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A few months ago I was chatting to my eldest daughter on the phone and the subject turned to her friend’s wedding in April. Lizzie and Sarah had bonded on their very first day at school, more years ago than any of us want to be reminded of. They’ve stuck together through primary school, Brownies, secondary school and GCSE’s, Sixth form college and A levels, different universities and all the years since.

I asked Lizzie what, if anything, she was organising for Sarah’s ‘hen’ celebration. When I was at that stage the excitement stretched all the way to scampi and chips at a local pub. Today’s brides-to-be are a much more demanding lot, and usually take off somewhere with a large band of enthusiastic accomplices for an entire weekend. Hotels are booked in vibrant cities, flights secured with Easyjet, alcohol abounds, videos made, dance routines learned…I’m exhausted thinking about it. Sarah, though, was supremely disinterested in decamping to Dublin, Berlin or Budapest. In fact she really didn’t want to do anything at all, but her friends felt they should do something. 

“Well,” I said, unable to keep my nose out of anything, “why don’t you all go off to a cottage in the country for a weekend? Just to spend time together, catching up – maybe somewhere with nice walks and a restaurant nearby?”

“That’s a great idea,” replied number one child. “If only I knew someone who had a cottage in the country we could borrow…”

And so last Thursday evening Lizzie and Hannah (a friendship that survives from nursery school where they met aged three), turned up as the advance party for the festivities, and got started on making a choice of curries for the following day. They’d picked Easter weekend because no-one would have to book time off work and could arrive on Good Friday. We left them to it – once they’d dropped us off at Abergavenny railway station in plenty of time for the noon train.

We’ve stayed at Lizzie and Katie’s London flat several times – it’s great not having to pay for a hotel room! Alex had arrived a couple of hours before us and for once we’d planned to go out in the evening. We had tickets booked for the musical version of The War of the Worlds, as well as a pre-show dinner. Before catching a bus to the West End though, Katie decided that there was enough time for a crochet lesson. She’d asked me to teach her so that she could make a baby blanket for a pregnant friend (as you do) and so I’d turned up armed with wool. After a pretty cack-handed but determined ten minutes or so, my middle daughter managed to produce this:IMG-20160326-WA0000

Which might not look like much, but to be fair it was her first attempt! Anyhow we dragged her away from it and made it to the restaurant with plenty of time to spare. In fact we had too much time at the restaurant because I forgot my intention to stick to two courses and stuffed myself with calamari followed by fillet of sea bream on white beans. This would have been ok but then I foolishly allowed myself to be persuaded by Alex into having a dessert. The others were sensible – crème caramel for Mr B and Katie, frozen berries with white chocolate sauce for Alex – but what did I do? Not content with just giving in to temptation I lay down and let it trample all over me. Pancakes with ice cream, orange syrup and Grand Marnier, flamed at the table. Known to one and all as Crèpes Suzettes a lifetime ago. It was just as well we weren’t doing anything more energetic than sitting down for the next couple of hours.war of the worlds

To be perfectly honest I don’t really like musicals. Mr B and I famously walked out of Miss Saigon once – or at least didn’t return after the interval. I can think of much better ways to spend my time than listen to people shout from a stage, even if the shouting is in song form. Opera is much more my thing – the singers actually sing. This wasn’t bad though, because it sounded like the soundtrack I’ve listened to for years, belting out of the car stereo system as we hurtled towards another Eurocamp site.

The next day we took ourselves off to the British Museum, one of my favourite places. It was overflowing with tourists, much worse than usual, because of course it’s Easter school holidays.british museum

Katie reckoned she’d never been there (I think we went when she was about five, which would explain it) and we headed straight for the Elgin Marbles so that she could see what all the fuss was about. After a short debate that covered George Clooney’s wife, the game of marbles, and whether we should give ancient stuff back to the countries we took it from, we skirted round the Rosetta Stone with its usual audience and went up to the third floor to see the mummies. But there were so many people in there it was difficult to get enough oxygen, let alone see anything, so we left pretty smartish and headed for the medieval and Anglo-Saxon galleries. These are obviously considered to be the boring spaces because there was hardly anyone there – just the way I like it. Culture done for the day, we went back to the flat and ordered a Chinese take-away.

The following day was Easter Sunday and we’d originally thought that we might go to watch the Boat Race. In the end we decided that the weather was too unsettled (Storm Katie apparently, with heavy rain, howling gales and even lightning strikes down at the river) and watched on TV. The Cambridge ladies’ team barely escaped a sinking but their male counterparts more than made up for it, leaving the Oxford crew standing. In fact the Thames was so choppy that from one TV angle it looked as though both boats were actually standing still in the water. The thing that occupied our attention was the awful colour the Cambridge crews wear. Not so much light blue as yucky-washed out-blue green, which looks even worse when you see them wearing the lycra trousers.

I have to say that the achievement of the day went to Katie. As well as organising a storm and keeping one eye on the rowing hunks, she managed to produce this:katie mar 2016Pretty good for someone who’d picked up a crochet hook for the first time a matter of hours earlier.

When Mr B and I had packed for the weekend we’d included a frozen leg of Tretower lamb, which had been slowly defrosting itself since Friday. It spent the afternoon slowly cooking in cider and herbs and by the time Lizzie arrived home from the hen party it was ready to be slowly eaten and savoured, along with roasted vegetables, mashed carrots & parsnips, broccoli and gorgeous gravy. Alex had also invented a variation on bread and butter pudding – instead of dried fruit she’d scattered sliced bananas and chocolate chips between the bread and I highly recommend it! I think Lizzie had been hoping for a quiet time food-wise after the previous day. She and the girls had spent the afternoon wine tasting at the wonderful White Castle Vineyard outside Abergavenny, which included substantial helpings of canapés to wash down the wine. They hadn’t had time to recover when they’d had to haul themselves across to The Bear in Crickhowell, where they’d booked dinner. It’s a tough life.

Ever on the lookout for a new place to visit, on Monday we hiked up to Streatham and caught a bus across to the Horniman Museum. Pronounced ‘Hornermann’ and not, as my daughters decided, Horny Man.

It was full of children, of course; and if I was the mother of a troupe of energetic kids and needed to entertain them as cheaply as possible, I’d be very glad indeed of places like the Horniman. To be honest it was a little dull for adults, except that it did have a fantastic collection of musical instruments of all shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities.

It also had this:horniman 2016 1And some great views across London outside

mar 2016 london 1

We spent the evening demolishing a giant shepherd’s pie made with the leftover lamb and as usual our time with the girls was over all too soon. But it was nice to swap the London views for something we’re more used to.mar 2016 16Waiting for the bus home from Abergavenny railway station

mar 2016 17

Back in Wales! 

2 responses to “House-swap!

  1. Lovely, warm and familiar in all the senses of the word. I wish I’d read your idea for a hen party (called bachelorette party here across the pond) before my youngest daughter’s turn last month. They ended up rather lamely painting wine glasses with a groaning board of food and wines because no one could really cone up with a better plan. Fortunately, a special group of Stephanie’s friends always take her to Vermont for her birthday, hiking and dining out and then coming back to the cottage to chat around the fire, so I think that is her real hen party.

    • Hiking in Vermont sounds fab to me – and there aren’t many things better that sitting around the fire with friends. Thanks for your comments 😊

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