‘Hi-de-Holidays’ In The Sun

Summer holidays are turning into rather gargantuan European adventures for us.

For the third year in a row, we have bundled most of our earthly possessions into our long suffering Qashqai and made the long trek south to glorious Portugal.

A trip we are now well versed with, and have accomplished via ferry to Spain’s sunny Santander, the last two times in a row.

It adds a little extra excitement to our annual escapades, not that we really need it when visiting the foreign family, who always roll out the red carpet for their vivacious visitors.

Mummy’s Portuguese parents are always eager to lavish their long lost love onto their very own dynamic duo.

So after a good two days’ travel, across land and surprisingly calm sea, we were all pleased to arrive in the quirky little time capsule of Amorosa just a few weeks’ back.

A Butlins cum Center Parcs style seaside resort on the north coast, about an hour’s drive from the outlaws’ normal residence in Vila Nova de Gaia, just outside Porto.

It was here that our week-long beach bum holiday kicked off in earnest and it was trunks on and flip-flops at dawn as we made the most of the sun on our backs and sand between our toes.

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The holiday kicks off

Although previously back home, we’d already enjoyed a good few weeks of #Summer2018, it’s always good to feel that Portuguese sunshine on your skin and experience the thrill of some foreign soil.

When we’re Amorosa side, daily trips to the beach are called for, but only until about 12:30pm when it’s time to retreat back to the holiday flat to dodge the midday sun and scorching 30c plus heat most days.

Our shoreline shenanigans always involve digging, football and plenty of paddling but this time we had a new activity to keep us occupied as well.

A brand new boat (blow up dingy) had been dutifully purchased by the Portuguese grandparents this year, so the boys were dying to give it a maiden voyage on the waves as soon as possible.

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Three men and a boat

After inflating it to within an inch of its life it was duly carted off to the beach and primed for action.

The boys were a little apprehensive at first so daddy and Booboo (grandad) took charge of proceedings, launching headlong into the ice cold surf in typical holiday abandon.

With the waves gently lapping and the cowardly young duo now sure that capsizing was no longer on the cards, it wasn’t long before three men in a boat were being steered carefully towards the horizon by the ever watchful Booboo.

I say horizon but it was more like just a few yards out to sea but it was great fun to ‘mess about’ on the water for a bit nonetheless.

After retiring for lunch before the hottest sun hit, it was usually a sure fire bet that you’d find us languishing in the nearby bar – the cooler that cool Cafe Magma – for a large ice cream and even larger ice cold beer.

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‘Two small beers please!’

This year there was also a brand new addition, with the restaurant branching out and opening an extra craft beer outlet, stocked full of Europe’s finest ales, from Erdinger to Delirium and everything in between.

It was a desperate dad’s dream and I enjoyed lingering amongst the bottles and perusing the gorgeous glasses, a few euros burned before being dragged away kicking and screaming by mummy.

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As the great Fred Astaire once sang: ‘I’m in heaven’

In the evenings if not too tired, a trip to the ‘within spitting distance’ from the flat cafe was often on the cards. With the new football season now firmly underway, it was wall-to-wall Portuguese Primeira Liga action most nights.

One particular match involved Benfica, a couple of large beers and a few whiskeys. The eventual result I don’t really recall to be honest…

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No recollection

The only slight downside to our time at the coast was the unfortunate ‘all night banging’ we experienced from the neighbouring town. Much more innocent than it sounds I’m afraid, but it appeared we’d forgotten just how much partying the Portuguese like to do, particularly in the summer months.

Our top floor flat seemed a magnet for the ‘boom boom booming’ sound waves of the constant bass emanating from the locality just up the road.

I like a dance as much as the next dad, but not even a Red Bull and a hundred grand of class A drugs could keep me bopping from 6pm to 10am the next morning – literally.

So as our time at the coast drew to a welcome end, Porto beckoned once again and with a wink and a grin we bid a fond farewell to our ‘Hi-de-Hi!’ digs and repackaged the Nissan all bound for our second home.

Vila Nova De Gaia lies just opposite Porto – the country’s second largest city – across from the picturesque Rio Douro, famous for its abundance of port wine cellars and friendly cafes and bars, where you can pick up a cheap beer and enticing pastry for just a few bargain euros.

And although the grandparents now live on the Gaia side, we always enjoy a mooch around Porto itself, perusing the many intriguing gift shops and taking in the spectacular riverside views for a few hours.

This trip was no different and along with the annual cable car ride, walk across the magnificent Ponte Luis I Bridge and regular ice cream pit stops, this year included a visit to the official Portugal FC store.

A footie fan’s dream it certainly turned out to be with FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon strips as far as the eyes could see.

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Replica kits R us

At almost €100 a pop however, we decided we were more than happy with the cheaper ‘replica’ kits we’d managed to pick up on the coast during the previous week.

We had a proper treat in store towards the end of the week anyway. As previously mentioned, with the new football season already in its early stages it just so happened that local team Boavista FC were to host rivals Benfica on the penultimate day of our holiday.

It seemed an opportunity too good to be missed and what with Booboo and Boy 1 both fervent Benfica fans themselves, was a no brainer, nailed on boys only outing.

Three golden tickets were duly snapped up, with Boy 2 preferring to visit the cinema with mummy and Bobo (grandma) to watch the latest Mamma Mia film, and it was off to Estadio do Bessa for an experience never to be forgotten.

The Benfica fans seemed to outnumber Boavista’s about two to one and we were treated to an accomplished performance with the away team running out eventual 0-2 winners, the second goal a particular spectacle of slick, tiki-taka style continental football.

The three of us were on our feet at the end to applaud a truly wonderful display, which we all agreed bettered the Champions League qualifying match between Porto and Roma we’d been lucky enough to witness two years previous.

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#fanboys

It was a fitting end to another fantastic vacation and all the was left to do was Tetris-style slot our belongings back into the quivering Qashqai for our return trip to Santander and eventual journey back to Blighty.

This time, in order to break things up a bit, mummy had once again booked us into a more than suitable Novotel just a couple of hours from Santander, to help the onward trek home a little less tortuous for us all.

After a refreshing swim and a few more unnecessary meals, it wasn’t long before we were queuing up in line to board our favoured vessel the Pont-Aven. An overnight sail into Portsmouth ahead of us, which unfortunately wasn’t quite as smooth as our outbound voyage had been.

We were all more than relieved to arrive ‘home sweet home’ around 24 hours’ later, fully Portuguesed and suntan lotioned out for another year.

Before we know it Bobo will be making her annual pilgrimage to the UK once more, but for us, our summer excitement had come to its end.

Obrigado por tudo Portugal, I wonder what next year has in store…

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When Saturdays Come

Usually at this time of year we’re all champing at the bit.

Saturday afternoons seem bereft when the footie season finishes and we’re left feeling like Premier League paupers with cobwebs on our shin pads.

This year, with England’s World Cup heroics, things have been slightly different admittedly, but it won’t be long until the weekends are firmly back on track, with 3pm kick-offs and 5 Live car updates regular features once again.

If we’re not heading down to Sincil Bank, to watch our local now ‘league’ pinup stars, we’re usually looking forward to Super Sundays on the TV as the heavyweight millionaires battle it out for the bragging rights.

I say we, but it’s still really just myself and boy number 1. Boy number 2’s appetite, although partially whet by the recent Russian revolution, is yet to fully develop into full-blown football fanaticism.

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He’s usually quite content to ‘grab a blanket’ with mummy and devour the latest offerings on Netflix, no football widow wallowing in this house.

In amongst all the above, I’m often left chasing around the county taxiing said boy 1 to his own soccer set-tos, as part of his junior football team’s seasonal adventures.

From September to April, every Sunday seems taken, and home or away you’ll find me cheering from the touchline as proud as punch and as vociferous as the rest of the parents, who kick every ball and cheer every goal as they go in.

There’s something quite wonderful about watching your offspring excel at a talent, embracing a passion and putting you to shame with every caress of the ball or pinpoint pass to a team mate.

He is really very good and certainly does not take his twinkle-toe like talent from me, who was no George Best for sure. The only resemblance being a similar passion for the odd pint or two and partiality to Miss Worlds I can see.

And this season, a slightly new adventure beckons. He’s just signed up with a newly promoted rival team. League runaways last season, they took his fancy towards the end of the campaign and after a few plucky trials pre-season, was snapped up forthwith.

A smart new outfit they certainly look, and even though we’ll miss our old comrades from the past, the new challenges this coming season will bring are ones we’re both looking forward to getting stuck into.

I only hope my new parenting pals take my slightly ‘odd’ sense of humour in the way it’s intended – some ice is harder broken than others after all.

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So as we get ready to embrace the great outdoors again, to don double socks, thermal vests and extra thick gloves for the season ahead, I’m sure it seems more trouble than it’s worth to many.

But for me, the numb feet and hoarse voice are a small price to pay, to watch my man of the match shine in his prime position when the weekends come around.

The Patriotic Portu’geezers’

St George’s Day used to be a bit of an event when I was younger.

I’m sure I remember dressing up as dragons or slayers (or both) and charging around the playground without a care in the world of a weekday lunchtime.

Nowadays, it seems to be a bit of a hushed affair, an unspoken celebration in case someone gets the wrong end of the lance somewhere down the line.

It feels like a real shame to me, especially as all the other Patron Saints always get a jolly good toasting on their special days throughout the year.

What’s not to like about celebrating being English? If that’s what you are shouldn’t you be able to shout about and be proud of it? Mark the occasion with a fry-up and a grin?

I guess our family is a little bit different and used to embracing all kinds of cultures – but at the end of the ‘quest’ we have no real choice after all.

With a fiercely passionate Portuguese woman of war for a mummy, my dynamic duo are well versed at bucking the norm.

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Being half foreign has lots of benefits of course, guaranteed sunshine holidays, a choice of international football teams to support, and always being arm’s length away from the mother-in-law.  But more of the dragon later.

Having such a culturally diverse background from day one has been a godsend for all of us and so probably ‘allows’ us to be even more patriotic than most.

These days I feel as Portuguese as I do English, or British I suppose I should say, if we’re being totally PC.

And although I can still only barely order a half-hearted ‘cerveja’ and mutter wrongly accented please and thank yous, I’ve always been welcomed with open arms into my foreign family.

We feel privileged to be party to our Porto compatriots and wouldn’t have it any other way.

All this European eulogising only adds to our own English enthusiasm of course – as however much we enjoy our Portuguese prances, there’s never, ‘no place quite like home’ is there?

England’s green and pleasant land will always draw us back again and even the Mrs agrees that we’re not a bad bunch most of the time.

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If you’re proud of your heritage and as long as you respect that of others, I see nothing wrong with slaying the odd dragon now and then.

As my boys grow older and their horizons inevitably broaden, I hope they’ll take this valuable lesson with them.

And as the years unfold and our young warriors make their own ways in the world, let’s all hope that bigotry, hatred, prejudice and discrimination are the true monsters to be put to the sword.

I’m pretty sure we’d all rather face a horrifying dragon-like mother-in-law than have to battle against any of those true evils in the near future.

We ‘Aren’t’ The Champions

This summer something extraordinary happened again. Something familiar and very welcome – albeit often a little frustrating too.

It happens every four years without fail (two if you count the Euros), but there’s always a little bit extra excitement in the air during a World Cup year.

Once the football season finishes, you’ll find us counting down the days, waiting with anticipation for the soccer celebrations to kick off proper.

Wall charts are secured, sticker books swapped and the TV schedule is taken over – quite literally – by eager fans who are quickly swept up in the ensuing match day manias.

I say fans, but it’s really just Boy 1 and me at present, although Boy 2 is finally starting to show a glimmer of interest this time around (thankfully).

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Outnumbered, mummy is banished to the bedroom, particularly in the first round stages when it seems to be wall-to-wall Ronaldo and Messi seven-days-a-week.

There’s something even more magical about our tournaments however, because we get two bites of the cherry and double shots at the title.

With an English dad and Portuguese mum – my dynamic duo are spoilt for choice when it comes to supporting a sporting team.   It’s the Three Lions vs. The Navigators and god forbid should they ever meet each other en route to the final.

But with twice the excitement comes twice the expectation and the hype is cranked up to full notch as we prepare to champion our respective teams into oblivion.

Of course daddy is completely English and mummy patriotically Portuguese, but the boys are split, as they should be, so it’s really a win win, or lose lose situation in England’s case, for them most of the time.

This embarrassment of riches means our international tournaments are real celebrations, giving us something to shout about long into the summer on many occasions.

It’s a dream that I’m pleased has been passed on. My own journey ignited by the classic capers of Lineker and co in the more than memorable Italia 90 – now a frightening 28 years ago.

The romance burned bright into July all those years ago as England marched merrily into the semi finals, only to be cruelly out-manoeuvred by the West Germans from the penalty spot and denied their rightful place in the final.

I can still recall the thrill of that last minute winner against Belgium, the nerve-shredding penalties against Cameroon and the euphoric equaliser in the semi-final, which took us to the brink of sporting world dominance once more.

A heady height I’ve yet to re-experience in the following all too familiar excruciating years of hurt, Portugal’s unlikely triumph in the 2016 European Championships a pleasing recent distraction for us all.

There’s more than simply football to focus on here though. This global gathering gives the boys a fascinating insight into different cultures and customs, a window of opportunity to experience life beyond their boundaries and delve into the different for a few weeks every few years.

They’re pretty well rounded in the first place, with regular visits to mummy’s hometown topping up their Portuguese passion and doting foreign grandparents more than ready to shower them in affection at every opportunity.

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But it always helps to further broaden their horizons and gives us yet another excuse to brandish the atlas and plot our courses to faraway and unpronounceable lands.

And as full time eventually approaches and the trophy is finally lofted, so the sticker books and wall planners are packed away, another soccer sensation consigned to the memory banks.

It’s never long before that fever pitch is reached again however and if ‘they think it’s all over’ too soon, the next knock out competition is always just around the corner to make sure ‘it’s coming home’ for us all to enjoy together once more.

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A Road To Wembley

In case you hadn’t realised, my boy and I are both diehard Imps fans.

My eldest is completely footie mad, but his love for Lincoln City FC has grown into an almost all encompassing passion over the past few seasons.

Sparked in 2014 during the last World Cup, we’ve watched our local heroes evolve from struggling non-league passengers into giant killing FA Cup quarter finalists.

We’ve seen crowds at our hallowed Sincil Bank swell from just over 1,000 into more than 10k.

We’ve won the league and the admiration of fans across the world – it’s been a spectacular and privileged journey.

We didn’t think it could possibly get any better – but then we went to Wembley.

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I’d only ever been to our national stadium once before. That was back in those embryonic 2014 footie days with my aforementioned young partner in crime.

We’d managed to bag some free tickets for the England ladies vs. Germany, so turned it into a boys only outing for his sixth birthday celebrations.

This time it was even more special. Our beloved League 2 Imps were appearing in the Checkatrade Trophy Final, pitched against high-flying Shrewsbury Town from the division above.

We’d watched in awe throughout the season as City progressed through the controversial competition.

Dispatching fierce rivals Peterborough Town and young Premiership upstarts from Everton and Chelsea along the way.

Now we’d made it to the showpiece final, the chance for more silverware and a cracking way to crown our first season back in the football league proper since time forgot.

We dared to dream and a dream it turned out in the end.

As the sacred Sunday approached, we were all pumped up and excited for the weekend ahead.

Another road trip was on the cards, with granddad on board this time too. The three amigos were hitting the capital hard – lock up your Haribos.

With our lunches packed and our tea suitably flasked, we set off at 9.30am prompt, waved dutifully farewell by mummy and my (football hating) youngest – well you can’t win them all.

The scarves were waving in the wind as we launched ourselves down the A1 – ‘Three Lions’ and Dario G blasting out of the football playlist I’d cunningly concocted a few days previous.

Our journey (through the drizzling rain) was peppered with jovial beeps to other travelling Imps, in addition to a pit stop for a satisfying breakfast ‘Sub’, another first for our young companion, who gave it his thumbs up as ‘better than McDonald’s’.

As we approached Wembley the traffic of course increased, but fear not, we weren’t parking in an official stadium slot.

Abdul from ‘JustPark’ was awaiting us on his driveway just a 10 minute walk from where the afternoon’s action would unfold – we were well on track.

Unfortunately as it turned out, Abdul’s was a little closer to the ground than we’d anticipated, so after an hour of queuing through hundreds of fans just to get an extra few yards, we unceremoniously dumped the car and raced into Wembley with only a few minutes to spare.

The atmosphere was electric and the players were already out and warming up. The fans were singing and there were familiar faces everywhere – it was just moments to kick off.

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As the tension grew so did the rumbles in our tummies and it was only as the teams walked out to sing the National Anthem that we realised we’d left our stash of snacks in the car.

We didn’t have an E-number between the three of us and were forced to watch in envy as families gorged on popcorn and hotdogs in the close vicinity.

It was more than our appetites which were about to be whet however as the Shrews finally got the game underway.

It was a cagey affair in the first few minutes but the crowd were in fine voice as City held their own during the opening encounters.

Then with just 16 minutes on the clock, Elliott Whitehouse was on hand from a corner to fire the ball home and send 20k plus yellow-bellies into rapturous joy.

We were 1-0 up in the cup final, dreamland again. Cowley’s army on the front foot as per usual – everyone on cloud nine once more.

The Shrews came close a few times, but a spectacular save from the Imps keeper and some dogged defending by the rest of the lads saw us enter the last 10 minutes of the game with our noses still ahead.

The ref added five minutes of injury time to our agony but after what seemed like more than double that to us long-suffering fans, he eventually blew his whistle and history was secured.

They’d done it. Lincoln City’s first appearance at Wembley was victorious, in contrast to the unlucky Shrews who’d now come away for the fourth time with absolutely nothing to show for it.

It was a magical moment. The crowd couldn’t contain ourselves and as the players and managers walked over to thank us and lift the trophy, we all realised we’d experienced something rather special.

As the fans filed out and the celebrations continued our rumbling tummies were about to be satisfied. Wembley’s finest (sic) fried chicken duly demolished before our mad dash back up the M1.

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In the tired silence of the night on the long journey home, my thoughts were my own as I quietly contemplated what we’d been lucky enough to witness.

It is quite remarkable how far the Imps have come, from obscurity to challenging champions in the space of just a few months.

Memories created to last a lifetime, I could hear my son telling his own grandkids how City had lifted the trophy ‘all those years ago’.

The heart in my chest was singing as loud as the fans had been earlier in the afternoon.

A large glass of red wine and a quick look at the highlights were the order of the evening when we finally arrived home just after 9:30pm.

It had been the day of days, the game of games and an adventure that we’d never ever forget.

Whatever the future holds for LCFC, one thing’s for certain. The experience of the last two seasons and our long awaited trip down Wembley way will forever be etched into our consciousnesses.

It matters not that we were pipped at the post for another Wembley date at the end of the season by ‘exciting’ Exeter, who now take on the courageous Coventry in the play-off final.

There’s always next year and we can’t wait for that whistle already.

‘Imp’ossible is just an opinion for the red and white army from our beautiful cathedral city after all.

See you next season.

#UpTheImps.

Good ‘Friends’ Fridays

A four-day weekend is always very welcome.

A bit of family downtime, some leisurely breakfasts and pyjama-clad mornings go down a storm in our house every Easter.

But amongst the wall-to-wall chocolate eggs and hot cross buns, another tradition has crowbarred its welcome way into our celebrations – a now annual Good Friday frolic with some of our firmest friends.

Not all of us are lucky enough to find people who are true companions.

Those who’ll stick by you and help you out, in both the good times and the bad.

Rare is certainly one word for it. Rare and precious as gold.

It’s a treasure we have uncovered together and one that as the years fly by seems to increase in value all the time.

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A merry band of nine we now make up. Four adults and five children. Five boys and four girls in total.

It’s hard to hear anyone think when we’re all in the same room together. And get together we regularly do.

Admittedly not quite as often as we’d like in these challenging work/life balancing times, but when we do all eventually find time to hook up it’s always lots of jolly good fun.

Like close family, the bond that has forged between all of us just seems to grow stronger over the passing of time.

Created well over a decade ago now, this fantastic friendship initially sparked when my wife and I moved into our first house together.

Lovelier neighbours we could not have asked for in those heady pre-children, slightly less responsible days.

It wasn’t long before bigger nests were required and as our respective families formed we became neighbours no more.

Friends of course we remained and as our children grew up, in different schools, so did a lovely bond between them too.

An unspoken naturalness links them all, like brothers and sisters they mingle and mess about – it’s as if they’ve know each other all their lives!

A deep respect and fondness for each other also exists, shining out as bright as their inevitable iPad screens.

As adults we are (versions of) godparents to each other’s kids, the go to people should ever one of us require their backs getting.

Dependable, trustworthy and loyal, words I think we all identify with. Sure-fire babysitting material are others I would use too.

Yet what’s blossomed between the youngsters is without doubt the most beautiful part.

Whether it’s sledging in the snow, kicking a football, playing ‘tig’ or demolishing yet another dreaded indoor soft play area, fun is always the order of the day.

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This year will be the fourth Easter in a row that we’ll all meet up together, but it certainly won’t be the last.

If there’s one thing you can ‘bank’ on this holiday – it’ll be another very Good Friday for us all.

#HappyEaster

Snow Need To Panic!

At last the clocks have changed – phew!

I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to losing an hour’s sleep more than that.

This winter has definitely dragged its chilly heels, and along with them hurled enough nasty weather at us to last another ice age.

Thick snow in the first week of March – who’d have ‘thunk’ it?

I guess we should be used to the unusual in this country now though.

But as most of mankind ground to a ridiculous halt, there were some little adventurers that had never seen the like.

It’s not since 2010 that I can recall a covering like it.

Schools were out, shops were shut, sledges were dusted off and thankfully the pubs remained firmly open.

But more of that later…

Snow days are really quite something else. A double-edged sword for sure.

Spectacularly disrupting and uplifting, both at the same time.

When you’re a kid however there’s nothing else like it.

I remember my own as clear as the driven………(you get the picture).

We didn’t have many granted, but when we did we certainly made the most of them.

It was gloves and boots on at dawn, before charging out on the playing fields like we were about to triumph in an arctic expedition.

But here’s the killer memory – ‘snow football’.

Yes, you read correct.

If you’ve never tried it you’re missing out – seriously.

It’s hilarious and exhilarating, exhausting and exasperating.

But most of all it’s just jolly good fun.

Suddenly overhead kicks are fair game, flying headers are compulsory and camera loving dramatic goalkeeping saves accompany every other strike on target.

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Photo courtesy of Matt Tozer Photography

This March we did snow footie for four days on the trot, and we weren’t alone.

In one of those lovely twists of fate, we just happened to stumble on some friends at the local park who’d had the same ridiculous idea as us.

I’m not sure who had more fun, the desperate dads or the boisterous boys.

At the end of each session, a knowing look between all four of us confirmed the next day’s shenanigans.

I’m quite certain that if we all lived in Norway we’d be down there every day.

It was a glorious pact, a magical moment of madness that the four of us (and more) shared for a while.

We even toasted our efforts with a celebratory pint at the local on one of the afternoons.

But we’re keeping that firmly between ourselves so the yummy mummies never find out.

What happens on snow days stays on snow days after all.

So next time you wake up to a winter wonderland, here’s a bit of free advice.

Along with dragging out that spider webbed sledge, make sure you pump up your finest footie and give some snow soccer a shot.

I guarantee it’ll be a match of the day you’ll never forget.

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