That’s it: Mum and Dad have moved.

They’ve thrown 20 years’ worth of accumulated family junk into cardboard boxes, loaded it all into a van and then belatedly wondered how on earth to fit it into a house that’s a third of the size of their old gaffe. I worry that the two of them will wake up one morning and find their way blocked by toppled boxes; my Dad tunnelling his way out through old Eagles LPs and cycling magazines and my Mum yelling after him that she knew it’d never fit in and why did she have to get rid of her Maeve Binchy novels when he got to keep his bloody bikes?

The thing is, this is just one stage of a protracted move: they’re in a rented house for now in a village in the Midlands. In six months’ time we’ll have to repeat the process all over again.

But anyway, Mum and Dad have left Loughborough. And that’s progress.

None of us seemed that bothered about waving goodbye to the family seat (I suspect the trauma may have been dulled by the pain of carrying so many boxes). And the last time I took a trip into Loughborough with Milo, well, it wasn’t a good day. We encountered a leaking bottle, a broken pram, a tantrum, an attempt to re-clothe the boy while simultaneously repairing the pushchair and then, after being muttered at for clearly not being able to control a half-naked, sodden toddler, some tears from me. And it was pissing it down.

But there are some things I will miss. My Mum’s garden in the summer. Loughborough Market on a Saturday (it has the best magazine stall ever – you can buy last month’s Wallpaper for 50p). The fact that the name ‘Susie’ is still written in liquid eyeliner on the wall of my local pub – seriously, Rimmel’s finest lasts longer than spray paint. And Queen’s Park, where I used to hang out as a teenager but, more latterly, where we used to take Milo to let off steam.

Then of course there’s Loughborough Station, possibly the last station in Britain where nothing is ever too much trouble. The last time Milo and I disembarked here, we waited as usual by the side of the platform for a man to help us across the tracks (the station has one rickety wooden bridge and no lift, so wheelchairs and pushchairs get the hugely exciting privilege of being escorted across the rails).

The man and I get chatting, as usual. I tell him about Mum and Dad moving up to be nearer me and, as it happens, it turns out he’s from a Northern neck of the woods, too.

‘And my brother, up in Preston, he’s moving down.’

‘It’s like swapsies, isn’t it?’ I say. ‘You know, my Mum and Dad moving up North just as your brother moves down.’

The man gives me a strange look and I wonder, not for the first time, if I do actually speak in tongues and just don’t realise it.

‘Here we are love,’ he says, opening the flimsy wooden gate that separates track from platform. ‘Home again.’

‘Home again,’ I repeat. But not for much longer, I think, as I wheel Milo up the road and into town.


The picture, in case you were wondering, is of the Brush works factory just behind Loughborough Station. It’s something of a landmark in these parts.

Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes, but they were so stinky when we were there, Milo had an al fresco change outside (it was the end of a hot, busy day). Cafe: Yes, a very cute one by the pond. Buggy-friendly? Yes. Cost: Free. Worth it? Yes. A great children’s play area installed in 2008, it has a sandpit section for teenies, swings and climbing frames for the under 5s and then a bigger section for the under 12s. Gets mobbed on nice days (understandably). Our only gripe was the stinky baby change.

We are walking along the seafront, Milo screeching into the wind, Simon trotting after with a bemused ‘yes-my-son-is-loud- but-isn’t-that-marvellous’ expression on his face. I am on the phone to Mum and Dad.

‘I used to go to Brighton a lot when I was a kid,’ says Dad.

This is news to me. Despite being a thirty-something mother of one, the very idea of my parents having a life before me still gives me a little jolt.

‘My Uncle lived there, on one of the roads leading down to the pier.’

‘Really?’ I say, momentarily distracted by the sight of Milo lobbing a pebble at his father.

I shake my head at Milo; he takes this as encouragement and grabs another. Simon swiftly descends, gently removing the offending pebble and reminding Milo that we don’t throw stones, do we, Milo?

The boy turns his back on his Dad and there’s something in his face that resembles bloody-mindedness. I suspect we’ll be talking about why we don’t throw stones a great deal over the coming days.

‘Yes, he was married to the daughter of that spy, what was his name – Philby?’

I’m pulled back sharply as my Dad drops Kim Philby’s name into the conversation – the former head of the Soviet counterintelligence unit at MI6 who, it turns out, was a Russian spy.

‘Your uncle was married to Kim Philby’s daughter? Bloody hell, you kept that quiet.’

Dad gives a sly chuckle, one that tells me that there is always more to a man than at first appears. And it shouldn’t surprise me: I’ve discovered all sorts of things about our solidly middle-class, respectable family over the years, including an army man abroad putting a gun to his head rather than return home to his unpleasant wife, secret families that even now remain unconfirmed, and a lost wife and child, their boat torpedoed on the journey from India back to Blighty and all hands lost. But I never knew anything about a spy.

‘That was him: Kim Philby,’ says my Dad nonchalantly. ‘They had a terrible time of it, my Uncle and his wife, the finger of suspicion always hovering over them and photographers hanging about on their doorstep. They both became alcoholics and she died in suspicious circumstances: they found her dead at the bottom of the stairs.’

As I digest another strange kink in the family tree, Milo runs down a ramp onto the beach. He stands unsteadily on the pebbles, rather overwhelmed by having so many stones to throw. But rather than beginning to chuck them about with abandon, he stands on his tiptoes and begins wailing – he’s totally freaked out either by having too much choice or by the seaweed that malevolently entangles his sturdy shoes.

‘Better go, Dad,’ says I. ‘Milo’s crying.’

I ring off, Simon scoops up the boy and we head to the West Pier, where a playground complete with sand pit and paddling pool awaits.

‘Turns out we had a spy in the family,’ I tell Simon as we make sandcastles and explain to Milo why it is we don’t throw sand at people either.

‘You know, nothing surprises me about your family,’ he says.

I take mock offence; but the truth of it is that nothing surprises me about anyone’s families: scratch the surface and who knows what you’ll find lying beneath.


Milo on Brighton Beach, after he’d come to terms with the pebbles, seaweed and big crashing ‘waters’ beyond (AKA the sea).

Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes. Cafe: Yes, plus there are loads of little cafes nearby as well. Buggy-friendly? Yes. Cost: Free. Worth it? Yes. It’s a fantastic park with three separate play areas: one with climbing frame, one with sand pit (that is also shaded) and then a large and safe paddling pool. There are toilets and babychange inside the playground area and the whole thing is safely fenced off so you don’t have to fret about kids wandering onto the beach. It gets very busy on hot days (and it’s very sunny, too – take sunscreen) but is well worth it.

The day doesn’t start well. Being from Up North, we’re clearly not used to hot weather: Milo demands a drink every few minutes, draining his juice as if he were a contender in the Marathon des Sables. We clamber onto a London train; Milo climbs onto his Daddy’s lap and sits there contentedly, looking out of the window. As the train draws closer to Victoria, more people cram on and pretty soon it’s standing room only.

‘Oh no, oh no, oh NO,’ says Simon.

Milo and I (and half the carriage) turn to look at him, all of us with the same bemused expression.

‘My trousers are WET!’ he says.

The good natured bemusement of our fellow passengers dissolves as it transpires that Milo didn’t quite have need for all that juice; his nappy has runneth over (and onto Simon’s lap). While Simon contemplates a stroll through central London with a wet crotch, I wrestle Milo’s trousers off and perform an emergency nappy change. Looking up from my task, I’d say that around 99% of those on board are less than impressed by the sight that unfolds before them.

We wait for everyone to get off the train before disembarking, Simon strategically placing my bright pink Cath Kidson bag at waist height, Milo wrapped in a grubby yellow blanket. We leap onto the Tube, said Cath Kidson bag getting stuck for a heart-thumping moment in the closing doors. Simon manages to wrench it free with a grunt and we stand there panting, all crumpled bags, dirty blankets and dubious-looking stains, while Milo smiles broadly at anyone brave enough to make eye contact.

At Oxford Street I stride knowledgably towards H&M before realising they don’t sell kids’ clothes. We do an about face. Simon’s crotch, I notice, is drying off nicely.

A few moments later I’m on all fours on the floor by the till in Monsoon. It’s only as Milo starts trying to crawl off, trousers round his knees, that I realise that a) the jeans are ‘skinny’ (for toddlers?!) and that’s why I can’t get them over his shoes and b) we have an audience: quite a little queue has formed while I’ve been attempting to dress my son.

‘Oh sorry!’ I say, a little too loudly. ‘He peed right through his nappy so we had to buy some, er, well some…’

I dry up as the hard stares of the queue harden. Too late, I realise I have volunteered too much.

‘Right, so, we’ll just get out of your way then.’

Finally, with Simon dried off and Milo dressed up, we hop across to Chalk Farm and to David Byrne’s Playing the Building at the Roundhouse. And it’s here our day perks up. Byrne’s sound installation is a revelation: in it, the musician invites all-comers to play an old pump organ connected to the building itself. As we thrash the keys of an instrument that at first appears dwarfed by the room in which it is housed, we play not an instrument so much as the building itself: the heating and water pipes blow, metal beams vibrate and pillars are struck. All three of us, Milo included, find that playing the building is utterly addictive and we only relinquish the instrument reluctantly as the queue swells behind us.

So how do you follow that up? In our case with a curry (you can take the girl out of Rusholme…). Milo drops off, and as Simon and I eat al fresco at the Stables Market in Camden, I notice a couple of lads at the table next to us. Their asymmetric haircuts and ‘treggings’ make them look like a cross between Russell Brand and an undergraduate on a first date with Kate Moss.

‘Stress is really bad for your sperm count, mate,’ bellows one to the other.

I almost choke on my dahl.

‘Yeah, you’re right, you really have to watch that,’ agrees his friend, bangles jingling as he pushes a hand through his fringe.

I look at them from the corner of my eye, trying not to laugh, and Simon and I finish our curry in a strangely repressed silence. Not long afterwards we decide to ditch London and head for home – but not before changing Milo into a nice dry nappy.


Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes, on the ground floor (no signage but it is there). Cafe: No children’s menu and not that many options for veggies. Buggy-friendly? Yes. Cost: Playing the Building installation (now closed) was £5; entry to the building is free. Worth it? If there’s ever a repeat of Byrne’s work I’d recommend it. Camden Market and the Stables Market down the road have better food and are fun for older kids (so long as you give them a bit of spending money). You can also take canal trips from Camden.



Any doubts I had about Mum and Dad buying the Delamere house are no longer relevant: the house is theirs and this weekend sees them begin the slow process of packing up and heading North. So perhaps for the last time, Mum and Dad have come to stay for the weekend. Thus far, they have:

  • Slammed the front door repeatedly after we’d all gone to bed, for reasons we’re still trying to ascertain;
  • Claimed to have been bitten by bed bugs;
  • Stained the carpet with great swathes of diet coke, shortly before splitting a cushion cover;
  • Woken the neighbours up with their bounding, barking and frankly bonkers dog;
  • And taken my bag out for a walk, which was very kind and I’m sure it appreciated the fresh air, but the lack of purse and keys meant I missed my dental appointment.

Parents, eh? Still, it’s good to learn a thing or two from Mum and Dad and I’m now planning to inflict similar jovial chaos when I’m in my autumnal years, thus getting my own back for: the terrible twos, the inappropriate piercings and ‘artfully’ torn jumpers, the slamming of the front door at 3am, temper tantrums and teenage strops, the less-than-perfect school reports and never-ending washing, the empty cupboards and, finally and most surprising of the lot, the empty nest.

Mind you, it appears these two birds are coming home to roost, and for all our ups and downs I can’t wait to have Mum and Dad here, closer to home, so we can drive each other up the wall on a much more regular basis.


Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes, if you don’t mind the knackered changing mat. Cafe: You may treat this house like a hotel, sonny, but it’s not. Buggy-friendly? Sadly not. Cost: Well, coming round to ours is free; parenting per se costs more than you can ever, ever imagine. Worth it? Despite what I said in the previous line, yes, it really is.

After weeks of rain, the sun has come out. Seeing as the slugs have destroyed anything vaguely attractive in my garden (they’re efficient buggers, I’ll give them that), we head out to Cheshire for a dose of sumptuous, shimmering countryside, all golden fields and emerald grass.

Milo is asleep within seconds, which is probably just as well: as we roll past hill and dale, Simon and I get down to business. No, not that kind of business (honestly, all that nonsense stopped around the time I realised the only thing keeping me up all night would be nappies and tantrums): no, we’re here to check out a house that my mum and dad are thinking of buying.

It’s a big decision, them upping sticks and moving north. It’s a decision made all the more difficult by the fact that my mum has just had her knee replaced (ouch) and is laid up, unable to see the place for herself for another few weeks. So we’re here to look on her behalf. And I like it. But then I panic and think if I tell my parents I like it, they’ll buy it. And if they buy it and it’s the wrong decision, there’s a lifetime of payback in the offing. And then I think, hmmm, why is it being sold in the first place if it’s so nice, eh? What, exactly, is wrong with it?

I try to be nice, but sometimes the cynical and suspicious city-dweller in me runs amok. She’s here right now, poking her fingers into gaps in the floor, giving the walls a surreptitious boot to see if they crumble, peering into the murky pond with a shake of the head, looking with narrowed eyes at the neighbours, assessing their probable psychopathic tendencies.

Milo wakes up. He runs around the little cul-de-sac chasing cats. The neighbour shows him her pond, and Milo points out that the fish are orange. He is pleased with his assessment of her as a sweet-and-treat dispenser. He waves goodbye as we drive off and head to the café by the station for lunch.

‘I just don’t know,’ I say to Simon as we talk about the house.

Milo is stuffing a tuna sandwich into his mouth, using both fists to cram in as much as possible. He has so far failed to spot the pile of chips that we have craftily camouflaged with a wall of lettuce.

‘There’s just loads that could go wrong. And what if it’s the wrong decision?’

‘More,’ says Milo.

He nods his head like a suggestive waiter. If we’d given him the chips, we’d have had this all afternoon: ‘please mummy, more, more chips mummy, more, CHIPS MUMMY, more’.

It’s so easy when you’re a kid, no? Everything decided for you. The future an abstract notion you don’t have to worry about, let alone plan for. All you have to do is nod your head and smile and hope for more chips.

‘God I wish I was his age again.’

Simon smiles and pushes the chips towards me. ‘No you don’t. You wouldn’t be eating these beauties if you were a toddler, would you?’

I pick up a handful of the crispy, greasy fries and eat them quickly, ramming them in so as not to be spotted by my eagle-eyed child.

We walk round the forest later, looking at the light reflecting off the lake and filtering through the trees, a green haze seemingly unassailable by the city thug slugs that so deftly unravel my horticultural efforts. I can see why my mum and dad might want to live here as opposed to Manchester: for all its charms (and god knows, I love the place), one thing it is not is beautiful.

But I just don’t know whether it’s the right place for them. It’s not a decision for me; I hope their decision, whatever it ends up being, is the right one for them.


Ratings. Babychanging facilities: No. Cafe: Yes. Buggy-friendly? No – it’s very small inside. Cost: £4.50 for a big sandwich and salad; £3.25 for a child’s portion of chips, baked beans and fish fingers. Worth it? A little pricey (for what is pretty bog standard food), but it’s a lovely place to stop off on a sunny day as you can sit outside. Nice ice cream, too. It’s also very close to Go Ape, a ‘high wire forest adventure’ that lets you swing from the trees and do all sorts of vertigo-inducing activities – for the over 10s only.

Time was, my baby didn’t sleep. Not just the odd night waking here and there: he was awake, and bawling, every two hours. All night. Every night. For twelve months.

When I asked advice from the health visitor, she suggested ‘sleeping when he sleeps’. Silly cow, I thought, he doesn’t bloody sleep. Not even during the day. Tiredness made me grumpy (and blunt about it too): I suspect I may have muttered as much – whatever I did or didn’t say, the woman scuttled out of the house quick sharp and I haven’t seen her since.

I am reminded of this as we descend into Robin Hood’s Bay. It’s fabulously spooky: mist rolls in across the muddy beach, crawling up narrow lanes that twist and hug the cliff. Figures loom in and out of view; fleeting glimpses of people I half hope are the spectral remains of the smugglers who once claimed this part of the North Yorkshire coast as their own.

The steep slopes and rocks of this place would have rendered the buggy useless, so we left it behind. But Milo decided he absolutely completely had to fall asleep on the bus on the way over and he’s now a dead weight in my arms.

‘He looks heavy,’ says my Dad a little too cheerfully.

I scowl and shift the sleeping boy to ease the burning sensation that spreads through my arms. It starts to rain. Cute little pitter-patters fall first, an advance army that signals the rapid advancement of big, heavy drops. Proper rain.

‘We need to get inside!’

Dad has disappeared. He does this a lot; Mum and I can never work out why, when we go out as a group, he always strays off somewhere. We spend many hours waiting for him in the place we last saw him and calling him on a mobile he never answers. For his part, Dad spends many hours bemused by his wife and daughter’s inexplicable annoyance.

‘Dad! We need to get inside!’ I shout but it’s only Mum who answers.

She points to a café. We duck through a door and find a tiny room cantilevered over a stream, its windows streaming. Damp families and discarded cagoules are squashed up inside in gently steaming heaps.

Mum spots an empty table in the corner. I lay Milo on the bench: he flicks his head about and I think he’s about to wake up but he settles back into his dream. Mum and I look around forlornly: with Milo on the bench there’s nowhere else to sit.

Just then, Dad pitches up, carrying three tiny stools, and we’re forced to perch uncomfortably around the narrow end of the table.

‘He won’t sleep like that for long,’ I say confidently. ‘It can’t be comfy, can it?’

Six coffees, three slices of cake and two hours later, Milo wakes up. The rain has stopped and all the families we’d sheltered with are long gone. The waitresses look uneasy: I think they’re worried we’re about to claim squatter’s rights. Milo opens his eyes, yawns and before he has time to open his mouth we’re out of the café, Dad haring off down the hill like a prisoner on day release, Mum and me cracking our knees and stretching our arms.

‘Did you have a lovely sleep, Milo?’ asks Mum.

‘No,’ says he firmly. He shakes his candyfloss hair for added emphasis.

Mum and I look at each other and roll our eyes. There’s nowt so contrary as children.


Ratings. Babychanging facilities: No. Cafe: Yes. Buggy-friendly? No. Cost: £1.30 for a coffee and the cake comes big and cheap. Worth it? Yes. Apart from a fantastic, crab-full beach (mud not sand), the Old Coastguard Station has kid-friendly displays including a tank stuffed with shore crabs, sea scorpion, eel pouts and common prawn (free entry).

‘Waters. Waters wheel,’ says Milo, splashing in his bath after a day out at a Cheshire stately pile.

He says it with a slight furrowing of the brow, making it apparent that he’s not talking about the murky waters he’s splashing about in.

‘You mean today?’ asks Simon. ‘The water wheel we saw today?’

Milo grunts and nods at the same time. He never says yes.

‘It’s funny how articulate he can be when it comes to saying no,’ I say as I stand in the doorway and watch, ‘but grunting is as good as it gets when it comes to the affirmative.’

‘Dory,’ says Milo, studiously ignoring me. He still has his serious face on.

Simon obeys the royal command and begins to tell a story. It goes: today we went to a big park in daddy’s car, and we saw lots of deer, and loads of deer poo, and then Milo went down some steps and saw a giant water wheel. Milo nods when Simon gets to this part.

‘Waters wheel,’ he says solemnly.

The wheel in question is part of an old sawmill, fully restored and powered by the rushing, gushing water of the stream outside. The sawmill itself is old and cramped; to get to the waterwheel you have to first descend a set of narrow, slippery steps and duck through a darkened doorway.

When Milo first saw the wheel, he jumped: it could be described as of the dark, satanic mill variety. But when the object proved to be benignly inanimate, and not at all like the big scary monsters that litter children’s literature, Milo was hooked. Simon and I were dragged to see it three times – that’s why, presumably, it stuck in Milo’s mind after we got home.

As I stand in the bathroom, it strikes me that having kids is something of a sci-fi science project. First there’s the whole oh-god-I-have-an-alien-in-my-belly part (better known as pregnancy). And then there’s the Alien Resurrection part when the bugger comes bursting out (also known as childbirth). Anyone that reckons either of these things is ‘natural’, by the way, either hasn’t done it or is just plain lying.

Anyway, then there’s the bit after all that, the fun part. The part where they grow up and a fully formed little person emerges. Like the one sat in the bath right now, earnestly learning how to tell a good tale. The story of the ‘waters wheel’ now joins that of the broken ball and the one where the cake shop had run out of cakes (I don’t know who was more upset – me or Milo).

There’s a part of me that hopes that these stories, or perhaps the slightly less mundane ones at any rate, will be taken by Milo and moulded into the stories of his childhood, the ones he’ll tell his own kids when I’m long gone, the stories that he will embellish until they become part of our family folklore.

We all do it, don’t we, make up stories out of real life? Or perhaps it’s just me – and my boy.


Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes. Cafe: Yes. Buggy-friendly? In parts – lots of steps and rough ground, though there is a buggy park if you’re going into the stately home. Cost: Garden only, £6.50 per adult, £3.25 for kids, family tickets £16.25, free for National Trust members. Worth it? Yes, though take your own picnic – we almost had to get a second mortgage out to cover the cost of lunch.