Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Something new

A few years ago, when the Bookworm was small, my sister and music-loving brother-in-law bought her a CD and DVD set called Here come the ABC’s by the band They Might Be Giants.  It’s a fun approach to letter-learning, with a quirky sense of humour, and we’ve enjoyed listening to it and watching it over the years.  My favourite song is Alphabet of Nations, which lists a country for every letter of the alphabet (including a surprising idea for W and X!) and I love the music, which has a very patriotic feel to it!

This gift was followed up some time later with Bed, Bed, Bed, a book and 4-song EP set, which the girls also listened to a lot (although probably not as much as Here come the ABC’s).  I believe Here come the 123’s has also been released now, although my girls were a bit old for it by the time it came out.

Anyway, without knowing very much more about They Might Be Giants (apart from remembering Birdhouse in Your Soul being popular in my youth) I started following their Facebook updates in gratitude for those children’s CDs, which make such a difference in the life of a parent whose personal music interests have had to be set aside almost completely in favour of nursery rhymes and audio versions of picture books.  I see their posts from time to time, usually announcing extra tour dates in obscure American towns I’ve never heard of, occasionally announcing a new track or album available (once we all had to download Birdhouse in Your Soul to see if it could get to number one, but it didn’t. Fun though).

Today they are trying something new and I’m seeing if I can participate.  They are giving away free an entire album, as tracks recorded live on their tour last year, to anyone who requests it.  In return they would like people to share the opportunity with others, on Facebook or Twitter, or in a blogpost.

First of all you need to add downloads@theymightbegiants.com to your email address book (they are pretty clear that it will not reach you if you don’t!).  Then use the widget to send your details to get the download code.  I’m afraid my lack of technical skills is preventing me from getting the widget to embed on this page as desired, but if you click the link below you’ll see the widget and it’s still clickable and workable!

http://www.theymightbegiants.com/widgets/index.php?i=1

After you’ve done that you can use the bottom part of the widget to share the news with others too!

I have mine downloading now – hope it works for you!

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A long-awaited treat!

As I mentioned in a recent post, I recently got the chance to spend a few hours in le petit spa at Malmaison hotel, thanks to Living Social. The deal came up a year ago – a special package of four treatments, plus use of the facilities, for just over one third of the usual cost. I was immediately taken with the idea, but didn’t want to go alone, so I contacted my sister about the idea of our buying the vouchers for each other as birthday and Christmas presents. She agreed with me that it was a good idea and, although at the time she had a very small baby and would find it difficult to find three hours in the day to spend at a spa (not to mention packing up and coming over here for at least a night), we thought that we ought to be able to manage it before the expiry date, which at that point was a year away.

Time went by and life got in the way. Peacock’s baby was clingy, as some are, and not really happy even to be left with her Daddy on some occasions. Family events claimed our free weekends and the only time we found ourselves in Newcastle at the same time was right before Christmas, when an afternoon in a spa would have been most welcome, but impossible to accommodate in our schedule. Finally, we realised we had two months left and I phoned the spa to check availability. The date we ended up with was 30th June, the last possible day before the voucher expired! I fretted about the possibility of our having to cancel and worried over the litany of things that could go wrong: stomach bugs, chicken pox, car breakdowns, accidents are all distinct possibilities for a young family, not to mention the potential death of a relative or work-related disaster. I never imagined the biggest threat would come from the weather! On 28th June (as part of the UK’s wettest June on record) Newcastle and Gateshead were beset with flash floods on a scale I’ve never experienced before. If you google “Walkergate Metro flooding” you’ll see what it looked like about 200 yards from where I live.

The collapsed wall – the water had pushed it across the road from the right of the picture and we couldn’t pass.

Thankfully our house is much higher and wasn’t affected at all. I know that many countries, including those where some of you live, have experienced much worse and I wouldn’t want to compare our experience to anything like that, but all the same this was frightening to us and totally unexpected (’twas ever thus in the UK, we never get what we expect – the following week, in an apparent fit of cautiousness, the Met Office issued an Amber alert for the whole of the North East but it didn’t even rain in Newcastle).   I was thankful to be in the car with my husband and children when it happened – we were all together and the girls had had their tea!

Anyway, I posted a photo to Facebook of a collapsed wall we had discovered on our way home, to which Peacock responded “The main roads seem fine – still planning to come!”

 

The only sign the following morning that anything had been amiss was the remains of the Police cordon at the Metro station.

 

I worried and prayed all night about the situation worsening, but to our astonishment the next morning it was almost as of nothing had happened! So, finally, we were to have our treat.

 

 

Throughout the appointment I kept thinking “I need to try and remember this, it would be good to blog about it”, but unfortunately a lot of the detail escapes me now as I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep at times!

It was very quiet at the spa and we only saw one other client the whole tie we were there. It seems quite a small place, however, so they probably don’t book many guests in at a time. We arrived an hour before our appointment, as suggested, and we’re invited to change into our swimsuits and put on robes, before using the sauna and relaxation room. We did so (once we had fathomed the complicated pre- and post-sauna procedure!) and had an enjoyable 10 minute sauna and shower before choosing from the selection of herbal teas in the relaxation room and settling down in the automated massage chairs (the source of some amusement as we experimented with the various functions!). From there our therapists collected us and took us through for the treatments.

As I said at the start, one of my reasons for inviting Peacock was so that I didn’t fancy going alone, but since then it had occurred to me that the majority of the time I’d be alone with the therapist anyway. However, we were surprised to have been booked into a double treatment room and were side by side throughout, which was a lovely touch. The therapists were amazingly well coordinated and everything happened seamlessly, even when we needed to take turns in the shower at one point.

The treatments began with a facial. We were given a choice of cleansing products, based on when fragrance we preferred, as their principle is that we are drawn toward the ingredients which will benefit us most. We were the shown our faces under UV light (a frightening experience, let me tell you!) to highlight specific skin needs, before continuing with the facial and moving on to the salt scrub. This is an all-over treatment, but you are given the option to exclude the chest and stomach areas if you prefer not to expose those. Having had two children I naturally have very little dignity remaining and chose to treat the maximum possible area!

Following the scrub, which was invigorating and not at all uncomfortable, we showered off the salt and returned to the bed for the back massage with hot stones. I had one of these a few years ago and had been looking forward to another! For the uninitiated, let me say that the pictures you see of women with a series of stones arranged along the length of their spines are wholly inaccurate. The experience is similar to a normal massage, but with the sensation that the therapist can magically heat up her hands from time to time as she adds in the stones, which are kept around you in the towels. The stones are also useful for removing tension as it allows the massage strokes to be much firmer than with a hand. I had asked for particular attention to be paid to my right shoulder blade, as I tend to carry the Baby on my right side and, whilst small for her age, she is nearly 1 and therefore a weight you notice when you only do it two days a week! The therapist said afterwards that she’d noticed the difference in my shoulder blades so it was well worth having the massage.

Finally came the Oriental scalp massage. You can choose to have this with or without oil through your hair, I suppose depending on whether or not you mind looking a sight afterwards. Peacock and I did comment on the fact that after such treatments, it is a shock to look in the mirror and discover that the way you feel on the inside isn’t necessarily reflected in your appearance! Thankfully we were planning family time for the rest of the day so we were fine with that, and happy to follow the recommendation to leave the products on as long as possible (although if I’d known then that we’d end up having dinner in a restaurant, however casual, I might have felt differently!)

After the treatments we were left alone to drink water and peruse the product catalogue before we left. We were also given a 20% discount card on another treatment in the next two months but, sadly, even with the discount it’s out of my budget without a special occasion. The nice thing was that having paid for the voucher so long ago, it did feel like free day out!  I’d definitely recommend this to anyone, it was a lovely relaxing afternoon and slightly disappointing to return to the chilly day outside and the chaos created by four children in the house!

I’ll have a close eye on Living Social for more of the same!

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About change (in both senses)

Having grown up in something of a backwater, where it was often quicker to walk the mile and a half into town than to wait for a bus, I count myself very lucky to live in a moderately-sized city, served by an excellent public transport network.  After 15 years I still don’t understand the buses, which seem to be a lot more frequent than those of my childhood but not at all predictable (particularly if you have a pram or pushchair with you – apparently allowing them on board is at the driver’s discretion, and that’s if you can actually get them up the step onto the bus anyway), but the Tyne and Wear Metro is, in many ways, an absolute joy.  Metro is a metropolitan railway (as its name suggests – nothing to do with the MetroCentre, by the way, which is only accessible by car, train or bus, a source of confusion to a lot of tourists!) which runs around Newcastle, out to the coast on the east, up as far as the airport in the north and south as far as Sunderland.  Most of it is above ground but it goes subterranean when it runs through the centres of Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland.

Each of the three houses I’ve lived in since moving here has been less than 10 minutes’ walk from a Metro station (I have to point out that it doesn’t run into the west of the city and I might view that as more of a shortcoming had I ever lived there!), and the trains run to a regular timetable as there’s no possibility of their being held up by other traffic.  Obviously there is the odd delay, but usually a train will arrive on time.  Users of prams and wheelchairs have no access problems, as all the stations have ramps or lifts, and the floor of the trains, when the doors open, is level with the platform so there’s no scary gap or enormous step to get over.

One of my favourite things about the Metro is that it runs in a circle.  Well, there are two lines (as you can see on this map) – the green one is a sort of reverse S-shape, but the yellow one, the one I use most often, runs in a circle.  The reason I like this is because the buses run in a sort of star shape, in relatively straight lines which cross in the city centre, so if you’re on the outskirts of the city you can’t get to another place which is also on the outskirts without going via the city centre, which can take a long time if it’s busy.  The Metro provides an alternative.

People complain about the cost, and it is relatively expensive (if all four of us want to go into town it costs £7.40 for return tickets – and would cost more if the girls didn’t have school-age discount cards – whereas we can park the car for 4 hours for that price, and Southern Daddy would never spend that long at the shops anyway!), but I do appreciate the service provided, especially at this time of the year when we’ve been having the most atrocious wet weather!  The main problem with payment for me has always been that the ticket machines only take coins, which means that if you don’t have enough on you, you have to have to do the following:

  • Find a cash machine and withdraw some money.
  • Find a shop where you can a buy something in order to break your note or b try and persuade the checkout assistant to take pity on you and change your note
  • Go to the station and buy the ticket.

By this time you will probably have missed your train.

I am not good at carrying cash and to be honest am an avid proponent of abolishing it altogether.  It’s inconvenient, encourages the spread of bacteria and illnesses from owner to owner and I can’t think of any situation in which a card or phone payment is not quicker and easier.  I love chip and PIN  – when I lived in France in 1995/1996 it was already widely used over there and it surprised me we didn’t adopt it here for nearly 10 years after that (it amuses me when assistants still insist on taking my card out of my hand and inserting it on my behalf into the machine, when in France no-one would lay a finger on your card for the risk of being accused of attempted fraud!).  I’m looking forward to contactless payment becoming more widespread as that sounds like a really useful innovation, too (my bank hasn’t introduced it yet).  So, as you can imagine, having to carry cash – and not only cash, but coins – to make sure I had enough for the Metro, has been a problem to me.

But, in the last few years, Metro has invested over £300 million in revamping and updating the whole network, and this includes NEW TICKET MACHINES!  They began to appear in February and haven’t been put into every station yet, but they are on their way.  These beautiful machines can do all manner of wonderful things: you can not only use them to buy a ticket, but you can enter the details of all the tickets you require at one time (if you are travelling in a group) and pay once for all of them.  You can buy weekly tickets rather than just single or return.  And they accept coins, notes and even credit or debit cards!!!!

This is going to make life a lot easier for me.  No longer will I have to drag my children home from school through the driving rain, saying “I’m afraid we can’t get the Metro, I haven’t the right money”.  No longer will I watch my train appear and disappear as I queue in the post office on the opposite side of the road, waiting to buy a birthday card I didn’t really need.  (And I’ll be one step closer to the day when I no longer have to carry cash for anything!)

The other great thing about the innovations in the Metro is that they are introducing Pop cards.  At the moment these don’t do very much – we have been sent them to replace the girls’ old discount cards and we have to carry them to show that they’re entitled to the reduced fares.  Metro currently doesn’t have access barriers like most inner city or underground rail networks, but works on an honesty system with the threat of fines and prosecution for those who can’t produce a ticket when required by an inspector in a random check.  Gradually, though, they are going to put in barriers or validators and the Pop cards will become more like the Oyster cards they have in London, where you can “charge” them with money and swipe them to go in and out of the system instead of buying a ticket.

I’m really looking forward to seeing all these new developments.  By the time the Bookworm starts secondary school in 2 years’ time, she will be able to travel just by using her card with no need to carry money of any description.  I like the idea of this from a personal security point of view, and if my daughters are anything like me then being able to cut down the amount they need to carry to an absolute minimum will be a real plus to avoid losing things!  I’m not generally a supporter of change but I can see very few drawbacks to this and hopefully the investment will be repaid as the network becomes more accessible and easy to use, both for locals and tourists.

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One Day More!

So – I’ve managed to stay snack-free for the whole of November (apart from the little piece of pumpkin muffin last week – and the bite I accidentally took from a piece of my friend’s birthday cake before I was reminded by the unfamiliar texture in my mouth that I was eating CAKE! and dropped it like a hot potato).  No cakes or biscuits, no chocolate or sweets, in fact not very much between meals at all.  Now it’s 30th November and tomorrow I fully intend to tuck into one of the M&S mince pies which are waiting in my kitchen.  Possibly even for breakfast.

So, what have I achieved during this month?  Well, mainly the realisation that I can do it.  It’s not often that I go more than a couple of days without eating chocolate (then usually because I’ve eaten it all and haven’t had chance to get any more) but I haven’t missed it as much as I thought.  I have the self control to say “no, thanks” when offered a biscuit with my cup of tea, or to slam the lid on the tin when the smell of the flapjack I’ve made for my Thursday morning mosaic group comes wafting once to often in my direction.  I don’t yet know if it’s made any permanent changes to my snacking habits as the mince pie might just be the thin end of the wedge and I’ll slip right back into it.  But at least I know it’s possible.

Secondly, the experiment has led to another realisation although I’m not sure which it is yet – could be one of about three possibilities: either a) I need to do it for longer if I’m to lose any weight (not my intention, just thought it would be a nice side effect) as I appear not have lost even a couple of pounds; b) I weighed a LOT more than I thought I did at the start of November without realising it; or c) my bathroom scales don’t work very well.  I’m obviously hoping it’s option c), because yesterday morning I apparently weighed 10 stone (63.5 kg/140lb) which I didn’t think I even weighed before.  I actually did feel as if I’d lost weight – my tummy is less round, some of my clothes are slightly looser and my face seems thinner than it has been – and I definitely don’t feel 10 stone.  But there you go.  I don’t think it’s going to stop me from devouring everything I feel like over Christmas, although having refrained this month I might do it with a little less abandon, and I guess I might just rein it in again in January!

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