Posted on November 29th, 2015 - Anya
Learning to write
It only feels like yesterday I was trying to teach my boys to read and write how to form letters and where full stops belong. It felt such a struggle in those early days. If this is you now, searching for those on line education resources to give your child a little boost and checking school bags for pages of homework and reading books I say stick with it, make learning fun and encourage your child. It will all come good.
2 years ago I shared a short story written by my eldest son Alistair who at the time was preparing for his GCSE English Language exam. I was bursting with pride at the language used. Now I am thrilled to be in that same position all over again for my second son Felix who will take GCSE’s this school year.
To set the scene, he had been inspired by accompanying his older brother to a few of the University open days, realising the grades he would need to be part of this himself we had a little chat about the effort he was putting into his course work, which was frankly below what was needed, especially on core subjects. I knew he had a piece of descriptive writing due to be handed in and sent him down to the Coombe Mill River with a pen and paper. He returned about 20 minutes later, sat at the PC and taped out the following. Now I know he has it in him to achieve the grades he needs if he puts his mind to it and stays focused.
A View of a River
I sit alone on the river bank happily allowing the rest of the world to continue without me. I am content to just perch and take in what I am amongst, here at my spot along the river. It is an early hour on this dry autumn morning, my breath clearly visible as it escapes me and mixes with the cool biting air coating the river. I am wrapped up warm in my heavy black overcoat that protects me from neck to knee. My hands and face are gripped by the mean grasp of the invading cold air, both of which sting painfully when a frozen breeze invades my little space.
I close my eyes and focus on breathing. This is when I am hit by the smells surrounding me. The unmistakable scent of grass is intoxicating mixed with an earthy musky aroma emanating from the freshly churned river bed. I listen to the sound of the fast running water, crashing and turning over itself as it tumbles its way down the river. The birds in the trees above are breaking into song, each adding to the tune of the last; marking the dawn of the new day. Their chirps fill the air as they crescendo, creating a playful atmosphere.
I open my eyes and look upriver to the small caves that have been formed under the relentless assault of the current. The caves are half submerged, shadows keeping them in an eternal blackness where light dares not enter, but makes my imagination flare. A thought of hands emerging from the depths and pulling me under sends a chill down my spine. Above the water line however, a different story altogether, light leaps around, reflecting off the water to the roof of the caves and dancing along the walls. Dark and light are represented by an almost impassable line in nature, reminding me of the might of the Berlin wall.
Completely dead in the water lay a fallen tree, grey and weak as if it had been there for all time: strength sapped in an eternity of torture. I marvel at how it must once have stood tall and proud, a force of nature now totally consumed by a stronger one. It looks like a ghost with its distorted colour and bare features stripped of all the beauty once held within. The roots have spitefully ripped up a piece of ground as though punishing the soil for failing to hold firm.
In front of me there are stepping stones to the other side of the river where the land is steep and rocky. The rocks that make this patchy pathway across the gushing water are dangerously slippery with dew. Any attempt at crossing would be a suicide mission with an ice cold hell waiting. The water converges when going through these steps, akin to infants flooding through canteen doors. There is even some of the water that becomes confused and stuck behind the rocks, not quite sure what’s going on. The river floor suddenly drops away creating a waterfall, where the current thrashes and turns sinking under the surface in a cloudy mob of anarchy.
There is a clear flat stretch of the river to my left, where the water appears serene and inviting. It is a lie of course. If I were to leap in it would freeze the blood in my veins. But it looks so peaceful with its calm slow waters. The bottom of this stretch is golden with patches of bronze, like a royal tapestry. I can see all of the colours through the pristine water as though it were liquid crystal; it is a welcome image in this world of grey. Minute insects land and hover over this spot as the river reflects the sun light, which is now just breaking through the natural canopy of leaves. The sun light comes through in beams where it can, as an enemy breaks a shield wall in battle. I am hit by one of these breaching rays, its warmth challenging the numbness that has hold.
So as I sit here in this place and open my mind to its beauty, time has moved on. While I have been sat, day has broken and the sun has invaded my shaded spot on the river bank. The birds’ song has retreated as they busy themselves with their day. The dew is leaving the rocks and grass, taking with it the smell of morning. The gentle numbness in my fingers is dissipating as I stumble to my feet preparing to leave I stop to take in the whole scene, untouched by man it is becoming an increasingly endangered site. It is of course just my view of a river.
By Felix Cambouropoulos
It may not be perfect, but I’m sure when I was 15 I would have struggled to deliver a piece as good as this. There is something very magical about our river and I am grateful for it’s beauty everyday, seeing it appreciated and expressed through the mind of one of my teenage boys makes me incredibly proud.
As for those online resources, we have a whole national curriculum supported section on our website developed with twinkle UK especially to supplement learning here on holiday which covers the early years to key stage two.
Posted on August 23rd, 2015 - Anya
So many times I have tried to have a family photo of as all at Coombe Mill. It shouldn’t be so hard we go out as a family enjoy a family meal times and are often all at home together, however teens are notorious for shying away from a camera in the world of social media, unless it is them taking the selfie! An inappropriate gesture or a sour face has scuppered many an attempt of mine. Yet thanks to a tip off from Tanya of Mummy Barrow I ended up with a phone call from an editor for the Daily Mail last week requesting a phone interview and arranging a photographer to be sent out all in one day. Huzzah, an opportunity for my family photo!
Sadie Nicholas the Editor was lovely on the phone and made me feel very relaxed, I couldn’t believe I had chatted away to her for over an hour answering all manner of questions about family life and running Coombe Mill. She were especially interested in our family as we have so many children, apparently this is becoming a bit of a trend, I’ve never seen myself as a trend setter before but there’s a first time for everything!
Having put the phone down I then had the task of rounding up the family to have them suitably dressed ready for a photographer who was due at 5.00 PM. It would be the day my second son had gone out for the day with his new girlfriend. I managed to intervene their cinema trip with reluctant permission and bring them both back to Coombe Mill just in time, not as easy as it sounds here in Cornwall as it is an hour round trip but possibly the most unusual way to meet a new girlfriend! I thrust a camera into her hands with the very basic instructions to grab a few photos on my DSLR, there was no time for anyone to quibble as the photographer scoured Coombe Mill for his chosen backdrops, I was glad of a lovely sunny afternoon to have the photos outside. We did have one attempt all piled on a sofa in the living room but it really was too much of a squeeze!
I was really impressed with the whole process and I was even able to read the script the following day before it went live and make a couple of alterations, I’ve never had this opportunity with the press before and it was very refreshing. The story really does reflect our family here at Coombe Mill and some other things we chatted through over the phone. It is of course a press article and therefore designed with an angle to elect a response from readers which it has achieved with many a controversial comment added to the on line paper, but it is counterbalanced with some supportive comments too.
Whatever your own views are, I am so very proud of my large family. The upbringing the children have enjoyed here on our holiday farm with the freedom and safety of our 30 acres and new play mates arriving every week, I can’t imagine a more idyllic childhood myself and I hope in years to come they will look back and agree. Now they are growing up they are an invaluable help to Nick and I in the running of the business and have a strong sense of family values. I wonder how long I will have to wait for a new family photo though.
Posted on August 9th, 2015 - Anya
We are 3 weeks into the school holidays and reality is dawning. The weeks leading to the end of term I was an emotional wreck as my triplets finished primary school. Having one leave primary and move up to secondary school is a big thing, having your last leave is the end of an era, having 3 at this stage is more than I could cope with, hence it has taken me so long to write this post.
With 3 older children having already made the move to secondary I knew what was ahead of me, I knew my presence on school events, shopping trips or days out is limited, that I will be required to walk 10 paces behind through the streets from now on anywhere in Cornwall just because I carry the label of “parent” and this makes me the most embarrassing person around. No longer will I know their friends or their friend’s parents and no longer will they share all their secrets with me. From here on in I become the taxi service, pathetically grateful for the occasional in house “I love you Mum”.
With the above in mind I entered in to my final week of Primary school activities fighting tears at every turn. 1st we had sports day where I almost crippled myself proving to my kids I was still a cool Mum who could enter and win in the Mothers Day race.
Next came the school play and I really wasn’t prepared for this one. The teacher had asked me before half term if I thought the triplets were up to lead roles, “of course” I replied without giving it a second thought. The sneaky trio had perfected their Shakespearean lines at home with one another and I had no idea how much they had learned, when asked they just said “Chill Mum, we know our lines”. Proud doesn’t begin to say how I felt watching them on the production night, from minor dance roles in reception to lead roles in year 6 I was totally overwhelmed.
Hot on the heels of the school production came the leavers’ service and more tears from me as they stood up and recounted their memories through the years. Jed was first up and I snapped a quick photo on my phone, but became so engrossed in what was being said I forgot to take photos of the other two! Then the younger children read poems they had made up for them and announced what they thought the year 6 children would become as adults; Clio a dancer, Jed an actor and Guy a science teacher. They walked away with goody bags full of mementos of their years and a ‘class of 2015’ T shirt to be signed and worn on their last day.
And so to their last day; I always love to make something for the teachers, they put in so much over and beyond what the curriculum demands to make the village school so popular. I wanted something personal for them and contacted @LisaBaileybrown who made the lovely pebbles in our fairy garden for us. The children helped me come up with messages for their key teachers and we collected them on the eve of their last day. However with a small school every teacher and teaching assistant plays a role in the whole school education, the children had it in their minds to make their Yia Yia’s treat chocolate brownies. I rang is Yia Yia (Farmer Nick’s Mum) for the recipe and we set to work. For the presentation we took inspiration from our Fudge Gifts at Christmas using wine glasses in place of cocktail dishes and added a skewer through the middle with 3 personal messages from the triplets.
It was a careful journey to school carrying all our goodies, as the children handed them out the messages made the teachers teary setting me off again.
By the end of school I had no time to dwell; the whole class were going on an epic sleepover at one of the other children’s farms and were full of excitement.
So here I am well into the holidays, determined to take full advantage of these last days out before I am reduced to the 10 paces behind treatment that will surely follow in year 7.
For all of you parents starting on your primary school journey next month, I envy you the years of happy moments, proud achievements and shared fun to come; embrace, capture and delight in them all, from one who has been there, it passes too fast and I dare say the next stage will too!
Posted on May 24th, 2015 - Anya
Is there still room for an old timer in blogging?
We all start blogging for different reasons but our blog then grows with us, perhaps following a predefined path or simply reflecting and responding to changes in our lives. I found myself in a twitter discussion with friends musing on our old timer status in blogging and insecurities as the blogging scene expands each year with fresh new talent. Mari from Maris World started this with a reflective post on her blog titled does my blog have a sell by date?; I mean seriously when your blog is rank 3 on TOTS 100 and you write for Brit Mums how can you possibly feel any worries about your blog future? Anyway if Mari felt she had reason to question the direction and longevity of her blog, I certainly needed to do a little blog navel gazing myself.
As Claire from Ninja Killer Cat and Hayley from Down side up both shared their thoughts, they moved me to write too.
It began with a cuppa and a play date
I began blogging in March 2011 with a toe in the water in Blogger. The blog is still there it just moved by the autumn as I realised I wanted to take it more seriously and link it to the new website I was designing at the time, a forerunner to what I have today. I began purely as desperation was setting in with the recession and the failure of parenting magazine adverts to deliver a return in terms of holiday bookings. A good friend of mine popped round after school one day while our girls played. I confessed our bookings were slower than usual for the first time ever and that advertising wasn’t working as it used to and she suggested I looked at social media and a blog. That friend was Mandy of Gift wrapped and gorgeous who was starting her online business supported on twitter. I only had the facebook page for Coombe Mill back then with a few hundred likes. Mandy helped me set up a twitter account, gave me some pointers on my dated website, and suggested I try a blog. She pointed me to Red Ted Art as a good example of a blog and suggested I put a pitch in to win SBS with Theo Paphitis and left me to it.
Mandy I will never forget that cuppa and play date, you were my introduction to blogging and a whole new way of marketing and I was off on my own journey.
In no time I felt I had parenting contacts all over the web, Coombe Mill was reaching the audiences I once paid magazines to do for me and our bookings were on the rise again. I was thrilled to be recognised in the big blogging awards and the buzz from these spurred me on to greater heights each year. I know I can’t sustain this level of success going forward but at least I know my blog is out there, well known and achieving what I set out for it and more. It is now one of the most visited pages on my whole website and generates the fresh content that helps people discover our farm when searching for Family Holidays.
That was my planned blogging path, what I hadn’t expected was to be sucked into real friendships along the way. From bloggers who return to Coombe Mill year after year like The Boy and Me, Redpeffer and One Dad 3 Girls, to name just a few, to twitter friends I thought I’d never meet being there at conferences for a good natter. Blogging has given me a wider circle of friends, taken me away from TV in the evenings and even improved my appalling spelling and made me realize I can actually write, take a half way decent photo and finally beat my husband at scrabble!
I never dreamt when I began that I would want to meet people in real life, that my virtual and real life would in anyway merge, yet as I prepare for my first Blog Camp next month and my third Brit Mums Live I am like a child going to a birthday party, full of excitement to meet everyone again, to exchange news, to learn new things, to come away exhausted but reinvigorated with new ideas for my blog.
Despite the highlights I’ve enjoyed in blogging I read a post like Mari’s that I mentioned at the start and it really strikes a cord of self doubt, the blogging world is growing so fast with some amazing new people whose blogs I enjoy and I wonder if I am the old timer hanging in there when I should move on, search for a new way to promote my business and stop hassling my now reluctant teenagers for a photo. Instead I should perhaps focus on mucking out pigs, checking cleaning rotas and managing not to leave a child behind on the school run, yes I have done that!
My rational mind says it is good to be challenged by new trends, to welcome new blogging friends and consolidate old friendships. An element of insecurity is a good thing and not something to shy away from; it pushes me out of my comfort zone and keeps me scanning the horizons for ways to improve. While I have more posts in draft than time to write them and permanently carry a camera round my neck, I will continue to blog. I have however conceded that it isn’t all for Coombe Mill, it is me indulging in my own passion too and for this reason I feel it is important to find time for my blog alongside the more menial chores of the day, regardless of whether or not I have reached my blog sell by date.
Posted on April 12th, 2015 - Anya
Parenting is all about making judgements, about nurturing and knowing when to let go. But do you know when your children are ready to spread their wings, to stay home while you nip to the shop, go out for a meal or go away overnight?
We have brought our children up to be self sufficient, to do for themselves and to help us out with the business. My eldest has been babysitting for us for a couple of hours since he was 11, shocking to some, but he is capable, respected by his siblings and we were never more than a few minutes away. As the years have passed and the children grown up we have encouraged them to do more for themselves. My eldest two at nearly 17 and 15 do all their own washing and can make a light meal not just for themselves but for the rest of the family too and answer most of the queries coming through the business. My only complaint is their reluctance to answer the telephone. I have to shout at the answering machine for one of them to answer when I am trying to ring home and I know they are there. My last resort is facebook messenger on the wi fi as there is always someone chatting there!
Despite all this I have never thought to leave them overnight apart from last year when we were lucky enough to go to the MAD Blog awards. The school holidays are my chance to catch up with them, not to be driven by routine, school and clubs and to indulge in some family time. However Nick and I were also craving some couple time. When he suggested we leave them running the farm and have a 2 day break I laughed. I could see how put out he was by my response, developing a male slump and so began to give it serious consideration. The children could do everything on the farm, except have the confidence to lead the feed run, if Farmer Ted and our apprentice Amber could cover this then what was really stopping us? Guy could run the train as usual, they could cook and wash for themselves, answer most problems arising and rather than wanting Nick and I accompanying them all the time would probably relish a little more independence and trust. Going away in term time is out of the question as they have no way of travelling to school without us. We broached the idea with them and they were all very relaxed about it. I think one of my secret fears was wanting to be a good Mummy, to be there to cook an evening meal as I always did, to go on family outings, to be there to answer the business calls and sort out their sibling squabbles. Actually what the children wanted was more independence, less family outings and more trust.
Realising it was time to let go, to give that trust, especially after Theo had disgraced himself earlier in the year was not easy. However I knew Nick and I needed a break too. We took the plunge, gave the obligatory parental warning about not leaving a hob on and burning the house down or a tap running and flooding the place and left.
It felt strange to be away knowing they were in charge, I knew they wouldn’t contact me unless there was an emergency and I craved a little reassurance that everything was alright. Thankfully I had my spies with 5 bloggers staying on holiday at the farm; huge thanks to One Dad 3 Girls, Minnowmep, Redpeffer, Southwarkbelle and Ruggles Leisure for those little tweets and Instagram pictures with #coombemilleaster that reassured me that all was well.
We returned 2 days later to find everything much as we had left it, no wild parties, punch ups, missing drinks or anything else you might imagine with teenagers home alone. They had enjoyed their freedom and managed the business perfectly and we had benefited from some couple time.
If it were not for Nick pushing me I’m not sure I would have felt ready to take this step, in hindsight I can see it has benefited us all and we will definitely do it again. Our children are growing up, they are young adults now and they have shown they are ready to be treated as such.
I sometimes hear parents here on the farm telling their young children not to run and I wonder why not? If they fall it is only grass beneath them, they won’t break anything but they will begin to learn their limits and come to understand what their body is capable of.
As parents we are programmed to protect our children, however if you can give them space within that protective sphere to flourish and grow and resist the urge to over nurture, even if it means experiencing a few knocks along the way, it will build their independence and self assurance to their benefit and yours one day.