Kids all over the world love a den (and dads too).



It was a bit of a tall order — administering Movicol Paediatric and expecting to have any life outside the bathroom, but I had to try. The deadline for my uni end-of-year assessments is hurtling towards me at a rate of knots. By eleven o’clock all I had acheived was a huge bump on my brow-bone, a bite on my leg, palpitations, and a child who was a pound lighter (thanks to the Movicol) but still in his pyjamas with Boris Johnson hair. My laundry basket would have been heavier by at least a pound of underpants (and socks) if I hadn’t given up and consigned them to the dustbin wrapped in several layers of scented nappy bags.

I did manage to get some work done in the end, but it is probably a good job we have to submit everything electronically as there is a slight possibility that not all the grubby smears on my manuscript are chocolate. I wonder what is the worst thing my tutors have ever found on smeared on a piece of work?

With my deadline horizon looming ever closer this blog may go rather quiet for the next month, but rest assured we will be back. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a large glass of wine.



‘You’ll never be able to go on holiday again.’ That was just one of the gloomy predictions made to us in the early days of Freddie’s life. I was determined that our family life would not be one long and narrow vale of martyrdom to his ‘disability’. Sod resigning ourselves to ‘Holland’, we’d bloody well go to Italy if that’s what we wanted to do — or anywhere else we chose, for that matter. But the first battle on my hands would be persuading certain other family members, creatures of habit and reluctant travellers, that we could, and should, ventureĀ  outside the UK.

Taking things one step at a time I first persuaded Daddy that we ought to renew our long-expired passports. It proved a bit of a challenge getting a suitable photograph of Freddie, but we got there in the end. The new passports duly arrived. Now, where should we go?

To ease ourselves in gently I suggested we do a short-haul long weekend first, and then consider going somewhere further afield. A European city-break was agreed in principle, but looking online only resulted in confusion — about suitable destinations, pricing, what was included, and what WE needed to include, and how to arrange it all. The computer would be abruptly switched off and comments made about how lovely Cornwall is, and how incomprehensible it is that I don’t like the Lake District.

Not willing to give up and yield to yet another damp and shivering holiday in the UK, I announced this Saturday morning that I thought, while we were in town, it might be a good idea to visit a Travel Agent to do some ‘research’ — we could pick the staff’s experienced brains for some advice on the kind of things we might need to consider. After some initial reluctance, we went.

As soon as we walked in we were spotted by a member of staff. ‘You alright there, guys? What can I help you with?’ Daddy asked the lady to price up a long weekend in Barcelona for us (he’s really into architecture, so I knew this was one place that would pique his interest). As he digested the price she questioned why we particularly wanted a city break, because, to be honest, for the same price she could probably find us a whole week in a family-friendly seaside resort. The manager, overhearing, suggested that Menorca might suit us very well (having been there herself a number of times), and in a few minutes had put together a week-long package that included accommodation, flights, transfers, insurance, car-parking at the airport, the works, for less than the cost of three days in Barcelona. It looked perfect. There was just one problem — it was for the end of next month. No time at all to ‘think about it’ (while I embarked on some gentle and persistent persuasion), if we wanted it we would have to throw caution to the winds and book it there and then. But Caution is our middle name, and in my case, an aquired one. I held my breath.

By this time, Freddie was thoroughly bored and acting up, and we really needed to leave. I picked up my bag. Daddy looked at me. ‘Well?’ ‘Yes! Yes please!’ I said, with perhaps just a touch of desperation in my voice. He put his credit card on the table. ‘We’ll take it.’

All we have to do now is call the insurance company and declare that Freddie has Down’s Syndrome (and see how much additional premium we have to pay).

I’m super-excited at the prospect of some real sun on my back for the first time in the twenty-odd years we’ve been together. I’ve travelled with friends when I was young, free and single, but I’ve never travelled outside the Uk with children in tow — and Freddie is a real bundle of mischeif — and never with my husband either.

One way and another this promises to be quite an adventure.


Getting quality time alone together is a challenge faced by many parents. Factor a child with additional needs into the equation and the problem increases, especially if, like us, your babysitting options are limited.

Tim and I inhabit the same space a lot of the time; but I can’t say that we spend a lot of time in each other’s company, because we rarely get to speak to each other, except to make purely functional requests. The moment we attempt to say anything more than ‘do you want a cup of tea?’ Freddie inserts himself into the conversation, loudly and persistently trying to turn our attention back to him. He has to be taken to the toilet, supervised while he eats, and even while he plays, as he is inquisitive, mischevious (typical third child), has no sense of danger, and views rules as a dare.

Although he’s in bed by eight and can be relied upon, most nights, to sleep until at least 6am, as his brother and sister did before him, we don’t really get any respite. When our older two were little, evening was our time. Once they were tucked up in bed we knew that they were unlikely to disturb us, and if they did need anything they’d shout rather than come down, so we could shut the living room door and enjoy some time as a couple.

But not any more. Our once well-trained, obedient older children are now teenagers straining at the leash. They don’t have bed times. They come down and raid the fridge, invade the living room, take over the YouView box and snaffle our peanuts, or any other treat we’ve got. Since the eldest turned eighteen even our beer isn’t safe.

Yes, we have a bedroom with a door, but they rarely remember to knock before they come galumphing in demanding a note for P.E. or more toothpaste, shower gel or hot chocolate powder. Or we hear a sudden howl of anguish from downstairs, because someone has exploded something (not neccessarily food) in the microwave, or is trying to sort out a most unfortunately blocked toilet with a coat-hanger.

And so our previously redundant bath-tub, made obsolete by that ‘Johnny-come-lately’ the power shower, is enjoying a new lease of life as a place of recreation. Not least because we can lock the door.

The whole thing takes on the air of a midnight feast: we take up wine and nibbles, and borrow Freddie’s spill-proof portable DVD player. We fill up the huge tub, add some Matey bubble-bath (you can keep your grown-up ylang-ylang and aromatherapy nonsense — Matey gives the best bubbles ever), and light candles. Then we can enjoy the luxury of, not just relaxing in deliciously warm, scented water, but of talking to each other, having our treats, watching something, all without being disturbed.

There is still the occasional rumpus from downstairs, but the threat of us hurtling down the stairs, naked except for a few bubbles, is generally enough to make the teens decide that manning up and sorting it out themselves is probably the lesser of two evils.