Forget Majorca, Ennigerloh is the place to be this summer!

Little boy playing with water and sand

Max enjoys the water and sand play area at the Freibad in Ennigerloh

I´m typing this post on a German keyboard which annozinglz swaps the y and z, so bear with me till I get the hang of it.

This summer holidaz report is brought to you, not from mz deckchair on the beach in the Caribbean, but seated amidst stuffed animals, and plastic pot plants in a black leather armchair in my father-in-law´s study.

We are spending the first few days of our summer break trapped in a forgotten little outpost in Northern Germany called Ennigerloh, where my husband spent the first 18 years of his life (which explains quite a lot.)

The little village in Munsterland best known for its gigantic cement factory, does not feature on Tripadvisor as a sought after holiday destination (in fact it doesn´t feature at all – surprisingly…) so I wasn´t exactly counting the days.

Holiday is a state of mind

But a friend once told me that a holiday is a state of mind and has nothing to do with the destination, so I was determined to see a different side of Ennigerloh this time.  And, believe it or not, the little Cinderella town has seduced us with its charms over the past few days.

Spaß (fun) in the Freibad (open air pool)

The fact that we find ourselves in the midst of a stifling heat wave perforated by the odd spectacular thunderstorm means we´re spending a lot of time at the Freibad.  The open air public swimming pool, of which almost every German town boasts one, puts our drab leisure centre pools to shame.

The Freibad – almost every village has one – which costs 2 pounds (can´t find pound sign on this computer) to enter, is as close to a children´s paradise as you can get.  My older two spend hours jumping from the 5m, 3m and 1m diving boards into the sparkling Olympic-sized pool in Oelde, a neighbouring town. I even managed the 3m jump after holding up the queue of German children for 20 minutes to much ridicule from my husband and hysterics from my children.

Max, 4, meanwhile has two smaller pools with sprinklers and slides to choose from. Luscious lawns and huge trees surround the pools with (towel-free) deck chairs and picnic spots as far as the eye can see. (Obviously the Germans are more chilled about deck chairs at home than when they are on holiday)

Little boy flying through air after jumping off 5m diving board

Lukas, 9, flying through the air from a 5m diving board in Germany

middle-aged woman jumping off 3m diving board

Me leaping off 3m diving board – watch out Tom Daley

Competitive water polo

The children took part in an organised water polo tournament with local children and soon started shouting to team mates in German after realising that was the only way to get their hands on the ball. The game took quite a serious turn after the dads, including my aggressively competitive husband, joined in.

A young reporter from the local newspaper: Die Glocke was on standby to photograph the holiday fun, so my husband (who can´t resist a bit of limelight) and children may have made the news in his hometown.

A stretch of sand dotted with beach baskets – as they´re called in German – wooden two-man seats with canvas awning overhead and footrest, an invitation for stressed-out parent souls to relax while the children get to grips with a variety of water pumps and wheels. A permanent outdoor table tennis table and giant chess board and squeaky clean changing rooms and showers make this one of the best pools I´ve ever been to.

Spaghetti ice cream anyone?

Famished after several hours in the water, we hit the Venetian Eiskafe – an Italian ice-cream parlour distinctly out of place in the industrial heartland of Germany – for generous plates of spaghetti eis: spaghetti-shaped ice-cream drizzled with strawberry sauce and topped with smarties. I enjoy a cream-laced iced coffee with enough calories to last me until Christmas.

Family in front of ice cream shop in Ennigerloh, Germanz

Eiscafe Venezia in Germany – might as well be in Italy

Family eating ice cream at EisKafe in Ennigerloh

Spaghetti ice cream and sinful iced coffees

German children are well-catered for – the playgrounds are creative masterpieces, testament to imagination that the nation is not usually credited for.  Drawbridges, towers and castles with twisted slides and tunnels can be found in every village.

Paradise for cyclists

Unlike at home, where we are too scared to venture out on our bicycles as a family, Germany is a cyclist´s paradise. Cycle routes and lane criss-cross the town and take you across acres of stretched out rural fields under glorious open skies. Everyone aged between 4 and 94 uses this as a mode of transport and I can vouch for its safety, even after a few glasses of Schnapps.

My husband and I cycled 10kms to a restaurant in a nearby village overlooking a lake, for a cocktail evening that could almost compete in terms of food, music and location with a Manhattan hotspot, if you ignore the local farmgirl out on the town dresscode and the perennial stereotype of socks with Birkenstock sandals, favourited by hardcore Germans. Tonight the plan is to cycle to a nearby beer garden for more Weiz-bier, a refreshing beer served with lemon slices.

After three days, I feel more relaxed than if I´d spent a week in Majorca. Whoever said Germans don´t know how to have fun?

How are you spending the first days of the summer holidays? Have you ever considered Germany for a family holiday? What were your impressions?

How to throw a smashing disco party for pre-teens – on a budget

Photograph of a young girl in a garden

The party girl – for once quite impressed with her mum.

After 3 kids, you would think that I’d be like a walking Google search results page for How to throw a successful children’s party.  But in this instance you’d be well advised to click on by and consult a different source for inspiration.

Previous party mistakes

It’s not through lack of trying – I should add. It’s just that I’m not very practical and I’m quite shy (OK, you can stop laughing now).

So, this usually means that my parties are either at least one parcel short for the pass-the-parcel game or a cake slice missing in a party bag or both (I kid you not).

My shyness (I said stop laughing!) means I get stage fright when confronted with 10 expectant four-year-olds all wanting to pin-the-tail-on-the donkey at exactly the same moment or 10 tweens aggressively demanding a fair winner for their X-factor performances.

My palms go sweaty, my throat gets dry and I usually dodge into the kitchen at this point to fetch yet another plate of over-catered, often inappropriate food, leaving my husband or some other more competent parent to pick up the pieces. I also usually top up my glass of  Chardonnay at this point.

Food no-no’s

When it comes to food, I’ve made a few mistakes in my time. When I first arrived in the UK from South Africa, I’d never heard of e-numbers and the idea of presenting children at a party with carrot sticks and cocktail tomatoes (which to this day I haven’t seen a single child eat at a party) would never have occurred to me. It’s a party for @£$!! sake!

For my eldest’s second birthday party I invited all the kids in the street and laid on the children’s party with the highest sugar content ever held in the history of the UK.We had cupcake-decoration, Easter egg hunts, chocolate treasure trails, fizzy drinks in every flavour – and not a cocktail tomato in sight.

The children – bless them – were high as kites as they bounced and raged around the garden, but the mums couldn’t wait to bundle their kids out the door to force-feed them vegetable smoothies at home.

Success at last! And some handy tips for hosting a disco party

But all this is in the past. I am delighted to report that after 11 years, I’ve just hosted a summer disco party for my daughter – which was raving success and really raised my stakes in the mummy department (long may it last) I thought I’d share this achievement with you – and maybe boost my reputation as a talented entertainer and my Google ranking for children’s parties in the process.

The music:

My daughter luckily sits next to a young man in class who hires himself out as a DJ and lighting expert for parties at £35/evening  (Take note – Sir Alan Sugar). Despite their proximity in class, I was instructed to ask the boy’s mother in the playground if he would be available for our party.The youngster also has a very cute dad (more about that later)

The venue:

Our sound and lighting expert came for a pre-party consultation and together we decided to use the conservatory and outdoor areas (his mum had a gazebo we could borrow) for dancing, thus saving my wooden floor from complete destruction. He drew a plan of where the lights and music system would go. Sorted. (Or so I thought)

The decorations:

I’ve got one word for you: Poundland – our decorations consisted of:

  • 8 small mirror disco balls (£1 each)
  • plastic, champagne flutes with the cutest summer cocktail straws
  • fairylights (borrowed) for the gazebo.
  • Oh and a few balloons – also Poundland, though don’t expect them to outlast the night.

The food:

Needless to say, I over-catered – and again there was not a cocktail tomato in sight – but in keeping with the summer theme we had coloured jellybeans, popcorn and marshmallows.

I dodged to the kitchen a few times at inopportune moments to fetch mountains of sausage rolls, chicken nuggets and crisps and to top up the fizzy drinks.

Instead of party bags, we had colourful ice suckers that we handed out on the way out and they went down a treat.

The games:

I found this relatively stress-free – a few dance-offs – my husband was the judge and a limbo dancing competition, which they loved so much, they asked for a rerun.

A microphone – which led to several impromptu performances on the dance floor and thankfully I wasn’t drunk enough to go near the mike – I do love a good Karaoke.

The weather:

Because it happened to be the hottest day of the year – the children loved being able to play on the trampoline and be outside in-between dancing. The boys even managed a rugby game.  Thank you God.

The stress levels:

Because of my shyness (Oh shut up!) I will never experience a stress-free party, but considering we had 26 children and that the DJ actually came down with a nasty stomach virus on the morning of the party and had to pull out – I did pretty well. This is where the cute dad comes in – he offered to be the DJ in his son’s place, stuck around for the whole night and even took photographs, which naturally I didn’t even think of.

The result:

One very happy 11-year-old girl and loads of leftover sausage rolls and fizzy drinks.Success! I may even consider starting a children’s party event management business in partnership with the young lad’s dad – what do you think

Do you have some children’s party tips to share?

Sipping bubbly on Centre Court: impressions of a Wimbledon virgin

First published on  on 03 July 2013 in MagazineTravel

wimbledon scoreboard

Me in front of Wimbledon scoreboard

If you’ve ever thought of going to Wimbledon, I’ve got one word for you: Corporate.

Beg, steal or borrow – but get your hands on corporate tickets.

Take it from a Wimbledon virgin who has glammed it with the likes of Pippa Middleton on Centre Court this year: huddling under a plastic bag in the rain on a soggy Murray Mound with the masses just isn’t the same.

As it happens I didn’t have to do anything untoward to find my bum cushioned on a coveted sponsored seat to watch our Andy thrash some unworthy opponent.
I only had to be married to my husband, who won tickets in a lottery at work. I’m hoping this signals a drastic improvement in the perks of being his wife.

The dress code

As I desperately filed through my school run-inspired wardrobe in search of an outfit that would stand up to the potential glare of international television cameras, I panicked.

I had nothing suitable to wear and no time or budget for an elaborate shopping spree.  Enter my fairy godmother in the form of Kate Battrick @TwistedSkirt – a personal stylist I stumbled across in the TK Maxx Lounge at Britmums Live who transformed me from frump to fabulous faster than you can say Game, Set and Match. Read more here.
Tip: Heels are a must for first impressions, but take a pair of sensible shoes for later as you’ll do a lot of walking.

The company

Hospitality marquees filled with executives (or scientists in the case of a life science company) can be daunting if your corporate speak is rusty.

As we walked in, a confident woman in a stripy suit held out her hand, announcing:  “Caroline, Rare Diseases.”

“Uh… Chené, Household Germs,” I felt tempted to reply. My husband shot me a sharp look, so I mumbled: “Home Executive” instead.

After knocking back a few glasses of Pimms, I was chatting to “Genetics” and “Immunology” like old friends. I didn’t understand anything, but nodded encouragingly and counted my blessings I wasn’t sitting next to “Sexually Transmitted Diseases.”
Tip: Ask fellow guests why they love their jobs, zone out and enjoy your Pimms.

The food

While Laura Robson warmed up for her match against Mariana Duque-Marino, we warmed up our palettes with a choice of Parma ham or salmon starters, followed by an impressive cold buffet and a selection of three desserts, washed down with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc. We stumbled across to Centre Court clutching huge plastic cups of champagne with straws to keep us fueled during the match – watching tennis is hard work.

wimbledon food

We returned to the marquee several times throughout the day for top-ups and by the time Murray took on Tommy Robredo, my husband had to restrain me from storming onto court and punching the line judge every time he called a fault in Robredo’s favour.
Tip: Don’t wear anything that is too tight around the waist and take a bottle of water along to pace your drinking.

And… the Tennis

Even if your tennis never got past the rusty racket stage, the thrill of being up close and personal to the world’s top players and the awesome power with which they hit the ball will keep you glued to the edge of your seat.

Your emotions fling wildly up and down with every nail-biting shot, leaving you exhilarated and exhausted.  You’re there with them – at some point I was grunting louder than Sharapova every time Robson served.
Feeling the audience’s rising excitement as Murray scores his way ever closer to victory until he finally smashes his opponent to roaring applause, makes you want to burst with pride.

chene and husband glamming it on Centre Court, Wimbledon

Chené and husband glamming it on Centre Court, Wimbledon

Our day out at Wimbledon was amazing and I’ve already started scheming how to get my hands on corporate tickets to the finals on Centre Court next year!  Any tips or sponsors– let me know.

Have you been to Wimbledon 2013? What were your first impressions?