Tuesday, 17 July 2018

i-SPY with my little eye, something beginning with endless discoveries ! (review)

One of the biggest parenting headaches of modern times is finding ways of getting the kids away from their screens and out into the fresh air having fun. I like to look back at the things I enjoyed during my own childhood, taking the Madhouse kids on nature walks and picnics, making a den or flower petal perfume, paddling in the sea and baking. Another thing I used to love were i-SPY guides, which always combined a fun treasure hunt with lots of interesting facts about the things you found.  Unbelievably, i-SPY are celebrating their 70th anniversary this year. Throughout that time, they have been published by News Chronicle in the 1950s, the Daily Mail until the late 1980s then Michelin. Since then, i-SPY has found a new home at Collins and i-SPY books are co-published by Collins and Michelin. There are currently over 50 i-SPY books, including new guides for 2018 - i-SPY at the shops, i-SPY garden birds, i-SPY butterflies and moths and i-SPY In the city. We were delighted to receive a trio of i-SPY books to help get our holidays off to a great start.

I love the way the books have varying ranges of difficulty - there will be no problem spotting a post box or a litter bin but a traditional red phone box may be slightly trickier.

We always complain about roadworks being carried out over the summer, but the kids will be happy to spot a person directing traffic, a road drill, cement mixer or steamroller.

Other spots will need a trip to a specific place to tick them off, for example a Chinatown arch or fountain.

A trip on a train is always full of excitement for a child who is not used to rail travel, and the On A Train Journey i-SPY book will help to make sure that (s)he doesn't miss any of the interesting things dotted around the station.

There are things to look out for while waiting for the train.

And others to spot once you're on board.

If you have a young nature lover in your midst, the Garden Birds book is perfect for helping to put names to the lesser known birds that you can see from your window.

Whatever your interests and wherever you live, there's bound to be a guide to appeal to you. My all-time favourite book from the collection is the airport one, as it is a great way for staving off boredom as you wait to go on holiday.

The holidays have barely begun and Pierre has already been having fun ticking off things that he's spotted in the books.

To celebrate 70 years of i-SPY Collins are giving away limited editions of i-SPY badges to customers who complete their i-SPY guides. This will be an exclusive limited run of 500 collector’s edition badges so it's a great time to discover the guides. The books are small enough to fit in your handbag or the glovebox of the car for those inevitable "Mum, I'm bored" and "are we nearly there yet?" moments !

i-SPY books are available for £2.99 from collins.co.uk and all good booksellers.

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Monday, 16 July 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #29

We're all on holiday - woohoo ! - so this week I'm planning lazy days, spontaneous trips out and about and a good rummage through my kitchen cupboards. That means the menu plan will probably go straight out of the window but never mind !


lunch - mac & cheese with beefburgers

dinner - chicken stir fry with mange tout, baby corn and beansprouts


lunch - cottage pie

dinner - gammon with baby potatoes, veg, gravy & apple sauce


lunch - spaghetti carbonara

dinner - grilled salmon with tenderstem broccoli for me, leftovers for the kids


lunch -  crispy chicken strips, rice & ratatouille

dinner - cheese toasties and tomato soup


lunch - tacos or chilli con carne

 dinner - mackerel salad for me, pizza for the kids


lunch - something out and about - fast food or maybe a picnic

dinner - steak sandwich


lunch -  roast chicken with stuffing balls, roast spuds and veg

dinner - fridge grazing

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Book review : Murmuration - Robert Lock

Having grown up in a seaside town, the front cover of Robert Lock's Murmuration really appealed to me, because the stunning and incomprehensible (to humans) aerial display provided by the flocks of starlings swirling around the burnt out remains of Brighton's West Pier is one of the iconic sights of the South Coast. I was pleased to see these spellbinding murmurations featuring in the book and indeed opening and closing it. Robert Lock has set his book further north, in Blackpool, but the familiar sights, sounds and smells of the seaside towns are identical and mentally transported me back to my south coast childhood.

The birds and the pier provide the backdrop for a novel that spans several generations and over a hundred years of history, from the pier's Victorian beginnings to the modern day, focusing on the classic seaside jobs and personalities : two scandalous comedians born a century apart, a seemingly ageless deckchair attendant and the fortune-teller who believes no one can see the future. Each of these characters has their own story to tell but their lives also overlap as the book progresses.

There is a sense of sadness lurking behind the bright lights and joyful noise of the tourists on the pier, and this is in fact quite realistic. There's something very forlorn about an off-season seaside town when the attractions are shut down and the prom looks like something out of a ghost town, but even in peak season, the lives of the locals are often less cheerful and carefree than most tourists would believe as they're munching on their candy floss and playing on the slot machines. The book offers a glimpse into the seedy underbelly of the town and it was poignant to see that in each period of time over 100 years, young women are lured into the sex trade to earn a living.

I was interested to learn more about the history of the pier, particularly during the war and its heyday, but the book also has a slightly mysterious, paranormal feel, so I'm not sure if it should be read as accurate historical fiction or not. I like the way the pier looks impassively on, witnessing the personal dramas playing out on and under its well-trodden boards, without judgement but sometimes giving a helping hand to restore righteousness and justice in the streets of Blackpool.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (12 July 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1787198243
  • ISBN-13: 978-1787198241

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 15/7

OneDad3GirlsSunday Snap

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Hastings diaries : Oh I do like to be beside the seaside !

You can't come to Hastings and not take advantage of the traditional seaside attractions, so on the first full day of our visit, we decided to wander down to the old town. We went via the West Hill and the kids were delighted to discover a playpark.

The star attraction was a zipwire, which Pierre must have gone on about a hundred times !

He wasn't the only one having fun though - the tyre swing was big enough to take the weight of the adults too !

Eventually, we wound our way down to the old town and, after changing up a couple of pounds each into 2p's, the kids were off, trying to win little prizes in the coin push machines. I was very tempted to have a go on the Zoltar Speaks fortune telling machine, but I remembered that scene in Big and had second thoughts !

Pierre loves watching claw machine videos on Youtube (I really can't see the fascination personally !) so he was desperate to have a go on the cranes.

He got really excited every time the claws grabbed something but it invariably fell off before returning to base.

"You won't win, they're all rigged", we all told him repeatedly. Then he won one ! He was over the moon, but was then convinced that he'd win an Incredibles toy and failed !

Grandad soon had him smiling again though, showing him some of the bigger sit-in toys.

We finished off with a prize-every-time Test Your Strength machine, which was hilarious because he didn't realise everyone was a winner so he was all excited when the lights went right up to the top ! The girls had moved outside and found a lollipop that was too big even for their sweet-toothed appetite !

This weekend is Hastings Pirate Day (after a successful world record breaking event a few years ago), so some of the shops had pirate-themed displays in the windows.

George Street is a great place for quirky independent shops, including this one, selling official Harry Potter wands.

Inside are all sorts of replica weapons and armour, including some that are modelled on those used in the Norman conquest.

It's lovely to have a nod back to 1066 and the Battle of Hastings, but I'm not sure who'd actually buy them !

We didn't buy a broadsword or a pirate pistol, but we did treat ourselves to some gorgeous soaps from this brightly coloured and fabulously fragranced display. Sophie also picked up some odds and ends in the junk/antique shops - I'm always amazed at the things that catch her eye !

Fab freebies of the week 14/7

Morning all ! It's Saturday morning which means it's time for another great round-up of the week's best new UK freebies. Fill yer boots !


Love Fruittella, try their new 30% Less Sugar range for FREE! Simply use code, FREEFACEB and swipe for more details on how to claim your refund 👇 Visit fruittella.yousay.org to claim and for full T&Cs. Closes 31/08/18. UK, 18+ only. Purchase necessary. Max 1 claim per household. PayPal account required to claim.

Get a free (refunded) bottle of Ribena Sparkling with Shopmium

Choose #Ocusoft, The NO.1 selling eyelid cleanser in the USA. Call your UK supplier @bondeyeoptical for free samples or to place an order call 0121 7723888.

✨Have you seen our amazing giveaway?✨
We're giving away hundreds of free cat food samples for you to try. 🐱🐱🐱
1⃣ Follow the link to request a sample - http://ow.ly/NQ3f30kNJIw
2⃣ LIKE and RETWEET this post
3️⃣ TAG a friend who would love this!
UK entries only 🇬🇧

Who wants a sample pack and a FREE notepad and pen ?! 👌😀👍

WIN a Holiday of your choice with @OutfitFashionUK and @HawaiianT_UK! Visit your local Outfit store for more details and your FREE sample of Hawaiian Tropic Air Soft suncream #Confero #Competition #Sample

Practice safe skin! ☀️☀️ Try our Skin Defence Multi-Protection Essence SPF 50 PA++++ for FREE. Claim your deluxe sample by clicking here: http://bit.ly/2L4vHEz T&Cs apply. Subject to availability.

#Giveaway #Win a 6 week course of inch loss wraps worth £49.99 RT this post to enter! More entries at https://bit.ly/2NGpmkI (Get a FREE sample just for entering!)

Request your free sample of The Scottish Farmer and we will post it directly to your door!
Available to UK residents only!

Don't forget - The Walkers Perfect Match game has thousands of prizes available - you can use any of these codes : FEB19R12L; JAN19Y05L, DEC18Y05L, FEB19R13L (you can enter twice a day and reuse the codes - I won bowls and glasses)

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Madhouse recipe : Creamy chicken & chorizo pasta

Winding down the fridge before heading off on our travels always results in some unusual but often surprisingly successful flavour combinations. This time, I found a half jar of olives, the end of a chorizo, half a tub of crème fraîche, some leftover cooked chicken, a leek and a handful of slightly slimy mushrooms. I threw them all together with some pasta and we had ourselves a tasty meal that used up all the odds and ends. My motto has always been "Create tummy-fill, not land-fill" and this was perfect !

Creamy chicken & chorizo pasta


knob of butter or drizzle of olive oil
1 onion
1 leek
3 mushrooms
1/2 a chorizo, sliced
leftover cooked chicken (about 1 chicken breast)
handful of green olives, halved
1/2 tub crème fraîche
salt, pepper
spaghetti or pasta of your choice

Slice the mushrooms, leeks and onions. Heat the butter/olive oil in a large pan and gently cook the vegetables until they start to go soft.

Add the chorizo, the cooked chicken and the olives. Season with salt and pepper.

When the meats are cooked through and the chorizo has taken on some colour, add the crème fraîche and stir to coat everything.

Add the cooked pasta and stir though the sauce.

Serve with a sprinkling of parmesan or fresh herbs, if you fancy.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Madhouse diaries : A random stroll at sunset

Our first few days visiting the Madhouse grandparents in Hastings were absolute scorchers, so in the early evening, when temperatures started to descend to more manageable levels, we all wandered off for a stroll around their local area. They don't live in the countryside but, as our numerous geocaching adventures have shown us, there are often little hidden gems of woodland lanes and beautiful views to discover even in the built-up areas. 

Pierre had lots of "Look, Mum ..." moments, discovering everything from interesting tree stumps to friendly cats.

My "local history buff" antenna honed in on things like these luxury flats that have been converted from the old workhouse - how times change ! 

As we wandered along, smelling the flowers and looking for wildlife, we spotted a footpath that looked intriguing.

Another signpost, peeking through the foliage, informed us that this was leading to Speckled Wood.

 We set off into the tunnel of trees.

 The dusky sunlight filtering through the canopy of leaves gave it all an other-worldly feel, like a magical fairy wonderland ! 

It's amazing to think that this is right on the doorstep of a big housing estate ! 

Back into the light, and we headed around the back lanes and passageways that I haven't wandered down since I was a little girl walking to primary school with my nan !

 Heading off into the sunset !

With perfect timing, we arrived home just in time to see a spectacular sunset. We really couldn't have timed it better if we'd tried !
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