Sunday, 8 June 2014

In actual Spain - part 2

I felt a bit nervous driving out of the multi-storey car park in the bean can; there was a faint smell of smoke/BO/magic tree air freshener, the gear stick seemed flimsy and the steering wheel like a toy car, however once on the motorway (intoning in my head "driving on the right, driving on the right, driving on the....") 
Tin 'o' beans

there was hardly another car to be seen and with the aid of a satnav and printed directions I was soon putting the can in first and taking a series of hairpin bends, leading to the final stretch to
 Caserio del Mirador.

Arriving at CDM

I had planned to arrive in time for the promised 2 pm paella and with I will admit it, a touch of the smugs, we pulled up at 1.40 pm to a very promising-looking scene.

There a few keys things to know about this place

It's beautifully thought-out: Toys, baby equipment, baby baths, buggies, blenders, changing mats are all provided or available
It's in a gorgeous location: The terraced mountains are covered in almond trees, olives, frangrant pines and flowers
The hosts, Johnny and Sarah can't do enough for you

Sarah, a whirlwind of a person (1 part steel, 1 part Boden model, I part English eccentric, 7 parts warm & friendly,) greeted us and settled us into our neat, yet spacious apartment and within minutes we were whizzed upstairs to rosato wine and paella and warm introductions all round with the other guests and a gaggle of babies, toddlers and children.

The week stretched out ahead of us and it was filled with walks, a trip to the beach, tapas, playing by the pool, visiting the animals (pigs, goats, chickens, ponies, rabbits) and all at a leisurely pace. The apartment was tidied daily, so with no boring chores to do, I could devote myself to baby.

Most afternoons, there communal children's meals where all the different age groups were catered for. Baby tried (and liked) gazpacho, roast lamb (sucked on....) and lovely home-made purees ("mush!"). Sarah also cooked a number of grown up communal meals that were incredible - her stream of entertaining chat and questions never seeming to interrupt the flow of beautifully cooked things that came out of the outdoor kitchen; tortilla, tapas, croquettes, slow-cooked lamb, white bean puree, manchego - I can't remember all the things we ate, but they made me happy! There were some lovely wines too - rose isn't usually my thing but it was just right in the sun and there was a really fine dessert wine, Moscatel de Valencia, which I regret not buying to take home.


As the only guest utterly failing to get my offspring to sleep at the same time as the late feasts, everyone else was remarkably kind and tolerant of this fact, and babalu was passed from hand to hand for bounces and smiles and occasional roars of protest. I was given the chance to finish my dinner while people helped out, which was lovely. One comment sticks in my mind from the husband of a couple who said "if we had a daughter, I would like them to be just like her" which made me feel proud and a bit teary. Of course I pity anyone who doesn't have her for a daughter....!

Where the hell is my tapas?!

Some of the things we enjoyed were some mammoth sleeps at night - three nights we had ten hours in a row; playing in the sandpit under the Mirador; pottering about in the can to the local town Xalon ("the village" as it was referred to); a great massage for me while Sarah very kindly minded baby, carting her about on her rounds of the animals and finally having the opportunity to talk to other parents of very young children was a good experience to hear  just how much of what you do and feel as a new parent is universal and normal.

And I took some photos! In particular, I took a series when she had just woken up and was playing with a toy clown - its weighted base made it wobble then return back to centre....she seems to be conversing with it.

The week was over too quickly, we journeyed back, stopping off at Altea for some bloody weird tapas. To be honest, I didn't know what I was ordering, but it wasn't the gelatinous, grey, fishy balls that I was after!
Lovely spot though!
El Cranq

Thursday, 5 June 2014

And so to Spain...Part 1

So darling girl, you and I went to Spain. We went just the two of us because your daddy is a kind and impetuous man and our happiness is his happiness. I'd waged a mini-campaign a few weeks previously in favour of all of us going on holiday, but it wasn't really a the end, Himself came up with the idea of just you and I going and whilst at first I demurred, I soon started to think well, why not? I reckoned it would be a lovely opportunity to get your ever-swathed skin into the light and air and for you to have my undivided attention - not the usual staccato pattern of our days at home, spinning about, fitting you around things and things around you.

I had previously put the question to mumsnet for suggestions on a laid-back and baby-friendly holiday destination. I definitely didn't want to stay in a hotel - I mean, what do you do in a hotel room from 7pm onwards with a baby, particularly if you are on your own? I am independent, but even I could see that some kind of Hideous Kinky  boho Moroccan adventure would be neither wise nor fun, it not being the 70's anymore and all. But it was an easy decision in the end as the unanimous reply came back, Caserio Del Mirador. And so it was booked. Himself was to stay at home and, having had the pleasure of paying for it, would then also have to come home every night (instead of the usual staying in a hotel some week nights) to wrangle chickens, feed animals and keep the home fires burning after a 13 hour day and two hour commute. Saintly doesn't begin to cover it.The mumsnet jury is an exacting, even rigid one. But they were not alone in their praise - the most idle of google searches reveals a chorus of approval for this Valencian, but English-run establishment, but more of that later.

So on the 18th of May, having packed one big suitcase for both of us, which was filled with cute sun-friendly outfits (baby) and tons of supplements and a couple of ill-conceived maxi dresses (me), Himself drove us to Gatwick at silly o clock in the morning to the North Terminal and in we checked! Exciting... and rather impressively my luggage came in at 4 kg under the BA allowance - which made it all the more fortunate that I was flying with BA. Not only that, but we had free Club class tickets, due to the injudicious use of credit cards and the attendant collection of Avios points. Result!

But before the 1980's-sounding delights of the Executive Lounge, I was amazed to have my back up bottle of baby formula scanned at security by what I can only assume was a mass spectrometer to determine its lack of explosive / nerve agent content. Actually, I have googled it and that is exactly what it is - so the future has arrived apparently. The UK Border Agency having established I am not (yet) a dangerous criminal, waved us on through and so to the lounge,  in all its mirrored, be-croissanted glory.

From here it was easy. We pootled about, we boarded. The cabin was pressurised and you screamed with formidable commitment. But only for about 15 minutes and then you slept for the whole flight, right until we landed. I even managed to eat some breakfast with my left hand while you dozed in my rapidly numbing equal and opposite limb. I nobly eschewed free alcohol which, given it was 7 am, was not really too much of a hardship. At Alicante a slightly dishevelled and instantly untrustworthy English man met me with a little sign displaying my surname and off we went to the hire car. It turned out to be a close relation to a converted baked bean tin with wheels. No matter, a quick feed in the back, a word with my brain about the location of the gear stick in my right hand instead of my left and the holiday began. Caserio del Mirador beckoned to us from it's hilltop eyrie.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Walking with baby: Spain! Taking it to the next level...or where are ...

Walking with baby: Spain! Taking it to the next level...or where are ...: I haven't posted for a while but that's because there has been much Excitement, Adventure and Walking Abroad going on and there is m...

Spain! Taking it to the next level...or where are your papers?!

I haven't posted for a while but that's because there has been much Excitement, Adventure and Walking Abroad going on and there is much to catch up on!

About three weeks ago, my husband, (one part impulsive, nine parts saint) grew weary of the itchiness of my feet and more or less ordered me out of the country. This necessitated a number of key things to take place, most crucially the obtaining of a passport for the tadpole.

Tadpole being but six months old, you may think that these small humans are merely added on to your own passport, much as you add them on to your hip as you go about your business. But you would be both wrong and showing your age. Babies have their own passports, complete with passport photos and must be vouchsafed as being of good character.

Because I am older than I think, I didn't realise that ticking all these boxes would be hard to do in under ten days. However, with Churchillian determination (although with slightly less commitment to drink) I rang the passport office off the hook to get an appointment in London (and not Peterborough at 3 am or whatever ridiculous thing was suggested) and I did in fact manage to get a cancellation! Which was lucky really, as I had already booked and paid for the holiday.

However, I also had to find a photographer willing and able to take a photograph (no supportive parental hands are allowed in shot for wobbly, unable to support itself baby); persuade an upstanding member of the community to certify the likeness and finally, fill in a form of dizzying difficulty with instructions such as 'fill in box Y and not box L, except when L is before the information in box P, excepting if your parents were born between 1962 and 1985'.  All this I managed in one stressful day with aid of a kind friend and a keycutter in possession of both a sanguine disposition and a camera in Bognor Regis.

We went to London Victoria on the train. The passport office is a stone's throw from the station and once there you are processed efficiently through the neat but miserable sausage machine that is Her Majesty's Passport Office. Our 'interview' took three minutes. There was an error. Breath was taken in. The error was allowed and breath was exhaled. 

The shiny new passport, with my lovely girl looking like a boiled egg, arrived three days before the holiday.  Next stop, viva Espana! (once the packing's done....)

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Walk 4: An embarrassment of riches (or 'I can't believe I left my camera behind!')

NB not my photos - they are all borrowed

So I had a lovely day today, but babalu was less convinced. It was screamies here, screamies there and screamies everywhere. As I have given birth to a total bumpkin, at about 5pm I decided that the answer was to go for a walk and this I did without taking anything like a camera, phone, dog collar etc. Just stuck my boots on, a hat on madam's head and go.

It was a particularly lovely late afternoon - no wind, warm warm sunshine and a 360 degree bird symphony. I went out across a large sheep pasture which is bordered by woodland. It has plenty of oaks, ash, field maple and in the wetter parts, alder and willow. There are mixed hedgerows, streams, ditches and boggy patches too. 

I had not many thoughts in my head except to restore some equilibrium in both our spirits and de-agitate the dog whilst I was at it. I was idly thinking about what would happen to breastfeeding if I got bitten by an adder (as you do) and approaching the border of the field as I did so, from about 30 feet away. I had decided not to cross the stile into the next field, as a group of frisky (yes, that again) bullocks were congregating near by and so turned left along the edge of the field and its border. 

And then this genuinely happened as I was having my snake musing. I heard a slight rustling in the leafmold and looking down, saw a fine, fine snake at least three feet long. If I had had my camera there would have been time to take a photo. He was gorgeous! Flicking his tongue from a head held steady above his smooth, decorated coils. He was a grass snake, so posed no danger and I was able to look at him for at least a minute. He tasted the air with his forked tongue for a few more seconds then slid off. It was completely enchanting. I haven't seen a British snake as an adult and only glimpsed grass snakes as a child.

As if there wasn't enough to delight any nature lover, next a pair of widgeons flapped out of the stream in front of me - they are a colourful type of duck with orange colouring. Duck a l'orange, if you will.

Around me I could hear woodpeckers and above were buzzards. Beneath  my feet I noticed dog violets, milkmaids and wood anemone and there was a gorgeous fragrance coming from the acres of bluebells being heated up by the late sun.

I decided to cut back into the woodland when a young deer started out from under a tree - in a flash, my dog discovered 'gear Mazerati' in his 12 year old self and was after it and out of sight in seconds. He came panting back after a few minutes, visibly proud.

I actually laughed out loud when the final bit of biodiversity presented itself to me - in amongst the bluebells I nearly trod on several early purple orchids. 

I feel I had the nature spots of about five different walks all rolled into one today. Happily too, babalu was cheery and chilled throughout as well as after it. I had a celebratory glass of white wine in the garden and lay on a blanket with her, chatting about the marvellous things we had seen.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Walk No 3: Where the Cocking Down is it?!

I don't know where the hell I am, but it is pretty

Today's trip out started at around lunch time again and the direction of travel was west towards Cocking, located on the South Downs Way again. The plan was to ascend to the ridge, in much the same vein as the Chanctonbury episode. Ominously, I was in a similar condition to that aforementioned day and so was babalu; a right grumpy pair we were. I can nearly always get a smile out of her though - I can crack through her gloomiest of visages as long as the right combination of kisses, funny faces and exiting of wind (hers) can be brought together.

The Easter bunny

I had no map, no satnav and today, no sense. I navigated my way along the country lanes without mishap until Midhurst (the non-commissioned sister series to Midsomer Murders) and then used my phone to get my bearings, but that was OK because it gave me the option to include ferry crossings. 

We arrived into the snigger-worthy Cocking village and from memory I went up a lane which I knew to run close to the South Downs Way. Annoyingly there was no way through that I could find (there was, it just eluded me). But no matter, madam needed feeding and so we parked up under an old viaduct on a leafy lane, the landy crushing a large patch of aromatic wild garlic beneath its wheels.

Wild honeysuckle
Back in the village again I parked up by the church which I KNEW to be right near the South Downs Way. I recognised it from when I did the SDW before. But where the Cocking Down was it? It started to rain. Rather than waste any more time on what was probably going to be a fairly short scamper anyway, I bundled babalu into the Baby Bjorn, complete with 'rabbit with ears' hat for Easter and we began our walk in what my newly acquired compass told me was an easterly direction. 
Friends en route

It really didn't matter though - the countryside around and about was lovely and the rain shower (which we jointly sheltered from beneath my polka dot green Jack-in-a-Pack) passed quickly. We walked across crop fields, hugging a line of oaks that ascended a gentle hill. The walk was probably no more than three miles or so; taking in fields, woodland and streams; the dog availed himself of these for dual cooling down and refreshment purposes.

My route also took in a B&B that my pal and I stayed in when we did the SDW walk. It's called Moonlight Cottage and although perfectly pleasant, I gleefully recall it as being a kind of chintz-on-acid scenario of floral pottery and relationship meltdown between the hosting couple. They were charming, really.

Who doesn't love a ploughed field? I do!

Babalu was starting to make strangulated grumpy sounds, so without delay I completed my loop which, with the best will in the world, I cannot tell you exactly where it was and returned to the start. A quick detour to the village shop for some ice-cream (there is a definite post-walk theme developing) one of these ice creams as it happens, and we were back on the road.

Thank god that's over!

I had to pull over at Goodwood racecourse to feed and change madam, but there are surely worse places to do these things. And what's more, I was lucky enough to spot one of the finest examples of a man in red trousers that I have seen in a long time! Just look at this exquisite example! I am particularly enamoured of the extra pizzazz the yellow shirt and tank top adds to the outfit. I wonder if he votes Labour? (Clue: he doesn't).

I got home to the glorious sunshine that had evaded us all day! Another walk walked.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Walk 2: Bignor (aka a much more successful walk)

The weather was gorgeous and sunny for this walk and I headed out of the door at about 1 pm. This time I was using the Baby Bjorn, which babalu likes to be in in the facing out position. She tips her head back to look at the trees, all the while making little cooing noises. She will often then nod off like this - it looks dreamy! 

I was in the landy which is good for these country lanes and drove the short distance to Bignor, home of Bignor Roman Villa and then up the steep winding hill which brings you to the ridge top at Bignor Hill which is both on the South Downs Way and the Slindon Estate. 

Luckily today there was only a light breeze and both baby and I were in better shape nap-wise than on our first walk. We set off in a westerly direction along the track, which alternates between opens sweeps of classic chalky South Downs and leafy lanes. There were young bullocks frisking about in the fields (OK, humping each other) and I could see lambs in the distance too. I didn't hear skylarks, but could clearly hear buzzards mewling as they moved in slow circles high above.

I phoned an old friend, with whom I had walked 50 miles of the South Downs Way a couple of years ago (we did it West to East, finishing at Amberley) because returning here today was just so nostalgic - the same time of year, similar bright, bright weather and my dog, mooching along in front with the outer tips of his ears bouncing in rhythm with each other. 

The trip had been a happy one as he and I either chatted or walked in companionable silence in the gorgeous spring countryside.

As I stood talking to him on the phone now, I looked out across a a bare crop field that formed a slight hill against the sky. Behind it, the view fell away to the countryside below, all bright fields of oilseed rape and pockets of dark green woodland stretching to the horizon. At that moment, across the field from left to right ran a group of around twenty young deer, their dark shapes and short antlers easy to make out against the paler chalky soil.

Babalu and I walked on at a comfortable pace and found a shady spot to sit and have a feed, in the shade of a brambly hedge.

What a beautiful spot....not for the first time I thought about how lucky we are to live in this part of the world and how great to be able to bring a baby up around here.

The logistics of the kit is starting to make sense too - the baby Bjorn is still the best carrier for the moment and the miscellaneous collection of bibs, nappies, muslin cloths etc seems to holding up too. I packed it all back up and carried on the walk. I ended up doing a big oblong loop which brought me back past the distinctive radio masts.

Once I had coaxed the dog back into the landy (he was keen to carry on the walk) I thought over what a successful three hour ramble it had been - with mood, weather and route all working in our favour. On the way home, I stopped at Charlies Farm Shop and, as I hadn't brought any food out with me, treated myself to some chocolate ice-cream. It came in one of those little tubs, the sort that used to form the backbone of interval snackery at the theatre, last seen in about 1989. 

A good day out!