London Loves

London has been in the news way too much recently, for all the wrong reasons. So I wanted to make a space where we celebrate the London we know- not the one that’s full of tragedy and police tape. Every … Continue reading

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Sobell Centre Better Extreme and Finsbury Park – 11/04/18

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Yes, that title is a bit of a mouthful. As befits a very busy day. If I fall asleep midway through the post then …well, you’ll probably notice no difference in the coherence of my writing. It’ll probably improve if anything.

So today was the day we decided to leave Waltham Forest for only the second time in a week or so. The original plan was a bike ride to Walthamstow but the unfriendly weather made us rethink and it was this combination of circumstances that made us jump on the Victoria line to Finsbury Park, along with Roo’s friend C and his Mum M. Roo and I had been to Finsbury Park with them once before – around this time last year – but I never got round to blogging it because of undoubtedly sound reasons at the time. Some of the photos I use in this post might be from that trip rather than this one but I won’t tell you which is which. Therein lies the mystery.

Our actual destination was the new trampoline park at the Sobell Centre, which church friends had recommended. Reuben always enjoys a trip to the Better Extreme park at the Feel Good Centre but this one looked bigger and better and quite frankly, we needed a change of scene. We got there in time for the 10am session, which is inexplicably much cheaper than the rest of the day and then we went upstairs to inexplicably go back downstairs again. Like most experiences with Better Leisure, there were confusing elements.

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I’ll talk you through it. The lockers for the trampoline park are downstairs as you go in, just past the reception gates and the coffee corner. If you’re trampolining, travelling light is pretty essential so we put everything barring phones and water bottles in there. Then we went up the stairs to the registration/assembly point where you collect any socks you’ve ordered (the kids and I brought our own from previous trampolining trips) and then they direct you off down a corridor to the Briefing Room, which is where you watch the safety video. Then you come back through the assembly point and down a slope into the trampoline park itself. It all makes sense when you’re there. More or less.

But let’s go back to the Briefing Room for a moment. Because that’s where it all started to unravel for Eva.

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This has happened before – Nathan took the pair of them to the Feel Good Centre, Eva watched the safety video and totally freaked out and wouldn’t go on the trampolines at all until five minutes before the end. Then, predictably, she loved it and didn’t want to leave. Next time we went it was for a birthday party and she bounced through the whole thing, no questions asked. On the tube on the way in, she was enthusing to C about how “super fun” it all was so I didn’t think we’d have a problem.

How wrong could I be? She watched the briefing and flatly refused to participate at all. She literally sat on the side for pretty much the whole session, not responding to any of my threats, bribes and cajolements. The girl’s feet did not touch a trampoline the whole time we were there, despite spending ages that morning trying to find a matching pair of trampolining socks in which to encase them. At around 45 minutes in, she agreed to try out the foam pit by the pugle stick fighting area but no sooner had she climbed in than we were told it wasn’t for playing in, only for the pugle fighters and we had to go to the big foam pit. She got to that one and freaked out again by the idea that she might need to touch a trampoline to get into it.

A few minutes after that, I realised that there was a section for smaller kids on the upper level and she agreed to go there “to see what the babies were doing”. It meant leaving Roo but he was fine and having a grand time, so we climbed up there and she did actually spend a minute or two in the foam pit there before the session ended. Totally worth the time, money and effort to get her there.

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Let’s focus on Roo’s experience instead then, as he was much more gratifying. He enjoyed the trampolines – vast numbers of them – and the long walls to bounce off. He went to the top of this slide:

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But decided it against it at the last minute and just settled for plunging into the foam pit instead.  He and C enjoyed doing the pugle fighting:

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And they spent some time on the dodgeball court. But he says his favourite thing was the one I found most terrifying – the sweeper, which kids had to either duck under or jump over. He nailed the ducking under:

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But the jumping over was tricky and he only managed it in a leap-frog kinda style. He thought was “awesome” though. I kept thinking he was going to get whacked in the head and it’s a justifiable fear.

So Roo and C had a great time. M and I did some bouncing on the trampolines of our own and some relaxing in the foam pits. M even had to get rescued by the official foam pit rescue pole:

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It’s worth saying that I had to pay as a supervising adult, which is different to how it was last time we went to the Feel Good Centre. M chose to pay so she could come and join in but as C is older than 7, she didn’t have to. I needed to as I was taking in an under 7 but wouldn’t have had to if it was only Roo I was taking. Oh, the irony of paying to supervise a child who did nothing riskier than sitting. Lucky I’m not bitter.

I think this photo rather sums up the experience:

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And this one shows you the state of the boy after an hour’s exertion:

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This is while we were recovering in the cafe with slush puppies for the kids and coffee for the adults which is somehow better than the coffee at the Feel Good Centre. Not sure how as it seems to be the same machine and the same brand but maybe they’ve picked the right soya milk?

After all that leisure centre air, we needed to get outside and Finsbury Park was beckoning. We picked up some food and also some pepperamis at the Tesco Metro and walked up to the climbing rocks in the park, where the kids perched on the top of the pile and ate their sandwiches. It wasn’t exactly picnic weather but we’re hardy.

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It was around this time that we fell victim to a form of distraction theft. One by one, the children came up to us and performed a “silly dance” while one of the others snuck behind us and stole something from our bags. Subtle they are not. Luckily, they only got away with the pepperamis and their own coats. Later, Eva was to drop the pepperami in the mud and still try to eat it. Pretty much all of Eva went in the mud:

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It’s been a very muddy holidays so far.

We moved on to the playground at the top of the hill. In fact, there were two or three playgrounds at the top of the hill. Enough to keep the kids entertained for another hour or two while M sneaked to the cafe to get tea for us both. We’d already spent money on the kids at Sobell so didn’t fancy another full on cafe trip. We went there last time though and it was very pleasant:

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It also has toilets on the outside, though the mens’ were out of order yesterday and the women’s could have been cleaner. Eva yuvved them though because they had sparkly tiles and pink toilet doors. She’s easily pleased.

She was also pleased with this photo of herself, which she made me take:

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The playground is quite big,with a couple of roundabouts, some nicely challenging climbing frames and a scenic view over the lake:

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Of course, as with every park it would have been nicer if the weather had actually resembled Spring rather than a kind of drizzly January. But it was a grand trip out and we made it back to HP before the kids started fighting. Just about anyway.

More info on the Better Extreme park herefp20

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The North for a Day – 30-31/03/18

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It’s taken me a while to write about this trip because I still feel a bit exhausted and trust me, you will too by the time you’ve read it. If you make it to the end.

So the first thing we did this Easter holidays was to go to the North and come straight back again. Like you do. There were many good reasons for doing it that way but essentially, we were attending a special party for CousinZ in Southport on Easter Saturday and needed to be in our church on Easter Sunday for Eva’s special dance. Hence the madcap 24-hour dash to the North and back.

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Now, I’m not recommending you do exactly what we did but I will recommend our lunch stop – a Nandos not far off the M6, with unlimited free parking and a soft play upstairs. I think it’s this one.  The promise of spicy chicken and refillable frozen yoghurt kept Nathan and the kids motivated throughout the M1 bank holiday traffic even though when we got there, the frozen yoghurt machine was broken as ever so we had to spring for mango ice cream for them. But still, it was the perfect stop off point and the kids had a much-needed runabout at the soft play, which was pretty cheap to get in to and accepted card at the coffee bar. What else do you need?

The next section of the journey was hardgoing, I’ll admit that. I took over the driving from Nathan at Keele and there was a lot of clutch work in the next 50 miles or so to Preston. Then we got to the turn off, the hotel was 6 minutes’ drive away and …well, it didn’t go well. We ended up back on the M55, heading towards Blackpool for 7 miles before turning around, driving the 7 miles back, missing the small road that turns off to the hotel, having to go right round two roundabouts and darn near get back on the M55. That’s what happens when I’m driving and Nathan’s navigating. The opposite to the ideal combination.

What a hotel though! Totally worth the wait. We’d booked the Preston Marriott  for a bargain price on hotels.com and I was justifiably paranoid that it was going to be worth the price we paid. But it was worth way more. It looks fancy, the beds were comfy and they cater to children – as we walked in there was a table with Easter crafts and mini egg cakes on it, which we entirely failed to pick up but the thought was lovely.

The best thing though – and the reason we’d chosen it – was the spa. The jacuzzi was out of order but the swimming pool was warm and lovely and there was a steam room and sauna, which I enjoyed. Nathan tried one of them for a few minutes before complaining that it was hot and steamy. I don’t think he quite gets the idea. The changing rooms were clean and had lots of fancy touches, like PIN-operated lockers and a swimsuit drier. Totally impressed Eva, and me too to be honest. After a long car journey, it was heavenly.

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We hadn’t quite planned how to feed the kids dinner but they’d had a Nandos for late lunch, right? So that’s dinner enough. That justifies opening a tub of Pringles and letting them loose. They supplemented the Pringles with some Bunny Bites and McCoys too and I believe maybe even a chocolate chip pancake. If that’s not a balanced dinner, I don’t know what is. We were all sharing one room, two beds, so they got into PJs, climbed onto their bed and watched Room 101 with us until waypastbedo’clock, at which point Nathan and I hid in the bathroom for ten minutes and came out to find them both asleep. Score!

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I was still hungry so we rooted around for a room service menu. Of course it was scarily expensive but £22 would get us a pizza and two beers, which seemed reasonable by hotel standards. So we ordered that and honestly, it was amazing. Really messy pizza so I’m glad we decided to eat at the table rather than on the bed. It tasted soooo good though.

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The next morning started early. REAL early. 5:39 if my hazy memory serves. I knew it was a risk of us all sharing a room but managed to persuade the kids to stay on their bed – with me hugging them both – until 6AM, when I switched on the light, served up brioche from a Tesco bag and put “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl” on the laptop. Nathan slept through all these things.

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We all wanted another swim before we headed off to Southport but the pool didn’t let kids in till 9 and Roo was bouncing off the walls by 8:30 so I took him for a romp around the grounds, where he managed to get inexplicably muddy in a matter of minutes. It was drizzling and I was supping my warm cup of hotel tea. “This is a very Britishy day, isn’t he?” he said and I had to agree.

We met Nathan and Eva at the pool shortly after 9 – Eva still in PJs and onesie – and had enough time for another quick swim before drying off, packing up and checking out. Cause lovely as the staff at Preston Marriott were, they hadn’t managed to convince me that £39 was a good price for a family breakfast. Especially not after that pricey pizza.

I had another destination in mind and that was the Harvester at Buckshaw Link. We’ve pulled the unlimited breakfast trick before and it fuelled us for an entire day at Legoland so I reckoned it would be just the job. And I was right! £24 for the 4 of us and we could eat at our leisure. Harvester has no truck with hanger – you can eat as soon as you get there and so it’s ideal for kids and, quite frankly, for me too. There’s a breakfast bar of cereals, fruit and yogurts plus tea and coffee and various bready things to stick through the automated toaster machine. while you’re waiting for your bottomless cooked breakfast.

I’m not saying it’s a sophisticated option but it’s tasty food- especially the sausages – served quickly and with a lot of friendly Northern charm. It was exactly what we needed at that moment. Roo had a bespoke cooked breakfast – bacon, sausage, beans, hash browns and scrambled egg – while Eva just had the toast and cereals option, which cost a princely £1.79. Definitely a trick we’ll pull again. We didn’t need another meal till 8PM and 100 miles away.

Of course, nothing goes entirely smoothly in the LWAT family and there was an edgy moment just before we left. I was in the loo upstairs and heard the sound of a distressed child outside. One of mine, to be exact. I ran out of the cubicle leaving – unbeknownst to me – my handbag and cardi on the back of the door and rushed to find my traumatised boy. Turns out he was back downstairs with Nathan already, freaking out about a tooth that was ever so close to coming out, with all the blood and carnage that sometimes requires. I had a panic as I was now handbagless but a lovely lady brought it down to me and so we left the Harvester with all our possessions and bodily parts more or less intact.

(If you’re worried about the tooth, don’t be. He later sold it to his Grandpa for a quid so did pretty well out of the deal).

From there it was quite a pleasant country drive to Southport. We went to the party, Roo lost the tooth (unconnected to the amount of sugar he consumed at the party….so he tells me) and then it was back in the car for the long drive home. Thankfully the kids slept for an hour or so, which meant I could nap too as I was a *little* tired from the 5:30 start. We were all awake in time for the Watford Gap services, which I always assumed were at the end of the Metropolitan Line and it wasn’t till we were coming back from Scotland that I found out the truth.

By this point, the children were a bit over this whole adventure:

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But the McDonalds at the services had table service! What a wondrous world we live in! You order on the touchscreen and then you and the knackered children can just sit and wait for the food to arrive. Ideal.

We eventually got home at 10:20PM. It had been a long, long trip but considering what an insane idea this was, it went off relatively well. Yes, it cost us a fortune and looking back at the photos it seems that all we did was eat. A lot.  But it was worth doing. Just don’t ask what kind of moods we were all in on the Sunday morning…

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Epping Forest – 07/04/18

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This post might be a bit of a rehash of a well-worn local fave but, after our epic trip up north for Easter weekend, I’ve resigned myself to the fact the rest of the holidays will probably be largely Waltham Forest based. Did I blog about the Northern trip yet? No? I think it makes me too tired just thinking about it.

So yesterday we went for a forest walk. Well, I went for half a forest walk and then abandoned the family leaving them to get home on their own, but I’ll come to that. We were with around 35 other adults – students and teachers from our church English class – so they weren’t totally alone. I’ll stop justifying now.

Some time into the walk, Eva started complaining that her yegs hurt and she wanted to stop. Of course, this was on the bit between Chingford station and Butler’s Retreat, so not actually any way into the walk as such. But it set the tone.

When we got to Butler’s, the kids went straight for a play on the wooden stags:

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And then we went into the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge, which I don’t think we’ve ever done before. I didn’t think there was anything much inside it but I don’t know why I thought that – there’s lots to look at.  The tables on the ground floor are covered in replica Tudor food (Eva wasn’t too keen on the pigs’ head) and the next floor up has a dressing up section:

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There are some lovely views from the top floor, which wowed the inner-city-dwelling students. They didn’t believe London could be so leafy. I made sure to maintain the balance by pointing out the pub car park out of the other window.

There’s also a table with colouring in stuff:

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But none of this was what we were there for. Not sitting down in the warmth. No! Fresh air and mud and bracing stuff!

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And there was plenty of mud. I’d made some poor decisions re footwear and so had muddy water leaking into my boots. The kids were rainproofed from the head downwards but that didn’t stop them getting mud splattered, due to their love of “squelchies”. Eva went into one “squelchy” that sunk her to the knees and she had to be rescued by Ahmed from the Advanced Class, leaving her boots behind her in the puddle. Don’t worry, we didn’t leave them there.

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But it was almost time to leave the kids behind as I had a date with a SwingTrain promo video. We got as far as Connaught Water, which is really only about ten minutes away from Butler’s if you don’t get stuck in the mud too many times. The walk was continuing round the lake and someone had mentioned an ice cream van so there was a  double meltdown brewing when they realised we didn’t have any cash on us. All in all it was a good time to leave Nathan in charge and head back to the station on my own.

Except that is definitely one of those things that is easier said than done. My first thought was to head to the car park and follow Rangers Rood all the way but the lack of pavement made me rethink that plan. I would have to try and pick my way through the forest on my own.

You can see that this was Out of My Comfort Zone:
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Luckily, though, we were really VERY close to where we’d started and after a few minutes I could see the top of the hunting lodge to guide me back to civilisation. I was running out of time though, so had to break into a bit of a jog as I got back onto Station Rd. I flopped onto the train, red-faced, sweaty and mud-stained. Perfect look for starring in a SwingTrain video!

I got to Bishopsgate Institute, still in a state of chaos and was slightly alarmed to find everyone else there was dressed for swing dress, in glamorous vintage dresses and full make up. I’d brought gym gear.

It all worked out fine in the end, but if you happen to watch an ad for SwingTrain and there’s a crazy lady in hastily applied eyeliner and gym kit with a twig in her hair and Epping Forest mud streaked down her face…well, that’s me. But I’m gonna pretend it’s not.

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Mystery in Frankenstein’s Lab at the Science Museum – 28/03/18

Image supplied by the Science Museum

Image supplied by the Science Museum

Last night we escaped from Frankenstein’s lab and I can tell you nothing about it. It’s a mystery and you need to figure it out yourselves. Also I may now be on the run from the law. Well maybe I’ll tell you a bit later.  If you’re good.

“Good” wasn’t the word that sprang to mind when I got to Walthamstow Central and realised the Victoria line wasn’t working. Some other words sprang to mind in fact. Bad words. Having just got off the Liverpool Street train I wasn’t super keen to wait 15 minutes to get back on it so instead I crossed the car park and wandered down this very ominous looking passageway, which said “Pedestrians –>” in the kind of way that Papa Lazarou might put up a sign saying “Wives –>”.

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I wasn’t optimistic about ever making it to Walthamstow Queens Road but I shouldn’t have doubted the oh so reliable GOBLIN line. I was in Upper Holloway in no time. Why Upper Holloway? No idea. Maybe cause it’s so scenic:

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I made a spontaneous decision to catch the 43 down the road to Holloway Road,  which might finally point me in the right direction for South Kensington.  I was a touch late to meet Nathan but we were well in time for the main event of the evening – “Mystery in Frankenstein’s Lab” at the Science Museum.

We assembled near the Pattern Pod, at the far west end of the museum  (I might have got that wrong. It’s the blue bit anyway). There were met 8 strangers who would be our accomplices in the grisliest of deeds.

Once we were upstairs outside the inflatable room, we were greeted by a lady who explained to us what was happening – Dr Frankenstein was missing and we needed to complete his life’s work.  Like the good upstanding citizens we are, we refused to have anything to do with it. There was no grave robbing,  no no.

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What there was a mystery to solve and the way to solve them was through loads of science-based puzzles and experiments which gradually unlocked the secrets of the lab. We had 45 minutes to find all the….elements….the doctor required and we had to work together to make decisions and finish the experiment.

I’m glad to say we succeeded, although a few lives were lost along the way. It came right down to the last few minutes but intently staring at a table paid off and we figured it out just in time.

That’s as much as I’m going to tell you. I’ve probably told you too much already. What I will tell you is that it was tremendous fun and a real workout for the brain.  The brain in your head, not the one in the jar. We totally bonded with those strangers, even though we can never speak of it again.  It would make a great work outing as long as no one in your team is too squeamish.

Afterwards we had the option of going to Power Up, which would have been fab but we had a gig to go to.  Yes, get us and our crazy social lives. The gig was in Islington which is not overly  close to South Kensington but ironically is on the 43 route that I’d been on earlier. As we raced across London, we got a notification that the band weren’t on till 9.10. Phew!

The band were Five Grand Stereo,  an unashamedly retro 6 piece, who wear their love of David Bowie on their tweedy sleeves.  It was Nathan’s first time at a FGS gig and he was quite appreciative.  There was some toe tapping.  He didn’t strip to his undies like the groupie at the front but I think he was tempted.
I should probably say that we know the lead singer of this band from HP. In case you’re under the mistaken impression that we just hang out at cool gigs all the time. It’s more like one of us might go to a cool gig once a year.  Rock n roll. I should also say that their debut album is out now.

So that was an interesting night. I would have liked to hang out at the Science Museum more – they were running a “Lates” session and the museum was full of adults with beers ambling around.  Very different ambiance to the daytime school holiday vibe.  But yknow, we have to maximise that babysitter time and if we can fit in an escape room AND a gig then why not?

For more information on the Mystery in Frankenstein’s Lab,  have a look here.  The experience is suitable for age 12+ but during Lates, it’s over 18s only.

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Easter Holiday Preview

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Yes, I know it’s snowing. But my calendar tells me it’s Easter soon and with Easter comes a shedload of school holiday that seems to come hot on the heels of that last load of holiday the kids had.

So, what to do? Well in October half term we had a cracking time at the V&A’s theatre workshop, run by Chickenshed K&C. So it’s good to hear they’re doing something similar this holidays, even if it’s on a day the kids are already booked in to a holiday club elsewhere. It’s called  the “Museum of Mischief” and is aimed at 5-11 year olds. More information here.

Talking about holiday clubs, the Institute of Imagination is running a 3-day camp for 6-12 year olds. Or rather two 3-day camps – one 3rd -5th April and the other 10th-12th April. The kids learn about e-textiles and wearable technology and even get to make their own wearable technologies. It sounds awesome and once again I’m jealous that I no longer live on the road that the iOi is on. If you do, have a look here for more info.

Another one for those of you with older kids – the Science Museum is holding a Frankenstein Festival to celebrate 200 years since the book came out. Promising “immersive theatrical events, hands-on activities and experimental storytelling”, it’s a mix of all-age events, adult-only events and some theatre pieces that are aimed for the 12+ audiences. So something for everyone and it runs from 3rd April to 8th April.  Plus Power Up is back, which we’ve thoroughly enjoyed before.  Yes, let’s roll out that Reuben-concentration-face once again:

Credit Benjamin Ealovega, Science Museum

Credit Benjamin Ealovega, Science Museum

Let’s not forget the littlies though, as even though I don’t have any any more (sob!) I’m sure some of you do. So I’ve found this exhibition at the Horniman, which looks simply lovely for anyone who likes rainbows. So every small child ever, basically. There’s also the new play area at the Postal Museum, which we still haven’t been to but I’ve heard great reports. Gosh darn, this working 5 days a week thing is terribly overrated. I don’t get to hang around museums nearly as much as I used to. Don’t forget the Discover Centre in Stratford, another favourite haunt of ours, which has a Donaldson/Scheffler exhibition on at the moment. Well worth a visit as you can hang out all day especially now there’s a bigger and better cafe.

So that’s the Easter hols sewn up. But let’s look ahead a bit now as I’ve just heard about something VERY exciting that’s coming to London in the summer holidays. It’s called the Monstrous Festival and it takes place on 29th July at the Printworks in Surrey Quays. There are seven different worlds for kids to explore, including “Princes, Princesses and Unicorns”, an under 4s area and football training from Chelsea FC. I’ll have more details soon, but for now have a look here

 

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Museum of Childhood – 10/03/18

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Today we went to the countryside. Well, Bethnal Green. Even by my somewhat loose definitions of countryside, I think Zone 2 of East London is stretching it a bit. But Eva, AKA She Who Must Not Be Argued With, is taking this to extremes I’d never even imagine and it was her that said ”This whole place looks like the countryside. It’s full of grass and open space”. We were admittedly in a park at the time – Bethnal Green Gardens – but  with police vans and double deckers overtaking each other on Cambridge Heath Road it wasn’t exactly the pastoral idyll she was describing.

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Then it started to rain. So we left the countryside and went to the Museum of Childhood, which was a favourite haunt of ours from backadays when Reuben was small and Eva was probably barely a dot. I even went there on my birthday once. I hadn’t been there for ages though and Eva hasn’t been there since Thursday, when we went with her school. In what is rapidly becoming a recurring pattern, we had to revisit to see all the bits she’d missed. This is also how we ended up at the Science Museum during the Easter holidays, although it was Reuben that had been on a school trip that time and had distinguished himself by getting into the newsletter as the child who cried when it was time to leave. Hence the need for a return visit that I didn’t even blog about cause yknow, how many times have we been to the Science Museum? Enough for now, I think.

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So we were retreading Eva’s steps from two days ago and she was keen to girlsplain all the things she’d found that I already knew about. Like the rocking horses, which she said were “scary but cool”:

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And the Punch and Judy show next to the indoor sandpit:

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We might not have been for ages but it hadn’t changed much. The sensory area was still the cool place to hang out:

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And kids were still fighting over who got to drive the wooden car, though I think it may have changed from a police car to an ambulance in the last five years or so.

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Of course, the most fun game at the Museum of Childhood is spotting the toys that you yourself played with, back in the 1980s. No quicker way to make yourself feel aged than to see your favourite Sylvanian Families behind glass as a museum piece. There were clearly some more contemporary exhibits though, such as the Harry Potter lego that Eva’s friend Lucas had taken a shine to on the school trip. And these X-Men figures where Nightcrawler seems to be doing some kind of jazz hands:

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Seeing as we’d committed to hang out for the afternoon, I decided to co-opt H’sMama and H into coming with us. They’d not been before, so Eva took great pride in showing H everything. She was very taken with the She-Ra toys and everyone loved the therapeutic thrill of the table with the magnets and the iron filings:

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Both girls enjoyed playing with the dollhouses on the top floor as well:

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Dollhouses were something of a theme at the museum – Eva had told me that she ate her lunch inside a giant dollhouse, which seemed unlikely but I think she meant that she’d gone down the stairs behind the dollhouse display in the front lobby. She also said that the dolls were a bit scary, which I’d agree with but most dolls are, aren’t they? Certainly the dollhouse village where “it is always night” didn’t stop me feeling that way about dolls.

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At one point, we popped out for some fresh air and ended up in the garden of the nearby Gallery Cafe. It’s a vegetarian/vegan cafe but it did a very acceptable cupcake and the outside area was perfect for the girls to have a runaround. Not that it was ideal picnic weather but it wasn’t snowing, so things are looking up.

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I definitely needed a giant coffee and a hit of sugar and it revitalised us enough to go back to the museum until we got kicked out at 5:30 by a man ringing a bell. Seems like the Museum of Childhood is still enough of a draw to entertain kids for the afternoon even when they’re no longer toddlers who can just run up and down the stairs for hours. The temporary space was closed when we went so I’m sure we’ll revisit when the new exhibition opens.

More information here (official website)

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“Harry Hill Presents Matt Millz” & “Tales From the Gallery” – 17/02/18

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Today feels like it’s been a bit of a surreal dream. We met a celebrity, bumped into some random friends and danced with some dancing dogs. Plus the sun was shining and we had ice cream. In February.

But it all happened. Promise! Let’s start at the start, at the Southbank Centre for the Imagine Festival. Our friends W&A had booked tickets for the Harry Hill event and we tagged along for fun. Well, Roo and I did. It was an 8+ event so Nathan had the job of wrangling Eva while we were in the show. Luckily, we got there in time to nab the one remaining ticket for the 11am “Rainbow World” art session. None of us knew what thatmeant but it sounded totally like something would like. I’d imagined the queues at the RFH box office to be horrendous so I forced the six of us to leave HP ridiculously early but as it happened there was no queue at all. All the more time to nab a quick coffee then.

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It’s strange but I’ve never actually been inside the RFH auditorium before, despite visiting the building more times than I could possibly ever count. It’s a bit special in there, with the modernist balconies jutting out like cadillacs someone parked halfway up the wall of a concert hall. I idly wondered about the roll call of famous people who’d graced the stage there, not realising another name was about to be added to the list. But more on that later.

The event was essentially a book launch for a new children’s book, written by Harry Hill and illustrated by Beano illustrator Steve May. The book’s called “Matt Millz” and it’s about a boy who aspires to be Britain’s youngest stand up. As part of the event, Steve May was doing live illustrations and it was all compered by Ian from the Beano, dressed in his best Dennis the Menace red-and-black jumper.

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As shows go, it could have done with tipping more towards the comedy and slightly less towards the sales pitch but Harry Hill is always a joy to watch and his exuberance carried on through regardless, whether he was doing star jumps or a PowerPoint presentation. Reuben roared with laughter at the early section – the dancing cucumber and the champagne bottle that sprayed the audience with water – and I think he enjoyed the book reading too. We all played the “No Woman No Cry” TV theme show game and then there were some segments that were more informative, like Harry’s rules for stand up and Steve’s tutorial on drawing. But the best bit from Roo’s perspective was when they picked some kids to go onto the stage and tell jokes. I steeled myself for the inevitable disappointment when he wasn’t picked…but he was picked! Yes, the latest name to be added to the RFH roll call is Roo. For telling the following joke, handcrafted just hours earlier on the Waterloo & City platform at Bank:

“What do you call a sheep warrior? A baaaa barian!”

It didn’t get the biggest laugh on the laugh-o-meter but he acquitted himself perfectly well. At least he had a gag prepared…I was worried he’d blank completely.  He didn’t though, and now he can say that he’s met Harry Hill, which my 17-year-old self would be well impressed by. Plus he got a free Beano annual and a Dennis jumper just like Ian’s. Score!

Buoyed up on his middling success, we went to find Eva and Nathan, who apparently had had lots of fun doing randbow art. Each session used a different coloured piece of paper to add to this giant rainbow:

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Today’s colour was blue (as were Eva’s mouth and hands by the time they finished):

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It was a glorious day outside so we went to play on the giant “Outdoor Games” installation on the terrace. I’ve never seen Reuben move so slowly as when he’s commanded to by some paint writing on the ground. Other instructions included “hop”, “skip” and “dance”. Both kids completed the game.

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That done, it was time for lunch and Nathan and I both bought food from the street food market on Lower Ground. I had sweet n sour katsu, which is probably an unholy Chinese/Japanese fusion but it tasted good. Nathan got a Pad Thai, but more importantly scored a sighting of H’sMama, who came to join us on the steps overlooking the market to all eat our food in the sunshine. Good times.

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From the steps you could see the whole crowd down below and that’s how we managed our second  random bumping-into-friends moment in the space of a few minutes. This time it was Weasels’sDad, who was stuck in an interminably long queue all the time we were eating. So we never managed a proper catch up or to spot Weasel’sMum but still, it added a lovely happy note to the day.

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This wasn’t just a one-target day tho. We had a second theatrical mark to hit and that was over the river in the National Gallery. So we had a quick play in the playground and headed across the bridge that Reuben and I used to wander over when he was a baby and I was trying to get him to sleep. This time it was Eva who claimed to be too sleepy to walk and at one point Nathan seemed to be carrying her. She forgets that she’s nearly 6 sometimes.

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Awesome bridge views, as always. Though not as handy for telling the time as it normally is.

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We got to the National Gallery in good time but had to back out of the main entrance and go in through the Sainsbury Wing instead. The show we there for was by our friends at Chickenshed and was in honour of the Chinese New Year. It’s a travelling version of their classic “Tales From the Shed” show, adapted to include lots of Year of the Dog references.

We’ve seen lots of Chickenshed productions now – from large-scale epics at the Royal Albert Hall to wistful fairy tales at their home base  to plays at the V&A that we put on ourselves – but this was their core kind of work. Puppets, shadows, songs and lots of silliness. The children were encouraged to come down to the front and practise being dogs, which my two needed no practice for, and contribute ideas. There was little in the way of barriers between stage and audience – performers came down and sat next to the audience members and at one point a giant parachute enveloped us all. It looked a bit like this:

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I obviously don’t take photos while at the theatre but I thought I could get away with this one.

The highlight of the show was probably the pas de deux between two dogs, which took in Torvill and Dean, Bill Haley, Pulp Fiction and Gangnam Style. You can guess which of those cultural references were lost on my kids and which weren’t. Still, they thought the whole routine was hilarious and they enjoyed singing the final song together before going to the edge of the stage to stroke the dogs themselves. And of course getting their photos taken in the picture frame:

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Afterwards we headed out into the sun to have an ice cream in Leicester Square. I can hardly believe that a week ago it was hailing, cold and miserable. There’s hope for spring yet…

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As a final lovely moment as we headed home, a busker was playing “Mrs Robinson” but clearly didn’t know the words. He stopped and hastily went to his go-to tune for tricky situations. It’s comforting to know that in such a turbulent world as this, some things don’t change for 20 years and a busker’s go-to song is one of those. I said maybe, you’re gonna be the ones that saves me…

 

Disclaimer: I received free tickets for the Harry Hill event in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. 

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Farewell Tumble – 16/02/18

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Today is a sad day. Not because it’s the end of half-term (wahooo!) but because it’s the end of something else – the much-loved Walthamstow soft play Tumble in the Jungle. We were there tonight when the doors closed at … Continue reading

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Feb Half Term Preview

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I swear those kids only just went back to school after Christmas but they tell me it’s half term next week. If you’re similarly unprepared then let me give you a few ideas of what you can do to pass the time in those chilly February days.  A good starting point this time of year is always the Imagine Festival at the Southbank Centre and this year there seems to be loads going on, including appearances from Jacqueline Wilson, Harry Hill and CBeebies’ Cerrie. Check out the full list of events here.

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Other favourites of the LWAT family are Big Fish little Fish, who are bringing their family raves to venues all over the country this half term -  see the listings here – and Chickenshed who return to the Royal Albert Hall after their triumphant “Dreams of Freedom” show last summer. This time it’s a smaller scale affair, allowing littler ones to get up close to the “Tales From The Shed” gang. It’s in the Elgar Room at the RAH on 12th and 13th Feb. More details here.

Seguing smoothly from chickens to hedgehogs, there’s a really lovely sounding event at the Camley Street Natural Park this Saturday (10th Feb). It’s a “Hedgehog Discovery Day” with hedgehog related crafts and activities. We hung out in Kings Cross this time last year and it was a gorgeous day to be by the canal so I reckon it’ll be well worth popping down to.

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(Yes that really is Kings Cross in the photo above)

Another thing we’d like to check out in Kings Cross is a new family indie disco, called “Indie Kids’ Kids“, which launches on 18th at the Water Rats (and the day before in Putney I believe). As you probably know by now, Nathan and I are quite the aged britpoppers so it sounds like a lot of fun. Our kids might be too old to go along with it but last time we played them Supergrass they enjoyed it. Who wouldn’t?!

Last half term we had a good romp around the V&A  and this half term they’re hosting an exhibition on Winnie the Pooh which looks utterly lovely. Even their website is fun, with a floating blue balloon and bees that follow your mouse everywhere.  Yup, I’m having a productive evening. The exhibition runs until 8th April but over half term there are workshops to fit in with the theme with pop-up performances and the chance to make mini picture books. Reuben is nagging me to go back to Wonderlab after his school trip there today so maybe we can combine the two.

On a West London tip, I’d also like to visit the Museum of Brands in Ladbroke Grove sometime soon and they’re hosting a Teddy Bear Adventure Trail over half term. It’s free for kids under 7 (£9 for adults) so maybe one for the toddler-wranglers among you.

Which brings me smoothly onto my last recommendation - See Saw at the Unicorn Theatre, a very whimsical looking show for the age 3-6s.  Eva’s bestie is going to see it so I’m sure she’ll report back on what happens but it sounds lovely.

And of course if all else fails, you have Pancake Day AND Valentines Day falling in the same week. That’s at least one day you can use up baking gruesome looking heart-shaped cookies and one you can spend cooking up misshapen pancakes. We’re opting out of the cooking this year and going to the one at church (13th Feb, 6-8pm). You’re welcome to join us!

Happy half term everyone….

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A Winter Catch Up

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January is finally over and it feels like we’ve been stuck in winter for a long time. So what have we been up to? I guess the answer is not much that’s particularly bloggable, with the exception of a jaunt to Basingstoke, but there have been a few moments here and there that I thought I’d share with you in case they’re useful.

There was a train trip to Wokingham last week for me and Eva, and a long lunch in the Sedero Lounge. It’s a great place to hang out with kids – we sat on the sofas in the corner and there were piles of board games and duplo, along with a whole bookcase of books. Eva was mainly interested in the wall of mirrors:

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There’s a good kids’ menu, which comes with fancy juice (Eva had the apple and mango) and very tasty sausages. I managed two hours of chatting  with friends while she snuggled in a chair with a magazine. Result!

On the way, we stopped at Vauxhall City Farm because what else would you do at 10:30am on a January Saturday?

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Then there’s that trip to the Science Museum the day before Christmas Eve, where it was nearly deserted and we found the Mathematics Gallery for the first time:

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We also spent a long time playing with the machine that photographs a drop of water falling into the glass:

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There’s the age old game of “Two heads on the Central Line”:

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A lot of these activities seem to involve Eva looking at herself. I’m not saying she’s vain, but there is a bit of an emerging trend.

There was a trip to Leyton Leisure Centre, where the swimming itself was underwhelming (only a tiny part of the pool was open and the kids were out of depth so just clung to us) but we had the best lunch afterwards at the High Fry Fish Bar:

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And there have been a lot of slightly chilly bike rides in the near-dark. Here’s Roo about to swoop underneath a North Circular roundabout. I know, I show my kids a good time…

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So that’s what we’ve been doing to make these long weeks drag fly by. February half term is within our sights now and the half term preview will be coming very soon but I’ll leave you with this delightful bit of treasure I spotted in the bins at Hackney Downs:

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But is it art? Probably yes.

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