Setting all the boring politics aside, for a moment

Or at least, setting most of the boring politics aside, last week was brilliant.

We started off with a requirement to go to London, to join a Mass Lobby of Parliament. We thought about the logistics, decided we would need to stay overnight in the capital, and really didn’t want to, so we settled on a compromise – a day in London, followed by a night at the Travel Inn in Windsor, some time exploring Windsor the next day, and home.  The two things I totally didn’t want to do, were take my kids on the tube (don’t ask me to rationalise, it just sounded like a horrendous idea), and keep them in a hotel in city centre. The route to Windsor from the city is by overland train, and Windsor is a fairly suburban place, with tourist attractions of its own, so it seemed like a solution.

Then it dawned on me that we hadn’t seen our friends on the south coast for a while, and maybe we could spend the preceding weekend with them, making a much shorter drive on the Tuesday morning for the Lobby. They were reasonably enthusiastic, so then we had a plan that looked a bit like a holiday, so when my mum told us about the nice holiday cottage “with stair gates at the top and the bottom” that was not (very) far from Hastings, we started thinking about booking it for the second half of the week, and making a grand tour of it.

Then it dawned on us that the train to Battle only took 20 minutes longer than the train to Windsor, the cottage was cheaper by the night than the hotel would have been, and it gave us a whole house to play with, rather than the four of us trying to sleep in one room. So we ditched Windsor, and booked Birch Cottage instead.

It was much the best idea. I really dislike London, and the relief of knowing we were spending the day there, but sleeping in a lovely little house, a mile from the nearest village, made the whole thing into an adventure that I could enjoy.

Henry with a baby goat at Staunton Country Park
Henry with a baby goat at Staunton Country Park

As a plan, it felt very gallivanty, and unfettered, and I rather liked it. And I have to say, it worked beautifully.  We spent four days with our friends, chilling out in their house, thoroughly enjoying the mildness of the weather, and the seaside, and the woods, and the farm we visitted. Then we piled into the car, and drove across Sussex to Battle, and checked into the cottage, before driving straight across to the station, to go up to London.

We’d planned to get to London in time for a demonstration/picnic affair at 1pm, but the driving across Sussex part took longer than anticipated (“Mummy, I need the toilet,” and “Henry’s being sick!” rather got in the way of our timescales), so we were two trains behind on the plan. I was impressed with myself though, because I didn’t care. I could have got in a tizzy for not being where I wanted to be at the time I wanted to be there, but I opted for doing the things we had to do in the order we had to do them, and if that made us late, then so be it. As a result, we arrived at the Palace of Westminster at about 2.30pm, which was when the Lobby itself was due to start. We didn’t get to talk to many people, but we queued, we went through security, we went to the Lobby, we filled in a green card, we waited for our MP (who didn’t come, but I wasn’t surprised), we chatted with a few people, then we left – calling in at the subsidised cafe on the way out.

Daisy knew why we were there – “To tell the government to leave home educators alone,” and the basics of where we were and what the government do there, and I think she was rather impressed by the sense of occasion. Then we crossed the bridge, and wandered along the South Bank in the sunshine for a bit, by way of some exercise, and seeking some tea. Henry had a nice sleep in the wrap on Daddy’s back, and Daisy watched the skateboarders under the bridge, and we got the 6.50pm train back to Battle, and the cottage.

It was a big day, but it was great. Daisy learned so much, and actually, so did we.

The next day we spent at Battle Abbey, learning things that none of us knew about the Battle of Hastings (like, it happened a good five or six miles away from Hastings, for a start), and again, Daisy amazed me with her interest and engagement with it all. She was gripped by the video in the visitors’ centre, fascinated by the examples of weapons used, and even mostly interested in the walk around the field, to see where it happened, which we were all borderline Too Tired To Do, really. But we coped, and it was good, and there was learning, and today, when she asked me to tell her the story of the Battle again, I was able to give her detailed strategic descriptions, that I didn’t know about a week ago. We found the altar stone in the abbey, which supposedly marks the spot where Harold fell. I have to say, we found the flowers that had been left there, and the little notes referring “our last English king” a little perplexing. It was a thousand years ago – the Normans invaded, and became part of what England is. Get over it.

Daisy doing... something, in front of Bodian Castle
Daisy doing... something, in front of Bodian Castle

On Thursday, we went to Hastings, and looked at what’s left of William’s castle there, as well as riding on the funicular railway, and working out some of the physics behind that. And throwing stones in the sea, naturally. Then on Friday we visitted Bodian Castle, which has the combined merits of being in very good nick, for a castle, and having its photo in the Usborne Castles book – that probably means nothing to you, but we got very excited.

On Saturday, we had the trip home, but we added a twist. We didn’t intend to add a twist, but as we passed a road sign on the M25 saying “Services 64 miles” at just the same moment as Daisy said, “I need a wee, Mummy,” we suddenly found a need to find suitable amenities outwith the normal motorway servicing system. Instead, we got the National Trust Handbook out, and used the facilities at Claremont Gardens, near Esher, instead. We used the toilets, had a snack in the cafe, used the playground, and stretched the children’s legs by walking around the lake – essentially, all the things we normally do at the motorway services, but in much nicer surroundings.  We were so pleased with ourselves that we were then on a mission to only stop at National Trust properties on the way home, which we just about managed. We had lunch at Baddesley Clinton, which is a stately home near Solihull (there are lots of NT places around that part of the M40, but not all of them have a cafe, and we really needed to eat). Again, we used the facilities, we ate, we did a whistle stop tour of the house (Henry liked the roaring log fire, Daisy got naughty in the library and had to be taken outside), then got back in the car, and carried on driving. At one point I thought we might also stop at Tatton, but we realised that, unlike motorway services, National Trust cafes shut at 4.30pm, so we ran out of day. Anyway, the kids were coping pretty well, at that point, so we just kept on going for home.

It’d definitely do the NT as Services thing again – it added some interest to the day. Whilst the cafes aren’t cheap, you get more for your money than you do on the motorway, and finding suitable properties to stop at is good, clean, nerdy fun.

So all in all, really good week. Good as a holiday, good experiences of Small Children On Long Journeys, good to be counted by the government on the Lobby, good to see old friends, and fantastic Education, all over the place. The kids couldn’t move for all the Education going on, it was fab!

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