With the children not starting school until the 4th, we decided to have one more summer weekend away. Luckily for us, this coincided with a rare trip to the UK for Chris's old school mate Liam ... this time visiting with his wife and baby son, Sean. We joined up in Southport for Sean's Christening and enjoyed a slap-up meal at a nice pub in Churchtown where everyone took their turn at playing 'hold the baby'.
It was a really nice day so after leaving the pub we dropped in on an old family friend and then stopped off at nearby Hesketh Park. The playground was heaving but the kids still enjoyed themselves.
The following day we headed up to Blackpool with Chris's folks - all set to enjoy a proper touristy day ... up the tower, play on the beach, fish and chip supper and a drive through the world-famous illuminations.
So, tower first ... and next door to the famous Tower Ballroom is the Tower Circus. Here we enjoyed a fantastic two hour spectacular of acrobatics, comedy and live music. The finale, where the circus ring was flooded and the acrobats moved around between boats which moved around a huge fountain in the centre was spectacular. Matthew's highlight - and one of the few times we've seen an expression of genuine astonishment on his face - was a triple backward somersault from a swinging platform landing on a seat balanced on the top of a ten foot pole held up *hands-free* in the jaws of one of the performers. No photos of that unfortunately, but we did get this cheeky snap in before the show started - showing Cassandra's travelling toy Rainbow soaking up the atmosphere.
After the show it was straight into a lift and up to the top of the tower. The lifts themselves have changed little over the years but the first viewing room you reach at the top has been transformed by the introduction of a huge glass floor and wall that runs the whole length of the front side. Many people were a little hesitant about stepping out onto the glass floor but Chris - having seen the sign claiming a designed capacity of 5 tonnes - caused a little ripple of concern by jumping hard onto the floor and trying to make as much of a bang as possible.
Rainbow and Matthew's travelling toy Waddles clearly preferred the fresh air on the next level up - although the view is somewhat spoiled by the heavy gauge netting used to stop people throwing objects, or themselves, from the top.
The kids had a quick play in the soft play area within the Tower and then we ventured out onto the promenade where we could look back up at the floor we'd just been walking on...
... and actually try and read some of the thousands of comedy quotations etched into a giant montage.
Over to the beach next for a paddle then back over to the neighbouring tourist attraction of Madame Tussauds. It's not really a place that's appealed before - but with free tickets we thought it was worth a quick browse and we waited until just before closing time which meant that there was hardly anyone in the place and we could get up close to loads of the celebrities without worrying about other people's photo opportunities. Here's a small selection...
Our fish and chip supper was meant to be next but we still had a couple of hours to kill before it was dark enough to enjoy the illuminations. Instead we found what turned out to be a fantastic Italian Restaurant where the quality of the food was matched by the enthusiasm of the staff. They even feigned sympathy with the children when we said they didn't need a big pudding having been eating sweets all day - and proceeded to offer them a small portion on the house. Very nice.
Anyway, eventually the lights came on and we started off with a quick walk around the main static roadside displays - with Waddles and Rainbow still very much in attendance.
We also waved at several of the illuminated trams which included a couple of boats and a steam train.
The tram 'rocket' which Chris remembered from his childhood is no longer servicable and now adorns one of the traffic islands - still illuminated - but not as impressive when not moving.
Eventually we got into the car and proceeded to drive the few miles south through the across-the-street section of lights and saw the impressive display at the top of the tower.
Back down south on the Monday and the first day of the new school term - a first day at a new school for Matthew. No wobbles at all - he was more than up for it after hearing about many of the things Cassandra has been up to over the last two years (including having bonus days off school whenever polling day comes around!)
Extending our summer holiday just slightly further, the following weekend we hopped back on our friend Keith's boat and sailed from Portsmouth to Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The weather was great, if not a little light on wind, but certainly pleasant enough to enjoy the fresh air.
Unfortunately, the good weather meant that every boat owner was on the move having had much of the season wiped out by miserable weather. The marina we initially aimed for was full so it was approaching dusk by the time we moored up at the Island Harbour Marina a mile or so up-river.
This wasn't much of a problem in itself but unfortunately the Island Harbour's restaurant was fully booked so we had to catch a water taxi back to a nearby pub to enjoy our well-earned liquid refreshment and a nice meal. The place we found was also heaving but they managed to fit us in and feed us all pretty quickly. Live music was a nice bonus but we had to slip away before it got too late - not only because of the kids needing their beds but because of a large bunch of raucous but good-natured customers leaping up onto the tables to dance and party the night away.
Next day we cruised back to Portsmouth and the weather was still nice enough for us to consider having a swim off the back of the boat. For most of us, considering it was as far as it got and, in the end, only one was actually brave enough to take the plunge.
In amongst all of this, Chris, Matthew and Cassandra have been working on building a series of fairground rides out of lego. Its been reasonably successful.
The first one was a Pirate Boat...
Next we did a copy of the Berry Bouncer ride from Chessington
... though this one took a bit more getting used to the controls...
Finally (for now) a copy of the Enterprise ride from Thorpe Park. Watch out for more in the future!
Just one last photo for this month. A new school term meant lots of opportunities to join new clubs. Both kids signed up for Judo, both signed up for the school choir (although clearly that's not a cool name - its actually known as Glee Club) and both are doing extra football practice. Cassandra has been doing this for a couple of years and was really happy to get a place on the school team for a little inter-school tournament. She started off in midfield but then took over as goalkeeper when the first one got too upset with herself at the number of goals she'd been letting in. They all had a fantastic time - even Megan enjoyed it (but still can't really see herself as a 'soccer mom' standing on the sidelines in all weathers). Anyway, Cassandra now has her own set of goalie gloves, some proper studded football boots and a pair of shin pads - quite the 'pocket dynamo'...