BerkoFest – 10/09/16

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It’s Nathan’s birthday. Those of you who have seen the early morning wonders bestowed on him by our children will be surprised to learn that there was more to this day than a home made paper aeroplane (Eva) and a home made paper hat (Roo). Yes, it seems a man can desire more on his birthday than just half-arsed folded paper goods…and that’s why I took him to BerkFest. Him and the half-arsed paper folders, obviously.

BerkoFest has been running for a few years, in the Hertfordshire town of Berkhamsted but this is the first time we’ve been. The line up looked good, if a little disjointed as each of the headliners was a slightly different generation. There was Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls of the Wonder Stuff, beloved of early 90s indie and baggy kids. There was Britpop darlings Republica, who I guess I consider “my” era. Then there was James Walsh of Starsailor, who were more early 2000s and so a little past my ear – though I think Nathan went to see them once because a colleague was stalking a fan of the band.

It’s a small festival – you can tell it’s small because the parking is on the residential street just outside. There also weren’t signs to the fest from the main road, which I was surprised about. But we found it just fine and it’s certainly nice to have a hassle-free entry  - just park, and walk in. It was also, on this day, a particularly wet festival. I’d had an eye on the forecast all week and it never shifted off those double-raindrop clouds. So I went to the army surplus store yesterday and stocked up on family waterproofs, which I then managed to somehow present to Nathan as an extra gift this morning (a cagoule AND a paper hat – oh family, you are really spoiling me). Here’s Eva, weatherproofed and ready to go:

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I won’t lie to you readers – we needed it. The rain did not stop all day. But the army surplus did its job and we survived the day undrenched. Hooray for forward planning!

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When we got in, the Hackney Colliery Band were on the main stage and there were bubbles everywhere for the kids to chase. I would have liked to watch them but Reuben was keen to explore and only let us stay for one song before we had to go and see what was in the tent with the bunting. Turned out to be someone’s 40th birthday party. Huh, wasn’t expecting that. Luckily, a steward saw us looking a bit lost and shepherded us into the Hartbeeps tent just in time for the first Baby Rave of the day.

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Roo might be a touch old for baby raving but the wigwam was dry and warm and we were happy to get stuck in. Plus, he has some immense moves. No-one has “Tommy Thumb Game” like the birthday boy though:

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And you can guess who reayyey yuved the accessories:

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It was fun and energetic, with pompoms, star jumps and singalongs. At one point we popped outside for a quick parachute game in the rain:

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Then back inside for some chill out time, singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.  It finished when the drumming workshop started next door – you could say it finished because the drumming workshop next door started. So we transitioned to the drumming, still clutching our purple Hartbeeps goody bags (the kids liked the ducks but sadly, I think they’re probably not target market for the snacks in there. They get a bit sniffy about snacks with nutrients in).

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Drumming was…fun! The guy with the whistle (from Umbanda Percussion Workshops) really loved his job. I saw him on and off all day, banging out those rhythms with the same amount of energy and enthusiasm, no matter how wet it was getting. The guy at the back – he was more restrained but he, like Baloo of the Jungle Book, was feeling the beat. I’m not sure if the neighbouring stallholders were feeling the beat too by the end of the day though.

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As you’d expect, Reuben got really into the noise-making and even managed to get some of the drum patterns right when he decided to use his listening ears. Eva was a little more pathetic in his drumming but I think she enjoyed it too. As did Nathan and I!

Weirdly, it was still raining so we went to the beer tent for a coke and a mango juice, and listened to the sounds of a young man whose name I didn’t catch (feel free to tweet me if it’s you!). We chilled out for a bit, went in search of the loos, bought some lunch and came back to the beer tent. It was good to be out of the rain for a bit and we could still hear the main stage, where a band were doing the inevitable Bowie tribute (“All the Young Dudes”). At some point, both children tried and failed to splat a rat:

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We still had an hour or so before Miles and Erica, so we dived into the SandyArt tent. The kids had done some sand art on the Isle of Wight, so they were practically pros. Reuben raced through his, filling his “Arsenal” footballer as quickly as he possibly could (don’t ask why he’s decided to be an Arsenal fan…we’re just waiting this phase out) but Eva, characteristically, was doing hers very very slowly and carefully. First, Ariel got a black outline:

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Then a green tail:

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Then her features, her skin and a stripy background….but all ever so slowly. She was doing it for a full hour. An hour! Even Roo probably burned up about 20 minutes doing it, and they were both really proud of what they’d made. Here’s Eva’s finished product:

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I think it’s beautiful in its own way.

Eva was doing it for so long that I missed the start of Miles and Erica’s set – although nothing is very far away at BerkoFest so actually I could hear it from the SandyArt tent. Reuben and Nathan went down to watch while I hurried Eva along, filling in Ariel’s eyes ever so delicately with white sand.

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But we made it to the front just at the right time. Announcing one of their “very old singles”, they played “Circlesquare”, whose lyrics I am very familiar with, thanks to my friend Claire scrawling them all over my A-Level English folder. We’ll put aside the issue of whether it’s acceptable to write song lyrics on someone else’s folder without their permission (it’s not) but I remain very fond of that song. Is that a smile that hangs beneath your nose?

The hits kept on coming – “Size of a Cow”, “Welcome to the Cheap Seats”, “Golden Green” and “Here Comes Everyone”. We were seriously wet by this point, but dancing to keep warm and shouting till our voices were hoarse. Along with the band, not at them you must understand. The kids were dancing too and there was even a sort of toddler moshpit at one point. Look how happy the birthday boy was:

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But also how wet. Back to the beer tent for coffees and hot chocolates but when the kids spilt their hot chocolates for the fifth time, we moved to the relative quiet of the Swan Youth Centre Tent, where the kids lounged on the floor and ate snacks. It got less quiet once headliners The Visitors came onstage but Roo liked their rocking sound (this from the boy in the Black Sabbath t-shirt) and Eva just lay in my lap. I think we were nearing exhaustion. We stayed to listen to the inevitable Bowie tribute (“Moonage Daydream”) and then pulled out our final trump card – the sweetie stall.

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We’d already given up hope of seeing James Walsh but we both really wanted to make it through Republica’s set so it seemed like a bag of pic and mix might be our only way of doing that. Sugared up and hyped up, we bounced along with Saffron as she sang old and new songs – the biggest cheer so far of the set was, predictably, “Drop Dead Gorgeous”.

Saffron seemed so pleased that such a lot of people had stayed to see their set, despite the rain and cold and we were pleased that she was pleased. Of course we remember Republica! I mentioned them to a friend and she nodded nostalgically and said “Mmm…#hairgoals”. You’ll be pleased to know that Saffron is still a #hairgoals icon:

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Towards the end, Reuben needed to go to the loo so we nipped off and returned to the opening chords of “Ready to Go”. It was prophetic – we were back (from the portaloo) and we were ready to go (now that we’d heard the song we waiting for). I felt slightly bad for sneaking off before the very end of the set but hey, we didn’t want to get caught up in traffic getting out.

As we drove home, the sun came out and apparently it did so too at BerkoFest, just in time for James Walsh. Maybe we should have stayed but we’d pulled out all the stops with the kids and the next stop was meltdownville. Being a parent is often about knowing qhen to quit. Plus, we saw a rainbow over the Enfield reservoir as we drove home, which was a lovely end to the day.

Happy birthday Mr LWAT and thanks for having us BerkoFest!

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LWAT is 500 – A Monopoly Special pt 5 (The Short Version)

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Having rambled on for 6000 words about our Monopoly travels around London, I thought it’d be useful to have a quick summary of the route and stops, in case anyone else fancies doing it. It’s split over two days, child-friendly and at each place I’ve put our planned stop in brackets (we didn’t stop at all of them).  Each set had a theme, some of which worked better than others:

Browns: Parks

Blues: Gardens

Greens: Shops

Yellows: Tourist attractions

Dark Blues: BFG Jars

Oranges: Rest points

Reds: Animal statues

Pinks: Flags

As I mentioned in the other posts, the BFG Jars are a temporary trail but there are often those kinda things around London (elephants, book benches, Shauns etc) so you may well be able to replace the dark blues with a different kind of find-it challenge.

So, day 1 (all connections were walked/scooted by my kids)

Monopoly Day 1 Actual

 

Start at Green Park station.

Take the exit onto Piccadilly (suggested stop The Hard Rock Cafe Shop and Vault). Follow Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner for Park Lane (suggested stop BFG Jar near Admiralty Arch) .Double back and go through Mayfair (suggested stop BFG on Bond Street) to Bond Street (suggested stop confusingly not on Bond Street but nearby – the Royal Institution). Walk straight up Bond Street to Oxford Street (suggested stop the Disney Store). Then east down Oxford Street, cut through Hanover Square onto Regent Street (suggested stop Hamleys) and then Great Marlborough Street for lunch (suggested stop Five Guys) and back down Regent Street to Vine Street for pudding (BYO Ice cream -suggested place Freggo on Swallow Street. And don’t be too precious about eating standing in the road next to some bins)

Cross Piccadilly Circus to Coventry Street (suggested stop Ripley’s Believe It or Not/Bubba Gump), then onto Leicester Square (suggested stop Lego Store when it opens… M&M World til then). Follow the path at the south of the square, where the Empire used to be, along the side of the National Gallery and come out on Pall Mall (suggested activity – flag spotting). Turn left onto Trafalgar Square (suggested activity animal statue spotting). Cross the road at the bottom of Trafalgar Square to find both Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue(suggested activity – more flag spotting) then head back northwards and turn right onto the Strand (suggested activity – same as Trafalgar Square). Walk up to Wellington Street, near Waterloo Bridge, and turn left up there until it turns into Bow Street (suggested stop – coffee at the Royal Opera House) then back down to Aldwych and follow round till The Strand becomes Fleet Street  (suggested activity – same as Trafalgar Square), Rest!!

Day 2 (mostly public transport links)

Monopoly Day 2 Actual

Start at Liverpool Street station. Get the Hammersmith & City line to Whitechapel (suggested stop – Vallance Gardens), then District line to Tower Hill. Walk to Fenchurch Street station, then walk up Crutched Friars to the bus stop for the 42 bus. Alight just past the Bricklayers’ Arms roundabout for Old Kent Rd (suggested stop- don’t stop. Keep moving). Get the bus back up to Elephant & Castle (53, 453, 172, 63 all go there) and catch the Bakerloo line to Marylebone. Then the 205 bus to Euston (suggested stop St James’ Gardens), walk to Kings Cross, up Pentonville Road (suggested stop Joseph Grimaldi Park) up to Angel Islington! (suggested stop…anywhere that serves food or caffeine by this point. Though we did have Barnsbury Park pegged as a potential stop off point)

And that’s it – 26 Monopoly stops in two days. Whether you add in the utilities is up to you. But if you attempt it, do let me know how you got on!

 

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LWAT is 500 – A Monopoly Special pt 4 (Light Blues and Half the Stations)

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Oh gentle reader, we’re nearing the end now. I know it’s been a hard going series of blog posts,but trust me, doing it was harder than reading about it. When we finished part 3 we were boarding the Bakerloo Line in Elephant & Castle. Join us now as we emerge in Marylebone to bag another station.

Now, Fenchurch Street may be down the scale of London stations but Marylebone is smaller still – in the busyness scale, it sits one below Fenchurch and it hasn’t even given its name to  Hitchhiker’s character. That’s probably why I’ve never been there before, and why we spent less than six minutes there, all told. At 15:51, the kids were posing by the tube sign:

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but by 15:57 we were upstairs, across the concourse and out:
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There wasn’t much reason to linger, although it was quite pretty as Central London stations go. So we hopped on the 205 bus to Euston to get our first light blue. But before we got a photo of the road itself, we had a park to explore. After the disappointment of the Old Kent Road, it was lucky we had another playground planned. In fact, I had “gardens” as the theme of the light blue set but that went out of the window pretty quickly. We did manage this one, though. St James’ Garden just behind the station:

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Google Maps had failed to definitively tell me whether there was a playground there or not. So I’m happy to clear that up for you all – yes, there was. It looks like this:

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It’s not huge but I imagine if you’re killing time before your train to Manchester, it would be a handy thing to know about. I could have done with it on the CBeebies panto day. Eva yuved it so much she wanted to yive there. This is her house:

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And she and Reuben have their own double car for getting about:

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Unfortunately, they seemed to have a weird ban on playing Monopoly in this playground. Eek! How did they know that’s what we were doing? Look, here it is – no scotty dogs:

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I expect they’ve banned top hats as well. Bah Moneybags!

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While we were there, Roo wanted to play with a hoopla set he’d got from a nice American lady just off the Strand two days before. There was some friction between him and Eva, which naturally occurs with any game the two of them play. Then there was some friction between his hoopla ring and my face, which is another natural occurrence but didn’t put me in the best mood. We also needed to find some toilets pretty quickly, so we marched off in the direction of the Wellcome Collection and Friends House, hoping one of them was still open at 5ish. Points go to Wellcome, once again.

And look, we were on Euston Road proper!

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At this point, I only knew one thing – that we had three stops to go and we were going to do them, no matter how whiny anyone got. My thought was we’d walk to Kings Cross, have a coffee there and then push on to Islington. I had a mind to check out Drink, Shop and Do as we’ve failed to go there quite a few times now. This would be another fail.

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We made it to Kings Cross – yes! But then there was much in the way of dithering. While we linger on the Caledonian Road crossing, I’ll tell you a bit of information that has been thus far missing – what we did at the stations. This was Roo’s idea, but I supported it – a mini-quiz about each station. I’ve been training him to be a tube geek all his life but it’s really accelerated this summer and he’s been planning our journey every time we’ve gone out. Some of his suggestions are wacky (home from Stratford via Liverpool Street) but hey, he’s learning.

So I gave him 4 mini quizzes about each station. Can you name all the lines that go through Kings Cross? Or know where the closest underground to Fenchurch Street is? Roo does. And could you tell us whether we were having dinner out or at home? Because we really were dithering for this long. Along the way, we got our Pentonville Road photo though:

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Classy.

We finally decided – we would skip coffee, and the Pentonville Road park (Joseph Grimaldi Park if you’re interested) and catch a bus on up to the Angel. Are you sensing a lack of enthusiasm in these later photos? Well, I was too and that’s why we decided once and for all to dine at the Angel. A bit of peri-peri spice would perk us up enough to get home, right?

First though, we needed to take care of one last bit of business. We had crossed the finish line and we needed a photo to prove it:

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Now, where were those grumpy children I was keeping around the place?

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There they are! It’s a measure of how tired and hungry we all were by this point that I had a great idea but didn’t even have the energy to pursue it. We didn’t plan to do the utilities, but after the spontaneous water play in part two made a kind of child-friendly waterworks, it seemed fitting to look for something to act as the electricity company. Nathan rejected my plan for spontaneous electricity play but as we trooped through Angel, it suddenly struck me that we were in the vicinity of the legendary club Electrowerkz! Of course, it wouldn’t be open but if we just went and posed outside it we could….no….too tired….give me chicken….now.

And that slightly pathetic note is the end of our Monopoly quest. Congratulations if you made it through all four posts – there will be one more, with a simplified version of our route but thank you if you’ve read even some if it. It was indeed epic. Happy 500th LWAT!

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Lwat is 500- A Monopoly Special pt 3 (The Browns and Half the Stations)

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As you might have gathered from the start of Part 2, our Monopoly game got delayed by 24 hours or so. You don’t need the details. But luckily we had Bank Holiday Monday as back-up time and we were gonna need it. The browns, the light blues and the stations all lay ahead.

At first, it seems like quite an uneven split between the days  -17 to hit the first day, 9 the next. But the 9 on the second days are outliers – they require public transport to get to and between. True, the light blues and Marylebone all form a lovely linear stretch but it’s a 3 mile one…so there’s still a bit of fussing with buses to be done. And the triangle of Liverpool Street/Fenchurch Street/Whitechapel Road is just irritating. We’ll talk about that shortly.

We started at Liverpool Street – a natural point as it’s where our train comes in. We’d been there very briefly on Saturday night but had neglected to take a photo so it needed redoing again really. Best not to dwell on what could have been. Anyway, here they are, full of energy for a new day’s Monopolying:

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From there, we took a ridiculously convoluted route to Whitechapel. The main ticket office at Liverpool Street was closed over the weekend for maintenance, so we had to go into the tube via an entrance near Platform 1. It says there’s no access to the Hammersmith & City Line etc but today there was. Long, meandering access which brought us back round to the other side of the tickets barriers we’d normally use. Sigh. Then we got the platform and there were no H&C trains, only Met ones. Double sigh. Then I got Aldgate and Aldgate East confused and decided to just jump on a Met Line train because I swore Aldgate was pretty much on the end of Whitechapel Road and we didn’t need to go to the actual station.

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I was right on the very last point – there was no need to go to Whitechapel station – but wrong on so many others and my dithering saw us catching a number 25 bus straight past an interesting looking park (the Altab Ali Park) to a wholly mediocre one tucked just behind the station. I bring you our first playground of the Monopoly board: Vallance Gardens.

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The street name may well ring some bells with some of my friends. Again, best not to dwell on these things. I think rum may have been involved.

Which may also be the case with whoever designed the climbng frame. Why put on a ladder that twists through 90 degrees? Won’t everyone just fall off? Reuben wants to call the park and complain. It’s not a bad play area to spend 20 minutes in but it really wasn’t worth traversing London for. Next time, I’d like to go to the Altab Ali Park – I’m vaguely aware of the story behind it and it looked like a nice space to hang out in – a positive thing to come from a horrible event. But instead, we wandered  in circles round the Crossrail site and got on the tube back to Tower Hill, for Fenchurch Street:

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“I can see the gherkin” one of family members proclaimed. Yes, let’s ignore that reminder of just how close we are to Liverpool Street, shall we? We seemed to have been on the go for ages and not achieved very much at all. There’s nothing at Fenchurch Strret so we didn’t linger, but it kinda irks me that it’s included at all. It’s fairly insignificant as London stations go – in the 16 years we’ve been in London, I’ve only caught a train from there twice and once might have involved rum. Actually, I think it was whiskey. I dunno. Ask Nathan and his BFF Dave.

Point is, it’s a piddly little ‘un – sure, its 16 million annual passengers seems impressive but only until you compare it with the other stations in London. Waterloo has nearly 100 million and even Stratford nearly doubles it with 31 million. It’s 16th on the lsit of London’s busiest stations, beaten by non-termini like Vauxhall and Highbury and Islington. But the whole selection process is a mystery – the four biggest London stations are Waterloo, Victoria, Liverpool Street and London Bridge yet only one makes it onto the board. Why so?

Once again, Tim Moore appears to have the answer – apparently Victor Watson (the Managing Director of Waddingtons) came down from Yorkshire to pick the streets and stations for inclusion. He alighted at Kings Cross, which was operated by LNER. saw a poster for three other LNER stations and bam! that was it. They were immortalised in black and greenish. There are a few variations on the story but the arrival at Kings Cross also explains the clusteredness of the light blue set. Again, we’ll come back to that.

Anyway, rejoin us post-rant as we journey from Fenchurch Street to the beginning of the board – Old Kent Road. On the way, we saw another Vine Street, which wasn’t a huge improvement on the first. It’s split into two and the northern end really has some striking similarities to the one we visited on Saturday:

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Gotta love some back doors and bins!

We’d promised the kids another park at Old Kent Road, because (slightly neglected) playgrounds were our theme for the browns. You just don’t get them closer in to Zone 1, ysee. And neither, it emerges, do you get them at the Bricklayers’ Arms roundabout. We’d lived close to there when we first moved up here and I don’t remember a park but Google Maps assured me there was one, right off the roundabout – the Bricklayers’ Arms Recreation Ground.

And so there was – we could glimpse it through thick hedgerow. What we couldn’t work out, however, was how to get into it. We walked the perimeter and there was no sign of a gate -so I eventually discerned that you had to go through the estate, which had “Private Property” stamped all over this. We gave it up as a bad job and went to Lidl for ice cream instead.

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Lidl only sold giant multipacks of ice creams and my children couldn’t agree which one they wanted. The queues were also giant. We gave it up as a bad job and went to Elephant and Castle Tesco Metro for ice cream instead.

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That’s when I was a little surprised by our surroundings – half the Elephant roundabout seems to have disappeared and the pavement now stretches, plaza-style, to the giant silver cube on one side. It was an improvement but a confusing one. The Elephant and Castle pub also seems to have undergone a hipster renovation, doing that thing where hipsters don’t like to put names on the outside of buildings. A lonely-looking pair of letters (“EC”) were the only outward symbols of what had been before.

I never believed anyone when they said that the Elephant was gentrifying but slowly, slowly it seems to be happening. I hear they have a Boxparkesque Street Food market there now too. Unaffected by this hipsterness, we stuck with our plan and bought ice lollies from Tesco Metro, which thankfully stocked a choice the kids could agree on. As we sat on the new plaza, a Pentacostal church group gathered next to us and began loudly proclaiming that Jesus was Lord of Elephant and Castle. This caused some concern to Reuben, who kept whispering to me “Not just of Elephant and Castle. Jesus isn’t just the Lord of Elephant and Castle…is he?”

I’ll leave you with that thought to ponder and hope it distracts somewhat from our entirely disappointing Old Kent Road trip (take your kids! You too can look at a park and then look at an ice cream!) . If we’d ventured further down the road we would at least have found Toys R Us but that would leave us both out of the way and out of pocket…so we didn’t. Our next move would take us to Marylebone and beyond but that’s for Part 4 I think….

 

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LWAT is 500 – A Monopoly Special pt 2 (Oranges, Reds, Pinks, Yellows)

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As any Monopoly player will tell you, fate is a fickle mistress. One minute you’re building houses on Oxford Street, next you’re having to mortgage them all to pay your brother-in-law his Mayfair rent. And will he let you go out gracefully? Nooooo…”You can stay in” he says, as he merrily strips you of both cash and assets, even though all you want to do by this point is go and have a large Baileys.

Such is the luck of the real-life Monopoly player too. Last night I wrote Part One of this post, confident that we’d complete it today, racking up the light blues, stations and browns after church. But as I saved draft, there was a  curious noise from upstairs and Roo gave us a good reason to postpone for 24 hours. Will we do it on Bank Holiday Monday? Who knows? Maybe if we roll a double.

But I can still tell you about the rest of yesterday’s epic day out, where we bagged the dark blues, greens, yellows, pinks, reds and oranges. At the end of Part One,we were lunching in Marlborough Street, having visited Piccadilly, Park Lane, Mayfair, Bond Street and Oxford Street. We’d visited Regent Street briefly but hadn’t yet made our shop stop..and this was a big one. Hamleys!

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Now, I mentioned before that I was determined not to spend too much money on this trip and so far the children were subscribing to it. We had got in and out of the Disney Store with wallets intact as the kids were happy just to look at all the exciting things and have some photos with the life-size Elsas and Iron Men. I was confident that we could repeat this in Hamleys, especially as we were sticking to the ground floor and there was always a lot going on there.

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And so it was today – a boomerang demonstration at the front, a tub of “magic snow”(no, nothing illegal) round the side and a magic show at the back. All free entertainment for my two little Monopoly-crawlers. Eva also wanted to shake hands with every teddy on the wall of teddies: And she reayyyyeyyy yiked the Too Many Ponies section:

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If we’d gone upstairs we may never have left, so it’s probably good that we stayed on the ground floor. We were in and out in 20 minutes with no money spent. Goodness knows how, as the next stop was less than alluring.

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 Vine Street. The dullest of all the dull oranges. I thought there must be something there to make it board-worthy but no. It’s just the back door of the Grand Meridien and nothing else. Tim Moore, of the excellent “Do Not Pass Go“, reckons it was the police station that warranted its inclusion – it matches with the Bow Street Runners and the Marlborough St Magistrates’ Court to make a legal-themed set. But the police station is no more and there is nothing in its place. I’d planned to have pudding in Vine Street – buying an ice cream en route for a bit of BYO Vine Street fun. We were all still mega-full from lunch though and the back-alley smell wasn’t particularly enticing. Plus Reuben needed the toilet, so we took a swift photo and headed to Waterstones Piccadilly to use the facilities.

Waterstones is a good place to remember if you get caught short in Central London and don’t want to have to pay. The toilets are located rather charmingly on the 5 1/2th floor and, if that makes you think of Harry Potter, you’re not alone. They have a replica of Harry’s understairs cupboard near the back door, complete with portrait of Dudley Dursley on the outside. We didn’t go to the children’s department but I imagine that’s a fun place to hang out too.

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 It was fitting that we were back on a yellow street, as our next two destinations were yellows. Which means more tourist attractions! I had Ripley’s in mind for Coventry Street (I think you can hang out in the lobby for free) but my Piccadilly-Circus-avoidance brought us out by the horses statue so we’d gone right past it. Time for an emergency tourist attraction and Bubba Gump provided just that – obviously the kids haven’t seen “Forrest Gump” yet but I got a photo of them on Forrest’s bus stop bench, next to a box of “Life is like a box of chocolates”  chocolates. Eva is clearly trying to get into the chocolates here:

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We got waylaid much longer than planned at our next stop, Leicester Square, and I finally had to spend some money on something non-edible. Our planned stop was the M&M Store, which we ducked into, to pose on their M&M bus:

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My children had been dazzled by the bright lights of Hamleys and the Disney Store, so the M&M Store didn’t hold the thrill it once did. There was a Nickolodeon Store next door which I think they may have liked, but I’ve avoided PawPatrolMania so far and I don’t think that place would have helped. There’s a Lego Store coming soon too, so next time we visit I imagine Roo would want to pop in there. But what was the real thrill of Leicester Square?

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OMGoodness. There is water play there now. And a man blowing giant bubbles. This was a slippery combination indeed and, as you can guess, we were not prepared for any of this. The fountains started off really small, so the kids just took their shoes off and paddled. Then the fountains got less small, and Eva collided with a toddler boy and went right into a puddle. Drastic action was needed. Luckily, we were in Leicester Square so there were outlets available:

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London Baby, yeah. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find any Monopoly-themed t-shirts but these were on-theme enough for now. Once they were dry though, we needed to move hastily on and avoid the wet stuff. Easier said than done:

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What’s that though? Another Dream Jar? Go fetch, kids!

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This one made Reuben really hungry apparently. Most things make Reuben hungry.

We were now handily positioned to cut through to Trafalgar Square, our next stop. And on the way we found another Orange Street:

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Does that count? It should count.

It was getting late, but I felt like we were on the gateway of the pink/red power bloc. A few swift moves could knock down five of them. I thought we’d have to go a bit out of the way for Pall Mall but I didn’t realise it came right up to the edge of Trafalgar Square.

Another one in the bag. Boom! I hadn’t come up with much for the pinks and the reds as there’s not a lot of child-friendly places on Northumberland Avenue. So here’s my slightly lame “challenge” – for the pinks, find the flags of as many different countries as possible. For the reds, spot a statue of an animal. Come on kids, it’s fun!

To be honest we were so near the end of the day by now that we were motivated purely by collecting streets. The flags challenge would have worked well on a more leisurely day, when we could stroll past all the embassies and take photos of every flag we could. As it was, we found one on each pink. Starting with the Canadian flag on Pall Mall:

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The animal statue in Trafalgar Square is a pretty easy win but Reuben was soon distracted by not one but two floating Yodas. Who needs more than one floating Yoda in a small space? Roo asked both how they did the floating thing but neither answered. I assume it was The Force.

Anyway, here they are in Trafalgar Square. No road sign needed for ID, right?

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And here’s the classic kids-with-lion shot. Nathan went up there with them and then stayed up to haul another, unrelated to us, little girl up there as well. At her father’s request, obviously. That sentence sounds strange without the context.

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Crossing the road at the bottom of the square to get some pinks, we noticed something odd about the Green Men lights. One appeared to have a pair of green children instead but I realise now that it was two adults with a heart in the middle. I’ve googled it and it’s all part of this project – replacing the green men with trans and gay symbols for Pride. I’m not sure who gets the credit for it but it was kinda neat.

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The opposite corner gave us two pinks and two flags – a British one on Whitehall and a Korean one on Northumberland Avenue. Again, this would have been less lame if we’d actually gone down the roads but we were tired. Here are the photos though -

Whitehall:

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And Northumberland Avenue:

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Whitehall also served up a Pret that didn’t sell those frozen berry smoothie things, after I’d promised Roo he could have one. So McDonalds on the Strand it was then. Which obviously meant another red down, along with its animal statue (antelope outside the SA Embassy):

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Our rest breaks seemed to all be very long. We only had two more stops scheduled for the day but even Nathan was whining and asking for bed at this point. He’d opted for a vanilla thickshake and I think it made him sluggish. Come on, family! Just Bow Street and Fleet Street and then we’re done for the day! And they’re close, right?

Not as close as you’d think. Bow Street is the opposite end of the Strand and then a substantial way up Wellington Street. It was 7PM and the pavements were thick with theatregoers, which impeded us somewhat. Still, we made it to Bow Street where, once again, we failed to do anything more than take a photo and look at the giant ballerina on the side of the Royal Opera House. Dang oranges. We did bag another bonus Dream Jar though:

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Fleet Street was another trek again. The Strand really is longer than anyone thinks, as it carries on the other side of Aldwych and past the Royal Courts of Justice. Turns out there was a full mile’s walking/scooting from McDonalds to the end point – it was a bit more effort than any of us were ready for that time of day.

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But lo! The entrance to Fleet Street and with it, an animal statue! 17 streets achieved, three quarters of the board done minus the stations and it was definitely time to get the bus to Liverpool Street and from there the train home. And we completely forgot to take a photo of Liverpool Street as a stop, so I guess we’re revisiting that tomorrow.

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To summarise then, here’s the map of our first day:

Monopoly Day 1 Actual

Piccadilly, Park Lane, Mayfair, Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Marlborough Street, Vine Street, Coventry Street, Leicester Square, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, Northumberland Avenue, Whitehall, Strand, Bow Street, Fleet Street. Dark Blues, Greens, Yellows, Oranges, Pinks and Reds. 4.53 miles walked/scooted. Can I sleep yet??

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LWAT is 500 – A Monopoly Special pt 1 (Dark Blues, Greens, Some Other Bits…)

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Hooray! It’s time to pull a very special party popper. If I can summon the energy…oh wait…no, that’s too much. I’m so tired. So, so tired. You’ll see why.

We decided to celebrate by visiting every road on the Monopoly board. It was an idea that occurred to me while walking down Whitechapel Road a few weeks back. And simultaneously, it occurred to me that some of the squares are quite far out and so it wouldn’t be feasible to do it in one day. I know pub crawlers manage it but a) they can move at adult walking pace b) they can go on late into the night and c) they can be easily persuaded to leave somewhere and move on to the next place. Actually, given this is drunken people in pubs we’re talking about, maybe scrap point c).

So my idea was to do it in a relaxed fashion, over a bank holiday weekend. Saturday for the Central London ones (dark blues, greens, yellows, oranges, reds, pinks), Sunday for the outliers (light blues, browns, stations) and then Monday for anything we failed to do on the other two days. Bear in mind we needed to fit church in on Sunday morning as well. To add an LWAT twist to proceedings, every set would have some kind of theme – places to visit, or a challenge to fulfil. As you can guess, some of these took enormous liberties and stretched the concept way beyond breaking point. And besides, we improvised a lot on the day. Let’s get on to what happened when we actually did this. It’ll be long but hopefully it’ll inspire you to do similar. Or never leave the house again. One of those. I’ll try to do a clean version of the route in a separate post for people who don’t fancy ploughing through several thousand words of Wot I Did and especially don’t want to hear about That Scene in Caffe Nero.

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We started at Green Park tube. I had an order planned but it was in practicality order rather than any board order, although some of the sets did occur naturally together. Green Park was chosen because it was easy for us to get to as it’s on the Victoria Line and also because it opens straight onto a scoring street -Piccadilly, a Yellow. For those of you like Roo who are aggrieved that the set colours don’t match similar sounding tube lines (“But Piccadilly has to be dark blue!”) well…get over it. He soon did.

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The theme for the yellow set was “tourist attractions”, as you’d expect for such a lively set. I wasn’t super keen to spend any money, except on food and drink, so was on the look out for tourist stuff we could do for free. And there was the perfect place on Piccadilly – the Hard Rock Cafe shop. Roo and Nathan both like a bit of hard rock and Eva and I enjoy a bit of twee indie rock so…something for everyone really. Plus there’s an added extra – you can get a free tour of their basement museum, called The Vault.

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They have Black Sabbath’s drum kit, which Reuben was excited about, and David Bowie’s guitar, John Lennon’s jacket, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar… it’s well worth a visit. It’s not a huge area, so we locked up the scooters outside (free parking?) in case we accidentally damaged a priceless rock artefact. Or that guitar from Maroon 5.

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So, one street down –  many to go. Our theme for the dark blues is already showing the cracks in my plan – there’s not a heap of child-friendliness in Mayfair or Park Lane (I felt like a visit to Hyde Park would throw us way off-course before we’d even started). That’s why I chose the BFG Dream Jars as our dark blue mission – I knew there was one at Admiralty Arch and another on Bond Street. This is not going to work if you try this trail next week as they’re only running till 31st August. Still , it worked for us today. Here’s the one on Park Lane:

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And here are the kids by the Park Lane sign:

mono3You’ll notice in all these photos that they’re holding Monopoly £500 notes. Are you getting the subtle theme yet?

Now, I’d started out later than planned so we were approaching lunchtime and hadn’t covered much ground at all. The kids were whiney, I was hungry so what to do? Stop for cake of course! I didn’t have anything really in mind for Bond Street so thought maybe we’d have a coffee there. But then we walked past Caffe Nero, just off Half Moon Street and I caved in. Yes, we’d only marked off two stops (though we were in Mayfair so technically that was number three) but I needed sugar and caffeine and the children needed…just sugar.

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Then there was a scene. Eva has many annoying habits but her latest is this – you go to a cafe, ask her what she wants. She ums and errs and eventually chooses something. You sit down, start enjoying your own sugary caffeine and then her face crumbles. What is wrong, you wonder. She fails to produce anything but a whiney noise for what seems like hours. Your coffee grows cold. Eventually out it comes – “I changed my mind.” She wanted what Reuben has or what I had or really just anything other than what I’d just queued up and paid for.

She tried this shizz today. You can imagine how it went. Luckily, she hadn’t so much as breathed on the blueberry muffin she’d chosen, so the lovely and patient staff were happy to change it for a chocolate one. I’m not nearly so lovely and patient. Importantly though, we were sugared up and ready to continue our mission. In fact, there may have been something stronger than caffeine in the coffee as both Nathan and I swear we saw a man walk by with a giant blue parrot on each shoulder. The kids saw nothing. Mayfair is one crazy place. And here’s the official photo from that stop:

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We found the Dream Jar right opposite the spot where Old Bond Street meets New Bond Street. Perfect, as there is no telling which of the two “Bond Street” is meant to be. I say we found it – we more remembered where it was from the time we went to the Project MC2 launch two weeks ago. I was hoping Reuben wouldn’t notice this and would enjoy hunting for it..but alas, I was rumbled. It took a bit of “Ah yeah…I think you’re right Roo” to convince him that I didn’t also know where it was.

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But Mayfair Dream Jar was secured and it didn’t matter too much that we had nothing for Bond Street. The green set’s theme is “shops” but the only remotely suitable-looking shop on  Google Maps was Ralph Lauren Kids. And it was the same IRL – Ralph Lauren had some giant pencils and books in its window but it did stand out in a sea of extremely delicate, valuable, sparkly things. Not to fear though – I have a child-friendly recommendation for you if you choose to do this trip not on a weekend. It’s from the Project MC2 launch again and it’s the exhibition space at the Royal Institution. It has giant lighting up squares to push! And a reasonably priced cafe! It’s closed on a Saturday but here’s a photo from when we were there:

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 It kinda fits the “holding up banknotes” theme of the day. Have I over-used the word “theme” yet? Is it becoming a theme in itself? Next in the green set was Oxford Street and that was a long scoot away, all the way up New Bond Street. On the way though, we stopped for a chat with these two fellows:

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It really looks like Winston and Eva are getting on well, doesn’t it?

I definitely had a shop stop in mind for Oxford Street. Where would Eva realllly yuv? Somewhere with an entire floor of Disney Princess tat? Why yes, we can find one of those. And yook, it comes with a Cinderella pumpkin carriage!

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Roo was upstairs with Nathan and Iron Man:

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And eventually we found an Oxford Street sign for them to pose with:

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I find princesses en masse make me hungry, so it was lucky that I’d pencilled in the next stop as lunch. Well, the very next stop was Regent Street, where we found a bonus Dream Jar:

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And had a photo of such tired children that I swear passers by thought this was some bizarre form of begging:

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I wasn’t mentally ready for our Regent Street shop stop though, so we went for lunch just off (Great) Marlborough Street. As everyone knows, the oranges are pretty lame-ass in real life even though they’re dynamite in the game. So I’d marked them as rest stops of a sort though I hadn’t quite decided where we’d have lunch.

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Hipster McDonalds turned out to be the answer. Also known as Five Guys. We were in there for a full hour and it was excellent hipster fast food. You queue up to order, go to fill your drink and then collect your order from another counter. It all moved pretty swiftly, was inexpensive and you can choose any toppings for your burger for free! They also have an astounding selection of soft drinks from the machine, including a strawberry Fanta Still that the kids conceded to drink (they don’t do fizzy drinks) and unlimited refills. The burgers and fries were delicious, they had crayons for the kids and they didn’t try to chuck us out when Eva took a full hour to eat half a cup of chips. I would definitely recommend it.

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But I feel like I’ve talked enough for this post. Leave us covered in salt and grease and yumminess and rejoin us in Part 2 where we’ll visit some more disappointing oranges, find a toilet on a non-existent floor and do some spontaneous water play…

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Another Summer Round Up

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You might have discerned by now that I have a Significant Number blog post coming up. That’s why I’ve been posting like a mad lady this week. And yes, indeed post 500 is brewing…and we’re off out tomorrow to do something for it. You’ll see.

But in the mean time, here’s some other fun stuff we’ve done at random points over the summer.

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There was a trip to the Southbank Centre, which is sporting some lovely new artwork and some quirky benches as part of the Festival of Love. I had a horrible cold coming on that day so was cheerful enough through a coffee and lunch with an old friend, but was feeling pretty rotten by the time I met up with the long-suffering C’sMum. Someone arguing with us over the number of chairs we needed and me flinging my cold meds over the balcony onto the heads of the dancers below…well, none of that helped my mood. But we had some fun that day! It was tipping it down all morning but it didn’t stop the kids enjoying the fountains in swimwear and wellies:

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Now, there was a small logical flaw here – the wellies were to stop them slipping up on the wet fountain base but I forgot that they didn’t have spare shoes so they had to wear soggy wellies all the way home. Ho hum, live and learn. Now, who can spot the child in this photo?:

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I swear there’s one in there somewhere.

So, what else? Well, there was a spontaneous brunch with Holly and family at Bill’s in Brewer Street. The prices are reasonable, the pots of tea massive and the waiters have luxuriant hipster beards. One child had a pancake the size of his head. Literally. And my pancakes looked pretty darn tasty too:

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Then there was a trip to Memorial Park in Chingford, which had some new and shiny play equipment. In the journalistic accuracy you’ve come to expect from this blog, I remember very little about it. I  did get one photo of the kids on a seesaw thing though:

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Woh now Reuben, that is scarily high. Oh look, here’s a photo where you can actually see some of the play equipment in the background.

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#ThisBlogIsBothBeautifulAndUseful

It was followed by a lovely lunch at La Rocca where they had a good kids’ menu and brought out colouring sheets for us. Of course J&J&A had brought their own hipster colouring book, but clearly the La Rocca staff deemed this unworthy. Their version had way more bunnies in it.

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Another trip out was to King Henry’s Walk Garden in Islington. It’s a community garden which opens up to the public on a Sunday and we went there for a very pleasant post-church picnic. There’s a beautiful flower garden, and a wild wood bit at the back with a beehive and a big hotel. It was an unexpected little oasis just off Balls Pond Rd and the children enjoyed helping to water the plants and follow the nature trails.

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I believe Nathan has taken the younger LWATs out a few times without me too. They went to the reconfigured dinosaur exhibition at the NHM:

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And I believe I mentioned it before, but Nathan and Eva had a bit of a Daddy-daughter date at Oh My! in Chingford:

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Cuteness! So that’s you all caught up and post 499 done….watch this space for post 500!

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Autumn Preview

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It doesn’t feel like it this balmy night but Autumn really isn’t far away, is it? Please tell me this summer holiday is almost over…

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Yes, yes it is. And here are some things to look forward to this Autumn. First off, we’re taking a trip to Berkhamsted on Nathan’s birthday for our first BerkoFest experience. It describes itself as a “boutique, family friendly festival” and this year the headliners are  James Walsh of Starsailor, Republica and Miles and Erica from baggy superstars the Wonder Stuff. I’m probably most excited about that last act and am considering taking along the folder that my friend Claire covered with “Circlesquare” lyrics one English Language lesson at sixth form. It bulges with opportunity I tell you….bulges! BerkoFest is on 10th September, 11:30am-7pm and you can buy tickets here.

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Closer to home, for us anyway, is the Highams Park Festival of Culture. Running from 2nd -16th September, it encompasses 50 different events, from pop-up restaurants to a HP-wide yarn bombing. My choir, HarmonyE4, is singing at Highams Park station on launch night (2nd Sept, between 6 and 7pm) so come to that bit even if you do nothing else. But the Gin and Sympathy colouring evening, the Flea and Tea Market and the Kipper storytelling also sound fun!

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I’ve mentioned it before but Chickenshed is back after a summer break, with a new season of “Tales From the Shed”. Every Friday and Saturday morning, there’s an opportunity for kids to come and watch these interactive shows which feature songs, dancing, puppets and lots of silliness. There’s also a free family fun day on 2nd October and performance workshops every Saturday for 8 weeks. Phew! That’s a lot going on. 

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And there’s more…the Spiegeltent is coming back to Canary Wharf from 22nd Sept – 2nd Oct and there’s a varied programme, from the family-friendly to the more adult. Our friends Big Fish Little Fish are holding a party there on 25th Sept and the day before that there’s a brilliant-sounding Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with storytelling and cake! Bopping bunnies and Bach to Baby are also holding events. Some of the events are free and “just turn up” but for the ticketed ones, see more info here.

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Lastly, the Family Travel Show is also back this autumn, at Olympia on 1st and 2nd October. Last year we went and had a lot of fun – there are plenty of kids’ activities, talks, dressing up and a free creche! It was definitely worth attending, even if it did give us holiday envy (one day we’ll make it abroad…this year was not that year). For more information, have a look here.

Is that enough to warm your cockles yet? My mind is already skipping over to Christmas but I won’t burden you with that just yet. Let it snoooooowwww…..

 

 

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Isle of Wight HighWights

Yes, it’s another exotic holiday for the LWAT family…we’ve just returned from a week on the island and it’s my pleasure to show you some of the interesting things we did. As you can tell, we were incredibly lucky with the weather and it was only on the last day that we found ourselves huddling outside Waitrose in the rain, eating a cupcake to try and kill time before we got on the ferry. So, what’s worth doing?

 

Alum Bay and the Needles

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This is as iconic as the IoW gets. If you recognise anything, it’ll be these stacks of rock on the westernmost point of the island. Parking at the top is £5 and there are restaurants and amusements next to the car park (carousel, go karts…those ubiquitous Water Walkerz). I totally wussed out of getting the chairlift down the cliff and we took the 105 steps instead.

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But on the way back, faced with the prospect of dragging an over-tired Eva back up those steps, we braved it. It was completely terrifying. I clung onto her tightly in case she slipped through the gap and joined the mass of hats and flip-flops on the cliff face. I’m glad we did it but I still have flashbacks.

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The bay at the bottom is gorgeous, by the way. Clear turquoise water and ice-cream colour cliffs, with those 21 different shades of sand. Of course, back at the top we had to do the filling-plastic-pot-with-sand thing. You can’t get more IoW than that.

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Sandown Pier

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Sandown is pretty much as archetypal British seaside as you’re likely to get on the island. There’s a sandy beach, deckchairs and a pier which forces you to walk through – or push a wheelchair through – a tacky amusement arcade before you’re allowed out to breathe that fresh sea air. It smelt a bit like an old people’s home. …the arcade, not the fresh sea air.

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My brother and his family were with us that day, so he took Roo off to play crazy golf while Eva and her small cousin rinsed us for every coin we had so that they could go on the “teatup ride”. I might have bought sambuca flavoured rock in my panic to make yet more change for yet more noisy neon rides. Nathan doesn’t quite understand how that happened.

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Ventnor 

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Ventnor was a bit of an unexpected hit with the kids. Even before we got down to the shingley beach, there was the excitement of a clifftop playground:

. With its own compass, so that I knew how to get back to everywhere I’ve ever lived. I love how London is an afterthought next to Shanklin.

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And then there was a paddling pool with a giant map of the Isle of Wight on it! I take it back about the sand art. ..THIS is the most IoW thing you could ever do.

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Roo’s butt fitted nicely between the Coweses:

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And the cafe next to it does good coffee. ..it even has soya milk, though I noticed that too late. We planned to go back later for ice cream, but Roo was literally blue with cold after an extended dip in the sea so for once he didn’t fancy it. What to do to warm him up? Nathan knew! Walk the entire length of the solar system! So that’s what we did.

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Walking a few minutes along the sea front, back past the cafe you’ll find a plaque which tells you all about Pluto. As you walk on, the planets are spaced out according to their actual distance from each other. It’s about a 2km walk but once you get past Saturn, they start getting closer together. And there’s lots of lovely sea scenery on the way as well:

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Sadly there wasn’t a tea room and, after 2km of planet-finding, I was seriously craving a cuppa and a scone. So we decided to walk back along the top of the cliff, to see what was there.

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Nothing. There was nothing there. There was an old church and a duck pond and a cafe that was just closing but there was not a cup of tea to be had anywhere in Bonchurch village. We sat on a bench and plumbed the depths of the snack bag for ageing haribo. The children were unimpressed with this bracing walk at the end of the day and they never got ice cream and I never got my scone. Good paddling pool though.

 

Tapnell Farm Park

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In case of wet weather, it’s good to have a plan that doesn’t involve just lounging around on the beach all day and eating ice cream. As it happens. the day we went to Tapnell Farm it wasn’t rainy at all but hey, we deployed the plan anyway. There was some good outdoorsy stuff, including a giant jumping pillow that made Reuben “want to jump just looking at it”. Adults were also allowed on:
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There was a small play area in between the jumping pillow and the wallaby walkabout area and a big green space for picnicking. But the best stuff is inside. Like this straw bale pyramid:
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In the same barn, there was a zipwire and a go kart track. Then there was a play barn with a soft play frame, giant foam construction blocks, ride-on tractors and a chalkboard cow. Also coffee. Good coffee. Nathan had the Flat Wight. See what they did here?
Eva’s favourite bit was the role play area:
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Roo’s was obviously the jumping pillow. The boy is made for an all-bounce environment. Obviously, there were plenty of chances to meet the animals as well so both kids got to feed this mad-looking calf:
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It was only £29 for the four of us to get in, so it was half the price of some of the other attractions on the island. We stayed pretty much until we were kicked out and it was a lovely day…even if it didn’t rain.
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Ryde

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There was also a good bouncing opportunity at Ryde on our first day -Roo went on the trampoline by the beach while Eva rode the carousel and did sad-eyes on me because I wouldn’t let her go on the Water Walkerz.

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We also found open-air church next to the beach, so we sat and sang along while eating our ice creams. We ate a lot of ice cream last week, but the blackcurrant cheesecake stuff from Ryde might have been the best one. It was this place:

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The beach itself was also very lovely – lots of golden sand and warm, shallow water. Eva and I walked all the way out to a buoy and still didn’t go far above my knees. I think it was Reuben’s favourite of the week, which meant that the beaches and ice cream both decreased in quality as the week went on. Ah well.

I also made the kids go to the end of the pier to see what was there but, like Bonchurch, there was nothing. Just a ferry terminal with a Costa that’s only accessible to people with ferry tickets. Luckily, I hadn’t made them walk it – we’d jumped on the train and after discovering we couldn’t get into Costa, we jumped on the train right back. But how exciting to realise it was a vintage tube train! It was the roundels on the window that gave it away:

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Exciting for me. Clearly not for Roo here…

So, what to do when the weather actually breaks and it rains non-stop all day? Well, that happened on our very last day when we had an awkward 6-hour gap between leaving the apartment and getting our ferry back. The answer was – cinema and Pizza Hut in Newport, followed by a trip to the Garlic Farm. Once again, Roo was unimpressed. It had a funny smell, apparently. Oh and don’t bother getting to Cowes an hour early unless you really like traffic jams and eating soggy gingerbread outside Waitrose…

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A Happy Strike Day – 05/07/16

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I know, I know…..this was months ago. But it was a happy day, and I think I’d like to write about it if I may. It wasn’t a successful camera day, so I don’t have a huge amount of photos but that’s pretty standard LWAT rubbishness, isn’t it?

Let’s start at the start. There was a teachers’ strike.  I was pretty stropped out about it. Nathan and I carefully mapped out all our annual leave at the start of the year, to cover school holidays, half terms and INSET days. There was no wiggle room. No wiggle room for the two election days that had closed the school and forced me to splash out on paid childcare. And definitely no wiggle room for a teachers’ strike just two weeks after that last closure. But I gritted my teeth, rejigged some stuff, paid for yet more childcare and alakazam – I had a Tuesday off with both kids. From then on, I decided we’d just have a nice day. A “yes” kinda day. I would forget how very irritating it is to have work disrupted every week of the summer term and we would just have a day out…a trial run for our summer days out.

Unfortunately, it was not starting in a very summery way. It was 9AM, it was raining and we were in the unglamourous surrounds of Barkingside. What do you do in that situation but go to the pub? I’ve rarely been to the pub at 9AM before, even in my student days, but apparently it was not a crazy thing to do -the Wetherspoons was open and it was pretty full. I was not the only one to think this was an OK thing to do and, worryingly, I was one of the only ones sticking to coffee (and hot chocolate for the kids). It was a strange experience.

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But the coffee was much needed and gave me the energy to walk to our destination – Owls play centre in Fairlop Waters. We were trying out the public transport route and so far, it was working fine. Hence being half an hour early to meet J&J&A just before Owls opened at 10. We’d successfully got the 275 for the first bit and I’d successfully ascertained that there was no caffeine to be had on Forest Road, hence the pub. All we needed to do now was pick our way along that long and apparently pavementless road.

There are two ways to do this – you could just stick to the Fairlop tube side of the road, and there’s actually pavement right the way along. We didn’t do that though. We took a path off to the right, which looks a little like this (thanks Google Maps!):

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Luckily it had stopped raining by now. We found ourselves walking along the edge of the golf course, talking about shoes (that will become significant later) and it brought us out nicely at the turning to Owls. It was a very pleasant alternative to the main road and we didn’t even go out of the way. There were even some hay bales to play on:

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We hit Owls at 9:53, 3 minutes after the designated rendez-vous time and we were the first ones in. We’d been worried about it being rammed on a strike day, but it wasn’t too bad. And naturally, we bagsied the best table.

Now, I was already loosely planning to go and get the kids new shoes. Roo had said his casual shoes were pinching and Eva’s bunny trainers had had a hard life and now were falling off her feet, thanks to her habit of treading the backs down. I’d already wussed out a few times though – shoe shopping with Eva can be an ordeal and proved time and time again. This time though, fate stepped in. Or rather Reuben almost stepped in some sick that someone else had left in his current shoes. Yes, a random child was sick in Reuben’s shoes and left it for us to find later. That one incident marred what was otherwise a very pleasant morning at Owls. Eva might have even eaten something at some point. I forget. It was months ago.

So, we really, really needed to buy shoes. In the spirit of spontaneity I decided we’d go to Westfield. It was actually a logical decision – Fairlop is on the Central Line and would get us to Stratford speedily and once we were there the East London world was our oyster. I’d toyed with ideas of Ilford or Barkingside Clarks but this seemed much sounder. And the transport link worked like a dream.

Of course, we got suckered in to the Disney Store on the way to Clarks. I’m not sure the kids had ever gone into one before but they were entranced. So much Marvel and Princess tat in one place! And they had a magic mirror and a Princess tower! I’m amazed I ever got them out of there and into Clarks, especially as I refused to buy them anything but shoes. No Eva, that does not mean sparkly Disney shoes.

Mission was eventually accomplished, though shopping at Clarks during the sale is a harrowing experience and even more so when you end up having to pay for two pairs of full-price. Ouch. By now, the sun was shining hard and we were next to the Olympic Park so I figured – why not? Let’s go play.

Fate once more intervened and this time it didn’t have carrots in it. Some friends of ours from church had seen a Facebook appeal of ours for Olympic Park buddies. They were there, in the fountains, and we were welcome to join them. Of course, we had no swimwear but this was Spontaneity Day and so they went in wearing just their pants. It must be liberating to be able to do that.

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Then Eva set up a shoe shop, carefully balancing a single shoe on the top of each post. Lucky tourists now had the opportunity to buy Roo’s sick-splattered trainers but sadly, none did. That would have paid for ice cream.

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Because there was ice cream. Of course there was. It was a sunny Yes Day. It was almost as painfully expensive as the Clarks trip but Eva managed to eat the whole thing without dropping it. I think. I forget. It was months ago.

Every silver lining has a cloud though, doesn’t it? And the kids’ lack of dry pants were that cloud. There were some complaints about chafing and so I decided that the solution was to buy myself some new shoes too. If I did that at Primark, we could get fresh pants for the kids at the same time. But have you tried queuing in Primark at the end of a crazybusy day with two crazytired children? This is one bit that I wish to forget but so far haven’t. Don’t do it.

But spontaneity, friends and ice cream? Yeah! Do it. It was pretty fun, after all…

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