Our quick trip to Marrakech began with a three-hour delay at Gatwick airport. Still, they threw in a gate change to give us something to do with the time. No-one seemed to have a clue what was going on, least of all the air hostesses. Eventually the Captain announced that there were not enough baggage handlers to load our plane, thereby neatly sidestepping any culpability for delay compensation claims. We spent the rest of the time watching the snow gently fall on our luggage as it sat forlornly, abandoned on the tarmac next to the plane. I’m sure every last one of us would have loaded it ourselves if given half a chance.

We have a family rule, we are each allowed one hissy fit on holiday. I had mine before I had even sat down on the plane. I had my laptop with me in a bag, and while I was more than happy for it to go in the overhead locker, I wanted it close to me and not down the other end of the plane. We had three seats and one small piece of luggage. So it should have been no problem right? Wrong. The lockers were jam-packed with what looked like bedding. The air hostess was at the back of the plane (as, unfortunately for her, were we) admiring her nails. After a three-hour delay, I’m not at my most reasonable. Suffice to say, the laptop ended up in our overhead locker but it wasn’t exactly my finest hour.

We finally arrived in Marrakech. We were staying at the Mandarin Oriental and had chosen to use their fast track meet and greet service. They met us straight from the plane and whizzed us seamlessly through border control etc. This service does not come cheap and the reason we used it was not, in this case, because I’m too precious to queue. Our 18-year-old son, who was travelling with us, has autism. Going through immigration has become a bit scary as a result. Although he appears normal, there is something different about him, the sort of different that can easily be picked up on by officials and mistaken for something else. He is extremely vulnerable with limited verbal ability. He struggles with the concept of questions and could potentially become distressed. He is now technically an adult.

I deeply hate those border controls that won’t let you go up as a family. In these situations one of us goes first and explains about my son’s autism but it feels as if we are almost apologising for him. I don’t see why we should be in that position. Wouldn’t it be great if the WHO could introduce an internationally recognised ‘passport’ system whereby we never need to explain to uninitiated  officialdom again.

We were fast-tracked through alongside Salma Hayek. She was suitably Gucci-ed up. Her husband is, after all, Francois-Henri Pinault, owner of Gucci and much, much more. While we were waiting for our luggage I couldn’t help wondering about the pre-nup, whether she gets free Gucci or whether she is contractually obliged to brand promote. She was accompanied by an extremely smiley bodyguard, or maybe he was a very butch hairdresser.

As soon as our luggage appeared we were whisked to our awaiting car and on to our hotel, The Mandarin Oriental Marrakech. We were met by the manager and taken straight to our room. What a sight for sore eyes.


The hotel is really beautiful. It is situated outside of the Medina, the centre, but we wanted to be away from the hustle and bustle. It is quick and easy to get around Marrakech from the hotel in any case.


There are two main restaurants for dining in the evening. One is Ling Ling which is part of the Hakkasan franchise. I would say it’s a good restaurant but I found the cooking a little bit butch, it lacks the Hakkasan finesse. The other restaurant was Mes’Lalla which serves Moroccan cuisine. I thought this was by far the better of the two. Both of these restaurants are quite fine dining-y but they were more than happy to cater more simply for my son.

I had one issue with this hotel and that is that their blurb clearly states that the pools (including villa pool) are all heated. The temperature of the outdoor pools may have been suitable for The Polar Bear Club ( a bunch of nutters who swim outdoors in the depths of winter) but rendered them unfit for purpose for me. Even the indoor Spa pool was bracing!

The very best thing about the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech are the truly lovely staff. The service was impeccable and friendly. We were there in low season and sometimes this can have a negative effect on the service but this was most definitely not the case.

We did venture into the Medina. We have been before and I was surprised the Alpha suggested it, it’s a little too visceral for his tastes. We had a guide organised by the hotel. Lets just say that I didn’t take to him. I had done some research and had a list of specific shops that I wanted to go to. He had no idea where they were which I found unlikely given the Medina isn’t that big and he spends his life guiding idiots like me around it. To be fair though, I hadn’t provided specific addresses. So, first stop, on his recommendation, the inevitable tourist trap shop. Our relationship went downhill from there. He also wasn’t impressed when I freaked out because someone was trying to put their monkey on my son. We hadn’t explained that he has autism but quite frankly I don’t see why we should have to. I don’t particularly want people putting their monkeys on me either! I completely understand that monkey man was simply trying to earn a living. I wish him all the best.

Marrakech is a fab place for a quick winter break. It’s three and a half hours (if the flight isn’t delayed) away from the UK. It can be quite warm in Feb and it feels a world away from home. There are many different types of places to stay so you can be as chilled or as full on as you want. We returned feeling rested, as if we had had a proper break minus the gruesome, long distance haul deal.

Exeter In The Freezing Fog…..And Puppies


I’ve been down to Exeter to visit Uni son. The pretext was to find a venue for his 21st birthday bash.  I’d booked myself into what used to be known as The Magdalen Chapter hotel. It has been sold to a hotel chain and has now, rather tragically, been renamed the Hotel Du Vin Exeter. I loved the old Magdalen Chapter. It was quirky and, although the service could occasionally run to slightly rural,  it was friendly and always eager to please.

So, what’s changed under the new management?  The physical hotel is still chic, quirky and comfortable. However, gone is the free mini bar and newspaper and also the rather lovely chap behind the reception/concierge desk. The ipads have gone (no bad thing), and the giant walnut thingy of a reception desk has been replaced by, what look like, two decorating tables end to end. I’m told a reception area refurb is on the cards. The service has definitely disintegrated in the dining room.

I was very pleased with my room allocation, it was by far the nicest I’ve been in while staying there. However, I think there may have been a disgruntled guest in there before me, intent on sabotaging the room. The unfathomable central heating control had been turned off, consequently the room was freezing, the tv had been set to subtitle mode and lots of plugs had been taken out of sockets. I figured the plugs out but needed intervention with the rest. The issues were sorted out but definitely not with the ‘nothing is too much trouble’ air of yesterday.

I think what has gone, for the moment at least, is the warmth and friendliness that prevailed here under the old management. This, sadly, makes this hotel just another place to stay when visiting Exeter, and there are cheaper, perfectly acceptable alternatives.

The Hotel Du Vin Exeter

I’m very fond of Exeter. Wandering through its streets is to experience its history. There are atmospheric alleyways that you can imagine smugglers ducking in and out of.  J.K Rowling went to University here and Diagon Alley is supposedly based on one of Exeter’s alleyways. It’s a beautiful city with Roman walls and medieval and Georgian structures sitting, for the most part, quite happily alongside modern shopping malls.  The brands are mostly all here and the fact that it’s a University town means that there are still a few decent independent shops, cafes and restaurants. I’m a champion of the quality indie retailer so I’m bound to think that there are too many chain stores etc in most Uk cities and towns. If you don’t use it, you lose it people.


One of my favourite things to do is visit the cathedral. It costs (at time of publishing) £7.50 to visit. There are guided tours included in the price and they are well worth doing. The outside of the cathedral always reminds me of the House of Commons. The interior is stunning. It has an extraordinary vaulted ceiling which is apparently the “longest continuous medieval stone vault in the world” and very beautiful it is too. It also houses the earliest known wooden carving of an elephant in the UK, it is on a misericord (aka a shelf to perch on during long prayer sessions). I’ve only scratched the surface of the cool stuff in the Cathedral, go and discover the rest for yourselves. It’s well worth it.

The Cathedral has its own cafe and all the profits go towards the maintenance of this National treasure. The food is good quality, honest fare. If you fancy a baked potato, slice of Quiche or afternoon tea and scones this is the place for you. It is situated in a pretty, little courtyard on the Cathedral grounds.

Exeter Cathedral Cafe.
Just next to the Cathedral is another place that I love to go to for lunch. The Plant Cafe is unashamedly healthy but it does what it does very well. It’s tiny so be prepared to sit on a stool or share a table. The food is imaginative, very tasty and terribly good for you. Bonus!img_0488

And now, as promised, on to the puppies. On my return the Alpha and I had to attend an interview to attest to our suitability as potential puppy parents. What does one wear to such an event? I considered my usual mud-spattered, dog walking clothing but deemed it too desperate. I felt it was a bit too “ooh, look at me, I’m a doggy person”. I went with smart casual in the end, sensible shoes etc. Memo to self however, never, ever wear tasselled loafers when visiting puppies. At least I was popular (with the puppies), but I was terrified one of them would bite off a tassel and choke. Not cool.

Anyhow, we passed the test!! I’m going back this week to select our new family member. I do worry about Sam (our dog) though, he’s a rather nervous soul and his world is about to be rocked. I felt so guilty, I’ve bought him a plush, new bed to make up for it.