Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Why ‘Healthy School’ Policies May Not Always Be Healthy

Nine-year-old boys have a very strong sense of fairness.  When I pick my son up from school there’s rarely a day when some perceived injustice isn’t the first thing he wants to talk about. There’s a lot of “it’s not fair because” or “we’re not allowed to” punctuating the conversation but of course by the time we’ve arrived home, the challenges of his day are replaced with more pressing concerns – namely how many biscuits he can snaffle from the biscuit jar. 

But the other day, there was one subject that my son wouldn’t let drop. A new rule had come into place…and this time it really wasn’t fair at all.

Now, before I put forward my case, be assured that I’m fully signed up to the healthy eating ethos. My cupboards are filled with chia seeds, almond butter and coconut milk. Family meals are always cooked from scratch and rarely do we succumb to processed foods or takeaways. My kids are a healthy weight, have good teeth and regularly exercise. But – here’s the thing – I let them have sweet things on occasion (those aforementioned biscuits – I’m not going to lose sleep over them having a couple with a glass of water when they get home from school.)

My son’s school, however, doesn’t share my view of everything in moderation. It’s a ‘healthy school’, which, in principle is something I’m happy to support, but is rather contradictory and counterproductive when put into action. The injustice my son was feeling so unhappy about the other day was the latest addition to school policy: not allowing children to bring in a bag of sweets to share out amongst their classmates on their birthdays, something that – like dressing in mufti– helped to take the sting out of having to go to school on your special day.

I don’t know if this happens at other schools but it’s a tradition that is as old as the hills at my son’s school. The birthday child – standing proud at the classroom door – hands out a sweet, a fun size chocolate bar or a lollipop to their friends as they file out. We’re talking about each child having ONE treat. And if there are 30 kids in the class, that’s 30 sweets over a period of around 190 days across a school year.

But now this isn’t a thing anymore and parents are being asked to supply a book for the class library instead as a birthday ‘treat’. My son wasn’t too impressed with this suggestion. Nor was the mother of the child who came out of school upset on her birthday because she and her parents hadn’t been aware of the new policy. The ‘counterfeit’ sweets the little girl had innocently brought into school that day had been seized, she’d been embarrassed in front of her classmates and the end of the day passed without so much as a ‘happy birthday’ sing-song.

I’m obviously not saying that it’s okay to load children with sugar. It’s not. But muddled policies around healthy eating in schools– although perhaps inconsequential in the grand scheme of the current educational landscape, with its constant curriculum changes and crippling cuts – undermine parents’ abilities to instil balanced attitudes to eating in their children. 

And here’s the rub. Surely becoming a ‘healthy school’ has to come from the top? While I take a lot of what my son says with a liberal pinch of salt (“But the teachers are always eating biscuits!”), I’ve definitely seen a big tub of Celebrations in the staffroom and I honestly can’t believe that there’s not one teacher in the school who occasionally has a Hob Nob with their break time coffee. And then there are the after school cake and ice cream sales, lucrative money-spinners for the PTFA. Should they not be banned too, along with the ice cream man who sells 99s and ice lollies just outside the school gates?

There’s another rub too. While enforcing this policy on what passes the kids’ lips, they seem to be hell-bent on doing their best to limit their physical activity. While reduced hours of PE is perhaps a wider curriculum issue, I’m getting a bit fed up of hearing from my son about all of the things he’s not allowed to do at playtime. Playing football is the latest activity to be curbed, because a ball might hit a younger child. And so the state-of-the-art astro turf pitch remains a place for carefully walking upon (I wouldn’t be surprised if running has been banned), while my 9-year-old and his gaggle of footy-mad friends can only gaze at it longingly and look forward to a kick around after school.

It just all feels a bit muddled. It’s fine to pack a sugar-loaded cereal bar in their lunchbox but a slice of home-made Victoria Sponge is a no-no. Notoriously sugary fruit juice cartons are okay but the water in the water fountains comes out luke-warm and my son says he’s been refused getting a cup of water when he’s been thirsty in the classroom. His sandwiches are frequently only nibbled at due to the rush to get the dining hall cleaned and swept. He often emerges from school in a foul mood, starving hungry and with his blood sugar running at empty.

I certainly don’t expect schools to validate unhealthy eating habits and I’m shocked by the statistics on childhood obesity. But I worry that contradictory messages only confuse the issue, creating yet more complexity in the delicate area of children and food.  We need to nurture healthy attitudes towards food and be mindful that well-meaning but poorly executed policies to food in school may be paving the way to toxic relationships with food later in life – a study commissioned by Beat in 2015 estimated that more then 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.

I believe that schools have a duty to educate our children and young people about leading a healthy lifestyle and I’m happy that vending machines and tuck shops in schools are a thing of the past. But let’s keep a sense of balance and perspective – everything in moderation might not be such a bad message to share with our children.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Plant Inspiration at Wild Leaf

I'm absolutely useless with plants. Not being blessed with the most patient of dispositions, I don't put much store in following instructions or reading manuals, and when it comes to gardening or placing greenery around the home, I tend to just focus on my immediate aesthetic requirements rather than considering things like soil suitability or positioning. 

While I might like to think of myself as the 'nurturing' type, healthy, lustrous plants and flowers wither under my supervision and pots that started life as a colourful riot of blooms become lifeless seemingly overnight. In short, green fingered I am definitely not. 

As it happens, I don't have much of a garden to experiment with anyway. But things don't tend to work out any better indoors, either. I've killed pretty much every form of plant life that has ever crossed the threshold of our home, from beautiful orchids to death-defying spider plants. Thing is, though, I adore plants and flowers. And when I'm feeling a little blue, there a few things I find more comforting than wandering around a garden centre or plant shop. 

Filled with life-giving greenery, they provide the perfect counterpoint to all that noise and stuff that fills up daily life. And while I might not be good at looking after plants myself, I find a great sense of inner calm when I'm surrounded by greenery. 
So I was delighted to discover a tiny haven of green stuff just off the Gloucester Road called Wild Leaf. Open since August, this bijou plant shop is filled with gorgeous plants and has a remit to help even the least gifted of plant owners create interesting green spaces in their homes - I think they call it 'plantscaping'. And if there's one thing I've wanted to do recently, fuelled by countless beautiful pictures on Instagram, it's 'plantscape' my home.

Stocked with truly unusual plants and succulents, Wild Leaf is a true treat for the senses. There's so much to feast your eyes on - over 80 plant species to be exact. From covetable succulent pots to decades-old, towering cacti, the shop's counters and shelves are filled with unusual greenery.

A beautifully merchandised space, Wild Leaf is the sort of place that makes you want to go straight home, strip your space of all clutter and fill it instead with cascading baskets of String of Coins, light-loving Tradescantia and pots of lustrous Zebra Basket Vine. If you're a plant killer like me, the owner, Tya, can offer all the advice you need on correct care and placement for your plants. 

Turns out the wonderfully named Mother-in-Law's Tongue (or 'Sanseveria') might be a good one for my light-filled kitchen. And given its hardy nature and need for only weekly watering (yes, I do tend to forget about watering my plants too) it might even defy my poor plant care track record. 

As well as plants, Wild Leaf stocks gorgeous ceramics, pots and baskets, as well as a wonderful array of potted succulents for less than the price of a coffee. For more serious plant collectors blessed with nurturing hands, there are some really special 'heritage' plants amongst the collection - I definitely couldn't be trusted with a 135-year-old Mammillaria Geminispina (£295) though...

Located at 63 Overton Road, Wild Leaf is a lovely place for some plant inspiration, whatever your plant aspirations and abilities. Visit their Instagram page here to take a look.


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Coping with the End of Summer Blues

If you're familiar with the film Breakfast At Tiffany's you might also be familiar with the term "the mean reds," a poetic term used by the protagonist Holly Golightly to describe a brooding sense of panic and hopelessness that makes you look for the nearest happy place. In her case it was Tiffany's because, as she explains in the movie, "nothing very bad could happen to you there."

I usually get my own dose of the mean reds at this time of year. With the summer waning and holidays a distant memory, I struggle with the knowledge that dark days beckon and the end of another year is looming. Feelings that lay dormant over the lazy days of a routine-free summer start to crowd my mind again: Are the kids doing okay at school? Should we do that loft conversion we keep talking about? Why have I STILL not put any money into my pension? When did the house become such a mess? How have I failed to do all those things I said I was going to do at the start of the year? You're useless, look - everyone else is doing lots of useful, life enhancing stuff ALL THE TIME!

The other day on the school run I found myself feeling particularly teary. I was missing a best friend who passed away earlier in the year, and thoughts like the above mingled with a deep longing to return to the wonderful suspension of reality that accompanied our summer holiday. I was feeling anxious about work and mindful of the need to pay off a looming post-holiday credit card bill. I was also feeling exceedingly tired of the relentless rain. That's the trouble with wonderful holidays - they bring the mundane, difficult realities of real, everyday life into sharp relief when the holiday is over.

Luckily I have found some mechanisms to help keep these feelings in check. I will always find this time of year difficult, but there are some things I've always done, and some things I've made an effort to do more recently, which are currently helping to keep the mean reds at bay...


I've always been a walker. Driving in the city is not something I enjoy, and with Bristol's roads becoming ever more crowded and aggressive, I avoid it wherever possible. There's something about the rhythm of walking I find very calming; combined with listening to a podcast or something on Spotify a walk around the Downs, on my own, away, wherever possible from the traffic, always makes my mind slow down. When I run, I feel like I have to push myself and can often get frustrated by my lack of stamina. 

But walking - with no particular purpose or requirement to reach any particular destination - is perhaps the most effective way I've found to deal with stress. On the days I work from home, I go out for a walk whatever the weather, either as an add-on to the school run or during my lunch hour. And my walk to work on Fridays is something I actively look forward to - an hour of interrupted free time to spend in the fresh air.

Reading (but only certain things)

Earlier this year I came to the (rather late) realisation that I was fed up of people trying to sell me stuff all the time. I stopped buying the Sunday supplements and fashion magazines and I unfollowed a whole load of bloggers and Instagramers. I started to realise that I'm not that fussed about 'stuff' anymore. When you're feeling blue, there's perhaps few things more soul destroying than scrolling through a feed of people showing off their free stuff. Perhaps it's an age thing, but I suddenly started to feel a bit of a mug for having previously, on occasion, been influenced by these 'influencers'. 

I'm not saying there aren't people or publications out there that I find inspiring, but I decided it was time to cut through the noise and be more selective in my reading matter. For a start, that meant reading actual books again (how very easy it is to slip into the habit of mindless, pre-bed social media scrolling) and it's been a joy to discover some perspective-giving reads this year (I highly recommend anything by Mitch Albom and Letters of Note, a book guaranteed to shift your mindset if you're having a crappy day.) 

And then I swapped my subscription to Red Magazine for one to CN Traveller. Yes, I'll probably never visit half the places featured in its glossy pages, but it's been a balm for the brain to look at lovely pictures of places instead of heavily marketed pictures of things. I gain no excitement from seeing a photo of a £1500 handbag or a £70 face cream. In fact, I get worked up that £1500 handbags are even a thing. But transporting my mind to a sun-bleached island in the ocean - even if I'm unlikely to ever go there in real life - is a far more life affirming activity. 

Writing (or cooking, painting, sewing...)

There's a reason I write this blog and it's not financial. My mind processes information much better when it's written down and likewise I feel I can express my thoughts better in written form. Whether people read what I write isn't really the point, but having some kind of creative outlet and a place to record my thoughts helps me organise my brain a bit better. 

And of course the act of total absorption in any activity - be it writing, cooking, painting or sewing - is a great way to take a holiday from yourself.

Detangling from the digital world

This is something I've found hardest to do but perhaps the most beneficial of late. Working as a social media manager has meant that sometimes I've become a bit too embedded in the digital environment. I have to be on all the platforms, and while - ostensibly - I might be looking at Facebook for work, it's only a small step from planning a campaign for my job to spending an hour mindlessly trawling through people's supposedly perfect lives (and subsequently feeling a bit shit about my own perceived failure to match their personal and professional achievements.)

As I mentioned earlier, I've found it wonderfully liberating to press the unfollow button on quite a few Instagram accounts recently. I was finding the barrage of sponsored posts and pictures of free things very wearing and not at all inspiring. I'm tired of product placement in flat lays, glossy photos of instgramers touching their hair or wearing unflattering clothes because M&S are paying them to do so. The world is cynical enough as it is.

Thankfully, there are some lovely accounts I'm now following that I find much less mentally aggravating. I'm following a heap of 'ordinary' people who just take nice pictures of the places I love - Ibiza, Italy and France. Genuine and lovely to look at, these accounts don't exist to keep big brands happy. They're just about nice pictures. 

And I'm making a conscious decision to not just unfollow but truly switch off too. It's not always easy but I'm getting there...


Monday, 4 September 2017

A Second Summer of Love in Ibiza

Half way into our second visit to the White Isle I found myself googling "English School Ibiza." Window shopping took on a new meaning as I found myself drawn not to Ibiza Town's boutiques but its estate agents instead. And I spent a good few hours distracted from my holiday reading by considering the feasibility of buying a holiday apartment in our complex (sadly not really feasible in my current financial circumstances.) 

I never expected to feel this way about Ibiza but it's true what they say - there's a unique and special magic about this place that has me well and truly under its spell.

So what is it about this island that makes it so different to other destinations in the Med? Like other places in Southern Europe, it's got all those classic associations of summer holidays - sunshine, olive groves, sandy beaches and cicadas - but there's another something Ibiza brings to the mix, a hard to quantify ambiance that you just don't get elsewhere. 

With a long heritage of being a place of hedonism, experimentation and liberalism, Ibiza has - despite attracting an increasingly monied clientele - a very inclusive, welcoming feel about it. There's a sense that anything is possible here and the zest for life of its lucky inhabitants permeates the island. There's a lot of joy and playfulness in Ibiza and coming back to the UK after a two-week break can feel a dispiriting and grey experience. 

But before you get to enjoy the wonder of the island, you do need to steel yourself for what can be a "lively" outbound journey. Those with a low tolerance of stag and hen parties might struggle to contemplate a 2.5 hour journey surrounded by large groups looking forward to the prospect of a holiday in San Antonio. In our case, we were surrounded by a group of about 20 lads hitting the island's notorious resort for a "three day bender." Sitting behind a couple of them made for informative listening - let's just say that my nine year old now knows the best place to purchase drugs on the San An strip...

But if you can grit your teeth, be assured that Ibiza is not in any way defined by the bright lights and brash nightlife of San An, and you'll find a completely different side to the island everywhere else. Our base just outside Santa Eularia offered easy access to all corners of the island - the great thing about Ibiza is that no journey seems to take longer than 40 minutes making wider exploration of the island really easy. I'd definitely recommend getting a hire car if you want to experience Ibiza properly - it's the only way to explore some of the less obvious beauty spots on the island's stunning coastline, as well as penetrating its tranquil rural heartland. 

New discoveries on this trip included some breathtaking beaches on the Northern Coast, the least developed part of the island. This is my favourite corner of Ibiza, a tranquil and authentic mix of lovely villages and idyllic coves where the water is spectacularly clear and the snorkelling is outstanding. We loved the tiny Cala Xuclar and the blissful S'illot des Rencli, both of which are blessed with incredible waters swimming with an array of fish. 

Inland, Sant Joan is the epitome of Ibiza's hippy identity, a sleepy village that comes to life on market day (Sundays) and features a smattering of lovely cafes and restaurants, including the outstanding Giri Cafe. On the expensive side, we opted to combine a visit to the market with breakfast in the Giri's gorgeous gardens - a truly lovely treat that didn't dent our wallets too badly. 

Brimming with atmosphere and lovely things to buy, the Sant Joan market encapsulates Ibiza's creative and colourful vibe - it's the kind of place where proper old school hippies rub shoulders with beautiful girls selling handmade espadrilles, and open air yoga sessions take place amongst the stalls. A little further up the road lies another of our favourite discoveries this year - the amazing Los Enamorados, a boutique hotel, bar, shop and restaurant in Portinatx. 

A stunning 1960s hotel, this quirky space is a retro lover's dream. Filled with mid-century furniture, '60s glassware and armchairs covered in loud palm tree-printed upholstery, Los Enamorados combines an amazing aesthetic with a lovely position overlooking a quiet bay away from the more touristy end of the town. 

The perfect setting for a sundowner, when I wasn't gawping at the view I was making lots of mental notes for integrating a bit of '60s Ibiza into my own home (do have a look in the gallery to see how pleasing the owners' vision is.)

If '60s-style boutique hotels don't really do it for your children, head up to the Can Marca caves close to San Miquel for something totally different. An underground wonderland brought to life with atmospheric lighting and music, these remarkable caves offer a fun alternative to beaches and swimming pools. 

Heading South, a real highlight of our trip was a visit to the cosmopolitan Cala d'Hort beach, a lovely bay overlooking the famous Es Vedra rock. Come dusk, we headed up to the cliffs for an experience that no visitor to the island should miss - sunset casting a pinky hue over the mystical landmark that has inspired all sorts of myths and legends over the years. It's the perfect place to watch the sun dip into the sea, although in August you'll be joined by quite a lot of other onlookers. 

But there's something very lovely about the elemental experience of a group of people quietly observing this everyday happening. And the sunsets in Ibiza really are very special, inspiring the crowds to speak in hushed voices and clap when the sun finally disappears on the horizon. 

We fell in love with other discoveries on the coastline too - tranquil Cala Mastella on the East Coast for its unspoilt, undiscovered feel (despite being the location of the highly regarded El Bigotes restaurant); S'Estanyol, a lovely bay a short distance from Ibiza Town and venue for one of our blow-out lunches (at the gorgeous Cala Bonita - expensive but idyllic beach-side dining); and Cala Saladeta, an impossibly beautiful sandy beach with breathtaking turquoise waters just 5 minutes from San Antonio. 

We returned to old haunts also, which didn't disappoint second time around - the rural restaurant of La Paloma was every bit as magical as I remembered it, shopping in Sluiz was mental and Ibiza Town was as vibrant and exciting as ever - we even got to see some of the famed club parades this time around and finally made it to S'Escalinata for cocktails. 

Another highlight which we loved first time around was Las Dalias, the venue for our have-kids-will-club experience. Host to a brilliant club night called Acid Sundays, it's a great place to soak up the inimitable spirit of Ibiza's club culture without having to pay epic entry fees. Colourful and fun, this place is everything I love about Ibiza - it's a celebration of life for anyone and everyone, with all ages and nationalities welcome to join the party. 

But all good parties have to come to an end and my children have made noises about trying somewhere different next summer. So perhaps Ibiza in the spring might be nice for a change? Or maybe we'll fit in a child-free weekend so I can realise my ambition to dance the night away in Pacha. One thing's for sure - I'm not ready to put Ibiza out of my mind just yet...

You can read my previous blog post about Ibiza for more travel recommendations here. 


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Made in Bristol: Wildsource Apothecary

As any blogger will tell you, it is really very nice getting to trial interesting new products. One of my blogging highlights (or indeed life highlights) was receiving a box the size of a small house filled with Burts Crisps in the post. Turns out researching new crisp flavours is really rather fun...but it wouldn't be great for me to get boxes of crisps in the post too often. 

Last week a less calorific but equally exciting package turned up in the shape of a box filled with products from new Bristol-based skincare brand Wildsource Apothecary, a brand I've been following on Instagram for a while. Made in small batches, each of the products in the collection is organic, vegan and ethical, and are crafted from locally sourced botanicals and herbs. Nestling in my beautifully packaged box were some hero products from the range: a Baobab & Calendula Hot Cloth Cleanser, a Wild Flower Facial Tonic, a Radiance Pink Clay Mask and the Miracle Skin Oil with Rosehip & Thistle.

I'd had a consultation about my particular skin needs via email and was assured the products in the selection would suit my skin (sometimes reactive and hormonal, currently in need of some serious TLC.) While I'm not obsessive about choosing only organic products for my skin, I do prefer to use botanical-based cleansers and creams wherever possible - I don't like to see a huge list of ingredients in the small print and I'm a big fan of brands that take a more natural approach, such as Liz Earle and REN. That said, however, I do want things to actually work and am aware that the efficacy of certain nature-led products doesn't always win against scientific formulations. 

Basically, what I'm looking for is ease, efficiency and suitability. I want a cleanser that takes every last grain of dirt of my skin without making it dry, a serum that helps me feel several years younger, a moisturiser that plumps me up and an oil that makes my skin as soft of as a baby's while lulling me towards sleep at the end of a busy day...I know, perhaps quite a big ask.

Having got big into oils when I finally realised they won't bring you out in a mass of boils, I stared off using the Miracle Skin Oil before bed, my favourite time to apply an oil (though this can be used under make-up too.) I wish smell-o-vision was a thing because I can't do justice in writing to how gorgeous this product smells. Filled with other goodies - vitamin E, grapeseed oil and ylang ylang and rose geranium essential oils) this oil is a total pleasure to use. It goes on like a dream, absorbs easily and definitely made my skin feel softer the next day. 

Next morning I replaced my usual Liz Earle Cleanser with the collection's Baobab & Calendula Hot Cloth Cleanser, another gorgeously scented product also containing sweet almond, jojoba oil and wild neroli. Perfect for mornings when you haven't got to shift make-up from your skin, this is a really calming oil cleanser that you massage into your skin and then remove with a soft cloth. I did try it in the evening too but felt it might be a bit light for dealing with makeup, though it worked well as part of the double cleanse routine I sometimes follow if I can be bothered and have the time.

The pink clay mask was really fun - I had a friend staying for the weekend when my box arrived, so naturally we disappeared off with wine to give ourselves a pamper (we'd been looking after four rather wild and excitable boys that day, so it was pretty necessary.) The mask comes in powder form that you mix with either the Wild Flower Facial Tonic or water to create a paste that you then apply to your skin. Ideally you should use a brush to do this which perhaps would make application a bit less messy. Once on, you look a bit of a fright (it was quite fun pretending to our boys that their high jinx all day had brought us out in a stress-related skin rash) but it's well worth it - after 20 minutes we rinsed our masks off to reveal baby-soft, calm skin. My friend, who lives in London, has already been badgering me to get my hands on some more.

If you love a facial mist, the Wild Flower Facial Tonic is a nice addition to your routine - we spritzed this on after our masks and before using the oil but you can also use it post cleansing. I don't normally use facial mists but with a holiday in Ibiza coming up, I can see this being a nice little product to keep in my beach bag.

It's lovely to be able to support a local business, but as I mentioned earlier, I don't want to spend money on things purely because I feel I should - I'm on a relatively tight budget and need things to offer value for money. So it's great to stumble upon a brand that is bringing good quality, ethical products to the market that - in my opinion - do really work. The products haven't launched online yet, but if you're a fan of natural skincare and would like to support a fab new range made in Bristol, keep an eye on the Instagram and website pages. 

Several days on from using my samples, my skin (previously quite stressed, suffering from PMT) feels soft, smooth and calm. The Miracle Oil in particular impressed me and I can see this becoming one of beauty staples. I can't wait to get my hands on some more...


Sunday, 6 August 2017

A Day Out On the Kennet & Avon Canal

How's your summer holiday panning out so far? Two weeks of wet weather down, we've managed to stick two fingers up to the rain with a trip to Oxford and a festival, but it ain't easy coming up with imaginative ideas for budget days out when the weather isn't on your side. It's important, I think, to capitalise on the dry days with cost-free outings so you can save the expensive stuff (trips to the trampoline park, cinema, bowling, etc) for times when there really is no alternative but to be indoors.
I find myself in a perpetual state of weather and radar app checking during the holidays, corralling the children out of the house whenever there's the merest glimmer of sunshine on the horizon. So I was up with the larks at the weekend when it looked like conditions were fair for a trip to the countryside. Not wanting to to travel too far or spend too much money, we decided to head to the Caen Hill Locks, a pretty patch of the Kennet and Avon canal located in the Wiltshire town of Devizes.

Coming in at about 40 minutes journey time from Bristol, it's a great place to visit for a morning or afternoon if you fancy hanging out canalside and watching the waterways in action. During the Industrial Revolution, the canal was a vital means of ferrying goods between Bristol and London; today, the Caen Hill Locks are the perfect place for a riverside stroll or a bike ride.
Essentially a staircase of 29 locks, it's a surprisingly photogenic spot, the locks rising up into beautiful surrounding countryside. And if you have small people who are fascinated by that kind of thing, there are plenty of opportunities to watch the locks open and close as a steady stream of canal boats wind their way along the river.

The stretches around the tow path are taken up with nature reserves, plus there's an area for pond dipping - ducks, heron and other waterfowl paddle across the water, plus you can fish in designated areas. 

It's a truly tranquil spot for a picnic, plus there's a lovely cafe with gardens overlooking the canal - strung with bunting and paper lanterns, it makes an ideal pit-stop for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. If you're on bikes you can follow the towpath up to Bradford-on-Avon (a feat best reserved for older kids or grown ups) or you could jump in the car and head down to another pretty patch of the canal towards Bath at Dundas - the aqueduct here is spectacular and is a 'Scheduled Ancient Monument' (the same status as Stonehenge.) 

A short walk along the canal path brings you to another of our recent discoveries - the idyllic Warleigh Weir. A legendary spot for wild swimming and unleashing your inner Enid Blyton, it can get busy, but if you're lucky you can spread out a blanket on the tiny patch of 'beach' by the waterfall and dip your toes in the water if you're not quite ready for the full wild swimming experience. 

If you want to do the canal in true style, you can, of course, hire your very own narrowboat for the day. Accommodating up to 12 people to make the cost more affordable, take a look at Bath Narrowboats for more information (they have bases at Sydney Wharf, Bath and Brassknocker Basin, just outside Bath.) This is an experience I've definitely got on my bucketlist - watching the boats glide by at the kind of pace I like when it comes to watersports (i.e. slow) I kind of wished we had another 8 people in tow on the day of our visit to give it a go. 
I totally wouldn't be navigating (that would be a bad idea) but I'd be perfectly happy to open a few locks now and then, in between sipping on a glass of Prosecco or two - now, THAT is my idea of water-based fun...
For more information about Caen Hill Locks, visit the Canal River Trust website here.


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Eating Out in Bristol: Aluna

Remember when you used to have a job but no kids? When going to the gym BEFORE work was a thing (cause you weren't ever really tired and you had plenty of disposable income) and after work drinks were basically what happened every Friday? Or indeed Thursday and sometimes even Wednesday too (though never Tuesday or Monday - I was always pretty sensible and old before my time...)

After work drinks: they've taken on a bit of a mythical quality to me now, in my current world a million miles away from those carefree days mooching about Soho, a time when I could always do after work drinks if I wanted - there was no homework, ironing or urgent life admin to attend to back then.

It's a different life I inhabit nowadays so I felt a bit giddy at the prospect of heading to Bristol's buzzy centre for cocktails last week, an area of the city that attracts plenty of people looking for their after work drinks fix most nights of the week. With the airy Bambalan on one side and opulent drinking den Milk Thistle on the other, this is the part of the Bristol that most reminds me of my previous life in London and many a fun evening offloading the pressures of the working day over cocktails with work mates.

I was in town to visit Aluna, a cocktail bar and restaurant on Broad Quay, just moments from the harbourside. It's not a new opening and also has a branch in Birmingham so I was interested to see what it brings to Bristol's vibrant and diverse restaurant offering. The fact that Aluna has one of the longest cocktail lists I've ever seen was perhaps what really attracted me - after all, I was keen to recapture that after work drinks vibe and Aluna is very much catering to that kind of crowd. Arriving a bit late to meet a friend, I totally felt that special excitement that comes with downing tools at the end of a long day and knowing a really nice drink is waiting for you at the bar.

At Aluna, though, the drinks really are rather special. A quick scan of the cocktail menu had me immediately calling on the services of our friendly waitress to explain the weird and wonderful-sounding options, from cocktails 'from the cauldron' to 'vaccines and potions' - pretty out there, no?! 

You can get more familiar cocktails too - we played it safe first off with a classic Mojito which was delicious. But as our waitress explained some of the more unusual options on offer (a 'Colour Changing Martini', 'Demonic Delight' and 'Bubblegumtini' to name just a few) our interest was piqued and we both plumped for something in the 'molecular' range. 

A pretty normal sounding Pomegranate Cosmo turned out to be a glass of clear liquid, jumping with jellified pomegranate and bubbles - essentially like drinking a lava lamp. They're the kind of drinks you can't take too seriously as I found out when I casually gave mine a stir, whipping up a load of bubbles and spurting myself with liquid in the process. 

I would say the focus at Aluna is perhaps more on drinks than food - the menu is eclectic which is something I struggle with a bit as a diner. It's a concept that works fine in a cheap 'n' cheerful, all-you-can-eat type venue like Za Za Bazaar but when I'm eating somewhere a little more expensive I always prefer a shorter, more focused menu. That said, the food at Aluna was competent - I enjoyed my vegetable spring roll starter though my massaman curry needed a bit more kick. 

But if you like a varied menu (and it is useful if you're out with a crowd and one person fancies Asian, another a burger, someone else a curry, for example) Aluna does have pretty much all bases covered - you can choose from steaks and grills to seafood linguine and Singapore noodles. 

The service is excellent, though we did visit on a relatively calm Tuesday evening - I can imagine this place might get a lot busier on a Thursday or Friday. Our waitress was charming and was more than happy to pose for us as we videoed her setting one of our cocktails alight (the appropriately named 'Bush Fire', a very unusual concoction of rum, sloe gin, raspberry and rosemary - this one was a real highlight of our evening.) 

With a brilliantly central location and really friendly, informed staff, Aluna is definitely doing the after works drink thing right. I mean, if you've had a hard day in the office, a pretty, bubbling concoction of vodka and pomegranate can't fail to help you put all thoughts of spreadsheets and stress out of your mind and bring a smile to your face...

For more information about Aluna, visit the website here.

I enjoyed a complimentary meal and cocktails at Aluna but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
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