be flattering but I had to include it as her blowing raspberries always at the most inappropriate of times was one of the highlights of the event. Whether it was just as someone was collecting their award, or just as I was about to burst into tears, it was a frequent and noteworthy occurrence. One of the opening keynotes was Anne-Marie Cockburn talking about the loss of her daughter when she was only 15 years of age, having been taken too soon at 5,742 days which inspired the title of her book: 5,742 days: A Mother's Journey Through Loss. Now I have been waiting for Lottie to arrive since 1989, so to hear of the loss of a young beautiful girl in her prime, when my Lottie is only 5 months, was just too much to bear. I was literally JUST about to totally unravel all over the place in a puddle, when Lottie saved me with a raspberry. Judging by the looks on the faces of those nearby, I think she helped them too. Some emotions take you to the edge of a cliff and I wasn't quite ready to fall off, not with the big bag of emotions I was already in charge of that day. Sometimes it is nice to connect with someone on Twitter, so if these words have touched you, dear reader, or are relevant in some way Anne-Marie can be found on Twitter here: 5742Days.

Pass the Parcel was a great ice breaker. At the outset the person to my right (if you are reading this, please remind me of your name as I spoke to you several times in the day) was about 4 seats away so I had to literally receive the parcel and then throw the parcel... but then lovely Kerry from Oh So Amelia joined us to my right and all was cool! Until, she got pass the parcel and we all loudly cheered only to wake Lottie up - doh!

The 10:15 break was really appreciated as it was my first chance to access the hub (the place where the tea/coffee, pastries and cakes are) and the place where you mingle with peers/brands. I hadn't spent my usual 30 minutes in there eating breakfast pre-event, as upon arrival me and buggy were shepherded to the lift as registration for the first time ever, was UPSTAIRS. ONLY TROUBLE was this break was 15 wee minutes long, which considering you've had to come downstairs from BritMums1 wasn't long enough. I don't wear a watch and it wasn't always convenient to keep getting my phone out, so I arrived at Storytelling and Storyboaring for great videos - sponsored by Mam about 15 minutes late. To be fair I walked passed the room it was in (just off the hub) a few times but I didn't realise that the door being shut meant it had already started - doh. Thankfully they DID let me in late, but the wonder that is Nigel Camp did not have a microphone and unless you were sat on his knee you could not hear him. Despite being a lounge it was standing room only so I sat on the floor to breastfeed Lottie. I was near the cupcakes though so it was sound as a pound.
11:15 saw me have a choice. I had to choose between a travel blogging session and 10 ways to tell compelling stories with photography with Charly Dove. Now everybody knows that EVERYONE is now into travel blogging which I guess is why it was held in the main "BritMums1" room hall, but the room was far from full and the energy was flat. I had so clearly chosen the wrong session and a quick glance at Twitter confirmed the same. Just as Susanna (the co-founder of BritMums) was about to speak last (why?) on the travel blogging panel, we were already out of time and the speakers for the next session were already hovering. Susanna was saying interesting things that I wanted to hear, but that was it, the session was over. The only take home point from the session (without consulting my notes) was that Facebook Live has catapulted itself above and beyond anything that G+ is doing and that people get way more (immediate) views on there than they ever do/did on YouTube. Oh and that on Pinterest, the travel pins that get the most interest are the ones about Ireland. Now that's an awful shame, as I used to go there 3 times a year and now budgets dictate that I hardly ever go, despite ALL my family being over there (yes I have about 15 relatives here in the UK but my Mum and everyone else is there). Can I take this opportunity to say how spooky it was, that given all of my family are from the West of Ireland (both on my Mum and Dad's sides of the family) that there was a chap from Shannon Airport exhibiting in the hub! You can see his banner in the collage above. ALSO, the FIRST person I met upon arriving at The Brewery and The Montcalm on Friday afternoon was Cuddle Fairy and she also lives in the West of Ireland, not only a hop and a skip from all my relatives but also near where I got married. I was naughty, I took a picture of Cuddle Fairy before even hugging her or saying hello.
The next session was Up Your Game - Innovative Ways to Make Money. By this point I was so over the whole panel format, so I only stayed in the room for monetary reasons and the fact that it involved being able to stay where I was. Now I really must go get my notes as I think I did here write some things down. Natasha Courtenay-Smith author of The Million Dollar Blog (which I had not heard of and must now buy, except it is not out until September so has to be pre-ordered) spoke about several blogs she has featured in the book including A Beautiful Mess. A Beautiful Mess is run by sisters and they earn "$2 million revenue per year". But they get revenue from "everything and anything" linked to their brand/blog but not necessarily blogging itself. They have books, are available for "speaking" and do affiliate marketing. Next mentioned was Madeleine Shaw who does "little sponsored content as her website is PURE". Honest Mum said it's not just about sponsored posts and display ads; lots of brands pay you to make videos. I hope someone has blogged this session as I am sure lots more was said but I had a bouncy baby on my knee who eventually, after a lovely cuddle with Natalie Trice (pictured centre of collage), did go to sleep.

This session started slightly late, so ended late. Unfortunate as lunch was next and I was starving. My milk supply is not great without eating and I'd not had breakfast. I became like a juggernaut, steaming through people, me and baby/buggy in an effort to get to the food by the quickest route possible. I knew I wanted to inhale my food so took myself off to the bar stools in the Tent lounge and ate alone so I could drool and gobble.

There was lots of food left over so I ate 3 pots of main meals. Actually wished I eaten even more. I also took the lunch break as a quick chance for a nappy change and got chance to chat to other Mums whilst waiting to use the disabled toilet. Actually I think this was the one chance I got to speak with Mummy Daddy Me and meet her new little boy who I see everyday on Instagram.

As you can see Lottie has a long sleeved vest under her dress so was warm in that way, but I could no longer cope with her cold legs (all rooms were air-conditioned) so I took this opportunity to do a wardrobe change :-) and get tights on her. Like myself I should have changed her for the Bibs again one more time to justify the 12 outfits I carried around all day in the nappy changing bag. Although of course you never really carry a nappy changing bag as it is just hangs on the buggy. I begun the morning with my lovely Hush Cush portable nursing pillow hanging also from the buggy but I was so embarrassed that night to see it had splatters of what looked like breastfeeding poo on it. I wracked my brain and figured they must be splashes of coffee and someone must have spilled one near me. So even though I went around thinking buggy and baby looked lovely, people were probably looking and thinking euggghhh or yukkkkkk!

Next up was Sketchbook Club which I think deserves a blog post of its own

Then two things happened - Lottie fell asleep and I went to the panel session on Instagram, knowing 3 of them very well on Instagram, I felt safe it would be good and was not disappointed.
My take home points from The Instagram session were:

  • Follow @soGoodinEveryWay on Instagram - tick!
  • Take part in #sgiew prompts (short for So Good In Every Way)
  • Check out @CoCoInMyKitchen on Instagram - tick!
  • When doing sponsored posts on IG, charge approx £100 per 10k followers - errrm that rules me out then at 2.3k followers but I only joined Instagram April 2014, it's a work in progress.
  • Diana has always been one of my fav Instagrammers @paintsewgluechew and she said she spends anything from 20-40 minutes posting, commenting and liking. She is very reciprocal in her approach and I personally know this of her. She said to be generous and genuine and that she most certainly is.
  • Maggy spoke of having a tribe. 200 people you regularly interact with. This is where I have gone wrong since 2014. I just haven't had time for that and it shows. She said on Instagram she has identified about 50 really like minded people. Which brings us to the question of lists. You can do this on Twitter but not Instagram so how do you find your favs. Hashtags that's how!
  • They also mentioned the following two great IGers: Circle of Pines and Ali Dover. But I cannot find the latter.
  • They mentioned VSCO but I do not know what that is either.
  • They discussed the very best times of day to post but I think I was distracted with Lottie at this point, but I think they said early morning and 7 p.m. and late at night work well. Midday does not.
  • I love how they operate the hashtags with guest judges etc... I can't wait to participate.
Actually looking at my note book I have found a few extra points from the making money session:
  • Get an email address that identifies your blog like I for example should have which I do not
  • When working with a brand accept a reduced fee until they get to know you, your brand, what you can do and the standard of your work. So prove yourself capable for future projects.
  • Approach the brand with your idea as it may not be something that they have thought of doing.
This also reminds me that it was in (I think) the travel session, when someone said that P.R.s move around, so do accept a review of something small as the next time they approach you, they could be in a bigger/better agency or working for a bigger/better brand. In my years as a blogger I can't tell you how many times this has happened but it's lots.
It was then time for the Birthday Cake Break as this was the 5th BritMums Live, although now known as #BML16. I am proud to say that I have been at all five, 
no matter whether I had young Aaron 
or in utero Lottie 
or now real life Lottie.

Now it was time for a chat with Cherry Healey - I could hear that it was very funny but I was very distracted so not really listening. 

I cracked open a can of the new Coke Zero from my lovely sponsor and waited for the Bloggers' Keynotes having finally done my #BootsSoltan photo booth GIF downstairs before coming up to the main BritMums1 hall. 

It was lovely to meet Oh Little One Sweet and baby, pictured in the collage, on my way into the hall. 

I was sitting with Essex Kate so our baby girls got chance to meet once again :-) She gave me the idea of changing Lottie on the floor amidst the tables, which actually worked very well. The two girls then became SO fidgety (for the first time that day bless them they'd been sooooo very good) that I decided to put my pink blanket on the floor and let them have a little stretch and play. Lottie has never played with another baby so she didn't really know what to do bless her.

They mainly just tugged at each other and looked amused that we'd put them down there for a couple of minutes.

Next up was the Bibs Party which I attended ever so briefly before rushing off to feed Lottie. I did get chance though to meet a Mim Mim and Fi from Coombe Mill who little did we know was about to win Reader's Choice in the Bibs Blog Awards 2016 - look at her she is literally wearing her brand on her dress. AWESOME!!!!!
I then watched the Bibs at a front table so that I could record it all...

Every single Bibs 2016 award being collected is uploaded to my You Tube channel - all 14 awards. Take a look: NewMumOnline YouTube channel.
I was lucky enough to spend the Bibs sharing a table with the Welshies :-) Kerry Norris on the RHS and Leanne Cornelius from A Slice of My Life Wales in the centre. They were so bubbly and sweet. I also made a friend in Sarah Forget Me Knit, also at the same table with us but from Bristol - she's in the bottom pic of the collage and we also sat together at the group meal in Nandos after #BML16.
There are LOTS more pictures of the weekend which I will add to a G+ album and of course there's already LOTS for you to look at on my current NewMumOnline Instagram feed too, all tagged with #BML16.

I would like to thank The Montcalm for a lovely stay - here is a partial tour of our room and Coca Cola for so generously sponsoring me (my travel, my accommodation and my #BML16 ticket). 

I've added this post to the I Was There Linky.

Liska xx

P.S. you may say "what does a 5 month old baby get from being at a bloggers' conference?" Well for one she was adored and giving heaps of attention all day. But, apart from that, she got to meet a Clanger AND Mim Mim. What could be better :-) We even had a Mim Mim in our goodie bags and The Boy and Me's son has LOVED his.