Sunday, August 25, 2013


The Peanut is better and is home and pretty much back to his usual self. I haven't had time to write a blog post since; I hope if you were worrying, you also read my mum's blog. He was only in the hospital for one full day and night, plus the next day until mid-afternoon.

He's still coughing a little bit, but is now only taking his inhaler if he needs it (and that's been once in the last two days). So we think he's more or less out of the woods. My sister has been up this week, and he's been very happy to see her - also my brother came down yesterday, so we have had lots of nice family time. Being a doctor, he gave the Peanut a once-over and said the wheeze was gone. Good.

The Peanut's verdict on all of this: "Nee-naw!" He's happy that he got to go in an ambulance with its lights flashing.

Unconnected to this, he has had a language explosion lately. Until quite recently, the vast majority of his utterances were phrases a couple of words long ("Big lorry", "Walk please" - that kind of thing). Mostly observations on the scenery or requests.

Then a few weeks ago he started saying "Yes I do!!!" when he wanted to do something, whether or not we had asked him a question. Now that's stopped and it's "Ha ha ho ho". Like this - "Tractor Ted ha ha ho ho", which means "Mother dear, I would like to watch my Tractor Ted DVD now, if you would be so good." We think that "ha ha" is really "uh-huh" and he's filling in the response he wants from us. He also says "Okay okay!" after his request on occasion, in a slightly harried tone, as if yielding to persuasion.

But pretty much since he got home from hospital, he's started saying much more complicated things. The other morning, he and I were in the kitchen while I made his breakfast, and he picked up an empty mug and said "Daddy have cuppatea. Mummy have cuppatea. [Peanut] have cuppatea - ha ha! Wheek wheek."

He knew that he was making a joke - Peanut-size people don't drink tea - although he clearly has a grasp on his parents' cuppatea addiction. (The wheeking was because the mug has a picture of a guinea pig on it.) For the full effect, imagine a two-note "ha ha" like Nelson from The Simpsons (not that he's ever seen it).

Then this evening, I was feeding the Sweetpea before putting her down for the night. The Peanut was in his cot, in his sleeping bag, not yet asleep. He asked for some water and I said I'd get him some as soon as I finished feeding her. "[Sweetpea] water?" he asked. I said no, Sweetpea only drinks milk because she's a baby. "[Peanut] have water, [Sweetpea] don't. [Peanut] have star bag, [Sweetpea] don't."

I would have to admit that the second statement is inaccurate - both the kids are actually using sleeping bags with stars on at this particular point of our laundry cycle - but hey, it was dark. Also, we evidently need to work on grammar a little bit. But this is the first sign of making comparisons!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Eventful week

I was going to write a post about the busy week we've just had. The babies' social calendar was fairly packed: we had events on Tuesday (Rhyme Time at the library) and Thursday (an event at the Book Festival) and two on Friday (Toddler Group resumed and then a kids' party), saw family on Wednesday,  Saturday and Sunday, and then on Monday, another playgroup resumed after the summer. I've been missing the regular groups while they've been off for the holiday, but by about Saturday I was feeling rather depleted from all the socialising and definitely wasn't at my best.

However, all this has rather paled in importance because the Peanut isn't well and has been admitted to hospital.

He's had a mild cold for a few days, and now that I think about it, he was probably working up to it last week too. He was pretty tired on Thursday and Friday, although mostly his usual cheerful self. On Monday he had been OK during the day, though snotty, but in the evening he had been tired and miserable; the Sweetpea chose that day to cut her first tooth, so we had two cross babies!

Over the weekend, he had started to cough a bit, and last night the coughing was bad and he didn't settle down to sleep well. He kept waking halfway and crying and screaming; it was difficult to calm him down because he wasn't fully awake. We would lift him out of his cot for a cuddle and he'd thrash and struggle, and only calm down when he was put back in. All this made him rather hot and sticky and he was rather breathless. We were giving him Calpol and ibuprofen as we usually do for bad colds, but it didn't seem to be helping much. What with all of this, we didn't get much sleep (and the Sweetpea was sharing our bed, because we were worried that the noise from her brother would wake her up too.)

At about 6am, the Peanut woke up and was evidently much worse. He couldn't draw a full breath at all; his chest was sucking in between his ribs (which I've been told is a sign that breathing is very hard). He had thrown up earlier in the night, and he did so again. Anyway, we were alarmed enough to call an ambulance.

The paramedics arrived very quickly and tested the boy's oxygen levels, which were a bit low. They treated him with a facemask which they said had a mixture of medication and oxygen, and he took this very calmly. He was very interested in the interior of the ambulance, particularly the lights in the ceiling, though not as excited as he usually is when he sees a "nee-naw" in the course of normal events, poor kid.

Since the Sweetpea was asleep and she's still on breastmilk and nothing else, I stayed at home and the boys went off to the hospital. Once there, the Peanut had nebulizer treatments and then an asthma inhaler at regular intervals. In the late morning, I got in to see him; my parents took the Sweetpea off to their house and I was able to spend a few hours there.

He is doing a lot better, but still not getting as much oxygen by himself as he needs. Apparently they won't discharge him until he can keep his levels above 92% on his own, and the inhaler can be reduced to every four hours. I don't know how long this is likely to take. Part of the trouble is that exertion seems to make him wheezy again, but he feels sufficiently better that he wants to play and run about. He's been allowed to do this a bit, but for a lot of the time he's supposed to be hooked up to a blood-oxygen monitor, and he's supposed to rest so his heart rate will come down (the nebulizer treatments can make it race, apparently). This is not really compatible with running about or bouncing up and down on his cot like a caged monkey.

My mum stayed with him for a while this evening while J took a break to come home and get a shower and something to eat. This was really helpful. I can't think how we'd have managed without my parents today.

Anyway, I really hope he's better tomorrow; I think it'll be much easier to entertain him at home. Apparently there are a few little kids with similar symptoms in the hospital at the moment; I hope we didn't infect everyone at toddler group.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Peanut's favourite books

Do skip this post if you have no interest whatever in picture books. I was inspired to write it by someone else posting about wanting inspiration for books to buy as gifts for toddlers other than the really well-known ones - and I thought I'd like to record what the Peanut enjoys at the moment (he's just turned two).

We are a fairly bookish household and own a fair number of these, but some of them are library books. We're lucky enough to have a brand-new library building five minutes from our house. "Wibwary" is one of the Peanut's favourite places in Edinburgh (after Granny's house and the museum) although this may have something to do with the excellent windows which give a good view of the traffic lights on the main road. The boy likes to watch vehicles go past. But he also loves books. Some of these he's loved for a while, some are new favourites.

Recurring characters with more than one book:
The Pip and Posy series by Axel Scheffler (the illustrator of the Gruffalo books). These are simple stories about two friends, a girl mouse and a boy bunny, follow plausible toddler scenarios (having a toilet-training accident, not sharing nicely, getting a fright, letting go of a balloon...) and always have a reassuring ending. They do not have much in the way of bonus entertainment for the adult doing the reading, but they are apparently pitched just right for toddlers, because the Peanut loves them and wants them again and again. The pictures are good for talking about - there's plenty of detail besides the core story.

Spot. Again, very simple stories, usually with flaps to lift. I find them rather boring to read - the pictures aren't as detailed as Pip and Posy - but the boy loved Spot at first sight and will ask for them. He also likes the classic five-minute Spot animations (on YouTube) which follow the books very closely.

The Christopher Nibble books (two so far - a third due out in January). We love these - partly because we have guinea pigs - but the books have lovely illustrations and gentle humour. All the characters are anthropomorphised guinea pigs and their concerns will be familiar to anyone who's owned one (the first book concerns a dandelion shortage!) The Peanut likes to spot "wheek-wheeks" in any book and there are plenty of them here.

Humber and Plum. These are about Hum, a toddler (well, a koala, but it's not plot-relevant) and learning to adapt to being a big brother. It is possible that I like these better than the Peanut does... he is a bit younger than Hum, and he actually didn't appear to resent the Sweetpea when she arrived, so perhaps he doesn't relate! But he pays attention and wants the stories again when we finish. The pictures are very pretty.

Rhyming stories:

Julia Donaldson's books in general. He likes The Gruffalo, but his favourite so far is Tabby McTat, which he would listen to all the way through from quite a young age (it's quite long). It has a city setting and wonderfully detailed Axel Scheffler illustrations which have lots of things to point to. The Peanut also likes imitating Samuel Sprat, the kitten with the deafening mew. You have been warned!

He also likes the Acorn Wood series of lift-the-flap books (same author/illustrator). We've recently acquired The Rhyming Rabbit, also by Julia Donaldson, which is pretty good too - it's about a rabbit who annoys his family by constantly making up poems, so rather than mope, he goes off and finds a friend who likes to make up poems too. I feel this sort of attitude is quite useful in life.

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy. We've only got the first one so far, but it's a hit. "Doggies!" Requires a bit of oomph from the reader, also convincing aggravated-cat noises.

Books with pictures to discuss:

The Baby's Catalogue. This is the classic by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. It's a book of pictures following five babies/toddlers through their day, with simple captions rather than a story, and it's good to go through even with a child who only knows a few words. Now that the Peanut is two, he's had a resurgence of interest in making more complicated descriptions of what's going on in the pictures (his favourite at the moment is the picture of the youngest baby breastfeeding, which he is convinced is his little sister). The book was published in 1981 and I grew up with it myself... a few things have changed but the pictures are mostly perfectly recognisable even to a modern toddler.

I would recommend any book by the Ahlbergs but this is the one we've spent most time with so far.

You Choose. This has extremely detailed pictures by Nick Sharratt which all have a theme - houses, animals, vehicles, food, jobs, activities - and the idea is that the reader chooses their favourites from the picture. But it works well with beginning talkers just to point at things in the pictures. We have spent literally hours with this book and have just bought the sequel, Just Imagine. Two minor caveats: You Choose is not a board book (the format's a bit big) and the Peanut tore a lot of the pages a few months ago in trying to turn them to get to his favourite bits. Nothing a bit of book-mending tape couldn't fix. Also, Just Imagine has some pictures that I think I would have found frightening as a toddler - there's one page where the children imagine they were made of various materials, and there's a knitted child unravelling and a wax child melting! This may be one of those things that's more disturbing for the parent than the child, though...

First Thousand Words. Ooh, it looks as though this has been updated again. My mum has the original edition (rather battered) and I have the 90s version, updated with the occasional more modern picture (the tech in that one now looks very old-fashioned, but hey). No story, just a big scene on each page, with a border with little captioned pictures of objects from the big scene. Again, good for talking about the pictures and will probably really come into its own once the Peanut starts to get closer to reading.

Books about vehicles. Because the boy loves vehicles.

Digger Dog. Very simple plot - Digger Dog can smell a bone, but he's having trouble digging it up so he goes and fetches increasingly large mechanical diggers until he succeeds. Two fold-out pages with surprises, which never seem to pall for the boy. Jolly illustrations.

He also loves anything with Thomas the Tank Engine, though I have to admit to mixed feelings about this. I had not remembered quite how petty and quarrelsome the engines are in the original stories (which I enjoyed myself as a child) and the modern stories (such as I've seen) are fairly rubbish.

The Peanut's main vehicular interest, however, is tractors. I have yet to find the platonic ideal tractor book for toddlers, although we have a couple of Dorling Kindersley board books which just have photos of tractors doing stuff with basic captions. There don't seem to be a lot of storybooks about them, but any book with "farm" in the title often has pictures of them, which keeps the boy happy.

Books about libraries:

This seems to be a mini-genre, maybe because children's book writers love libraries. We have two:
Otto the Book Bear - a storybook bear leaves his book and goes on an adventure, and ends up living in a library. We also have Homer the Library Cat which has a similar starting point and end, but goes different places in the middle. The Peanut likes them both, but has been requesting "Book Bear!" increasingly frequently since he got it; I think its illustrations are slightly more accessible (Homer's are quite "busy") but both are appealing.

Chu's Day also features a visit to the library. I didn't know if the Peanut would really get this story - it's a simple plot and words, but there are some relatively complicated concepts in there (trying not to sneeze, for one thing, which is alien to the boy. If he wants to sneeze, he does.) But he thought it was very funny - the not-quite-sneezes in particular, rather than the big denouement. We had to read it four times before he would put it down. So evidently I am not that good at gauging what he's ready for.

X-posted to the livejournal.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis

A lot of things have changed around here since I last wrote a blog post.

We still live in the same house (despite having planned to move sometime before the Peanut's birth). We are still married; we still have guinea pigs; I still knit a lot and watch Doctor Who...

However, since January 2012 we have packed in a good few of those Big Life Events. My brother got married; my grandmother sadly died; I finally decided to leave my job; the Peanut learned to walk and also to talk a bit, and... we had another baby! I remember saying airily at the start of 2012 that I would quite like to try for a second child maybe in September.

Ha. I do not know my own mind sometimes. For reasons which seemed clearer at the time, we actually started trying in May and as seems to be the way with us, we succeeded pretty much on the first go. So we had a daughter in March of this year, and she's now four and a half months old, and very cute. And also the biggest baby we know. The Peanut really seems to like her, which is very sweet. He rocks her and brings her toys.
This is the life

I have felt a bit rubbish lately about the extent to which I am not documenting my children's early lives, mostly because I know I'll want to look back on these days, and you do forget things. I keep trying to remember what age the Peanut was when he reached certain developmental stages (like being able to sit up) and if I didn't make a note of it, then I no longer know. So I'm giving blogging another go. I keep finding myself writing blog posts in my head, and not getting to the point of actually putting fingers to keyboard, but this is silly.

I also feel that maybe my life will develop more of a structure if I'm writing about it. Does that sound odd? What I mean is that at the moment, life tends to scroll on from week to week without much of a narrative. Monday is Toy Library and Tuesday is Rhyme Time at the library and Wednesday is "catching up with household tasks" day and on Thursday we often see my parents or we might be preparing either to visit J's parents or have them visit us, and if we're at home Friday is Toddler Group, and Saturday is another catching-up day and Sunday is church and family day and then we do it all again. I do sometimes manage to achieve things in the gaps in between but it doesn't always feel like it.
 He's being watched
There are a few projects I'm working on, such as passing my driving test and (eventually) job hunting, but both of these have to wait a little while until my little girl (she needs a nom de blog...) starts to take solid food and entertain herself a bit. Right now, she and her brother are kind of occupying me most of the time. As I remember very well from last time, while breastfeeding isn't the same as sitting around idly, it sort of feels like it.

(Cross-posted to my Livejournal, mostly to see if anyone still reads those.)

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Sweetpea's birth story

I've been writing this in bits off and on ever since the Sweetpea was born and I should really finish it.

It's hard to know quite when to start because unlike my labour with the Peanut (which started at 5am on the day he was born) I had a few false starts with Sweetpea. They tell you that first children are often a bit late, and second children are often earlier. So I thought that the Sweetpea might be born closer to her due date than the Peanut was. He was eleven days late, so I was fairly calm as the due date approached and passed. She was breech up until about a week before my due date, so I'd been stressing a bit about that, and was just hoping she'd stay nicely in position.

A few days after my due date, I got a strong feeling that it wouldn't be long. It's hard to say why, now, because I wasn't having much in the way of Braxton Hicks contractions, unlike with the Peanut. I just thought she would probably turn up that weekend. I evidently carried conviction, because my poor in-laws decided to come up to see me that weekend (by then I was about a week over the date). Nothing happened.

Over the course of the next week, I had to go to see the midwife about booking an induction. For reasons which are more or less superstitious, I really did not want to have labour induced. My mother had an induction when I was born and subsequently had difficulty getting me to breastfeed (she never did succeed). I have heard various anecdotes about induced babies being harder to breastfeed, and also about induction causing long hard labours, and although this is not exactly scientific evidence it's enough to make me less than keen on the idea. Also I didn't relish the idea of being away from the Peanut for extra days in hospital while the induction got going.

I had come within one day of being induced with the Peanut, and had been told then that if I changed my mind at the last minute, that was fine; they wouldn't make me go through with it if the baby was still OK in there. This time around, for some reason, I got a midwife who clearly couldn't fathom why anyone who was nine and a half months pregnant wouldn't want the baby out of there ASAP, and she took the line that although they couldn't make me, she thought that the medical advice would be strongly in favour of going ahead with the induction. This threw me for a loop a bit. I did have a stretch and sweep at the doctor's office, but it didn't have any noticeable effect.

So I hung on for another week. The induction was booked for Sunday morning. I had to go to the hospital on Friday to get a pre-induction assessment (the clinic isn't open on Saturdays) and the midwife there did another stretch and sweep, and that was quite evidently more effective. By the time I got up to go home again, I was starting to feel labour pains. They weren't very strong or frequent, but they kept coming. I spent quite a bit of the rest of the day on the sofa or on my birth ball.

On Saturday, the pains continued to come, but still not very strong or very frequent. They weren't close enough together to make it worth timing them. When the Peanut was born, we called my mum quite soon and she spent the whole day with us, and she and J timed all the contractions, which was possibly a wasted effort since they never did become regular (just eventually intense enough that it was clear I should go in). This time, they stayed fairly faint, and we didn't call for the cavalry, though after a while I did get the TENS machine going. In the evening I decided to have a shower... and standing in the bath, with no TENS, the pains rapidly got going. I almost wondered whether we were going to have an inadvertent homebirth. So as soon as I got out, we called my parents and they came over to babysit, and J and I headed over to the hospital.

We were in the fancy new birthing centre this time, and I don't know whether we were lucky or what, but we didn't have to wait long at all for a room (last time we spent a considerable time waiting to be assessed and then to be moved to a room - or perhaps it only felt like it!) The rooms are set up to be less like a hospital ward and more welcoming. It's a little like a spa or a hairdressing salon or something, since the floors are vinyl and everything has to be easy to clean, but it is more comfortable. There's a bed, but other labour options are more to the fore and I had a room with a pool; while it filled, I sat on a sort of chaise longue thing. We had the same midwife throughout and she was very nice and friendly; I don't know whether labour was really easier this time, but I have a feeling that I talked a lot more.

The birthing pool was WONDERFUL. I have spoken to a lot of people (hi, Mum) who do not feel that birthing pools are an appealing option, but it was great for me. One of the hardest things about the Peanut's labour was that I got very tired physically, supporting myself to be able to labour. I had back pain and it was hard to find a comfortable position to stay in, but it hurt to move very much. The water really helped with that, and besides, it's warm and soothing - like a warm bath, only you can be in it right up to your neck, and it's easy to change position in the water and keep your body more vertical without getting so tired. I did take gas and air (as with the Peanut) but I didn't feel the need for any other pain relief.

I was in the hospital for maybe about an hour when I started to get the feeling I wanted to push, and my water broke at this stage (I have absolutely no idea when the Peanut's water broke, except that at some point it must have done). Weird feeling. Then the Sweetpea was born in three pushes, underwater. Her head was out after the second one, when I had a pause, which was very weird; I put my hand on her head and could feel her hair drifting around in the water, but she didn't need to breathe yet. Then she was properly out and I caught her, and she came to the surface and the cord was cut.

The Sweetpea disapproved of being born, or possibly just disapproved of having to get out of the water, because she yelled at the top of her voice for her first hour of life. She was scarlet and very loud. She was also the biggest baby in the birthing unit at the time, at nine pounds and eight ounces. We were told that she must have been in a really good position, possibly thanks to the water, since she was born with so little pushing and I didn't even have any tearing. I did, however, have a bit of difficulty delivering the placenta and had to have an injection to help the bleeding stop, but it was fine after a short while. Meanwhile the Sweetpea took to milk like a natural.

We were in the hospital only overnight, and then we got to come home, much to my relief.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2011 roundup!

I have been a terrible, terrible blogger recently, mostly because while I can read blogs on my laptop while feeding Nick, it's sort of hard to type anything more than a few words. So here is a summary of the last year in Q&A form, ganked from Shauna (although I am sure I've done it before, in fact).

1. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?

The most important one: having a baby! Also changing nappies (and so on).

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next this year?

I don't think I had any last year, other than "don't fall over on the ice". Which I didn't.

This year I am feeling quite resolution-y. Among other things, I want to sort out what I'm doing with my career and do some writing. I also want to keep in touch with people better (yes, I know everyone resolves to do that all the time...)

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

I did myself, and so (obviously) did people I'd met through ante-natal classes, but nobody else I have met in person. A bunch of longstanding internet acquaintances did, though.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My great-aunt died in late spring.

5. What countries did you visit?

Sadly, this was another year when I never left the UK - so just Scotland and England. Didn't even make it to Wales this time.

6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked in this one?

A proper plan for the next five-ish years, including a plan for moving house. Ideally, I'd like to be pregnant again in another nine months or so.

7. What dates from this year will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

17 July, when the Peanut finally made his appearance.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Probably getting breastfeeding to work (are you tired of me going on about baby stuff yet?) Also making the Peanut's baby quilt.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Despite my best intentions, ending up having to work late at the office far too much. Not going to bed early enough.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Not really - I had a bit of ligament trouble while I was pregnant, but on the whole I was ridiculously healthy. I put my back out on the 30th of December, which was pretty painful, but it's all better now.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The Moby wrap - it has made getting out and about with the baby much easier!

12. Where did most of your money go?

Paying off the mortgage (hooray!), my student loan (double hooray!) and I probably bought a fair number of books. And some baby stuff, of course.

13. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The Peanut. Cryoburn, the new(est) Lois McMaster Bujold. The Doctor Who convention next March.

14. What song will always remind you of this year?

Close To You (I sing it to the baby!) and a bunch of nursery rhymes, probably.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?

Happier! Last year I was quite stressed, mostly because I was afraid that something would go wrong with the pregnancy. But the baby's here, he's healthy and I love him so much. And I'm really enjoying being on maternity leave.

b) thinner or fatter?

Bizarrely, even if you correct for the fact that I was three months pregnant, I'm thinner. After giving birth, I was half a stone below my pre-pregnancy weight, and I'm also down a jeans size. I did nothing to achieve this, so I don't really count it as an achievement, but I'm pleased, especially as I was expecting the opposite.

My shoulders are also more toned than they have been in years, from carrying the Peanut around.

c) richer or poorer?

Poorer as regards income (maternity pay) but with fewer outgoings too, since I'm not at work and we no longer have mortgage payments.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Pre-baby: I wish I'd had time to have a more chilled-out pregnancy and do things like yoga and going swimming. Next time round (assuming all goes to plan) I'll have a toddler, so I never will get to do all that.

Post-baby: no regrets, really!

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying and working late.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

With my lovely in-laws. We had a very pleasant family Christmas, aided by the Peanut being cute and smiley.

19. Did you fall in love this year?

What do you think?


I love both my boys.

20. What was your favorite TV programme?

Doctor Who, but I certainly watched more of Battlestar Galactica than anything else, since I was given the box set to occupy me while breastfeeding at 6am - thank you L and A!

21. What was the best book you read?

Tricky. Honourable mentions to Connie Willis's Blackout and All Clear, and Cryoburn. I also loved The Hare With Amber Eyes.

22. What was your favourite film of this year?

The only one I saw at the cinema was Les Aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec, which was fun but very silly. We signed up for Lovefilm, so have seen more films than usual: I also really enjoyed Inception and (500) Days of Summer.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 32. I went for a celebratory coffee at the Rocket cafe with Mum and the Peanut, then a wee look around the shops in Morningside. Rock'n'roll. (It was very pleasant.)

24. What kept you sane?

My lovely husband (especially during moments of pregnancy stress, and early labour). Books. Battlestar Galactica. Knitting. Rubbing my face on the Peanut's little downy head.

25. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Pirate Amy Pond. (I don't really go in for crushes...)

26. Who did you miss?

My sister and brother, as always. I've seen my brother more often recently than I used to - which is lovely! My in-laws (although we've seen them often too).

Monday, November 14, 2011

The other wedding

Nap time

The other wedding that we went to was a mere week after the first one and presented a totally different set of logistical challenges. We were guests rather than family (the groom is our neighbour of several years) so we didn't have to do anything other than turn up, but the wedding was held in Strathpeffer, a village in the Highlands which is about four hours' drive from Edinburgh.

Regular readers of this blog (ha! that would suggest there is anything regular to read...) may recall that we don't have a car, and that J doesn't like driving and I don't have a driving licence. Our total experience of long drives amounts to two trips to see J's parents, over very familiar roads. We have never driven an unfamiliar route, and indeed J had never been north of Perthshire. So that was a bit stressful in prospect.

However, it was all fine, and much of the route was rather scenic, although neither of us understands why 90% of drivers break the speed limit. Clearly we are both actually old ladies.

Strathpeffer is a pretty little village almost entirely composed of largish hotels. It was a spa resort that had its heyday just before the First World War, and the land round about is very scenic, divided between arable land and wooded hills. It's a gentler landscape than one immediately pictures when thinking of the Highlands. Our hotel was a strange mix of the grand (the exterior, the large wood-panelled lobby) and the basic (our room, which had rather 70s decor and 50s bathroom fittings). I think it mostly caters to coach parties. J said that it reminded him of Fawlty Towers and I can see what he meant - not that the service was in any way like that. In fact everyone was charming and helpful (being accompanied by a cute baby seemed to make us popular) and the food was rather good - not something you can count on when your party consists of a vegetarian and a pescatarian who's allergic to nuts and gluten.

The wedding itself went with a swing - held in a pretty little church a stone's throw from the hotel, and the reception in the Spa Pavilion, just a little way down the road. So it was all very easy for those of us with buggies (not just us). It was fun to compare the two weddings - I've never been to two on consecutive weekends before - and I can tell you that it is currently the done thing to have your bridesmaids wearing teal, design your own stationery on a turquoise theme, have a "cast list" in the back of the order of service listing people who've helped out, have female friends singing while you sign the register, and give your guests badges attached to their place cards.

Tom Kitten
As usual, the Peanut wore a particularly dapper outfit.

We had a lovely time, but the next day the boys were both exhausted.

Tired boys

After they had caught up on their sleep, we decided to make the most of our weekend in the Highlands and go for a walk somewhere in the afternoon. What we had in mind was maybe going to a town, having a wander around with the buggy and maybe going for a coffee somewhere.

The bride and groom were still around in the hotel and we asked their advice - the bride (who is from the area) suggested we go to Cromarty. For good measure, we asked if the hotel had any tourist info, and the receptionist suggested Strathconon as a good place to go for a walk that was near and easy to drive to. We decided to go to Strathconon.

We had gained the impression that Strathconon was a valley with a road along it, where we might stop at any point and have a stroll. That last bit was a misconception (and when we thought about it, the receptionist did not actually say that). It is actually a very beautiful long valley which has a single-track road leading through hilly woods and past lochs, but for much of it there is no place you could stop without blocking the road entirely. We got a bit lost on the way there, and J (who, as I've mentioned, is a nervous driver) was somewhat unnerved by the twistiness of the road and the impossibility of turning around.

By the time we got to the car park at the end of the single-track road, the rain was hammering down.

J in the rain

Some of our party were inclined to be a little discouraged, but we summoned up some British grit and decided to go for a wet walk anyway. The junior member of the party had not noticed the rain.

N hasn't noticed any rain


In the event, we walked for an hour and once we got going we enjoyed ourselves - the path was OK for the buggy, and the scenery was beautiful. We went back at the end feeling that we had been rewarded for our perseverance. And that we now deserved a hot drink (and maybe a glass of wine with dinner).

The next day we did go to Cromarty, and it was pretty much exactly what we'd been thinking of - a pretty town, easy to get to (a scenic drive on easy roads), and where one can walk by the sea.

Cromarty Firth

And as you can see, the weather was much nicer. I'm not sure what the moral of this little tale is: listen to your friends rather than a random lady in a hotel? Or alternatively: go off the beaten track and you may find something good even if it wasn't even remotely what you were looking for?

Answers on a postcard. Anyway, the Black Isle is a very nice part of the world and I'd like to go back sometime for more than a weekend.

Smiley Nick