Four ways to be a 21st Century Elizabeth Bennet

I have always loved reaching for my copy of Pride & Prejudice for a few minutes – or hours – of total escapism. The character of Elizabeth Bennet captivates me and over the years she has proved to be an invaluable source of advice, reassurance and guidance.

I remember being immediately drawn to Elizabeth’s fiery self-assurance and sharp-wit; her passion and her desire for more than her lot in life.

I first watched the Pride and Prejudice BBC drama as a child on a Sunday evening with my mum. From that point on, my love for Regency-era drama became so intense that I would often wander around the house in one of my grandma’s old-fashioned floor-length floral nightgowns, announcing to my parents that I was to attend a small gathering at the Assembly Rooms and they were to summon the chaise and four to escort me there.

Now, as a (semi-functioning) adult in the 21st Century, I still look to Austen, and more specifically to the words she created for Elizabeth Bennet, for comfort and solace. And you know what? That girl has still got it. Under her guidance, you can master quick-fire put-downs, witty retorts, feats of unwavering loyalty and courage, and potentially, how to win the heart of a man worth £10,000 a year (though I would recommend going with current inflation on that last one).

This week marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. What better way to honour her genius than by following these four rules to help you live your life as a 21st century kick-ass Lizzy Bennet:

  1. Witty is the new pretty

Elizabeth is the epitome of ‘witty over pretty’. She is described as having ‘fine eyes’, but is generally considered plain in comparison to the beauty of her sister, Jane.

And yet she captivates and enthrals people. She wins them over, she makes them notice and she makes them listen. And that is because she knows and speaks her mind, and won’t let even the likes of Lady Catherine DeBourgh belittle or devalue her.

Elizabeth remarked to Darcy when they finally confessed their feelings for each other; ‘you were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them.’

Lizzy shows us that you don’t need to pretend to be something you’re not to fit in all of the time. Sometimes, not fitting in is the best way to stand out and make a lasting impression. Just remember the state of Miss Bennet’s petticoat – six inches deep in mud – major scandal!

  1. Be the queen of the clap-back

Elizabeth Bennet was masterful when it came to the clap-back. Think on your feet, and don’t feel like you can’t respond quickly and powerfully to any criticism you feel is unwarranted.

Elizabeth put Darcy well and truly in his place when he ‘condescended’ to ask for her hand in marriage. Lizzy was also quick to stand up for herself in almost every interaction with Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley.

My personal favourite ‘Lizzy-zinger’ came after Lydia announced she would find husbands for all her sisters, to which Lizzy responded, ‘“I thank you for my share of the favour, but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.” Sick burn, bitch!

  1. Bonnets before Britches

This is the 17th Century equivalent of ‘chicks before dicks’. Throughout the novel, Miss Bennet demonstrates a steadfast commitment to her sisters and her friends.

Darcy’s move to conceal Jane’s visit from Bingley intensifies her hatred of him. And even though her friend Charlotte Lucas married ‘one of the stupidest men in England’, Lizzie gives them her blessing when she realises that it is what her friend wants and she remains friends with Charlotte thereafter.

Such ‘independent thought’ would have been seen as hugely controversial back in the day, but, much like Jane herself, Elizabeth challenged conventions she perceived as unjust.

Remember, when a fuckboy like Wickham tries to come between you and your sisters – two words: ‘boy, bye’.

  1. Admit when you are wrong

Ok, so it took Elizabeth like 30 chapters to realise her faults when she finally admitted, ‘Until this moment I never knew myself’, but fairness to her, she gets there in the end.

Elizabeth isn’t perfect; she’s quick to judge and she’s incredibly stubborn. But it’s these flaws that make Elizabeth Bennett one of the most powerfully-resonating characters in literary history.

Over 200 years after she was brought to life on-page, Elizabeth Bennet continues to be a relevant, funny, relatable and much-loved literary heroine. In honour of Jane Austen on this special anniversary, let’s all try to be a little more Lizzy and a little less Love Island-y.

Help! The ‘Terrible-Twos’ Have Started a Year Early!!!

I never thought I’d be in the position where I’d be pining for the ‘simplicity’ of those early new-born days. But as I watch Emily maintain perfect eye contact with me as she extends her arm to pour her drink all over the floor, I can’t help but scoff at how easy I had it then.

Now, at 21 months old, she swings rapidly from defiantly independent to overwhelmingly clingy within the space of a few minutes. I get dizzy just trying to stay up to speed with her, both physically and emotionally.

I know she is just getting a handle on her emotions that are bubbling to the surface without a moments warning. But with the prospect of the ‘Terrible-Twos’ and the ‘Three-nager’ phase after that, all I can see in the near future is years of me wearily battling a toddler who is more stubborn than a week-old Weetabix stain.

There are days when I feel like the ‘Matron Mama Morton’ of my own maximum security jail, and the only inmate is Emily. She darts off at the speed of a greyhound out of the traps, and we’ve had more than one terrifying ordeal where she’s almost run into the road. To remedy this, I have to keep a beady eye on her at every second, ready to sprint in her direction when she inevitably tries to ‘Shawshank’ out of her Mummy Prison.

Then there are days where she’ll barely leave my hip, refusing to do anything unless I’m holding her close so that she can bury her face in my boobs. Those days feel so claustrophobic and intense.

All of these mixed emotions vying for attention must be confusing for her, and I’m trying to be as patient as I can be. But there are only so many times you can say ‘don’t slap mummy / don’t suck the end of the iPhone charger / don’t lick the soles of your shoes’ – things she repeatedly does with a wry smile on her face, just to get a rise out of me.

I know she wants my attention, and as someone who works from home, she has a-LOT of it, all the time. But when I try to focus her on something productive, engaging and fun, she thinks, ‘nah, stuff this, I’m gonna try and stuff a breadstick in the plug socket instead’.

So the ‘Terrible-Twos’ are still months off, and we’ve already had months of what I’m calling the ‘Wilfully-Disobedient-Ones’. And I moaned that I was stuck on the sofa feeding a lot with a new-born. What a daft sod I was.

GUEST POST: ‘Throwing an Outdoor Summer Party for Toddlers’ by Judy Heminsley

As many of you will be in the process of planning and organising parties for your littlies at the moment, this post from Judy should prove helpful. Don’t forget to share any pics of your outdoor summer parties in the comments below, along with any additional tips you have for throwing the perfect garden party. 


Throwing an Outdoor Summer Party for Toddlers

Outdoor parties are great toddler and parent activities, and while your house may stay tidier, there’s still plenty to organise:

Planning and Booking Entertainment

Start planning early, especially during the summer months when kids’ entertainers get booked up quickly.

Having several types of entertainment is good for variety and preventing boredom or tantrums, especially as toddlers won’t stay still for anything for long. Consider sectioning off part of the party area into entertainment zones, and have different games and activities in each. Face painting, ride-on toys, bubble blowing, a pop up tent or even a nylon tunnel they can scramble through are some ideas.

Make sure there’s supervision, not just for safety but to mediate when everyone wants to ride on the same toy at the same time!

Setting the Party Stage

String some bunting between trees, along fencing, or even along the washing line if all else fails, and add some balloons for good measure. If you’re theming the party, stick to theme colours to help pull everything together. People may not notice specific colours, but they will notice how everything seems to just ‘fit’.

For seating and tables, you could either have one long table with a finger buffet laid out, or put outdoor tables and chairs in cosy groups with a separate food bar. It depends on the space available and how many guests. If the size of the party warrants it, consider getting professional help for seating.

Serve toddler-friendly finger food so you don’t have to provide full cutlery sets. Sandwiches cut into quarters are fun for kids and adults like them too, and make sure there’s plenty of cake, and jelly or ice cream. If you’re inviting parents to stay with their toddlers, it’s okay to provide separate ‘grown up’ food, but still keep it simple. They’ll probably be spending too much time chasing toddlers to enjoy a sit down meal.

Safety First

When you’re throwing an outdoor party for a group of toddlers, you’ve got to have safety top of mind all the time.

If you’re bringing in outside entertainment that needs amplification for sound, for instance, consider how you’ll make sure cables are safe. This applies whether you’re hiring professional entertainers and putting up a stage for them, or just running an extension cable outside at home.

It’s not just electrics and cables. Give some thought to safety if you’re having a bouncy castle, for instance. Ideally, have a couple of adults whose sole job is keeping an eye on them. The grownups could take turns so toddlers are never left to their own devices.

Other areas where curious toddlers can get into trouble are garden sheds and garages. Make sure these are locked up tight, and cover any ornamental pools.

Having organised games, food and decorations, all you can do is hope the weather stays fine. It might be a good idea to have indoor contingency plans – just in case.

 

Judy is a freelance writer who writes for Alistage, which provides all the equipment you need for a successful event.

 

How Soon Is Now?

Today Emily was watching TV when an ad break came on. She pointed at the TV, confused as to why her film had disappeared. She looked at me and said, ‘TV broken!’.

Imagine living in a world where all you know is entertainment on-tap with no interruptions. Whatever you want to watch right there and then at the touch of a button. Anything that isn’t immediate and completely gratifying is deemed as ‘broken’.

At the risk of this turning into a ‘in my day…’ rant, I just couldn’t believe how different her entertainment experience is to my own as a child. I remember how excited I would get when The Broom Cupboard came on the BBC for that brief period each afternoon.

The closest I got to constant media entertainment was when we got our first VCR player when I was about five. My mum took me to Woolworths to buy my first video. The sheer choice and variety was overwhelming, and I just couldn’t decide which one I wanted. Then my mum spotted a video and said, ‘oh Charlotte, let’s get this one. I watched it when I was your age and I loved it.’ Trusting her better judgement and her ability to actually make a decision, I (foolishly) went along with her choice.

When we got home I was so excited to watch it. We pressed the play button on the VCR and then…what the fuck is this? It was in black and white. There were puppets on strings with stupid hats dancing around a pathetic looking flower. It was ‘Watch With Mother’. The 50s version of CBBC. The insufferable puppets were Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men. This actually passed for entertainment when she was young. Jesus. That was the first time I’d ever felt sorry for my mum. But because of a lack of other options, I watched and re-watched that one video until I was word-perfect. I even adopted a posh 50s BBC accent when I would mimic the presenter.

But now as I sit with Emily as she instantly switches between watching Minions, Zootropolis, Moana and Sing on her iPad that at 20 months she can already control, I can’t help but think about how Emily would react to what passed as ‘entertainment’ for me 30 years ago.

She would most likely stare blankly at Phillip Schofield talking to a rodent puppet in a studio the size of her wardrobe, and after 15 seconds she would expect to be able to turn on to another, more interesting and preferably CGI option.

Kids who grew up in the 80s didn’t have options, and they didn’t have immediacy. Instead, they had to wait agonisingly for the kids’ TV shows to start, then you just watched what was on, and that was your lot.

Even the very few kids’ TV shows that are still on air and have been running for decades have had to bastardize themselves out of all recognition to appeal to children today. Each new Postman Pat episode is like a cross between Emmerdale and Lethal Weapon. And seriously, a postman with a fucking jet plane? My postman doesn’t even have a van; he has to push a trolley of post around like a bloody homeless person.

Patience and the joy of experiencing something you’ve been waiting what feels like a lifetime for, is something that Emily may never experience. This worries me.

Aside from patience being an essential attribute to save her from growing up and turning into a total prick, there is something really exhilarating in the anticipation of having to wait for something you truly want.

Boundaries and time-limitations on how often she watches TV might help to some extent, but in a way, a narrower window of ‘online entertainment’ means that the need for immediacy in her eyes will be all the more acute.

If she begins to get insufferably impatient with things as she grows up, I may have to make her watch Bill & Ben in black and white as a punishment. Now that would really freak her out!

Five signs you’re well and truly in the ‘Mum Zone’

On a few occasions recently, I’ve I caught myself saying something that I know I absolutely would never have said in the time BC (before child). Beware, the ‘Mum Zone’!

The Mum Zone is hygge-friendly. Residents of the Mum Zone find themselves sharing empty motivational phrases on Facebook that their previous selves would have scoffed-at. The Mum Zone feels safe and wholesome, like listening to The Archers whilst enjoying a bowl of fresh soup.

It sneaks up on you so gradually that you don’t know you’re in it until it’s too late. And when you do finally realise, the scariest thing is that you don’t even mind that you’re there. Here are  five signs that you are well and truly in The Mum Zone.

  1. When you’re asked if you’d like to have a Sparks Card at the M&S tills, your answer has changed from ‘I don’t shop here enough to merit it really’ to ‘yours are the only bras that fit me now, plus I like the fact I still fit into a 14 here, so yes, I will take that card’.
  2. Before you realise how douchy what you’re about to say is, when you open the kitchen cupboard you immediately exclaim, ‘we are running perilously low of balsamic vinegar!’.
  3. The only thing that now fits you in Topshop are the earrings. And you just don’t ‘get’ the slogans on the t-shirts they sell there anymore.
  4. For the first time in your life, you find yourself worrying whether you’ve got the correct ‘weather to tog ratio’ duvet on the bed.
  5. The closest thing you get to having a ‘Brazilian’ is a strong cup of coffee each morning

An apologetic mum’s open letter to Ariana Grande

Dear Ariana,

A few months ago, I was speaking to a friend of mine who has a daughter a similar age to me. Your music video ‘Problem’ came on the TV and I turned to my friend and said, ‘God I hope Emily doesn’t like stuff like this when she’s older. This girl’s not exactly an empowering role model, is she?’.

You see, even before I was pregnant, I knew that if I ever had a daughter, I would raise her to be a kind, sincere and unapologetic feminist.

I wanted her to know that although she might face unfair disadvantages, and at times it might seem easier to shy away from her problems, she should always have an unfaltering belief in herself, and speak up for what is right.

I planned on giving her this encouragement by ensuring she knew how completely loved she was by her parents, and by her friends and her family. I wanted to reassure her that when something doesn’t go to plan, it’s OK; it can make her stronger and more determined. I wanted to surround her with positive, empowering role-models; our wonderful family, our fantastic friends, and the many powerful and determined women in our world today, and the ones that came before them.

But I did not want her to idolise you. I took one look at you, I judged you, and I dismissed you. I will try to explain now why I’m truly, utterly and completely sorry for doing this.

The events that took place after your concert in Manchester have changed many people’s lives. I know it has changed yours and it has changed mine too.

It has made me fearful for the future of our global society that is becoming increasingly fragmented. At a time when we should be showing unconditional love and understanding to all, there are those that still want to drive deeper divides and spread hatred and mistrust.

But in the aftermath of the attacks, there is also hope – and I want you to know that you are largely responsible for this national, even global optimism.

The manner in which you have conducted yourself in the days and weeks since that awful night have been nothing short of inspirational to me.

You have shown such unswerving devotion to your fans. You have shown strength, humility and courage well beyond your years. You could have walked away. You could have stayed away forever. But you didn’t.

Instead, you have worked tirelessly to create an event that has spread more joy, optimism and compassion than I could have ever imagined. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for you to do this – to come out on stage and put yourself back in a position where you fear for your safety. But then over the past few weeks, I have come to learn that you don’t take the easy way out.

Fundamentally, I want to say that I am so sorry that I did not bother to learn more about you; who you are, where you’ve come from, what you’ve achieved, before I deemed you an ‘unfit role model’.

I am also sorry that it has taken something like an attack and the taking of innocent lives to make me have this realisation.

But if it’s any small consolation (I hope that it is but I’m sure it’s still not enough) I will tell Emily about your bravery as she grows up, I will tell her how you dealt with a situation so unimaginable with the utmost grace and compassion. But most of all, I will stop being quick to judge other people, and I will realise that inspiration can come in the most unlikely of places, and sometimes it can be right in front of you the whole time.

In these uncertain times, we need more women like you, Ariana. Thank you for teaching me this.

Love,

Charlotte & Emily (your two newest fans)

A parental wasteland but a toddler Graceland – our trip to CBeebies Land

Call it brave or just plain foolhardy, but this weekend we decided to take our 20 month-old to CBeebies Land. Emily loves CBeebies, and in all honesty, the presenters Andy and Kat have been like surrogate parents to her when I’ve needed a few minutes to finish work or sort the house.

When your addiction to Tesco’s donuts is so great that you’ve saved up enough ClubPoints for a free day out to Alton Towers (and a free meal in Pizza Express to-boot), you might as well make the most of it, am I right?

So we cashed in our points and headed to where all great weekends start – Stoke on Trent.

As soon as we got through the gates at Alton Towers, Emily spotted a tiny picture of Bing Bunny on a poster and she completely lost her mind. She ran over to it pointing and screaming ‘Bing!’. We probably could have turned around and put her back in the car then – that would have been enough excitement for her for one day.

I love how easily pleased toddlers are. It’s one of my favourite things about them and it’s only a short-lived phase before they shrug and can’t hide their disappointment at anything that doesn’t match their expectations.

She was about to have her mind-blown in a big way. We reached the main entrance to CBeebies land (shortly after a mini meltdown because I wouldn’t let her climb into the pond to pet the plastic frogs that gob water on each other) and as soon as she saw the little yellow CBeebies ‘blobs’, she broke into a sprint and hugged each one as we walked in.

Experiencing this place for the first time with a toddler was a total baptism of fire. As you can probably imagine, it was teeming with under fives jacked-up on candyfloss, proudly wielding oversize novelty stuffed animals won for them by their grown-ups. At any given moment, you can be pounced upon by the Alton Towers paparazzi, who snap away indiscriminately as you devour a bag of donuts before trying to sell you the treasured memory as a photo for a mere £10.

There were a fair few rides that were too big for our 20 month old, but between the more gentle rides, like the Postman Pat van and the themed play-rooms, like Nina’s Science Lab and the Charlie & Lola House, there was more than enough to keep even the younger visitors entertained. Emily honestly didn’t stand still once the whole morning, she was too busy darting from attraction to attraction.

There were definitely a few low points in our day. Spending over 30 minutes in a cramped queue for the In the Night Garden boat ride with an irate toddler was about as pleasurable as childbirth. But being on the boat and seeing Emily’s face when the Tombliboos peaked out of their bush was incredible – her eyes widened and her mouth dropped. She couldn’t believe she was seeing them in ‘real life’. What was essentially an old river ride with a few animatronic figures was genuinely magical to a young girl who loves to watch that show before she falls asleep each night.

There are free live shows throughout the day, a good mix of indoor and outdoor activities and soft play rooms so even on a Saturday, it didn’t feel too overrun with crazy little people.

Expect to pay through the nose for any souvenir toys and prepare to leave the park feeling utterly exhausted. But the chances are, it’ll be the best day out ever experienced by your toddler…until the next time they happen to see a picture of Bing Bunny in a shop window and that beats any other experience for them.

Would I do it again? Yes, maybe in a year or so when Emily will be able to enjoy it even more. Or when I’ve eaten enough Tesco donuts to earn the ClubCards points for the tickets.

The ‘Grape Alarm’

Emily’s speech has come on leaps and bounds in the last few weeks. She’s repeating everything she hears and trying out little sentences like ‘hear you go’, ‘drink all gone’ and ‘I love you’. It’s so adorable to hear her try out new words and even her mispronounciations are unbelievably cute. Most of the time. Other times…not so much.

The other day we we’re in a cafe for lunch and as I was rummaging in Emily’s snack-bag she started screaming ‘RAPE! RAPE! RAAAAAAAAAPE!’ at the top of her voice.

I gave an apologetic look to the worried old couple next to me as I sheepishly retrieved the ‘grapes’ from the lunchbox. No matter how many times I corrected Emily by saying ‘ggggrape, gggrape’, she just shouted ‘rape’ back at me, louder and louder each time.

Not the sort of thing  you want hear being yelled whilst you’re trying to enjoy a latte and a slice of sponge. At least when she calls the ‘vacuum’ the ‘fuck-youm’, she’s doing it in the privacy of our house.

The ‘Bunny’ Lesson

Emily has recently inherited a stuffed toy from her auntie. As my sister now lives in Australia, on her last visit she cleared out her old room at our parent’s house and gave bags and bags of stuff to charity. One particular item that our mum noticed poking out of the bag was this:

I’m not really sure what it is. It’s a sort of monster-zombie thing. It’s been sat under the bed for years and was destined for life on a charity shop shelf. My mum felt sorry for it; ‘no one will buy that poor ugly thing’, she said. So she rescued it from the bin liner of charity bric-a-brac, and gave it to Emily.

When it was handed to her, Emily took one look at it and exclaimed, ‘bunny!’, giving it a huge hug and tucking it under her arm to take it home.

Her reaction got me thinking. This toy is ugly, it’s unpleasant to look at and it’s a bit freaky. It’s doesn’t look like any of there other toys. But Emily didn’t see any of the ugliness, or any of the imperfections. She surmised it looked most like a bunny because of its ears, and she immediately adopted it into her growing family of stuffed toys.

It’s not that children don’t care about appearances or cosmetic differences, it’s that they genuinely don’t see them. The fact this ‘bunny’ is green, has one eye and a hanging-out tongue made no difference to her. She loves him just as much as the others.

It made me realise how much emphasis I put on aesthetics and appearance. Why do I do it? What purpose does it serve? My house could be ‘hygge-d’ to the max and beautifully designed, my hair could be perfectly coiffed and my skin immaculately spray-tanned, but none of this will ever matter to my daughter, because she knows that what is important is her ‘mum’, not what packaging her mum comes wrapped up in.

And so ‘Bunny’ will stay with us at our house, and I’ll always be quietly appreciative of the lesson that I learned from Emily adopting that little green monster-zombie. Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write!

Taking a Toddler to Center Parcs

We have just got back from our first Center Parcs break with the toddler. It’s the first time we’ve taken her away since our summer holiday in Italy. For me, the weeks after we returned home from that particular ‘holiday’ necessitated several stints in a darkened room with a cold Finding Dory flannel on my forehead.

So it was with a sense of trepidation that we packed literally our entire house into the car and made the four-hour journey up to Sherwood Forest.

We went to Center Parcs every year when I was growing up, but this was my first time experiencing it as a parent. What I noticed first and foremost is that the chalet accommodation is totally designed for the comfort, safety and enjoyment of young families. Every chalet has a cot and a high chair, there’s no pointy or sticky-out sharp edges on any of the furniture, and there’s enough kids’ channels on the TV to keep even the pickiest of toddlers entertained on a rainy morning.

The bedroom doors are also sturdy and kept out the living room noise so we could enjoy a catch up with the rest of the family whilst the toddler was in bed. I also realised for the first time that the large cupboard by the front door wasn’t only useful for storing crates and crates of booze. It was actually large enough to store pushchairs, trikes, baby carriers, boxes of nappies and all our suitcases combined.

We hired a bike and trailer and it was a God-send all weekend. The toddler would happily go in it if we plied her with snacks as we belted her up, and I was pleasantly surprised with how light-weight it was to peddle around. I thought I’d feel like a rickshaw driver lugging around overweight tourists in Bangkok, but even with a base fitness level of -5, I managed to get all around the park without even breaking a sweat. Plus I only had one near-collision and I still maintain that the squirrel was entirely at-fault there.

Swimming is about the only ‘free’ thing you can do with the kids. This means braving the chlorine-y chaos that is the ‘swimming dome’.

If Spielberg is interested in re-making the Normandy beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, I’m sure he could hire the Center Parcs swimming dome on a Saturday afternoon when the wave machine’s on, with much the same effect.

Although the main pool was a bit too frantic for Emily, she loved the toddler splash-pools. These are essentially large communal toddler pottys filled with a few inches of diluted urine and equipped with novelty plastic slides. But my OCD aside, they kept the toddler entertained for way longer than any of our other swimming sessions to-date.

It’s incredibly warm in the dome, so even very little babies don’t get too cold. The changing rooms are a bit fraught, but there are tons of family changing cubicles with decent enough baby-changing facilities.

Other than swimming, there are a number of play parks dotted around the site, but they were a little too ‘old’ for our toddler who had to be repeatedly rescued from half way up a climbing net, or at the top of a large slide. We did find a few OK soft play areas in the restaurants and these we useful to entertain the toddler before the food arrived and when crayons and paper just weren’t cutting it.

Most other activities are paid for, and by-God do you have to pay some serious cash for them. They’re also geared more towards slightly older children. Even the crèche is aimed at children two to three years-plus, so your options with a toddler are somewhat limited if the weather is shockingly bad or you don’t like swimming.

The bit that Emily enjoyed most of all was the wildlife cabaret show that she could watch from the windows and the patio doors of our chalet. She went crazy when they’d tap on the glass looking for some food.

On our first morning there, I stood on the patio with Emily and we fed the various animals that turned up for breakfast. At one point, I had a circle of obedient animals around me that included rabbits, ducks, geese, squirrels and pigeons. It was magical. I felt like fucking Cinderella! A few more rounds of 50/50 bread and those critters might have whipped me up a princess ball-gown.

My personal highlight of the trip however, was a morning at the Aqua Sana spa. I nearly had to sell my wedding ring to afford it, but it’s honestly one of the best spas I’ve ever been to. It’s huge, with lots of different saunas, steam rooms, relaxation rooms, hot tubs, foot spas and a large heated outdoor pool. They also restrict numbers so it never feels too overcrowded with hen-dos or loved-up couples. I don’t think I saw one novelty penis headband or ‘L plate’ the whole time we were there. A few hours of relaxation was the perfect way to recoup and round-off the trip.

In a year or two, I think Emily will enjoy the Center Parcs experience even more. But for now, it was a perfectly enjoyable break, and I didn’t even need to fling the Finding Dory flannel over my eyes when we got home.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why this article isn’t accompanied by an ‘insta-friendly’ family picture in the forest, that’s because the toddler refused to stand still for even a second for the whole weekend. Instead, here’s one of her tethered down in the bike trailer, unable to move.