Where we’ve been #3…

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health and wellbeing / Travel Stuff

What we took with us

…(and what we bought when we got there)

I’ve really pondered over whether to do this post, but then in conversations with friends I realised we all pass on tips and share knowledge of great products all the time – and they can be really useful. So take from this what you will and give it a swerve if it’s not your bag (‘scuse the pun). Packing for a family, and remembering what worked last time (and what didn’t) can mess with my brain.

The detail is sometimes in the small things, for example SPF – when we went three years ago, I only packed one sun lotion, assuming we’d get more there as we needed it. But with two kids allergic to an ingredient in most brands, we spent a small fortune in Manly chemists on a daily basis (they don’t do 3 for 2 like we get in the supermarkets here, plus the exchange rate made it eye-wateringly pricey).

In addition, I over-packed last time. We didn’t touch half the clothes I took with us. With a stop-over in Hong Kong, I really didn’t want to be grappling with huge amounts of luggage on the trains, (whilst herding the smalls to make sure nobody gets left behind!) So like I say, this is my persona lessons learned, including in-flight skin saviours – take what’s useful if anything.

Packing light, but with bulk bought UK-based essentials:

Manly is well-known for it’s laid back cool. Whilst dressing up is the order of the day for work in Sydney, or an evening out – we were doing neither this time. So out went any shoe that wasn’t practical, out went anything remotely warm (long sleeves, long trousers/jeans) and instead it was all about lightweight clothes for layering – homemade sundresses with a breton for cooler days for the girl and I, a beach cover up from Coco Bay for me plus a mid length skirt (this one – Marina from Hush – was my most worn item without a doubt) and two pairs of shorts and lots of tees for the boy.  The husband, as usual packed in a similar vein to the boy. My sister does after all, have a washing machine (!) Flip flops were the only shoe packed (because they still fitted from our summer, otherwise get them there) – everyone wearing their one pair of trainers for the flights. Ditto sweatshirts for the air-con on the flights, and just in case of a cooler day once we were there (and for HK) Job done.

Beach cover up from Seafolly at Coco Bay, you can buy here Estherderm Adaptasun Sensitive Skin (Strong Sun) which you can buy here

I packed super-lightweight stripy hamman towels (one in the feature image) from Cornish company Sea Salt, which in the Aussie heat dried in minutes (truly) I did notice you can get these all over Manly, including in the budget chemists, so it could be something to pick up over there.

I did take enough shampoo to sink a battle ship, in the knowledge that it’s far cheaper here and it would all get used, given we’d be in and out of the sea every day (ie it wouldn’t be coming home with us again, so much less weight for the return leg) Plus Kitty uses Curly Ellie as it’s the only shampoo that I’ve found that deals with her curly, fine hair, so I took that with us. Ditto suncream (but I found a far superior one there – more later) I also packed Mrs White’s Unstung Hero to keep the mozzies at bay…easily the best repellent I’ve found for our sensitive skin, DEET and chemical-free, I’ve often avoided a single bite or sting when wearing it, and it’s skin friendly for the kids too. Available here (but note that it’s in a glass bottle so I wrap inside something in case of spillages)

The lovely Kayleigh at the Beauty Lounge in my home town told me about a fab SPF that would likely suit my incredibly pale skin but allow for some tan to build up and she was right – so I took that with me too; It lasted most of the holiday, I ran out two days before we left, so next time I’d take two bottles. Pricey, but so worth it – zero burn but a light golden tan, which for me is nothing short of a miracle (below) so that’s my tip for any fellow pale girls out there. I also packed my own Dermalogica, but little did I know that at Gatwick airport there’s a really extensive range of beauty brands in duty free now, not just the usual suspects – Dermalogica included. So I’d stock up there in future. Ditto Origins for their impressive tinted moisturiser as recommended by UK cult beauty columnist Sali Hughes which at factor 40, gave me enough coverage during the day and rescued tired skin after a late night too many.

So, now to what we bought there:

Everything else pretty much, we bought when we got there. I mean, come on, you’re not going to pack surf wear essentials when you’ve got so many options over in Manly are you? So the kids bought their rashies and board shorts in Surf, Dive, Ski (surf wear for kids is also an immensely welcome and practical Christmas pressie) I headed to H&M over in Sydney for some budget beach sundresses that you don’t mind getting suncream on.  My sister bought us the most useful gift ever – our beach shelter. It was invaluable (and has made it home with us – coming to a Whitstable beach near you this summer) and unlike umbrellas, it’s firmly anchored and doesn’t blow away the minute there’s a gust of wind. You can buy them here (they also do a gazebo style) and I noticed other brands have jumped on board too.


– Byron Bay Beach Shelter, can be put up in various configurations

Sunny Life do a practical wipeable beach bag which should be big enough to carry the beach essentials for the whole family.  The youngest’s investment piece with her spending money was one of their amazing inflatables.


Bag from Sunnylife – now in the UK too

Coming back to sunscreen…so we ran out of our supply (predictable) but I wasn’t convinced by its coverage in the hottest sun in any case. We discovered SUN BUM (image above) – a Californian brand that I haven’t as yet been able to track down here since we got back (other than at ridiculously over inflated prices via Amazon) 0-  so I’ll be asking my sister to send me a load over as it’s amazing. Once we switched, the kids skin was comfortable, no hives, no nasties, just delicious banana-smelling smalls, with zero burn. We are truly converted and all currently weeping that their cool down after sun has now run out back at home.

Special mention for really pretty clothes for little girls and babies, Aubrie Australia is a local brand and you can buy online too here.

Hand Luggage and In-Flight Skin Saviours


Having now done countless long hauls with the kids in tow, I can safely say you don’t need much. Kitty, our youngest who’s life motto is “more is more” did over pack her little wheelie onboard suitcase, and had to bail some stuff out. But all you need, regardless of age (I think) is:

  • a decent pair of headphones designed for smaller heads
  • a fully loaded kindle
  • coloured pencils (these are good from muji)
  • a colouring-in book and plain paper
  • a neck cushion and eye mask
  • a change of pants, and a sweatshirt
  • a pack of cards and/or a small game such as Top Trumps or Dobble
  • an empty re-useable water bottle (to keep the smalls hydrated, a friend who is ex cabin crew said to just ask them to fill ’em up. Those titchy cups they hand round are a massive spill hazard and hold about a thimble worth of water)

My In-Flight Essentials

  • my in-flight uniform is a lose pair of trousers, (the aimie jogger from Hush doesn’t feel like I’m straying into Waynetta territory, and maintaining some sense of style to boot) layered with a breton and a cosy sweatshirt or a versatile knitted wrap like these from Love Molly 
  • I decanted my usual cleanser, toner and moisturiser that will last the flight, the stopover and the next flight. Remember some cotton wool pads and tissues too. I have tried pre-loaded cleansing wipes aimed at flight travel but personally I find they strip the skin leaving it feeling stretched. Using my usual products is a no-brainer
  • I also pack a Dermalogica hydrating face mask (their multivitamin power recovery masque is good too, a bit strong for my skin with too much use but alternating them can be really effective) As soon as the lights are lowered, I clean my face and whack this on for the remainder of the flight plus loads of lip balm. Just before we land I remove it and put the tinted moisturiser back on and hand on heart I feel vaguely human. Either pack sample sachets, or the hydrating mask comes in a 60ml tube and is therefore less than the 100ml limit
  • DVT socks – so attractive, but not worth risking flying long-haul without them
  • Kids calpol and nurofen singles, you just never know when a headache, sore throat or fever will strike, better to be prepared and these get through security
  • Plasters, lip balm, babywipes. hand sanitzer
  • Empty re-useable water bottle
  • Decent headphones, a fully loaded kindle and the all important chargers

So that’s a round up of how we get from A to B as a family, when it involves many planes (and trains and automobiles)

If I had one regret, it’s that I didn’t stock up on my Aesop favourites whilst there – we just ran out time. And that I didn’t take my hairdryer as my diffuser didn’t fit my sister’s. Curly hair + Oz humidity = scary 70s barnet.

My final Aus-trip related post will come up next, what we did with the kids in our Hong Kong stop over, and what we wish we’d done differently.

Thanks for reading.







Where we’ve been #2…

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Travel Stuff

Wizard of Oz

Part 2 – Keeping the kids busy on a budget

As I said at the top of the last post, this year’s trip had to be made under a tight budget. This time wasn’t about creating a “trip of a lifetime” more, a trip to spend time with my sister. Who just happens to have settled in Oz.

So – none of the big hitters this time. Nobody felt a burning desire to re-visit the zoo, nor the Blue Moutains etc, when Manly has everything that makes the family happy. We had hoped to go to the ballet again at the Opera House as last time the Nutcracker was pretty darn special. Certainly one for the memory bank, but there wasn’t a ballet within our dates this time, otherwise I would have splashed out.

Otherwise, we had everything on our doorstep, with not too much outlay. At no point during our 3 weeks were the kids whiney or bored.

First up, the totally obvious, but a word about surfing…

When we visited in 2014, the kids learnt to surf at the Manly Surf School with Sean, their fab and incredibly patient instructor. It cost a fair bit as they shared one on one lessons, but he got them on their feet. We didn’t go for the full on group session as we all felt they were too small back then (age 6 and 8). (Group lessons are better bang for your buck if you’re wanting to learn as an adult, or have teens in tow) BUT it’s probably the best dollars we spent, as it was such an investment with initial, shaky and wobbly skills brought back to the UK – and they’ve continued to build on that initial grounding down in Cornwall.

So this time, we didn’t need to throw money at lessons. It would have been great to get Sean to up their abilities with some more technique, but they were happy enough and it did save some of our budget. Following quotes for extortionate shipping costs for our own boards, my sister rustled up 3 boards of different sizes from her mates via a Facebook call out – the generosity of others never fails to surprise me.  Another of her friends stashed them close to the beach for us (we know from experience that small arms, heavy boards and a bit of a walk normally leads to bickering, and at times all-out fights). So we were pretty sorted. There are however loads of places to hire boards if you’re not taking your own, including Manly Surf Hire

(and if you’re not on a tight budget, then maybe even a splurge on your own beauty from Aloha)


boy child finding his sea legs again

Safe places to swim…

If like us, you have water babies who will happily spend the entire day in the water – but you don’t fancy watching them in the ocean all day, there are several really safe places where they can cool down to their hearts content.

Little Manly

Little Manly is just up past the Wharf, by Manly Point.  It’s a gem of a cove for safe swimming and paddle boarding. We could safely allow kids to take in their menagerie of ride on inflatables, as the netted corner section meant that they can’t suddenly float away on a gust of wind or a sudden wayward current. As a result there’s a broad age range down there from the Manly yummy mummies chilling with their newborns and toddlers to school kids straight out of class, right through to teens and students on their summer break, endlessly jumping from the nets into the cool water.

(Bit of a heads up – just because it’s netted doesn’t mean the rest of ocean life can’t float in, the youngest did get a Blue Bottle sting there, and the rocks are covered with razor sharp molluscs, as my eldest found out when he went exploring off piste and shredded his feet. With the former, bathe in warm water immediately and try to remove any stingers, with the cuts, as always get them as clean as possible straight away, ocean corals and shells can introduce bacteria very quickly) 

Away to the left (as you’re looking at the ocean) there’s a stepped pathway up to Manly Point, which has a lovely shaded playground which gave some respite from the sun when needed.

There is very little shade at Little Manly, so we made sure we took our beach shelter on days we were parking up for more than a quick swim (more on those in the What We Take section coming up)

IMG_2808– Little Manly

Fairy Bower Rock Pool 

There are heaps of rock pools in Manly and its surrounding beaches further out too. Curl Curl has two, one, which is at the North end is less accessible, via a short walk across the headland and seemed to be mostly inhabited by serious adult swimmers when we were there….the more child friendly one down at Dee Why. Manly has two, one down at the far end at Queenscliffe and my personal favourite, the Fairy Bower pool. Built by locals who carved into the rocks back in 1929, it’s a perfect cool down at the end of a hot day, or an equally lovely way to start any morning, it became a firm favourite with its turquoise sparkling water, it’s iconic statue (the ‘Sea Nymphs’) and breathtaking setting. Find it on Marine Parade, walking towards Shelly Beach.  Other lovely pools can be found at Freshwater beach, which is the next cove round from Manly, and over at Palm Beach (yes, where Home and Away is filmed on that iconic beach)


   – the smallest at Fairy Bower Pool   


Transporting skateboards is, it turns out, a right pain in the proverbial. You can’t take them as hand luggage for all the obvious safety and security reasons, so you have several other options, including removing the trucks and taking them as hand luggage, and packing the decks, or putting the whole lot in the hold, which is a hefty chunk of the luggage allowance. Throw in a dog with a skateboard phobia, and we decided it probably wasn’t worth taking them this trip. But there is a place that you can hire skates and skateboards by the hour, down past North Steyne at Skater HQ. Manly promenade is the most perfect place for an hour’s skate.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)

Never tried paddle boarding? It doesn’t matter – the water around the wharf is safe and calm. Experienced SUPpers have the world as their oyster though, with heaps of coves and ocean life to explore. The thing with SUP is you can happily let your younger kids take control – either share a board with them, or if they’re confident swimmers then can handle them relatively easily as they’re quite stable, giving them a nice bit of independence. Again, a tight budget meant we didn’t hire boards as often as I’d envisaged this time – but it’s a great activity to keep them off the streets and gain some confidence, whilst having a good laugh at the same time. Hire here. http://www.manlykayakcentre.com.au/sup-hire

Manly Kayak Centre also run kayak safaris for confident kayakers as well as lessons and individual hire. A great way to see the coast.


– SUP yoga from the girl, whilst the boy paddles safely near-by in Manly Wharf


It was very, very hot and humid this trip, so hand on heart, we did little in the way of hikes or long walks. But a really decent one, that the kids enjoyed enormously was the Spit to Manly hike across the headland. It’s a decent 10k, and very hilly, so probably not great for littler legs. But having said that, there are numerous joining or exit points along the way too and the opportunity to see the coastline from high up, as well as stopping in the smaller coves and inlets along the way do mean its both relatively accessible and worth the effort. The path is clearly marked out, and much of it has iron walk ways and handrails. There are points of interest along the way such as the aboriginal rock engravings, the kids spotted loads of the protected Water Dragons, it was great to see them up close and personal…we also had a possible sighting of the Fairy Penguins as we approached Manly Wharf. The views are breathtaking. Seeing the Manly Ferries crossing each other’s paths to and from Sydney Harbour was the stuff of postcards.

We made sure we took heaps of water and sunscreen, and wore sensible shoes for this one as there are some parts where you need to negotiate slippery rocks and mossy ledges. Much of it is covered as we meandered in and out of bush, but there are parts where we were very exposed to the searing sun. It’s also worth noting that during Whale migration (May-November) the walk is an excellent vantage point to spot pods of whales swimming past.

We started at the Spit Bridge in Mosman, and gave ourselves some self congratulations at the end with a drink and nachos at the Wharf Bar in Manly.

Another gentler walk is up and over from Manly to Freshie, the next cove around.  There’s a good pit-stop at the point that you tip back down towards the beach at Freshie, where we stopped for a coffee and sorbet for the kids, which morphed into a quick lunch of avos on toast as a reward for the climb, which is practically vertical, after all.

Finally, another fine walk is Narrabeen Lagoon which is a State Park. Much flatter than the Spit to Manly hike, this is still a good couple of hours, and right back in the heart of nature. There were sections of the walk when the cicadas were deafening. Several lovely cafés en route, which were handy when any whining for banana bread or a pit-stop were picked up from the smalls.


– Spit to Manly Hike

Manly to Sydney Ferry

A crowd-pleaser for locals and tourists alike, the iconic green and yellow Manly Ferries run every half hour to Sydney. They’re a super comfortable ride, taking you breathing distance past the Opera House, and then swinging into the harbour with the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the right. Once off, you can tour round the Opera House and then head to the bars and restaurants along the Harbour side, up to the Rocks, as well as the Sydney CBD.


There are number of other ferry options available, for example, boat trips to Taronga Zoo which leave every half hour from Circular Quay with Sydney Ferries. As I said earlier, we didn’t visit the zoo this time around, but it’s well worth a visit, not least to view the majestic giraffes with the Opera House in the distance. When we visited last time we were there at Christmas again, and grandparents gave the kids “experience vouchers” for the zoo and the aquarium instead of traditional gifts, and these are well worth exploring if a trip coincides with Christmas or a birthday. Feeding a giraffe some carrots is surprisingly fun.

So that’s my round up of how we kept the kids busy, and spent some quality family time as a result. Next up – what we took with us and what we got when we were there, plus my personal recommendations for health and body care when traveling long haul.

Where we’ve been lately…

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Travel Stuff

The Wizard of Oz

If you have read any of the previous posts on here, you’ll know we do love a trip here at Procrastination Project towers. Our posts for Tokyo got some love, so I thought I’d pop this up, should it help anyone in the throws of planning a similar trip themselves, or just to satisfy some wanderlust. This stop, Sydney.

To give some context and background, my sister has lived in Manly, NSW for many years.  A stone’s throw (well, ferry ride) from Sydney, Manly is a buzzing, dynamic destination. We have been a handful of times before, and travelled further out, a road trip up the East Coast, culminating in Fraser Island and then the Hamilton Islands. LA on the way there and Fiji on the way back. Our last visit 3 years ago was the first with our smaller kids.  Then 6 and 8, we threw everything we had at it – visited the big landmarks in and around Sydney, and had some fantastic experiences and memories to always remember. I’ll pop some of that up in the archives for those who are interested.

This time, instead, we chose to live like locals, hanging out with my sister, her friends and her pooch, with no time pressures, whilst living on a budget. I’m not going to lie; you simply can’t  get to the other side of the world with an additional two other mouths to fly, feed and water on a shoe-string (especially with our super-weak GB Pound) but neither do you have to spend thousands of bucks to still have a really fantastic time.

So this round-up is all about places in and around Manly to eat, for things to do with kids, my personal recommendations about all the things I love, what to pack and what to buy when you get there. We didn’t stray too far at all from Manly this trip, it was a much lower key family visit. It was hot and sticky humid when we were there, so we stuck pretty close to the sea, and avoided lengthy car journeys where possible.

I’m going to split all of this up by theme, in to several bite size posts otherwise it’s going to become too long for a quick read.  So if you’re headed to that part of the world, here goes. Let me know what you think.


First Up – Places To Eat

Let’s start with the top of the day: best breakfasts and brunches

3 Beans – Darley Road, Manly

Hands down our favourite brunch this time around. The smallest (our girl) said the pancakes were the best she’d ever had. She’s dairy intolerant so skipped the cream but said the berry compote was delicious and her coconut berry smoothie was an all out winner.  Fin also had to pancakes but with the lot, and he did go a bit sugary. I had a very competent eggs benedict on sourdough, which ticked all the boxes (though having the calorific content next to each menu item was slightly off putting!) and the husband had the Avocado Dukkah with feta, lemon, seeds and house-made Dukkah. Great family friendly place with super-friendly staff.


–  The smallest, matching her outfit to her breakfast at the 3 Beans Café

Blue Water Café – Brunch (Manly)

We stuffed our faces here late one morning. My sister and I both ordered the Morning Bruchetta  (bacon, grilled halloumi, smashed avocado, poached eggs and tomato corn salsa drizzled with balsamic glaze served with sourdough toast) which defeated us both, about half way in. It was delicious though, and set us up for the rest of the day, without too much guilt. My husband ordered the Ocean Breakfast, which was huge. Smoked salmon, poached eggs, hash browns and avocado, with tomato salsa and balsamic glaze, and again served with sourdough toast. To this day, he still questions the need for double carbs with the hash browns on toast, but otherwise it was a hit. The kids stuck to pancakes, which they gave the thumbs up. My only watch point here was the service was pretty slow and pretty haphazard. It was super busy and I know when we’ve been before it’s been much more slick, but if you’re in a hurry I might give it a swerve. Right on the strip opposite Manly’s seafront, it a buzzy and popular place to eat.

Gusto On The Beach – Breakfast (Curl Curl)

Located in the surf lifesaving club at South Curl Curl, we fell upon Gusto’s on one of the hottest days of our trip, after a fairly decent walk both down to the rock pool at the north end, as well as up and over the sand dunes. Dishevelled, starving hungry and thirsty, we probably looked a motley crew as we plonked ourselves on the outdoor seating – but frankly I could have stayed there all day. Totally chilled vibe, a fridge fully stocked with Pure Pops to keep the kids happy, the husband and I supped on decent coffees and refuelled with sourdough and Vegemite. Not the most exciting breakfast you might argue but it really hit the spot. The kids had a munch on some banana bread too. Their menu is actually vast, hence I could have stayed there all day. Sandy toes and a delicious view, what’s not to love.

– Curl Curl and coffee at Gusto

Others worth a special mention are Jelly Fish Café, down on the North Steyne right opposite the beach. They also do a great take away chai latte or coffee, as well as a nice range of freshly made smoothies. Perfect pick up for a long dog walk and popular with locals, always a good sign. Pantry up on the beach itself is high-end but a lovely location. Over on Shelly Beach there’s The Boat House – but we didn’t visit this time as it was just too much of an indulgence when we were watching our dollars. Another great breakfast and take out coffee restaurant is The Bower, right opposite the gorgeous Fairy Bower bathing rock pool. Great banana bread for the kids, with even the takeaway version beautifully put together. 

Lunches & Dinners

To keep our bank balances in relative health, we alternated lunches and dinners out with eating in, or grilled cheese sarnies & salads on the beach (or on one especially piggy day, we grabbed some take away burritos from Mex & Co down on Manly seafront. Those were definite winners and kept the hungry surfers topped up all day) ..So these are a mixture of old favourites we’ve visited before on previous trips, and new places that we fell in love with. All are still in or around Manly, with one or two further out.

Little Manly Beach Kiosk


– Little Manly

Aside for the fact that I would never knowingly normally eat anywhere with the word kiosk in it, this little gem is a firm family favourite. The friendliest owners and staff, who never lose their cool, nor their warmth, even when the queue is snaking right back down to the beach, this place deserves all the love it receives.

Great for kids, they have all the stalwart fare for tweens and teens alike, with giant cones of sweet potato chips, the most delicious banana bread (according to the kids) toasted with butter for that all important refuel after endless bouts of jumping off the nets into the sea, and our personal saviours, Pure Pops to keep them cool.  But, alongside that they also serve delicious halloumi burgers, beautifully fresh fish and calamari salads, shellfish and impressively stacked turkish flat breads and sandwiches. In addition, Friday nights are for the sausage sizzle, a great community event with kids grabbing sausages and corn between swims, whilst the grown ups enjoy  sundowners on the grassy banks.

The Manly Wharf Bar

A buzzy, vast space that is hugely popular with locals and tourists alike, you could be misled into thinking the food might be a let down for such a large venue – but – don’t be, its menu is as big as the place is, but the quality is right up there. Panko-crumbed snapper burgers are served up alongside buckets of Tiger Prawns with their own wharfy sauce; chilled Moreton Bay Bugs with alioli, Queensland Barramundi – they’re all there. If you’re after something simpler, then their pizzas are big hits, and after a 10k hike – I can personally guarantee that both the veggie and the meat nachos were huge crowd pleasers for kids and adults alike (and kept us in budget). The cocktail bar knocks up a lovely Mohito, and if you’re feeling really cheeky, their Rosé slushies are amazing on a backing hot and humid day.

The Newport Inn, Newport NSW 2106

A behemoth of an old pub, we first visited the Newport with my sister back in 2000. My how it’s changed. Cleverly divided up in to smaller sections which have been landscaped to give a cosier sense of togetherness, there are several different kitchens from which to order, therefore offering a huge choice. The kids area is genius, I guess they’re hoping that by laying on such a well stocked playroom, the adults won’t get nagged to leave any time soon. Certainly worked for us 😉 About an hours drive from Sydney CBD.

– The Newport

Hugo’s , Manly Wharf

I should probably have put Hugo’s at the top of this list in hindsight. Easily our meal out of the trip, and a huge favourite of my sister who’s a regular. Think polenta chips, delicious rocket, pear and parmesan salads, huge tasty pizzas of the thinnest crust, and tasty croquettes and the freshest prawns, and that’s Hugo’s right there. Washed down with some chilled rosé and then some decedent espresso Martinis and it was an amazing pre-Christmas treat. We could even let the kids stretch their legs and have a wander into the Wharf to buy themselves an ice-cream. They watched the Manly ferries come and go, whilst we could keep an eye on them without having to even leave our seats. A perfect afternoon and I can’t recommend highly enough. If you only go to Manly once, go to Hugo’s.

  – Hugo’s

Manly Skiff Club – Manly Wharf

Sitting on the decking of the Manly Skiff Club is probably one of my most favourite activities. Get there nice and early, or try to book a table, as inside is really noisy and the acoustics don’t lend themselves to easy conversation.

Pretty standard stuff food wise, but the pizzas are pretty awesome, and the onion bhaji burger is also delicious. Great kids options if you have a fussier eater.


Manly Skiff Club

Daniel San – North Steyne

Describing itself as a “neon-drenched, Okinawa inspired, Japanese Rock ‘n’ Roll bar” Daniel San has a fun, laid back straight-from-the-beach family welcoming kinda vibe.  Outside along the pavement, there’s a length of refectory tables which means dogs are welcome there too. We got fairly busy with our chops sticks the minute each small dish of sharing plates arrived. Delicious salt and pepper squid, edamames, mixed tempura, and Katsu chicken curry, with mixed sashimi for the non-meat eater. The hot chipsus were a welcome snack for the kids there post-surf one afternoon on another occasion, when we stopped there for a beer or two. Fun for all the family for sure.

– Daniel San

Little Viet – W.Esplanade, Manly

Vietnamese street food served in a friendly, stylish and informally pretty little restaurant, just off the main strip, a stones throw from Manly Wharf. As one of our gang doesn’t eat meat and we all wanted to share and taste different flavours, we predominantly stuck to fish and the veggie options, but some of the meat dishes sounded amazing. We went here for dinner on Christmas Eve, for something completely different to tradition Christmas food.

We ate Temple Tofu and Coconut Roasted Squash curry, prawn curry, some satay chicken and chilli salt and pepper squid (which was the crowd pleaser for sure) some classic spring rolls at the kids request, plus some rice and Bahn Xeo. I really, really wish we’d had the caramelised pork belly. We didn’t push the boat out, mostly mindful of expanding waistlines but it was more than plenty between the 5 of us. Washed down with some Vietnamese beers and celebratory Rosé. Their lunchtime Big Buddha Bowls also look enticing…

                      – Little Viet

The Wok Bar – Pittwater Road

Reasonably priced Asian street food, this is a little hidden gem up on the Pittwater Road in Manly that always makes everyone happy. The kids lunch boxes are good value for money. A little family in-joke is that we get the same fortune in the cookies, and have done even since our last visit. And the kids will always be happy with the frog on the pond dessert…

This is only a drop in the ocean of some fantastic places to eat and drink around Manly and the surrounding area.



What I’ve been reading…

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Things I love / what we're reading

Commonwealth – by Ann Patchett

Hi. So, I’ve been away a while. Both figuratively and IRL. I think we can call it Bloggers Block or something along those lines. Probably triggered by an element of self doubt and loathing, comparing myself to others with 000’s of followers, and just the sense that you’re shouting into an empty cave. But after some kind words and some “get over yourself” admonishment from trusted friends and family, I’ve decided that for better or worse, writing this little blog was something I like doing and that I should return to it.

Back to the literal, I have been away IRL, far far away to visit my sister in Sydney. And this is what I read.

It took me forever. The font size in my paperback version was titchy, and I realise now that I need new specs. So it wasn’t a case of slow progress for lack of enjoyment, just that squinting at a page becomes pretty exhausting.

Back to the point. Commonwealth is a clever tale that weaves the back stories of the main characters into the present day through a chain of events that eventually intertwine them all.   What starts with an unexpected guest at a christening, carrying a bottle of gin soon turns into a sequence of life changing events for two families.  The descriptive passages were such that I readily transported back to the 60s and then 70s as we follow the lives of 6 children, thrown together by their parents’ decisions.  Set in both California and Virginia, you can really feel the sense of discombobulation that the children must deal with. A tragedy unfolds, but we are left with scant details at first, though much implication about what may have happened.

Years later, a chance encounter with an esteemed novelist for one of those children takes her life and that of her siblings and step-siblings down another different path altogether. Over time, the consequences of which surface the damage of one fateful day back in their childhood.

This is such an intelligent account of a domestic tale. There are few cliches. Part way through, you think you’ve got it all worked out. There’s something hanging over Albie, the youngest of the children. You could easily leap to the conclusion that he’s gone down the “we need to talk about Kevin” path, but there are no derivative hangovers here, and it’s far more subtle than that.

Late to the party as Commonwealth was published in 2016, and has been sitting in my book pile for some time. But if you haven’t read it yet, then I’d say take a dive in. I really don’t think anyone would regret it.


Summer Time…

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health and wellbeing / what's getting my attention

…and the living is easy..

(for most kids, unless you’ve got the 11+ coming up.)…

You remember that feeling, right? The long 6 week holiday stretching ahead of you like an endless field of long grass.  Ok, so that was my personal picture in my head, probably because I grew up on a housing estate in Welwyn, which had a great field at the top of it, where we spent pretty much most of that 6 weeks. Climbing trees. Making dens.  Grossing each other out with tales of puberty, hideous sibling behaviour, and urban myths.  The times we weren’t there, we were jumping and wading across the Mimram river on the other side of the village, losing sandals and sandwiches to the current – all a bit health and safety by today’s standards. And skating at break neck speed down the steep hill that we lived in the crook of. Not a helmet in sight. Wheelies on bikes, ‘look no hands’ …I’ll never forget my little sister careering down that hill in hot pursuit on her trike, when she landed head first in next door’s rose bed. That took some explaining to mum, as we fished her out.

So, back to my original point. The six weeks ahead felt delicious. Decadent. Like they would never end, surely? We literally did bugger-all school work. I’d pick up a favourite book yes, and even a paint brush on a rainy day, but school work – never.

Fast forward a (ahem) number of years and I look through the lens of my own kids’ summer. If you’ve read any of my blog before, you’ll know I’m  in strong favour of letting kids be kids. My other half and I have toyed with a gap year as a family, but we’ve had to park that idea due to financial constraints and the reality of work to return to.  But I truly yearn for proper, enriching, memory building (and arguably adult-building) childhoods for my children.

Fast forward to summer 2017, and here we are at a cross roads for our boy. We live in a part of the UK where the grammar system still exists. Apparently tutor-proof, what’s known at the Kent Test is essentially the 11+ but isn’t part of the private education system of entrance exams. This is all we’ve got. This is our mainstream education. Your kid, at the age of 10 is deemed best suited to Grammar or High School. Only, the test doesn’t align with the national curriculum, so much of the content hasn’t yet been actually taught yet, until about the second term of the next academic year. KAT clubs, tutors, past papers, Bond Online Tests – they’re the plethora of tools to choose from and available to us parents (*who can afford it) hoping to give our kids the best chance if we think that a grammar would suit them.  Social leveller the grammar system ‘aint. The schools are categorically not allowed to teach to it. So those without the means, need to rely on being super-bright and perhaps actually a bit gifted, in reality.

But here we are, in it. This is where we live, and like it or lump it, we feel we need to give our boy the best possible chance. He knows which school he wants to go to. Has his heart set on it.  And so here is our eldest’s summer – will it stretch out in an endless dream like way? Or is the reality that he’ll have to keep his brain in gear with practice papers and bursts of Bonds Online?

It sucks. If his strengths lay in art or other creative subjects, I think we’d be persuading him to ditch it and focus on other schools. But the reality is that a grammar will probably stretch him in the right way, and potentially suit him well. But to get there, he’s got the big hurdle. It’s the ever present elephant in our house right now.

So to those in favour of the expansion of grammars, be careful what you wish for. Seeing a bunch of ten year olds come to terms with whether they passed or failed the dreaded test every autumn is so sad to witness in the playground, and whilst we the adults know it’s not life defining and this too shall pass, to them in the here and now, it feels like the end of the world. At 10.

I appreciate that this post falls very heavily into the category of first world problems.  But I do wish our kids could have the same childhoods that we were lucky enough to have. And if I make my kids one promise, it’s that after this one (and next for the girl child) – their summers will absolutely be their own. For climbing trees and scraping knees…and then for all the other rites of passage as they grow and spread their wings.

Right now? We’re off to the beach. He’s at least starting his summer with some carefree time of his own.  Those practice papers can wait.

….Pass the factor 50, someone.





What I’ve been reading…

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Things I love / what we're reading / what's getting my attention

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

I’m about to make a bold statement, and possibly prematurely given we’re only in June still, but I’d currently put this book at the top of my personal leader board for 2017.

Eleanor is a carefully and exquisitely crafted character. She’s one of those people who we all recognise from our workplaces, commute, or regular shopping trips. You know – shy, introvert, “keeps themselves to themselves”, clutches a shopper to her chest pretty much most of the time.  She has short and perfunctury interaction only with her colleagues. Is resentful at the never ending workplace collections for engagements, birthdays and weddings, and seems to view everyone she works with as trivial and facile. There’s definitely an Eleanor in every workplace.

For the first part, you don’t know what the underlying  reasons are for her oddness. She has an ordered, routine filled life. She works all week and then goes home on a Friday for a tesco pizza and two bottles of vodka, seeing no-one again until Monday. Her life is literally completely empty. You don’t really know if it’s the isolation from society which is causing her inability to behave or respond appropriately to social interaction, or something else.

Make no mistake though, Eleanor is hilarious. I laughed out loud at some of her observations and commentary. But from the off, the overwhelming feeling is of loneliness. Deep, deep loneliness and isolation.

And then, through a chain of circumstances, a new friend enters her life, and put simply, changes it. A misguided and odd crush on a pop singer follows, and you are left hoping with all hope that she doesn’t do something truly socially awful and get really hurt. I won’t give anything else away, but what I will say is even the observation of the object of her affections is also brilliantly witty, and too, too funny.

Gradually, more of Eleanor’s back story is picked away at, and revealed. I can honestly say I found myself laughing one minute and sitting with silent tears rolling down my face the next, as the cruelty she’d endured before is carefully unfolded and laid out for the reader to ponder.

A heart warming reminder that there are still good, kind people in the world, and  a beautifully observed and witty tale, I couldn’t put it down. I had to know how things worked out for her. And now I miss her. I really do.

This quick post doesn’t do the book justice, but in my haste to persuade everyone to read it, I didn’t want to spend too long pondering. But if you’re in the market for something completely different, which will make you laugh and cry in equal measure, then this could be the book for you. I think Eleanor will stay with me for a long time.



What I’ve been reading…

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what we're reading / what's getting my attention

Luckiest girl alive – Jessica Knoll

You know when a book grabs you by the throat and inexplicably won’t let go, til you’re quite done with it? Luckiest Girl Alive went in full throttle and held my attention so well that I didn’t really surface fully til I’d reached the last page. No TV, not much social media activity, I just wanted to see where our protagonist ended up and what had led to this point in the first place.

She’s not even that likeable. She’s smart, for sure. And yet… Her sharpness of voice and sass barely disguises that right from the off, she’s a pretty vulnerable girl, who’s back story quickly starts to explain some of her neurosis and attitude in the here and now, living her superficially successful new life in New York. She’s trying too hard.

So, flipping back to when she was a kid, and she arrived at a new school, full of the type of paranoia and insecurity that only a teenage girl holds on to. Maybe I didn’t like her that much because I remember being 14 and I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have liked me much back then either. Spiky, short tempered with her mother, on the surface she’s hard work (if my own mum is reading this, don’t say a word). I swapped schools at that age too, and distinctly remember the feelings of loneliness and desperately wanting to be liked and to make new friends. May be that’s why I was prepared to give Ani a bit of a chance.

I also made some fundamentally poor decisions around that time, but remained unscathed, close shaves rather than anything life changingly awful. But not for this 14 year old. She makes some life defining, very very bad decisions, the consequences of which escalate at terrifying speed.

Shamed by her new group of friends following a hideous and “reading through your fingers because you can barely look” series of events, you think that’s the main back story. It would, after all be more than enough. But then comes something even bigger. Which I really didn’t see coming.

So I found myself thinking I was reading one story of abuse and vulnerability when suddenly, about two thirds through, it  becomes something entirely different, shifting gear.

A sad, cautionary tale for any teenager. Faces rape, homophobia, alcohol, eating disorders and drug use head on, as well as the insidious nature of peer cruelty and just how life changing that can be. But I wouldn’t restrict the audience for this book to just the teenagers. Yes the voice is naïve and irritatingly self centred often, but I definitely wanted a good ending for Ani.

Literary genius? No. I found the ending particularly clunky. But an intense page-turner for the sun lounger or commute? Hell yeah.



What I’ve been reading…

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Things I love / what we're reading / what's getting my attention

The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

I read this straight after finally getting myself round to reading The Graduate, which I’d found hard work. The stifling self-aware writing style of Charles Webb had suffocated me a bit. I read The Graduate in one swift day, and it was perhaps interesting and to a 1960s world, clever…but it left me empty. Benjamin frankly needed a slap and to get himself a job. And don’t even start me on Elaine. Thank god for Girl Power.

Anyhoo,  following on from that, I decided a bit of reading material with a contemporary voice and storyline was in order, and Liane Moriarty gave it to me in spades.

The Australian voice of Cecelia Fitzpatrick opens the story, and she’s immediately grating. Or so I thought. Plastically perfect, the kind of Head of the PTFA – cupcake providing – embroidered name label – kind of mother that normally incites not altogether pleasant thoughts in this tired, over worked one. So I was ready to be dismissive, thinking this was about to be as engaging and enjoyable as a bikini wax. How wrong I was.

The story is told through the lives of 3 women, Cecilia, Tess and Rachel. Their own stories and secrets intertwine and eventually collide.

The first quarter is wrapped up in the intrigue; what’s the secret? I don’t want to give anything away so I’m deliberately steering clear of the plot here; but needless to say as the secret is revealed, so is so much more. Dealing with profound grief, self doubt, secrets and lies, it immediately sucked me right in and in part, broke my heart for them all.

And actually, it’s not about the husband’s secret. It’s about all the secrets held on to by these three women, and of those in their lives.

It was only when I finished this, close of the heels of watching the brilliant TV adaptation of “Big Little Lies” that I realised it was by the same author. And with hindsight…of course it was…it has the same voice, the same clever crafting of characters that you might think you’re going to really dislike – who eventually are all heroines to the people they love, in their own ways.

I loved this book. Another great page-turner, it won’t be winning Liane Moriarty any prizes for serious literature, but oh I do hope Reese Witherspoon gets her mitts on this one too…

Witty, cleverly observed and sharp, this is definitely one for the sun lounger. And I may have just found myself another favourite author.

* Footnote: despite how absorbing it is, it’s also very, very easy reading ie you can plonk it down every few minutes to deal with bickering/whinging/demanding/hungry/bored small people if necessary. Always a bonus, especially if your summer plans involve a family holiday.

What I’ve been reading…

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Grief Is The Thing With Feathers – Max Porter

This is a short but utterly immersive take on grief and all that goes with it. It’s odd, weird, and astonishingly clever in equal measure. Part prose, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The part where Dad meets his hero, Ted Hughes was so beautifully observed and I felt like I was standing right next to him, but that was a very small glimmer of happiness in these darkest times which the family face. Crow is an extraordinary characterisation; I never quite knew where he was going to go. I held onto huge sobs when reading on the train, and cried my eyes out when at home. I’d highly recommend reading this in one go, with a glass of red and a nice blanket cocoon to be honest.

So, so clever and so beautifully crafted. Oh to have such talent.

I don’t think I’ll forget any of them for a while.

Princess Leia…

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Things I love / what's getting my attention

…And Me**.

So I already wrote a while ago a little bit about Rey, from the Force Awakens, and how great it was to have a strong female lead. But of course Princess Leia came first, and was promoted to Bloody Awesome General* in the last film (*official title). I was so looking forward to seeing her lead on in the next one.

I was 8 when Star Wars first hit the big screen. It was exciting times. Whilst wrestling with a bit of tricky maths and having demonstrated to my year 2 class my prowess with French, I was as excited as the next 8 year old about both Star Wars and the Silver Jubilee. The former gave me a bond with David Barclay, as we got whipped up in the frenzy before the rest of the class caught up (ever the trend setter, me) and the latter was left in ruins by a nasty bout of German Measles. I’ve never quite got over the disappointment of missing the sack race and ice cream at school that day, nor of being absent when I won a prize for my collage of the Queen herself, resplendent with an actual string of plastic pearls glued on her wan felt neck, which I’d tried to bring life to with my mum’s blusher. Speaking of Mum – she did get me my first ever Lucozade, then sold as a tonic for the weak and infirm, rather than its current incarnation as a way to fatten up teenagers (sorry, to give them isotonic energy) Regardless, trust me, in the 70s was a real treat as there were no fizzy drinks allowed, unless it was a party.

I digress. So, Princess Leia. Surely the stuff of 8 year old dreams? Her outfits? Her hair? Her amazing sense of humour? Get behind me, Disney princesses in your chintzy dresses, Leia was where the action was. (*although I was less certain in the Return of the Jedi about her revealing two piece. I was a prudish child) And I was massively pissed off that she didn’t have The Force.

And then the woman behind the character. Carrie Fisher was searingly honest, incredibly bright and a force to be reckoned with (sorry). Her appearance on various shows in the past couple of years shows that she hadn’t lost one bit of her joie de vivre nor her wit. An amazing raconteur, with some of her quick responses making the most broad minded blush (* note, I am no longer a prude) and her advice to Daisy Ridley (who plays Rey) on the Graham Norton show last Autumn was equally priceless (watch it here if you haven’t already). Her semi-autobiographical “Postcards from the Edge” was just brilliant, I read it when I was first at college and lent it to so many of our halls of residence it was in tatters by the end- if you haven’t read it then I’d say do.

What has she taught me? That funny, strong women always come out top in the end. That being truthful, brave and authentic will always be far classier than any of the opposite. That I hope I will always channel my inner Carrie at the times I’m suffering from imposter syndrome. That brunettes have more fun and some great outfits.

And that when I’m feeling less than charitable, I shall always bring this quote attributed to her,  to the forefront of my mind.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”

Oh Carrie, you really were bloody ace.

**No that’s not me, that’s C-3PO.