Diwali: Festival of Lights

Diwali came very much to the front of my mind when I lived in Leicester, mainly because the city has a very large and diverse ethnic minority population, their Diwali celebrations are widely believed to be the largest outside of India.

Diwali is the Indian Festival of Lights, it’s one of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, symbolising the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.

Obviously restricted in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, normally there are 6,500 lights all along Belgrave and Melton Roads, around fifty separate events spread across the city over a two-week period, including music, dance and live performances in a variety of venues, all ending with a spectacular firework display.

National Parks UK

I came across this wonderful website today, one that immediately made me long for the great outdoors (even if we explore it on a screen). It also reminded me of the wealth of beautiful landscapes we are blessed with in the UK.

The website is stunning from the moment it loads, the above screenshot of a moving image can’t do it justice. There are 14 National Parks in the UK, and this site makes exploring them easier than ever.

Having made a few clicks, this is a terrific site. Lots of great photography and comprehensive information. No time to describe it all to you, just go and explore it for yourself. Click here.

Sunshine in Lockdown (Naomi Ager)

I’m really pleased to share this guest post by my wife Naomi, one she surprised me with late last night.

Yesterday’s (Thursday 15 October 2020) visit to Sunshine Wood turned out to be quite emotional for me. No, not in a gushy crying way, but instead a rush of overwhelming relief that finally I’d found somewhere lovely, stimulating and safe for my youngest child Pollyanna to explore and enjoy learning opportunities again, one that involved little people like her and not just with mummy.


My older children, Freddy (5) and Matilda (4) have benefitted socially, academically, and emotionally from the daily toddler groups and play cafes we toured before they started school nursery and then fulltime school.
They also got to go to nursery from the age of two for 15 hours which really built their confidence.

Then coronavirus lockdown happened, resulting in Freddy and Matilda being ripped abruptly away from their school in Wallsend back in March 2020, and not being able to return to say a proper goodbye to their school friends before we moved house to Norton in Stockton. Pollyanna had just started her journey at Shining Stars Nursery before lockdown stopped it in its tracks.

I found myself, like many thousands of other parents, at home with the prospect of a whole new ‘adventure’ – home schooling! These children had been used to proper organised activities, play groups, nursery etc. How could I compare?

We remained sensible and only left the house to go for long walks in open spaces, and filled the rest of each day with learning games, drawing, talking together, playing, lots of cuddles, and togetherness as a family.

Eventually, the schools reopened, and in September, the big two started their new chapter at their new school. This left Pollyanna and me at home alone facing long daytimes, still with toddler groups closed. A few places I had heard about from friends only took bookings, and I guess because I wasn’t used to being pinned down and kind of forced to attend, booking felt too official for this mummy and daughter duo who just liked to wake up and go where we felt like going.

Anyway, when Pollyanna’s little friend and her mummy invited us to go, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get us both back into the swing.

Sunshine Wood greeted us with such warmth and friendliness, whilst still making sure the rules they had implemented were followed and understood. The facility itself was so clean and well set out and having a number limit really allowed those parents that were there to have a really quality experience with their child.

Pollyanna explored most areas at least once. Though she was particularly drawn to the excavators and rocks in the sand pit. She relaxed for ages there and found it really therapeutic to explore with the sand. In the hour and a quarter we (Mummy, Daddy and Pollyanna) spent at Sunshine Wood, watched our little girl come out of her lockdown shell and remember the fun she used to have with children her own age. She was a vet, a farmer, a shop keeper, and a builder. In those precious moments and she sparkled her way through every role. She also loved the painting area and proudly clutched her numerous works of art when it was time to leave.

As a doting mummy, I take copious amounts of photos so I can look back on the memories. Today, at Sunshine Wood, my heart took a photo, and they are always the best kind.

Sunshine Wood (Billingham)

Sunshine Wood is a natural educational and play centre for young children set in the Billingham Beck Valley Country Park. Naomi and I took Pollyanna this morning and she met her friend Isabelle there. There’s also a cafe, toilets and baby changing facility. It was our first time there, and Pollyanna really loved it. We were particularly impressed by the excellent coronavirus safeguarding precautions being taken, with thorough cleaning between sessions. There’s also a QR code for checking in with the NHS track and trace app for smartphones. You can find Sunshine Wood on Facebook.

After our visit to Sunshine Wood, we enjoyed an autumnal walk round Billingham Beck Valley Country Park, and I returned later with Freddy and Matilda after picking them up from school. Matilda needed to collect autumn objects for her school homework project.

On Wenlock Edge (Housman)

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

‘Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood;
‘Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare;
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone:
Today the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.

Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936)

Aeolian Motion (Phil Johnson)

This morning I took Freddy with me to do some jobs in Stockton-on-Tees town centre, but we also had some fun and did some sightseeing. Freddy got soaking wet in the fountains and had to walk back to the car in wet shorts and bare feet, fortunately there were some spare clothes in the car. You can see the photos here.

We also had a walk along the riverside, passing a striking piece of constantly moving public art entitled Aeolian Motion (Phil Johnson). It was erected in March 2001 as part of a regeneration plan for the area and was inspired by the endless flow of the river and its rich history (see plaque below).

Stewart Park with Matilda

I seized the opportunity to have some Daddy/Matilda time while Naomi was out with Freddy and Pollyanna today. It’s great to be all together as a family, but equally important to have one-to-one parent and child times as they can really deepen relationships.

As I was thinking where we could go, one of the places I came up with was Stewart Park in Middlesbrough to see the animals. Without prompting, she said she wanted to go to a park with animals, so that was decided. We’re obviously in tune with each other and on the same wavelength.

We saw the animals and did all the usual stuff you do in a park on a sunny afternoon (including having ice creams) although she was quite happy making sandcastles and adding ‘details’ (her words not mine) of stones, leaves, pine cones and sticks. You can see all the photos here.

Walk in Coatham Wood

Since moving to Teesside (strictly speaking back to Teesside) I’ve been making a list of places to visit, and this wood was somewhere I discovered recently. Naomi is out with Pollyanna today, so I decided to take Freddy and Matilda. We only had time to see a small part of the wood, so we’re sure to visit again.

Visit this vibrant woodland habitat, bursting with wildlife for you to discover. Coatham Wood, found near Stockton, is a newly planted community woodland, with the first trees planted in 1999. The mosaic of broadleaved and conifer trees, as well as ponds and meadows makes Coatham a great habitat for all kinds of wildlife. Look out for newts and dragonflies around the ponds, or you may spot a deer grazing in one of the open areas. All 5 native species of owl have been spotted around the woodland. Forestry England.

Simple Human Interactions

I spent this afternoon at Costa Coffee inside the Odeon Cinema foyer at Silverlink Shopping Park waiting for my car to be serviced at a nearby Citroën dealership. Having bought coffee and cake, I told the staff to let me know if they needed the table, especially in the light of reduced capacity with all the coronavirus social distancing measures, as I had done in McDonald’s in the morning.

An elderly lady and her middle-aged daughter came and enjoyed some refreshments before going into the cinema. As they left, I was still in the same place doing personal business on my Chromebook. They came over and struck up conversation, quite concerned that I had nowhere to go.

They were genuinely relieved when I explained why I was 35 miles away from home and could only have my car serviced there because it came free as part of the original sales agreement. Oh, how we laughed. Life’s little interactions are important, always talk to people whenever you have the opportunity.