I’ve just come back from a really good holiday.

I hope you have too.

Nothing remarkable in that, you may be thinking. That’s what we all hope for, right? What makes the fact that I had a good holiday surprising is that that unfortunately is not normally the case. I am rubbish at holidays. Always have been, I don’t do holidays well. There are lots of reasons for this, the main one being that I have to take myself with me.

Yes, that.

It never ends well. The low point is usually some time on day two. I’ve come to expect that now: the only variable is how low that low point plummets down to.

I therefore did not have high expectations for this holiday. For a start, it was in this country. Which meant it would rain and be cold and we wouldn’t be able to entertain our kids and our dogs. I was bracing myself for staying in a self-catering cottage. Preparing meals away from home was always a nightmare in my experience. I was so busy the week leading up to the holiday I didn’t feel at all prepared.

Having said all that, this was a really good holiday.

And here are five reasons why:

  1. I took the best version of me

I don’t know how or why. I wish I did. I could then do it again next time. I have never felt so chilled so quickly. Even in the car on the way down the country, I was smiling to myself. Maybe it was because we were heading back to East Anglia. My roots. A familiar landscape. I found happiness on this holiday: a happy me overflowing with gratitude.

2. The cottage was perfect

As soon as I walked through the door of Little Turnpike Cottage, I felt at home. Everything had been thought of. The kitchen was more well-equipped than my kitchen at home. The vibe was stylish but homely. Lived in. If I was designing a holiday cottage, this is how it would be. We all relaxed into it straightaway.

3. There was something about Woodbridge

Having grown up in Ipswich, I’d never considered Woodbridge a tourist attraction. But it suited me and my family perfectly. Good walks for my man and his dogs. A great cafe Honey and Harvey with a fantastic flat white, a delicious cheese scone with chilli jam and cool vintage decor. And a warm welcome for the dogs. Bookshops and vintage shops and a sale in Fat Face.

4. I felt able to be unapologetically me

I stayed in bed until ten some days. I gazed at the gibbons at Colchester Zoo for as long as I wanted to. I read a lot. I challenged my husband to many games of LINKEE – or KINKEE as our friend insisted on calling it! I had a long bath with bubbles and candles and a glass of wine. I let myself relax and not feel guilty for doing so.

5. I took time out alone with my man

We went to Greenbelt Festival as day visitors on the Saturday. It took some organising. It would have been easier not to. But it mattered. We reconnected with each other and with the essence of who we are. He came alive listening to a debate about poverty; I shone with enthusiasm when I emerged from a session about the spiritual lessons of the zombie apocalypse.

So that was my holiday. Yes, the car broke down in the outside lane of the A12. Yes, getting us, two kids, two dogs and A LOT of luggage back home was a logistical nightmare. But these are not the things we will choose to remember.

We spent time reconnecting with each other, with the family, with friends we hadn’t seen for years. We spent time reconnecting with our past selves, our selves from nearly thirty years ago as we were starting out on this journey together. We reconciled who we were then with who we are now. We found peace in that process.

We stripped everything back and reconnected with ourselves.

That’s the essence of a good holiday.

A week ago, me and my crew descended onto the Newcastle-Gateshead Quayside ready for a great night out. We were all up for it. Getting together in the middle of the school holidays is always a treat when we’re not seeing each other as regularly as normal. We’d all been preparing: this was an 80s night and we were all representing the 80s in one way or another – plenty of George Michael CHOOSE LIFE T shirts, a couple of Madonna influences, even a Michael Jackson suit and hat combo…

We had no idea what to expect. We’d never attended a QFestival event before. We had no idea what a Spiegeltent was. And from the outside, this tent, this wooden structure, looked decidedly unimpressive. I couldn’t help wondering ‘What on earth have I brought everyone to here?’. It had been my idea and I felt some level of responsibility. Nestled between the imposing structures of the Sage and the Baltic, this plain wooden construction seemed small, uninviting, insignificant.

Let’s firstly take a step back and ask ‘What is a Spiegeltent?’ I’d asked myself this question before signing up to this event and was intrigued by what I found out. Spiegeltent is Dutch for ‘mirror tent’. A Spiegltent is a large travelling tent, constructed from wood and canvas, decorated within with mirrors and stained glass. Originally built as an entertainment venue in Belgium during the late 19th century, only a handful of these Spiegeltents remain in existence today – and we had the privilege of having one right here, on the Gateshead bank of the river Tyne! I felt inspired by the description of this venue, drawn to see what it was all about, and yet, as I stood by the Millennium Bridge looking at this dated, undecorative structure, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed and more than a little apprehensive.

And then we stepped inside. I left my doubts at the door and smiled. Oh yes, this was what we had come for. This was going to be a good night. I felt as if I was stepping into a TARDIS – something small and uninspiring on the outside became a whole new glorious world on the inside. I walked around in awe, taking in the beautiful wooden floor and the glittering mirrors on every column, the sumptuous burgundy silk ceiling drapes which rippled in the breeze. We were no longer in Gateshead, but were transported into a magical venue, many miles and years away from our daily lives.

This was a travelling tent. This tent had seen the world through the decades. This tent had a sense of history that was trapped within its circle of influence. And here we were, adding another tale to to this unique chapter of tales.


As we all squeezed into a wooden booth designed for a smaller group than we were(!), we slipped back into the 80s with glittery make-up, glow sticks, smiley face badges and the occasional pineapple (I know, right – who knew pineapples were a symbol of the 80s?). This entertainment/culture team had thought of everything. Other groups had turned up for a good night out too – complete with ra ra skirts, leg warmers and an inflatable boombox, no less. Everyone was there to dance – right from the start, people were giving it all on the dance floor, losing themselves in the experience, drifting back into being the person they had been more than thirty years before.

As Helen H commented on Facebook the next day –

There was a moment tonight , listening to Right on Time, where I was a teenager. Completely taken back in time , no kids, no responsibility. Just the singing and the dancing. I nearly cried ❤❤❤

Music can do that to a person. It’s powerful that way. The ten of us there that night hadn’t known each other way back then, but we were comfortable enough together to allow ourselves to revisit those times, each in our own bubble and yet supported and loved by each other.

For me, the tent itself contributed to the magic of the experience. In having such a history, it became timeless. The tent was firmly erected on familiar territory in the here and now, and yet the interior drew us away from that, back in time, back into memory, back to when we were just starting out on the journey that led us to where we are today.

And yet that past is not as you left it. You’re holding up a mirror to what was, to your younger self, and it’s filtered through all that you’ve been through along the way.

The present changes the past. Looking back, you do not find what you left behind.
― Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss

So thank you, Spiegeltent, for this glimpse of who I was and who I am now, what has been and what is to come.

I can’t wait to visit you again.