UNBROKEN

madeleine black

“Used, beaten but never broken. My story of survival and hope.”

It felt somewhat crass to label this blog a ‘book review’, so instead I am going to use the opportunity to reflect on my reactions to reading “Unbroken”, and promote the message Madeleine Black has to share with the world. ‘Meeting’ Madeleine on twitter was a happy accident, due to me following lots of prisoner/justice/charity accounts and somehow becoming linked to her. I had no idea of her story, or that she had written a book, but after conversing for a few months and seeing her tweets I felt compelled to buy “Unbroken”.

“For many years after that night, my memories of what happened after he held the blade to my throat and threatened my life were fragmented…difficult to piece together. It was too extreme, too violent for me to understand.”

The subject of rape is one that evokes many societal reactions. Distress, disgust, discomfort, and denial are a few words that spring to mind. Madeleine’s story crept into every fibre of my being from page one, and her narrative reached me in a way many writers have never managed. While sharing descriptions of her life as a teenager Madeleine maintains a matter of fact style, but the suffocating account of her assault infiltrated the darkest corners of my mind. As I read, I found myself experiencing a multitude of physical and emotional responses, which was exceedingly uncomfortable and ‘real’.  She describes her time in The Mildred Creak Unit, and I became overwhelmingly claustrophobic and apprehensive, desperately willing someone to understand and name what was behind her silence.

“Unbroken” is not ‘just’ a story about a woman who was raped. It is a tribute to everyone who has been either a victim or perpetrator of violence, and a life lesson to those lucky enough to not know the pain of either. Madeleine shares her life without pity, and it is refreshing to read a memoir that is so incredibly raw, yet balanced. It is a reminder that one day or night can be enough to change us forever, but we alone choose and mould that change, and our future. Madeleine’s triumphs and challenges on her healing path are recalled with humility, grace and honesty. The book is compelling, heart-breaking and inspiring all at once, covering so many aspects of life after rape. The final chapter left me feeling exhausted yet strangely revitalised, and wondering when I would be ready to start again from chapter one to absorb the details I’d missed.

Thank you Madeleine for sharing your reality with the masses. You have spoken for those still silent,  those working through trauma and those whose bravery to stand and be counted empowers survivors worldwide. There is something quite beautiful about “Unbroken”, and I think my favourite part is there being a message for everyone to take away – no matter who they are. Madeleine speaks boldly to the world, raising herself up from a muted shell to an influential, educated champion of forgiveness.

 

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ATTTTTEEEEEENTION!! #BringingBackBootcamp

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Third of my free sessions, quietly dying in the top photo

 

Evening all.

Generally I don’t talk about personal stuff on here, particularly relating to exercise (my sworn enemy!!) but I felt it necessary to shine a quick beam of light on something I have recently rediscovered. 5 years ago I attended my first ever boot camp after I found a deal on Groupon (other discount websites are available!) and it was the start of an amazing journey for me. Not only did I lose weight and gain confidence, but I made some incredible long lasting friendships. We trained in blazing heat, torrential rain, and even several inches of ice and snow (something I never ever thought I’d do).

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Fast forward a few years, and once again I’m overweight and pretty unfit. There is no magical cure unfortunately, but having made my way around the local gym circuit I decided drastic action was needed… So I braced myself and clicked on this link:

THE FITNESS DIVISION

I signed up to the 3 free sessions, in order to see how a return to Luke’s Army would fit around my current commitments (and fitness fears). I am pleased to report it was like I’d never left. I was warmly welcomed back, and despite dying during the warm-up each time, I somehow made it through the hour. The number of attendees has drastically increased since the old school days (over 30 people tonight) but the camaraderie, “can do” attitude of the members and terrible jokes from Luke only seem to increase the appeal of flinging myself around a field.

The reason I am taking the time to blog about The Fitness Division is that weight and fitness is a massive ongoing struggle for me, and I can’t recommend Luke’s approach highly enough. It’s so refreshing to find an instructor who is able to strike the balance between making you feel like you will never be able to walk again (that sounds a bit wrong!) and understanding your personal barriers and lifestyle needs. I have just joined up as a member, and will be keenly supporting when Luke opens his gym in a few weeks time. The Fitness Division is a unique experience, and looks set to continue growing during the remainder of 2017, by word of mouth alone. There is something for everyone, regardless of ability, confidence/fitness level and availability to train, and I’d just like to say thank you to Luke for having me back once again 🙂

 

**Please note original boot camp was not The Fitness Division but was my introduction to training with Luke!**

The Last Star and Other Stories (DL Orton) 

The collection begins with a spacey time travel tale. A rather “out there” start,  but fun all the same, taking the reader’s mind into new dimensions! The majority of the book has a more “down to earth” feel, with fictional stories linked to Orton’s life experiences. I was surprised to discover some quite raunchy sections (don’t worry, not quite 50 shades of grey!) and enjoyed the variety of the collection and descriptive style of the author. I would suggest she may wish to add a disclaimer at the beginning of the hospital story as it could potentially be very triggering and distressing for some readers. I particularly enjoyed reading about a ranch later in the book, which was loosely reminiscent of The Horse Whisperer. All in all a fun Saturday afternoon read with plenty to entertain all ages and tastes.

The Disappearing Dad Debacle (and the land of multi-agency mis-communication)

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I recently had the pleasure of being asked to speak at a “Fathers Inside” group (a programme from the charity Safe Ground SAFEGROUND). My agenda was to talk about the social care system, and hopefully challenge their negative stereotypes about social workers! I am sad to say the opportunity cemented one of my more unwanted opinions – that Dads are often second class citizens in the parenting stakes. Before anyone starts, yes, I am aware that lots of situations merit little or no contact from a parent, whether male or female, but let’s try to put that aside for the purpose of this discussion. The men attending “Fathers Inside” were all prisoners, serving sentences for offences that were not discussed with me. Although their religious beliefs, skin colour, and ages were varied, their common link was that they were all Dads, and all the wrong side of the law. A lot of the Q & A centred around the barriers they face as Dads in prison, and their concerns about what further hurdles would present on release. I tried to answer the questions honestly, but as I spoke I realised that the outcomes will largely rely on the views, opinions and priorities of professionals involved with the family the other side of the prison gates.

A collaborative study between Ormiston Children and Families Trust and the University of Cambridge (Risk and Protective Factors Associated with the Resettlement of Imprisoned Fathers and their Families) states that “prisoners’ families are a vulnerable yet ‘invisible’ group with complex needs. They can also be an important resource in helping prisoners to resettle and desist from crime.” Its summary explains that “Approximately one-half of prisoners are fathers of children under the age of 18, yet prisoners’ children and families seem to be an ‘invisible group’ in our society (Ministry of Justice/Department for Schools, Children and Families, 2007). How families adjust to the return of an imprisoned partner or parent, the stress these events place on parents and children, and the support systems and coping mechanisms of family members have been rarely addressed in research.” I will include the findings of this research at the end of this blog.

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It’s interesting, in my opinion, that many professionals don’t ever meet the father of the children they work with. How many teachers, health visitors, social workers, and nursery staff have occasional (or no) interaction with Dad, yet speak to Mum on a regular basis? Social workers make recommendations and safeguarding decisions every day, but how accurate can they be without getting to know both parents and exploring their realities (which often varies enormously from their paperwork persona.) As registered workers we are reminded that there should never be ‘invisible fathers’, yet excuses are made and accepted frequently.

Mum is the main caregiver. Dad works full time. Mum and Dad are no longer in a relationship. Dad doesn’t want to engage. Dad is violent. Mum and Dad no longer speak.

Despite our training, qualifications and judgement free approach to working with parents, it is all too readily accepted that Mum is the ‘go to’ person. Again, before people get worked up, I’m not saying that’s always wrong. I see amazing women holding it together, some with strong men by their sides and others taking the solo option. But. My point is this…where is the equality of opportunity? If families have separated parents, and children predominantly live with Mum, how much involvement and say do you think Dad has regarding agencies around his children? How often are his thoughts, feelings, concerns and wishes represented without bias or assumption? I’m not saying that contact isn’t attempted, but it is up to professionals to go beyond that one letter or voicemail, to replicate actions undertaken to engage Mum. “I’ve tried to get in touch with him, it’s up to him if he want to engage with us.”

Dads need to step up and take responsibility for their children, but how easy is it when their children are not in their care?

Having worked with offenders and prisoners in previous roles, and experienced the criminal justice system from conviction through to release, I am fairly confident in my ability to engage with the more ‘difficult and dangerous’ members of society. I have built up knowledge of how to work in volatile situations, and use my common sense to calm anger, promote independence and nurture the damaged. Now that my job revolves around safety and wellbeing of children, I have placed a different hat on my head. I hold multi-agency meetings on a regular basis and can see the gaps in our so called holistic approach. Just to make it clear, I am not attacking any professional groups or charity workers! In the last 9 years (often having more than one job at the same time!) I have worked as – a carer, a housing worker, a homelessness support worker, an offender manager, a bail hostel project worker, a community service supervisor, a care trainer, a first aid instructor, an offender lecturer, a drug and alcohol worker, and I am now a social worker. From this I have gained an understanding of the different stresses and pressures in each of those sectors, and also an insight into why working together is so difficult. Individuals working with adults (such as mental health teams, drug and alcohol workers, domestic abuse support) have an entirely different remit to those working with children (teachers, nursery staff, social workers). This is to be expected given the nature of the roles, but it’s that gap in the middle that causes a problem.

Sometimes, professionals working solely with parents choose not to attend multi-agency meetings about children (or aren’t invited!) but often hold the most important information. It would be extremely short-sighted to think that Mum or Dad’s mental health, criminal activity or drug/alcohol use doesn’t form an integral part of the cognitive development of children within the environment. Some months ago I invited a mental health practitioner to a meeting for a child I was working with, and initially he refused, saying he has no involvement with the family, only Dad. Eventually he agreed to attend, and not only was it useful for others to hear an independent professional view of a Dad who had already been ‘written off’ by some agencies, but the MH practitioner was also made party to a wealth of information he would not otherwise access. I have found most agencies, charities, and organisations are trained (and rightly so) to follow the culture of their own workplace in order to provide a consistent service. This can, however, make it difficult to work towards one common goal when each person round the table has a different motive and required action for their client. (Not to mention time pressures, caseloads and measured outcomes!)

Plans for families can be written as “SMART” as you like, but unless all parties are included, are in agreement, and understand what needs to be done, the power of the actions is immensely impacted.

I find it amazing that occasionally children can have intervention plans that either ignore Dads altogether, or include actions that are decided on behalf of the absent parent – how Achievable and Realistic is that? It is of course a subjective topic, but seemingly not uncommon that Dads can be brushed aside due to being “on holiday at her Majesty’s pleasure”, uncontactable, disinterested or “being dealt with by probation.” Until we, as professionals, actually get our heads together and use our knowledge to overlap into each other’s work, how can we ever make a difference? It’s not about shipping out the work to the most appropriate agency, although of course that plays its part. It’s about inclusion, communication, adaptability and continuity.

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No one is ‘fixed’ after undertaking a course/group/programme/therapy, but they may have learnt new skills, formed a new opinion or gained better understanding of something. It is not enough for work to end there. Friends, family, volunteers and professionals are responsible for turning that building block into a sustainable life change by promoting the same message continually, and recognising, agreeing with, and being educated on what that person has learnt.

My biological Dad was not in my life for the majority of my childhood. I don’t want to use this blog to deliberate that in any depth, but what I can tell you is that it has had a lasting impact on me. Given the circumstances it was probably for the best that he wasn’t around, and I would like to think I have turned out ok despite the difficulties! What I can recognise now is that the situation was accepted, taken at face value and never challenged by anyone (as far as I know) during my childhood. Had my Mum done the same as my Dad in my primary years I can’t imagine it would have been so easily dismissed by family members or professionals. What is it about Dads that allows them to walk away from their 50-50 parental responsibility? Is it that they haven’t carried a child within their body, and given birth? Is it that society regards the maternal bond as more important? Is it that if you are a ‘Bad Dad’ it’s better for you to be out of the way, so you can’t damage and poison your child? Is it that Dads don’t realise that their rights and responsibilities are equal to that of Mum?

Community Care says “Serious case reviews have repeatedly highlighted failures by social workers to effectively engage fathers or identify men who pose a risk to children.” It goes on to explain that social workers potentially have a multitude of reasons for failing to involve fathers in work (I believe this definitely goes for other fields too). Some explanations include:

“Most children’s social workers are female and may have emotional responses to men that are influenced by their childhood and experiences.”

“Social workers may fear men who are hostile or even violent. A recent Community Care survey found many child protection workers feel unprotected, and often undermined, by their employers when trying to deal with hostile parents, which in turn affects their practice.”

“A lack of good supervision and systems to deal with violent or intimidating service users compounds the problem. There is also a shortage of high quality support programmes for fathers, particularly those who are violent.”

“Social workers often alienate men because they refuse to consider gender and masculinity issues”

“Social workers are often unaware of how ‘masculinity’ influences reactions, meaning fathers are often manifested as unpredictable and violent. Instead we should be looking at how they justify their behaviour, helping them unpick their own narrative and understand the harm they are causing”

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“Social workers tend to see men in a family as either a risk or a resource. Even a father who displays risk factors, such as violence, may display some protective factors. The challenge is to identify interventions that bring forward those protective factors while keeping the risk under control”

But really, for me, the bottom line is that this is not good enough. If Dads really do not want to step up, be involved, and raise their children they can’t be forced. But for those who do… why are we not spending more time breaking down barriers and moving away from generic short term interventions?

Childhood lasts a maximum of 18 years, but good parents last a lifetime.

Dads need to stop hiding and be willing to make changes. Society talks the talk about ‘equality and diversity’, but it still has a long way to go in order to address gender imbalance, particularly in troubled family units. Domestic abuse is unacceptable, as are other forms of criminal behaviour, but it is not a reason to no longer work with Dads who want to be parents. I totally agree that risk management needs to be taken seriously, but it’s time to dissect what has happened, why, and support families to rebuild their unit (or redesign it.). The traditional family is becoming an unusual state of affairs, with blended families becoming increasingly common, and parents, volunteers and professionals need to adapt expectations and attitudes in order to improve positive outcomes. Everyone is responsible for information sharing, and clarity on processes, particularly within statutory organisations. This includes handovers between workers, reviews, swapping reactivity for sustainable development, and a willingness to acquire knowledge about the agendas of all parties.

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Risk and Protective Factors Associated with the Resettlement of Imprisoned Fathers and their Families – Conclusion and Recommendations.

  • High quality family relationships were a very strong and consistent predictor of successful resettlement outcomes for all family members. This suggests that both NOMS and family organisations need to consider what further action can be taken to maintain and strengthen these relationships.
  • The data demonstrated the importance of frequent contact between the father and family during imprisonment. This clearly suggests investing further planning and resources into increasing communication opportunities for all imprisoned fathers, for example, through more high quality visiting experiences and greater access to phone calls.
  • The analysis of prior expectations and experiences after release showed that a more accurate picture with regard to anticipated difficulties and resettlement outcomes was achieved by taking both parents’ views into account. It would, therefore, be useful to include the partner’s views in release and resettlement planning.
  • As expected, employment, accommodation and financial problems were important difficulties in the resettlement process. However, these were not only related to a lack of material resources, but also to a lack of social resources such as quality of family relationships and contact during imprisonment. This suggests that measures to improve resettlement should not be applied in isolation, but should take into account the pattern of needs according NOMS’ concept of multiple pathways out of crime.
  • The importance of support from wider family and friends in the resettlement process suggests that prisons, probation and voluntary sector agencies should consider how to encourage most effectively such informal support in resettlement for prisoners and their families.
  • Family orientated programmes were associated with positive resettlement outcomes when prior quality of parental relationship was taken into account. This is promising. However, as these findings are based on correlational analyses, this is not yet ‘hard’ evaluation data of programme effectiveness. Therefore, we recommend further consideration of family orientated programmes and their methodologically controlled evaluation.
  • Our qualitative analyses revealed the fragility of the well-being of most of the children and young people interviewed in the study. These findings reinforce the need for children of prisoners to be recognised and cared for as vulnerable individuals in local and national policy and for organisations involved with children of prisoners to be sensitive to their vulnerabilities.
  • The relevance of family relationships prior to imprisonment suggests a need to widen the view from corrective to preventive family-oriented interventions. Families should not only receive adequate support and guidance when the father is in prison, but also when there are early risks for offending, substance misuse and other deviant pathways in individual and family development.

In addition to the above, we make the following technical recommendations:

  • The difficulty in obtaining information about prisoners’ parental status during recruitment highlighted the lack of systematic recording of information on prisoners’ children by NOMS. Therefore, action on this problem should be taken to enable better services for prisoners, their families, and research in this field.
  • The task of following up families post-release demonstrated the difficulties in tracking ex-prisoners and their families beyond the prison gates. Therefore, records should contain information which best serves the families’ needs after release. Such an improvement would be in accordance with NOMS’ mission of effective end-to-end offender management.

Morals, values and society…a quick exercise!

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Judgement, values and society exercise.

There was once a prison in a faraway land. It had many prisoners, and many cells. Some of the cells were very big and held up to 10 prisoners. Some of the cells were very small and only held one prisoner. On the ground floor, halfway between the sunlight and the shadows was cell 008. In this cell were 6 men, all criminals. As they waited to be loaded on the prison bus to a new establishment for the last leg of their sentence an officer approached the cell door. “Gents. There’s a problem. There’s 6 of you and only 5 spaces on the bus. We are full here and the governor has told me to release one of you early. I’m a good judge of character, so tell me why I should choose you then I will make a decision.” Ahmed went first. “I should be released early because my crime was not that bad. I was selling drugs, but people chose to buy them. I have a wife and three children missing me. My sentence ends in 4 weeks anyway, so I should be the one set free.” Mitchell was next to state his case. “I committed benefit fraud. But I’m a single Dad, and was struggling to look after my autistic son. My crime didn’t really affect anybody, and I’ve paid taxes the last 30 years so why shouldn’t I get something back.” Elroy gave a beaming smile to the officer and said “I mean, I did try to kill someone. It’s difficult to pretend that’s not bad. But the guy had been assaulting my sister for the last 4 years. C’mon guv, like you wouldn’t do the same. I came here on an IPP sentence and have served way over the original tariff. I’m not a bad guy, I was protecting my family.” Alistair looked at the other men, then to the floor. “There’s no real point in me even asking. I had sex with a 15 year old after I met her in a nightclub. I assumed she was at least 18 and we had consensual sex. I’ve served my time as a rapist and lost many friends and family due to my conviction. I’m not sure what I’m going to have left to go out to.” Chris said “I got charged with TWOC and drink driving. I had a massive fight with my girlfriend, and wanted to get away from the situation to stop it escalating. She has punched me in the face before, and I wanted to avoid a physical altercation. I took her car, and drove from her house to mine. I got pulled over by the police and blew a reading of 60. Although I shouldn’t have done it my intentions were good, and my mum is in hospital so I need to get out to see her.” The final man to speak was Alid. “I robbed a department store. I lost my job but pretended to go to work every day as I knew my family would be ashamed. I just wanted to get enough stuff to pay off some bills until I got a new job. No one would have had to know. It’s not really a crime, trying to keep your head above water. Yes I got a bit desperate, but there was no one to help me.”

List the characters in order of who you’d chose to release with 1 as most likely, 6 as least likely. Why? Once you have finished read the rest (no cheating!!!)

1)

2)

3)

4)

5)

6)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last batch of heroin Ahmed sold was dodgy. A couple took a large amount of it, overdosed and died. Their daughter, 3, had no family able to take her into their home, and so she ended up being fostered while potential adopters were considered. Ahmed has never had a full time job.

 

Mitchell has serious mental health problems. Friends convinced him to deliberately give incorrect details on his benefit forms. His partner walked out on him when his son was 5.

 

Elroy’s sentence is for attempted murder. His sister’s boyfriend had been beating her for 4 years before Elroy found out, and she suffered injuries including various broken bones. Elroy followed the boyfriend down an alley late at night and attacked him with a baseball bat. This resulted in the boyfriend having swelling on the brain, a broken collar bone and he is now partially sighted.

 

Alistair was on a stag do the night he raped a 15 year old. They danced together all night. Alistair was 19 at the time. He was a virgin before this.

 

Chris has been to prison three times for domestic violence. His partner frequently assaults him but he has always been arrested as the perpetrator. He wants to change his life.

 

Alid has a serious cocaine addiction. He has spent the last few years stealing from friends and family to feed his habit. His family are disappointed he has not yet settled down and got married but he is secretly gay and takes drugs to help him feel confident.

The Snug Aylesbury

If there’s one thing I love it’s a happy hour, so I was overjoyed to discover a new bar that had not one, but four hours of happiness every single day. Although The Snug is part of a chain I’m pleased to report it has so far managed to avoid becoming soulless and generic, and if anything is upping its game by expanding the menu and holding movie nights/live music etc. Previous establishments in this location haven’t fared well, but I’m beginning to think that maybe The Snug will finally break the curse of ever-changing names and frequent revamps. 

Laughing because she knows this can only lead to trouble!

Yesterday was my first visit in a few months, and I took a friend who had never been before. We chose our cocktails from the extensive menu but as we were about to order we heard about the spring specials, which were absolute game changers! 

First round of drinks.. For three people..
It seems I was concerned about running out of drinks.. Yes these were all mine..

What I like about The Snug is the quality of the cocktails, and being served by well-mannered staff with personality (Sorry for all the abuse you got Charlie!!) I would think twice about visiting outside the hours of 3-7pm purely due to prices,  as a cocktail can cost anything between £8 – £18 a pop, but when they’re bogof it’s well worth the trip. We didn’t eat there last night, but previously I’ve had pizza and nachos which were delicious, inexpensive and helped soak up some booze! 

I hope that The Snug continues to develop during the remainder of 2017, and retains its quirky, homely feel. It would be great to be able to use the app properly, as I’ve missed out on about 20 points during my last few visits due to it not working. Last night our table became incredibly cluttered with empties, as there were 6 of us with at least two drinks on the go at all times (standard!) so I would say thats a minor area for improvement. The final thing on my wish list would be a garden area, especially as the bar is dog friendly but my pup is too fidgety to have inside for any length of time! 

The bar is perfect for a catch up with friends, pre-dinner drinks or date nights (just waiting for someone to take me!) In my opinion, the best place for cocktails in Aylesbury – I look forward to my next happy hour as soon as I’ve recovered from this one! 

So you’re going to Madrid?

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Date of Travel: Friday 21st April 2017

Accommodation Type: Self Catering Apartment

Number of travellers: 11

Nights: 3

Occasion: Hen party

I will begin by saying that my phone broke the day I got back, and so unfortunately I lost the majority of my photos, including menus etc. I am therefore missing out the places that I can’t name or find through Google. In future I will make sure I send files off to some sort of cloud (once I work out how to do it?!)

Our bride had no idea about our intended destination until we presented her with a plane ticket at the airport (after practically kidnapping her at 2am!) The last few months of organising had taken place via a secret Whatsapp group – well done girls! Although there were activities in the pipeline the trip was intended to be fairly relaxed, in order to accommodate our mixed interests and energy levels!

 

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Easy Jet nervous flyers corner

The flight took around 2.5 hours, with the sun gently shining through the clouds as we landed in Madrid. The temperature was pleasant but not sunbathing weather, so we kept our layers on as we walked to the bus with our lovely driver from Sun Transfers. By later that day it was much warmer though, and there were lots of red arms by night time!

SUN TRANSFERS

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All aboard the party bus!

The journey only took about 20 minutes, and we soon arrived at the apartment.  There were two double rooms with en-suite, a communal bathroom, one room with bunk beds and a single bed, and one twin room, which left our remaining two ladies in the living area on the fold out sofas. The location was fantastic, with amenities only a few minutes walk away. Lidl was conveniently positioned just round the corner, supplying weepingly cheap booze and lovely fresh pastries. The rooms were clean and well sized, and the arty furniture and decor added a classy feel. There are a few minor changes the owner could make in my opinion, (The kettle didn’t work, the jacuzzi bath didn’t work, the showers weren’t very powerful, we were only provided with one towel per person, and the only mirrors were in the 3 bathrooms, which is definitely not enough for 11 women getting ready for a night out!) but for the price it was excellent value. Overall I would certainly recommend the apartment for large groups looking for affordable access to Madrid’s many attractions.

 OUR APARTMENT

 

ROSI LA LOCA (First dinner out):

TRIP ADVISOR

Due to the size of our party we weren’t able to be seated straight away, but it wasn’t too much hardship to sip sangria in the street while we waited! The tapas was hot, fresh and delicious, with variety to suit every palate. We had cocktails which were refreshing, and complimented the food. Our entire bill came to just under 20 euros a head, which was a bargain considering we hadn’t held back. Some of the dishes were ‘taster’ size so I would suggest clarifying portions if you are worried about over ordering. At the end of the meal the owner gave us discount cards for a local club which was a nice touch.

Some of us decided to explore the town after dinner, and ended up in a bar called “ROOM”. I am struggling to find it anywhere on Google, but it was definitely a real place!! We arrived at the bar after getting bored of having flyers thrust in our faces as we walked around (this is one of the few downsides of Madrid in my opinion), and so paid 10 euros entry for some peace. For this princely sum we were entitled to one ‘long drink’ ie spirit and mixer, and one of something else (we never really clarified what the something else was but we had a shot each). The music was pretty good, mixing up pop/rnb/dancehall with Spanish tunes. The dancing was a bit non-existent, and I enjoyed terrifying some European teenagers with my moves. It was on this night that we discovered our new holiday song…

HOLIDAY JAM

We went for breakfast on the Saturday (well, brunch) and I’ve completely forgotten where it was. Probably just as well as I didn’t think a great deal of the food or service!

SARA MARTIN FLAMENCO CLASS

DANCE SCHOOL

We had a Flamenco class booked, which was held at the Sara Martin Dance School. Our teacher was absolutely lovely, and taught us the basics of clapping/footwork etc. A fun activity for everyone to do, and gave us a real appreciation of what an art form Flamenco is!

CHURRERIA LOS ARTESANOS CHOCOLATERIA (https://losartesanos1902.com/)

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As we were in Spain it seemed rude not to sample the local churros.  They were delicious, inexpensive and a little went a long way! I wasn’t very impressed to be told I couldn’t have an ice cream cone as a sit-in option (only a sundae or ice cream in a tub), and it was strange that we were made to pay on the way in but other tables paid on the way out. Overall not the best customer service but the chocolate was worth it.

LATERAL SANTA ANA: (Second Dinner out)

LATERAL

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The interior was tasteful (outside dining also an option but not guaranteed unless you book), and more importantly there was a stand alone cocktail station so I was happy. As per the first night the menu was pretty much all tapas but offered an assortment of dishes, most of which had small and large options. The cocktails were aesthetically pleasing and made for easy drinking, perfectly accompanying the meaty, cheesy deep fried foods. The service was particularly good, and the waiters were friendly and attentive. At one point I was saying that I found it strange they didn’t bring jugs of water to the table, and seconds later I had water in front of me! Again, the bill came to less than 20 euros per head – we all agreed we would have happily paid more. (I also liked the smile and the wink I got from ‘the water waiter’ on the way out, he knew how to make a Bridget Jones girl feel good!!)

TEATRO KAPITAL (Club Night)

Teatro Kapital

On the Saturday evening we had some drinks at the apartment, and of course played willy-related party games. As I’m sure you can appreciate its not easy to get 11 women showered, changed with hair and make up finished with only 3 bathrooms (and communal hair dryers and straighteners!) so by the time we were actually getting into taxis it was 2am. The Teatro Kapital nightclub boasts 7 floors, each of which has a different theme. We paid about 20 euros to get in, which I believe included a free drink (things were a bit blurry by then). At one point we sat down on a sofa to get a photo, only to be told that we needed to buy a bottle as it was VIP, and bottles were to a maximum of 4 people each. Very costly drinks (I think 3 vodka and mixers cost about 40 euros) Overall it was a good night out, but not amazing. Maybe I’m too old for clubbing. On the plus side its very close to McDonalds and the taxi rank!! **My friend went to McDonalds and caught a woman taking money from her handbag so keep your wits about you!!**

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Madrid has several large parks, which we took advantage of on the Sunday, and spent a few hours lying on the grass eating meat and drinking prosecco. A pleasant way to ease a hangover!

We did the Madrid City Bus Tour (Bus Tour Info), which I had mixed feelings about. The ticket for both bus routes was 25 euro, which meant you could use the ticket over 2 days and travel the blue and green journeys. As a group we probably could have planned it better as we were a bit restricted for time, and had also walked around quite a lot which meant we had seen sections the tour on foot. You weren’t allowed to take food or drink on the buses which was a bit annoying as we had purchased some milkshakes and had to wait at the bus stop until we had finished, but I guess it’s common sense really. It was easy to get seats and take photos while having a chat and getting a feel for the local area. Probably not an activity I’d be fussed to do again as I didn’t have much interest in getting off at any stops.

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CARDAMOMO FLAMENCO NIGHT: (Final night activity)

Flamenco Show

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We pre-booked tickets for this performance, which was 39 euros a head and included a free drink. The venue is intimate and we were lucky to be seated right next to the stage. We enjoyed an impressive hour of flamenco (which at points showcased some very middle eastern sounding singing!!) washed down with 3 large jugs of sangria between 9 of us (one of our party was pregnant, and one was drinking wine instead) which was very generous. There was a dinner option available, but not everyone was keen on the menu so we ate elsewhere before the show started. The staff were friendly and we all enjoyed the opportunity to sit back and be entertained.

The Roof at ME: (Final drinks on night 3)

ROOF BAR

By midnight of Sunday, we were all shattered, and bloated from tapas and booze. We decided to finish the weekend in style by appreciating Madrid from above.

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The view was lovely, although for safety reasons it was shielded behind slightly dirty plastic! Our waiter was a sweetheart and had moved from England to do some travelling, so we chatted to him a little bit. Expensive but delicious drinks (about 16 euros a pop?), I would imagine the venue is excellent for a sophisticated Friday or Saturday night.

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Top tips

  • Use Trip Advisor, we found it pretty accurate. If there is anything you really want to do plan it in advance so that you make the best of your time, especially if only visiting Madrid for a few days.
  • Don’t use Uber, they are very expensive. The local taxis were very safe and helpful.
  • There are lots of cash points around so don’t worry about carrying too much cash.
  • If you want anything other than tapas you may need to go online to find somewhere prior to meal times.
  • Stop for a drink at Bar La Provincia we went there on the last day – good prices on drinks, nice venue and a very friendly man serving. Police horses went by regularly if you like that kind of thing.
  • Lots of the clothing shops by us were wholesale only. If you like cheap shoes/sandals look up “Zap”.
  • You are never far away from a cafe, bar or gift shop, just potter around and don’t feel pressured to go in the first place you find. The cheaper establishments tend to be down side streets, but often don’t offer the same aesthetics as the main areas.
  • The weather can be variable in April/May, bring sun cream and summery clothes but also a cardigan etc.