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London summer family fun: Polo in the Park

Tweet Summer in London is awash in festivals and outdoor parties, but there’s something quite special about Polo in the Park. The sport has real elegance, excitement and panache, and now it’s more family friendly than ever. (Scroll to the bottom for discount code for money off your tickets for the Friday or Sunday.) The organisers have teamed up with Sharky & George, the cool, fun children’s entertainers and party organisers. I love these guys — instead of doing the usual kids parties things, they organise imaginative, energetic and silly activities that they themselves enjoy, which gets the kids excited too. We’ve used them a couple of times for my daughter’s birthday or big family get-togethers and the kids always come away pink-cheeked, laughing and exhausted. That means amid the chukkers and mallet-swinging, there will be some very untraditional activities like water bomb catapults, space hopper polo matches (this I must do), a giant obstacle course, strawberry bootlace eating races, tug of war and other games galore. Polo in the Park runs over a weekend — June 5, 6 and 7. Sunday is the day to go with your family, not least because of the great activities, according to  Rory Heron, MD of Polo in the Park. Fridays tend to be more corporate; Saturday is the party day, packed with groups of young singles. When to go Sunday 7 June will be a fabulous family party, with peak time 11:30 – 2pm. There will be a bright pink slide on the field before play starts and at 11:30 you’ll be able to take the field, as Sharky & George have convinced Polo in the Park to allow a family pitch invasion. Original Travel will host a parents’ zone, where you can relax in a deck chair with a glass of fizz while the children play in the “Little Hooves” kids club. What is Polo in the Park? Chestertons Polo in the Park takes place at Hurlingham Park, Fulham, South London. It features an adapted game that is more accessible and geared toward the spectators. The field is smaller than a regular field, so visitors are closer to the action, the teams play with a brightly coloured larger ball (the kind used on indoor arena polo games) that looks like a miniature football, and there are 3 rather than 4 members on each team so the action is easier to follow. There are 4 quarters of 7 1/2 minutes per quarter. You’ll even get to see some professional polo players...

12 things every female-friendly hotel needs

Tweet Over the years I’ve stayed at a wide range of hotels. Each time I’ve been female. As a result I can’t help but notice how some places get it right and some get it woefully wrong. There are simply some things that we ladies need when staying overnight. It’s not just a matter of convenience or luxury. It’s evidence that hotels don’t value their female guests (and the money they wield) as much as the men. It’s as much a feminist issue as having enough toilets at sports venues. It means the world is built for only half the population. For those getting it right, I thank you. For those trying to get it right, here is the Jenography list of what every female-friendly hotel needs: 1. Full-length mirror Sometimes I need to monitor my feet without craning my neck. Other times I need to make sure the shoes I optimistically packed for my holiday or business trip actually go with the outfit I put in. In any case, a full-length mirror makes sense for hotel owners, as it saves wear and tear on the duvet from when I have to stand on it to see my lower half in the mirror that’s mounted on top of the chest of drawers. 2. A proper, fully-powered hairdryer I don’t expect every hotel to have a hairdryer like the wind machine I paid up for at home. But I need an appliance that generates something more than a gentle breeze. As for those places that have a wall-mounted hose that looks salvaged from a vaccuum cleaner, we’ve gotten the message: only middle-aged balding men are welcome here. 3. A plug near a mirror for hairdryers and styling irons I hate that morning circuit of running from the side table with the plug over to the mirror to check the results, back over the dryer, back to the mirror, repeat ad infinitum. 4. A decently lit mirror To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, “You don’t know what it’s like to be ME out here. It is an up-at-dawn, freshening-up-after-dark, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok?” To save everyone from this horror, I need a well-lit mirror for proper makeup application. Help me. Help me help you. 5. Countertop space for face soap and moisturizer Here’s where budget hotels always win hands down. They mount their basins in a smooth Formica prairie of countertop, adorned only with a bar of soap and a plastic shrinkwrapped cup. Meanwhile “cool” design...

Even after the Germanwings crash, I’m still flying

Tweet As the revelations have filtered out about Germanwings flight 4U9525, crashed in the southern Alps, I’ve done what so many other travellers have done: imagined the scene inside the plane as it dropped inexorably in altitutude, the mountains looming large in the windows. I’ve thought about the families and friends of the passengers as well as the parents of Andreas Lubitz and what they must be going through. One thing I haven’t done is worry that the same fate of 4U9525’s passenger and crew could happen to me. It would be easy to do, but I haven’t succumbed to fear of flying … and none of us should. Why we shouldn’t worry Partly this is because of the statistics. Despite this horrific incident, we know that flying still remains safer than travelling by car. Partly this is because, for me, I know the amount of control I have once I’ve settled into my seat is limited. I fly airlines I trust, with good safety records, but once I’m on the plane there’s little I can do. I’ve put myself in the hands of the crew. Thousands of people are doing that right now as you read this. Partly this is because I know I am going to keep flying. I have to. A lifelong love of flying I’ve always loved air travel. I boarded my first flight — on the quirky and charismatic Southwest Airlines in Texas — as a teenager, but for years beforehand I fantasized about the glamour and excitement of jetting off somewhere exotic. When I moved to New York and regularly flew home, I never understood some people’s fear of flying; I could only see the positive. Even in the days after 9/11, when a friend worried about our upcoming short-hop flight to a conference, I felt calm. What were the chances of something like that happening again inside a month? Anxieties can creep in It was only when I got married and had a child that I began to feel a modicum of anxiety before flying. When I flew with my family, I wanted to know we would safely arrive. When I flew alone, I worried about leaving them behind, never seeing each other again. I still get those feelings for time to time. But it hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm — from the excitement of walking down the gangway, settling into my seat, drinking one of those miniature bottles of wine, passing a period of enforced leisure with chat and card games, in-flight...

Review: Barbury Shooting School for kids

Tweet I come from Texas, so really I’m supposed to know all about guns. But since I won that riflery award at summer camp age 12, my shooting prowess has largely been on the wane. Don’t get me wrong — I love shooting (I did say I’m from Texas, right?), but the opportunities to practice don’t come along that often. When my 16-year-old stepson received a voucher from his grandparents for a clay pigeon shooting day, my husband and I decided to register our 11-year-old daughter too and, while we were at it, have a private lesson for the two of us. Or rather a private lesson for me and a bit of easy shooting for him. The day out was at Barbary Shooting School in Wiltshire, just on the way to granny’s. The school is top-notch and runs loads of activities, from “have a go” days for taster sessions, ladies gun club meetings, multi-activity parties, children’s parties, and individual and group lessons. Here’s what we thought of it:   What: Our 11- and 16-year-old went on one of the Young Clayshots Day. The group of children — there were upwards of 20 that day, which one of the staff described as the biggest they’d ever had — were divided into smaller groups then taken to various stations of Barbury’s grounds. In one area just next to the lodge/club house, they took turns learning how to shoot air rifles at neon-coloured water balloons tacked onto a board. In another they did archery — using seriously engineered bows and with some of the children standing remarkably close to the target. They they got instruction shooting “birds” (clays catapulted into the air) and “rabbits” (clays that roll along the ground). All the children were complete novices or just about. (Barbury also run children’s clayshots days for more intermediate shooters.) Kid appeal: “It was very easy to learn how to shoot and you felt safe. The instructors were very clear,” my daughter said, describing her experience a few weeks later. On the day she was more effusive, talking in detail how she did the best in her group in the air rifle shoot-out, hitting a metal crow to beat out the last boy standing. The 16-year-old beamed after getting a nearly perfect score shooting clays. Thanks to the attentive instructor, who stood next to each shooter in turn and gave shot-by-shot advice — along with an occasional hand in guiding the gun — every child hit at least one and we were...

iPhoneography: Preparing for Chinese New Year in London

TweetI’ve always loved Chinese New Year, even if we don’t always celebrate it in grand style. I also love walking through Chinatown in London whenever I’m in the West End. Compared with Chinatown in New York, which has taken over Little Italy and goes on for block and blocks, London’s Chinatown is basically one or maybe two streets. It’s tiny, really. But whenever I am on my way to Leicester Square Tube station, I try to structure my route so I can walk down Gerrard Street. Last week I was lucky enough to be walking by while they were preparing for Chinese New Year, so it was more colourful and busier than ever. I like that even on this one street I feel transported into a different world. Food hangs in windows that I can’t identify. Signs are written in a script I don’t understand. All around people bustle, carrying in boxes of exotic vegetables to the grocery stores, reading the menus outside the restaurants.   When I walked through last week, they were hanging lanterns for Chinese New Year. Huge boxes were piled up, as a worker unpacked lanterns — made in China? — that they would string between the buildings.     Of course the big question is where to eat in Chinatown. I’ve tried several places that were all fine, all just about the same. But last week my husband came home raving after a lunch with colleagues at The Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant on Wardour Street. This is, not surprisingly, not related to the hotel chain of the same name. He had some “very good” crispy pork belly but the reason they went was for special roasted duck, which he raved about. I haven’t been there yet, but I’m looking forward to checking it out, if only to have another excuse to wander through our Chinatown. For more information about visiting Chinatown, go to www.chinatownlondon.org....

Jenography on Yahoo: The worst places to take children

TweetWe all love talking about the best places to take our families. Well, last week I had the opportunity to talk about the flip side: the worst places to take children. As it turns out, there are very few “terrible” places to take children, judging from the places mentioned by the other bloggers included in the piece, featured on Yahoo! Travel. It’s mostly down to bad timing — like at the destinations I mentioned — or not enough planning or, ahem, “adult” situations in which the adults don’t act very grown-up. It’s pretty exciting to be featured on Yahoo! Travel, one of the biggest travel content providers in the world. I recently wrote another piece for them: I Flew Business Class While My Kids Flew Coach. So What? Check out the piece: The Worst Vacation Spots to Take Kids and Why Do you have any places that are no-go for children? Leave a comment and tell me what they are.    ...

Activities when flying: My new favourite kids’ activity book

TweetSometimes we love to chat with our kids when we fly or go out to eat while travelling. Other times, we’ll be deep into grown-up talk (the economy, house prices, pension plans) and the kids just need something fun to do that hasn’t been acquired at the App Store. My mother-in-law discovered this great little book from www.2littleboys.co.uk, called Something to keep you happy when the grown-ups are being really boring at the dinner table, the everyday version. On the face of it, it’s just another activity book. But this one does it so simply and engagingly that it outdistances all the others I’ve seen.   Of course it includes a word search. But there are also challenges to create a family flag, play every-day-word bingo (listening out for words like “terrible”, “love” and “salt” and ticking them off, creating a message with code and more.     The company has 3 other versions of the book — Christmas, Wedding and Recycled. Cool, cute, inexpensive and lightweight so at the end of the evening or the flight when everyone is handing you their markers and their little toys, it won’t add much weight to your handbag. Something to Keep You Happy books £4.50 – £6.00 2 Little Boys www.2littleboys.co.uk...

Texas: The best ice pops in Fort Worth

Tweet When we visited Fort Worth last August we went to some great places to eat. One of the most whimsical was Steel City Pops, which makes gourmet popsicles. Gourmet popsicles, right?  Sounds a little precious — until you look at the list of flavours: Blackberry, Cranberry Orange, Hibiscus, Mango, Peanut Butter, Blueberry Cream, Avocado, Vanilla Bean, Pistachio…. I wanted to eat every one of them. Steel City Pops has an interesting backstory: a man’s lifelong dream of owning a restaurant, inspiration from a chance discovery of a shop selling Mexican ice pops, and a first shopfront in Homewood, Alabama. Now Steel City Pops has 7 locations, 5 in Alabama and 2 in Texas — one is in Dallas and the other is in Fort Worth. The Fort Worth shop is also conveniently located just a street or two away from Rodeo Goat, acknowledged as one of the best places in town to have a burger. That’s worth a visit too. After enjoying burgers and cheese fries there, we walked over in punishing 35° Celsius heat (95° Fahrenheit) and arrived ready for something delicious and frozen.       The shop has windows on one side in front of counter seating, where you can watch them make the pops, but apparently they were all finished for the day because the area was empty, all the machinery sitting clean and gleaming. It’s too bad, because the process of receiving a gourmet ice has none of the ritual or anticipation of, say, gourmet ice cream. There are no little taster spoons, no choice of portion size, no moment when the attendant rolls up the ice cream into a little ball with a metal scoop and presses it onto a cone. We ordered, and the young women waiting on us reached into the freezers and handed us prewrapped ice pops. That was it. Which is not to say it wasn’t worth it. The flavours were vibrant and clean. My husband had Blood Orange (a seasonal flavour), my stepson Coconut, and my daughter Watermelon. I had the Lemonade, which was both astringent and sweet, but I switched with my daughter, who liked it better than hers. I liked both; hers had a concentrated Watermelon taste, perfect for summer. For kids, the simpler straightforward fruity flavours will likely appeal more than the more sophisticated and exotic versions, if our children are anything to go by. We sat inside to eat them, in a small space which was buzzing as people came and went, licking...

Surrey: Family geocaching at Polesden Lacey

Tweet“Do you know what geocaching is?” I asked my 11-year-old, as we drove to Poleden Lacey. “You find things using a GPS. It’s boring,” she replied, staring out the window in the back seat. “How do you know? Have you done it before?” “I used a GPS once. It’s better if it’s just a map.” Ah, the enthusiasm of youth. After a wonderful Christmas break in which I became reacquainted with an area outside of Zone 3, I resolved that our family would get out and do some of those things we’re always saying we want to do. One of those goals is to use our National Trust membership to see some wonderful estates, historic houses and gorgeous countryside. This is a bit more difficult in winter, when many properties are shut for the season. But we discovered Polesden Lacey, about an hour’s drive away in Surrey, was open and also offered free geocaching. What is geocaching? I confess, geocaching always sounded a little made up to me. Like my daughter, I thought it needlessly complicates the simplicity of a fun treasure hunt. But you mustn’t let the little ones get the upper hand in cases like this. So my attitude on the drive down remained doggedly optimistic. “Let’s see how it is. I think it will be fun!” I glanced over at my husband. He gaze was ahead as he silently piloted the car. No help there. The idea behind geocaching is simple: You follow coordinates, distance information and an arrow on an app or GPS device to caches — boxes where you sign a log and leave a trinket or small object. Then it’s on the next cache. Geocaching at Polesden Lacey At Poleden Lacey, you reserve a GPS unit in advance then pick it up at the ticket and information desk, leaving your membership card or a deposit. (The GPS units are nice little Garmins.) The property has 2 trails — one with 8 caches in the garden surrounding the house that takes about an hour and another roaming across the larger estate that takes about two. We only had a little over an hour so we opted for the garden trail. You also get a waterproof map with clues about each cache, to make them easier to find if your GPS skills don’t get the job done. By the second cache, the “bored” 11-year-old was racing ahead of us through the undergrowth, yelling back over her shoulder, “This way!” At each cache we signed our...

Is it wrong to fly in a different cabin from your children?

TweetI’ll be honest: I really deserve to fly business class. Not because I’m better than other people, but because I enjoy it so much. So much. If airlines understood the deep wellspring of pleasure I get from it, the Mariana Trench of joy, they would fly me everywhere in business simply because of the good it would bring the world. Everything from the early boarding to how they hang up your coat before you sit down, the benefit of your own personal overhead bin, a real printed menu from which to choose meals and a seat bigger than Scotland. To be truthful, I probably deserve to fly first class for the same reasons. (Note to self: Research is in order.) Dilemma: 2 seats up front, 2 seats in back The problem is that flying business is still relatively rare for me and my family, involving special fares and accumulated miles. Recently we had the option of booking 2 business class tickets to America for Christmas…but it meant the other 2 tickets for our family would only be premium economy. Sometimes you hear about celebrities flying first or business class while their children sit back in coach with the nannies. In Home Alone, Kevin is left behind precisely because his parents sit up front, unaware of the empty seat in back. Is it OK to sip Champagne while the kids sit way back? Now I had the dilemma of deciding whether it was OK for us to sit sipping Champagne in lie-flat beds while the kids sat in reclining seats — slightly better reclining seats than regular economy class, mind — in a different section of the plane. It somehow didn’t feel very egalitarian. Are we teaching the children that they deserve less, should expect less just by dint of being children? Is this what family travel means to us? Those questions lasted until my husband got ready to book the flights. “You are OK with this, right?” he said, finger poised over the computer mouse. Memories of economy I have spent my fair share of time squeezed into a coach seat, jostling for an armrest with a greedy row-mate. I have brought along my own food to avoid the coach class “meal”. I have contended with a stiff neck and sciatica. So really this wasn’t a question. My husband pressed the button and this Christmas trip we luxuriated in full-length seats in a quiet cabin with especially attentive attendants. I popped back to see the kids a few times....

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