It’s been half term round this parts and I’ve taken some time off to spend with A. One of the best investments we’ve ever made is joining the National Trust. There are so many great places to visit from historic houses, to country parks to beaches, that we’re kept entertained all year. I think it’s important to get outside and do things as a child, not be stuck inside watching TV (although TV does have its uses sometimes!)

The other day I visited Charlecote Park, one of the staples on our National Trust portfolio. 

As usual we didn’t go into the house or the tea rooms. We walked around the park and took a picnic. It was a perfect autumn day. Of course, being this time of year there was a Halloween trail to complete and we duly signed up. 

The aim of the Halloween trail was to find about ten pumpkins placed around the park. 

Firstly, this was a great idea because I often have trouble convincing A to do the longer walks which helps to tire her out. Sometimes I resort to making up stories as we walk around, or “telling a story out of your mouth” as she likes to put it. At each pumpkin there was a question to answer, such as “What do witches like to fly on? A. Mars bar, B. Broom, C. Aeroplane. Each right answer gave us a letter to write down and then work out an anagram at the end of it. 

This was the National Trust at its educational best, whether it realised it or not. 

I was able to help A learn her letters as we went around, thereby ticking off several positive points such as fresh air, exercise, and spellings; surely a millennial dad win! Once we collected all the letters I suggested a picnic lunch by the river, to give me enough time to work out the anagram. 

I’ve always been nervous about anagrams, even if they’re simple.

There’s something about the pressure of having to solve them as quickly as possible that puts me in a spin. Luckily I was able to solve this one with a bit of intuition given the Halloween theme (it was B-R-O-O-M-S-T-I-C-K: apologies to anyone who has yet to do the trail and wanted to work it out by themselves). Our prize was a pumpkin chosen from a shed full of boxes of pumpkins, surely grown organically on some National Trust farm and not bought down the local supermarket?! It wasn’t quite the sweets that A was promised at the entrance, but by the time we got it home we managed to turn it into a pretty mean-looking cat lantern. 

I’ve never really been bothered about Halloween activities but now A is getting old enough to take part I have to admit to finding them a lot of fun. 

Next up, a Halloween party where I’m obliged to dress up and wear face paint. I could never really be bothered to dress up when I was younger but now I’m a dad I may as well get into the spirit of things. Won’t a sheet with some eye holes do?

My daughter turned four this week. She has just started nursery school and we’ve started to receive invitations to lots of children’s parties. They are fun but it takes up a lot of our weekends. There’s probably a whole different blog post about that best saved for another time. 

We decided not to throw a birthday party this year, as my wife is working on a part-time masters and has an essay to work on. So, instead we took a trip to Twycross Zoo. 

This was the second time we’ve been, having come once before earlier in the year on a whim. We had a great time back then and thought we’d brave the fading autumn weather to walk around and see the animals.

I’m always wary of half term activities because I don’t like huge crowds. 

The zoo didn’t feel too busy and, besides, there’s plenty of space to wander around. I had packed my trusty backpack with lots of picnic stuff (NOTE to self: the millennial dad’s guide to packing for a picnic is a good post for the future). First off, we headed to one of the indoor picnic areas for lunch.

Some of the buildings feel a bit tired but, to be fair to the zoo, they seem to have spent most of their money on the welfare of the animals. The new gibbon kingdom is pretty amazing and allows you to see the animals up close from a height (which is a bit disorienting if you have vertigo, I imagine). Other areas are simple, but effective. The penguin enclosure with a glass side was particularly entertaining for the kids as the penguins were in a playful mood. 

There are plenty of signs to guide you around and good descriptions about each of the animals. It felt like a educational visit as much as a fun birthday trip. Towards the end we used up our final bits of energy on the adventure playground, which was more than enough to keep a four year old occupied. A particular highlight was the lemur enclosure, and watching the lemurs sun themselves by sitting in a yoga pose and stretching out their arms. 

Since growing up I’ve always felt a bit awkward about going to zoos. It’s the millennial ‘wanting to save the world’ trait. I know there’s a general backlash about keeping animals captive in enclosures. But I get the impression Twycross Zoo cares deeply for the welfare of its animals. In fact, many of the endangered animals in zoos around the world would be extinct if they weren’t kept in captivity.

End result, daughter had a great day and my wife spent the trip home trying to keep her awake long enough for a birthday tea and cake. Overall, a memorable and enjoyable day. We almost upgraded to the annual pass tickets on the way out and will probably regret not doing so if we come back again in a few months!

Last weekend was what my daughter affectionately calls a “daddy day”. She has “mummy days”, too. We also try to have “mummy and daddy days”, but since my wife is working every spare hour to do a part-time MA those days are rarer. NOTE: the plight of the millennial generation is to try to do it all, and the millennial mother is the most ambitious of all women.

Earlier in the week I planned ahead (out of character action #1) and booked a couple of tickets to a children’s show at my local theatre. So on Sunday I had a clear plan of something to do.

The performance was called Penguin Elephant by Goblin Theatre. It featured a relatively simple stage and two characters, one a penguin and the other an elephant. Other than the penguin being dressed up in black and white and the elephant in grey, there was no costume or puppetry. Oh, and the only words either of them utter for the whole hour is “penguin” and “elephant”.


At the start I was worried the simplicity of the show wouldn’t be enough to keep Amalia entertained. It was billed for 3+ which fits her age. By the end of the hour she had been enthralled throughout.

Here’s the basic premise (with apologies to the theatre company if I misinterpret anything):

Penguin lives alone in a tidy house and like things “just so”. Penguin takes a great deal of pride in her house. She harbours a secret desire to fly. She also loves fish fingers. One day, elephant arrives looking for a place to live. Excited by Penguin’s home, Elephant moves in against the owner’s wishes. Elephant is messy and quickly shakes things up. Penguin is upset and tries to get Elephant to leave. They chase each other and trick each other, until it all gets out of hand. Eventually, Penguin succeeds in getting rid of Elephant, who now has no place to go. Penguin is sad and hungry because her fish fingers are gone. Elephant finds her way back in and cooks for Penguin. They have another falling out. Then they help to tidy the house together and discover they like each other. Elephant takes Penguin for a ride in her luggage, which is conveniently stacked with helium balloons. They live happily ever after.

In essence, Penguin Elephant is a short play about differences and how people overcome them. It’s not a bad lesson to teach our kids, although I don’t know how much they will take in. The actors are engaging and energetic, and both fulfil their character traits well.

It’s a shame there weren’t more people in the audience on our visit. However, it allowed us to sit at the very front. This actually proved not to be a good move. When Elephant first arrived on stage with a huge luggage box, she looked to the audience for someone to help. I was sat on the end of the front row. As she held out her hand to me, I felt just enough reluctance but then resigned myself that it was going to happen whether I liked it or not and I got on stage (out of character action #2). On the plus side, it was great to see A’a face as her “silly daddy” went up on stage to help Elephant.

Overall, an enjoyable play. Note to self: I must make more effort to book for these kinds of things in future. There are loads of touring theatre companies out there and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Theatre company info and tour dates: