Kidzania – 25/07/15

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Well, where to start with Kidzania? Let’s start in West London, a place much maligned and neglected by LWAT but the focus of a “Getting to know you” campaign this summer.  The particular bit of West London we visited today was Shepherd’s Bush, and the all-new Kidzania theme park at Westfield, in association with the Mumsnet Bloggers Network. You may join us, if you will, outside the tube, where Eva’s scooter has just broken:

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Bah, GrumpyNathan! This has happened to us out and about before but you’ll be pleased to know that this time we found all the parts and managed to repair it once we got home. But it did mean we were dragging a broken scooter around all day and Eva had to use her “yegs” for once. Not ideal when we had our usual huge amounts of stuff with us anyway.

A distraction was on the horizon though, as Westfield had – like its Stratford cousin - turned a bit tropical:

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We didn’t pause to try out the deckchairs, as I was feeling the need for coffee before we tackled the big KZ and first off we had to stop by the satellite ticket office and check we were OK to go in without print outs of the tickets. The office is here, outside M&S on the First Floor:

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And luckily, an e-ticket on Nathan’s phone worked just fine as a ticket. I’m not sure what I would have done without Nathan, given how unsmart my current phone is…but I didn’t need to worry about it. We got coffees from the Starbucks downstairs, where Eva insisted on sitting not with us but opposite two random girls who, happily, didn’t seem to mind the intrusion. They even gave her some popchips, which was a bit of a win for Eva.

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Then we came upstairs, found the actual front door and ascended to the third floor “check-in desks”.

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Yes, they’re exactly as you imagine. KidZania has a bit of an airport theme (as one of the most popular activities is in partnership with BA). So, at the top of the escalators there are queue barriers, leading to a bank of desks where you check in. Along the way, there are lots of things to look at, like these posters of KidZanias around the world:

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I think KidZania London is something like the 19th location around the world and it started as a Mexican company. But KidZania is officially its own country, as a plaque on the floor explains. Hence the International Airport (you also go through Customs when you leave).

Check-in involved us all getting electronic bracelets – child ones to tag into activities and parental ones to keep track of those children. Here’s Roo, showing his off:

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He was also issued with 50 KidZos – the official currency of KidZania (although don’t worry, the restaurants and the merchandise shop inside all give you the chance to spend actual pounds as well). For those who are completely unfamiliar with the KidZania concept, I’m going to explain it slowly now. If you already know it all, feel free to skip on. You can join us again after the picture of the kids with the KidZania sign that differs ever so slightly from the picture at the top of the post (it contains approx 50% more terror).

So, the KZ Concept. It’s a miniature city, for miniature people. Aimed at the 4-14 age group, it’s a chance for kids to take part in real-life scenarios – working as anything from couriers to pilots. For some experiences, they’ll earn a salary that they can pay into their KidZania bank account or use to buy things at the Department Store. For other experiences, they’ll need to pay to do it. All in KidZos, naturally. Each activity lasts around 15 minutes (some- like the acting class – are much longer) and are fully immersive, with costumes and realistic props. The under 4s are catered for too, with their own preschool area, but they don’t get the KidZos on arrival and can’t take part in the role playing activities that make up most of the city. Are you ready to see what Roo and Eva made of it all? Read on…

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Are you back with us, skimmers? Good-oh! Well, the official advice on check-in is to take a walk around the city before deciding what to do but we had a stop to make first – at the Big Yellow Storage unit, to dump the broken scooter and various other bags. The guy running Big Yellow seemed a little unsure on what to charge for a scooter (it’s £5 to store a buggy, £3 for a locker) but happily it fit into one of the bigger lockers so we just used that.

Unencumbered, we set off into the city with a plan – I would stick with Roo and Nathan would take Eva to the preschool bit. This almost fell apart when Eva ran off on her own down the main street but we got her back and I believe Nathan kept a slightly tighter grip on her thereafter.  I don’t actually know, as we lost sight of them minutes after locking up the scooter…but he did appear with her later so I can only assume he didn’t lose her too many times.

Roo and I started our visit on the tour bus, which was just about to leave. Our tour guides were, naturally, kids who were working at the radio station so it was a slightly nervous rendition of the KZ script that we heard. Still, it was helpful to see around all the different activities and get a feel for the size of the thing. Roo was very keen on the idea of firefighting, along with every other child in the world, so as soon as we got off the bus we joined our first queue.

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Now, the queues. There’s no getting around the queues at KidZania. Every review I’ve read so far has mentioned them and I’m not going to buck the trend. The problem is that the 20-minute activities are all-or-nothing kinda deals – you can’t join in halfway through. So even if you arrive 5 minutes after an activity has started and it’s only half-full, you can’t join in until the next cycle starts. Every activity has a limited capacity, so if there are more than about 8 people in front of you in a queue, you know that you’re going to need to wait till the cycle after next. This is all tricky with a small child.

There are loads of issues with the system as it stands at the moment. There’s nothing to do in the queues, so you spend precious KZ minutes entertaining your own child in a confined space. There’s no-one managing the queues, so other kids can easily push in front of yours. And there’s the torment of a child having to watch others having fun when their own fun is half an hour away. As I said, this is all tricky.

But not insurmountable! An extra staff member on the busy queues would make a world of difference – someone to keep kids informed about how long the wait is, keeping track of who’s allowed into the next session and maybe even providing some in-queue entertainment. A step on front that would be maybe a ticket system like they have at Clarks or a screen somewhere, telling you which sessions were starting soon and how full they were. The fire station had a manual clock showing when the next session started but it clearly wasn’t right (it was 1:30 when we were queuing and the clock said the next session started at 12:45). So we were in the queue for 20 minutes without knowing when we’d be out of the queue and having not had much in the way of fun yet. I can forsee this being a repeated complaint among parents but there are some relatively simple solutions to the problem that I hope they’ll consider. Everything about KidZania is so sophisticated, except this one part…but it’s something that comes to dominate your afternoon.

When he did get called in to the fire station, Roo was thrilled. He paid his KidZos, put on his hairnet and helmet and got ready to learn about fire:

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Ysee, this is totally educational too. And the fire station, like everything else, is super cute:

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They watched a video on fire safety, practised some firefighting techniques (drop and roll, crawling through smoke) and awaited a call out. When the emergency call came in, Roo was a little worried:

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But also excited as he piled into the fire engine and they drove off, chanting “We are the firefighters!”:

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The fire was at the Flamingo Hotel, which seems to be a bit of a cursed building, given how often it sets alight. In a cleverly synchronised move, all three emergency services arrived at once – the police set up the barriers, only letting the fire engine and ambulance through, and the firefighters jumped out to man the hoses:

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Was it exciting? Yeah! Exciting enough to justify all the waiting? Heck yeah! Reuben super-enjoyed himself, especially when the building caught back on fire after they thought they’d put it out.

He was so buoyed up that he was ready to try another popular activity straight away. I suggested that maybe he should try a less popular one first, because he might be able to walk straight in. Maybe the power station? But no, the boy wanted to make chocolate:
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On joining the queue, it seemed that our luck was in. The next session started in 5 minutes, the capacity was 8 kids and there were 7 in the queue ahead of him. I counted them many times to make sure. So, what happened as the doors opened? Well, the kid behind Roo pushed in front and he was left outside, pressing his nose against the glass. Literally:

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I have to admit, that bit kinda made me cross. The child was one of the older, unsupervised ones so there was no parent I could politely point out the error to. And the person running the session didn’t seem overly bothered that it had happened. She just told us that the next session started in half an hour and we should queue now to guarantee a place.

So we queued for 30 minutes, watching other people making chocolate. Like I say before, there’s room for improvement in this system.

But let’s be positive. Because at that point, I spotted Nathan and Eva and caught up with what they’d been doing. And now you can too! They’d been to the Science Lab, where Eva was taught to make bubble mix:

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And the kindergarten, which was full of brightly coloured toys, and fun and noisy things:

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No, I mean really noisy:

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When I met them, they’d just come out of the RightZKeepers Residence, which Eva was very keen to show me. I’d just watched Reuben going into his chocolate session at last, so I left Nathan watching him and followed Eva into what turned out to be a giant playhouse.

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The playhouse was fab. Partnered by the Early Learning Centre, it had that trademark ELC mix of educational play with sheer,fun tactileness. There were four rooms – kitchen, bathroom, lounge and bedroom and each one contained many treats for the curious preschooler.

The lounge had a shelf full of books, and a little sofa just perfect for sitting down and reading on:

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Oh, and it also had a dressing up box, which is why she’s dressed as a knight. She was on the look out for a princess to rescue, but none of the other children obliged her. Who could say no to this dashing rescuer?:

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The bedroom was all made out of soft play material, with beds you can jump on and walls you can jump off:

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And it’s also handy for a lie-down, as I saw one father having.

The kitchen is stocked with play food and drinks, including this very full salad tray:

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I doubt Eva’s ever seen that many vegetables assembled in her life. It also had a rack of plates, which one of my friends would be itching to rearrange into rainbow colour:

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My favourite bit was the bathroom, where a giant square bath was filled with wobbly virtual water and fish. I’m sure I’m not doing it justice with that description, so here’s a few photos. Take note of the number of umbrellas Eva needs in the bath:

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By now, I was feeling considerably less grumpy – it was the effect of an activity which was free, unlimited and didn’t require queuing. Roo, meanwhile had been enjoying his chocolate making:

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And soon, he came to join his sister in the bath, dressed as a policeman (apparently):

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I’m not sure whether Roo was meant to be in the playhouse or not, but he needed a bit of letting off steam time after so much queuing and some structured, listening-to-instructions kinda activities. So I let him play, only asking of him that he tried not to squash the little ones too much.

Eva refused to leave the house when Roo and Nathan did, so we played some more while they were off trying to spend the rest of their KidZos:

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We were due to have afternoon tea in the Stadium at 4, so I eventually bribed her downstairs with the promise of cake. We found the boys in a games room next to the Stadium, where they’d paid a princely 8 KidZos to play Jenga:

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Unfortunately, they were being turfed out as we arrived so Eva and I paid another 8 KidZos to play Connect 4 for a few minutes before joining the rest of the Mumsnet party for some very well-earned cake and tea.

It was nice to sit down after a full-on three hours of KidZania. But Eva, as ever, was unpredictable and requested a loo trip just as I was taking my first dram of tea and first bite of pastry. We spent a few minutes in the bathroom and on the way back, caught the last seconds of the KidZania dance. Apparently, 5 times a day all the staff stop what they’re doing and do a giant synchronised dance routine in all corners of the city. It was awesome to see. And as soon as we got back, a big blue dog mascot was waiting to greet the kids:

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The official photographer got some nice pictures of Eva hugging the dog. I only have her running away from it like a loon. A dance class followed, during which I could finally sit down and have my tea, as well as snaffling Eva’s cake. Then it was pretty much home time – we picked up our lovely goody bags (cuddly pilots! Chocolate!!) and went back through Customs, redeeming Roo’s Cadbury’s voucher as we did so (more chocolate!). We were so tired that we just sat on the Central Line for 21 stops all the way back to Woodford because, quite frankly, it was easier than moving.

So, verdict on KidZania? Well, there’s a lot of fun to be had. The set up is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and the detail is impressive. Roo really enjoyed the experiences and would have liked to have done more than two, but I’m not sure I could have coped with more queuing. If they could sort the queuing systems out, it would be non-stop aceness..but as it is, it’s a good day out but not a perfect one.

Disclaimer: I received free entry to KidZania in return for this review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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London Without a Toddler – The Railway Children

The Railway Children

Photo credit Johan Persson

The LWAT family has had an addition these last few days. Sadly not a permanent addition but happily one that’s already toilet-trained – my 13-year-old niece Natalie. She’s featured on the blog before, as a 9-year-old, and she even has her own blog nowadays. Check it out!

Anyway, we were looking for fun after a hard day chasing the kids around a North London estate park and luckily I had the perfect soothing treat lined up – a trip to see the newly-extended production of The Railway Children just behind King’s Cross.

So, we dumped Roo and Eva at the station with a man who may or may not be Nathan and headed up King’s Boulevard towards the ticket office. If you want to do similar, this is the exit you’ll need:

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You know that when I say “do similar”, I mean going to the theatre, not the dumping your children on a random man in a station, right? LWAT takes no responsibility for your actions.

The box office is fairly easy to find – as you turn onto Goods Way by the canal and the green steps there’s a giant red arrow which should help you out:

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And just look at the on-themeness of this box office!

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I loved it all already. The seating was on theme too – you could either be on Platform 1 or Platform 2, and the stage was built into both, as well as a floating part in the middle which constantly changed depending on the scene. I was wondering how you’d get 1000 seats onto two platforms, but long rows of 50 along the length of the stage make it happen. And it also means you’re never far from the action.

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From the start, this was an interactive show. The actors walked along the stage, waving and smiling to the audience and stopping to chat – that doesn’t happen very often in the West End. The period detail is impressive and the vintage posters really set the scene. There’s an interesting narrative device where Roberta, Phyllis and Peter are all played by adults but recalling the story from their childhood. There is a glimpse of the characters as actual children at one point, but that comes as a bit of a shock – you’ve become so used to these grown ups playing the characters that you forget that they’re meant to look a little smaller than they are. It made me wonder how old the film actors were in the 1970 version and I bet you’re wondering too. So here’s the answer – 16, 18 and 20. And the 20-year-old was Phyllis! I was shocked too.

I suppose what I’m saying is that the age of the actors in this production does nothing to detract from their performance as children – there’s a youthful exuberance to their actions that completes the illusion. They all run a lot, up and down the platforms and, of course, wave. What would the Railway Children be without a lot of waving? Just children, I guess.

The performance is pretty faithful to the plot of the book with a few theatrical touches thrown in. It feels a little episodic but that is very much in the spirit of the book and actually, the episodes all build to something – the bit with the hamper establishes their relationship with the Old Gentleman, the bit with the coal sets them on a rocky path towards friendship with Perks. It does all work together, but if you’re looking for “Die Hard”-style non-stop action, then this is not the show for you. Why did you think it would be the show for you??

Joking aside, it is a gentle tale. There’s nothing violent or explicit in the story, despite a background of political unrest (see the Mr Szczepansky back story). It is about doing your best under the circumstances, finding joy in the midst of trouble and other such examples of British pluck. No wonder the Americans beside us were delighted with it – it’s the very epitome of Englishness, complete with butlers, between-maids (“What does she do?” ponders Phyllis), grammar school boys and Union Jacks a-plenty.  That’s not to say it’s cliched, it’s just classic.

There is a bit more of a comedy edge than you’d find in the book or the film and that mainly comes from the actors’ asides to the audience. When they mention the whitewashed line around the coal, Bobby urges you to remember that bit…and then Peter urges you to forget it. Anyone who obsessively read the book as a child will know why that’s funny. There’s a few of those moments, but they don’t break the fourth wall so often that it becomes annoying. Most of the time, you get just let yourself get really absorbed in the story.

Of course, everyone in the audience is sort of waiting for one thing through the first act, and that’s the 60-ton “leading lady” – the steam train. Every time they mention a train going, you can feel the anticipation and then the slight disappointment when it’s just a sound effect and a lot of steam. But I was pretty confident I knew the point at which they’d introduce her…and you might know it too. It’s towards the end of the first act and I’ll give you a clue – it involves some underwear. Red underwear.

The train makes another key appearance towards the end as well, and again I felt like I knew what was coming. That was good, because a) it meant I could get my tissues ready and b) I was looking at the right end of the stage when everyone else seemed to be watching Bobby and Perks by the bridge. So I’m guessing a few people missed the first appearance of a top-hatted figure emerging through the smoke but I’m glad to say I didn’t. Daddy, oh my Daddy. Yes, I cried.

So it’s a production that no fan of the book would feel disappointed in. It hasn’t done anything weird or radical with the story but still manages to keep it fresh. I’m glad I didn’t have the kids with me, as I think they’re too young for it – it wasn’t nearly superhero-heavy enough to keep Roo’s interest for 2 hours. I saw some families with young children there but I’d say it was probably one for older kids and adults,partly because of the length and partly because of the subtlety of the story (I’ve been to a lot of toddler theatre and one thing it is not is subtle!). It was a lovely evening out for me and Nat and yes, she cried too.

The show is on till 3rd January 2016 and there are both matinee and evening performances. More details here.

Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for this review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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Beach East – 17/07/15

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Do you ever worry that LWAT is losing its edge? That we have complex days out that seem to go well, with barely a hint of preschooler meltdown? Well, fear no more. Here’s a tale of a day that should have been simple but didn’t take into account that most unpredictable of elements…the Eva element.

It started well. We were going on a field trip to Stratford with some of our local mum friends, so started out with a long bus journey with Bunny and BunnyMummy. That worked pretty well, as the small girls could just talk at each other rather than at their long-suffering mothers (but why are you long-suffering, Mummy?). We got off the bus at Stratford International because that was the closest stop to the bit of the Olympic Park we wanted to get to – take note, transport fans – and it also handily provided me with cash, coffee and cake. We were well prepared for a day at the fake beach next to the Aquatic Centre. The weather wasn’t looking particularly awesome, but that would just mean more space for us, right?

Probably, but first we had to find it. It’s not far from the Aquatic Centre, so from The Street in Westfield head out towards the Orbit, cross Westfield Avenue and then, just past the Aquatic Centre, you’ll find a lift that takes you down beside the waterway. From there it’s easy to find Beach East. If the first sentence of this paragraph reads like a foreign language, then clearly you don’t spend enough time in E20 (no, not Walford..)

From above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s more of a funfair than a beach:

 

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But sure enough, once you get to ground level there’s a massive sandpit, a pretty big paddling pool and palm trees in pots (more on those later). There are also rides, a bouncy castle and eye-wateringly expensive Hook-a-Duck (£4!). There were also more of those ominous grey skies:

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This didn’t deter us, being British and all, so we settled down on the sand on in deckchairs to enjoy our muffins:

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Which blatantly would end up in the sand later, but never mind. Bunny had very bravely gone for a paddle, although reports say she found it a bit chilly. BunnyMummy was equally bravely muttering things about “bracing dips” and it being “just like Cornwall” but really, I’d say Scotland was probably closer to the mark at 10AM on a cloudy day.

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None of which deterred Eva from following her BFF into the pool. Except she didn’t really paddle, just kinda faffed about on the side. I, on the other hand, was in the water up to my ankles…which is how I knew it felt a bit Scottish.

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You can see in this photo Bunny’s discarded “hat”. You can also see how Eva’s own hat isn’t quite fitting. Apparently her swimsuit is 6-9 months. Whoops.

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A few minutes’ looking at the water and she decided that sand play was the safer option:

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Although even the sand had an element of danger to it, given that there were PE classes being held all over the place, and the strip of sand between the deckchairs and the paddling pool had teenagers on it, throwing balls to each other. Who thought it was a good idea to combine these things? Eva kept wandering into cricket pitches and hula hoop classes and I felt a bit like she was getting in the way. But also, it’s a public space and having so many different things going on seemed like bad planning.

At one point, the threatening weather turned into something less of a threat and more of a reality. It rained. And we sat on the beach straight through it. Told you we were British.

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But then, miracle of miracles, the sun broke through! We could start relaxing now, couldn’t we?

Well, no. Eva was hungry and it was almost lunch time, so we checked out the food options. There was a noodle bar, a Turkish pizza stand and of course, the traditional Ye Olde English hotdogs:

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Eva wanted chips, so we bought a £3 portion from the fried chicken stand and used this most curious contraption to ketchup them:

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If you ever wondered what a ketchup dairy would be like, here’s your chance to try.

Getting back to the sand, Eva tried one or two chips before spitting them out and saying “I don’t like chips anymore”.

She what now? Huh? She liked chips 10 minutes ago…

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Spitting isn’t on. Neither is making your mother sacrifice a mortgage payment to get you food you then don’t eat. I let her know that this kind of behaviour was going to lead to a swift exit from the Fun Place.

She called my bluff “OK. I want to go home.”

I don’t make idle threats. We visited the toilets, got her changed, picked the sandy chips up and put them in the bin and started walking off. Happily for her, Bunny was being equally erratic and also wanted to go home. After an hour in the Fun Place! Tsk,kids today. Well, at least we had company on the way home.

Although that way home was very nearly diverted to an A&E department after a particularly strong gust of wind knocked a palm tree onto Bunny. And we’re not talking about a tiny pot plant here:

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I’m not quite sure how Bunny was unscathed, given it fell right across her buggy, but she somehow was. We called a security person over to deal with him and let him know how close we’d been to disaster and how close they’d been to a lawsuit.

“Yeah, they do that all the time” he said.

They fall over on children’s heads all the time?? Well, LWAT readers don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Slightly shell shocked, we headed back through Westfield, stopping at Westfield to buy ourselves some lunch and to try and entice the small girls to eat. Eva asked for a packet of chorizo, a packet of cocktail sausages and some cucumber and carrot dippers. Lunch attempt #2 was a little healthier than expensive chips, but would any of this actually end up in her stomach?

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Yes, as it turns out. Because, in the concrete plaza behind Stratford International, she and Bunny were happy. There was nothing there to entertain them, but they made their own fun playing hide and seek:

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and “Bunnies go to Bed”:

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And generally climbing on these hard, chewing gum-covered, star-shaped benches:

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Really?? This was more fun than that whole beach thing we’d just left behind? Apparently so. Once again, never try to understand how these tiny minds work. Sigh.

So, Beach East is a fun place to visit but be aware that your crazy child may prefer playing “Spot the Hipster” outside the Craft Beer bar and chasing pigeons. Also, they might get hit by falling palm trees. Enjoy!

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A Letter to My Elected Representative – Thank You For Representing Me

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Dear Iain Duncan Smith

How are you? I hear that you were at Highams Park Day on Saturday, just like we were. Did you have fun? Were you sad that the bar ran out of beer? My husband was. He hates it when someone else’s decisions affect his ability to meet his basic needs, in this case a pint. Don’t you hate that too? As it happened, he made do with a fruit cider. I hope you found a good alternative too.

I just want to say a big Thank You for representing me. You’re my local MP and you represent MY views to the House of Commons and gosh darn, I appreciate that. Let me tell you all the ways in which you represent me – I’m happily married, in a 2-parent, 2-child family. We’re white, straight and middle-class. We own our own house. We’re both employed. I’ve never really stopped working, even when the kids were little – we are your epitome of a hard-working family. I once went 10 years without taking a day off sick…so that’s good news, given I don’t fancy funding my own sick pay. And people who have a problem with that, well they should just stop getting sick, shouldn’t they?

You see, Iain, not everyone is like me. Not everyone can do this working hard, not being sick, owning house thing. And occasionally, just occasionally, it occurs to me that none of us are that far from disaster. What would it really take, Iain, to derail this comfortable life I have? A accident? A chronic illness? A divorce? A redundancy? A slight change in interest rates? If those things should happen to me, Iain, would you still represent me? Would you still make decisions in Parliament that are purely for my benefit?

I find it hard to believe that you would. I believe that the moment I fell out of the exact demographic that you’re “working for”, I would be lost to you, just like so many other people in your constituency and around the country that can’t work. The ones that can’t get themselves out of poverty. The ones crippled by sanctions and the bedroom tax, surviving on literally no income while you decide how best to dehumanize them next. Or the ones not surviving, because there are plenty of those too. How many? We don’t know, because your department keeps refusing to release the statistics. In fact, you denied that the figures ever existed.

I work hard for a reason, Iain. I work hard because I can and it’s my duty as part of society to support those who can’t. Why do you work Iain? Is it to squeeze money out of those same people, because it’s a darn sight easier than closing a few tax loopholes? I understand you need to make some money. You have targets to hits. In fact, as someone who contributes to your salary, I’d like to know what your sales figures are like. How much did you save by sanctioning the sick and the disabled? Or are those figures similarly lost on the breeze?

Numbers clearly aren’t your thing but words are something you’re really good at. You can construct a double negative with aplomb – “I am not saying people won’t be worse off.” – and you’re the master of the euphemism – “We need to support the kind of products that allow people through their lives to dip in and out when they need the money for sickness or care or unemployment”. What kind of products are these? Moisturiser? A handy gadget for hulling strawberries? It’s summer and I could really do with one of those, but I don’t see how it would help me pay my own sick pay.  Maybe the extra vitamin C would keep me healthy.

But I’m getting off track here. I get easily distracted by my lively children, who are neurologically typical (at a stretch, anyway) and physically able. Again, if they weren’t, that would probably be a bit of a sticking point in the whole being-able-to-work thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that they’re so “normal” because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from five years living under a Tory government, it’s to be grateful for what I have and to fear ever losing it. Because there’s no safety net. The  layers of protection that have been put in place to protect the vulnerable are being systemically stripped away. I hope my situation never changes. You should hope your situation never changes. And for those already at the bottom, whose situation needs to change? Forget them Iain. They’re nothing to you. As you have proved over and over again.

From me, thanks. You represent me. I didn’t vote for you and I never will, which seems churlish when you clearly have my best interests at heart. But this nagging voice inside me keeps saying that maybe democracy shouldn’t just be for the white, middle class families. Maybe, just maybe, it should be for everyone.

Scrub that. Crazy talk. You just be you.

Love

Kate

 

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High Times and Highams Park Days – 11/07/15

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Yesterday could have gone one of several ways. It could have been a day when I looked at the four things I wanted to do and sensibly decided on just one or two of them. It could have been a day when I attempted to do all four but ended up with screaming, overtired children. What I never would have anticipated would be that we would do everything we wanted to and it would all go well and smoothly. Every so often we have one of those days and when it happens, I like to write about it. To remind myself when we’re having the not so good days – the other 364 days of the year.

First up on the Day of Insanity was Roo’s school fete. I won’t tell you which school he goes to for lots of good reasons. Like the head might read this. Or you might hang around the school gates and try to kidnap Roo. Or I might get it into my head that someone out there is going to kidnap Roo and then I’ll be disappointed when they don’t, and I continue to have to pay for all that food he consumes. So I’ll just share a picture of him on the bouncy slide:

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And I won’t share with you the quite remarkable wristband he got at the Hook-a-Duck. Were those really tiny marijuana leaves printed on it?

Next stop, after some Mr Freezes, was Highams Park Day – a kind of local village fete, East London style. So there were cupcake stalls, vintage stalls and, of course, bunting:

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We didn’t spend long at the fete itself, before retiring to the adjoining park, but we did stop by the “Enchanted Invasion” tent to make a fairy door or two. The idea is that on the weekend of the 25th and 26th July, these fairy doors will be popping up all over Highams Park and kids can follow the trail using maps from local shops. Having no artistic abilities at all, I was shying away from hosting one of these doors, but the kids wanted to get stuck in:

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So, we now have two fragile cardboard affairs that may or may not be appearing outside our house in a couple of weeks. I may have to cobble together something more substantial, using the decking I ripped up from the garden. I don’t know how I ended up agreeing to this, but it’s hard to say no to these elvish landgirl types:

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By the time we’d listened to some ukelele music and got covered in glitter, it was definitely park time. I’ve mentioned Vincent Road playground before, and it was conveniently next door:

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Even more conveniently, it contained some Dads who wanted to buy Nathan beer…so he was happy. And a whole load of kids for Reuben and Eva to play with. Or ignore. Here’s Eva, “relaxing in her lounge and watching television”:

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Little did she know that it was actually the control centre for the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier and would be later used by Roo and his friends for some top secret superhero missions. Luckily, she also had her “school” to play in:

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By now, it was 4PM, we’d done 2 fetes and were all hot and bothered. Nathan was enjoying his strawberry cider (they’d run out of beer) and the last thing that we felt like doing was getting on a bus to go to a pub in Walthamstow.

But that’s just what we did because, as I told you, this was a Day of Insanity. The pub was The Bell, the reason was a friend’s leaving do and the incentive was dinner. I’d heard that Walthamstow folks often take their kids out to The Bell for Saturday evening tea and we were about to test it out, with some very overtired and potentially grumpy children.

Yknow what, though? They were fine. My friend had brought some Elsa and Anna dolls, so Eva was happy, and Roo was content to look at the Simpsons pinball machine and explore the vast beer garden:

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Our food came swiftly – burger and chips for Nathan and Eva, chicken nuggets and chips for Reuben and houmous and flatbreads for me. It was so hot that I didn’t feel like eating much, and I knew I’d have a good shot at Eva’s kids’ meal later. Kids’ meals are £3.95 by the way and the chips are beautiful. The burgers are good and meaty too. However, I’d hesitate to say that it’s as posh a dining experience as this next shot makes out:

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Still, it was good food and much needed. Even my houmous plate was huge, with a dollop of houmous the size of a cricket ball on it. Plus, as predicted, I got to eat a lot of Eva’s burger.

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We had one more mission to do, to complete the Day of Insanity and that involved climbing a big hill opposite The Bell. This would require serious motivation for all of us. So a handily placed Tesco provided us with chocolate buttons, Kinder eggs, drinks and magazines. We were going to the Natural Voices concert in St Mary’s Church and then we really would be calling it a day.

I was surprised that I’d go out of my way to see Natural Voices, given that they often sing at the same gigs as WAM…so normally I just turn up and they’re there. But I’d heard they were premiering something very special tonight and I wanted to hear it. It was a medley of songs from the best film in the world, ever. The Sound of Music.

First though, we settled into our pews with the children fully bribed-up with their toys and magazines. Nathan surprised me by producing a book of his own. Apparently he’d found it in a Little Free Library along the way. You really can find anything in Walthamstow:

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There were four different NV choirs singing, including two of the youth choirs so the concert was a masterclass in stage management, shuffling kids off in one direction while bringing on ladies from the other. It was also a glorious blend of different musical styles, from 60s pop to SpongeBob SquarePants. There were a couple of songs that I’ve always loved – “Be My Baby” and “Happy Together”  - and lots of music I didn’t know, like a beautiful arrangement of an Irish folk tune, accompanied only by a violin. The senior youth choir sang “Don’t Stop Me Now”, with one of the ruder lyrics tactically removed, and a couple of more contemporary songs. Reuben was mainly absorbed in his magazine but Eva enjoyed clapping along when she was asked too and told me that she liked the “song wid all the bunny ears”:

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The Sound of Music medley was towards the end, with the kids singing “So Long, Farewell” as their goodbye song. It was adorable – especially the line which used to be mine at family get togethers (I suppose I need to get Eva to learn it now….though CousinZ might be ready to take it over before Eva’s had a chance to perform it). I felt emotional at the whole thing, and so did Nathan. Our children are not so easily moved, though Roo later said he liked all the songs and liked hearing the children sing. I might sign him up for a youth choir one of these days. Apparently, talent is not an entry requirement, though enthusiasm helps. That sounds like Roo all over.

The concert finished with “Bring Me Sunshine” and we tumbled out into the not-quite sunshine of 7:30PM. I just had time to take a photo of Crosbie, Stills and Nash House before the bus arrived to take us home:

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And that was it for a long, hot and crazy day. It all worked beautifully – not a meltdown from the kids all day and they even slept late Sunday morning. I have no idea why it worked, but it was one of those lucky things. Don’t worry, normal LWAT-rubbishness will be resumed soon.

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July Jollity

The Railway Children

Photo credit Johan Persson

Staring down a day full of school fetes, village fetes and Sound of Music-themed concerts, a thought struck me. What if someone out there was bored? What if they didn’t have a million things to try and cram into every Saturday in July? What if they need some inspiration? Well, I’m throwing some atcha right now.

First up, the newly-extended run of The Railway Children at Kings Cross (pictured above). It was due to close in September but has been extended to January and I’m happy to say I’ll be reviewing it soon. It’s staged on a specially built railway platform, complete with a real life steam train. For those of you who cried buckets over the film (and still have a lingering love of Bernard Cribbens), this is a must-see.  Buy tickets here.

On a slightly self-promoting note, the Walthamstow Garden Party is on next weekend, and the Walthamstow Acoustic Massive is playing on the Saturday, featuring me. But please don’t let that last bit put you off. It’ll be a good day, honest.

Also, opening today is the fab-looking Beach East at the Olympic Park. It’s a massive urban beach featuring  a paddling pool and even a funfair!

Lastly (for now…there’s more to come, but the kids need a sandwich) the Southband Centre is hosting London Wonderground. Southbank festivals are always good fun but a highlight for kids would be the Brat Kids Carnival, from 29th July – 2nd August. Hop along and have a look!

 

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Ishmael at Cafe Church – 05/07/15

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I’ll admit it now – this one may be a little niche. It’ll probably only appeal if you grew up as a Christian in the 1990s…but there seem to be a few of us about so the man in the picture above needs little introduction. He is the legend that is Ishmael.

I have no idea why Ishmael popped into my head as I saw in front of my laptop a few weeks back. Maybe it was work avoidance. Maybe it was prompted by the “Praise and Glories” book that is permanently stationed on top of the piano. I don’t know. But either way, I found myself poring over Ishmael’s brightly coloured website and realised that he was gigging in Chingford at the start of July. Chingford! Like that place near where we live! We had to go.

You see, from the age of ten when I started going to an Evangelical Church, Ishmael was a bit of an idol of mine. Not an idol like an Ashareth pole that you have to keep tearing down, more like the Christian version of Philip Schofield. Only he had the Glory Company in the place of Gordon the Gopher. I had the albums – I even sang on two of the albums (“Jump for Joy” and “Shout for Joy” – technically not Ishmael albums, as he wasn’t on them but certainly endorsed by the man himself). I had the “Children of the Voice” books. I may even have had a t-shirt. He came to our church to throw one of his famous “Praise Parties” and it was so cool that we could even bring non-Christian friends without feeling embarrassed. See, told you he was a legend.

That’s why we found ourselves, on a rainy Sunday morning, hurrying through the back roads of Chingford to find South Chingford Congregational Church. Ish was leading a “cafe church” service, which sounded kinda informal so I wasn’t too stressed about how blantantly late we were. It had started when we got there but no-one gave us disapproving looks. In fact, they just gave us cake. And tea and coffee and pastries. Winner!

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Yes, it’s the latest in a long series of “Eva looks sulky with food” pictures. She did enjoy her pastry, honest. It’s just she has to eat food every day and apparently she is bored of this system.

Ishmael kicked things off with a song about greeting each other. We had to stand up, hold hands, sing a verse and then quickly find someone else to hold hands with. Roo enjoyed the dashing about and swinging hands in the air. Another action song quickly followed and then Ish started to give his testimony, in three parts.

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You see, the last few years have not been that kind to Ishmael. Freshly ordained as a deacon in Canterbury Catherdral in 2007, he found out he had leukaemia and potentially days to live. Now, you don’t need to tell me too much about the horrors of leukaemia but apparently it was unknown to Ish when he got his diagnosis. When he was talking about it all, he did it with an cheery kind of optimism (“Cancer of the blood? Doesn’t sound too bad”) and even when he got to the part where he prepared himself for death, he didn’t get overly morbid. In fact, he seemed quite prepared to hop on board the Train to Glory right there and then. But it wasn’t to be, and he says that choosing to live was in some ways harder than choosing to die.

*Obviously* I was welling up a bit at all this. Who wouldn’t be?

Mortality is a tricky subject for an all-age service but he kept it light, with plenty of jokes along the way and some of his child-friendly “Bigger Barn” songs. Reuben liked counting the “S-words” in the “Sow and Sow” song and the liturgy was all designed in a way that was very accessible to children – even the confessional prayer and the intercession. (Although the intercession was in five parts, and Roo whispered to me after the first part “But I’ve done my praying already!)

So, a slightly odd combination of life-and-death testimony and brightly animated videos about building a “bigger barn, bigger barn barn bigger barn, build a bigger barn, bigger barn barn, bigger barn, build a bigger barn build a barn barn bigger barn, build a bigger barn, bigger barn”..but if anyone can pull this off, it’s Ishmael. The Bigger Barn song had Greek dancing with it, obviously. At one point, he invited Martin Smith of Deliriou5? to sing along with him and I was only slightly disappointed to realise it was just a recording of him. Now, there’s another 90s Christian idol… Actually, I really liked the Martin Smith song,  ”Oh the Peace”. It’s available on Ishmael’s “Songs and Hymns” album and I may just have to get it.

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Towards the end, Ishmael invited the children up to the front for a kind of Christian version of “The Music Man”, where they had to air guitar and play rock drums. Naturally, Roo got really into the air guitaring – he has punkrock in his soul, after all. We didn’t get a good photo of it, which is just as well given I was up there too. He had fun though. The meeting finished with a heart rendition of Ishmael’s breakaway hit “Father God I Wonder”. The non PC version with “Now I am your son”, rather than “Now I am your child”. My sister would be disappointed.

After the service, me and Roo went up to meet the man himself, and get a quick picture (see the insanely grinning people at the top). I had brought my “Praise and Glories” book to get signed but actually..it had already been signed, sometime in the 1990s. Still, I think Ish was touched that I’d kept it for so many years.

So, Ishmael is back from the brink. A little older, a little wearier but he still has that magic that unites adult and child in happy praise. If he’s gigging anywhere near you, you should definitely go along. Or if you have a church, why not make him gig near you by sending him a booking? Now, if only I had one of those church things to call my own…

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An A406 Adventure and Gladstone Park – 04/07/15

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If you’ve been enduring this blog for a while, you’ll have noticed that I’m quite fond of significant numbers. But the 400th post was a bit of a washout, so I decided to mark a different number – the 406th – with a trip along the North Circular, aka the A406.  We spend a lot of time on the North Circular, given it’s at the bottom of our road, so we didn’t feel the need to make a special trip from one end to the other. But for once, I wanted to stop somewhere on it.  Not stop in the sense of just not moving anywhere – that’s what you’d call a traffic jam – but stopping in the sense of getting out of the car and exploring a bit.

As it happens, we did both:

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I blame AC/DC. Their gig at Wembley caused massive tailbacks and ruled out my first choice of stop – the Welsh Harp reservoir – because “Event Day Parking” was in force. I could only hope the my second choice – Gladstone Park – had space in its car park for us.

The Welsh Harp is just one of many intriguing brown signs off the North Circular. Neasden Temple isn’t far away and of course, there’s the stadium itself. Next to Wembley is one of the two branches of IKEA that line the road, and this one has a sculpture in the shape of a football that changes perspective as you drive past. We haven’t been to that IKEA, but we have been to the one closer to home. There’s also a massive branch of Mothercare, with a soft play inside, although that caused controversy when it was remodelled and subsequently stopped being free to go to. Most excitingly, there’s a B&Q that Nathan took Eva to last autumn and she still talks about it. She calls it the “sweet shop” and says she sat in the trolley and they bought a “toyet seat”. Of all the fun things we’ve done, that’s the one that sticks apparently.

There’s also a few things to see along the road itself  - the Ace Cafe, which is a famous hangout for petrolheads and which I recognised not from “Top Gear” but from “Don’t Tell the Bride”. Then there’s our favourite feature of the North Circular, which is the Protex “Pest of the Week” sign. Every week there’s something different – sometimes a bedbug, sometimes quite simply “flea”. Are you ready for this week’s? Go on then , it’s…

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Garden Ant! I’m not sure what the Garden Ant gets for being “Pest of the Week” but I’d hope it was a certificate or something at least.

At this point yesterday, I was slightly distracted because Reuben had just been sick. We’d warned him not to read a comic as we were travelling, so he’d spent half an hour intensely staring at the pictures instead and was surprised when this produced the same effect. Poor boy, I do feel for him, as someone who was travel sick for the entirety of my childhood and quite a bit of my pregnancies. We resolved to stop as soon as possible but he weakly said he’d be OK to go as far as the park. Our end destination yesterday was Reading, with the park a fanciful stop on the way but, 17km away, it began to take on a new urgency.

So of course we hit more traffic. Then we were due to turn off so stopped behind a bus which was itself stopped behind a bus, only to realise that we weren’t turning at all and we could have happily been in the next lane over. Still, we did eventually reach the turn just past Brent Cross and were immediately confused by a roundabout that in no way resembled a roundabout. I mean, what is this??:

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What are the triangles at the corners? Still, the vine-covered restaurant on the side looked nice. Somehow we managed to turn into the correct road -Dollis Hill Lane – but with no idea where the carpark for Gladstone Park was, or how to get into it, I panicked. We turned into a road optimistically named Park View Rd but somehow that ended us up on the wrong side of a railway line in a cul-de-sac. We could get into the park but the car couldn’t and we couldn’t park on the street due to the aforementioned Wembley event day parking restrictions. By now, I’d been holding a box of appley sick for a really long time, so I popped out and discreetly disposed of it in a patch of nettles before speeding off in the car back the way we came.

Another go around the roundabout and we were back to where we went wrong. This time we went straight across an actual roundabout onto Dollis Hill Lane and the car park was to our right, immediately after the roundabout. We’d been so close! Still, we were there now. Phew. And there was loads of space in the car park. Double phew.

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Roo was still a bit wobbly when we got out of the car but soon perked up with the prospect of some fresh air and a run around. The park looked massive, and we set off down the path with no idea where it led:

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I wasn’t confident about finding the play area but Roo assured me that he could make his own fun – “We could climb trees, play hide and seek, play superheroes…” but really, he wanted something to play on. Luckily we found a fallen tree almost straight away:

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The stump at the end seemed to be a kind of makeshift bin:

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Along the way, we paused at the Holocaust Memorial:

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before climbing up the hill to try and spot the play area. It looked like a walled garden at the top, but we didn’t go in as we’d seen a signpost that might be helpful. Only it wasn’t helpful. It pointed out to Dollis Hill Lane (in two different directions) and Dollis Hill station (also in two different directions) but nothing along the lines of “toilets” or “play area”. The only potential was the ambiguous-sounding “Pleasure Grounds”.

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The Pleasure Grounds seemed largely taken up with a funfair but what was that in the shadow of the Big Dipper? A playground? Hooray!

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Nathan was clearly feeling in an arty mood yesterday, so the following pictures (and the one at the top) are courtesy of his recently discovered “Sin City” filter:

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My photos are a little more pedestrian:

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It always amazes me how sulky Eva can look while eating crisps on a bouncy thing. She’s a master of the sulk.

I was quite happy to see that we were in Brent. I know very little about this part of London, but don’t they have a cheerful logo?:

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The playground was what you’d expect – three climbing frames, two lots of swings, some bouncy things  - and it was a little faded. Just outside, there was a cool mound to climb, with guide ropes and an eagle on the top:

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There was also a zipwire but it seemed to be out of action, so Nathan improvised a “Daddy Zipwire” for Roo instead:

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Reuben didn’t like it much. To be fair to Nathan, he was only trying to make it authentic by stopping on the way back and tipping him off, but the net effect was a pouty  Roo saying “Daddy kept dropping me”. It was almost time to get back to the car and onto our barbecue in Reading but first we needed toilets. I asked a friendly local where they were and got told to head over the other side of the hill for the cafe toilets. A much easier solution was presenting itself though. There was a local festival next to the funfair and they had loos. Surely we could pose as Brent residents to take advantage of the facilities? As long as I had nothing about my person that betrayed us:

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Ah well, we got away with it.

The walk back to the car was full of photo opportunities, as we saw Wembley Stadium on the horizon:

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And took a panorama or two:

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Then there was just time for a spot of that tree-climbing Reuben had promised:

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For Eva-nutrition-spotters she is now sulkily clutching a chorizo wrap.

Soon after we got back onto the North Circular, we turned off onto the A40, which is another interesting road and full of cool architecture like the Hoover Building. I’m particularly intrigued by the Northolt and Greenford Country Park, which is a new and man-made park built out of rubble from the Wembley Stadium development. But that’s all for another day except this bit of excitement on the same bit of road of the way home:

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Argh, is that the Hoover Building ON FIRE? No, the fire was at a warehouse some way behind it, but that didn’t stop the hipster cyclists crowding onto the road bridge to take photos. Someone even stopped in the inside lane with their hazards on to get a better shot than I did. Apparently, it was a 100-firefighter kind of job. Don’t say there’s never any drama on LWAT.

So, that’s the North Circular. I’ll be exploring it more next time we have somewhere to get to but not in a hurry. Or next time Reuben’s sick. One or the other…

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Britpop Tots – 28/06/15

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If you, like me, are of a Certain Age then you might find it frightening to realise that it’s been 20 years since the blur v oasis battle that marked the height of Britpop. Yes, 20 years since Jarvis was forced to ban that sick stunt, 20 years since a group of Irish upstarts sang about teenage love, 20 years since the last time  John Power sold a record. Supergrass are no longer young and the jury’s out on whether they still run green.  Kenicke took some criticism from Nathan to heart and went their separate ways, with Lauren Laverne becoming a DJ and Emmy-Kate still fuming over being told her band were “really, really average”. So, how to mark the anniversary? Well, we’re not young any more either and so a Sunday morning toddler disco in Peckham seemed just the ticket.

But first we had to get there. If there’s one thing older than Noel Gallagher’s Brit Award it’s the trains that are now running on the Chingford Line. Yes, TfL, Abellio ran away with all the good ones…My heart is breaking for you. Now, could I please get to Peckham on a Sunday morning? No? Why then, I will defy you and get there anyway…a mere hop on a bus to Leytonstone, followed by the Central Line, the Jubilee Line and the Overground. Look at Eva enjoying the South London views:

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Of course, she noticed me taking pictures of her and started to pose:

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This was one of many. Still, it made the journey pass quickly.

Against all the odds, we got there not just on time but early. I’d promised Nathan a coffee, so we sat in the not-quite-open cafe and had a couple of not-quite-white flat whites.

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They take card by the way…it’s the kind of place you assume wouldn’t. But they do. Hooray! Let’s add some chocolate cake to that order:

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Fuelled on caffeine and sugar, it was time to dance. The kids were particularly excited by the “disco fingers”- little lights you could wear on your finger for portable discoing. I was excited to hear some tunes I hadn’t danced to for a long time (“Sandstorm”, anyone?) as well as some timeless Britpop classics. All hands were in the air for “Parklife”. And also for “Design for Life” but in a different kind of way. It’s hard to punch the air and shout about getting drunk when it’s 11:15 on a Sunday morning and you’re dancing with your 3 year old. Still, all the children appreciated a bit of a bounce to Supergrass. We used to play “I Should Coco” to Reuben when he was a baby and I’d like to think he remembers that. But really, I think he was just taken by the rhythm.

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I was taken with the way that Becky had matched The NimbleTot’s dress to her bird puppet. Eva, meanwhile, had taken all the inflatable microphones:

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As ever, I failed to get any non-blurry photos of them dancing as..yknow…they move quickly. But here’s Roo pausing to fix the elastic band on his disco finger:

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After half an hour or so, we were all a little sweaty so it was good to sit down at the craft table and have a rest. Becky had been busily making Britpop-themed stick men to inspire the kids:

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Can ya tell who they are? Nathan went with the theme and made the cover of blur’s “Magic Whip”:

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While Eva was mainly crafting herself:

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All this was to a soundtrack of Marion, Pulp and The Charlatans. I had to go back in and dance when they played “Sale of the Century” by Sleeper and “King of the Kerb” by Echobelly as I’d requested those bands (my first two gigs! 20 years ago next year!). It all went very quickly and I missed the Longpigs because I was faffing around taking children to the toilet. As a matter of fact, toilets like to be scented cause they don’t like the smell of themselves…. Like last time, I wanted to dance more than the kids did and they wanted to sit down more than I did (this is a recent development…I swear Roo never used to like sitting down).  I wish there was a way to combine the two a bit more and I definitely wish it was a bit more local. But we had a fab time, reliving our misspent youth dancing to Britpop in darkened rooms. And the kids who weren’t even born in the Year 2000? They liked the bubbles and the disco fingers…as something for the weekend goes it was supersonic. I certainly won’t be burning this disco down…

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Yonderland Series Launch – 27/06/15

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As a mother I have many failings – we don’t need to go into those. As a blogger, I have quite a lot of failings. As a London Transport geek, however, I pride myself on having very few. But I have one recurring weak spot that has inconvenienced me almost countless times. By that I mean, I could count them if I really wanted to but choose not to. And that’s the fact that Tottenham Court Road tube is closed for Central Line services until December 2015. As we boarded the red line, my plans for a swift journey to Soho were thwarted – not that Roo cared, as he was enjoying the way that Central Line windows act like fairground mirrors and give you a “double-head”. He was constantly amused by this, which in turn amused the green-haired cyberpunk opposite us. I cursed myself a little for the extra walking we’d have to do from Holborn, but on the upside we found a very quiet branch of McDonalds opposite the tube, for our customary mother-son bonding lunch:

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Judge away, judgers. Yes, that’s a Fruit Shoot.

After we’d had what passed as food, and maybe a hair or two in my “Big Tasty”, we wandered towards Soho. Roo was fascinated by a giant red lumpy thing at St Giles’ Circus and tried to sit in it but it was a bit slippery so he kept falling out.

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Then we walked down Denmark St and marvelled together at all the sparkly guitars. One day, my son, you’ll be responsible enough to own more than a cheap ukulele. Or maybe not, given that Nathan taught him how to do “punk rock” with guitars. There are many things we regret teaching our kids and that’s just one.

We got to Soho a little early for the “Yonderland” screening we were going to, and I’d had in mind that we would wander around Pride for a bit and see what was going on. But basically nothing was…seemed we were a little early for that too. So we popped to the Living Room to see some friends from church and hung out in Soho Square, where Roo befriended this fellow:

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Then it was “Yonderland” time! We found the Soho Hotel, down Richmond Mews and made our way past the giant cat to the screening room.

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Now, I’m not overly familiar with “Yonderland” and must admit I hadn’t seen the first series. Still, when Mumsnet sent me the information, I thought it sounded like a lot of fun. It’s a mixture of live action and puppets, some of which were waiting to greet us when we got to the screening room. We grabbed a glass of mango juice each and settled down to see what this thing was all about:

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So, to sum the plot up I’ll borrow from the press release, seeing as they’ve put it better than I ever could:

“Yonderland follows the adventures of mum, Debbie Maddox, aka The Chosen One as she discovers a whole other world in her kitchen cupboard.

 In series two, settling into her role as Chosen One, Debbie of Maddox (the ‘of’ is optional) tackles more tricky tasks for the Council of Elders, while fending off Negatus and Imperatrix’s attempts to get rid of her. Then there’s hubby Pete, who is growing increasingly suspicious about the blue sparks coming from the kitchen cupboard…”
It’s essentially fantasy but coming from a very real-life setting (in one episode, Pete has an electrician out to try and fix the blue sparks). If that reminds you of “Labyrinth”, you’re not alone. In the Q&A afterwards, the cast/writers admitted that the Goblin King’s influence was strong in this one, and that they’d love to have David Bowie as a guest star. Cast-slash-writers, you say? Why yes, the team that created the show also star in it  - and that’s the core of Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond. That’s generally a good sign – that the writers have enough conviction in the material to front it themselves. It’s an unusual move on a children’s show, but if you consider the comedy greats – Monty Python, League of Gentlemen – it happens all the time.
So, is it a kids’ show? I’m not sure. Roo certainly enjoyed it but it had a few jokes that only adults would get (like a gag about a “happy ending” to a massage). The creators said it was a family show and that’s about right  - there’s plenty here to entertain all ages.
In terms of style, what it most reminded me of was “The Mighty Boosh” – the real mixed with the surreal, the deadpan jokes. I wasn’t surprised afterwards to find out that Simon Farnaby had appeared in “The Boosh” and was working on material with Julian Barratt. I was more surprised to find out that he was Sloman in “The Midnight Beast” – I’m totally kicking myself for not checking earlier and getting a photo with him. I love the Beast. And the Boosh, as it happens.
That CV might give you a taste of the kooky humour that infuses “Yonderland”. The main character, Debbie, essentially plays it straight while the chaos erupts around her. It’s packed with pop culture references – from “Boogie Nights” to The Smiths (the first episode is called “Panic on the Streets of Yonderland”). There’s a pop act called Michael, Jack’s Son, and another who are entirely Blue. There’s a “Sherlock” character (the Cumberbatch version) and a Poirot puppet. And a pastiche of “Lord of the Flies”. Yet within itself, it retains its own identity. The costume design is – intentionally – all over the place. One of the council of Elders wears a Tudor ruff, another is dressed (or undressed) as a 60s dropout – there’s a strong Steampunk aesthetic to the villagers but at the same time, the DJ who is MCing the riots is straight out of 2015′s South London. Some people might not like this. Some might find it messy rather than charming, but I appreciated the carefully-engineered madness of it all. Some of the jokes are completely throwaway – a man dressed as Sharpe is selling “Sean’s Beans” but only for a second. Again, it’s good that they’re confident enough of their material to pile it all in, not worrying about keeping some back for a third series (and there should be a third series).
When I asked Roo what he enjoyed, he said “All of it” but a little further probing revealed that he liked the demons the best, especially when one put on “night vision goggles” that caused everything to go dark and so he stumbled around, walking into things. That sounds about right for Roo. He was flagging during the Q&A so we didn’t stay around for too long afterwards, despite the yummy cakes and mini-burgers. He enjoyed the show but was in need of a change of scene.
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And what a change of scene! We exited into the very bright daylight of Pride, and all around us were men in nothing but their pants. So, an average day in Soho really. Roo liked looking at all the rainbow coloured balloons:
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And I liked this neon shop we found:
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But I had a destination in mind, which was happily on the way back to Oxford Circus tube. Our friends Big Fish Little Fish were playing the Family area of Pride, in Golden Square, and we were on course to catch the end of their set. As long as we didn’t get distracted by the rest of the family area, with its rainbow-coloured floor and giant games…
We didn’t. We just about made it in time for Roo to have a dance on the floor:
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Don’t mock. They’re his moves. I spotted Natasha BFLF and had a chat with her while Hannah BFLF helped Roo to make an X-Men belt. I *think* it started life as a headband, but these things matter little to a boy like mine. Natasha darted off to fire a glitter cannon and left me in charge of her drink, but I’m pleased to say I did  the honourable thing and handed it over to Hannah when Roo, inevitably, did get distracted by the rest of the family area, with its rainbow-coloured floor and giant games. Here he is playing Jenga:
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I apologise to whoever owned the Jenga, as Roo also found a crayon and decided to customise the blocks. You’d think he’d draw superheroes on them but no, it was number bonds:
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True story. We left soon after that, but not before bagging a free activity pack from Asda which kept him quiet all the way back to Walthamstow. So, a fun day out at the screening and just a little bit of Pride as well. Thanks to Mumsnet for inviting us!
Yonderland starts on Sky One on 13th July with a double bill at 8PM,  including “Panic on the Streets of Yonderland”
I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity
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