A Family Weekend in London

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A trip to London was definitely in order. I lived here for nearly 7 years in my late teens and early twenties and I couldn’t wait to bring Aria down and do some of the tourist stuff I never got round to even after all those years living here. I think when you live somewhere and don’t have children it’s harder to justify the high prices for a lot of the tourist activities and I definitely ended up making excuses and never really getting around to a lot of things I wanted to do.

We stayed in a lovely Airbnb apartment that was perfect for our needs, a friend came and stayed with us so it ended up being £70 each per night which isn’t too bad relatively speaking as London is pretty pricey for accommodation. I love having the freedom an IMG_3357apartment gives especially with a small child; she went to bed and I was able to stay up and watch the Eurovision Song Contest with my friend, which is great compared to being trapped in a hotel room in silence next to a sleeping a toddler! The apartment was 5 minutes from a tube station that was on the district line, this took us to all the major tourist destinations that we wanted to visit including the London Eye, Shrek’s Adventure Land, a fabulous play park in Kensington and the Natural History Museum.

A lot of our destinations were chosen because we were lucky enough to be given Merlin Passes by a friend of mine last year, so I wanted to try and get some benefit from these and visit a few Merlin Attractions (have a look at the website for more details, but included in this pass are some pretty well known attractions in the UK such as Alton Towers, Legoland – Windsor, Madame Tussaud’s and The London Eye).

Our first stop on the Friday daytime was The Natural History Museum , the nearest tube station is South IMG_3331Kensington and the majority of the museum is free. There are paid exhibitions on all year round which are usually worth a visit but it is free to see most of the permanent exhibits such as the ever popular dinosaurs. There is also free bag check in and plenty of cafes and food available in and around the museum. Aria is completely Space mad so we went see the paid Otherworld’s exhibition which featured some truly breathtaking images from the various spacecraft we’ve sent off into the depths of outer space. I think Hubble is the biggest contributor. Jupiter is my daughter’s favourite planet and this is an image of her ‘meeting’ Jupiter. It’s definitely one that will make me smile for many years to come. We also visited the ‘Sensational Butterflies‘ exhibition as discussed in an earlier post.

On Saturday we head out to meet a friend and travelled to Tower Bridge and The Tower of London in the morning; the bridge can be found at Tower Hill tube stop. I’ve driven over this bridge so many times when living here but never really properly visited the area or the castle. It’s probably one of the most iconic views you’ll see of the city though. Some interesting information about the bridge is that when a large ship is passing under that requires the bridge to be raised, it takes priority over all other traffic. This meant that on a visit from president George W. Bush, his motorcade happened to be on its way to cross the bridge when it needed to be raised and he was made to wait. Apparently this caused a bit of diplomatic situation as he accused people of putting his life in danger but the laws of the bridge and the water even applied to him! There is an exhibition on at the bridge but we didn’t go there this P1020588time and simply headed for the Tower of London instead. If your whole group travels here by rail as opposed to the underground it is possible to get 2 for 1 tickets; as it costs £25 per person these are a pretty good deal. My train ticket from Manchester from the previous day and my friend’s ticket from that days travel were both valid for the offer.

I would say that The Tower of London is best for the 8+ age group, particularly maybe the 11+. Although Aria was great and loved running around and seeing the castle and the armoury etc, she didn’t really get the full educational benefit. We enjoyed seeing the crown jewels and the changing of the guard, and she loved meeting Keeper the armoury dragon; however, there is much more to be had from this experience for older children and adults. There are plenty of guided walks and a huge amount of historical information available to read. One interesting fact I learnt which I never knew was that not only was Sir Isaac Newton a philosophical and natural science genius, he was also the Warden of the Royal Mint  when in his fifties! This was a position he actively sought out.

After we had roamed around the tower for a while we decided to reward a very patient Aria IMG_3408with a trip to what is listed as one of the best play parks in London. The was the Princess Diana Memorial Play Park in Kensington Gardens. There are a few nearby tube stops such as Notting Hill Gate and Bayswater and i think at least 3 different lines head in that direction so it’s very accessible. The park definitely lived up to its reputation and didn’t disappoint. Aria had enormous fun charging around the pirate ship, splashing in water and utilising all the swings and slides. There’s something for all age groups here and Kensington Gardens and Palace are also nearby. The play park is free and has some really decent free toilets as well, which is a huge bonus when travelling with children. There’s food and drink for sale, bikes to hire and it’s well worth visiting this little gem. Even though it was busy it wasn’t uncomfortably so and everyone seemed to help out keeping an eye on the kids.

Sunday arrived and it was our final day in London, and we headed off to visit the London IMG_3448Eye and Shrek’s Adventure World; both of which can be found on the Embankment and Embankment tube is of course the nearest stop. Around this area you’ll find The Houses of Parliament, The Tate Modern, Jubilee Play park (also free) and it’s also just really nice to walk along the river have a good nosey at everything going on. I never went on The Eye, despite living here when it went up so I’d was really excited about this. Our passes got us on for free which was a bonus – it’s pretty pricey at around the £25 mark. I’ll be honest, the queues are a pest and I’d recommend arriving before the 10am opening time to queue for the tickets and then  queue again for the actual Eye. Don’t bother with the extra £6 for the fast track  queue as it really didn’t appear to go that much quicker when we were there. The queues move pretty fast despite me saying it’s a pain but I still felt a bit flustered by the time we finally got on as Aria was whinging and my back was hurting from the bags etc. I wasn’t sure at this point if it was going to be worth it! But IMG_3429don’t panic, I can honestly say it was one of my favourite things. If you get a blue sky sunny day it really does give fabulous views of the city and the Thames. I loved it! I’d possibly even do it again as it was such an fab perspective of the city that you don’t normally get. If it’s raining and grey however I’d probably say don’t waste your money and just wait for a nicer day if you can, as you’ll be a bit disappointed I think.

Next stop was Shrek’s Adventure: I had no idea what to expect  as I only booked it as it’s free with our Merlin passes

I should probably take this opportunity to say that I am in no way sponsored or affiliated with the Merlin Group and have not received any freebies from them for this post – we simply received a pair of passes from a friend and I’ve been trying to get the best value I can out of them! If you struggle for money but could afford the one off purchase I would highly recommend them as it really does give you some great value experiences for the year if you make the effort to visit all the attractions. 

Anyway, Shrek’s adventure is pricey if you pay to get in and it was suggested for the 7+ age group. Aria is 3 and I’ve got to say I was pretty impressed. It was good fun and was an actor led ‘walk through’ experience. Aria loved it and I’m glad we went. I can’t decide how I would have felt about it if we’d have paid to get in, but I’d say it’s probably still a fun day out if P1020650you can afford it. They don’t allow photography throughout, but they do get you to pose for a lot of pictures taken by them and at the end of the experience you get presented with a pretty cool book with all the pictures in – however they wanted £30 for this which in my opinion was too much. I’d have gone for it had it been about £15-20 maybe! As with most Merlin Group stuff there is a very large capitalist element to it as you have to walk through the shop at the end which is filled with expensive tat (hard with a toddler who wants everything). But if you can ignore this then you can have a great day out here. At the end of the experience there is an opportunity to pose with various film characters form different Dreamwork’s films and take photos for free which was nice. Aria liked King Julien a lot!

After this we headed to The Real Food Market at the Southbank Centre Square, which is just behind the Eye. This place is really excellent and open Fri-Sun, I’d fully recommend it for some delicious food and drink that’s unusual and well made. You can definitely do some hipster spotting too… It’s possible to get a decent lunch for a fiver or a really great lunch for a tenner. I had duck fat fried chips and some Lebanese IMG_3447mezzo. There are alcohol/cocktails and lots of home bakes and bread to take away too. After food we headed to Jubilee park behind the Eye for Aria to run some steam off before we headed to get our train home – one thing to note about this area is there is nowhere you can check your bags in which is a pain. I had to lug a big rucksack around which got in the way a lot when queuing etc. I had assumed Shrek’s adventure would have a check in but I was wrong!

Obviously our trip has just covered a small part of what’s on in London but I hope you’ve found some useful information and maybe enjoyed the pictures. London is still one of the best cities on the planet and it really is a must see destination for any traveler. It’s possible to have a budget trip with kids especially if you plan in advance and maybe get the London Pass or if you live here and have a Merlin Pass you really must get the benefit by visiting as included in this is The Eye, The Dungeons, and Shrek’s Adventure. The tube system is excellent once you get to grips with it and you can get anywhere pretty easily. But really do get an oyster card as at £12.50 the day travel cards are super expensive these days as opposed to just £2.40 a trip with the oyster card.

 

Apologies, inner peace & 2017 being the year of travel!

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I most genuinely have no idea where 2016 has scurried away to in such a hurry. I haven’t written for so long I’m starting to have that nagging guilt in some dusty corner of my mind, which seems to just make me look away even more I fear. I think after finishing my degree I had to step away from writing another single word just until I transitioned safely back to normal life after the rigors of academia.

However, there’s no need for alarm (if there was any), as all of our plans to travel remain the same and are moving forward significantly these days. What follows is a quick and haphazard catch up of all my racing thoughts and plans that have formed slowly in my head over the last year or so:

We will be getting our backpacks and babygrows (well, more likely Star Wars pyjamas these days) out in July 2017 and embarking on a long and magnificent trip around anything eastward bound from the UK. The plan at the moment is to get over to Amsterdam and then take trains through Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and on to Russia where we will catch the Trans-Siberian to go to Beijing via Mongolia. With plenty of stops on the way this should be one of the most exciting and educating ways to get to China that we could possibly experience; so much more immersive than catching a plane. My 3 year old is incredibly excited to be catching a train to China, regardless of the fact she doesn’t fully understand the reality of that yet. I’m introducing her slowly but surely to the concept, process and all the places we will visit (she’ll be nearly 5 at the point we leave though). Being the wee sponge that she is she’s learning an incredible amount before we’ve even set off on our home schooling travels.

After we arrive in China we’re to spend 3 months seeing China via train (and the odd plane no doubt) before we move off to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Bali to meet friends. We’ll then head to Australia to spend Christmas and New Year with the many family and friends we have over there. We’ll be exploring Oz and New Zealand for the next 3 months and if all goes to plan we’ll be heading out to Japan for 3 months at the start of March so we can experience sakura season. Afterwards I cannot wait to visit South Korea and experience with my own eyes the rich culture I see in my much loved K-Drama.

Beyond this I’m I’m undecided. We will possibly go to Croatia or to Malta where I am musing about settling down or at least making a base in a place with a climate better suited to our needs and personalities. Croatia looks to be too unstable as they’re quite restrictive to UK migrants at the moment. In Malta however, home schooling is illegal and they start schooling at 5 years (although my monkey will 6 when we’ve finished travelling). I’m still researching the system but I may have found a very good Montessori-type school on Gozo and they appear to get 12 weeks summer holidays both of which could persuade me to try schooling to give us an opportunity to settle a bit where family and friends can visit and from where we would still be able to travel 3 months of the year. I’ll post about the relocation in more detail very soon, it’s been an interesting thought/research process for me.

So, as you can see the plans have been busily forging on despite me being woefully neglective of my blog and my followers. I promise to try and post more regularly now, especially as I’m making daily decisions for our future travel plans. I’m currently choosing a hybrid backpack (one that also rolls, if like me you had no idea what that means) and researching accommodation, visas and all that stuff. I’ve now been saving for this for about 5 years very slowly, however much I’m able. Last year I even made a couple of thousand pounds selling off some of our possessions on eBay. I do actually intend to sell most of what we own before we go, keeping only the 20% or so of belongings we truly need or desire. This is a big thing for me as I want to learn to appreciate other things in life besides the things I own. Up until now I’ve placed much emphasis on my belongings; however, I want something different for my daughter. I want her to value something other than ‘stuff’ and I promised myself I would never say ‘do as I say not as I do’ to her. I think I should show her how to behave not tell her how to. So in 18 months we will hopefully undergo some vast geographical changes alongside some moral and spiritual ones too (for want of a better cliché), as we unburden ourselves, live in the moment and appreciate everything else the world has to offer.

At the beginning of this passage I posted one of my favourite pictures I took on our trip to the Outer Hebrides. I chose this image as it was here that I felt the most calm and at one with myself, once I managed to become comfortable with the almost deafening silence that accompanies the night sky. I remember having a clarity of thought that I haven’t experienced very often and I want to try and chase that experience for a while and see what I discover about myself whilst doing it. I think my daughter will grow more in these moments than she ever could dumped into the unforgiving rat race of school in the UK. I want her to find an inner peace that I was never able to locate in amongst all the stress and trauma of growing up. So before I launch her into the world of State education and all that goes with that, I’d like her to know peace, silence and meditation. I believe these are skills essential to us if we are to survive in the modern world.

Please stay in touch to see what comes next in our adventures. As always any suggestions on anything in regards to our travel plans is much appreciated. Luggage choices, accommodation suggestions or even ways in which I could earn a living whilst travelling are all appreciated. I’m currently developing an international toolbox of skills that will help me to turn my hand to anything whilst travelling the world and step out from that normalcy that has up until now made me feel trapped in my day to day life…. More on that another day though!

A noble art…

lin-yutang-life-quoteJust thought I’d do an apologetic post to explain my lack of blogging recently. Unfortunately life is getting in the way of my travel writing aspirations as I’m back completing my final year of University. As my followers will know, finishing my degree is number one on the list of things to do in order to achieve my goal of travelling the world with my little girl. So I hope you’ll be patient and continue to follow my blog even though the volume of posts may dip somewhat over the coming months. Single parenthood and university are a bit unforgiving when it comes to the pleasures in life like writing away on WordPress. I’ve also just started working for my favourite local charity so that has swallowed a bit more of my time leaving even less for writing. However, it will definitely all be worth it in a few months when I stand in the famous Bute Halls and graduate!

As soon as I get some guilt free time to sit and do some travel writing (so time I shouldn’t be spending writing my dissertation, reading up on contemporary ethics or doing the housework!) I’ve got some lovely posts planned. I recently went to see the stunning fairy sculptures at Trentham Gardens near Stoke On Trent so I have some great info on that and also on the fabulous Monkey Forest just next door. This is a smaller version of Monkey World in Dorset but it’s a great family day out in that area. I also have a ‘past travels’ post planned on a visit to Australia that happened a long time ago now. Although it was really the first ‘proper’ trip I ever took so it’s definitely a landmark in my travelling life!

Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you to all the people who read my blog and have supported me this far in my dreams. Watch this space for a post very soon featuring some utterly gorgeous fairy sculptures:)

Writing 101 – A Room With a View (or Just a View)

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For a quick explanation – here’s the writing 101 task I was set today and below is my submission: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-setting/

I’m 8 years old and after a year long specialised project (infiltrating all the different subjects) at school, I find myself completely and utterly engrossed/obsessed with all things related to the Amazon rainforest. I write an extremely long fictionalised story about a girl and her family, which is partly inspired by a school play we did about the Yanomamo. This year when I was 8 has given me an endless love of the Amazon and insatiable need to go there.

So this is where I’m transported to, although it’s the view I have of the Amazon as an extremely imaginative child. It’s probably melded with films and cartoons from around that time too, so ‘Ferngully – The Last Rainforest’ has undoubtedly had an influence on how I imagined the Amazon to be in my story. As I close my eyes and picture the scene, I’m engulfed with the smells and aromas. A fresh grass type smell mixed with the heady scent of exotic and unknown flowers. My Amazon is a naïve place; filled with the wonderment only a child can create. It has dazzling blue rivers that don’t actually exist in reality, at these rivers young naked children fish with spears, taught by their elders. There are trees too tall to see the tops, trees that are alive and view the world from their lofty heights. No doubt looking on with derision and disgust – I think the poisonous tree featured in Ferngully is a metaphor for the havoc we wreak on all of nature that surrounds us; it oozes out all the evil and disgusting things we create as humans who care not for the world around us.

On a side note, I know everyone said the film Avatar was a parody of the story of Pocahontas but more accurately it was a total rip off of Ferngully!

The forest in my child mind is akin to the forests and woods from the Enid Blyton books ‘The Enchanted Wood” – they have mysterious lands at their invisible tops that transport you to either excitement or danger. I think this is how I pictured the Amazon, although I mixed it in with all the things I’d seen and read in books. Somehow creating a magical place of unbelievable depths that may or may not come close to the reality. My cynical adult mind tells me that the place I created could never be matched up by reality, but then the adventurous child that still lives within tells me that there is nothing more beautiful, amazing and wondrous than what is already here on Earth.

Back in the Amazon…. I’m hit by the freshness that’s juxtaposed with intense humidity creating an environment that is heavy and at the same time light enough to bear. It’s hot and damp but not to the point you couldn’t acclimatise to it. The rain provides relief in the day and the cover of trees can be so thick it becomes dark, cold and occasionally frightening. If alone in the rainforest it’s not long before your mind and consciousness start to become one with the living being that is the Amazon. I see the Amazon as one giant living, breathing entity. It’s not a series of parts and should only be view as a whole. Once you’re in the thick of it you also become part of that entity. It’s your life force, oxygen, food, shelter, and comfort. But it’s also the source of danger, death and destruction. Although all of our environments are like this, I imagine that none more so than the rainforest. Nothing could make you so aware you are directly dependent on it than the forest, or so aware it can take it away in a second. The idealistic part of me would like to think that in response to this humans learn to live alongside the forest and also alongside one another – as it is only with co-operation and compassion we can thrive in such an environment. The humans in my story co-existed with strength and unity – I suspect that those living in the Amazon also would too if only they weren’t pressured with the evils that the rest of the world forces on them. Cocaine production, destruction of the forest, total environmental rape for resources and medicinal goods is what makes the factions rise up and pit themselves against one another. Without all that, I have a feeling life would be more similar to the life my 8 year old self created.

When I visit Manaus with my little monkey in a couple of years time as part of our RTW trip, I can only hope it matches up even 5% to the world I have imagined. I will only be touching the tip of it too, as with a 4 year old I will have to adjust how much we explore and what we are able to do. There is nowhere else on earth though that I want to see and explore more than the Amazon and it all stems from that year long project at school. When I’m older I would love to properly do a much lengthier trek, but until then a tourist trip to Manaus will definitely keep me happy. As with any child memory or imagining of a place my thoughts and feelings of the Amazon are slightly fractured, incomplete, as if my naïve mind couldn’t fully comprehend the shear size and scale of the forest. I am looking forward to completing my imagination and having some solid memories to hold onto for the rest of my life.

Theoretically Driving

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Last Thursday I passed my driving theory test. Those of you residing in the UK will know that this is the 1st major hurdle to actually gaining a full UK driving licence. Once this is done you’re kind of home and dry in regards to getting your proper test booked and getting the pass certificate. Of course you need to learn to drive but hopefully you’ll have already been doing this.

I thought I’d do a little post on my hints and tips for getting this one under your belt. Everyone who has passed it will tell you how easy it is, but actually quite a few fail it (and not just once)! I think the test is relatively easy, but only if you do some work and practice the hazard perception section online. The best advice that I received was to NOT rely simply on the mock tests that are available all over the place and the apps for smart phones. I think this definitely stands as helpful advice. I had access to an online learning tool via my instructor, this had practice questions from all the sections, it had mock test, highway code practice and hazard perception videos. I found the only really useful thing was the mock test bit, but only after I had bought the proper DVLA book and worked my through all the multiple choice questions. This is an absolute must. The book seems really thick which is a bit off putting, but in reality I was able to work through the 15 sections in a week. It has all the multiple choice questions in it and the answers are at the back. there are also clues next to each of the questions. I basically went through this with a pencil and did all the questions whilst checking the answers in the back. I’ve got a pretty good memory so I went through it once and then did a load of mock tests. I was passing all the mock tests with between 48 and 50 out of 50. The pass mark is 43 so I was pretty happy that I was up to standard. 

If you struggle with memory tasks I would give yourself a month instead of a week and go through the book a few times. I good way to look at the test is that about 70% of the questions are genuinely common sense knowledge and about 30% are questions that you either know the answer or you don’t. Once you’ve identified this 30%, you can focus your memorising energy here. When I say common sense it really is questions like: “If you are at a crossing and an elderly person is taking more time to cross the road, should you – a) rev your engine and press you horn, b) speed round them whilst gesturing or c) wait patiently for them to cross the road. 

Doing the mock tests will identify any problem sections you have and allow you to focus for longer on these if you need to. The really annoying part of the test is the hazard perception section. This test is really not  a test of anything except your ability to pass this test. However, you do need to pass it and it’s worth practicing. I found the AA driving school online practice was the best quality videos and also the closest match to the real thing. You can find that here: http://www.theaa.com/aattitude/games/hpt.jsp

The instructions (even on the practice tests are ambiguous). It tells you to click every single time you see a potential hazard (parked cars, pedestrians etc) but that it will only mark you for one major hazard that develops fully in each video apart from one video where there will be 2 hazards. The crunch is that if you click too much it will tell you that you did the test inappropriately for that video and you will get nothing. There are 15 videos and they are marked out of 5 each. The hazard that you are being marked on is always obvious; something like a horse rider you have to pass, a car on a narrow bridge or kids playing on the road or a cyclist that rides in front of you. You are given a 5 second window in which to click the mouse and register that you have seen the hazard. If you click at the start of this window you get the full 5 marks and lose a mark for every second that passes. What I found really silly and frustrating was that I realised on the practice tests that I was seeing the hazard sooner than they wanted me to, so I’d click but it would be 1 or 2 seconds too soon and I would receive no marks as it would tell me I had missed the hazard when I knew full well I hadn’t. So I developed a technique where whenever I saw a hazard I would click the mouse about 3 or 4 times in a row – guessing that at least one of the clicks would register in the window they wanted you to click in. I also didn’t click on the smaller potential hazards so as not to risk ‘clicking inappropriately’ and getting zero marks. There is a potential 75 marks up for grabs. I passed with 60 so got an average of 4 per video so I think my technique worked well. But it’s stupid in my opinion and is nothing other than a test of how to pass their test. It has given me no knowledge on how to avoid hazards on the road, as obviously learning to drive means you already know that a horse rider is a hazard and you must drive slowly, or that an old lady crossing the road means you need to slow down and allow her to pass. The whole thing is a ridiculous palaver.

The actual theory test is useful though, and it has also improved my driving. Particularly the road sign knowledge and vehicle safety etc. I wish I’d sat the test sooner in the course of my lessons as it has been useful. So my advice would be to book it within a month of your first lesson. I passed with 48/50 and I would say I did minimal but enough revision for my own learning and memory style. Being at university and studying for exams means I have good knowledge of my own learning style and how quickly I pick up new information. If you struggle to retain this kind of thing, as I said, I give yourself a full month to revise. I gave myself a full week, working every night through the book and doing mock tests. 

My driving instructor has told me I’m ready to put in for my test now – it takes about 6-8 weeks to get a test here so she means that in the period of time I’ll have ironed out all of the little glitches I need to in order to pass. I”m confidant on the roads now and it really i just a case of practising. A lot of it is getting to know the junctions and area the test is done in, as a lack of local knowledge can really throw you when it comes to getting in the right lane at a busy junction or similar situations to this. My opinion is that gaining a 1st time pass will depend on nerves as if they get the better of you then you’ll make silly mistakes you wouldn’t do normally. It also has a bit to do with luck on the day though, I’ve had a stupid lorry driver pull out on me really fast whilst trying to join the expressway – what this meant was I didn’t have the time to join the carriageway and had to slow down before getting over and this held up the traffic behind me. I’d have failed if this was my test day, but really it’s was just bad luck. In real life there would have been no harm done but my instructor said in a test situation they would have expected me to have built up enough speed to get out in front of him. I just didn’t have the guts to do the manoeuvre due to lack of experience. So if you see a learner driver and they’re annoying you or making you impatient just please remember that they could be taking their test, and you pulling out in front of them or beeping and gesturing at them when they stall or cutting them up could actually jar their nerves enough that they fail their test. We’re annoying us learners, I know that, especially if you’re in a rush – but you’ve all been there and it’s worth remembering how nervous you felt when you did it. It might give you the patience you need to just let us get on with it, as really it’s only going to take a few extra minutes out of your day. :) 

Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to finally being a driver, life will be so much easier, especially with a child , to just load up the car and go off for day trips around the UK. I can’t wait, so watch this space and hopefully there’ll be another post soon telling you I’ve completed the proper test and passed it!!

Emotional Landscaping

heartmapquoteThe last few months have been a massive change emotionally for me. After deciding to step out on this path of travelling and working abroad I’ve really had to take stock and it’s had a big effect on my thoughts and feelings surrounding what I want for myself and my daughter. I think in a way, entering into the final year of my degree or even just coming back to university after giving birth, has been the biggest catalyst to all this emotional change.

If you’ve had kids then you may have had a similar experience to me, where during the pregnancy and straight after the birth it’s not really possible to really know what you want. I was pretty scared and a lot of things were going on that were outside of my control. I just didn’t know what I wanted pure and simple. I knew what I had wanted in the past intellectually speaking, but it was put on hold in a strange way that I’ve never experienced before. There was an unknown entity on the way and I was really conscious that the minute they came into being and ventured into the outside world things would change – I don’t mean in the obvious ways, I mean more in the sense that there would be a person who would eventually have thoughts and opinions that would change the decisions I was going to make. This mentally put me in some sort of freeze hold and I just couldn’t conceive of much beyond the birth. Even after she was born I spent the usual few weeks recovering and acting like a hormonal wreck and then I started to focus on getting back to university.

It was at this point that I really started to ask myself what I wanted, I found myself caving in to those invisible societal pressures that surround us as parents and even just as people. Those pressures that tell us to conform, take a normal path, provide for our family and not take risks. Despite having never wanted to follow a ‘normal’ path in my life I suddenly found myself looking into ‘normal’ graduate schemes and ‘normal’ jobs. I was convincing myself that having my daughter meant I needed to make the ‘responsible’ decisions and not do the outlandish things I’d always wanted to do. Whilst in the early stages of my pregnancy, Monkey’s Dad and me discussed things that we wanted and we both expressed a wish to travel. I said I wanted to finish my degree and give myself the option of further study, but I said that travel was definitely a part of my future. He seemed to need something more than this and I just couldn’t give it to him. Now, the reasons he decided to leave are way more complex than I can do justice to in a blog post. And I don’t think it would be fair to him to claim that this is all there is to it. But I think a small part of it was that I was too busy trying to control everything, whilst he was too busy trying to force me to commit to things I just wasn’t ready to commit to. We were both panicking and we didn’t know each other well enough and he didn’t give me or himself the chance to find out what we wanted, together as a family. Within weeks of finding out I was pregnant he’d gone. I often wondered what would have happened if we’d just given ourselves the time to get used to the new situation we were in; instead of trying to force each other to be the people we thought we needed the other person to be….

Since that point I have changed and developed so much as a person I’m partly unrecognisable. I’ve gone through such a lot having my daughter on my own and coming to terms with the effect that will have on both out lives. As I said, I really ended up convincing myself that I needed to do the ‘normal’ thing for the sake of my daughter. It was only as I got further down those paths, and truly started looking at things like the NHS graduate scheme or civil service as a realistic option that I knew it was never going to make me happy – and that would make Monkey unhappy. It was this realisation that made me really start thinking about what I actually wanted – and that’s to travel. I know without a doubt that if I get to the end of my life without travelling, without living in another country and possibly without learning another language then it will be my biggest regret. So to allow that to happen whilst knowing that would be a big crime against myself.

A while ago I did a post about how big my safety net should be: http://www.backpacksandbabygrows.com/2014/07/03/how-big-should-a-safety-net-be/ . In this post I discussed giving myself a back up plan that involved completing a Masters at the same time as saving to do a RTW trip, so that if travel didn’t happen I would have other options to fall back on. Options that I actually wanted to take, such as postgrad study. Since writing that post though, I’ve realised that actually, I just want to go. I don’t want any other distraction; I just want to save up as much as I can and head off into the unknown with my wee Monkey. This trip and travelling has somehow evolved into so much more than ‘just’ a trip. I know that thought is probably echoed in the minds of countless other travellers or wannabe travellers. So much so, it’s become clichéd – but it’s clichéd because it rings so true for so many people. For me this trip is about finally starting my life. That probably sounds strange, but I’m a late starter in life – my own potential and personal development has been delayed and diverted time and time again. Mostly due to circumstances out of my control, particularly as a child and teenager. My 20s were spent coming to terms with this, and it’s only been since starting college and going back to university that I’ve become the person I always knew I could be. Having my daughter has finalised that in a way nothing else could. Making these steps to travel and jump out into the deep end, as a single parent is really the first step in what I feel is my ‘true’ life, the life I’m meant to have. So there’s a lot riding on it. It’s not that I don’t want the postgrad stuff anymore, it’s that I’m acutely aware they will be there when I get back, I can do those at any time, anywhere in the world. But it’s travelling that will help me to be who I need to be emotionally; it’s travelling that will let my daughter be the person she can be….

Another thing I’ve slowly admitted to myself is that I don’t want to put monkey into the daily grind that is the school system. I know there are some amazing teachers out there; my sister is one of them. But there’s also some terrible teachers out there and the school system is there to cater for the middle ground; it’s there to create an obedient workforce who behave themselves, turn up on time, don’t question authority and basically live life with a set of blinkers on. The world does not need any more of those people, that I do know – if it’s to survive, if we’re to survive as a species we need the mad, creative, wild and inappropriate types. I know too many people who had every last bit of creativity and individualism drained or pummelled out of them at school, to be OK with signing my child up for that. I really want to do something that probably lies in between home schooling and unschooling – (although as with most of the other unschoolers I’m not that keen on the name, as it implies no learning whatsoever which couldn’t be further from the truth). Admitting this to myself has made me realise that those are my 2 core beliefs and aspirations in my life: travel and home schooling, so the rest just needs to somehow fit around them. Or I need to make it fit around them because in the end it’s me that’s in charge of my life. No one else can do these for me. I would love to start working for myself, writing and making a living by piecing together all my skills in a way that makes me happy. Whether that’s teaching English, writing, doing photography, or a bit of all these things and maybe some other things too, I don’t know. But I’m definitely not a Monday to Friday kind of a woman. I would also love to meet someone who shares my dreams, I’d like to let go enough to fall in love again and maybe (just maybe) expand my little family, as having monkey has been the best decision I ever made. Finally realising that these are the things I truly know has given me emotional freedom that I’ve never felt before. It’s given me a purpose and something to aim at. I don’t need riches (not that I ever wanted them), I do want to have the finances to travel (obviously) and to provide my daughter and myself with a half decent standard of living but beyond that I really don’t care. I don’t want her to grow up in the consumerist mess we have in the UK, where how we view our own worth and the worth of others is somehow inextricably linked to what we own and how much money we have in the bank. I want her to know that there is so much more to life than money and possessions. Poverty is horrific but so is having all the materialistic things you ever wanted, only to realise that you’re still looking for something that can’t be bought and now you’ve not got the time to find it.

So this is where I am today, embarking on this adventure is a strange thing for me at this point in time. I’ve still got a year of my degree to complete. This will undoubtedly be one of the most intense years I ever experience but it’ll be worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears that I shed and have shed over the last 7 years. The RTW trip still feels completely imaginary – because it is. It probably won’t feel in the slightest bit real until I actually book us those tickets, and maybe it won’t feel real until we step off the plane and head into our first country on the list (hopefully China). To keep myself focused on the long-term future I keep looking at this big map online and planning where we’ll go and when, I’m reading all these travel blogs and talking to my closest friends about my plans. But on the flip side, I also have to keep my feet firmly on the ground and focus on the here and now. I HAVE to get this degree; I’ve worked too hard to fall at the last hurdle. Not only that, I know I’m capable of getting a 1st. It’s where my grade point average is lying at the moment and I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say a 1st is what I want. Although saying that, I do now know that it’s not the be all and end all, any degree will be a massive achievement for anyone let alone someone in my position.

So this is my bit of emotional landscaping – making that decision to travel has just brought on an avalanche of life choices and realisations that I could never have expected. I’d love to hear if any of you have had a similar experience in the comments section! I suspect that travel and making those massive decisions takes on this huge role in nearly everyone’s life – especially if it’s something you end up turning into a lifestyle choice rather than just a holiday. I’m so excited already at the thought of the adventures to come and the experiences me and my daughter will have together – I’ll have to increase my vocabulary and powers of articulation just to put into words how I feel when we actually go!!

Travelling With Kids : Things To Do In Sydney For Free

Things to do in Sydney for free when travelling with kids – courtesy of The Kid Bucket List

The Kid Bucket List

Travelling With Kids : Things To Do In Sydney For Free

If you find yourself in Sydney for a day and want an adventure for free we have found a plethora of delights for you to explore. Whilst you will need to find your way to the spot, entry or exploration is free! Have fun!

The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia is a cultural marvel and houses a brilliant range of contemporary art. The venue is free to visit and children are warmly received. For a gold coin donation child visitors receive an activity book to plot their journey around the site. You can also download this for free and take it with you.

The Rocks Discovery Museum is open every day from 10.00 am – 5.00 pm and is located in a three-storey high restored 1850s sandstone warehouse in The Rocks. It is free to enter and walks you through the history of the are from pre-European occupation through to modern times. It…

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Tefl approved…. (technically)!

approvedI have now finished my 120 hour online TEFL course! I’m of course extremely happy about this; I’m now officially qualified to teach English as a foreign language. BUT…. there’s always a but isn’t there? I say ‘technically’ in my title because doing the online course means I’ve had no actual teaching practice.

I’ve loved the course and I don’t want to make it seem like I’m criticising the TEFL qualification; however, there are some big downsides to doing the course completely online. I think I’d be incredibly nervous before teaching a lesson for starters. Also there were lots of grammar related questions/problems I had, that really needed the presence of a proper instructor to solve. Anyone who has looked even briefly at the structure of English grammar can attest to how complicated we seem to have made our system. But (yes there’s a 2nd more positive ‘but’)… I feel that I made the right choice and I will stick to my original plan. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you will know that I planned on doing the online course to familiarise myself with the grammar and to get a feel for what’s expected of me before applying to do the more formal CELTA qualification at the university I currently study. I’m glad I did it this way round. I now have a rudimentary understanding of grammar. Although I will say that if I was only planning on doing this course then jumping straight into teaching, I would need some immense organisational skills to fully prep all my lessons in advance in order to make sure I could answer any questions my students had. 

On saying that, I think preparation and advance planning and a huge amount of lesson plans and worksheets all done in advance of the lessons will be key to being a good EFL teacher. I can see why there’s so many complaints about of terrible quality of teaching. If you’re just bumming around and do the TEFL course as a thing to make money, but it’s not something you put any effort, energy or passion into, then you will be a terrible teacher. You will also end up hating your job as much as the students hate you. Sorry, I know that sounds harsh but having done the course I know that it’s completely true… you only have to read some forum and blog posts to know the level of appalling teaching that’s out there and I think this is the reason why. They’ve gone into it thinking it’ll be a doss and it couldn’t be further from the truth.

I think you could do the online course and then build up lots of experience through voluntary work if you wanted. This could be a viable option for anyone who can’t afford the far higher price of the CELTA course. I think I’ll try and do some voluntary stuff anyway as it will help me to get over those initial jitters about standing in front of a class, and it would be nice to have experience before accepting a proper job too. The online course is pretty easy, I don’t want to belittle anyone who found it hard… by that I mean that with a bit of effort I think most people will find it manageable and would be able to complete it. The assignments start off as multiple choice quizzes on the grammar and then build up to written assignments you submit for proper marking. However, these begin as small, manageable quick pieces of work and it’s only the final 3-4 assignments that pose a challenge in any way. These last ones do require you to apply what you’ve been taught and to prepare some full lessons from start to finish. They take time and care and are worth doing well, after all this is what you’ll be doing as a teacher!

Once you’ve done the course you’ll find that along the way, you’ve had to do so much research you’ll have hopefully built up some great resource links from external websites – these will be a huge help when actually teaching. One of the best I’ve found to date is the great blog found here on WordPress called ‘tefltastic’ – http://www.tefltastic.wordpress.com there’s tons of resources, worksheets and lesson planning advice and tips along with a large amount of activity ideas. There’s also hundreds of activity worksheets available to download. Well worth a look! The tefl community is in general very helpful and inclusive – everyone has been in that starter position before, so I think that makes everyone really willing to help and create an open community of sharing when it comes to academic resources. 

Below are some good websites I’ve found during the duration of my course:

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk This is a BBC/British council site offering loads of tips and lesson plan ideas along with grammar help.

http://www.teflteachertraining.com is a great blog by Ted, offering untold amounts of advice and help on all things TEFL

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/ A good resource if you need some grammar explained in plain english whilst completing the course. It helps to fill in some of the gaps that are there in the TEFL course book.

http://www.onestopenglish.com Again, this is a good site for filling in some of the gaps, the TEFL course is OK but I must admit I did find some explanatory gaps in their books. Although I suppose a bit of self-study is never a bad thing either!

http://www.tefl.net A general resource and advice site

http://www.businessdictionary.com This is a great resource to use for vocabulary you might need in a business english class, providing definitions and also ideas around which to plan your business english lessons.

I’m planning on continuing to post any useful information I find including useful resource sites, so keep an eye out if you find this kind of stuff useful. I’m also hoping to get a little site started up with my own worksheets and lesson plans etc once I actually start teaching. Although this will be a couple of years down the line save for some voluntary work. It is most definitely in the pipeline though – you can hold me to it! 

I just want to end by saying that the TEFL course provided by http://www.tefl.org.uk was well worth the money. Although I found some of the instructions to be a little bit ambiguous I did get through it with a grade point average well over 90%. They also marked all my assignments in the agreed timeframe and gave me advice when I asked for it. I’m very glad I did this, and I think it will be extremely valuable when I do the CELTA to have had access to the knowledge and the lesson plans. And if you are very self driven and motivated you could definitely get along into teaching without the CELTA – but I would suggest doing a substantial amount of voluntary work if you can to get the experience and to put into practice all the theory you have been taught. Also it’s worth remembering that knowledge of the subject is only one part of what it takes to be a good teacher and that will come more easily the more you do it – however what really matters are the qualities employers and students will look for :

tefl qualities

Happy TEFL-ing guys, I can’t wait to actually get going with my travels and put my knowledge into practice!

The Glasgow Tourist Week

3009_10151063424420064_1378110194_nI had a good friend come to stay with myself and monkey this week and she brought her 2 year old little girl with her. It’s given me a great opportunity to show them both round the city and really experience Glasgow through the eyes of a tourist. It gets a bad rep sometimes but as soon as anyone I know has visited they’ve fallen in love with it as quickly as I did. Now to be honest I do live in one of the nicest parts – the West End;  so I’m surrounded by beautiful parks and within walking distance of lots of major attractions. But I still think Glasgow is a very misunderstood and unfairly represented city. If anyone gets the chance and hasn’t been I can’t recommend it enough.

During the few days my friend and her little girl stayed with us, me (and the monkey) showed them round as many sights as we could. The days started early and finished late – the mums and toddlers were exhausted but in that good way that occurs when you’re on a packed full holiday. The weather was pretty changeable all week but that meant we got to experience a wide variety of kid friendly activities. The following is a little summary of what we did – so if you have young kids you are now hopefully armed with some info on what you can do in the city of Glasgow (rain or shine).

On the 1st day it was forecast to rain so we decided to visit a great little soft play area in the West End called Jungle In The City – it’s on a little side street at 8 Gardner Street off Dumbarton Road. Unlike the huge massive warehouse set ups it’s in a smaller building but still has all the same equipment and ball pits, and big apparatus just on a smaller scale. The bonus of this is you can view the whole room from a chair or sofa and there isn’t that horrible echoey effect either. There’s plenty of stuff available for babies (walkers, bouncy chairs, high chairs for feeding and toys etc) up to about 8-10 year olds depending on height. Also during the week it’s only £4.95 for all day play and a kids packed lunch (soup or sandwich, raisins, yogurt. crisps and a juice). The adult food is also simple and cheap but tasty. I can’t recommend this place enough to let the kids let off steam on a rainy day. A great time is always had by the kids.

After soft play fun we decided to head down Dumbarton Road and have a wander round Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. This is a real family museum with a large range of activities for everyone and it also boasts a great art collection including the Glasgow Boys collection and the Dali piece Christ of St John The Cross which is truly stunning. But for the kids there’s a lot of interactive stuff for older children and for toddlers there’s all the animals and dinosaur life size figures that both girls loved just wondering round and looking at, along with the fashion items and all the Rennie Mackintosh furniture. At around 1pm there’s an organ player that comes on each day and does a 30 minute show too. After a good run round all the exhibits the girls wanted to see we headed down for a quick look in the gift shop before heading home. It was absolutely pouring with rain when we left so we did end up getting side tracked and nipping into a great New York restaurant called Tribeca (also on Dumbarton Road) to wait for the rain to at least calm down before we headed on – this place does all the real american diner stuff and cocktails and everything in-between; it also has truly American size portions and the great service we hear comes as standard across the pond.

On our 2nd day it was a much nicer day so we headed off and walked to the Transport Museum situated on the River Clyde in a new sparkly building. I love this place – it’s filled to the rafters with every vehicle you can think of. Old fashioned trams, trains, cars, prams, bikes, motorbikes, horse and carriages. If you can name it then it’s probably in there. They also have an historical cobbled street all set up with the horse and carriages on and loads of little interactive shops. More for older kids admittedly but the girls loved running in and out of them – there’s cobblers, a bridle/saddler shop, a pawn shop all that kind of stuff with lots of interactive screens giving loads of information about the history and the time. After we’d exhausted all the stuff the girls wanted to look at and had climbed on the trains and trams we were allowed on we headed out the back door where there’s the magnificent spectacle that is the Tall Ship. It’s free to go on and like the museum has information and general activities for the kids to look at and play with. Most people would probably assume it was for older kids but the girls really did have a nice time running up and down the length of the ship, looking at the ropes and barrels and a replica mast and all the other stuff there. There was also a mini soft play area again and they had lots of fun running in and out of the tunnels and generally going mad. We had a cup of tea in the little cafe too to get some energy back. The ship is fully set up with lifts to every level – I had the monkey in her brilliant back carrier (made by the awesome Madame Googoo) but my friend had her pushchair and we were able to access all the areas and get about very easily. There was also baby change facilities on the ship and in the museum.

Once we’d done all this I decided that they couldn’t come all the way up and not experience the Willow Tea Rooms in town – a real Glasgow institution designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and serving up some great tea and traditional Scottish food, alongside everyday stuff. We went to the one on Buchanan Street as it’s a little bigger and easier with all the kids stuff like the pram etc. Now it’s not overly toddler friendly; you have to get up a big flight of stairs but we folded the pram up and got up there. They do have high chairs and also provide colouring for the kids, I think people maybe don’t expect you to take little kids in so there may have been some sideways glances from elderly people who were wanting a quiet cup of tea (I may have imagined this though!). Either way we just ignored them and enjoyed our tea, tried to stop my monkey from grabbing things off the table etc etc. The only minor complaint I would have is that despite having the high chairs and colouring they insist on serving the kids food and drink in glasses and porcelain plates so it’s a bit nerve wracking in that respect. Still, I’m glad I was able to take them there as I really love the decor and the tea is great.

The sun was still beaming down afterwards so we headed home via the gorgeous Kelvingrove Park (the number 4a bus goes from outside Central station and up Woodlands road where you can get off and access the park through one of the many entrances). We took the kids to go on the swings and slides – there’s a great playground here for kids of all ages and even a skate park. If the weather is nice then Kelvingrove Park is a must; they have also just renovated the band stand and opened it up so I expect more events will be taking place. The other weekend I took monkey to Glasgow Mela; a free event all weekend that filled the park with all kinds of multicultural music, dance, food and drink. It was a really great weekend so it’s worth keeping on eye out for what’s happening.

This pretty much concludes what we managed to fit in over a couple of days. This is just a taster too – I didn’t manage to take them to the Botanics which is another lovely spot, Glasgow Green is also nice and the People’s Palace is there which is a great thing for older kids – telling them all about the history of the working classes in Glasgow; introducing a lot of sociological concepts and themes at an early age which is great in my opinion. Glasgow is definitely a city with a complex and often fraught history.

I hope I’ve maybe convinced some people to come and visit and given an idea of just some of the child friendly activities around – I haven’t mentioned that apart from Jungle In the City and of course the Willow tea room, all these activities were free so perfect if you’re on a strict budget! I think my friend was definitely taken by the city as she was very quickly saying she could easily live here – I think people are always surprised by how much they like Glasgow if they’ve never been.

Taking a holistic approach…

Holistic-health

I wanted to add to my slightly bonkers previous post and say why I’m trying to transform myself into a carefree ‘hippie’; over the last couple of years since having a baby I’ve really had the chance to assess my life from every angle. I’ve always known the conclusions that I’ve come to; it’s just not an easy thing to implement necessarily (for anyone!).

Nearly every news site or ‘health and diet’ site on the internet will always have these so called ’10 easy steps to a happier healthier you’ – but the crucial thing is, is it’s never actually that easy. As an anxious type of person I’ve always known doing things like yoga and meditation would help me significantly to get a handle on this, but I’ve never quite had the motivation to do it. Or I’ve had the motivation but after 1 or 2 classes I’ve felt so self-conscious I’ve not gone back. I’ve never really been a gym bunny, but I did play a huge amount of sports in primary and high school. The problem when you leave school is that you really have to go and search out these clubs and sports as an adult. I think if I’d gone to university straight after school I probably would have joined the university teams in the same sports I did at school. However, this wasn’t the case so it all just fell to the wayside.

Before I knew it, my 20s had gone by and I was suddenly a ‘proper’ adult who used to be fit and healthy who was getting used to the idea that I no longer was. Having a baby really changed things – I had a home birth booked so I suddenly had an added incentive to really get into all the mindfulness and meditation and relaxation stuff. Even though the home birth never happened all that practice did stick with me. And now of course I have another incentive to be fit and healthy and have a good decent diet. Longevity suddenly becomes of the upmost importance; I mean it always was important – don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying without a child people don’t care how long they live. It just really rams it home in an indescribable way, that you want to be there for as much of their lives as possible. I gave up smoking as soon as I found out I was pregnant and I’m lucky enough that I’ve just never had the urge to start again …

So this brings me to now – I think deciding to travel and really assess what I want out of my life has made me decide that this dream and my path to achieving it should really be a holistic approach I take. I should take this opportunity to really take stock of my life and change it in the ways I want to – if I’m fit and healthy and fuelling myself with good decent food, I’m more likely to be happy a and healthy and therefore positive. I think the yoga and meditation speaks for itself in terms of the benefits. I really want the little monkey to be able to just follow by example – I don’t want to be that annoying parent who constantly says ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Had two of those and it’s supremely irritating! I want her right from the start to just be naturally living a healthy and active life – without it being a big ‘thing’ – it’s just how we live.

Of course building my fitness and stamina will help no end in achieving all the things I want to achieve over the next couple of years; the final year of my degree will be one of the most highly pressured things I’ve done so far for starters. And travelling and trying to work abroad too, being fit and healthy will hopefully keep any medical care we need to a minimum – always a bonus when abroad.

So – there’s some slightly more rational reasons for my ‘dress like a hippie, become a hippie’ plan of action!

Just as an afterthought to – I’ve been really looking into nice and cheap or even free ways to do all this, so I thought I’d share what I’ve managed to do and for how much money. One of the things I’ve discovered that I didn’t really know is that local community centres actually have a lot of stuff on for people within the community (obviously) for little or no cost. So it’s my local centre that has got funding to buy the badminton equipment and pay for someone to come in and teach once a week for 12 weeks. Anyone can go along for free, but because it’s a morning class it’s pretty quiet so I’m getting lots of one on one training which is great. Once the course is over I think the centre is hoping people will just keep going in and using the equipment and space for free. The same centre has a boxercise class on a Friday for £3 – I’m there anyway on a Friday doing voluntary work and the class starts when I finish so it seems a poor effort if I can’t stay and do that – it’s pretty intensive though so will see how I get on. I’m going to the 1st one next week.

I’ve always had a gym membership through uni – when you’re a student I can’t recommend it enough as it’s a fraction of the cost. Now I said earlier I’m really not a fan of the solo workout stuff; but my gym has a pool so I’m going to try and go swimming once or twice a week. They also do drop in classes – a lot are off in June due to renovation work taking place but they start up again in July so I will look at what I can go to there. My aim is to do 1 class a day Monday – Friday and then I’ve been doing 15 minute weights workouts to a DVD at home in the evening just to target certain muscle groups. My choice has been Davina McCalls 15 minute workout DVD – I love the little bitesize target workouts, as my attention span isn’t great for that stuff. But this way I can shove the DVD in and it’s done before I realise.

I’ve also managed to find a cheap yoga class I can do – all the ones at the gym are on in the evening but as a single parent I can never get the regular weekly babysitting needed to keep up constant attendance so I end up getting demotivated as I tend to only make 50% of the classes. I’ve found a local one that gives a discount to students but if you go to the early morning class at 8.30am it’s even bigger and the class only costs £4 so I’m thinking of trying that out next week.

I walk around a lot as a non driver (for now) so whenever I walk I make sure I’m doing it at a good speed. Monkey’s nursery is a 15 minute walk away so when she goes I do an hours total walking (30 minute round trip to take her and again to pick her up). This never seems like much but it does count – and all free!

These are just the things I’ve found since I started looking – there’s a drop in meditation class on at the Buddhist centre too (I think it’s just a small donation to attend (£1.50 or similar) so I may go along and see if I can join them. So that adds up to £8.50 a week for a really good range of exercise – If I compare it to things I used to buy, that’s only just over the cost of one pack of cigarettes or a coffee each day in the university canteen Monday – Friday. So I feel like this is an OK cost as long as I try and keep other costs down (so I don’t buy coffee when I’m out ever for example) – also it probably has immeasurable value in terms of what I’m getting out of it!