So we mentioned last post that we have settled into our new housesitting gig in Alton, Hampshire. What I didn’t mention, was that we are very near to the birthplace of Jane Austen, and to all the places she would have frequented while dreaming up her novels. This is kind of exciting for me. When I say kind of, I mean a lot. Jane Austen’s novels were not the first classics I got into, but I definitely fell in love as soon as I read them (in case you’re wondering, Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy was the book that got me hooked on classics – next stop Wessex?). As you can imagine, I was pretty excited when we got this house sit and I discovered we were going to be staying in Jane Austen country!
A kind neighbour collected some brochures of the local area for us, and the one that kept floating to the top of the pile (somehow) was a Jane Austen tour of Alton and Chawton (Chawton was her birthplace and her old house is now a museum devoted to her – it doesn’t open til March but we have it on top priority before we leave here!). So on Monday, when we finally had the leisure and energy to get out of the house germ-free, we headed off to Alton to start the tour. It was actually hilariously bad (the Alton part at least). Here’s an example of what we saw: the home of Jane’s doctor where she visited once with her sister. Here is a house that she may have dined at. Jane’s brother opened this bank…etcetera. While I was still sort of interested in these things, standing like a goose with my map out saying loudly to Pete “she stopped here in her coach, SEE!”, Pete was none too impressed with the tour. He was pretty bored actually. So was Elena. We didn’t make it to the Chawton half of the tour, and stopped at a playground instead. Ha. I might have to finish it off by myself at a later date. Luckily there are plenty of other Jane Austen related things to do in this part of the world.
On Tuesday Pete took the kids to a Gruffalo themed playground in a place called Farnham. As the weather warms, we are starting to discover that England is awesome for playgrounds. They call them “adventure playgrounds” here, and for good reason. There are so many fun things for little ones to do, and so far have been mostly wooden, so are very natural feeling and lovely. Pete, Elena and Kilian explored the Gruffalo trail which they loved, and gave Pete plenty of opportunity to show off his memorisation of The Gruffalo (one of our favourite kids books and something he is quite proud of). Kilian had a milestone at this park – within ten minutes of arriving he had his first poonami (Pete and I have often commented on how Kili is almost six months and still hasn’t had one). Naturally, there was no change of clothes and only just enough wipes to manage the job. So Kili spent the whole day with a snowsuit on and nothing else. You might be wondering what I was doing while the rest of the family were having their adventures? Laying on the couch, simultaneously reading a book and watching Netflix, while soaking up my first child free period since our baby was born. It was awesome.
Later that evening Pete went off to another Reading football match, this time with his new friend Pedro (the gardener of the house we are staying at). Pete tells me it was good company, good atmosphere and overall a very exciting match (with goals).
Wednesday we brought our castle count up to 4, for those playing at home. This time it was the ruined Odiham Castle, built by King John in 1216, just to add to his other ninety or so. It was only used for 300 years or so before it fell to ruin. We really liked it, sitting by a pretty canal with swans and ducks swimming happily past. I love the feel of ruined buildings, as you can just stand there and imagine the many lives that have been lived in it, before it eventually crumbled into the dust and rock it is today, so many years later. We followed up this interesting walk with one of our best meals yet – Mexican street food in the middle of a shopping mall in Basingstoke. So delicious, we might have to revisit it.
On Thursday it was my turn to take the kids out (this is a new thing that we are starting – each of us will take the kids out once a week each to give the other parent a bit of rest and relaxation, kid-free). I took them back to Farnham, but to a different adventure playground, which was also pretty awesome. This one featured a wooden log fort in the middle and it was pretty fun. The playground was nestled in a valley below Farnham castle, and Elena was pretty excited to visit the castle. She kept asking if we could leave the playground and have a look. So off we went. The best part was when we entered the castle and I realised there were about 30 stairs to enter. Kilian was asleep in the pram so I am proud to say I carried the pram all the way up the stairs, and managed not to wake him! The castle was interesting, but didn’t have quite the same charm as the others we’ve seen. Elena loved it though. She was running around like a wild child, picking up rocks, and telling me what she could see through the openings in the walls (“trees, grass, sky, more trees, peoples, aaaaand trees” – she’s very observant😝. We’ve been trying to engage her in the things we are doing by asking her what she can see around her. I guess she’s getting the idea). It was a really nice day out together and I think Pete and I are both looking forward to the next Daddy/Mummy dates (and the alone time that comes along with it). We are loving travelling as a family, and having Dad home all the time, but it is nice for both of us to be alone as well.
Now we come to the highlight of our week (definitely for Elena, probably for Pete, maybe for me). Peppa Pig world! When we heard that this was in the area, we knew we couldn’t miss it, for Elena’s sake. She has three loves in this world, in this order (currently): #1 Paw Patrol. #2 Frozen. #3 Peppa Pig. Some of you might be surprised to hear that Frozen has been overtaken for number one – since she first saw Paw Patrol, Elena has been absolutely addicted. And we don’t mean addicted in the fun, cute, toddler sense (like she was with Frozen). No, we mean addicted like drug addicted, with horrible mean withdrawals, constant requests to watch the show, terrible tantrums and grumpiness that lasts for hours after we turn it off. We got to a point where we had to ban it, and we are now allowing it to be reintroduced in small doses. Anyway, I digress.
Throughout all of this, Peppa has been a constant. Never loving it too much, never swaying from her steady affection. It is like a parent’s dream (you know now what our nightmare is 😉). So, we went along to Peppa Pig world (which is a small part of what is actually quite a large theme park, but the rest of the park seems to be overlooked a bit). It was all pretty cool. There were about ten Peppa themed rides, the thrill level was aimed at preschoolers (read: dead boring for grown ups). There was this hilarious moment where the ride manager told us that for Kilian to ride he had to be able to sit in a seat by himself – I went to leave the line as he is definitely not able to sit unassisted yet, but the guy said “go on then, he’s alright”, so on we went!
In the car on the way, we asked Elena what Peppa would say to her, and she said “nothing, just hug me”. We are happy to say that she got her wish – a hug from Peppa! Dream come true! She also said that George would hug Kili, but that didn’t happen, sadly (he was asleep. Kili, not George).
It was a pretty fun day overall, especially when we left Peppa world to explore the rest of the theme park. We discovered that because everyone was in Peppa Pig world, there was no-one lining up for the other rides (the good ones). Pete went on two rollercoasters back to back while me and Elena ate lunch. I went on none, because I hate rollercoasters (does that mean I hate fun?). Last time I went on a rollercoaster I cried. Pete thought I was laughing. Elena went on her first ever rollercoaster! I think she is more of a thrill seeker than her mum. It was a fun day.
Catch you all next week!