A middle class a-fair

Bank holidays are usually bittersweet for me; a long weekend in which you are supposed to chill, but if you are like me the pressure to Do Something Worthy gnaws away at any time not spent in pursuit of merriment or at least spring cleaning.

We were supposed to be camping this week, but our regular inspection of the BBC 5 day forecast has forced us to concede defeat. I make no bones about being a fair weather camper. Roughing it in a field with portaloos and two young kids (4 if you count the family we were supposed to be going with) is just about bearable, verging on fun when you have glorious weather and copious amounts of alcohol. In 22 MPH winds, Baltic temperatures and rain it is about as appealing as attending the UKIP party conference.

As a salve to the wounds of disappointment we decided to camp out in the garden night before last. All the benefits of camping, sleeping under canvas (well, some kind of nylon material anyway), fresh air, without the hassle of packing up the car and using chemical toilets. But er, we still had to put up the tent, which fit with inches to spare…

20130528-105343.jpgIt was good fun, though by 10.30pm when the kids were still awake it was hard to resist the temptation to pack up and chuck the kids back in their rooms. But we stuck it out, you know, coz we’re hardcore.

The bank holiday Monday was spent at the achingly middle class Suffolk Street Fair. It’s events like this that make me oscillate between contempt and intense life envy. The Suffolks are a slightly Bohemian, vair middle class area of an already quite middle class town. The fair consists of stalls from lots of local businesses; a mixture of art and craft, poncey food, and car boot sale tat with “vintage” prices.

We met some of our friends at the fair, with possibly cuter kids than ours – certainly more well dressed than our dress-refusnik girls!

Kids at the street fair
Consulting map apparently. Actually a leaflet on organic locally produced sausages.

Every year DH and I wander round and wish we could casually pick up a locally designed art print or a £50 distressed wire magazine rack, while at the same time scoffing at the “saw you coming” street sellers. See that is the fundamental (and really the only difference between us and the rest of these hipsters, most of them are richer than us. Our part time public sector salaries and lack of period property are the only things that stop us from becoming Guardianista cliches, and means that we get to play the boy who points out that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, and that the shabby chic piece of driftwood hanging from a bit of twine is, well, just a piece of driftwood. Don’t get me wrong, we want to buy the driftwood, we just can’t afford it.

Man selling beer
£4 for a can of larger? Saw you coming…

There is always good food at the fair. It was difficult to chose between the five vegetable tagine, the falafel and fresh pita bread, or Thai noodle. The spicy noodles won out, as they do every year. I wish I knew what spices they used as they were delicious, even if they did cost £4.50.

The sun was shining, and the jazz band was playing. One of the joys of having young kids is never being without a dance partner. It was just Betty and I throwing some moves, but I didn’t care.

Betty and I dancing in the street
Dancing in the street
Punch and Judy
Beating with a stick – that’s the way to do it!

A Punch and Judy show kept the kids bizarrely enthralled, in the way only the iPad usually does. Well, what child can resist watching a scary wooden puppet, with the bulbous nose of the inebrient, whack a dog with a wooden stick and get whacked in return. The children cackled with laughter at 50 Shades of Candy Stripes while cringing lentil weaver parents shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, clutching their recently purchased organic olive oil and wondering how to explain away the gratuitous violence to their kids later. We didn’t stay to find out the fate of Judy.

We dragged the kids away from the bunting clad street, stopping at the fab charity book shop on the Bath Road. Betty chose six Enid Blyton books (she is undoubtedly her mother’s daughter) – ‘vintage’ as per the order of the day, although as DH found out later when he read them, vintage books tend to come with vintage attitudes to race, women, foreigners, poor people, and basically anyone who doesn’t own an island. I. however, found some light bedtime reading, which I can guarantee contains no black people called Sooty…

Statistics without maths book
It says without maths – that’s go to be good right?

All in all a pleasant day. And while we traipsed along the street fair fantasising about owning one of the Regency townhouses, with wooden shutters and shabby chic decor, it wasn’t unhappily that we returned to our rented little new build terrace, with laminate floors and magnolia walls, just with realism, and the feeling of familiarity. We can’t pull off vintage anyway.


A taste of camping: Gluten free but may contain nuts

Let me begin by laying out my case. I don’t consider camping a holiday. This may be exacerbated by having very young children, so where ever you go you are essentially doing the same crap, but with more limited resources and less childproofing. My criteria for a ‘holiday’ are as follows:

  • It should require the use of a phrase book

Ok, that doesn’t really work as I’d probably need a phrase book to get by in the darkest depths of Wales, or Scotland, but I wouldn’t consider a visit a holiday. Plus the States or Oz wouldn’t require a phrase but I’d not pass up a holiday there. Ok:

  • It should require the use of a phrase book
  • It should require a passport
  • There should be some form of extreme weather condition, snow, sun etc.
  • Should the extreme temperature be heat there should be a pool or sea or lagoon of some kind. For snow I would require a snow board and fondue (I’ve never actually skied or snowboarded before!)
  • There should be childcare available
  • Ditto alcohol

Now I’ve laid out those criteria I will tell you about my break camping this bank holiday weekeend. We were in the beautiful rural county of Oxfordshire at Britchcombe Farm. It’s a lovely, friendly, basic (in a good way) site, and the second time we’ve camped there. The weather was hit and miss, the company was good, the kids not always so. It’s not very relaxing having to mediate between 6 kids under six, but there were 5 grown ups so between us and some bubbles  we managed to not kill them and stop them from killing each other.


On the last day, well, on the way home, we decided to grab some lunch in a nearby town and ended up in Wantage. Now, I’m sorry Wantagites but this is not a happening town. It has a random selection of what I would consider to be more niche high street shops like Fat Face and Cargo, nestled among the charity shops and cheap card shops. On the search for food we eschewed a couple of unimaginative pubs and bistros, and ventured right to the end of the small town, where we happened upon a random looking pub. Here I should probably mention that one of our party is a coeliac (is it ‘a coeliac’? ‘Has coeliac’? I’m not sure). It’s unbelievable how restrictive a gluten free diet is. And when camping it makes things really difficult, what with all that bread, sausages and burgers containing wheat. Did you know that burgers and sausages contain wheat? Except Co-op, all their own brand stuff doesn’t contain gluten, big up the Co-op, I do love it. I made some gluten free brownies for the weekend too, and even had to buy expensive gluten free chocolate, and a spend a small fortune on ground almonds. It’s not easy to live with.


Anyway, back to Wantage and we happen upon the seemingly unironically named Shoulder of Mutton, a pub serving home made vegetarian and vegan food. It also specialises in all kinds of fancy real ales if you are into that sort of thing. I’m not but I was almost tempted but the banana ale.


Peter the landlord was lovely, as was the bijoux restaurant. It was like being invited into someone’s living room, complete with stacks of games like Guess Who and giant Jenga. We rocked up, 4 adults and 4 young children, looking and smelling like we hadn’t washed for 2 days. The kids stopped whinging long enough to pounce on the piano in the corner. But for Peter nothing was too much trouble. The menu was delicious, and all cooked without microwaves and fryers. More to the point, all the dishes stated whether or not they were vegan, or wheat and gluten free. There was a lot of choice rather than the token salad that my friend has to settle for in most places, after checking and double checking there are no unlisted additives like croutons and suchlike. I was disappointed to find that there was no more butternut squash ravioli, but the charmer (cheddar and parmesan) ravioli filled the gap pleasantly. It was so nice to have a meal without meat too! The silence that descended when the food arrived was bliss, think it was the quietest the kids had been all weekend. We will definitely be returning here on our next visit to Britchcombe, when hopefully I can try the butternut pasta. I will also be trying some of the gluten free chocolate and raspberry brownies, which I couldn’t justify today after polishing off the last of my own brownies for breakfast! Do go if you are in the area. I’d book in advance though as it’s pretty cosy.

They don't make skies like this back home

Yarn Bombing

Knit Knot Tree by the Jafagirls

Forget Banksy, ‘yarn bombing’ is the new cool alternative to graffiti. Actually, I am a little slow on the uptake, according to wiki it started around 2005. Unlike traditional graffiti which is tough to remove, yarn bombs are not permanent, and unlike a lot of graffiti its purpose is aesthetic rather than political or territorial. It’s about brightening up mundane spaces.

Streetcolor 'bombs' the Temescal library in Oakland

I really like the work of Street Color. Her attempts to brighten up Berkley, California are really inspiring. Goodness knows how she finds the time!Hers is mostly knitted and it looks fab. I don’t knit so I would have to crochet. I’m not even sure how she plans it or puts it together. The Yarn Bombing book is on my wish list though, I’m hoping it has some tips.

While the craze started in the States, it seems there is a London contingent up to yarn related mischief. Everything good is so London-centric! So it seems that I will have to fly the crochet flag for my Cotswold village (I’m afraid it’s not the chocolate box kind). Every time I drive to the junction at the end of my road I am faced with one of those grim metal electricity box enclosures. This weekend I thought to myself “why couldn’t someone put a nice wooden fence round it?”. Then I realised it is ripe for a yarn bomb. My plan is a lovely woollen (well, acrylic probably) heart. Even if no one else appreciates it, as long as no one takes it down, I’ll see it on my way into work, and it will add a little bit of colour into my day.

I’ll keep you posted as to my progress. I have a busy week, DH’s birthday tomorrow, and then preparing for our weekend camping (why is it that you spend as long planning for a holiday as you spend actually on holiday?). Hopefully I can do some camp fire crochet 🙂