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June 2016

Interviews with Stagecoach Theatre school parents

When Theo was asked to be a Stagecoach blogging ambassador last year, one of the things I was concerned about was that we may find ourselves surrounded by competitive showbiz parents. In fact six months down the line I’m surprised but I’ve not met any people who fit the stereotype of stage school parents.


In fact if anything I rather wish I’d had a chance to get to know the adults a little better, we all tend to run in and out at drop off and collection time and never get a chance to exchange more than a smile or a brief hello. It would be good to find some parents who are local to us so perhaps we could do some lift sharing. When Jim is away at weekends, I have to do the drop off during Alice’s lunchtime sleep which means I’ve had to call in a few favours from friends and neighbours to get them to sit in the house while I nip up the road.

But anyway, having not met many of the parents I was quite curious to talk to some of them on camera about their experience. I also had a chance to speak with one of the young teachers who started out as a pupil and confessed to me that she “still needs to work on her confidence”. When you see her on camera I think you’ll agree she is the model of modest confidence and a great advert for the school!

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Our Eurocamp Diary – Part 2

Our Eurocamp Diary – Part 2

by Clare Mansell

Last week I shared the first half of our Eurocamp Diary, telling the story of our stay at the Domaines Des Ormes parc in Brittany, Northern France. In this post I pick up the story from midway through our stay and share a video of our week…


Day 4

We wake up to torrential rain and head to the pool for the kids swimming lessons, splashing through the puddles in our flip flops. It’s 9am and we seem to be the only ones who are up. Alice loves the water and the wetsuit we’ve been loaned by Rachel means we don’t worry about her getting chilly, although there’s still a mad dash from the covered pool through an outside temperature corridor to the changing rooms, but the showers are hot, thank heavens!

Before we leave camp we stop in at reception to get directions for the local goods shop and discover to our dismay that it’s closed after a fire! Undeterred we decide to head to St Malo anyway discovering on the way that our Morris Minor leaks in places we never knew possible. We have lunch at a steak restaurant next to the closed shop and both kids are so tired from all the activities this week that we decide to abandon plans to go to the Aquarium across the road and head back to Domaine Des Ormes via the local supermarket.

We go to reception to report the broken loo again and as it’s unstaffed we leave a message for them. As there’s no bath in the Esprit, Alice has been getting washed in the kitchen sink, a right of passage for every baby and she seems to enjoy it.


Once she’s in bed, Jim and I enjoy a €2.50 bottle of local red wine and show Theo the basics of how to play Scrabble. He really enjoys this focussed time with us and I’m so grateful we have decided not to pay for a week’s wi-fi pass, though having used 3G again today to get to St Malo, Jim gets to use his remaining time online to watch a video of a dog standing up in a swimming pool.

Day 5

Grey skies, but it’s dry! After breakfast we head to the pool for our 9am Learn To Swim lesson with Rachel. The classes are a little optimistically titled and I think would be better off being called something like “Water Babies : Fun sessions in the pool for non-swimmers” to help modify expectations. Jim seriously expected to see some kind of identifiable progress in 3 days which of course hasn’t happened.

After swimming Theo is booked in for a free kids club session called “Show Time” it’s really popular and some children are turned away when they reach maximum capacity, but Theo gets a place which means nearly 4 hours of free childcare for us. He spends the time making a glittery mask which seems to keep him happy even if the promised “show” for the parents at 1:30pm is a little all over the place. Four minutes watching a performance of Taylor Swift by four primary age kids can seem like a lifetime.


After lunch, we decide to see if Theo can do the high wire adventure course and discover there is a slot free in 10 minutes. It costs €9.50 and lasts an hour. It’s brilliant value for money and I’m really impressed by the young French instructor who manages to be patient and humorous with all the children whilst instilling enough confidence for them to tackle the course on their own.


Back at the cabin we do another barbecue and Theo finds his little friend next door to play with. They sit on the grass opposite playing games and colouring. We start chatting with his parents and before we know it we’re sitting on their deck drinking red wine.


It’s a good chance to see first hand what the more luxurious Avant style home has to offer. We are rather envious of their large covered deck which comes into its own when it starts to rain, they also have their bathroom in one room!

Day 6

Everyone has a lie in and we miss our last early swimming session. We have a round of golf booked on the pitch and putt at 10:30am and we embrace the challenge of playing the game with two children in tow! Fortunately there is no one following us and we have the five holes to ourselves. We’ve brought clubs with us and Alice is happy enough crawling around the greens.


Whilst we play we notice an astonishing thing, the weather is warming up! Not just slightly, but to proper balmy Mediterranean temperatures. So after lunch we decided to spend our final afternoon swimming. There’s an outside pool in the centre of the parc that is only open from 2pm so we head there. It’s buzzing with holidaymakers and kids enjoying the variety of bridges and slides.


Alice has a last splash around in her borrowed wet suit before we hand it back and Jim and I reflect on our week at Eurocamp. It’s been a surprisingly good family holiday despite the disappointing weather and I really feel I’ve switched off, which can sometimes be hard to achieve on a short trip.

We loved the variety and affordability of the activities on offer and have already discussed returning next year. In a world that seems to be always on, Eurocamp gave us something like the old fashioned holidays I had as a kid in the eighties. No tv, lots of family time and the bare minimum of internet connectivity. It wasn’t perfect, no one ever came back to us about the broken loo and the Eurocamp staff who are all quite young, often lack the direction and authority needed to get things done, but if you can relax and accept that as part of the package, there is something special to be found here that is more than the sum of its parts.

The return journey

Our return crossing is a daytime one, the service is running a little late, so we board at about 11am and decide to take advantage of discounted room rates during the day and book a Commodore Class cabin which is more spacious than the one in which we made our outward crossing. Theo loves it and it means Alice has somewhere to sleep and crawl around for the next few hours.


Once again we take it in turns to stay in the cabin or explore the boat and at about 5pm uk time, we hear our arrival has been delayed by an hour and a half. We put Alice down to bed again and she gets a good couple of hours sleep before we dock, making the £70 we paid for the cabin well worth while.

The details…

We stayed at Domaine Les Ormes in Brittany for 6 nights between 17th-23rd June in a 3 bed 1 bathroom Esprit mobile home. Our package included towel and linen hire, welcome pack and essentials pack would have cost £476.60. Brittany Ferries crossing from Portsmouth to St Malo costs approximately £500 return with 4 berth outside cabin for the overnight leg.

Expenses during the trip excluding shopping : Pizzas x2 from takeaway on parc : €17, Pony trek €10, kids high wire adventure €9.50, zip wire €6, pitch and putt €6 per adult

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Our garden in June – with a before and after 7 years on

A couple of months have flown by since my last garden update and I wanted to post again to ensure I keep a record for myself of how it is developing. We’ve owned our home for 7 years, but only had the opportunity to work on the garden since we moved into it 3 years ago. Since the start of 2013, we’ve made huge changes to our home, but a lot of the work in the garden has been in small steps and it’s often easy to forget how far we’ve come.

One of my projects for this month has been to finish planting out a raised bed we have on our patio. Back in 2009 this raised bed was the brick remains of an Anderson shelter with three enormous evergreens growing out of it. We had professionals fell the trees and Jim took on the nightmare job of removing the stumps and then building a wooden frame around the brick base to turn it into a raised bed. The grand plan had been to grow vegetables here, but our local rabbits had other ideas and destroyed my crops in one night, so after it lay empty for a year I decided to think again and plant out some bold green architectural plants to fill the bed.

First here’s a before and after of that section of the garden…


The raised bed is on the left of the photo and as you can see it’s directly opposite the house, so part of my aim is to have a view of lush foliage and not a bare fence. The bed still looks rather bare, but the plants are all in place and I wanted to add a photo so I can look back on this when they hopefully begin to fill out.

You may have noticed that the Cardoon back middle looks rather unhappy, but it’s hanging on in there! I moved it from a spot at the front of the bed at the weekend and it’s not enjoying the heat, hopefully it will survive…


So on the back row (L to R) we have : Fatsia Japonica, living Willow sculpture, Cardoon, Phormium, Cardoon.
Front row (L t R) Thyme, Rosemary, Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’, Eurphorbia, Caryopteris ‘Sterling Silver’

The living willow was a gift from Jim for our ninth wedding anniversary in a couple of days. Apparently nine years is willow, he’s far better at this than me…


We are novice gardeners and if you are wondering how on earth we chose our plants, I now have a good system. I research everything on Pinterest, finding plants I like the look of through searches like “Coastal Garden” and “Architectural Plants” then I google them to check suitability.

I go to the garden centre twice, first time to see what they actually have from my list and how much it costs, photographing everything on my phone as I go to keep a record. Then I come home and plan what I’m going to buy for where with my monthly budget and then I go back and get it.

Other recent additions to the garden this month include these Cotton Lavender plants in our “full sun” bed. This bed is a bit of a nightmare for weeds, so next month’s budget may include more woodchip!


I’ve also planted several Lavenders (white and purple) which may or may not get moved. The books say they need full sun, but other people I have talked to say you can get away with partial shade which is where they are. I’ve got to admit they don’t look quite as healthy as the ones in the garden centre….


At Theo’s request we’ve also planted some edible crops. We were gifted the strawberry plants by friends and he’s been ridiculously excited by the pathetic little fruits that have grown on it! The rabbits don’t seem to have found these yet, don’t tell them!


We also have some dwarf beans, snack cucumbers, baby corns and lettuces growing, all placed in various raised positions to make sure they don’t get eaten. I’ll update on those in July and see if we have any success with them!

Linking up with Annie for HYDGG.

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Our Eurocamp Diary – Part 1

Our Eurocamp Diary – Part 1

by Clare Mansell

Two years ago Eurocamp was sold to French Travel company Homair Vacances group. At the time some people wondered if this marked the beginning of the end of camping and caravaning holidays, but since the sale Eurocamp seems to have created a new place for itself in the family holiday market, enticing a new generation of middle class holiday makers to try out it’s campsite based accommodation.

Last year after hearing positive reviews from friends we considered booking a trip ourselves, but hesitated at the idea of staying in a mobile home. So when Eurocamp approached us in February and invited us on a press trip I was intrigued to see if the experience would match up with the “basic but great” reports we’d heard from other families.

With 170 parcs in 11 countries the choice of destinations is a little over-whelming, so as we were traveling on our first trip as a family of four, we decided to stick relatively close to home, at the Domaine Des Ormes campsite in Brittany.

I kept a diary of our stay, with an honest report of our experience of the week…

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Chalk Paint Workshop in Birdham

Chalk Paint Workshop in Birdham

by Clare Mansell

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to take part in a chalk paint workshop at Russells Garden Centre in Birdham. Russells is situated on the main road into West Wittering from the A27 and has a very distinct blue and white beach hut exterior. I’ve been past it many times and wanted to pop in, but never quite managed it, so as well as the obvious lure of time spent with chalk paint, I was also really curious to see what’s behind those beach huts!


The workshops are free and part of a charitable drive that Russells have set up to upcycle donated furniture and sell it to raise money for the Sussex Snowdrop Trust. It’s a simple, but brilliant idea.

People who are new to chalk paint and nervous about trying it out at home get a chance to experience using it by painting donated furniture which then helps raise money to provide nursing care at home for seriously ill local children. The paint used in the workshops (which is also sold by Russells) is Everlong chalk paint which unusually includes a wax in its makeup.

I was quite surprised at how little I was given to paint a medium size coffee table (half a plastic cup!) but amazed that it actually did the job of providing a first coat for the furniture. I don’t think this is because Everlong goes further than other chalk paint brands, but rather that I’ve probably been using too much paint from any brand in the past. The key is to just dip the very tip of your brush into the paint and apply that to the surface. It is very tempting to just slather it on!


The five of us doing the upcycling all used “Cricket Pitch” which is a pale green colour. I confess it’s not a shade I would have picked myself, but it did look undeniably good on the finished pieces of furniture.

Although I had to rush off quite promptly from the workshop (Alice’s lunchtime!) I did manage a whirlwind tour of the the centre and as well as the furniture outlet Russells have some really lovely pieces, including a whole section of coastal inspired interiors and some beautiful bits of colourful Indian furniture.

So if you live around Chichester and have yet to try out chalk paint, why not pop into Russells for one of their workshops and try it out for yourself. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for their next dates.

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