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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Another Day Off – 22/07/21

I say “Another Day Off” because all through these lockdown months, I’ve been idly daydreaming about that time in December 2019 when I took a day off from work and parenting and just wandered around Central London like a happy little Christmas elf. One day, I reasoned to myself, one day I would take another one of those. And so Nathan and I booked 20th July off work and made vague plans for lunch in London’s most holiday-like destination, St Katharine Docks. Our stretch of self-isolation beggered up those plans but we had a back up. The day off was shifted out two days – we wouldn’t be able to have lunch because it was the end of term and Eva would finish school early but dagnam, we were going to have food of some sort in a scenic location. So we did.

I worked briefly near St Katharine Docks before our office move so I was pretty sure on the walking route from Liverpool Street. If you want to follow it too, it’s about a mile and is mainly flat. It may involve some dodgy road crossing near Aldgate but other than that, it is a very pleasant stroll. Well, the kind of stroll I enjoy anyway cause there are things to see en route. And it’s not just the inside of my lounge.

So first off, you want to leave Liverpool Street by the Bishopsgate entrance and cross Bishopsgate in front of the Polo 24 Bar and Disappointing Wasabi. If your luck is in, the pedestrian crossing will be functioning and will allow you to cross safely. Our luck was not in but we made it across unscathed.

Next thing you want to do is go down New Street and into the Devonshire Place complex. Walk on through it and you’ll be greeted with a tree that is, quite frankly, giant by City standards:

Look at that! It outstrips the buildings. Not all the buildings, obviously. Once you turn right out of Devonshire Place, you’ll see two notable City buildings that are even taller than that tree. One looks like it’s sitting atop the other like a little hat:

Now this is really stretching my powers of building-naming. The hat is obviously the Gherkin (or the Harlequin Hospital if you’re of a certain generation of parents) and I’ve deduced that the one in front is known as the Can of Ham though I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone use that name. Still, a lovely gherkin-topped hamwich if the walk is making you hungry.

You can see the two grandiose white gates that mark the edge of the Devonshire Place Estate. Go through those and turn left, walking along Cutler Street and White Kennet Street until you come out at the back of Aldgate station:

More trees, shiny buildings and old buildings. See, I told you this was scenic. Now, the next bit is dead clever – there’s a thin alleyway to the direct left of the station called Blue Boar Alley. Take that, and you cut a corner off. It brings you to the front of the station, where you can either do a devil-may-care sprint across the road or go a bit out of your way to use the crossing by Peter’s Cafe. I used to do the former until I almost got hit by a bus coming out of the bus station so now mainly the latter.

Are you still with me? Good! Wohhhh, you’re halfway there! Don’t worry, we’ll get onto brunch soon.

Now, just duck down the alleyway next to the barbers labelled “Little Somerset Street” and follow it round to the left and you come out onto Mansell Street, which leads almost all the way down to Tower Bridge. Best to cross over early, as the crossing down by the Wetherspoons is a bit tricky and you wanna stick to the left of the street as you go under the railway bridge (past the sign for “Barneys Fish”) but all this will bring you out right by the Tower of London. At which point, you can take some touristy photos and discuss why one of the towers appears to have been rebuilt by some shoddy 60s architects:

Someone, sometime in the past thought that was an adequate restoration job. Anyway, some more manic road crossing over The Highway will bring you to the top of a flight of stairs which you can descend into the tranquil surrounds of St Katharine Docks:

Brunch time! We chose to go to Côte because it was fancyish but not too priceyish. Apparently there are no branches of Harvester in St Katharine Docks, or anywhere even remotely scenic. As much as I was craving the breakfast buffet, I was also craving somewhere that to eat that wasn’t a carpark in Chingford. So Côte it was.

And we went All Out. Because it was the first time we’d even been slightly Out in eight days. I had a coffee AND a juice and French Toast AND A sausage baguette. Crazy, I know.

If you’re insanely jealous of past Kate-and-Nathan at this point, let me tell you that the soy latte wasn’t ideal. I’ve experimented with a lot of non-milks in coffee as they can curdle easily and this latter had, sadly, fallen victim to that. If you’re wondering why I didn’t say anything, just check out the giant pile of non-non-dairy on my French Toast:

I think I might have looked a tad hypocritical complaining about the foam on my soy latte while also sticking my face in a pile of Crème fraîche. Besides, I still drank the coffee. And ate both my brunch dishes. It was awesome. The only regret I have about the whole thing was sitting outside rather than requesting a seat on the terrace, which had a view over the marina. But then I spilt my coffee over myself so it was probably for the best that we were away from the more civilised people.

After all that food, we needed a bit of a wander about. It really did feel a bit like being on holiday.

We walked around the dock and saw a bright red mini-Tower Bridge opening for the lifeguard boat, with the real Tower Bridge in the background. Wonder if this ever confuses tourists who want to see the legendary Opening of the Bridge?

After watching that for a bit, we crossed over a wobbly bridge and past the Dickens Inn, which is possibly London’s Most Flowery Pub:

It got a bit less pretty after that as we stumbled into the more industrial bit of the docks. Eventually, we found our way to the Thames Path and spotted a statue that, at first, looked like it was the side of Yoda’s head:

It made a lot more sense from the other side:

We’d somehow ended up in the Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden, which was a new park to us even though we’d tried several out last time we wandered around Wapping. It was nice and peaceful, with only a smattering of semi naked men sunbathing on the grass, so we sat on a bench by the river for a while and rested after our epic journey.

But school pick up was drawing ever closer and it was time to find the 100 bus. On the way, we spotted another lovely water feature, which Nathan described as a “mini-Louvre”. You can’t see it in this photo so you’ll just have to trust him.

I don’t know why being near large bodies of water on a hot day is soothing as I wasn’t allowed to plunge into any of them but still, it had the right effect. Leaving the house for approximately five hours is as much of a holiday as we’ll have in July so I feel like we made the most of it….cause who knows when we’ll be pinged again?

 

 

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Sooo…..now what?

It’s July 18th and we stand on the cusp of Freedom Day. Except it really doesn’t feel like it. Swathes of society from the Cabinet to school kids to footballs fans are in self-isolation and daily cases are back at the kind of levels that saw us entering Tier 4 (remember Tiers?) in December.  It’s tricky to feel like tomorrow will be particularly freer than today is, especially as Nathan and I are on day 4 of 7 in self-isolation (the kids, thankfully, were out of contact range). It feels about as far from freedom as you can get, given we can’t even leave the house. But yet we’re pressing on with Freedom Day tomorrow.

I know that the vaccinations are helping to deal with the severity of infections. I know hospital admissions are down for now. And I know about the metal health issues caused by months and months of bleak lockdown and the devastating effect the lockdown has had on the arts and events sectors.

It’s just hard to cheer our new freedoms when the data is not cheering us back:

And what even are these new freedoms? We will still have to wear masks on the tube and all other TfL services. Institutions are starting to come out and say that face masks will still be mandatory, so it seems likely that days out this summer will still be masked and distanced, end-to-end. Which, I gotta admit, does not sound much like freedom to me.

So what’s actually changing tomorrow? Will nightclubs reopen so we can go to sweaty raves with thousands of other people, even as we have to still wear masks in Tesco? Will the PM tweet about the glorious conquering of the pandemic even as he self-isolates? I don’t have the answers….goodness, if I did then trust me…I would have Chris Whitty on speed dial. The most realistic scenario is that we will spend a few weeks wandering about over the summer in masks, basically still restricted, and then go back into some kind of lockdown in the autumn. My hopes of a “normal” choir Christmas season are fading as rapidly as my freezer is emptying itself of ice lollies.

If you have any more positive predictions, I would love to hear them! And enjoy Freedom Day…

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LWAT is 10!

Blimey, I almost missed this one. It was only by chance as I was checking the date against our near-foolproof bathroom rota system that I realised it was 13th July 2021. And that meant it was ten years to the day that I started a blog that I didn’t think would get past ten posts. On that day, there had been a “hail of bullets” outside the convenience store that a preschool Reuben would later call “Number One shop” so I wrote a very nervy post about how great London was for kids, honest guv’nor. Then I hastily banged out another five posts on that same evening, about various parks we’d been to lately.

One of those parks was Hampstead Heath which, by happy coincidence, we visited again three days ago. This was the family shot I included on that first blogday:

It was taken in the children’s enclosure, which I did smile wistfully at as I went to the loos on Saturday (reader’s note – they close at 4:15pm. Don’t get caught short). I think the children are a bit big for the tiny wooden animals now tho. Here’s the update version, which we took for the purposes of being smug about arriving on time and beating our friends who lived closer…but again, it’s a happy coincidence that we got a full-family selfie for comparison’s sake:

I’m closer to the camera in this one but apart from that, I see no differences. Do you?

The skyline, however, has had a few changes in those ten years. This is the 2011 version. Look at all that space either side of the Gherkin!:

And updated for 2021. Safe to say it’s a bit more crowded…:

 

As tenth birthday celebrations go, this one has been a bit lame…but with Covid cases shutting down swathes of the kids’ schools again it doesn’t feel the best time to be doing anything too adventurous. And there is one more good reason to hark back to Hampstead. After all, that was the day when I took the photo that would become my logo for the next decade:

Some would say it might need updating, given the toddler will be a teenager next year…but he’s a bit more reluctant to pose nowadays. Ah well, happy birthday LWAT and let’s hope the eleventh year is a bit more exciting than the last couple have been!

 

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Adventure Island Revisited – 12/06/21

I know this seems like a quick turnaround from our last visit but back then we were celebrating Eva’s birthday. Roll on June and lo and behold…another kid had a birthday to celebrate! Fortunately the fairground gods were smiling on us –  a loosening of restrictions and a shift in the weather meant we could take one more kid and a lot fewer layers than we did in May. The lighter-travelling was lucky because this time we were going on the train. You see, it might be a re-hash of a lot of things but that bit’s different, isn’t it?

Talking of hashes, the first stop was for some hash browns  – and other breakfasty items – at Liverpool Street. I’d planned to get brunch in Southend but I think the tickets we had were only valid from Liverpool Street after 10 so we had some time to kill. Eva, in a rare burst of early-morning energy, was out of the door by 8:35 so we hit Liverpool Street with time to get some brunching in. As it turns out, I think the 10am restriction only applies on weekdays but that was just one of the aspects of the train journey I got confused about so who knows? I haven’t caught a lot of trains lately.

I did know that a good lefty liberal like myself should be boycotting Wetherspoons because of the way they treat their workers and the whole supporting Brexit thing. But dagnam, they do a cheap breakfast and it’s right there at Liverpool Street. And just look how posh it is! The last of my resolve slowly slipped away at the thought of bottomless coffee and we slipped through the Track and Trace into the world’s fanciest Spoons.

Eva wasn’t convinced. I’d seen a menu somewhere that said they did pancakes but this pandemic, app-ordering version of Spoons doesn’t seem to. It was all just various combinations of sausages, bacon, egg and beans, none of which she really eats. It was pretty perfect for the 12yo boys though and the service was super quick. I mean, literally a minute for the drinks to arrive after we’d paid on the app. The coffee cups were empty, which was disappointing but then I realised it was self service so you could refill without even having to ask anyone. As it happened, the boys ate so quickly we only had time for one cup but I still feel like it was pretty good value. Eva had an order of toast and butter….not quite the all-day fuel I had in mind but at least she ate something before we got on the train.

So yeah, I got a bit confused. Firstly, I thought the train was at 10:13 and we’d missed it after some faffing around with the ticket gate. The doors closed, leaving us on the platform and I sighed a bit before realising the door light was still green so we could just press it and get on. It was 10:15 but from *Platform* 13. That’s why I got confused. They’re every 15 minutes anyway so it’d be hardly a tragedy if we had missed it.

It was only once we were on the train that I realised our train was for Southend Victoria and our tickets were for Southend Central. My brain had run that query at some point when we were on the concourse but I think Southend Victoria was the only option I’d seen. I puzzled about that one all day before realising that the Southend Central ones terminate at Shoeburyness. I just assumed all Southend trains finished at Southend cause that’s where the land runs out. I didn’t realise that a) there were two different lines that both go to Southend and b) trains can run *along* the coast, not just turn right and plummet into the estuary.

Like I say, I’m really not used to the outside world anymore.

Anyway, long story short our tickets worked fine for the amended journey and the walk was maybe 15 minutes instead of 10 from the station to Adventure Island but that was fine and everyone survived. Close call with a pedestrian crossing outside the station because people in Southend cross on a red man and hapless kids follow them but everyone did survive and we made to Adventure Island on foot. The End.

Ah, did you want to know what we actually did once we got there? It seems like unnecessary detail given that so much of it was the same as last time but gwan then, I’ll indulge you.

As it happens, there were a few things open that hadn’t been in May because of the restrictions on being inside. The first thing we headed to was the Crooked House, which was one of those. I’m still not sure what actually happens inside that house but Eva went through it six times in total and the boys at least four. Something to do with stairs ar a crazy angle apparently.

From there, all three of them headed to the dodgems. Reuben’s friend C had unlimited dodgems as part of his annual pass so we added unlimited dodgems to Reuben and Eva’s wristbands as well. It was £4 for one go or £5 for unlimited so it seemed a bit of a no-brainer. Of course, when I was actually watching my firstborn driving a dodgem the wrong way round the arena I might have regretted that decision. Eva had to go on with Nathan because she was too small to drive so at least I was spared the experience of watching the second-born try to drive as well.

After that, we split up a little. The boys wanted to go on the first rollercoaster of the day – the Barnstormer  – while Eva chose the more gentle thrills of the Jumping Jolly Rogers.

Then they all wanted to go on the go-karts so I paid more money to shed more years of my life watching Roo’s driving skills. Nathan took Eva in a two-seater and, while they didn’t have much call to “Use Yer Brakes” they still went fast enough to top up the tiny girl’s adrenaline levels.

Did I mention it was absolutely roasting by this point? I persuaded all the kids to sit in the shade for a few minutes and have a drink before they went running off again. It seemed a lot less crowded that last time we went despite – or maybe because of – the glorious weather. So the queues were shorter and there were more places to sit down, which was good. They were whipping through these rides at quite a rate though.

And that didn’t stop as the boys went on Sk8borda, the Kiddi-Kosta and the Dragon in quick succession. I don’t quite remember what Eva and I did in that time but it probably involved the American Whip and it almost certainly involved the Crooked House again.

It was almost 2pm by this point but none of us were hungry for lunch because of the breakfast. I’m not sure how that worked with Eva’s solitary slice of toast but she was holding up OK. What I was craving was an icy fruit drink. The slush stands near the Go-Karts weren’t fully open yet so we roamed the park in search of a slush stand that could sell the birthday boy a cola slushie. Eventually the hotdog stand near the Rage came up trumps and we sat down in the shade for a bit with icy fruit drinks all round.

The main part that was unexplored was Adventure Inside. Eva and I decided to go and have a look while the boys went on Archelon. It was a bit…intense inside, being so hot and full of flashing lights and noises.

I kept my mask on but no one else seemed to be. And I’m not one of those people who love to moan about how I’m the only one following the rules and everyone else isn’t….but in this situation it really was true. There were no other masks to be seen. It was surreal, almost like we’d gone through a portal into a pre-pandemic world. After all, it did feel a bit like that when we went down this corridor:

Eva had fun though. There was an indoor carousel and Eva rode a horse that she christened Nightfury. Then there was a massive softplay frame, for under 10s only. The boys and Nathan popped up at one point to see if they could go on but, after some confusion, we established that they were too old. So they skipped back off again to go to the dodgems or something again and I sat and watched Eva climbing, feeling like we could be back in real life for a bit. Did we ever think we’d miss soft play?

Indoors and masked in that heat though was not much fun and so I persuaded her to leave and go to find the others. It all gets a bit hazy from then on but I know the boys went through Spooksville (“not that scary”) and C went on Rage on his own (“not that scary either”) and Reuben went on the dodgems at least once more.

I think Eva might have gone on her old favourite, Pharaoh’s Fury, and I think she’d gone on it with the boys earlier as well but I have no idea when that might have been.

It was 4pm and we were all done with Adventure Island. I had, as ever, the romantic notion of chips on the beach for our second meal of the day. I’m not sure what you call that meal but Reuben was not keen on the idea of “dunch”. As ever, my romantic notions were a bit flawed. Th beach was ridiculously packed, like one of those photos you see in the Metro when there’s been a sunny Bank Holiday. Again, I’m not judging because…yknow…we were there too…but it was pretty intense being so close to so many people.

We did put our feet in the sea, which was glorious after being in the sun for so long, but I wished I’d packed swimmers so we could have had a proper dunk. I wrangled all three kids in the shallows while Nathan was getting the chips and I’m pleased to confirm we were still mostly dry-clothed by the time he got back.

So we did manage to eat some chips on a beach, even though the beach was rocky and crowded and we didn’t have any ketchup or drinks….but those are mere details. Another #dayoutgoal ticked off.

One item of business was still outstanding  – Eva had been bleating for candyfloss as we were leaving Adventure Island and I’d said some vague things about “after chips”. She held me to that and our final stop before the station was at a snack stand where she and Roo got candyfloss, Nathan and C got ice cream and I got a blessedly cold Sprite. All of that sugar was enough to sustain us to get back up the hill to Southend Central which, as it happens, does have trains back to Liverpool Street. And a very scenic route it was too, with sailing boats and rolling hills and a ruined castle and all kinds of things that I couldn’t take photos of because my phone was out of battery. So I’ll elave you with this photo of the sign we saw on the way back to the station. Tells a story, doesn’t it?

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Wacky World – 02/06/21

Half term is always tricky to fill up with hashtagpreciousmemories, especially when you’re working for half of it. So when I heard that Wacky World was coming to a field very nearby, it seemed worth the hefty price to entertain the kids for 90 minutes or so. And it was fairly hefty – £13.50 each for the kids and £2 for a spectator ticket for myself. I assumed my ticket would come with some kind of complimentary beverage or at least a seat.

Spoiler – I assumed wrong.

It was a bit surreal being anywhere vaguely crowded and inside after so many months of having to socialise outdoors. We all got our temperatures taken as we went in and gave our contact details for Track and Trace but apart from that it was almost like real life. Oh, except for the spectators having to wear masks once we were in. But that is just normal life now, right?

Luckily it wasn’t too crowded. We’d gone for the 5PM session so that might be why it wasn’t overly manic…but it was definitely crowded enough. There wasn’t anywhere to sit  -just a couple of chairs dotted about but they were quickly taken and the sightlines would have been pretty poor from them anyway. Towards the end, I noticed a thin balcony at the top of the Sports Hall that would have made a perfect viewing gallery for parents. Possibly even with some kind of cocktail bar as well.

Seating aside, the set up was pretty good. The kids were straight onto the bouncy castle and the only things they had to queue for were the ones where it was limited to two or four people at a time. Those ones could have done with a bit more staffing – there was a bit of a scene later on when I had to remove Eva from the gladiator platform after I thought she’d been on it long enough. She disagreed. But to be fair to her, it had taken her most of that time to even get onto the platform bit

That scene aside though, it went remarkably smoothly. It was a hot day so the kids got through a full bottle of water each, which I’d brought with me. There were signs around advertising drinks for sale but not a lot of staff to buy them from.  It definitely felt like they had a good stretch out and run around though. As well as the bouncy castle and the gladiator platform, there was also a twisty ladder that Eva never quite managed to conquer:

And a total wipeout that almost didn’t exactly wipe her out but might have swiped her (Reuben loved this one):

And even a couple of inflatables that I’m considering adopting for the home environment. If I could keep Reuben tethered and bouncing all the time, I think he’d be pretty happy. It just needs to be a pile of snacks and bacon sandwiches in the middle instead of balls:

And this perfect game for siblings, where each one is in a separate injury-proof compartment and there’s a large wall between them:

So despite a few aspects which could have been better (seating for spectators, a bit more management on some of the inflatables) it was a fun trip out and the kids definitely seemed to enjoy it. It’s moved on from Walthamstow now but there are more details here if you fancy catching up with it elsewhere.

 

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Lepe Country Park – 31/05/21

 

This week, the stars finally aligned and we made it to Hampshire, land of our parents, for the first time since Feb 2020. And we managed to meet up with the Hollies for a glorious day in the glorious sunshine at Lepe Country Park. I’d never heard of Lepe before, despite growing up in the ‘hood, but it’s basically one of the most southerly points of Hants, straight down from Southampton and nearish Calshot. The proximity to the Equator is probably why we (spoiler) got so badly sunburnt…but we’ll get to that later.

 

Lepe is a happy combination of grassy picnic space at the top and shingle beach at the bottom. The car parking situation at the top is all a bit random – we ended up halfway up a verge – but the beach-side car park looked more straightforward, even if there was a bit of a queue to get in. Either way, the barrier takes note of your number plate and all you have to do is just pay through one of the machines before you go by entering your registration. The machines all take card payments as well.

So with the car wonkily parked up, we went straight to the playground at the top of the slope. Well, the kids did. I headed straight for the loos. It had been a longer-than-expected drive. The loos aren’t lovely but they’re free and the queues weren’t huge. For anyone who similarly needs to find them in a hurry, they’re next to the main building (the Lookout) but in a separate block.

The Hollies joined us soon afterwards and the kids all ran around the shady playground for a while before lunch. There’s plenty of climbable stuff and it wasn’t too crowded, even on a sunny Bank Holiday

We decided to eat before going onto the beach because we all know how messy beach picnics can get. There was a nice bench right outside the playground so we set up there with a view over the Solent to the Isle of Wight. Lovely!

There are no bins at Lepe so it’s worth taking bags for your rubbish and putting it in the car after lunch. It turned out to be quite a trek to the bit of beach we wanted so probably best we were travelling light. Eva and I also decided to go to the loos before going to the beach and this time the queue was huge. We were probably queuing for about 20 minutes but it felt longer in the heat of the sun and with Eva complaining. On the upside, Lepe was a proper doggyfneria and there were loads of dogs to look at to pass the time. There were a couple of tiny daschunds in the queue with us but they were nervy so didn’t want cuddles. Something that was crossed with a corgi pottered by on comically short legs, which caused the person next to us in the queue to strike up a conversation. I was feeling mildly uncomfortable with this talking to strangers thing until she revealed that she was from Brazil. Once I understood I was in conversation with a representative from the world’s chattiest nation, it was fine. I mean, I’ve seen my friend Cleverson in action on the tube or the bus, starting conversations with complete strangers. It’s just the Brazilian MO.

Eventually we were toileted and changed and started picking our way along the beach to where the others were. It was painful and slow going over the stony beach in flip flops and they were up by the sand pier, which seemed miles away. On the way back, we used a set of steps which came straight off the beach onto the end of the carpark and walked along the top. That was way quicker and easier, for future reference. But it was worth going further along the beach if we wanted to swim – the bit of beach right by the Lookout had a load of seaweed-covered rocks between the shore and the sea, which looked pretty hazardous. Out by the sand pier, it was an easy glide straight into shallowish and warmish waters.

I say warmish because it was oddly mixed. Parts of the water were really very warm and then suddenly, a current would whoosh by, bringing icy coldness with it. I wondered if the Isle of Wight was blocking the coldest water from the Channel and only the occasional bit slipped by. Or whether it was, as one of our party claimed, because someone was peeing in the water nearby. I hope not.

Still, it was pleasant enough to spend nearly an hour bobbing about in it and even Eva dared to join us, up to her waist and occasionally clinging onto my neck. It was sandy underfoot but she didn’t seem to trust me enough to put both of her feet down and disengage. The only time she forgot to be scared of the water was when she was gathering seaweed as an offering for the Sea Dragon. Then she quite confidently pottered around by herself but I kept her within arm’s reach, just in case. No, she’s still not a swimmer.

After so much swimming, it was time for an ice cream so we dispatched half the party to go hunt and gather, while Holly and I lay in the sun and I dried off. I had put some sunscreen on earlier but didn’t think to reapply after coming out of the water. At this point, feel free to judge me. But I would like to say that I’m suffering mightily from my lack of common sense. Two days on and I still can’t get dressed or lie down without a lot of pain. Remember to Slip, Slap Slop…don’t be like me.

The sea was getting ever closer so, in defiance of Mr Holly’s confident predictions about it turning back, we shuffled higher up the beach and found a patch that was almost entirely sandy rather than rocky. Result! That obviously made it easier for Reuben to bury his sister as well, upholding a fine family tradition of threatening to leave the youngest buried forever. Gotta be done.

Mr Holly and I decided to go for one last swim before packing up. By now the tide was so far in that the sandbar had completely disappeared and the warm bits in the water had disappeared with it. Thinking about it logically, it might have been the sandbar that made the water warm, rather than the Isle of Wight. Either way, the sea was suddenly a lot deeper and a lot colder than on the first pass. It took no time at all to be out of our depth and it was so cold my teeth were chattering. No wonder Reuben had only managed a few minutes the second time round. I didn’t last much longer  – it was very bracing but I was starting to lose feeling in my feet so figured it was safest to go back in. It took a while to get my breath back, which I think definitely means it was a properly cold water swim.

All that was left to do was an awkward under-the-towel change into real clothes, a trip to the loos and a trip to the parking machines. We spent five hours there, I think, and parking was £9 which was steep but far cheaper than a day out at Legoland. I’m not sure how fun any of it would have been in the rain but on such a sunny day, it was perfect.

On the way home, we took a bit of a diversion to Lyndhurst to see some church friends who happened to be holidaying in the area. The drive between Lepe and Lyndhurst was a super-fun country one with zigzagging roads and lovely vistas to look at (I’m quite keen on the countryside when I don’t have to actually engage with it). Of course, this being the New Forest there were also plenty of daft ponies who tried to wander across the road and cause pile ups. I’m pleased to say we avoided mowing any of them down but there were a few that looked like they were planning something. Both kids liked seeing the ponies but were disappointed to learn you weren’t meant to pet them.

We met our friends at Bolton’s Bench, which was a massive expanse of open land with free parking and more of the aforementioned ponies. There was a cricket match in progress and, for that moment in time, it looked just like the kind of England that UKIP bang on about. Sunshine, cricket, thatched roofs and greenery on a Bank Holiday Monday. So let’s leave it there before we get to the bit about the horrendous traffic jam on the M3 just as the sunburn was really starting to sting. That wouldn’t paint quite such an idyllic picture now, would it?

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7 Hours of 7 Incredible Things – LWAT is 700

So, a landmark post. Normally I try and do something impressive for this milestones but we’re only just getting in gear doing “mildly active” things, let alone anything properly impressive.

But I have had two exciting trips out lately, and as happy luck would have it, I was out of the house for almost exactly 3.5 hours each time. So 7 hours of adventuring for the 700th post. That’s neat.

The reason I was Out Out was that I was, somewhat inexplicably, summoned to Guys and St Thomas’ for my Covid vaccination. I’m not sure why – I had the kids at Tommy’s but haven’t been a patient there since. So, in late February, I left Highams Park for the first time in 7 weeks to go all the way to London Bridge for dose #1. With more of that happy luck, my friend and neighbour was also adventuring to Guy’s at the same time for hers. It was a truly epic day out after so much confinement. I even saw my office building for the first time since March 2020.

And then last week, I went to Tommy’s for dose#2. Sadly without my vaccine buddy this time as she’d been there the week before. But it still felt like an incredible day out and for such an incredible reason…the needle that brings with it the prospect of more days out in the future.

There were so many things to see and do along the way but here are 7 Incredible Things I wanted to show you. Some good, some poignant….but all incredible in their own way.

1.Taking in some classic London views

 

Gosh darn, I have missed Central London…and look at the gorgeous weather I had both times to stop and gaze at these views.

2. The M&S Food Hall and Disappointing Wasabi

I must admit to being slightly overwhelmed by the M&S Food Hall at Waterloo. I knew I wanted something but had no idea what…so just wandered around in a haze, staring at the sheer variety on offer. I ended up with cold gyozas, an Eton Mess dessert and, of course, Percy Pigs. I was totally underwhelmed by the food stall we know as Disappointing Wasabi in Liverpool Street but underwhelmed in such a familiar “this is real life” way that even that was enjoyable

3. Seeing what’s changed in South London

South London was our stompaing ground for so long and we haven’t had a reason to go to Tommy’s for ages, even before lockdown. So it was exciting to see the new(ish) Mary Seacole statue. Waterloo also has a new entrance, which is (I think) where the old one was before the old one disappeared for ages because of the new development. But now the entrance is back and also, all this new development.

4. The spookiness of it all

Much as I loved being back in Central London, one very Central London element was missing – the crowds. Being able to walk over London Bridge or along the South Bank on a sunny day without a single person in my path was…unnerving. And Waterloo at 5PM? Deserted. All very strange

5. The Covid Memorial Wall

This was incredible in many ways, both good and bad. It’s hard to visualise just how many people we’ve lost to Covid but when you see the number of hearts stretching all the way down from Westminster Bridge to Lambeth Bridge, it really brings it home. I have walked beside that wall so many times – with dawdling toddlers or kids speeding ahead on scooters and even once when in labour – and it’s a long path. So many losses. And yet so much love expressed in the messages written on each one of those hearts. Not to be crass, but Vision really did sum it up….”What is grief, if not love perservering?”

6. All the Emotions all at once

Oh gosh, these were emotional days. Such a sense of relief that the end was in sight and gratitude to the amazing scientists that developed the vaccine and the amazing NHS staff who engineered the rollout. Sadness looking at the memorial and thinking of all the broken families this virus had left in its wake. General overwhelmedness of being out in the world. Nostalgia standing outside the hospital where I’d first cuddled my babies who (they tell me) are no longer babies. Just all the emotions.

 

7. The world’s smallest zebra crossing

Just to end this heartfelt post on a facetious note – what the heck is this outside Tommy’s?

So, the arm is packed *full* of Pfizer now and, if I’ve timed this right, you should be reading this on or after May 17th when far more freedom beckons (it is all about the 7s). Use it wisely, think of Michael Gove when you have your intimate, friendly contact and let’s never stop being grateful that we have it.

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More Covid-Safe Swimming – 15/05/21

The prospect of indoor fun may be being dangled in front of us next week but, for now, there’s a limit to what fun can be had on a rainy day. Not that you’d know it was rainy from the gloriously sunny photo I took as we left the pool today but honestly, this was an anomaly. It’s been drizzling the whole day, if not outright chucking it down like it was a few minutes ago. So we decided to go for one of the few weatherproof options currently available and go swimming as a happy family unit.

I say a happy family unit but what I really means is two, fairly happy, sub-units. Eva and Nathan are the unenthusiastic shallow-end splashers and Reuben and I are the deep-end divers. Normally when we attempt swimming, it’s just the one sub-unit that goes and the other sub-unit stays home and plays on screens. But part of the point of today’s excursion was to get the sub-sub-unit happier with the whole swimming process so she’ll cope better with school swimming.  So we all jumped in the car and drove to the Feel Good Centre.

We’re not big drivers but there’s no denying that the Covid-safe version of swimming is much easier with a car. I still struggle to see why stripping off in the middle of a changing room and leaving your belongings on the side of the pool is more Covid-secure than using a cubicle to change and a locker to store stuff…..but, those are the rules. And while we’d normally cycle or walk to the FGC, it’s a long way when half the party is in swimshorts and it’s – as mentioned earlier – chucking it down. And the car is handy for leaving as much stuff as possible in so you can minimize what’s in the “Designated Bag Zone” at the poolside.

I can’t help feeling it’s all a bit discriminatory against people who can’t afford to drive or who choose not to drive for environmental reasons. But Reuben and I have done it on foot to Chingford before so it’s not impossible just…trickier. And a pre-swim shower would be really useful when your walk to the pool goes through the forest.

Chingford was my first choice, as it happens, but they didn’t have any slots for Saturday afternoon and it was going to be a tight turnaround after church on Sunday.  So it was the slightly more complicated FGC then, with its paid-for parking (top tip: download the Y-Pay app) and its chilly changing rooms. But it has a very deep deep end, which pleases Reuben and only mildly terrifies me.

Booking is all through the Better app, which I’ve had some issues with before, but it worked reasonably well this time. We had a ten-minute entry slot and kept our facemasks on through Reception and into the changing rooms. Then there was an awkward bit where we had to shed our shoes just outside the changing village and our clothes somewhere within it. The one-way system to get into the pool is well signposted but there’s no sign to say where you go from the kind of swim-ready that you can be outside in to the kind of swim-ready that you can swim in (or “beach-ready” as the sign outside the changing village optimistically put it. Hmm, was I *meant* to shave for this?)

So we were kinda messy and in everyone’s way but we muddled through the transition and found an empty section of the poolside bag zone to leave our stuff. The pool seemed pretty crowded but there was a complicated wristband system, which meant that a load of people cleared out around ten minutes in to our slot. I think our blue wristbands gave us 40 minutes in total but there were announcements to tell you when you had to leave. It was a bit confusing that the bands before us were also blue but a lighter shade and also confusing that the slot before light blue was gold, which was also the colour of the wristband they were giving out for passing the swim test. So a good system in theory, but it had its flaws.

Ah, the swim test. My old nemesis. Roo said he didn’t think he was going to do it today but a few minutes in the shallow end with actual babies and he changed his mind. I’ve never been convinced this is a good way of proving a child’s competence and would happily pay for them to just tattoo Reuben with “vaguely competent” and leave it at that. It always feels like we’re bothering the lifeguards to ask them to do it and, if the shallow end is busy, it’s almost impossible to swim through without putting your foot down. But today, they batched a load of kids up to do the test at the same time and some of the smaller ones cleared out of the way to let them through so that worked better than normal.

Once we were gold-banded and in the deep end Reuben was much happier. Our 40 minutes went very quickly but happily coincided with Roo bashing his head against my foot, so he was kinda ready to get out anyway. I’m not sure what Nathan and Eva were up to in the shallow end – it probably didn’t involve much actual swimming but neither of them cried so that was good.

Happily, we were allowed to use both the showers and the cubicles post swim so we could take the edge off the chilly changing rooms and dry off quickly. I wish the cafe had been open so we could have had a disappointing coffee and a chocolate owl but hopefully that’ll become a reality next week. We can only hope…!

 

 

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The Al Fresco Choir Rehearsal Starter Kit

I’ve been complaining non-stop about the lack of choir action for a year now so it seems only right that I share what we’ve been up to lately. Yes, we’ve been able to sing! Only in a group of 6 and only outside but hey, it’s better than Zoom.

And while we’re sharing, I thought I’d also show you a picture of my outdoor rehearsal starter kit. There is a lot of it but I like to be massively overprepared. This is what I’m packing nowadays:

  • A thermos – a hot drink is good for the vocal chords and for warming yourself off once the sun goes down. My current fave is Turkish apple tea.
  • Chairs – one of our outdoor spaces doesn’t have any seating and some choirsters can’t stand for long periods of time. Not that any of our rehearsals are exactly *long* anymore but you know what I mean. I’ve been carrying wooden foldable ones around but I saw today in Tesco they were selling camping chairs 2 for £12, so I think I might be upgrading to something a bit more space age soon.
  • Foldable music stand – I found this little wonder on Amazon and it’s great. Packs down really small but is solid when it’s put together and even comes with clips and a little rope light that fits on the top.
  • Ukulele –  with such limited numbers and big open spaces, singing can feel quite exposing. Although we’ve always sung a capella, I’ve found that taking a uke or guitar helps fill in the sound a bit
  • Jumper – essential for when it gets properly chilly on the way home (or any time after 9ish)
  • All the usual Covid-era supplies – antibac wipes, gloves, antibac spray, hand sanitizer,  face mask. Not that you need a face mask for singing outside but it does keep your nose warm in between songs
  • Music in individual plastic wallets  – means you can pack them in advance for minimal handling
  • Electric Tea lights – for atmosphere and being able to see the sheet music when it gets dark
  • A shopping trolley to carry at least some of this stuff

One day we’ll be back inside…maybe even one day soon. But till then…wrap up warm and pack anything but light…!

 

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Adventure Island – 03/05/21

Over the course of the last few posts, I’ve been trying to persuade you that we’re back to our old adventuring ways, now that we’re armed with an armful of Pfizer. But I know, 90 mins playing golf next to a roundabout in Walthamstow is not the kind of mad plan you came to expect from LWAT in our pre-pandemic days. Hopefully today’s plan fits the bill a little better. It certainly was a little insane and there was a real return to the old school LWAT haplessness. Plus, it literally has “Adventure” in the title. What more could you want?

In our first trip across the M25 since August, we decided to mark Eva’s birthday with a trip to Adventure Island in Southend. There were a fair few flaws when it came to the idea of taking an anxious girl to high-octane thrills theme park at the tail end of a pandemic when even like low-octane thrills stress her out….but I figured we’d work it out when we got there. The more pressing issue was parking.

The Adventure Island website assured me that “parking in Southend is easier than you think” but I didn’t find that too reassuring. I thought it was going to be very hard, so maybe it would just end up being moderately hard? Turns out the website was right – it was remarkably easy. We went past several signs on the way into town, which told us which car parks had spaces. We had to adjust the route a little towards the end so that we turned right at the last roundabout before the seafront, instead of left but as soon as we took the right, we saw the gigantic Seaway car park which had loads of spaces. It wasn’t cheap – and we had to download the Mobon app to be able to pay – but it was easy to find and just a couple of minutes’ walk away from Adventure Island.

Going well so far. What was trickier was actually getting in to Adventure Island. There’s a queue as you walk down into the sunken garden but no signage to tell you what anyone is queuing for, so it’s all too easy to do what we did and go down the other side of the path, straight past the line of people. Only to be turned back and have to do the walk of shame to the end of the queue. That’s the queue to get in, apparently. I’m telling you this so that you don’t make the same mistake as we did.

It moved quickly tho and once we’d done the Track and Trace check in, we were allowed to roam free. There was little point in roaming before we got the kids’ wristbands tho and this is another confusing thing that I’ll explain to you now so that you don’t have the pain of figuring it out.

We had vouchers that needed to be exchanged for wristbands. That’s the first thing to note. We’d bought them at a discounted rate through a local school but the bits of paper alone did not get us in or on anything. We had to go to the wristbands booth along with thousands of other people to make the exchange.

At that point, there are more queues for different windows but before you get in a queue, your kids have to be measured and stamped to say whether they’re over 1.2m or not. You’d hope at this point neither child would reveal a pathological fear of hand stamps but our hopes were dashed. So there was a mini-scene while we tried to figure out a way around this system. Eventually we just got into one of the wristband queues and hoped for the best.

Exchanging vouchers for wristbands was fine and the handstamp issue was solved by the child in question agreeing to get a stamp on the wristband, rather than the hand. What was slightly more confusing was the question of who even needed wristbands in the first place. I’d seen something on their website about blue, red and green rides and how adults could ride for free on the red and green rides if they were accompanying a child. Now, the system has changed. Adults ride free on some rides if the child is under 1.2m but if the child is over 1.2m they have to ride alone or the adult has to pay to go on it with them. Now, it all makes sense when you know but when there’s a disconnect between the headline “Ride for free if you’re aged 14+ and accompanying a younger guest!” and the reality, it can be a bit confusing.

It all worked out fine. The kids are 1.3m and 1.5m and I had wristbands for them both and they could both go on rides unaccompanied for the most part. Nathan and I didn’t particularly want to go on any rides so us not having wristbands didn’t matter too much. But for the early ones where Eva was nervous and Reuben wasn’t always prepared to babysit her, it would have been beneficial if one of us had the option to go on with her. But, as I say, it was fine in the end and only cost me 2xdiscounted wristbands, which is a bit of a bargain really.

Anyway, on to the actual fun bits. The park is divided into two ends, with an undercover bit in between. Most of the middle bit is closed off at the moment, for obvious reasons, and you have to wear a mask as you walk through. So we walked the length of the park first to decide which rides Eva might agree to go on and started at the far West side with the American Whip.

This was a remarkably tame ride, with a bit of spin at either end of the track (the aforementioned “whip”). Walking through the park and seeing the terrifying vertical rollercoasters had made me concerned that we wouldn’t find anything Eva-friendly, especially as the sight of the rollercoasters had put her on edge a bit too. But this was plenty gentle enough and Reuben was gracious enough to go on it with her.

Next door to that was a ride which I keep referring to as “Sk8ter boi” as they were blasting out the Avril Lavigne hit all day. I don’t think that was its actual name but it was skateboard-themed and alternated between that song and two others. “Heaven is a Halfpipe” was one that Nathan and I had confidently predicted but “Surfing USA” was a bit of a curveball, given the boi was definitely on a skateboard rather than a surfboard. Eva refused to go on this one or even look at Reuben as he went on but Roo described it as “epic”. And I sang along a lot.

After that we tried to find something else that Eva would like, given it was her birthday. The helter skelter seemed like a strong possibility but she had a wobble just as she got to the front so Reuben went on it alone. I think she was worried about all the steps inside – this was definitely one where it would have been handy for Nathan or I to have been able to go on with her and encourage her up the stairs. Roo was not enthused about that task so was a bit relieved when she decided not to go on, I think.

By this point, it was past 1pm and definitely time for lunch. The croissants we’d had in the car were not fulfilling the same role as a Harvester breakfast buffet does on our Legoland trips. I’d packed some sandwiches but was going with the flow a bit so happy to buy Reuben a hotdog when he asked for one. Slightly less happy to wait ten minutes for the hotdog but I used to be in the hotdog hawking trade and I know that those little snaggers can take their time, so I wasn’t judging. We also got a bucket of candyfloss for Eva that was bigger than her head (not *for* lunch, I should probably point out), a coffee for Nathan, a Coke for me and some chicken fillet bits to pep up the sandwiches I’d brought with us. So I’m probably wrong to blame the hotdog anyway.

There wasn’t a huge amount of seating but we managed to find a bench near the Helter Skelter and the West entrance to the park. It had a view of a truck and spiky plants invading our personal space but it was good to sit down.

I balanced my Coke in the plant pot and we were all set up. In a remarkable feat of comedy timing, it was just when I’d taken a messy bite of chicken fillet-enhanced sandwich that we were spotted by someone Eva absolutely idolises. I kinda waved hello while trying to wipe off the chicken grease but I’m not sure what kind of impression we made back, half buried in plant life. Ah well… I later found out that there were picnic tables up a flight of steps that Nathan had failed to notice when he and Eva were scouting rides up there but I bet they would have been all full at lunchtime anyway. Our bench a la spiky plant did us just fine and was very convenient for the toilets.

After lunch, the hunt was back on for a ride Eva might like. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that Eva had one been on one ride so far on her grand birthday day out. So we split up and Nathan took Reuben off in search of thrills while I took Eva to the tamer seas of the Jumping Jolly Rogers. Not to be confused with the terrifying Jolly Rocker at Legoland, this was a very mildly exciting ride with the same velocity and altitude as a drive along Wadham Road. An enthusiastic staff member shouted piratey things at them and Eva seemed to be finally having a good time.

 

The next thing she wanted to go on was the Go-karts. Now, this is where things get confusing because their wristbands covered the majority of the rides but the Go-karts and the dodgems were both added extras. I was happy to pay a few quid for the karts if that’s what her tiny heart desired but hoped Reuben would go on with her. He did not want to and, as it turned out, wasn’t tall enough to drive anyway. Besides, he was off with Nathan at this point queueing for the Green Scream (his verdict: “terrifying”).

So I paid the £4 for me and Eva to go in a Go-kart together and had to leave all my bags on the side as I squeezed in in a somewhat ungainly fashion. I definitely understand now how I buggered up my knee getting into that boat at Legoland. Once we were in and seatbelted, there was a bit of a wait while the single-person karts did their race and the juddering and petrol fumes were making me feel a bit nauseous. But then we were given the green light and I tried to move forward. You have to turn the wheel as well as push the accelerator apparently. And try not to get stuck on your way out of the lane. Once we were on the track, I found my groove but didn’t fancy doing any of that aggressive overtaking stuff. I mean, I didn’t even have wing mirrors to check before manoeuvring! So Eva and I stayed in the left hand lane, going daringly fast on the straights but easing up on the corners. Despite the repeated mantra of “Use yer brakes! Use yer brakes!” I never found that I had to…I just took my foot off the gas a bit. Thinking about it now, that probably means I wasn’t going very fast.

Ah well, Eva enjoyed it. And Nathan and Roo magically appeared at the side of the track to cheer us on even though we were never going to be anything but last.

Seeing as big brother was back on the scene, I thought he could make himself useful and take Eva on the Pharoah’s Fury – a ride she’d noticed before but not been brave enough to go on alone. His head was still spinning from the heights of the Green Scream I think but he agreed because this one more or less stayed on the ground.  Eva later said that this one was her favourite ride, even though the forces made her squash Roo into the corner. Glad we read the bit about the bigger person sitting on the outside.

By this point, we were all ready for another break. So we climbed to the upper levels of the park, where everything was a bit calmer and shared a large bag of crisps together. This is when I found out there were picnic benches up there but even at 3PM they were all full, so I imagine they would have been overrun at lunchtime. We sat on the floor and breathed in some restorative sea air while formulating the next part of the plan. Eva hadn’t really spent much time in the Eastern side of the park and Reuben wanted to go on the giant turtle chair ride thing. So we headed that way and he did that, while Eva enjoyed more gentle thrills on the Viking ride:

And got one of those supremo hot chocolate things (plus more coffee for me and Nathan and a Coke for Roo):

The end was drawing nigh, even with the caffeine boost. The rain had held off all day but the skies were menacing and we were verging into “pushing our luck” territory. So we split up one last time, with me taking Reuben to do the Sk8terBoi again while Eva went on the ChooChooVille train and disappointed herself on the Hook-A-Duck. Then they went on the Jolly Roger boats together again and it was definitely time to leave.

It was coming up to 5PM when we passed the remarkably louche giant and went out through the West gate. Chips were definitely on the agenda and there were many, many outlets that would sell us those on our walk back to the car. We still had half an hour left on the parking and it would have made sense to grab some as we went past but in my brain was a half-remembered conversation with my boss, who is an Essex native. He’d said there was a much nicer beach called Thorpe Bay a mile or two down the coast and my romantic notions of how a day at the seaside should end latched onto this idea. I was sure he’d said there were chips there so we could just hop in the car, park up at the nice beach and buy some chips for dinner. Given we’d technically been at the seaside all day, I had seen very little of the sea and thought it was time to remedy that.

As you might have guessed, this is where it all gets a bit farcical, in true LWAT tradition. I definitely should have ignored any romantic notions and just bought the chips on Southend seafront. For one, the wind was getting stronger all the time and the chances of actually being able to eat on the beach accordingly reduced. For two, there were no chip shops at Thorpe Bay and you had to pay to park there. So we kept on driving. My phone was running out of battery but I had “chip shops near me” as a Google Maps option open already and directed Nathan to a place called Nessy’s, a little way inland. Again, parking was tricky as it was on a busy main road and the bays were on the wrong side of the road…..so we ended up round the back of a housing estate, which wasn’t quite the picturesque dining scene I’d envisaged. I mean, we’d eaten lunch in front of a truck so was it too much to ask for something a bit more scenic for dinner? And maybe just a little less broken-glassy?

We left the car on the estate, walked a few minutes back to Nessy’s and ordered our chips, battered sausages and burgers. Because of Covid regulations, we had to wait outside while it cooked and even I was prepared to admit it was getting a bit chilly. Eva huddled inside my coat while we sang her current favourite song – “Roar” to ward away the cold. Reuben leapt about to keep warm, inevitably jumping straight *into* something and Nathan was stoic but, as someone who hadn’t packed a coat, very, very cold.

I got it. There was no buy-in for al fresco dining. I compromised and agreed to eat in the car as long as we were somewhere near the sea. So we set off again and, with one false start, managed to park up on the main road going past Thorpe Bay. We had turned right into the parking spot, which meant we were facing away from the sea and it wasn’t yet 6PM which meant I needed to use the app again, with the last gasps of my phone battery, to buy another hour of parking.

But I got my chips at the seaside, even if we were in a car facing away from the sea with a gale-force wind blowing the door shut if I even tried to open it to – for example  – go to the bin. I don’t often share close-ups of my face on this blog but I think this illustrates how windy it was:

But hey look – seaside! Well, Estuary-side! And the chips were good so it all worked out well.

And then it was most definitely time to drive home. In fact, it was probably about an hour later than we should have driven home given the wind was pushing our little car all over the M25. But everyone agreed it was a fine day out. If any of this makes you want to do the same, you can find out more info here.

 

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , | 1 Comment