Monday, 29 July 2013

Veg Out

Not strictly a Yorkshire thing, or a day out, but I've always liked the idea of an allotment.

I don't think it's anything to do with saving cash*, and it's only half to do with my latter-day man love for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I suspect it might hinge on growing up with 'the Good Life' on television the first time round. Living near Surbiton made it one of the first times I 'knew' a place on TV*, which made it quite exciting, i guess.

This weekend saw us take home our first crop of veg from our recently acquired half plot, followed shortly after by a quick Sunday lunch made principally from our own food, it was a great feeling, and one that was a joy to share with the kids. It was a long time coming though.....

Upon moving into our first home of our own, back in Essex, one of the first things i did was apply for a nearby allotment. I think it felt like a coming of age - I have a house, now time for the allotment. up next, slippers and a pipe. In the early noughties, the clamour for grow your own was at a much lower ebb, and I got one pretty much straight away.

The Lottie, Day Zero
Sadly, the plot was in a horrendous state, waste high in bramble, impenetrable, rock strewn earth, and full of knot weed. I half heartedly  prodded at it over a a couple of months, before returning to the more suitable drinking and socialising befitting of those in their early twenties without kids.

Nearly ten years later, and a lot has changed. having switched South to North, it turned out that for family life, the only way was S6. Nestled in between the local school, and no more than 150 yards from our house, a plot became vacant, and having waited for the best part of a year, it was all ours.

After a couple of weeks, lots of progress
I've hopefully learnt a few lessons from my previous attempt at allotmenteering, and with a much changed outlook on life I'm reckoning on making a serious go of things this time round - and not just for my own entertainment*.

It's hardly a new chapter in the beard and sandals parenting handbook to extol the virtues of getting kids involved in gardening and growing their own fruit and veg - but it is so obviously a good thing. Maude has already spent hours down the plot with me, digging, spraying, hitting things with hammers and dibbing seeds into compost, and generally having a jolly good time of it.
Leave them alone, and before you know it, they're all grown up.
We have lucked out to an extent. Although our plot is a overgrown, the previous tenants had made a stab at growing some beans and courgettes, giving us a head start.  - both crops were looking a bit forlorn at first, but sprung into life with a few weeks of TLC since we took over. On Sunday we got to take home our first crop if shockingly, suddenly overgrown courgettes. If that isn't a rights of passage, I don't know what is.

Grand plans abound, with Dad sheds, apple trees, and winter cabbage galore all just on the horizon, just obscured by the mountain of back breaking labour than needs doing before we can really make use of the plot*. Already though, it has been a real boon to family life.
Courgette Fritters - sweetcorn, grated courgette, oats and a couple of eggs, garam massala and curry powder. Mix the ingredients up in a bowl (wrapping the courgettes up in a cloth and squeezing the extra water out of  first) & add some plain flour if the mixture is too sloppy / watery. Fry them until crisp. Mmmmm
In the years since moving the North, i don't think I've really spoken to more than 4-5 of our neighbours on the street. In four weeks of regular trips to the 'lottie, I have already spent hours chit-chatting with my neighbourhood locals. Other families with kids, wise old heads with helpful advice, allotment neighbours advising on spraying milk onto mildew affected crops, it's been an eye opener - and the first hobby I've had outside the house since the kids came along.

Hopefully it can continue to inspire the same enjoyment it has gifted in these first few weeks. But on my experiences so far, I can heartily recommend that you get on your local waiting list asap, and go get grubby.  Its an all round family fun day out for all. it might not ever offer a return in cash value, but you can't put a price on good times with the kids.

*Though it would be nice, i am under no illusions that running an allotment will be anything apart from a new and unusual way to spend money. I'm already eyeing up a shed/greenhouse combo that come with a price tag I'd more readily associate with a car.
Worth £3995 of anyone's money, surely?
*Next time after that was when Hampton Court Palace caught on fire. That seemed very exciting too. Sadly, it wasn't the start of a Republican revolution.

*That said, i believe it to be a human right for all dads to be able to sneak the occasional roll up in the secrecy of his potting shed. i doubt this sentiment will be shared by her indoors.

* So far, i have dug up: half a broken plastic bathtub, a Vauxhal hubcap, a suspension rod of some kind, several bricks and some headlight bulbs. I think the rest of the car is yet to come.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Dad Days Out: Tramlines


In a weeks' time, my wife will be churning out* our third child. Being a dad of soon to be three has proven to be the most satisfying thing I've done in my life - if utterly terrifying. 

With a range of ages from 4 and half, to newborn, keeping the kids occupied has gradually become my raison d'etre, bête noire and pièce de résistance, depending on the weather - sometimes covering all three within a single day.

I have the good fortune* to live in Sheffield, the capital of South Yorkshire, a city the offers extensive opportunities for family mirth and merriment. Some of them are obvious, bold and famous attractions like the Botanical Gardens, some are temporary, fleeting chances for a knees up tucked away in the local park for a weekend. All of them deserve their day in the sun - and if a small blog can help towards that all the better.
The object of this blog is to share the fun on a weekly basis, and to preserve for posterity the good times had by the clan Macqueen. Hopefully running a blog will be the catalyst for discovering new things to do, places to visit and curiosities to fascinate over. If that turns out be the case, then surely that's something worth sharing.

What is it?
If you don't know about it, Tramlines is a bit different to the usual music festival. It Co-opts most of the city centre, staging concerts all over, from publice spaces like the Peace Gardens (hosting an international stage featuring breakdancing championships, African dancers, free to all with a family flavour), Pubs, Bars and music venues hosting all manner of bands and DJ's, coupled with a big outdoor stage holding the headline acts. It's an inclusive, northern version of the Camden Crawl on an epic scale.

The organisers make a real effort to cover all the bases - with family specific entertainment on offer in places like Endcliffe Parks 'Folk Forest', while at the other end of the scale, you can ditch the kids and get down to drum and bass until 5am, all on the same billing.

So what did we do? 
Despite my initial reservations over the net effect of the new admission charge, this year Sheffield thrummed along to tramlines festival. Last year, it offered our eldest, three year old daughter (here on in to be known as Maude) her first taste of a festival atmosphere, and as a responsible parent, her first chance to witness Mathcore Metal, in the form of Rolo Tomassi.I feared that with Rolo's gig moving indoors to a 'proper' music venue (the O2 academy) that somehow it would be too intimidating to little ones - here's the first lesson of the blog: never try to double guess kids. She had a whale of a time.

Waiting for and watching bands at the O2 Academy

Taking our miniature rocker to a real music venue was great fun. From slightly concerned looking door staff (probably expecting to see me do a swift U-turn), bar staff handing over orange juice with extra straws and ice, and the rest of crowd doing a double take at the tiny gig goer, it was a blast.

 First, we saw the Wet Nuns, Sheffield's next big thing. They put on a splendid performance, with plenty of childish on stage antics keeping Maude amused.  We nipped out to get something to eat, and returned to see our principle attraction, Rolo Tomassi.

Unlike the previous year, where a perch on the periphery was close enough for a timid toddler, I was compelled by my shoulder borne offspring to get as close to the stage as I possibly could. I knew this to be a bit risky - Rolo are the kind of band that inspires a pretty active moshpit. I decided that a position close but to the side of the stage was for the best - and this was proven a good choice - we were within about 3 feet of 30+ sweaty topless boys, merrily knocking each other flying for the duration of the set - much to Maude's delight.

I compel you to go and listen to some of Rolo's music on the web - they are far from the usual fare latched onto by the average 4 year old. I'm convinced that the reason for the interest lays with their lead singer, Eva Spence. She's a petite, 'girly' looking singer, far from the conventional aesthetic you'd expect. She bounds onto stage, the very picture of feminity, bounces about a bit, before launching into some ear splitting, animal like, roared vocals. The crowd went nuts, Maude began mosh about on my shoulders, and the world was a better place.

Eva Spence, Doing what she does best.
Having much enjoyed the short seven song set, and the surrounding crowd having enjoyed watching Maude throwing horns at the stage*, we caught our breath, and then headed to the main arena over on Devonshire Green, to see the Selecter.

Unlike my attempts to get in and see the Sunday headliners at the last minute the previous year, there were no queues, and we walked straight in. Under cloudy skies, but with air so humid it was like breathing custard, we settled down for some 2Tone ska action.

Again, Maude was captivated from the start - the sight of a 'big band' with brass sections, two vocalists, and a full backing band seems to always go down well with kids. We danced along to all their hits, joining in with all the audience participation - again, much to the pleasure of the surrounding audience*. The encore, bringing the curtain down on our weekend was warmly received - with the Selecters' newest fan tugging on my sleeve to excitedly tell me of the band announcement that 'They're going to mix it up dad!'

Watching the Selecter at Devonshire Green
Lights out, exit stage left, and all we had to do was jump on a handily placed double decker, and roll our way back to the suburbs. We'd watched a solid 5 hours of music, and straggled back into the house at around 10pm - not perhaps a parenting triumph on a school night!

What would I do different?
The size of Tramlines meant that I missed loads of things out. If it all goes ahead again next year, then I would certainly:

Go on the Buskers Busses - double deckers scoot you around the city, while you are serenaded by acts from the festival - possibly even by some relatively big names taking the chance to warm up before their gigs.

Go for the whole weekend - due to a variety of commitments, I could only really go in on the Sunday with Maude. Next year I think she'll be demanding the whole weekend, or I'll have hell to pay.

Get around - this is the 4th time I've been to tramlines, and I've still not even scratched the surface - there are 70+ venues, and god knows how many acts. This year, apparently there was 'Elite British Wrestling' on in the library theatre - who wouldn't love to have stumbled over that!

Get babysitters and go out for grown up party once the sun goes down - there's so much on, and so much good beer, it seems a waste not to!

Any bad bits?
For a multiplicity of very legitimate reasons, this year the organisers had to start charging for some parts of the show for the first time - a very reasonable £6 to access the main arena and some of the premium venues.

One concern to me was the flat price - no concessions - everyone pays. A few emails later showed the organisers hadn't really considered the price impact on young families. I was told that having considered my concerns, they would admit under 5's for free - though i appear to be the only person they told!*

For me, one of the joys of Tramlines is the opportunity to take smaller kids along to a 'real' festival, to experience the crowds, sights and sounds of a 'big' show. This year, it seems that families largely kept to designated 'family entertainment. The organisers make a brilliant effort to lay on family shows, but the outcome this year was to keep families away form large sections of the festival.

The idea of having parts of the festival free, and other areas paid for works better on paper than in reality - rather than keeping it inclusive, I fear it created divides. In many ways, I'd rather that (street entertainment and buskers aside), that the whole festival was ticketed, and children admitted half price / free - that way, everyone would know where they stood.

I have read complaints from others about having family picnics seized at the gates, and having to pour kids drinks away. Again, the issue with this is largely one of communications - I can accept restrictions, as the festival will have sold premium catering spots etc., but it's better for all if you are made aware of them in advance. Nothing rankles a parent on a tight budget more than unexpected costs

Despite the grizzles, I had a fantastic time, as did pretty much everybody I saw. The entertainment was wide ranging, the atmosphere was great, and the city felt, well, like a city - other Sheffield residents will know that this is a good thing!  

In short, I can't wait for next year.
*our third sprog by c-section, this is litterally churning.....

*it's not really fortune, we chose to live here. so there.

*METAL!!! honestly, i didn't coach her to do it, i swear.... This also pleased other gig goers, leading to me being lauded as the "Best f**king dad EVER!" by one hairy fellow stood to my left.

*This includes the thirty-something lady who after cooing at us for 15 minutes announced that 'her uterus was melting. Ewwww.

*Sadly the admission policy change wasn't communicated anywhere, and Tramlines chose not to respond publicly to any questions on the subject. Although well attended in general, it seemed to be that there was a  lack of young families in the main arenas at the festival - and I think that's a shame. I'm also aware of some families who purchased tickets for the whole family, not knowing the actual admissions criteria. That's the kind of thing that, understandably, narks people.


I'd love to here your feedback if you've read this far! Plus any ideas for future blogs & days out are very welcome!

Photo Credit - Stuart Moulding for the Rolo Photos