Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas: How to cope when it isn't your turn to have the kids

Every other year Boys One and Two spend Christmas with their dad. We've been doing it this way for 12 years now. So that's around six December 25ths I've spent without them and, I have to say, it doesn't get any easier. 

Without doubt, it's the worst part of any kind of non-nuclear family. At first I would pretend it wasn't even Christmas and go off somewhere different, preferably not child friendly. 


This was all very well until Boy Three arrived. Now he's expecting something seasonal on the big day. At least a visit from Santa and it's quite tough to gee up the necessary jollity when two fifths of the team are missing. 

Not that it's an excuse for a pity party, that's not my style and it won't help anyone. Plus, on the festive misery scale this hardly registers a quiver. This I know. 

I also know I'm not alone. Every 'broken' home (how I hate that finger-pointing idiom) means that there's one parent temporarily bereft. Statistically that's millions of mothers waking gloomily because they've remembered that there's no one there to open the gifts. It's just we're not really supposed to talk about it, certainly not tell the truth. Not having the kids around is painful and the widespread illusion of gatherings, packed houses and harmony doesn't help a jot. However, no one wants Dreary Deirdre bring everyone down my admitting she's dreading the holidays. She certainly won't get offered a second mince pie. So we keep quiet. 

Instead it's about making the most, putting out a best foot and seizing the day in whatever way we can. Next year we can deck the halls and push the boat. The very lovely Anya (Older Single Mum) offers some tips on coping and here's what I've learned.

It won't go away. Pretending Christmas isn't coming doesn't work, because it is. And it's coming to get you. 

Make a plan. Therefore, decide what you're going to do and do it with conviction. The day will come and go, you may as well be braced 

Suit yourself. In the same way meat-free bacon-flavour rashers don't work, don't kid yourself that going through the usual motions will work. Figure out how you want to get through the day and don't care what anyone else thinks. 

Make another plan. Have something shiny and fab to do with the kids when they get back. You can all look forward to it and remember it after. 

Put it into perspective. Go and volunteer, do something for those less fortunate. And there are many. I'm going to find something for Boy Three and I to do for some of Christmas Day before we put on our onesies and celebrate the Baby Jesus' birth by bingeing on jelly babies. 

Skype. I know Boy Three will spend a lot of Christmas Day virtually talking to his brothers. His mother just doesn't appreciate the fart jokes. 

Remember this too will pass. And soon they'll be back and there's 723 whole days before you have to go through it again. 





Any fool can be uncomfortable

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

That’s what my dad used to say when he thought that someone wasn’t properly kitted out for whatever activity they were embarking on. And, as someone who loved being outside walking or cycling, he had years of experience to draw on.

The point he was making was that it’s always, always worth making the effort to put on the correct gear for the activity and weather at hand. One layer could make the difference between misery and utter joy.

He wasn’t necessarily talking about extraordinarily expensive or fancy clothing, just that it was up to the job and – crucially – worn correctly for whatever was going on at that moment.
My sons roll their eyes whenever I say it to them, usually following a conversation about the suitability of the skinny jeans, t-shirts, Crocs or whatever they’re (badly) dressed in for dealing with the weather.

We live in Scotland where glorious warm sunny weather is so rare that when it happens we all go round looking shocked and braced for the inevitable storm that must break at any moment.

As well as psychotic weather patterns, Scotland also has more than its fair share of outdoors – stunning, exhilarating and accessible outdoors just ready to be walked, canoed, cycled, run, kayaked or simply sat about in. If you are going to live in Scotland you’ll be wasting a huge opportunity if you don’t enjoy as much of the outside as you possibly can, and the only way to do that well is to understand how to clothe yourself properly.

Here are some things I’ve learned about not dressing like a fool.

Don’t get wet. It’s far easier to stay dry than to try to dry yourself out once you’ve got soggy. Waterproof jackets – and trousers – (such as those made by Berghaus) on top of everything, zipped up are the way to go. Don’t wait until a few drops of rain have turned into a deluge.

Alternatively, don’t worry about getting wet, just don’t get cold. Yes, I know that’s the opposite of what I just said, but sometimes keep dry is impossible. It’s the wetsuit theory: a little trapped moisture will act as insulation.

Good layers aren’t just about eggs. Lots of layers will trap air and make it easy to adjust what you’re wearing for the weather/activity levels. So start with thermal undergarments, then work through fleeces and soft shells. If you haven’t got ‘proper’ outdoor gear pick sports tops, thick tights etc.

Think like a duck (or a sheep). You don’t see them shivering and whingeing about the cold, do you? That’s why down or wool (particularly merino) are such excellent choices when you want to win the cosiness stakes.

Look down. I’m often amazed by people who have the snazziest jackets and cosiest of fleeces, but then go out with nothing more than jeans or thin trousers on. Like insulating the loft but leaving all the doors and windows open. Keep your legs warm, fool.

Best foot forward. Same idea, but for your feet. You can make yourself toasty everywhere else, but if you haven’t got warm boots (or lots of socky layers) your feet will be cold and you will be miserable and, therefore, a fool.

Don’t forget to breathe. There’s a lot of weight given to the breathability (or otherwise) of high-tech (AKA expensive) fabrics for rugged outdoor folk. The theory is that if you do exercise while wearing something that doesn’t let water in – or out – then you’ll get condensation building up and you’ll end up just as wet as if you didn’t bother with the waterproof. I’ve found that when it’s pelting down it can be quite hard to stay really dry whatever you do as moisture sneaks up your sleeves and down your neck. In this case, resign yourself to sogginess but focus on warmth.

Get ahead, get a hat. And gloves. And a scarf. The thing is, you don’t have to wear them all the time, but when the wind is biting it really does make a difference.

Cotton on. Cotton off, actually. Don’t wear cotton – it’s horrible when it’s wet. It gets cold, heavy and it rubs. Just don’t bother – instead choose man-made fabrics… apart from down or merino. All that hoody will do is wick water from your head down over your body.

Foolish isn’t sexy. Warm is, even if you need to wear long-johns and grannyish thermal underwear to achieve it. 

The bottom line. If you park your backside on a cold damp rock and there is insufficient insulation, your arse will get cold. This is foolish and will spoil your lunch break. Sit on something warm. The best solution to this I heard of was to carry an old (bum sized) mouse mat in your backpack!

And don’t save sensible for the mountains. You often see outdoorsy types striding off to bag a Munro in all the right gear, which is great. Only you can sometimes catch the same folk shivering on the touchline at their kid’s football match cos they haven’t bothered to dress properly. If you’ve got the gear, put it on.

So there you have it, my guide to not being a fool on the hill (or anywhere else it’s cold and wet).






Keeping your children safe online

It seems that our children are getting into technology younger and younger. Toddlers can use tablets, and kids seem to get on social media as soon as they reach school age, which can leave many parents feeling anxious about what their children might be doing and seeing online. That's why it's essential for us parents to stay ahead of modern technology, so that children can still learn about technology and use the Internet, but without running into dangers.

Talk to them about the dangers

Children are incredibly innocent and trusting, and it's important that they know that people online aren't always who they say they are. As with any difficult subject, a chat about Internet dangers is a good idea when they are old enough to understand. Let them know that you are always there to talk if they feel uncomfortable or concerned about something they've seen online. Make sure you lay down some ground rules, with sanctions such as losing their Internet privileges if they do something that's not allowed.

Protect your computer

Your child could be lured onto sites with viruses by dodgy pop-ups or links, and so installing the right antivirus software is essential before you let them loose on the computer. Choose a program that will protect from viruses as well as online fraud, and ideally one that will back up your data automatically so you don't lose important photos or work documents.

Keep devices in a public place

Make sure that your computer, laptop, or tablet is used somewhere where you can see the screen, and check what they are doing on a regular basis. Although you won't be able to keep tabs on them constantly, they are less likely to try to do something that's not allowed if they know they are in public.

Block unsuitable sites

There are many types of software that allow you to put parental controls on the internet, and many of them also trace what your child is doing online, so you can make sure they aren't attempting to access unsuitable sites. Some parents of younger children also insist that their children give them a list of their social media passwords, as well as passcodes for tablets and smartphones, so you can check their messages and e-mails.

It can be scary to let your child online for the first time, but by setting up a secure Internet connection, you can be sure that your children enjoy their time online. This allows them to keep up with their peers, and learn how to use new technology, without the negative effects that can come with it.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas shouldn't be this difficult

Little faces lit up with joy, families coming together over good food and laughter and a few days off the treadmill. The most wonderful time of the year.

Why then are so many people looking stressed and knackered? Normally calm children are barely making it to bedtime without a fit of sobbing and minutes are being counted until it's all over. Credit cards are being abused and fridges stuffed to within an inch of their lives, and don't forget multiple cautions being flung to the winds. 

It's just all got too much and it needs to stop. 

You'll be glad to hear that for the purposes of this post I'm not going to patronise you by pointing out that there's a centuries old religious festival at the heart of it all. This much we know. 

The problem is that a little bit of sparkle is no longer enough. 

Starting in November (or even October) it builds. Lights, presents, plans - buy this, book that, go there and don't forget to do something else. So much bossiness and all for what? A couple of days, gifts for people you care about and a few nice meals. That's all. 

Everywhere you look we are being urged to spend more, find the perfect present (not just one that's good enough), cook the most elaborate things, throw our homes open, drink, look amazing in something too short and sequined. We're supposed to decorate our elegant houses with a festive theme for goodness sake, isn't Christmas theme enough. 

Then we need to preserve the magic by making all this excess and effort seem, well, effortless. Even the adverts tell us so - if you aren't utterly exhausted and at full stretch, you're not doing it right. 

"Are you all ready yet?" is the question on everyone's lips. No, of course not and I don't see why I should be. How long is it going to take to cook a meal, buy and wrap a couple of things and watch some repeats on the telly? 

I don't mean to rain on anyone's Christmas parade and I'm actually rather partial to mince pies and mulled wine. And, of course, I want my children to have joy-filled, memorable Christmases, but going large on every aspect of the season is simply not going to achieve it. 

Instead it'll give us all tension headaches, critically injured bank accounts and an overwhelming sense of failure, none of which is a recipe for good will to all men - or even the ones within punching range. 

If you find yourself suppressing the urge to sob into the cooking sherry as you wonder how you'll get it all done. Take heart, you are not alone and it's time to lay down your to-do list, kick the clutter under the sofa and have a little sit down or wahtever else you fancy.

And if I want anything for Christmas it's for the vast juggernaut of enforced jollity to pull into the lay by and give us all a rest. Lower expectations, slow the pace and maybe we can actually enjoy this wonderful time of year. 


Christmas is making mugs out of us all





Great Gadget Gift Ideas

We all know a self confessed tech-geek who gets overly excited about the latest fashionable innovations in the go-go-gadget world. With Christmas Day looming, let’s take a look at the best gadgets of 2014 that you can give this certain someone as a gift.

1. Smart watch

The fashion statement that keeps you updated with emails, helps you track your fitness, lets you play with apps... oh and tells the time. Yes, smart watches are set to be the next big thing and are great for friends who like to look sharp while staying connected, especially when at the gym or in work meetings: two situations where you don’t want to be carting your mobile around.

2. E-cigarette

An e-cigarette perhaps isn’t the most romantic item to present a loved one with, but it sure will be appreciated by someone looking to ‘kick the habit’ in the New Year. Give a starter kit to set them on the right path, or present something a little jazzier like a selection of various flavoured vapours. It will also be rewarding to be part of their journey to a healthier lifestyle.

3. Smartphone projector

Enjoy your movies in a old fashioned way, using the latest gadget. A smartphone projector is so easy to use: plug your phone in then watch enlarged videos on the wall. This could be personal videos, downloaded imagery or a streamed film. This is a great way to get the family together over the holidays, just like the good old days.

4. Computer game

If in doubt or tight for time, pick out a game for a console you know they have (making sure they don’t already own the game!). Some of this year’s best releases includes GTA V, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros for the Wii and FIFA 15.

From electronic cigarettes that will change someone’s life for the better, to a smart watch that will look slick on any wrist, or a novelty gift that will put smiles on happy faces: there are plentiful gadgets in 2014 for you to pick out the perfect one for any taste.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Why are there no boy angels in the nativity?

It was nativity play week again. And following in a fine and noble family tradition, Boy Three was the second cow at the stable. A role he played with style and panache. 

Udderly brilliant performance
 Over the years he and his brothers have variously been sheep, goats and even robins. It's important to celebrate the birth of Christ by dressing up as an animal, apparently. And the other years they wore their dressing gowns and tea towels with great aplomb. It's traditional. 

But there are some other less jolly traditions at play here. 

The thing none of the boys have ever been is an angel or a star. Boy One did achieve the lofty heights of a villager with a speaking part, but he never made it to celestial being. 

Watching this year's show, I was struck by the thought that no matter how twinkly his performance none of my sons was ever going to be cast as a star or an angel.

Charming as the nativity was there was something sexist in this view of Bethlehem. The boys were shepherds, animals and wise men while their female classmates were stars and angels. No exceptions. 

It does seem like the most ungrateful and minor of moans, what with the school being, in the main, a terrific and nurturing place. But....

Surely these little ones shouldn't be absorbing this subtle sexism at this stage - they've got years and years for that. The five and six year olds need to be cast entirely at random not being cloven-hooved if they're male and pretty and sparkly if they're female. 

Since my school days there have been enormous changes in attitude to sexuality and race. Brought about by effort and care on many fronts. Why not gender then? Lip service isn't good enough. Telling little girls they can be engine drivers and boys they can be nurses if they want is so last century. We must all be on our guard against sneaky little acts of sexism - at home and school. 




The difference between dirt and a stain

They are both ugly, out-of-control things that prevent their host from attaining perfection.
But that's where the similarities end. 

Dirt is temporary, transient stuff that only needs some effort and, possibly, cleaning products to shift.

Stains have resisted all attempts to be scrubbed, bleached or soaked out of existence. They are permanent. 

It's possible dirt harbours germs and might even allow itself to spread to spoil other things. 

Stains have been cleaned so much they won't do you any harm, they might, however, tell you a story. 

The hard bit is knowing which of the smears and scars are temporary and dirty and which are going to be there forever. 

Because what matters most is your attitude. If it's only dirt, then fling yourself into your efforts to wipe it away. But if it's a stain then all you can do is change the way you think about it. 

You're stuck with a stain so you may as well get comfortable with it, remember the story it tells you and appreciate that it actually makes the thing it lives on more special. With enough effort you might even learn to love it. It's a memento of the person who created it, a badge of frugal and eco-friendly living and a celebration that you own something unique. 

I'm blessed to have quite so many around me and here are a few of my favourites:



Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Short story: Two letters that cross in the post

By way of a wee change, I thought I'd post a piece of fiction I wrote a while back. 

Pic: William Arthur Fine Stationery

Dear Max,
         By the time you read this I will have gone. Left. I thought it was easier if I just went. I don't think either of us have the stomach for those matrimonial tussles a lot of our friends have been through. You know. They start off saying it’s amicable and by the time the solicitors have got involved they are having screaming rows over who gets that picture neither of them liked very much and no one remembers where it came from. I always think that’s such a sad way to end things, don’t you?
Max, can you imagine? Us rowing over that nasty brass thing my uncle gave us when we got married. Did we ever work out what it was for? I’ve dusted and polished it often enough.
Anyhow, my leaving. I've had enough. I tried my very best. 25 years. You and the kids have had your slice of me and now it's my turn.
Are you surprised? I can see you standing there running one hand through your hair and stroking your ear lobe with the other. Faster the more upset you are. Do you know that earlobe is noticeably bigger than the other one? I’ve always wondered if the stroking did that.
It hasn’t been all bad. Not at all. In fact, some of the memories are very precious.
When we met it was wonderful. I loved all those dances where we used to get dressed up and everything glittered. It was like magic. We used to stay up all night and walk home as the sun came up. Anything was possible.
Of course, I had my job then. I loved my work. I suppose it was quite unusual for woman to work in a laboratory in those days. You used to ask about what we were working on, the experiments and what we were finding out. These days it’s all old hat and computers probably do it, but back then they were breakthroughs. You said you it was good to see a girl who had some zip about her – something different to talk about. I knew you understood.
But you had something different to talk about too. All those travels. Countries I could only dream about, oh, and how I dreamed about them. The adventures you’d had getting chased through that Arabic market, meeting that man on the Caribbean island who believed he was the heir to the throne, the bulls in Pamplona, and the light glinting off the Taj Mahal. The way you spoke about them make my mouth water and my feet itch.
So we courted. They don’t call it that any longer, do they? Probably not. Still, we did. You took me to the dances, to dinner, to tea, you met my parents and I yours. It’s still as clear as day, when you took me home in your MG with the top down. I really was wearing a twin-set and pearls. Your mother actually nodded like I was a healthy new member of their beef herd. Still I got quite fond of the old stick in the end.
That was the year of the weddings. All our friends, one after the other. The hats and the frocks. And they kept asking: “Who’s next?” They all used to practice their ‘new’ names months before they were married. It’s odd. Even now I have to remind myself that I don’t have the name I grew up with.
Matrimony was all some of the girls were talking about – the venue, the dresses, how many bridesmaids and where to go on honeymoon.  Some of them even said they’d rather go to the Isle of Wight or Blackpool for a few days so they could have more money for their houses. You wouldn’t believe how boring it was, I promised myself I’d be different.
                It was different for a while. We didn’t go to Cowes or Lytham St Anne’s, at least not the first year. Our honeymoon was wonderful. Do you remember? If I shut my eyes I can still hear the cicadas in the garden and the sea shushing up the beach. The air was so warm it was like velvet, scented velvet. We sat in that hammock looking at the Indian Ocean and making plans.  Or at least I thought we were.
The change to grey was gradual, I’ll give you that. And it probably wasn’t your fault.
We came home and moved into that first house. It was quite a long trip on the bus to the lab, but I didn’t really mind. And it was nearer to your work. Obviously that made sense to everyone. Maybe I should have said something, but it did feel a bit unfair.
It didn’t really matter because it wasn’t long before I was pregnant. It seemed to be agreed that I wasn’t going back to the lab, but I don’t even remember the conversation.  Though at the time I was too busy – and too tired to think about it.
Suddenly I was part of the whole other world no one told me about. I had to look after the children, keep the house tidy and organised, cook for you – and them, go to coffee mornings and toddler groups. It was as if I had been magically transported overnight to somewhere totally alien. I remember sitting there looking at these other women and wondering how they just knew all this stuff. They knew what was wrong with the kiddies who were crying, they knew how to make good cakes, how to keep your house clean with small children in it, what you served with asparagus. I was so bad at all this stuff and didn’t have a clue where you found it out.
They also knew how to make their husbands happy too. They did all this stuff and then they smiled and took them to bed. One or two whispered to me that they put it on their lists, like walking the dog, because looking at it that way made everything easier. Do you remember my attempts? You just looked at me like I’d lost my mind and said: “Maureen, sit down I’m watching the test match.”
Maybe I should have spent my time learning how to get tomato stains out of bibs and how to get soufflĂ©s to rise than studying all that chemistry. Have you any idea how inadequate – and how bored I was by all of this? Actually I know you had no idea, because I didn’t tell you. You didn’t really want to know, I knew that much.
In the beginning we did get out for some fun – the pictures, the odd dance. My mum used to come and look after the kids so we could go. You would look at me in that way that made it all worthwhile. A little bit of glitter in amongst the nappies and the baking. Then it seemed to happen less and less. You were tired, I understood your job was exhausting, then we moved into the bigger house so we didn’t have the money.
A caravan holiday would be fine – we didn’t need anything flash, you said. Do you know how much I hated those holidays, trying to keep the kids entertained when it rained and producing meals in those stupid little gas ovens? I don’t suppose you did because I never told you. “Next year,” you’d say. “Next year…” But we always went back to the caravan park.
What exactly would be wrong with a little flash anyway?
When Tom and Sarah started school, I thought I’d be able to get something back for me. I don’t know, maybe a little job or something. It was starting to feel as though the world was getting on with its business and  I was stuck in this well-polished cocoon where I wasn’t very good at anything much.
But you didn’t want that. And you didn’t even tell me yourself, not properly. One Sunday when we went to your parent’s house. I used to spend the whole time stopping the children breaking any of the china or pulling the books and ornaments off the shelves. Let’s say it wasn’t child friendly. The sun was streaming through the drawing room window catching the finger marks Tom had just left.
“I hear you’re thinking about getting a job,” your dad said and laughed. Everyone else laughed too. It was like I’d suggested learning to ride a unicycle or dying my hair purple. I felt as if I hadn’t earned a job because I was so bad at what I was doing all the time.
Quietly I threw all the job adverts and application forms in the bin when we went home. I couldn’t stand you all laughing at me. After a while I was too busy anyway. I couldn’t work out how to tell those committees that I really didn’t want to help. I had to do my bit, apparently.
So I thought I’d just try my hardest and do the best I could. Not complaining. Did you notice that I got quite good at cooking and the house always looked nice? I asked about your work – nodded and made soothing noises when you told me about how how awful your new boss was. I rubbed your back and ran you baths. That was what you wanted wasn’t it?
And the children Tom and Sarah have done rather well. I’m quite proud of them, I must have got that right. And now they don’t need me any longer. They’re off achieving and exploring.  I made Sarah promise never to get tied down like I was. “But I thought you were happy,” she said. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
That was just the other day when I helped her move into her new flat. She’s so excited about what life is going to give her; you can see it shining out of her. It reminds me of when she was little and it was Christmas morning.
Her move means I’m free now. I’ve taken just what I need – some clothes and a few books. The rest you can keep. I’ve got the little money my mother gave me when we got married. She said I had to keep it safe until the day I knew what it was for. Well now I know.
I’ve given you no forwarding address, no contact details. Don’t bother looking for them. I’m won’t be coming back. None of you need me any longer. I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient or embarrassing. It’s not my intention to upset or hurt you. Hopefully in time you’ll see that and, maybe, find someone else.
That’s it then Max, I hope you’ll understand and don’t stay angry with me forever.

Your loving wife

Maureen.

Maureen,

I’m divorcing you.
You probably had your suspicions but Caroline from the office and I are in love and we want to be together. 
It has been going on for a while and I did try to stop things for a while, but life is just so exciting when I’m with her. We do things together that I know you’re not interested in doing.
You’ll be able to keep the house – I know you like it here. It was the least I could do.
I’ll be back on Monday with some papers for you to sign,

Max.






The joy of kitchen appliances

Kitchen appliances as gifts... discuss. 

Tea's up or your tea's out? Pic: H is for Home

Imagine the scene. It's Christmas morning and you've already been up since the fart of the turkey to stuff aforementioned bird into the oven and to deal with wails of delight/bickering from excited children. 

Then your beloved hands you a carefully (professionally, in the shop) wrapped package and waits for your little face to light up with joy. 

Only it's a new iron. Surprise. 

And that's where it all went wrong and you can fill in the ensuing debate about domestic roles and sexist assumptions. But imagine the same scene, only in the box is a fancy chrome coffee machine or a very exciting gadget that creates the latest trendy technique. The outcome's totally different. 

The territory is treacherous though. A good appliance adds pleasure to life on a daily basis - often unexpectedly, while a bad one only irritates and clutters (bye bye sticky juicing machine and smelly deep fryer).

Here are the appliances that make my heart sing:

Cheese grater. This one was the surprise success. It's actually Boy One's - he got it as a pressie during his cooking phase. It's so quick to grate cheese (obviously) to make toasties for hundreds of starving kids. 

Toastie machine. Obvious progression. And worth getting a good quality one as they're easier to clean. One of Boy Two's friends says my toasties are the best and I'm easily flattered. 

Chargers. Eventually I learned that the best place to put the chargers is on a socket extension thing in a biggish space on the kitchen counter. Many things full of power and nothing gets lost. 

Tassimo coffee machine. Sorry environmental folk, I'm just not listening on this one. Real coffee in an instant with no mess. I love it. 

Slow cooker. But I make up for my eco failure by using my slow cooker as often as I can. Bung food in and it's ready for supper. What's not to love? 

George Foreman-style grill. It's not his, but you get the picture. This one was another surprise. I thought it would be faddy, but it's quick and it elevates ordinary burgers and sausages into something a bit more interesting. 

What are your favourite kitchen gadgets? And which would you love to find in the carefully-wrapped package? 




Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Win a night for four in a UK Travelodge




Pic: Heather Buckley
I'm fascinated by Brighton. But I'm not sure why. It might be the Mods and Rockers of Quadrophenia or the bad boys of Brighton Rock. 

Without ever having been there, I imagine it to be cool and edgy, packed with exactly the people I'd like to spend time with. But that's the thing. I've never actually walked on the beach or gazed on the residents as they go about their business. 

That's why I'm going to put it on my list of places to visit next year - it's not as if it's an arduous or challenging journey to get there. Accommodation is easy enough to come by. 

If you could visit anywhere in the UK you haven't been to already, where would you go? 

Pic: Pablo Fernandez
I'm working with Travelodge to offer you the chance to win a night for four people anywhere in the UK. All you have to do is enter my competition here. 

Tell me where you'd like to visit and fill in your entry via the Rafflecopter below, then cross your fingers.

Terms and conditions: 

The prize is one night at a Travelodge of your choice.
Maximum of four people (unless it's a family of four plus)
Not redeemable before 5th January.
Rooms subject to availability.
Prize must be redeemed within six months of winning. 
Competition closes at 9am 17th December


a Rafflecopter giveaway
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