London Loves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Farewell Tumble – 16/02/18

This gallery contains 16 photos.

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

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Feb Half Term Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy half term everyone….

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A Winter Catch Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But is it art? Probably yes.

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Milestones Museum – 20/01/18

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It takes a lot to tempt us out of London early on a Saturday morning. Even more so when it’s rainy and our destination is Basingstoke. But we were meeting family who had come all the way from Australia and, given they’d flown 24 hours for a cousin playdate, the least we could do was to leave the comforting boundary of the M25.

Besides, this particular leisure park had some romantic memories for me and Nathan, as we’d gone on our very first date there in October 1997. The kids were suprisingly uninterested in this piece of family history but it was nostalgic for us anyway.

We were visiting the Milestones Museum and it seemed a popular choice. Here’s how it looked a few minutes before the 11am opening time:

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So clearly Basingstoke in the rain wasn’t an insane thing to do after all. Nana had kindly booked online for us all but there was still a little bit of a queue as we had to get issued with wristbands before we could wander freely. Of course, the first place we wanted to wander to was the cafe for some much-needed caffeine. It had been a long drive down. The coffee was fairly basic – from a machine, no soy milk – but it was hot and caffeinated so that’s all I really cared about.

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Then we went to explore. If you haven’t heard of Milestones, it’s a large-scale history museum, with life-size streets from the Edwardian, Victorian and wartime eras. Sadly no Anglo-Saxons, which is what Roo’s studying at the moment but he’s still pretty into the Victorians from last term. Trust me, I’ve had to sit through not one but two family “productions” of “A Christmas Carol” in Eva’s room this week. So both kids loved the dressing up in the classroom:

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Eva makes a very convincing Victorian waif, doesn’t she? They also enjoyed building a viaduct out of foam blocks:

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They had checklists and clipboards from the information desk but mainly just wanted to roam around and see what they could see. The penny arcade proved popular with all the kids, even though some of the machines seemed a bit sticky – the table football didn’t give us any balls and the shooting game didn’t seem to do much. Some I suspect weren’t from the Victorian era. It’s the Wombles that give it away:

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And some, I suspect, weren’t suitable for children:

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The big hit though was the wartime sweet shop. They’d been bought an old penny each at the ticket desk (thanks again Nana!) and got to choose what “ration” they wanted out of the sweetie jars:

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Cousin T opted for the Winter Mixture until he got a whiff of it and decided that jelly babies were a safer option.  Mine both went for the A to Z, which I’m happy to say Nathan and I ended up eating in the car on the way back. Shhh, don’t tell them.

Then we had a poke around the rooms exhibition, which showed rooms from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Anyone want to guess which one this is?

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We also spent some time in the toy shop, where the kids spotted a tiny Jar Jar Binks in the 1990s toy display and hooted with derision. Our brainwashing against the gungans has been entirely successful. And we made the revelationary discovery that Lego minifigs used to have blank faces:

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It was getting well past lunchtime so we went on the hunt for food and it was harder than we expected. The 50s styled cafe upstairs did jacket potatoes and a few hot mains but it was crowded and there were a lot of us. So we left the warmth of the museum and trekked through the carpark to the Spruce Goose, which a few of us vaguely remembered from some nights out around the turn of the century. They couldn’t seat the 9 of us for an hour and a half but luckily there was a Little Frankies at the top of the steps, which could seat us in just 35 mins.

It wasn’t ideal but we were willing to compromise. So we hung out in the games room of the cinema that I will always refer to as Warner Village Basingstoke – the kids watched some other kids playing air hockey, then played a little air hockey themselves while we pored over photos over the Frankies menu and dreamt of burgers.

Happily, burgers weren’t too far away and by 3:30ish we were all fed, including a good value kids’ menu (£4.50ish for main, dessert and drink…and Eva cleared her plate for once). So it all worked out well.

It was a nice day out too. If I was to suggest an improvement for Milestones, it’d be to have something that children could climb on – Roo kept trying to scale the buses and fire engines but they were mostly not for touching or accessible in a limited way. Honestly, it’s like wrangling a toddler or a monkey sometimes. One indoor climbing frame (in the shape of a vintage bus or an air raid shelter?) would be a great addition for energetic children who’ve just been cooped up in a car for a couple of hours. And the cafe could be bigger. Other than that, it’s a lovely way to spend a few hours and the entry fee gets you in all year so well worth it. If you happen to be in Basingstoke, pop along.

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Hugs W Mugs – 06/01/18

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Happy New Year!  To celebrate, Roo and I decided to visit a brand new cafe. Well, he didn’t decide. He only agreed to go for a bike ride…but I had a secret agenda in mind.

The first iteon the agenda was ditching Eva, who would only slow us down and complain. That was easy enough -  we told her she could come with us if she got dressed straight away and, given she’s been conditioned to spend entire days in her onesie over Christmas, this was a No Deal situation.

Next item was a bit of fresh air and exercise. Roo has finally mastered his bike and now is keen to wobble around Chingford whenever the opportunity arises. We’ve been cycling and scooting to swimming after school on a Tuesday -a mile to the Feel Good Centre – and although we perservered into December, the cosmic charts told me that 3:35 on the 19th December was going to be too dark to cycle along a riverside path with no dividing fence and often not much of a dividing bank.

So he’s a bit out of practice and needs to be back up to speed by Tuesday. Hence a little bit of Saturday morning biking along the Ching. And some tree climbing and saying hello to Highams Park’s most famous dog.

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But yes, I had a secret agenda. For I knew that there was a lovely new cafe in the development on the site of the old stadium. The stadium frontage has been kept, with the neon restored, and you can see the original scoreboard from the cafe.  Any Britpop fan worth their salt will know why this is an exciting thing but I’ll give you a clue – it’s not about your Vorsprung Durch Technik.

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The cafe itself is verging on hipster, with rough wooden tables and chalkboards. Something about it being in a huge new corporate development makes me think it’s not *authentically* hipster but hey, I’m not authentically hipster either. They do soya milk anyway, which is all I look for in a coffee shop. And take cards. I had a very passable flat white and Reuben had apple juice and a cookie. He approved.

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There’s a little play area at the front, for the under 5s, and an exercise park just across the road. I’m not sure whether these are for general public use or just for the people who live on the development – we’ve been stung that way before – but the exercise park was unlocked so we stopped off there briefly. There was a little play area just off the cycle path too.

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So, a nice little addition to the previously caffeine-lite Crooked Billet area. We’d definitely go on a Saturday again and if the kids’ swimming lessons ever move time, we’d probably stop off there mid cycle ride. I worry it’s not going to get the footfall it needs to trade, so pop along if you’re local. Did I mention they had cheesecake? If I didn’t, they did. Yum.

 

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Christmas on the South Bank – 21/12/17

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Anyone have any idea how to spend 8 hours at the Southbank Centre on a miserable day in December? Well, neither did I. The answer seemed to be “go where the wind takes us” and also “spend lots of money on snacks”. So that’s what we did. I’ll explain the logic but it still only makes sense in a LWAT-y kind of way. It was the first day of the holidays, we were meeting C’sMum in the morning and then Ellie and Wiley were coming to our house in the evening and we didn’t have anything to do between those points. So we might as well just hang round the South Bank until Nathan finished work at 6 and then we could take Ellie and Wiley back to HP with us. Simple, right? Yeah simple. 8 hours with 2 kids on the shortest day of the year. This was gonna be something of a challenge.

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So we got there around 10:30 and the Royal Festival Hall was eerily quiet. I grabbed a coffee and deployed the first of the chocolate brussel sprouts that I hoped would sustain the kids through the epic day. I’m gonna say now it was two quid well spent.

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We had a good view from the cafe of the Southbank Centre Christmas trees, which were particularly exciting this year. Stressed out mothers everywhere will particularly enjoy the gin themed one I think.

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Once C’sMum and the boys arrived, we went outside to have a good poke around the various lobsters, lips and stars.  Yes, lobsters.

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It was kinda wet underfoot but not actively raining, so perfectly acceptable weather to go for a wander up and down the river. As ever, the benches in H&M-sale-tag-orange were a big hit with all the kids:

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And we liked the Christmas market under the bridge, with all manner of exciting sparkly stuff:

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There were some intriguing looking tents in the shape of igloos so we went to have a look. Apparently you can hire these to have dinner in while watching the world go by:

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I was also starting to suss out the various lunch options – chips ski-style, with melted cheese or chips with deep fried battered halloumi or chips with curry? It was gonna be chips but it was a tough decision. It took me most of the time we were in the playground, watching the kids fight over the swings and putting the world to rights….but we headed back towards the RFH at around 12:45 and the eventual decision was chips with chilli and cheese from somewhere that claimed to be “The Best Chips in London”. They were pretty epic:

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C’sMum had the deep fried halloumi and that was pretty good too. Perfect for lining your stomach for a rave. Oh yes, a rave.

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This wasn’t something we’d planned but you know the kind of thing you just stumble upon at the Southbank Centre…well, yesterday’s was a family rave complete with kids throwing inflatable bananas around. I spent most of the time wondering where one or other of the children were but we managed to have a bit of a dance to Harry Belafonte along the way. Shake, shake, shake Senora!

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After such excitement, it was time for a chill out. The Cs had to head off to go ice skating, and Reuben wanted to climb the stairs all the way to the top of the building so…

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It is a lot quieter up there in the higher reaches, certainly compared to a ballroom full of raving children 5 floors down.  We had a lot of time still to kill so I thought the poetry library would be a good place to hang out for a bit. But there was a whole new little room waiting for us just outside the poetry library – a “room for children” stocked with books and games and comfy places to read. There was a gentle Nordic theme so some of the books were in Swedish but that’s a minor problem. Eva found an English translation of “Mademoiselle Oiseau” and we snuggled up to read that for a while before she retired into the little hidey hole with a Moomins book:

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It was a lovely place to spend a restful hour or so. Where else in London can you go from rave to virtual nap so quickly?

But it wouldn’t do for us to all actually sleep there, so I shook the kids out of their doze by taking them back out into the cold riverside. It wasn’t actually cold at all but yknow, it was a bit of a contrast to the hidey hole. It was 3ish by this point, so we played in the playground again until it started to get too dark and then went for a ride on the carousel:

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Where we were joined by our old friend H’sMama, along with H. They were passing through on their way home but joined us for not just a carousel ride but also a Belgian waffle in a tent in the Rekordlerling Cider Lodge garden. The waffles were topped with Nutella and they were messy but good. There was also a pile of cushions for the kids to play “cat and mouse” in. Can you spot Reuben?

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I also found some good feminist graffiti:

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You go girls! I mean women.

By now, the kids were *starting* to lose it, in an oversugared and overtired manner. But we were so close to the finish line! It was 5, and Ellie was free to meet us so we picked her up outside the London Dungeon and hung out in the Pret there until Nathan and Wiley found us at 6. Swift Happy Meals all round and we were headed homewards. We had made it through, with the minimal amount of arguments although as you’ll discern, the number of eating establishments visited through the day cost me a fortune. Lucky we’re not keeping this pace up for the whole holiday.

So, that’s my recommendation of how to spend an entire day in one place without having any particular end in mind. It wasn’t too busy, toilets are freely available and so is mulled wine if things head in that direction. Why not give it a go on those dead days between Christmas and New Year? What are you doing that’s better?

If I don’t blog again before Christmas, do have yourself a very merry one. See you on the other side!

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“Rapunzel” at Chickenshed – 09/12/17

Photo courtesy of Chickenshed

Photo courtesy of Chickenshed

 

Ah the Piccadilly Line, my old nemesis. We meet again. It had been less than 24 hours since the kids and I were stranded at Leicester Square for a full 13 minutes, and yet here were Eva and I tackling it again. I had a plan to avoid what I remember as being a long and arduous change at Finsbury Park – if you’re coming south on the Victoria Line and want to continue south on the Piccadilly Line, it’s a very easy walk through but heaven forbid you should want to arrive from the north on the Vic line and bounce back up north on the Piccadilly. That manoevure I remembered as being a pain in the oyster last time we went to Chickenshed on the tube.

So this time, I was going to try my Clever Plan – change onto the Picc Line for one stop south, get off and walk through to the northbound and back up. But once again, the Piccadilly Line was not playing my games. As we got onto the southbound train an announcement told us that the train was being held for a short time to regulate the service. So we hopped back off and made that arduous change I was talking about. Turns out it only takes 2 minutes but involves 108 stairs – 54 up and then 54 back down again. Now you know.

But we did get to alight at the most surreal of all the Art Deco stations – the crashed spaceship that is Southgate. Eva thought it was fab and so did I:

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Anyway, enough transport geekery. We were going to Chickenshed to see their production of Rapunzel – a musical retelling of the fairy tale with a cast of hundreds. We were sitting upstairs, using the “Yellow Entrance” which has (don’t tell anyone) a handy set of toilets nearby. It also has a great view and a little space where Eva could stand up and dance during the songs. Again, don’t tell anyone…our little secret.

The show starts in the real world, where a girl called Hazel is reading bedtime stories to a group of children. They get sucked into the story book and Hazel becomes Rapunzel, with no memory of her real life outside the tower. It’s a story about freedom and dreams and magic. You know the basic story – princess gets stolen by witch because of her magical hair and is locked in a tower until she is rescued. Chickenshed fleshed out the tale with groups of sleep fairies, hinkypunks, gnomes and citizens of the Kingdom of Kindness. When they were all on stage at once, the look and the sound was impressive -  it seemed on a far grander scale than most productions at small theatres.

Photo courtesy of Chickenshed

Photo courtesy of Chickenshed

There were some actors I recognised from The Midnight Gang – notably Sarah Connolly, who here played the kind-hearted Queen Aramynta. It was a bit of a shift from her role as the Matron who was, quite frankly, evil and it took me a while to trust her. But she convinced me with her soulful singing about her lost daughter. I also recognised the dryad Dryope (Finn Walters), who I think was Robin from the Midnight Gang and here he brought his gangly energy to an altogether more mischievous role.

The main part was played by Cerys Lambert, who was perfectly cast as Rapunzel with her waif-like looks and incredibly pure singing voice. She had just the right level of naivety to play a character who’d been locked away from the world all her life without tipping into cloying over-sweetness. Eva pointed out that her dress was the wrong colour but I think she’s been brainwashed by Disney into thinking Rapunzel has to wear purple.

And that was Eva’s only criticism of the whole thing. She loved it from start to finish and has been needling Reuben about how much he missed out by not going (don’t feel sorry for him – he’s been to plenty of shows without her). She swayed and grinned through all the songs and thought the cat and the raven were very funny. Towards the end, when *spoilers* Mother Gothel was defeated, I noticed her silently wiping away tears. I wondered what she could possibly be sad about unless she’d be on the witch’s side (always possible with Eva). So I leant over and tried to ask her as quietly as possible what was wrong.

“I AM happy” she replied “There’s just tears coming out”.

She’s her mother’s daughter alright. By the time the King and Queen were reunited with their lost child, I was welling up too and I’m sure I was far from the only one. Chickenshed sure knows how to hit you in the feelings – the very nature of the place is so inclusive and welcoming that as soon as you walk through the door you can start feeling a bit emotional. The show was closed-captioned but also had a signer on stage at all times, dressed as a cast member so they blended seamlessly into the production. It’s stuff like that that makes you feel yes, this is a place that cares. And this production of Rapunzel was just full of the same kind of heart. There were messages of acceptance and overcoming differences and needing each other, which is a strong theme in Chickenshed’s work.

But in case this is all sounding a bit worthy, worry not. There were also spectacular set pieces, sassy jokes and even the odd scary moment, which Eva coped remarkably well with. The pace was fast enough to keep the audience engaged, without rushing over the character development. The set was cleverly designed to shift effortlessly from woodland to underground passage in the blink of an eye and the musicians were craftily concealed in the top corner. It was a complex production – and I believe the cast totals 800 over four rotations – but very well pulled off.

So Eva and I would definitely recommend it as a family treat this Christmas. It’s 2 hours (including interval), which I think means the 5+ rating is probably well placed. Younger children may struggle with the length although there is plenty that they would enjoy, in terms of the dancing, singing and slapstick. But to get the best of it, probably find a school-age child to take with you. If you can’t find one, I’m happy to lend one out…

Disclaimer: I received free tickets to Rapunzel in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. For tickets and more information, click here 

Photo courtesy of Chickenshed

Photo courtesy of Chickenshed

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Ongals at Soho Theatre – 08/12/17

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Well, that was surreal. We spent the evening with four knife-juggling, man-size, Korean babies. It was fun but yes, a touch surreal. I’ll tell you all about it in a second.

First though, a festive wander around Oxford Street. I know this sounds like most people’s idea of Hell but ooh, there are pretty lights and sparkly things. So many sparkly windows. And as with last year’s trip to Knightsbridge, Eva had to stop at every window to coo over how yuvyee it all was. I didn’t find the McDonald’s and Primark experience quite so yuvyee but we did emerge with 2xChristmas jumpers and 2xHappy Meal toys so I really felt a sense of achievement. They also ate the food that came in the Happy Meals but that seems largely inconsequential to the kids.

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So onto Soho Theatre. They were super keen to get in and so I didn’t even get to claim my free drink at the bar, though it might taken the edge off all the late-night child wrangling. None of us really knew what to expect and the large box which said “Toy” didn’t offer many clues. Soon enough though, the lights dimmed and the music started and we were about to be sucked into the crazy world of Ongals.

And how to explain this? Well, it’s pretty high speed and packed full of variety. There’s juggling with clubs, slapstick, bell ringing and even a little light whipping. Reuben enjoyed all the fart jokes near the beginning and yowled with laughter at a gag involving a bike pump and a balloon….and that’s all I’m going to say on that. Eva was enjoying herself too until one of the Ongals pretended to swallow a balloon, at which point she freaked out a bit. She’s easily scared but balloon-swallowing is a brand new phobia of hers. She was eventually won back when they started juggling with sparkly rings and throwing them to each other. Again, she’s impressed by anything sparkly.

I’ll admit all of us were a little terrified when it came to a stunt involving a whip, an audience member and a pocky stick. I won’t spoil the moment for you but you’ll be glad to hear there was no first aid required. Except for that poor mannequin.

All four of the performers are really supremely talented. The entire show was mimed, with only a smattering of English words and what sounded like some Mandarin counting (tho I assume it was probably Korean) and it takes a lot of skill to keep the audience engaged and laughing using just body language. They were all masters of facial communication and physical comedy but then on top of that they each have at least one individual talent to show off. The guy in the light blue was an adept knife-juggler and pulled off a magic trick with a Coke can that emerged as Reuben’s favourite moment of the show. The guy in the dark blue was an awesome beat boxer and there were some impressive moments involved hand-bells and balloon modelling.

I’ll tell you this – it is like nothing else you’ll see in London this Christmas. It’s overwhelmingly colourful, energetic and yes, mind-boggling but it was a furiously fun 60 minutes and afterwards we even got to meet the Ongals and have our photo taken by KADA (Korean Artists Development Agency). If I find it on the internet, it’ll sit nicely here won’t it?

In the (hopefully temporary) absence of that photo though, I’ll paint you another mental picture. It’s the picture of my kids on a Piccadilly Line platform, staring desolately at a sign that threatened 13 minutes until the next train. All of us tired and over-layered for the tube. It’s not a pretty picture and it wasn’t a pretty situation but we made home it eventually.  Remember how Primark in Oxford Street at Christmas time wasn’t *quite* my idea of Hell. Well, we have a replacement all lined up…

Disclaimer: We received free tickets to “Ongals” in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

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Children’s Christmas Theatre Preview

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I know it’s not Christmas yet but we gotta start facing up to the reality of it. I have Nathan filling advent calendar bags with Lego as I type, we’re planning our Christmas day present opening schedule and if you were hoping to take in any kids’ theatre this Christmas it’s probably time to get booking.

Because as ever, there’s a feast of stuff to take in over the festive season in London. One classic is the ballet of The Snowman, which returns to the Peacock Theatre this Christmas, starting on 23rd Nov and running to New Year’s Eve. You know the music already and it’s a instant mood-setter but just be aware that sensitive kids may cry at the end. Or maybe that’s just me.

Another classic Christmas story is The Nutcracker and there are two impressive options to choose from  – the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum (13th Dec – 6th Jan) and the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House. Both are suitable for kids by the looks of it – the ROH has a 5+ recommendation and the Coliseum one has a family friendly matinee on 6th Jan. I really ought to take Eva to see one of them as she keeps banging on about ballet but December is ridiculously busy already and we’ve already got two shows booked in to go and see.

Which two? Well, I’m glad you asked. One is Rapunzel at the Chickenshed Theatre, which runs from 22nd Nov to 6th Jan and features four rotating casts of an astonishing 800 people in total. It’s a musical version of the story, recommended for ages 5+ and I’ll tell you more once Eva and I have been to see it!

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The other show we’re going to is a bit more…eclectic. It’s at the Soho Theatre and it’s a Korean comedy show called Ongals:Babbling Comedy. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what to expect apart from four men dressed as toddlers. But I’ve been assured it “brings together incredible magic, effortless circus moves and formidable beatboxing skills”, which sounds fun at least.  Again, I’ll report back very soon.

One show that is much more a known quantity is Stomp and I’m sad to sad this is the last Christmas it’ll be spending in London. Your can hear about the LWAT reporters’ trip to see it here and I’d urge you to go before it leaves London. It may not be very festive-themed but it is a great show and unlike anything else you’ll see in the West End.

Photo credit: Steve McNicholas

Photo credit: Steve McNicholas

On a slightly more seasonal theme, the Unicorn Theatre have a packed programme for all ages this Christmas – there’s a baby show, a show called “Boing” for ages 2-6 and their 5-adult production The Velveteen Rabbit. Have a look here for more details and to book tickets.

I’ll leave you with a pair of Cinderellas. Sadly not the office-panto version that last year starred Eva as “girl wearing a ballgown and refusing to leave the stage” but a couple of rather more slick options. Greenwich Theatre are staging the story as a panto, opening now and running through till 7th Jan. Then there’s Matthew Bourne’s ballet at Sadlers Wells, which has a poster that makes Eva swoon every time we pass it at the station. Such a pretty dress, apparently. It’s for ages 5 and over and I assume Greenwich is all-age.

OK, is that enough to get working on? Book tickets nice and early and then you can retreat back into November for a few weeks…

 

 

 

 

 

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