Do What You Can….But Vote

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Thank you to the Chingford and Woodford Green Labour Party for the GIF above and apologies for once again getting political on your collective asses. But the nightwalker Iain Duncan Smith is stalking the streets of Highams Park and I’m getting that uncomfortable feeling that we’re headed for another bitter and divisive election. So I’m setting out my stall and suggesting that you think about setting yours out too. Unlike other elections, we don’t have a huge amount of time to make decisions and not voting, for me, isn’t an option. It would just be like stamping all over Emily Wilding Davison’s grave to waste my vote on the 104th anniversary of her death. So, here is where I’m at.

I feel pessimistic on a national scale. After three electoral shockers in a row – 2015 GE, EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election – my spirit is drained and my outlook bleak. I don’t feel entirely confident in Corbyn. He’s a good man, of that I’m sure, and principled but he’s not yet a leader that can tackle the might of May. That’s not all his fault. He’s been undercut at every turn by infighting within the party and has never been able to unify and consolidate his MPs. It’s not a good time to fight an election campaign but hey, this is where we’re at  as a country and the campaign needs to be fought with the resources available. I’m expecting the worst and when I say the worst, I mean an increased Tory majority. I’m not going to pretend I’m neutral on this – I dislike and always have disliked the Tories and their austerity cruelty while facilitating the tax breaks of the rich has done nothing to make me warm to them. And you don’t need to even ask on my thoughts on UKIP (but you can read them here).  But I’m realistic and I accept that June 9th will probably see little in the way of national change.

So I’m not focusing on the big picture. I’m trying to get my mind into a place that’s more manageable and doesn’t make me feel like I’m falling down a rabbit hole. IDS is vulnerable. The voters that enjoyed having a cabinet minister as their MP may well have gone off now he’s lost his prestige. We may not be able to topple him but we might be able to take a chunk out of his majority. It’s not trying to change the world but we may be able to change Chingford and Woodford Green. Highams Park is already a lefty stronghold and we’re brimming with clever people who like to make a noise about social injustice. We can do *something*.

And that’s all I’m asking you – my politically inclined but weary reader – to do too. Something. Something local, something manageable. Vote tactically. Support tactically.  I generally align myself with Labour but I’m not a die hard supporter and I would always take a pragmatic view of things that if another party – say  the Lib Dems or the Greens or the SNP or Plaid Cymru – were better placed to oust the Conservatives, then they would get my vote. So try not to think just about the way you’ve always voted or the reasons for not voting for these parties. You may not trust Corbyn. You may not want an independent Scotland. You may not want to give up your car and cycle everywhere. But do you really want another five years of cuts to education, healthcare and social care? Do you want to lose every ally except Trump? Don’t just say that “All these politicians are just the same as each other”. They’re not. Labour and the Conservatives are more dissimilar now than they have been in 20 years. Listen to what each party is actually saying. Don’t dismiss easily.

And vote. Please vote. Please vote well. And do all you can in your area to make even the smallest change.

 

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Ashlyns Farm Shop -14/04/17

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This was a spontaneous kinda plan. Every Good Friday we consider doing something worthy, like going to see the Passion Play in Trafalgar Square and we end up doing something completely different. Today was no exception. Miles away from Central London, we spent the afternoon at a farm park, and very pleasant it was too. Not *as* sunny as these photos make out but I’ll admit it, gentle reader-  I’ve been playing with photo filters.

We essentially answered a distress call. Like Obi Wan Kenobi, or the crew of Red Dwarf when they go to the Nova 5 and find Kryten tending a bunch of skeletons. This had fewer skeletons in it, but I did see some skulls in the tank where the boa constrictor lived. But we did come to the aid of a family who were facing a disappointing day. I could call them the JJ Aprams family, but the -ams bit was missing, so we’ll just go for JJA.

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It was lunchtime when we got there, so we started in the restaurant. Eva – dressed as Princess Anna, naturally – sat and wrote out her alphabet while plaintively wailing about how hungry she was. Luckily service was swift and brought her and Roo sausage and mash pretty promptly. J1 had a giant jacket potato and Nathan and I had equally giant chicken burgers with chilli mayo and what looked like an entire tub’s worth of coleslaw on it. It wasn’t cheap – £5 for a kids meal. £11 each fpr ours – but it was goooood. A starter plate of warm pitta and homous was pretty tasty too, even if I disgraced myself by dropping houmous all over the chic wooden tables.

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After lunch, it was vaguely sunny (not as sunny as this photo pertains to be) so we did the outdoor bits first before the soft play. You can buy a ticket just for farm park or soft play but unless it was the depths of winter or the height of summer, I doubt you’d get away with only doing one. You have to walk past the soft play bit to get to the farm park, so the kids do notice and they definitely will comment if you don’t take them there. An important thing to note – the ticket counter does not take card payments, so it’s only by luck rather than judgement that I had the £15 cash on me to get the four of us in. The restaurant did take card, in case you’re wondering.

There are three playgrounds and we started with the nearest and tamest – a pirate ship that also had bars to hang off:

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Before long though Reuben tired of the small stuff and wanted to move on to the much bigger one.

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Eva went down the little slide and she loved it and then she told me that she needed the toilet. True story. In her own words “I went down the little slide and I loved it and then I told you that I needed the toilet”. For those who need to know, there are two loos in the soft play area, one in the cafe and another building between the two which houses a few more. Handwashing points are dotted around the whole place.

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Which we needed because next up was some animal feeding. Eva was too scared to do it, but Reuben obligingly held his hand like a plate for a friendly sheep. Then we wandered through the pet barn and saw the tiniest cutest baby goat.

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There were also some sugar gliders but they were quite hard to spot because they were in a tinted cage. I’m not sure whether that’s because they’re nocturnal or just that they live in Essex. I spied them hanging out in their feeding bowl but when I went back they were nowhere to be seen. Check out these adorable snuggling chincillas though:

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Talking of snuggling, we later saw some raccoons doing a little more than snuggling. To answer J1′s question from earlier, we can expect the babies in 63-65 days. Maybe we’ll go for Roo’s birthday.

There were loads of other animals – a tropical room with an iguana, snakes and fish in and back outside there were emus, llamas and peacocks. And goats. Oh yes, the goats.

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Years ago, when we visited a Hampshire farm park with my parents, Roo refused to go near the goats in case they ate his goats. I don’t think he was wrong to be paranoid. Goats are greedy beggars. I’d identified the one I liked the most – a little brown and white fella on the end. But every time I tried to feed him, he was barged out of the way by the big grey one and, in one instance, rammed right up the backside before I’d even produced the food. Greyster was taking a pre-emptive strike.

And when I did hold my hand out, they were all on me. It was scary.

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JJA, meanwhile, had fallen for the charms of a little black goat that had escaped its enclosure and was wandering around freely:

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We briefly stopped at the last playground but it was 3:30 by now and soft play closed at 5, so we headed inside. J1 shouted Nathan and I some much-needed caffeine as we’d run out of cash entirely and we watched the kids run around and exhaust themselves. Eva was even so sweaty she agreed to take her full length princess dress off. And that’s all I’ll say about kids and clothes for now.

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At 4:30 they started hoovering and hinting for us to go but it was OK, we were done by then. We’d got 4 hours worth of eating and playing for our £15 but JJA had been there since half nine so had really made the most of it. It was a nice place out for the afternoon and maybe we’ll return to see those raccoon babies…

More information here (official website)

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Eckington Gardens and the London Eye – 06/04/17

 

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I’m starting to repeat myself. It’s inevitable at my age, but also when you’ve been blogging for almost six years. Both the places we’ve visited today have featured before, in 2011 and 2013 but they can take a revisiting. Especially Eckington Gardens, which I didn’t even name all those years ago. So that’s where we started off today.

Well, actually we started off in Highams Park, catching the train to Walthamstow Central and changing onto the Victoria Line to Highbury & Islington. I mention all this only because Reuben planned it and I’m really quite pleased with how my proto-tube geek is coming along. It wasn’t the ideal route to New Cross Gate but it wasn’t bad at all. And he wasn’t the one who got confused about platforms at H&I like I did. In the cold light of day, it seems obvious that Platform 1 and Platform 2 are in different directions, even though they both seem to serve the same routes. But it was a bit confusing and we ran down one set of steps and back up again before we figured out where we were meant to be.

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But we got to New Cross Gate, which seemed to be twice the size that it used to be, and found a far less ambiguous sign. Want Central London? Same direction as Sainsburys. Obviously.

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It was a beautiful sunny day and we spent the next few hours hanging out at our friend’s flat but also in the park. The yellow slide of death seems a lot less scary when you have an almost 8-year-old rather than a 2-year-old: Didn’t stop him trying to jangle my nerves by fashioning a pair of wings out of some cardboard he found lying around. He didn’t fly, but not for lack of trying.

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Eva spent her time chucking gravel down the slide and at one point deposited a small piece of green glass in my hand, telling me she’d found something beautiful. These kids keep you guessing, don’t they? And then on to the London Eye.

le11   This part of the trip was entirely the kids’ idea. When I’d asked them what they wanted to do on a sunny, free Thursday Reuben came up with “the London Eye” and Eva enthusiastically joined in. Now, it’s not my idea of fun. I don’t like heights and a glass capsule on a hot day, crowded with tourists seems like an unpleasant thought. Plus, it cost a lot. But then I cashed in some clubcard vouchers, which paid for a fair chunk of it. And we were in South London anyway, so I went with it. Why not? I did book for late in the afternoon though – 5pm – so the bulk of the tourists would be gone. Any excess time we had was rapidly eaten up b y the playground anyway. le10

They also found a model of the London Eye with Easter baskets and bunnies:

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And they enjoyed the 4D cinema experience that comes free with the Eye ticket. Eva jumped when the dragon came out and Reuben tried to catch the seagulls. Though it’s essentially an advert for the Eye with an extra chance to spend money on a green screen photo, it was worth going to see. The effects are pretty cool and it gets them hyped for the Eye itself.

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First though, some queuing. Only about ten minutes’ worth, which I think is down to the late-afternoon lull but enough for the kids to complain about being hungry and badger me for snacks from the little kiosk that tries to sell you Coke in the middle of the queue. No opportunity is missed round here. One thing they didn’t complain about was needing the loo, as I’d made them go more than once before we got in the queue. You don’t want an emergency when you’re trapped in the capsule. Plus, check out the amazing taps with built in hand driers:

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So, the Eye. It’s great for people who like views. It’s not ideal for people who don’t like heights, but I coped. My children didn’t fling themselves against the glass walls as much as my niece and nephew did the first time we ever went on it., back in 2003ish. That was nervewracking. Instead, they let me sit on the bench in the middle and gently wibble to myself while Roo kept up a running commentary about what sort of angle we were at. I calmed down by the time we got past the acute angles.

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Reading my last post about the Eye, I realise I mentioned my niece and nephew before. I told you I was repeating myself. It seems that Reuben tried to grab the seagulls on the last visit too. Some things never change.

Roo remembered our last trip, with cousin Nat and he’s been with his school as well. So he was a bit blase about it all. But it was Eva’s first time since that 2013 trip when she was a babe in sling. So she was excited:

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If you’re wondering about the inside out Disney dress, it’s her “SuperFast Girl” outfit. Obviously.

Of course, the main thing to do on the Eye is to take photos of the views so prepare yourselves for a whole load of them. It was a glorious day to be on there and by 5pm not too roasting. Just look how pretty it was:

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And with that, we were back down to land. It may have been a pricey half hour but the kids really enjoyed it and they’re still talking about it almost a week later. So, if you’re struggling with ideas for this second week of the holidays, you can do worse than a little sky cruise…

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La Boîte – 31/03/17

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The kids broke up from school today. You’d probably be able to hear the sheer noise of them from any point within the M25 but somehow they seemed noisier in a small signal box, eating pancakes at 5pm.

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We’d been on a long walk round Highams Park after school – drinking coffee at Ziggys, playing in the part roped-off Snail Park, transferring to Vincent Road Park (where Eva was apparently beautiful enough to frame) and then persuading a complete stranger to let Reuben use her toilet. So pancakes were the next obvious step. Obvious.


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La Boîte, in case your français is not as beau as mine, means “The Box” and it’s a conversion of the old signal box next to Highams Park station, which has stood empty for years. I didn’t take a photo from the outside, so let’s use an image by the very talented local artist Juliet Thomas:

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Copyright Juliet Thomas

 

Now, it sells crepes and gallettes and by night you can enjoy a glass of wine there, all while the trains are rumbling by. I’m not going to say that chocolate and marshmallow pancakes at 5 were a great idea in the grand scheme of things but hey, the kids thought they were. Between Reuben , Eva and Bunny they had the full range of white, milk and dark chocolate and I can confidently say that each one of those is as messy and sticky as the others. Pack baby wipes. I can also say with confidence that gloss paint was a good idea for the door frames, as Bunny’s chocolate handprints rubbed straight off.

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The kids devoured their pancakes, though us grown ups had to wait a little longer and they *may* have been a bit restless by the time we got our strawberry and cream crepes. It’s obviously not a huge space and the 20-odd seats in there were all full at one point, so not a lot of scope for sugar-filled kids charging about. There is a small balcony at the back though, which is great for a bit of a fresh air and a view of the trains.

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Because what a USP! Especially is you have one of those transport-obsessed toddlers that I used to own. Trains go past every seven minutes or so and the kids were full-on channeling “The Railway Children”, waving to the trains as they went past. More often than not we got a wave back from the driver which, let’s face it, is exciting whether you’re six or thirty six.

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So it’s not a place to spend hours in with kids because the space is limited, but as long as you get your food at the same time it’d be fine. And they were particularly lovely pancakes. They had savoury options too but we were throwing caution to the wind and enjoying some sugar and cream, even though one of us had eaten literally nothing savoury all day. There’s a great people-watching aspect too, though I was disappointed to not see anyone I knew. If we’d been sitting station end I may well have. Downstairs, there’s a small garden and – crucially – a toilet. They also take credit card payments.

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It’s sticky and messy and the resulting sugar crash is messier still but you should definitely pay a visit if you’re in the area. It’s a charming little place with lovely food and the most Highams Park of views. More information here.

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The Gruffalo Trail – 25/03/17

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For reasons too complicated to explain here, we needed a jaunt out of London today. So we drove from Nearly-Essex, where we live, to Proper Essex where everyone wears fur gilets and designer boots for a walk in the woods. I thought Eva was overdressed, in a floor-length Anna dress, but no she was probably best suited out of all of us.

Our destination was Thornden Country Park, home of the Gruffalo Trail. I’d read online that it was a good day out, tainted only by the expensive and cranky parking machines. Well. on this second point they were not wrong. Parking was £4 for 3 hours, which doesn’t sound hideous to my London brain but is quite steep if you’re used to country parks having parking for free. There was no entrance fee to the actual park though, so just see it as a donation to the general upkeep. The pay and display machines were a bit eccentric though. The first one didn’t recognise my card or accept coins and the second one took an awfully long time to even consider my request for a parking ticket as something it might be able to produce, while a queue built behind me. You also needed to know your registration number, which I didn’t.

But it’s OK. Google had prepared me for parking stresses and once that was done, the rest of the day was pretty straightforward. We bought a trail map for 50p in the shop (the only other compulsory outlay really) and set off for a stroll in the deep, dark wood.

Eva was navigating, although she and Roo would fight over the map for at least the first half hour, after which they’d lose the map entirely. In so many ways, I should have bought two. But no fear, as we found the first model with ease. Or rather do fear, because oh help, oh no, it’s a…..

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Reuben had spotted what he called a “logpile house” (which I think most would call a “stick den”?) and wanted to make his own, so started dragging around massive sticks and propping them against a tree. He got bored after about three of them and luckily before blinding his sister with the twiggy end. No wonder she skipped off without him to find mark no 2, the Gruffalo’s Child:

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This one Eva kept kissing, because “he’s so cute”. Hardly could bring myself to tell her that the Gruffalo’s Child is a girl. They also did one of the suggested activities on the trail map – putting beech shells on their fingers to make Gruffalo claws:

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Mark #3 was the actual logpile house, which was taped off – I assume to stop children climbing all over it:

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Next up was the owl, which was appropriately high up in a tree. “But how will we get all the way up there?” squeaked Eva. Short answer is, she didn’t.

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We were skipping through the markers pretty quickly, so I decided to stop for a while and just let them round around. Eva found another stick den to set up home in, Reuben made another attempt at building his own. And then they both walked along this felled tree:

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They were playing for ages while we were sitting on a bench but I was starting to crave a coffee, so I started hurrying them along. Especially when Eva declared that the fox wanted her to “stay up her for much longer. Maybe two hours”

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Eva found a tree to sit in as well, where she could balance without even sitting on anything, which she thought was pretty amazing. She was less impressed a few minutes later when I tried to get her down and got her head stuck between the two branches. Let’s focus on the moments before that happened:

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I really needed coffee but these children needed to play. All three of them:

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Luckily, we were nearing the end. Just a mouse to find!

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So yes, it was coffee time. The trail had taken us about an hour but the kids could have spent longer, climbing trees and playing on the wooden beams near the mouse. Which makes it pretty good value considering we only paid for parking.

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The cafe was nice and spacious – there was a bit of a queue and apparently it had been busy all day (it was about 4pm). It wasn’t quite what I’d fantasised about in the woods – cupcakes and soya lattes – but there were biscuits and machine coffee and kids lunchbox pic ‘n’ mix. I had a full-cow latte and this cheeky bottle of pop:

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We all had snacks then all went back for seconds. We were clearly hungry after all that fresh air. My kids also proved that you’re never too millenial to get excited about a piece of curved plastic in swirly colours:

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There was a little more time left to run on our parking ticket, so we went to the sandpit in the picnic area for one more little play before we went home. Nathan and the kids also spotted a secret squirrel up a tree but I didn’t get a photo because, well…it’s a secret, right?

 

 

 

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It was a beautiful day to be in the woods and a pretty good day out for minimal amounts of money. Yes, it requires going outside the M25 but I reckon it’s worth it once in a while. Just dress for the occasion.

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London, You Know the Drill

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What happened yesterday was awful. Anything that hurts people in our city is awful. But you know what we have to do. We have to carry on with life as usual, just like we did on July 8th 2005 and like Londoners have done since the first Celt said “Blimey, these Romans are a bit rough. Shall we have a brew?” The first post I ever wrote on this blog was the day after a shooting in broad daylight on our road in Kennington. Last night, overshadowed by the events in Westminster, there was another Kennington incident – a stabbing in the middle of a massive street brawl. There is always violence around us as we jostle for space in this huge city. But I’m with Sadiq Khan – it cannot stop us living our lives and it should not.

Four years ago, I wandered around Vauxhall after a helicopter crash claimed two more lives. Four and a half years ago, it was the riots. There’s always something. Nowadays, we live further away from the centre of it all  - for reasons of financial necessity, not fear – but it still feels so close to home when it happens somewhere that used to be so literally close to home. Westminster Bridge was the first view either of my children saw – or it would have been if newborns could see further than the end of their own noses.  I wandered along that strip of the South Bank so many times with babies, toddlers and not-quite-born-yets, gazing at that famous view. It hurts to see it defiled by one man with a vicious, and as yet undetermined, agenda but we move on.

Not everyone can. Those who were at the scene and will replay it in their minds infinitely. Those who were injured or killed. The families of all those people. But the rest of us, we must share in their sorrow, feel their pain but keep this city moving. Professional trolls and far-right politicians are waiting for us to fall apart or turn on each other. Let’s not indulge them. London, you know the drill. Life as usual.

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L.O.L. Surprise Doll – 19/03/2017

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One of the many things we missed out on over February half term was the launch of a new surprise doll – the L.O.L Surprise. Luckily I hadn’t told Eva we were ever meant to be going (it was planned as a sur… you get the idea) so she was thrilled when one just appeared in the post for her. I’ve already overused *that* word but let’s just say it was unexpected.

So we decided to go Full Disney Collector and film her as she unwrapped it. It’s an amateurish attempt at a vlog – my phone memory ran out before we’d fully explored everything inside and also, my voice is annoying. I apologise. But here it is:

Ignore the fact I keep calling it an egg. It’s a ball, not an egg.  And you unpeel the layers using a cute little zip marker. Essentially, it’s seven layers of surprises – the first is a coded message, the second is a sticker telling you what to do with your doll (bathe it or feed it and it’ll do something unexpected). Next is a bottle, which I seem to remember is embedded in a secret compartment in the plastic ball. Then there are outfits and accessories and eventually you get the doll, along with some instructions on what to do with the plastic ball (it can be a handbag or a hangout or a bath) and a chart telling you whether you have a popular or rare doll. We got two baby dolls and they were both super-rare! Go us!

Eva enjoyed unwrapping it and immediately wanted to take it all up to the bath so she could bathe the babies and see what they did – the sticker promised they would either cry, spit, pee or change colour. I think we got the last of those, which is the best option I think. I’m sure she’ll want to collect them all now. If you have a child who’s similarly interested in surprises and dolls, have a look here for all the L.O.L. Surprise info you need.

Disclaimer: I received a free L.O.L. Surprise Doll in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. 

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Brussels with a Toddler

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Yes, we went to Brussels and yes, we had an actual toddler to explore with. The toddler was one of the Marias and we had a clutch of delightful other children to skip around with too. But first, let me talk you through how you do international travel with two schoolkids without taking any time off school.

Certainly keeping it relatively simple helps. Brussels is only two hours away on the Eurostar and it’s easy enough to get to Kings Cross for us so we left home straight after school – 4ish – and were in Brussels by nightfall. We were travelling light, by our standards, and it turns out the kids are now big enough to carry a rucksack and pull a suitcase:

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They’re also big enough to sit around the terminal at Kings Cross for 45 minutes without complaining too much and to entertain themselves for two hours on the train. I knew there was a reason we didn’t do this sooner.  Here are my boys both reading their way under the English Channel:

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Roo was reading the BFG and that comfortably lasted him the whole trip. Eva looked through a magazine, drew some princesses and then made me talk about princesses. We had a brief visit to the buffet car, which bemused Eva a little. She asked “How did they get a cafe on a humongous boat?” and I must admit that bemused me a little too. Nathan got a beer,  the kids got brownies, we looked out of the window at Lille station and then before long, we were in Brussels.

A sleep at Maria’s and some good coffee saw us out and ready to explore bright and early the next morning. Our first stop was Tervuren tram station, where we found a giant elephant opposite the African Museum:

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That was quite exciting. The tram was quite exciting too and we got a good view of the Brussels suburbs – triangular houses, the dramatically rocky lake of Parc du Woluwe and a tram museum. All pleasingly foreign (look kids, we really are abroad!).

So, where to go to for the bleeding-heart-lefty-liberal parent in Brussels? Why, the EU of course!

Look kids, we really are still in Europe.

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It was drizzling a little by this point, so we didn’t get to play in the nearby park. Instead we jumped on the metro and went for lunch at our next destination – the Comic Strip Museum. There was a brasserie just inside the museum which looked like it might be a bit fancy for us and our collective gaggle of children. But they had highchairs and pencils on the table and every place mat was a riot of smurfs:

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Knowing as I do what a fusspot Eva is, you might be wondering what she would possibly eat in a Belgian brasserie. Well, she asked me before we travelled whether they had salt in Brussels and I’m happy to confirm that yes, they do. So she applied that to her frites, chased it with a bowl of salami chunks and she was happy. Roo had the meatballs and frites and he was pretty happy as well. Nathan had a Belgian beer and well…he thought it was “very Brussels” and “something of an acquired taste”. I gorged on creamy pasta, which was a taste I shouldn’t acquire if I have any respect for my arteries. The food was great, the service quick and friendly and the children relatively happy.

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This all boded well for the Stripmuseum itself, which promised to be both child-friendly and geek-friendly. It was in a beautiful building for starters:

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And the lobby was full of bright and colourful things, which delighted the kids:

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Upstairs there were galleries of original comic art, which Nathan enjoyed, and a screening room which showed a Belgian cartoon I’m going say was called “Dickie” but I’m not entirely sure about that. This guy, anyway:

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Dickie also had one of his strips on magnetic panels on the wall, which you had to rearrange into the right order. It was a custom job, I think, seeing as it was set in the Comic Strip Museum itself:

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Upstairs from that, there were areas dedicated to those most famous Belgian comic exports – Tintin and the Smurfs. Reuben wasn’t really a Tintin fan before we went but he has a good working knowledge of the boy detective now, after reading through all the (trilingual) posters and laughing at the  bowler hat with bird poo on it. He also liked the ancestral portrait:

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The tiny blue people were better known and we all liked the model of the Smurf Village:

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And a full-size Smurf House!

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It was getting late by now and we still had more touristy stuff to do but we needed a small rest and the museum reading room was perfect – comics in English and big cushions to relax on. We even got all five children quiet and still at the same time for a few minutes. Reuben read Tintin and Eva asked me to read a Smurf book in Italian that I believe was about a magic egg. I had a good go at it.

Then we wandered through Brussels, Eva and N hand-in-hand, and walked through the gloriously ornate Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert:

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This was where all the fanciest chocolate shops were and it was undoubtedly a tourist trap but hey, we were tourists. We browsed a few shops before choosing this one because they were giving out free samples:

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The samples worked. Nathan and I bought some chunky chocolate letters to take back to our offices.

Next up was the very shiny Grand-Place where all the old trade guilds were, each trying to outdo the others in gilt and rooftop statues:

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We didn’t linger, as we were all starting to flag. What could get us the energy to get home? Why, Belgian waffles of course!

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We sat outside as it wasn’t yet raining, and gorged on waffle, cream, strawberries, chocolate and bananas. But then it started to rain and so we headed to the station, stopping only to watch some very entertaining buskers tap dancing and playing “In the Mood”.

I won’t review the hotel facilities at Casa Maria as you may not be able to just invite yourselves like we did. But trust me, they were excellent. The kids played together from early morn to bedtime, the boys talking nonsense about monsters and the girls trailing round in high heels. It was a dreamlike weekend and we only snapped out of it on the late-evening Victoria Line leg of the trip on Sunday evening. It was most definitely doable for two nights and Brussels is certainly a good destination for travelling with kids. And maybe if you’re super-lucky, the Marias will come along and act as your native guides…

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The Last Summer of Baby Swings

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Today is the first sunny after school of the year. We went to the park,  along with every other child in a 5 mile radius, and Eva asked to go on the baby swing. As I levered her in,  I realised how much she’d grown since last summer. She’s got two terms of school under the belt of her grubby Belle dress  and in so many ways she is not my baby any more. It’s been 7 years since I first  hesitantly lowered her brother into one of those and now it seems that this summer we might be done with the baby swings once and for all.

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It’s hard to remember that she’s nearly 5, seeing as we’re still in the midst of toddler-like tantrums about dinner and hairwashes. But she is growing up. She’s starting to write and read, as long as the subject material is strictly related to fairytales, princesses or fairytale princesses. Otherwise she’s not interested. Reuben, meanwhile, is speeding through his Roald Dahl boxset, finishing Fantastic Mr Fox in a day.  When we went to Belgium, they carried their own rucksacks and pulled their own cases and made us start daydreaming about the prospect of holidays a little further away than the Isle of Wight.
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It’s so hard to write about this without resorting to cliché so I’ll just embrace it instead. It goes so fast. Not when you’re in the  relentless drudge of sleep deprivation and days pass like  weeks. But once they’ve started toddling away it speeds up like a John Lewis advert and you find yourself organising birthday parties with frightening regularity just so that you can add all those candle-blowing out shots to the turbo-charged montage. You  also start being responsible for other people’s kids at those parties, which is a bit of a bummer and severely restricts your alcohol consumption. But on the bright side, they’ve started to do useful stuff like cleaning up their own yoghurt spill. Maybe one day they’ll be able to eat a yoghurt without spilling it at all.
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That might be living in fantasy land though. Reuben may be capable of teaching people three times his age what a conjunction is but that doesn’t mean he can get from the lounge to the bathroom without knocking over several stacks of paper and dropping at least one thing down the toilet. In some ways, we still have a toddler.
But we won’t forever. And, to end on another cliche, that’s why we need to enjoy the baby swing years while we can. A few more years and they’ll be using them to hold their cans of White Lightning while they smoke on the slide. Can’t wait for those kind of #preciousmoments.
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More About SwingTrain

 

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Once again, this is not a sponsored post. I’m plugging SwingTrain from the goodness of my heart and the hope that enough people will sign up to keep my particular class viable. I’m not getting paid or any freebies, though I did get offered a complimentary extra round of charleston squats on my birthday. I politely declined.

Point being, my opinion is honest and unbiased. But also, it’s a one-off so other brands..don’t get any ideas.

The Bishopsgate 6-week course has come to an end and another one is starting on 9th March (booking link here).  That meant I had today off and I really missed my morning class. It breaks up the week, skipping out of the house without the children and going to prance around a studio doing jazz hands. Over the 6 weeks I’m not going to say I’ve mastered the routines but at least I have a fair idea of what’s coming up next. I even taught Eva a bit of charleston. Look:


SwingTrain is friendly for even the chronically unfit and unco-ordinated. Which means me, obviously. If you work in the city you should come and join us – it’s such a happy way to start your day. And there are even showers in the changing room next door so you don’t have to go to work sweaty. My colleagues are grateful for that.

 

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