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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Holland Park – 11/08/17


We’ve just arrived back from a week in the Netherlands and Belgium….but more on that another day. Let me first tell you about the preparatory trip we did before we left – to Holland Park, in West London. Believe it or not, I didn’t intentionally choose the park because we were off to the Netherlands the next day, but once the kids realised the pun, they were pretty delighted with it. Lucky that, as Eva had kicked up a fuss about not going to her choice of park – a small playground on a street corner in Walthamstow. Girl doesn’t know when she’s onto a good thing.


We were meeting Ellie and Wiley in a place that was convenient for none of us but Holland Park has a certain novelty value that’s hard to beat. I reviewed it on the very first day of this blog and believe I used the word “crazy-assed”. I stand by that opinion. It’s a park of many parts and none of them really fit together but that’s what makes it fun. We started by the art deco-y white wall in the grand terrace, which is how London always looked in my imagination as a kid. On the other side of the wall, you’ll be surprised to find a tropical garden:


I wasn’t cause I’ve been there before, but the kids were because it was too long ago for Roo to remember and Eva wasn’t even born then. We walked through the woods and the kids found a few good climbing trees and a wooden chair they completely refused to share nicely.



Then we stumbled across the very stern looking Lord Holland. Turns out that the park was named after his familial name rather than being anything much to do with the land of segregated cycle paths. Shh, don’t tell the kids.


We wandered through the woods, past a very manicured lawn and out to this huge stretch of green for our picnic. There were some people in orange t-shirts running a sports event and Wiley made a really good gag about them being the Dutch football team. I  mention it here only because I never normally understand sports jokes so I was pretty pleased with myself.


We hung around there for an hour or so,  lying on the grass and chatting while the kids climbed on the log and entertained each other. This is why we had Eva. I need to remmeber this sometimes. Then we moved on to the sand-filled toddler playground, which Roo is clearly too big for but this didn’t seem to bother him. He spent his time constructing this rather lovely sand-bridge:


Last time we were there, we only had a toddler so had no need of any bigger playgrounds but rumour has it there was another one somewhere. We also spent most of our time then trying to stop him running into this pond which I swear had ducks on it last time I looked:


This time, thankfully, the children were slightly more aware of the hazards. Didn’t stop me panicking when we were crossing this very narrow bridge in the Kyoto Garden though:


The Kyoto Garden! That was a treat we didn’t find before. It’s a peaceful space, so we didn’t dwell too long but it’s so pretty and atmospheric. We even spotted some peacocks lurking in there.

holl15 holl14

Oh yes, peacocks and giant chess. Just the crazy-assed park I remember. Giant chess, you say? Why yes, played by the world’s most nonchalant chess player. I’ve never seen anyone play chess in such a casual manner as this guy. And he was winning.


So it was inevitable we’d wind up in the hitherto unexplored adventure playground…and I’m glad we did. It was huge. There was a rocket ship the size of a house and a climbing frame with lots of little trampoline parts. We watched from afar as Eva tried to climb aboard but it was a bit wobbly for a nervous girl until a bigger child gave her a leg up. Didn’t deter her from scooting straight up the giant rocket tho.


So, I haven’t changed my vies on Holland Park – it’s as random and nonsensical as ever. But doesn’t that just add to its charm? On the way home, we sat exhausted all the way to Woodford on the Central Line because we were just too knackered to get off at Liverpool Street. That’s some quality fresh-air round-around time right there. And as for the real-life Holland? Even more fresh air and running around. I’ll get there…but maybe not today.


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When a Business Lives or Dies by its Facebook Reviews


fbook rants3

We live in an era of People Power. The will of the people has decided that we’re leaving the European Union and that the most powerful country in the world is run by a misogynist narcissist with the attention span of a tweet. Good times. And it seems that this kind of populist decision making filters right down from the government to the small businesses of the UK. The People have the power to break a small business now, more than they ever have before.

And it’s worrying. It takes years to build up the reputation of a business and now, it seems, only hours to break it. The reasons people turn against a company can be true or just hearsay but once a complaint goes viral, fact-checking seems to go by the wayside and the masses pile in, giving their 1-star reviews on a Facebook page, attacking on Twitter and organising boycotts via The power of social media is immense.

Take Cedar Falls Health Farm, currently enjoying a rating of 4.1 stars on Facebook after years of consistent good reviews from happy customers. 371 5* reviews, 82 4*reviews and a smattering of 3* and 2*. So why is the rating only 4.1? Why that’d be the 80 angry reviewers from July 2014, who piled in with their 1* reviews. What do you think happened in that month? Were the 80 people all there on a hen party that somehow went disastrously wrong? No. I doubt any of them ever set foot in the place. What happened was a thread on Mumsnet that called the spa out for discriminating against breastfeeding mothers and before the spa even had a chance to respond, it was deluged with critical reviews. There was some ambiguity about the actual charges brought against the place – the policy actually excluded all under 16s, not just breastfeeding babies – but the damage was done. Obviously, their star rating has recovered, three years on, but you could see how something like that could sink a business.

The most recent example of a social media slaying concerns the Tea House Theatre. Now, if you’ve read this blog for long enough, you’ll know how much we loved the Tea House during our time in Kennington. We watched movies there at Christmas, hung out for hours on those mat leave mornings and even carved pumpkins there one Halloween. And I’m going to go there and say it – they don’t deserve the treatment they’re getting. I’m not going into the details of the admittedly ill-advised job ad that started this storm but I know how hard it has been to keep a cafe and arts venue running in an expensive part of London for what must be six years now. It would be a horrific shame if it was all destroyed by this one incident. Two actors had a burst of temperament. Quite frankly, I’m amazed that anyone is amazed.

It’s not just cafes and spas that find their reputation threatened by social media users on a mission. Lately, I’ve seen a community Facebook page hammered by local Conservatives because the owner expressed a pro-Corbyn opinion. I went to post something on the Facebook page for my kids’ drama classes and noticed 1* reviews from people who were angry about something the drama teachers had no control over. A visitor centre that hasn’t even opened yet is defending itself for its late licence application, amid shrieks of “illegal marsh raves”.

But it’s small businesses that take the brunt of it – there’s a thread brewing on Mumsnet right now, where a cafe owner has been accused of being unfriendly to children and there’s pressure on the original poster to “name and shame”. What happened in the cafe is only known to the people who were there, but if the name of the cafe is released there could be a social media assault of epic proportions. These things spiral out of control and the truth is lost in the whirl of outrage.

So, think – next time you’re ask to hashtag, share, boycott, review, petition or generally speak out against a small business, ask yourself if it’s worth it. Verify the truth of the accusations. Assess what impact this actually has on your life. Assess what impact it might have on someone else’s life. Think about whether a social media storm might destroy a business that’s actually doing some good in the world. Think about whether the business owners may have a clutch of small children that are depending on the business succeeding. Ask someone who’s actually been there. Don’t get caught up in mob mentality.  Decide for yourself whether the Beast is actually a monster that needs to be killed or someone who can be kind and good, given the right kind of care and attention from a bookish French peasant girl.

I think I got a bit off piste there but here’s the take home. Don’t be an arse on social media unless you’re 100% convinced it’s worth being an arse. If you need to troll someone, refer back to my first paragraph. Trump’s on Twitter all the time. Fair game.


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“Stomp” – 27/07/16

Photo credit: Steve McNicholas

Photo credit: Steve McNicholas


So, I didn’t actually go to see Stomp today but bear with me…I sent my small envoys to review it for me. Reuben plus the two teenage temp-LWATers. They enjoyed it, and I’ll get onto their comments later. I probably won’t explain the complex calculations I did that led to them going and not me (short version: Eva is spooked by loud noises) but let me walk you through stuff I did and didn’t do today.


I didn’t go to the Tower of London. But the assorted kids and young people did. Reuben liked the armour and Eva liked the crown jewels. Little surprise there. I was at work while they were having fun/killing time but I picked the whole load of them up at Tower Hill at 2 and we headed to Covent Garden for the next part of the day – Stomp!

In case you haven’t heard of it. Stomp has been a fixture of the West End for the last 15 years – it debuted around the time one of my young reviewers was born. I know, I feel old too. Even if you don’t know the name, you’d probably recognise the iconic poster of a man leaping in the air with a dustbin lid – it’s the show where everyday objects are used to make percussive music. There are no words, no songs as such but a fierce energy and a lot of rhythm.

Teen #1, henceforth known as “niece”, is a dancer so really appreciated the complexity of all the movement. She said the timing was really tight, down to the split second. The ensemble works instinctively together and make it look effortless, which I’m sure sustaining 100 minutes of perfect rhythm can’t be. There’s a great chemistry between the players and a lot of physical comedy.

Talking of which, Reuben’s sole comment was that “it was very loud and funny”. When pressed, he said that he particularly liked a “funny bald guy”. A conflab with the teens and a quick Google suggests to me that it might be Paul Bend. Whoever it was, you made Reuben laugh. Roo also thought the bit with the bins was hilarious – I think he might be inspired to start creating his own music on stuff he finds around the house. That’ll be peaceful.

Niece’s favourite cast member was “the really attractive guy”, who we think might be Rob Shaw. Teen #2, who we’ll call “niece’s boyfriend” has been a bit quiet on this subject. It must be tough competing with a guy who can get a tune out of a broomhandle. All of them enjoyed the dishwashing scene, where four men appeared with sinks slung round their necks and used the cups and plates in the sink, their rubber gloves and even the sink itself to make music. I’ve just looked it up on YouTube and I love the subtle competitiveness of it all, especially the moment where it threatens to turn into a full-on water fight.

The show is 100 minutes with no interval and I wasn’t sure how they would all cope with it, given they’ve had a full on week so far and a long morning at the Tower. But niece said the show went much quicker than she was expecting and even Roo managed to sit still through it. I think he was mesmerized. Still not convinced that Eva would have coped, but for your 6ish plus child it’s a winner I reckon.


So what did the sensitive girl and I get up to for those 100 minutes? Well, we started off with a stroll through a newish development called St Martin’s Courtyard, which had pretty flower bunting that Eva liked. We were on the hunt for coffee and cake, so were attracted to a large “Eat Cake” sign. Turns out they have a whole cake-based street food market here, which would be blissful if it wasn’t starting to rain. I could have coped with a slice of rainbow cake and game of ping pong.


We lingered just longer enough for Eva to strike a couple of poses with a giant E:


But then it started really chucking it down and so we made a dash for the Covent Garden Plaza, where we found a moomin wandering around outside the moomin shop, and then on to Patisserie Valerie. It’s not the cheapest place in the world to eat cake and drink coffee but it’s pretty reliable and I know from experience that they don’t chuck you out if your girl is taking an hour to nibble the pastry of her strawberry tart:


We still had time to kill after that but I can spend hours just wandering the streets around Seven Dials, looking at the shops, and Eva seems to like that too. We ducked into Tatty Devine and she squealed over “yuvyee” rainbow necklaces. She also really yiked this shop:

But then the rain turned apocalyptic and it was all we could do to dash back to the theatre and cower in the lobby, waiting for our assorted family members to come out. The staff were very kind. Another reason why you should make this one of your summer holiday trips out.

Stomp is running till January 2018 at the Ambassadors Theatre. For tickets and more information click here.

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“Ten Pieces Presents…” Prom – 23/07/16


We’ve got a couple of temporary LWATers with us this week. They’re young and full of energy and they’ve been tasked with looking after the kids while Nathan and I go to work. But first, I thought we’d show them some London culture – a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall along with a picnic and a stroll through Hyde Park. What could be more London than that?

Rain. Obviously.


It was only a light drizzle so we still had a picnic in Hyde Park. But we found this little shelter near the Italian Gardens that Reuben described as “somewhere that looks like it might have a curse on it”. That’s a reassuring thought as you’re eating a chorizo wrap.

On the upside, there are toilets right next door. And they’re a bargain 20p per pee.

The kids needed a runaround before they had to sit still for the press conference and luckily we had a mile or so of park to walk through. We’d picked up the young people at Paddington and walked all the way through Bayswater and Hyde Park. It was a lovely walk, even with Eva complaining most of the way about her poor tired yegs. We spotted the Albert Memorial though, before she got too whiney, and the shiny goldness of it gave her the push she needed to stumble the last little bit.

As it happened, our first destination wasn’t the Albert Hall at all but rather the Beit Hall in Imperial College. There we dropped off the massive suitcases we’d lugged through the park and settled in for the “Ten Pieces” Children’s Press Conference. Audio was being recorded so I warned my kids not to say anything outrageous….though they couldn’t have lowered the tone much after a question related to toilets. I’ll get to that in a bit.

The press conference was hosted by BBC’s “School Report”, in collaboration with “Ten Pieces” and the panel consisted of Vikki Stone, Sasha Boult and Gabriel Prokofiev. Vikki is a classically trained musician and comedian, which is an unusual combination. Sasha is a 17-year-old professional cellist and Gabriel is the grandson of another Prokofiev…but more importantly is a composer and DJ. We were there to hear them talk about music and the Proms and field questions from the assembled children.

The first question was about how old the panel were when they decided to become musicians. Not surprisingly, they all knew from an early age that they wanted to be involved in music – Sasha thought she was around 5, Gabriel around 10. Then they answered questions about how much they practiced (a lot was the answer), their inspirations and dealing with criticism. They all admitted to having a touch of stage fright still but said that the adrenalin helped them to perform. Sasha talked about her top tips for playing in a youth orchestra – passion and hard work –  and there was a good-natured argument over whether being a musician was “a real job”. Vikki was asked if she ever stole anyone’s jokes (only her Dad’s, apparently) and they all discussed the other genres of music they’d like to be involved in if they weren’t making classical – jazz and funk came up a fair bit.

Then it was open season on the kids’ questions and the crucial question was asked – what if you need to pee during a performance? Well, apparently that’s another way of channelling adrenalin. At this point, it probably would have been OK for Reuben to ask a question but given the one he had prepared – “do you ever play in the nude?” – I’m quite glad he didn’t. Then we went for a quick group photo on the steps outside the RAH and retired to California Roadside Burger for a bit of refuelling.


Then back to Kensington Gardens for a bit of a puppy runaround and we were ready for the Proms concert. Last time we were at the RAH, we were in the stalls. Today it was the Rausing Circle – a touch higher up.


This was Prom #12 – “Sir Henry’s Magnificent Musical Inspirations!” and it was aimed at first time promgoers, which we all were. It was a series of short pieces, none longer than 7 minutes, from a range of different composers and eras. The format worked well in keeping the kids’ attention and was curated by no less a person than Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms. He’d been summoned by to the RAH by a magic flute, brought along by two “audience members” (Ellis George and Louis Walwyn). Other character that joined Sir Henry  on stage included the Queen of the Night (also connected with a magic flute), Henry V and a giant animatronic gnome.

The musical selection started with a buoyant “Fanfare for the Common Man”, a World War Two piece by Aaron Copland, before the Ten Pieces Children’s Choir joined the Royal Philharmonic to sing Elgar’s “We are the Music Makers”.  Then the story of the magic flute was explored a little more, with the overture from the opera of the same name. The aforementioned gnome made his entrance during “Gnomus” from Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” – a giant puppet, glumly stomping his way through the auditorium both delighting and terrifying the children as he did so. Kudos to the children of Fox Primary School for designing it.

Then we heard the poignant tale of Lili Boulanger who died at the age of 24 but composed “D’un matin de printemps” shortly before she did. Ellis George brought the young Lili to life, playing the part of the sickly composer trapped in her Parisian flat. The first half was then wrapped up with two Indian-inspired pieces – “The Faces of Brahma” by musicians from the North Lincolnshire Music Hub, and Ravi Shankar’s “Banjara” from his 2010 symphony. See what I mean by a varied programme?

The first half was an hour long, which was verging on pushing it for my kids after a long day. But some interval ice cream perked them up again and they were ready for the second half, complete with their notepads from the press conference in case they got bored and needed to doodle. They didn’t seem to though – the music, acting and bright lights kept them interested to the end, even though it was way past their bedtimes. Eva was particularly taken with the rainbow lighting effect during one of the pieces (I forget which).

The second half started off in a lively fashion, with Vivaldi’s “Gloria” before mellowing right out with a contemporary piece about rural Australia – “Island Songs- Song of Home” by Peter Sculthorpe, featuring Jess Gillam on solo saxophone. The mood  changed abruptly again, with a absolute classic piece of Proms-ing – the hornpipe, arranged by Sir Henry himself. The whole Hall was on its feet, bobbing up and down, clapping, climbing the rigging and saluting., If there was one definitive “I’m at the Proms” moment, it was probably that – and designed to be so.

In case the evening wasn’t cultured enough, it was time for a bit of Shakespeare. Ivanno Jeremiah walked out into the arena to deliver the famous pre-battle speech from Henry V. This led naturally into two rousing excerpts from William Walton’s Henry V suite – “Overture:The Globe” and “Charge and Battle”. I think Reuben enjoyed the battle-y one most.

The evening was almost drawing to a close but next up we had a brand new piece – “No Place Like” by Kerry Andrews, again featuring the Ten Pieces Children’s Choir. I didn’t find it quite as stirring as some of the more traditional pieces but it was very effective and made good use of the chorus of voices, blending wistful vocals with football chants. I guess it reminded me a lot of the “Express Symphony” we sing with WAM and some would say that singing through that eleventy billion times has filled my contemporary classical quota for the time being.

Throughout the show, soprano Kathryn Lewek had appeared on the screen as the Queen of the Night from “The Magic Flute”. She too had been summoned back from the past and was angry about people enjoying the music. Since that evening, Eva has repeatedly pointed out the irony of the Queen hating music so much and then turning up singing but that’s exactly what she did  - her aria in fact. It was a thrilling moment – the savagery of those high notes (a top, top F I believe) and the leaps between them. Of course, there was some kind of MacGuffin to send the Queen away again but don’t let that spoil a good bit of villainry. Lewek certainly didn’t, milking the Wicked Witch of the West image for all it’s worth.

But the happy ending came with a more positive piece- “Pines of Romes” by Respighi. The music designed to accompany a Roman army marching home was a fitting end to a musical odyssey, topped only by a reprise of the hornpipe. It finished off an exhilarating evening, which served as a fine introduction to the Proms for my kids and to London for one of the temp LWATers. It’s all recorded on IPlayer for the the next 27 days or so if you want to listen too. Thank you, Sir Henry!


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Summer Holidays Are Here!



So, it’s four days into the holidays and already my kids have watched six Marvel movies. Nathan’s been in charge and apparently, “there’s a lot of MCU to get through”. If you’d like your children to be slightly more productive, here are some ideas of what you can get up to:

I’ve already blogged about the fab new show “The Midnight Gang” at Chickenshed but hurry if you want to see it – it’s only on till 6th August. More information and tickets here. For younger audience, “The Jumble Book” also looks fun and that’s on till 4th August. Another thing I’ll soon be reporting back on is the BBC Proms. Not the “Last Night” where we all sing patriotic songs and wave flags – that’s a whole other, Highams Park-related story – but rather the “Ten Pieces Presents…” events where bite-size classical pieces are performed in a family-friendly way. The performances are happening tomorrow (July 23rd)  so book quickly if you want to come too!

Coming up on 31st July is a Q Pootle 5-themed event at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. There’s an appearance from Q Pootle creator Nick Butterworth, a screening of an episode in the Planetarium and arts and crafts activities to take home. More details here. And in the “nepotism” section of this preview, why not check out Cecil Sharp House’s “Fun with Folk” – a three day holiday club for 6-8 year-olds? They’ll learn about folk music and hone their dancing and singing skills. There’s also a 4-day version for 9-12-year-olds, “Get Your Folk On!”

Summer in London wouldn’t be complete without something slightly surreal and the Royal Parks’ Giant Snail may well be this year’s. It’s moving around the different parks, bringing with it storytelling and creative activities. I probably haven’t explained it well, so have a look here.

There are also the usual array of community festivals. An interesting new addition is the Battersea Power Station’s “Power of Summer” Festival, which runs right from 22nd July to 1st Sept and includes things like a pop-up beach and “The Bureau of Silly Ideas”. There’s another beach at Canary Wharf, which is hosting beach volleyball, and the Olympic Park, which has a funfair as well as “sand” and “sea” at Beach East. The Royal Victoria Beach in Newham also looks well worth a visit.

Lastly, there are a couple of brand new openings I want to tell you about. The Postal Museum is reopening on 28th July with a new family area called “Sorted”. I feel like I’ve mentioned it before but it looks like it’s going to be awesome -interactive exhibits for older kids and a soft play area for littlies. More information here. And closer to(our) home is Centre17, a new theatre space in Walthamstow. I don’t know much about what’s going on there yet, but it looks like they’re hosting some drama workshops for kids over the summer so have a look here to find out more.

I’ll be reporting back on some of these things once I lure the kids out of their pyjamas and then the house. Have a good summer!

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“The Midnight Gang” at Chickenshed – 20/07/17

The Midnight Gang-Dress Rehearsal-18072017-DB-32The first thing Reuben said to me this morning was “It’s OK Mummy, I didn’t get up in the middle of the night and have an adventure”. If you’re wondering why he would even have that idea in his head, wonder no longer. It’s the fault of the Midnight Gang.

“The Midnight Gang” is a new production at the Chickenshed theatre. It’s an adaptation of the book by David Walliams and it’s running from 19th July – 6th August. Roo and I went to see it last night, which meant hopping on the tube from Walthamstow and changing onto the Piccadilly Line at Finsbury Park to get to Cockfosters. Don’t change at Finsbury Park if you’re changing direction – it’s a heck of a trek. We ended up getting a cab back but if we’d gone back on the tube, I think we would have gone all the way down to Arsenal on the Piccadilly Line, got the tube one stop back up the Piccadilly Line to Finsbury Park and then done the easy-peasy change from Piccadilly Line northbound to Victoria Line northbound. Don’t quote me on that but I reckon it’ll work.

Anyway, point being we made it to Cockfosters. Ever wondered what’s at the end of the Piccadilly Line? Here you go:

The Midnight Gang

There’s also some lovely art deco features in the station itself. Our other option to get to Chickenshed was Southgate tube, which is even more exciting as it looks like some kind of 1930s spaceship. But the walk was quicker from Cockfosters, so that’s what we went with.

Shall I move on to the show itself instead of all this tube geekery? Oh, go on then. It was in the main auditorium at Chickenshed (“Now that’s what I call a theatre” said Roo) and we were sitting behind the Mayor of Enfield. Exciting times! It was a 2 hour show, with 15 minute interval, and it’s recommended for ages 6+. I considered taking Eva, but she’s too young and I think it would have been a bit too emotional for her. A less sensitive and easily spooked 5-year-old would probably cope.

The Midnight Gang-Dress Rehearsal-18072017-DB-59

The basic plot is that five children meet in the children’s ward, on the 44th floor of the Lord Funt Hospital.The terrifying Matron rules the ward with an iron fist but somehow the children manage to sneak out at midnight and have adventures around the hospital, making each other’s dreams come true through creative use of the freezer room,  bedsheets and a shedload of balloons. The kids are the main stars here, but they’re ably supported by a number of adult actors including Michael Bossisse who I think had a bit of a fan club in, given how loudly they laughed and cheered every time he appeared in drag as Tootsie. Yossi Goodlink was the one who really carried the show though – also in a dress – as the newcomer Tom. He acts as narrator, along with Ashley Driver as the Porter, and is the catalyst for the story too, arriving on the ward and following the Midnight Gang to see what they’re up to.

Kids in hospital is a difficult subject to draw comedy out of, but the story is kept light and there’s real heart in the banter between the patients. Joe Booth as George and Tamika Armstrong as Amber are full of energy as the leaders of the gang, Amber somehow walking to her wheelchair with two broken legs to go off on another adventure. Finn Walters as Robin is a cheerful support, cracking jokes even as he’s fumbling around blind (including the favourite of the man in front of us – “I play lots of instruments. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet…but I can blow my own trumpet”) and Chloe Stevenson sensitively plays the critically ill Sally, desperate to be a normal kid despite her (possibly terminal) disease.

See, it’s a bit heart rending in places, especially when they’re making Sally’s dream come true with a glimpse of the life she could have had if she wasn’t ill. I don’t think Eva would have coped very well with that bit. There’s also real poignancy as the Porter is telling a story from his own childhood and explaining, in part, why he’s never quite left his childhood dreams behind.

But then there’s high comedy too, as an old lady takes to the skies and the Midnight Gang have to pursue her in an ambulance. And there’s always Tootsie and her breakfast trolley if you need to break the tension (cue hysterical laughter from Team Bossisse). It was a good balance of  gentle, thoughtful moments and boisterous fun. Reuben certainly enjoyed it and he’s not one for too much in the way of contemplation. The set was impressive too, summoning up the atmosphere of a slightly crumbling hospital and concealing secret extra sets like the freezer room and the gift shop. The skyline view of Big Ben and the London Eye made me wonder whether it was based on St Thomas’, where both the kids were born.

During the interval, Roo and I nipped out to the very pleasant Chickenshed garden for an ice cream, as it was still light and warm. Doing that, however, meant that we entirely failed to notice David Walliams himself in the foyer, a crowd gathering around him. Bit of a missed opportunity! Still, we got to hear a few words from him at the end of the show when he joined the cast on stage (the starstruck look on Joe Booth’s face was brilliant) and he was full of praise for the production, as was everyone around us as we filed out. I think it’s safe to say that Chickenshed has a success on its hands – a show that’s emotionally challenging enough for the older child, but entertaining enough to send them out with a smile. I would definitely recommend it to those of you with children of 6 and up – it’s a beautiful piece of family theatre and at a very reasonable price. For tickets and more information, click here.

Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for my review. All opinions remain honest and my own. All images copyright of  Chickenshed

The Midnight Gang-Tech Rehearsal-17072017-DB-103


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Chickenshed’s “Dreams of Freedom” – 26/06/17


It’s taken me a little while to write this review. I apologise. It was something to do with a catastrophic blog-tech-fail which removed the entire blog from the world wide web. But it’s back now – we can all stop panicking.

So, on Monday I took the kids to the Royal Albert Hall. It seems so surreal to say that now. Back then, it was still summer and taking them out late on a school night didn’t feel quite so irresponsible when it was too hot to sleep anyway. Besides, how often do you get to visit somewhere you’ve only ever seen on the telly?


The occasion was Chickenshed’s extravaganza “Dreams of Freedom”, which featured 600 performers from schools around London. It was a show about freedom, obviously, but also hope, play, imagination and the absence of fear. A lot of the ideas in it came directly form the children involved and even some of the music was composed by young people. It was poignant watching such a show in Kensington, so close to the Grenfell Tower fire and it was fitting that the opening slide paid tribute to the victims of that disaster and those who were affected by it, “including some of the performers on stage tonight” (apologies if I’m paraphrasing). It went alongside a moving video from Amnesty International Ambassador Angelina Jolie, talking about the Rights of a Child. That’s the bit that stuck with Reuben, and he would later describe it as “very Labour-y”. We have trained him well.


The performers came on dressed in t-shirts of bright rainbow colours, each one customised by the child themselves. It worked really effectively as they filled the floor space in blocks of different colour. There were several different segments, each introduced on the screen and live illustrated by Chris Ridell and the very talented 9-year-old Jude Holland – themes included “Freedom to come together”, “Freedom is ideas” and “Freedom from fear”. Some included songs from the choir, soloists or the whole ensemble – others were instrumentals, interpreted through mime and dance. There were anthemic moments – “Are you ready to hear us?”  - and more reflective moments but the whole thing was seamless. The kids enjoyed the first half, although Eva was scared by the “Monsters” section just before the interval.


To reset her a bit, we nipped out and had a breath of fresh air and a look at the giant golden statue. I still couldn’t quite believe we were at the Royal Albert Hall. And that it was still light outside.

The second half started with “Freedom from Sadness” and moved on through themes of hope, dreams and being yourself. Both kids sang along to “Fear is not an option” and did the actions. There was also a very striking moment where the performers on the floor brought on their “dream bubbles” – giant canvasses covered in illustrations of what they dreamt of. But the most moving part was during the finale, when they all had tiny electric tealights, giving the illusion of a place filled with tiny stars. The audience joined in, with hundreds of mobile phone lights joining the wave of light. My phone, of course, ran out of battery at this point but not before I got a very blurry photo:


I can’t imagine the planning and nightmare logistics that have gone into this show but it was so worth it. Chickenshed have much to be proud of and bringing 600 children, some with SENs or disabilities, together in such a life-affirming show must surely be the pinnacle of their achievements to date. It was melodic, dreamy, powerful and emotional. And definitely worth keeping the kids up late for.


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A Roasting Weekend in East London


Ja ja, this theme is getting stretched now. It’s hot. You get it. But I haven’t yet bored you with what we did last weekend, so I’m going to do that right now before the thunder storm arrives.

Eva and I started Saturday at Tumble in the Jungle. It’s the fifth time she and her classmates have been there for a party but the conga, limbo and ketchup smiles never get old. It was also way cooler than I expected because yknow, a soft play on a boiling day wouldn’t be my first choice. As it happens, an indoor pool wouldn’t be my first choice either but the kids had lobbied hard for a return trip to Leyton Leisure Centre and so we jumped on the 230 and headed to “Pepper’s Ghost” for a spot of pre-swimming lunch (but don’t follow my example…you know the rules about swimming and lunch)


Eva was impatient to swim, even though the pool didn’t open until 1 and we were still waiting for Nathan and Reuben to come and meet us. When she finally grasped this, she took up a sentry position by the window to watch out for them.


And eventually I let her get changed and we just waited outside the pool  itself. It was 1:30, the session finished at 2:30 and things were a little tense. Once the boys arrived, there was some faffing as the pool was full but we got let in around 1:50, got changed in record time and enjoyed a blissful half hour of splashing around, getting sprayed with water cannons and going down the slides. It’s a great area for smaller ones and again, cooler than I thought it would be.


Still, we hadn’t actually spent any time outside on this gloriously sunny day, so we popped down the road to Abbotts Park, stopping only to buy an ice cream at “Afters”. I had the Fruits of the Forest sorbet and it was awesome. The kids had mango sorbet but Eva only ate the sprinkles. She’s a fool of a girl.



It’s not a park I’d even heard of before, but it was quite big. There’s an outdoor gym section, which also has a zipwire, then an area for littler kids sectioned off too. You can more or less see it here:


And then some climbing frames that are a good in-between size too:


We didn’t last long because it was a bit too hot for my pale British children (who now have better tans than I do) but the next day after church we were out in the roasting sun again, this time in Ridgeway Park, Chingford. Roo and I had been there before but this time the model railway was running. If you’ve never been on it before, you should. It’s only tiny but you can sit on it and go round the park at quite some speed:


It’s open on Sundays during the summer and it’s £1 per person to ride. I believe you can also hire it for kids’ parties. More information here.

And now it’s 10:30pm, Reuben still isn’t asleep and it’s still not cooled down. I think I’m going to sit in the paddling pool before bed. Happy Midsummer!



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Cool Theatre Shows for Hot Days



I’m melting. Roo and I walked/scooted to the Feel Good Centre in blistering heat and now my brain resembles nothing more than a pink sticky puddle BUT I have some cool things to tell you about, so I’m soldiering on.

We have three theatre-ish trips planned in the next week. Three! And I’m going to tell you about them in advance because you might just wanna go too. First off, there’s a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream in a Greek theatre in Walthamstow on Saturday 24th June. Who even knew there was a Greek theatre in Walthamstow? Details are here but I’m just trying to find out whether it’s kid-friendly before I rock up with mine (all tickets are on the door). Reuben has just done a version of MSND at school so he’s interested and Eva just likes fairies. And I may have mentioned before that MSND has a special place in my heart.

The next day we’re going to another local event and this time it’s in The Highams Park, although it’s hosted by Soho Theatre as part of their Picnic Parties in the Park season. There are games, storytelling and creative workshops – I believe this one has a Charleston swing dance class. I’m more than ready. Do we need that photo of Eva’s Charleston finger again? I believe so…



And last off, and most excitingly, we’re visiting the Royal Albert Hall for the Chickenshed’s production. “Dreams of Freedom”. I know I’ve mentioned this before but it sounds truly epic – 600 children performing, a choir of 100 and live illustration from former children’s laureate Chris Ridell. It’s Monday 26 June at 7pm and you can find out more information here.

So, there’s a lot that’s exciting going on and two of these events are open air and one is even free! Whatcha waiting for?

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