Tag Archives: health

An experimental week in the sun

Last week there was no blog because we were marooned on a desert island with no wifi.

This is nearly true.

We were actually not marooned, but booked in to an apartment, on a desert island. And there was wifi but you had to pay for it and we’re a bit stingy so we didn’t.

Despairing over the state of our little boy’s skin over the Christmas break, we remembered that his eczema had almost vanished one week over the summer when it was really hot. ‘Sunshine!’ we cried. ‘Sunshine is the answer!’ And then sat down to work out how to get him some sunshine (and get us all some relief) in 2017. We had an amazing British summer last year but there was no predicting how summer 2017 would pan out, and frankly, it only lasts 3 months anyway. We needed a strategy. Operation sunshine was born.

We’ve really tried to take all our holidays in the UK for the past few years, both for environmental and logistical reasons. It’s easier to drive baby-related kit in a car around the country than try to lug it on planes and trains around the world. And we’ve had lovely holidays, often with friends and family – in Cornwall (mostly), Devon, Cambridgeshire, and even over to Northern Ireland. We’ve usually stayed with friends or rented houses, because then you can relax in the evening instead of sitting in a dark room watching your children sleep. We haven’t camped yet, mostly because I can’t imagine trying to persuade small children to go to sleep in a tent in broad daylight, but we have just bought one in anticipation of this summer…

But. The sunshine called and promised to help Jesse’s skin. And so we found a super cheap deal and flew to the Canary Islands for a week, hoping like mad for an end to the scratching.

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(I should confess here my incredible geographical ignorance in relation to the Canaries. Did you know they’re off the west coast of Africa? And that Tenerife and Lanzarote are Canary Islands? Of course you probably did, but this was news to me.)

Ordinarily I’m the only one in the family who cares for sunshine. The boys are both super-fair, need factor 50 smothered all over them, and burn in no time. Jubes has yet to reveal her feelings about hot weather. But, for me at least, it was just amazing to feel the sun on my skin in January. Just indescribably amazing. (Why oh why do I live in such a cold, wet country?)

We had a self-catering apartment, in a big hotel complex with several swimming pools. And we were a stone’s throw from the town and the beach. Which was all extremely convenient and nice. So everyday we would just circulate around various play parks, the pool and the beach. Except Jubes basically just wanted to eat all the sand, all the time, so then I stopped taking her to the beach. We had ice-cream. I drank coffee. I read an excellent novel during her midday nap (when not sleeping myself). (It was Ian McEwan’s Nutshell if you are interested). We cooked a week’s worth of food on two small hobs and a microwave, using the most basic of supplies from the mini-mart (pasta, anyone?).

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The kids were very happy. They adored swimming and being outside and getting to do fun things every day with both of us. Jesse loved being in a ‘holiday house’ on our own ‘holiday island’. His personal highlight was probably the ‘real’ pirate ship he discovered and explored with daddy on our last day.

And did the sunshine save Jesse’s skin? Yes and no. The heat out there was dry rather than the humid British heat that had sorted him out in the summer. Parts of his body did really well, but then a combination of dust mite allergies and prickly heat meant his head and neck suffered. Which meant lots of broken nights of scratching, and so he and I didn’t sleep so well. Sunshine definitely served as a balm to my spirits in the day time, but there were several trips to the pharmacy for creams and medicines that we ran out of or suddenly needed. And holidays with small children really aren’t very much like grown-up holidays.

We had a lovely week, and it was great for us as a family in lots of ways. But it wasn’t the panacea we had hoped for, and I felt more than a little defeated on our return. Which was probably intensified by sleep deprivation. Now Jesse is back in his own room (with the anti-allergy bedding and humidifier and lack of soft furnishings) his skin is settling again, and we’re back in our familiar routines, with friends around to support us. I don’t think January package holidays will make an another appearance in family life. So we’ll chalk that one up to experience, and I will be grateful that I got to see some sunshine before June.

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Thrifty exercise in the city: 3 top tips

The danger of writing a post about exercise is that you could end up thinking either I’m really fit (ha!), or really focused on being thin.  You’ll have to take my word about my decidedly average level of fitness, but I have a story to illustrate the level of attention I give my body shape.

Growing up, I didn’t have much of a sense of body image.  I wasn’t very stylish, or well groomed, or as thin as some of my friends, but I was fairly relaxed about it.  I remember in my first year of uni going to a ball (that was how we rolled) and buying a long, figure hugging black dress.  And the night I wore it I caught my reflection in a window and suddenly realised: I have a pot belly.  It had never occurred to me in my life before then that I might have a round tummy that stuck out, one that perhaps wasn’t best displayed in a lycra dress.

It took me 19 years to notice that my tummy wasn’t at all similar to the flat version displayed in all women’s magazines.  And I’m kind of glad about that.

I’m on no kind of mission to make my body conform to the pictures paraded before us in the media.  But I do want to live within healthy boundaries and to feel well and energetic.  And that means doing regular exercise.  Which can be hard when the pace of (city) life is frantic, and the demands of parenthood are incessant, and everyone wants to charge you a lot of money for the privilege of raising your heartbeat.  So I thought I would share a post on finding a way through.


Over the past year or two, the whole pregnancy/C-section/ recovery/mindless-motherly-exhaustion rigmarole reduced many of my good intentions to just that, but I’ve slowly been making my way back to a more active way of life.

Let me preface my top tips by coming clean with a few of my prejudices:  I hate gyms; I hate spending lots of money just to exercise; and I avoid team sport as much as possible.  If you don’t share those fundamentals then my approach might be completely irrelevant.  (You should just go join a really expensive gym and hope they do team sports too).

Here is the cream of my wisdom for exercising in the city for minimum cost.

1) Run, because it’s free.  (Walk and cycle for the same reasons).  

I was never that interested in running until I lived with a runner, and somehow over time it just kind of rubbed off on me.  Mainly because it’s free (did I mention that?).  When I thought about all the sports I could take up, nothing beats the lure of a free thing.

Also, in the inner-city where almost every dimension of modern life obscures our connection to the natural world, doing something that takes you out into the fresh (cold) air and probably running along rivers or in parks where there are trees and plants (because we do have those here) is definitely a big positive for our souls.

One of the reasons I hate gyms is because they are so ludicrously artificial.  You run/cycle/row on a machine that makes sure you never get anywhere.  At least get the satisfaction of having moved somewhere and travelled some physical distance!  Plus, did I mention that in the real world it’s free?

When we go to visit family and friends outside of the city I’m often amazed at how inactive life feels – mainly because of using the car to get anywhere.  In the inner-city we don’t use our car much to get around because parking and traffic are too miserable (oh, and terrible for the planet).  We walk!  With babies in slings or in pushchairs or bike seats.  And we live at the top of 3 flights of stairs (NOT a long term plan) so that’s a lot of exercise that’s a natural part of everyday.  Much of it is necessitated by logistics, but I like to reclaim it as a positive choice.

2) Use free day trials of nice pools (they usually include gym use too but of course I hate gyms) and payasugym.

The first part of this is extremely cheeky because I believe such day passes are designed for people seriously considering joining the health centres on a long-term basis.  But they make a really nice treat.  And what I’m basically saying is, take advantage of the offers out there.

I do like to swim. If you go for a free day trial, you can listen to their sales pitch, and maybe if they do it really really well you will join, or get someone else to…(or NOT).  In the last few months of maternity leave, Andy would sometimes come home and take the little man for an afternoon and send me off to a nice pool to relax.  I do like a nice swim, especially if there’s a jacuzzi to relax in afterwards.

Have you come across payasugym?  It’s basically an online system where gyms and pools let you use their facilities on a one-off basis rather than having to join for a year.  There are lots of fancy pools (and gyms) in swanky apartment blocks and the like which don’t get used that often, so it’s a great idea to create a system to make use of them.  And there are brilliant discounts.  What’s more, if you recommend it to a friend, and they join (using your referral code) then the friend gets £5 credit in their new account and you get £10.  I got two friends to join in December which meant I got £20 credit, which is still paying for my swimming trips!  My local leisure centre is one of the pools on the list, so I can even use my account to take Jesse swimming. (If you’d like to join using my referral, click here, but feel free just to spread the love around your own friends).

3) Be local and community-minded

Local classes in the school gym or church hall are usually way cheaper than the super fancy ones at the posh gym or yoga studio.  Plus you get to meet locals (mutters under breath: really need to talk to people at my zumba class).  Also, local leisure centres usually have some kind of discount system for people who live in the area, meaning you save a lot on swims and classes over the course of a year.  So you can save money whilst simultaneously supporting local facilities, meeting neighbours and not travelling much.  Maybe all that local goodwill will lead you to start a local running club?!

I should also give a shout out to my husband’s preferred method of exercising: team sport.  He heads out to Wandsworth Common most Saturday mornings to play Touch Rugby and returns inexplicably bouncy and muddy (actually the mud I understand).  All completely free and there are usually games in most London parks on most weekends. *shudder*

If you want to know what my typical exercise routine looks like, then alongside all that stair climbing, I do a local zumba class in a church hall on a Monday, I swim in one of my lunch hours at work, and then I’ll either run or take a payasugym swim later in the week.  There will be more running when it’s warmer and lighter.

I have also been known, in a burst of enthusiasm or desperation, to use exercise DVDs and online yoga or fitness stuff, but I do not have the willpower or space to sustain any of it very long.  RIP 30 day shred, Davina, Stay at Home Yoga et al.

What about you?  What ways have you found to keep fit that don’t cost loads of money, and might work in the inner-city??

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