I can put the toilet paper in the loo

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Really, you have to look on the bright side when you get back from a good holiday, don’t you? Otherwise it’s way too easy to sink into a mire of post-vacation doldrums.

There’s not a lot I don’t enjoy about Greece, and we’re luckier than most in that we have family there and, as such, an access to the lifestyle and culture that just can’t be summarised in a guidebook paragraph. Not to mention the man who bears the title of ‘uncle’ alongside that of ‘World’s Best Loukoumades Maker’ (loukoumaster, if you will).

The bin by the toilet thing doesn’t particularly bother me when we’re there. And I admit that I’m slightly clutching at cheerful straws when I raise it now. But it is kind of nice to live in a city with a reasonably reliable flushing system. And I think my youngest agreed when I took him to the loo at Gatwick this afternoon: on finishing, he reached out for the nearest receptacle, a sanitary unit. “No, no,” I said. “Not bins now, just in the toilet, it’s fine.” He looked at me incredulously. “So I can just put my paper in the toilet?” he asked. “Yep, back in London now, that’s fine,” I replied.

“Yes! I LOVE London!” he shouted, complete with Henman-stle fist pump. Like I said, we’re clutching at cheerful straws. But truly, we’ve had such a good week away. We’re not about to let that holiday feeling go down the shitter, are we?

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I collected driftwood

Of course, I’m happy about almost everything at the moment. We’re on holiday in Greece. It’s warm – hot, even – and sunny. We’re staying at The Lost Unicorn, one of the most enchanting places in which you could wish to stay and, luckier still, it’s owned by two of my favourite people in the world, my sister-in-law and her husband. Every morning I take one of the five dogs and go out for a long, mountainous, run; every afternoon we bask on one of the many glorious beaches in the vicinity. Every day we eat too much, laugh a lot and put the children to bed too late.

Today, at Agios Ioannis, I came across a piece of driftwood, perfectly bone-like in its smooth whiteness. Another and another piece beckoned, until we had such a collection that talk of ‘making something from it’ was as irresistible as it was inevitable. Whether we do or not, the meditative satisfaction in finding and amassing it, the pleasure in watching the children arrange, and rearrange it, the feeling of its smooth warmth in my hands: today, these things gave me a quiet joy.

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we’re so Over it

It’s a small thing. But I do love living smackeroo between two Overground stations. Even on a miserable night like last night, it was so quick and easy to get to Shoreditch High Street on the Ginger Line, where we met with our nephew for a fantastico meal at Hawksmoor. Really amazing food, great atmosphere and such a gorgeous, friendly, fun and knowledgeable waitress. And oh my, the size of those cuts of meat. Impressive. Just as impressive as the fact Husband and Nephew made short work of them, and that was with a starter and dessert parenthesising them. Not to mention a couple of Collinses and a few bottles of very nice Malbec.

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And tomorrow night, it’s the other nearby station we’ll head to, to meet friends on the top floor of Smiths of Smithfield. I worked the breakfast shift on the ground floor when it opened in 2000 under Masterchef’s John Torode ¬†– surely one of the nicest bosses I’ve ever had – and could only dream of dining on the 3rd with a view over London. The staff have so far proved to be just as gorgeous now as they were then (my manager became, and remains, one of my dearest friends) and have been massively accommodating with all of our requests, both in terms of food and seating arrangements.

A great night and a great meal are marvellous things, no matter what. But sometimes, the mere thought of getting¬†somewhere, especially when it’s cold (still! in April!) and rainy and the children have been less than angelic, can be a bit off-putting. I love our neighbourhood, but I love the ease with which we can venture out of it too.

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we did a nervous

“Have you done a nervous?” asked my husband, as we made ready to leave our hotel today. I had; well, kind of. Under the beds, in the wardrobe, next to the bath. I sort of felt obliged to do something by way of response, however, so I kind of flicked the bedspread around in a desultory fashion.

And there was my bear.

The thought that he might have been left behind, especially at this time of year, is beyond horrible. He was given to me by my friend Steph, aka Mama Marmalade when we lost – 8 years ago next week – our first child, at 20 weeks. The Teddy Love Club, with whom she was working, aims to ease the heartbreak of the empty arms that attend the loss of a child by giving you something to hold; I placed this bear on our daughter’s tiny coffin and have had him in, near or on my bed every night since – yes, even on holiday.

I’m sure he would have been restored to me by the lovely folk at Bedruthan if he’d been left behind. But I feel much better knowing that he’s tucked safely into my bag as we thunder back down the motorway towards London.

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the holiday isn’t over yet

Most years, we leave the Cornish holiday park where we meet up with an ever-larger group of friends (ever-larger because there seems to be a new baby every year, although surely this will start tapering off soon) with a car rammed with soggy towels, sandy wetsuits, damp duvets and piles and piles of laundry. Consequently we also leave with a disgruntled face – mine – and the prospect of hours of unpacking, laundering and sorting.

My genius husband knows that the past few weeks have been slightly less than fun-filled for me. It’s been unseasonably cold and he’s been away working in sunnier climes. There’ve been poorly children and end-of-term ennui to grapple with.

So yes, we packed up the car yesterday, crammed it with all the aforementioned things, and hit the road. And drove, not 6 arduous hours back to London, but a mere 50 minutes up the coast to Bedruthan Steps

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We were last here 4 years ago, when I was pregnant with our youngest, and it’s down in my memory as one of our best breaks ever. Totally family friendly and chilled out, we had fun with our children and time alone. There was a kids’ club, which left us free to swim, spa, read and relax. There was the option to eat with the children, or to feed them earlier and, later on, when they were asleep, exhausted from the raucous post-meal entertainment and sea air, change for dinner and feast on delicious, largely locally sourced meals with stunning views over the bay and a baby listening monitor placed strategically next to our bottle of wine.

And here we are again, my enormous bump now a strapping 3-year-old running around and insisting that he, like his siblings, remembers this place. I’ve just had a breakfast of mushrooms and tomatoes that I didn’t have to cook, and coffee, real coffee, from an Orla Kiely mug. Our bed is large and luxurious, the shower warm and the bath deep. The sky is vast and the beach wide, the view of it unblocked by, in the words of my second-born, ‘hairy’ dunes.

The mouldering pile of laundry will still be there for me to tackle when we get back next week, but my recharged batteries will be ready to deal with it.

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my kids are made of sterner stuff than I

I’m a miserable cow in the cold, I really am. I used to be okay, the sort of sturdy lass who lived in a van in the carpark of a ski resort for a whole winter season, who trekked in Nepal, hiked in the blustery Peak District, mountain climbed in Bolivia and had no issue with thermalling up at the crack of dawn to get first tracks after a fresh snowfall.

Motherhood seems to have changed my body composition and I don’t have much in the way of subcutaneous layering to keep me warm anymore. Well, at least it’s gone to a worthy cause; that is, the development and nurturing of my children. Healthy pregnancies, good labours, successful breastfeeding. And yes, admittedly a passion for running and an array of diets, ranging from daft (Dukan) to delicious and doable ( James Duigan’s Clean & Lean , Natalia Rose’s Raw Food and a more general paleo approach) have contributed too. Be that as it may, my children are now the sturdy, robust beings whooping it up on a windswept, rocky beach, whilst I shiver in no less than two thermals, jeans, a long sleeved top, two sweaters, a North Face parka, a hat, two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks and wellies, doling out the sandwiches and sipping Higher Living cinnamon tea gratefully from my flask.

They started the outing in all-in-ones, layered up with hats and scarves and gloves. Within an hour, they’d stripped down to base layers and were running down to the sea, splashing through rockpools and waves and shrieking with the joy of the freeze. Nutters. But at least the fact that I was hunched, shivering, by the rocks, rather than frolicking around in the impersonation of an ibex ON the rocks meant that I didn’t miss a moment of watching them.

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he fell for our April Fools’ trick

We’re on holiday, and today we went to a bird sanctuary. Not that the children cared, particularly; they were far keener on the grotty indoor play area than the beautiful plumage of the scarlet macaw. They took a bit of an interest in the penguins, though, possibly because of films like Surf’s Up, Madagascar and Happy Feet, and possibly because there was an opportunity to stroke one.

Child the Youngest took a bit more convincing than the older two, however, so we left him with Daddy and wandered on. Here was my chance.

“Right,” I said in a low, urgent tone. “Today is April 1st. Do you know what that means?”

They grasped the concept with admirable speed. We lay in wait and, when we saw Junior & Daddy rounding the bend from the penguins, we made our move, racing out of the enclosure in which we’d concealed ourselves, all in a (pardon the pun) flap. My daughter was doubled over clutching her finger, as I steered her by the shoulders from behind and my son was trotting by our side with a look of exquisitely executed concern.

“A bird bit her finger! A bird bit her finger! It’s really bleeding!” we shrieked. My husband’s expression changed from bafflement to concern in a matter of seconds and he tried to leap in front of us as I continued to jostle her down the path.

“Just move!” I snapped, at the same time as he was trying to coax our daughter to show him her finger, which she continued to clutch, her face screwed up in pain.

Finally he loosened her grasp.

“April Fools!!!” we chanted.

Ah, it’s a silly thing. And someone whose opinions I respect a lot recently said, in the wake of the Kate Middleton/ nurse/ Aussie DJs incident that practical jokes are never funny because they are always at the expense of making someone else feel foolish.

But we did all laugh. And it’s tradition. Like gorging on chocolate at Easter. That makes it okay, doesn’t it?

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