Fairy and Elf Walk – 02/03/16

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I am dedicating this post to my good friend Mrs Rabitt, who’ll soon be moving to M11Land so I imagine she’ll be on the Audley End Mini Railway pretty much every weekend. We’d never been there before but we were looking for a day out pre Eva’s birthday and their Fairy and Elf Walk sounded suitably fluffy and girly for my ethereal little girl.

We booked train tickets online the night before and cut it pretty fine for getting our designated train. They advise you arrive a while before your departure, but I’m not sure 4 minutes really gives you enough time. Still, we got there just as the train was boarding and managed to all sit together, though it was a bit of a squeeze with 4 of us in one mini carriage:

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The train ride was about 40 minutes in all and takes you on a winding route through the woodlands and over the River Cam (which I swear was much bigger last time I saw it. I’m not sure we could have punted on the one we saw today). Reuben had an I-Spy sheet to complete on the way, and there was lots to see. Shelters fulls of teddies, bedecked with flowers, little huts with gingham curtains and even some pandas:

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Roo enjoyed ticking all the things off his list, although we didn’t spot all the wildlife (what is a muntjac anyway??) I suspect the noise of the train and children may have scared the rabbits off. We saw a pheasant, but other than that we were a bit light on actual living things.

But we did spot fairies! About halfway through, we pulled into what can only be described as a bower:

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There we were greeted by three fairies and one elf (it was Eva who knowledgably told me that he was an elf because she knew “a yot about fairies”. They performed a little frolicky dance for us and then walked along the train, presenting each child with a little bottle of fairy dust, which they would need to scatter over their wishes in the forest to make them come true. It was very sweet and I think Eva enjoyed the magic of it all.

On the train went., back to the station:

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On the way, we passed another train and waved. It’s a strange British thing that while we go out of our way to not talk to strangers, we also feel obliged to wave at those same strangers if they’re passing us in a train. I blame Edith Nesbit.

Back at the station, Roo only had one agenda in mind and it was far from flowery and fairylike:

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Roo loves a bouncy castle. As Nathan observed, it’s the ideal environment for a boy who can’t stop bouncing and often hurts himself on walls. At £2 per child for unlimited time on the bouncy castle and swingboats, it was good value too. The sun was out so we sat back and had a snack while they played. It was like the Ladybird Book of Bank Holidays.

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But we still hadn’t done what we came for, which was the Fairy and Elf Walk. Again, we had an I-Spy list for this, which kept the boy amused, and a word to find as well, which we never completed (if anyone who works there reads this, please let me know what the word was. I have 5 letters and can’t work it out at all). First though, we had to make wands and wishes with one of the craft fairies:

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There was another craft station too, which sadly we didn’t get to…but everything was so pretty and well thought out. There were flowers and ribbons wrapped around everything, which the flowery, ribbony girl loved.

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I only wish I’d put her in a fairy outfit, like so many of the small girls were – but there was rain forecast, and a tutu isn’t practical soggy forest wear. Clearly a brand-new, lilac bunny dress is, though…

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I wasn’t expecting too much of the Fairy Walk – this whole day was reminding me of the kind of days out we’d have as kids, which were almost inevitably disappointing. In the 80s, a fairy walk would have consisted of a pile of acorns with a Christmas tree decoration sitting atop and we’d have been grateful for that much. Today’s kids, though, are a tad more discerning and this Fairy Walk was packed with tiny works of art, all rendered in superb detail:

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I particularly liked the Cleaning Fairy:

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At the start of the walk, the kids had written their wishes down on bits of paper and when we reached Christabelle the Wishing Fairy, we tied them to the wishing fence and sprinkled them with the fairy dust from the train. You can’t read Eva’s any more, thanks to the sheer quantity of dust she poured on it, but  she’d painstakingly written “flying” on it:
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Reuben’s was more specific and I’m pleased to say it’s come true already. At bathtime, I showed him the old pile-of-10ps-in-the-ring trick and now he can, indeed, do magic:

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Other wishes ranged from the whimsical to the practical:

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We wandered through the forest for an hour or so, ticking all the fairies, goblins and gnomes off Reuben’s list and playing in the wigwams along the day. It was the perfect springlike weather for it – I can’t guarantee you’ll get the same if you go and honestly, it might not be so magical in the rain.

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Then it was back to the play area for more bouncing and having a go on the swingboats:

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Nathan and Eva also went off to the playground, where they found a wooden train and a cart and horse:

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We were starting to rush, but the skies were darkening and the forecast rain wasn’t going to hold off much longer. Another day we’d have enjoyed a picnic and a ride on the even-smaller-than-miniature railway that ran around the play area. Instead, we decamped to the Station Box Cafe for a kind of linner, just as the wind and the rain started.

For those not familiar with the concept of linner,  it’s the meal you have around 3PM when you’ve had an 10:30 brunch. In this case, it was kids’ hot boxes of nuggets and chips, that came with water, fruit, a chocolate biscuit and a colouring sheet. Plus “Station Burgers” for the adults. It being 3PM, supplies were starting to run out so the kids had an extra biscuit instead of fruit in their boxes and we had onion-free burgers. But it was all good, and the burgers surprisingly tasty.

It was a lovely day out, definitely helped by a bit of sunshine. Eva and Roo were both enchanted by real-life and model fairies and it was a pretty easy drive out of London as well. I’m not sure if the real life fairies are there all the time, but I think the Fairy Walk is there for the summer. More information here anyway…

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Shakespeare 400

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It’s taken me a week to write this, not because it wasn’t a nice afternoon out but because a tiny girl I know is turning 4 imminently and it seems to have distracted me from most things this week, including blogging. So belatedly, Happy 400th Deathday Shakespeare!

Midsummer Night’s Dream has always had a special place in my heart, ever since I was in a school production in 1994. You can take a guess at which part I had but be assured, it was less ethereal fairy and more rough mechanical. So when I heard that London Contemporary Theatre were staging free performancesof MSND just outside Liverpool St, I had to go. I didn’t check the weather forecast or the likelihood of rain or whether it would be a good plan to make the children walk miles around Chingford before we made the trip into town. So, it’s an unlikely miracle that not only did we get there on time but also managed to sit through the whole thing without the kids complaining even though they were tired and it was a little on the chilly side.

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It’s all about the Magic Stars, and wrapping up warm. Also, it helped that it was only 40 minutes long, which is an ideal length for a “My First Shakespeare” kinda performance. Roo said afterwards that he didn’t understand what was going on, but that’s not suprising given the complexity of Shakespeare’s language and plots. I tried to explain the story to him on the train home and he still looked confused, but he said he enjoyed the fighting and the men in the silly hats and wigs.

I was wondering how they’d possibly do the whole of MSND in 40 minutes and with a cast of 4, and the aforementioned silly hats and wigs may help to explain it. The four of them rapidly switched characters, with Helena bedecked in pink ribbons but changing to a hat to play some kind of mix of Snout and Starveling. At one point, I think Hermia may just have been a wig, or was it Hippolyta? I’m not quite sure.

The play was obviously heavily abridged, with page-long speeches reduced to a line, and all the supporting fairy characters cut out. If you weren’t familiar with the play, it might have been difficult to grasp some of the finer details but the best scenes were left mostly intact – like the girl-on-girl fight (gotta love a “minimus of hindering knot-grass-made”) and the most tragic tale of Pyramus and Thisby. However, for personnel reasons, the court interjections had been cut, which is a shame because a nice bit of mockery never goes astray.

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It’s never going to be a super-serious production in the middle of a public space (Broadgate Circle, if anyone’s interested) with all the rapid character changes, but the cast played it pretty straight for the most part. Of course, MSND isn’t the most serious play anyway, but you want a bit of drama to make the comedy more comedic. So, it was a good balance of traditional Shakespeare with a dollop of mayhem. Bottom was suitably arrogant, Titania a drunken lush ready to brawl with Oberon…and Puck was a puppet. Obviously. For those attempting to explain the plot to small children, the “magic flower” plot device can also be found in Julia Donaldson’s Superworm. Explaining the concept of a play-within-a-play might be trickier.

Having said that, it seems that CBeebies have done their own take on MSND, which might help clear things up. I’ll check that out with the kids and compare and contrast…

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A Voter’s Guide to the London Mayoral Elections

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Random underlinings, ill-advised hashtags, activists posing as voters – this booklet has it all.

The booklet to which I’m referring is, of course, the Mayor of London’s official guide to his potential successors – a booklet where all the candidates who could be bothered to cough up £10K set out their manifestos. From the boring to the barking, it’s all in there…and I’m here to talk you through it. If you want to read along in real-time, you can download it here.

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In the interests of non-partiality, we’ll go through the candidates in booklet order, which means we means we start with Sophie Walker of the Women’s Equality Party. She has some admirable ideas about ending violence against women and closing the pay gap and other things which seem the tiniest bit out of the mayoral jurisidiction. I’d love to see the pay gap closed but it might be a tad unrealistic to unpick centuries of inequality in one mayoral term. Still, good on her. I hope she does well.

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Next up is Lee Harris of CISTA – the Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol party. It probably is, but as London mayoral agendas go, this one’s a bit one-note. He seems like a nice old geezer and could certainly sort you out with a Che Guevara shopping bag but I need Mayor to say a bit more on housing than just “he has some views and some people will agree with them”.

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Onto our first big name – Zac Goldsmith. There’s not much I could say about the Tory poster boy that hasn’t already been said. If he gets in, we’re pretty much guaranteed Boris the Second and I’m not sure we have much use for Boris the First. But one thing that strikes me about the prose in the booklet – the paragraph that boasts about his massive majority in the last General Election and how “he successfully stood up and delivered for his constituents”. Now, I know we all interpret these situations differently but to me, the last General Election doesn’t prove that “When Zac makes a promise he will stand up for you and deliver it” (yes, they did use the same hackneyed phrase twice in a paragraph) – it proves that he’ll stand for a job, get it and then straight away start looking for a better job. He was elected as MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston on 7th May 2015 and by 9th June 2015, he was confirming that he was hoping to trigger a by-election way before the five-year term was up. That’s the kind of commitment we’d love to see here from our mayor.

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Now to the BNP. And this is where it gets interesting. Almost half of their manifesto is taken up with explaining that they’re not Islamaphobic, because “Islamaphobia is..an irrational fear” and they’re totally like justified in being scared of all Muslims. Nice technicality, folks. Then there’s a twisting of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s words that I suspect would make even the holy man himself cuss. Their words are “the Archbishop of Canterbury publicly labelled it outrageous to describe people who are worried about the impact of migration as racist” If you made it to the end of the sentence, congratulate yourself, given it was more complex than a sample question in a KS1 SATS test. But let’s unpick it a little. Yes, I’m giving them more than a paragraph. Because they’re worth it.

For a far more balanced view of that Archbishop quote, have a look at this BBC article which gives the context and actual words of the quote. These were:
“There is a tendency to say ‘those people are racist’, which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous.
Fear is a valid emotion at a time of such colossal crisis. This is one of the greatest movements of people in human history. Just enormous. And to be anxious about that is very reasonable.”

Which I think is a pretty balanced thing to say, especially as he was calling for the UK to take in more migrants, not less. Obviously, the BNP are most concerned with labelling themselves not-racist (or Islamaphobic) and have neglected to edit out the bits of their manifesto which betray them as really being quite bigoted at heart. Like putting “refugees” in inverted commas. I’ll just let that speak for itself.

That’s not the best bit though. The best bit is the claim that “People like you voting BNP”. I didn’t realise that people liked or disliked my voting choices but there you go, they like it when I vote BNP. Just like these other random voters that they’ve picked off the street to telling us why they, the ordinary voters of Britain, will be voting BNP in this mayoral election. Thank you Christine Freeman, Rvd Robert West and Mike Jones.

Hang on, though. Something’s not right here. Could it be that these “people like you” are actually all BNP activists and not random voters at all? It couldn’t be. It certainly wouldn’t be so transparent that a simple Google search would reveal all…but I am nothing if not a Googler and here goes. Say a big congrats to Christine Freeman, winner of the “BNP Activist” Award:

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Of course, “BNP Activist of the Year” is a hotly contested award and Christine must have wrestled it out of the grip of the former title-holder, Mike Jones. Yes, the man featured in the booklet as “London Cabbie” is the BNP’s Activist of the Year 2014 and the London Regional Organiser for the party. In so many ways though, he’s just a regular man on the street.

What of that Reverend though, who joins the Archbishop in implying that the BNP has the blessing of God? Well, he’s never, to my knowledge, won Activist of the Year but he is described as a BNP activist on his Wikipedia Page, and also as someone not affiliated with any recognised church other than the one he started. He also holds the post of Religious Adviser to the BNP. That’s three out of three BNP voters “like you” that are actually BNP activists. Next!

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After all that excitement, it’s quite soothing to read Caroline Pidgeon’s pitch for the Liberal Democrat vote. I have no problems with anything she’s saying – her policies seem sensible and her credentials are sound, given she’s actually served on the London Assembly for the last two mayoral terms. But who came up with the hashtag #CarolineCan? It’s just begging to be abused. Caroline can….do what? Juggle? Eat three Weetabix for breakfast? Stop eating Pringles once she’s popped? Those are just the polite ones I’ve thought of but I’m sure I’m not the only one tempted into mischief by such an ambiguous hashtag.

And then we’re right back on the right, with Britain First’s attempt to break off Facebook and into the real world of politics. I mentioned the KS1 SATS earlier and here’s a man who clearly failed the SPaG test:

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No Paul, underline the adverbs. “Increase” is a verb, isn’t it? We went through this. It does make me wonder if he always talks like this, emphasizing random parts of speech all the time: “No mother I won’t HAVE a cup of tea. I just had one IN Starbucks.” Although replace Starbucks with some kind of British coffee chain that sells British coffee to British people, creating British jobs.

The random underlinings quite detract from the rest of the content, which sees Paul boasting about how he’s personally tackled hate preachers and forced the authorities to clamp down on Islamic extremism. Sure you have, love. I kinda suspect that Islamic extremism would have been on the Met’s agenda even without your involvement, but that’s OK. You have your moment. Also, Paul pledges to get Britain out of the EU, so if the June referendum goes his way, you can be sure he’ll be taking personal credit.

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Let’s move on to George Galloway. Not much to pick apart when it comes to his views because he doesn’t really view this booklet as a place to share them. He’s already done that and spends four lines listing the places he’s shared his views – “on television, on the radio, in parliament, on the streets – even the US Senate”. He later tells us the topics he’s shared his views on – Britain leaving the EU, women’s rights, war and peace – but again fails to tell us what his opinions on those topics might be. Thanks George, that’s 10K well spent.

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It would be unfair of me to rip into UKIP just for being UKIP…after all, we’ve had a lot of right-wing bashing already and there’s nothing much that’ll surprise you on their page. I did note one peculiar policy though – scrapping council translation services. Obviously, it’s a blatant way to get at the immigrants who have already entered the country but it does smack of just trying to spite them for no good reason. If, as UKIP maintain, we are being flooded by immigrants surely we need more translation services, not less? Setting aside the fact that it’s a legal requirement in some situations and not really the Mayor of London’s decision in most situations, it just seems really impractical. So, UKIP, do you suggest we just ignore these immigrants when they come to the Job Centre or a hospital, talking in a language we don’t understand? Just by sticking our fingers in our ears and saying “I can’t hear you”? Or are you suggesting that we only hire public sector employees that are already multilingual so that they can easily communicate with a number of immigrant communities in their mother tongue? Now, that’s a good idea. I’d back that one, Peter Whittle!

(And just for Paul Golding’s info, if we do vote to leave the EU, Whittle will be fighting you for the credit. After all “A vote for UKIP is a vote to leave the EU”. So, express your EU-feelings in the mayoral elections and then you don’t need to bother with that big referendum in June)

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So….Sadiq Khan. This is another one that I want to back but the manifesto is making it hard for me to do so. What are your actual plans, Sadiq? Your page is just full of vague statements like “Keeping Londoners safe”, “Bringing back real community policing” and “Taking real action” without saying how you’re going to do anything of those things. You have soundbites aplenty and so many mayoral profiles that you could rival David Bowie for reinvention. In thirty years’ time, I’m sure we’ll look back at Sadiq Khan’s phases as “Family Man”, “Council Estate Boy”, “British Muslim” and “Bus Driver’s Son”, as well as being his “own man” but what is he actually planning to do if he gets in? It’s looking increasingly likely that he will, but this voter would sure like to know exactly what we’re signing up to. The only solid policies I can see are the transport ones, and those I agree with…so what else have you got?

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All of which leads slightly anticlimatically to Sian Berry of the Green Party. Even I am struggling to find anything wrong with her policies – they are disappointingly sane and her credentials, like Caroline Pidgeon’s, are pretty solid. So I have nothing bad to say about her page. Maybe I’ve just made my decision then…

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Q Pootle 5 – Pootle the Explorer

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It’s been a while since the kids last sat down to a Q Pootle 5 DVD but when I mentioned the possibility to them, they responded with their usual enthusiasm for anythingBeebies (unless it’s Justin-related, obviously). I don’t think the 7 episodes on the disc were totally new to them, but they enjoyed them anyway.  We’ve always been fond of Q Pootle 5, with its gentle humour and amiable characters and plotlines with a little jeopardy but not too much.

I particularly liked the first episode – The Cosmic Whipple – as it had some really nice swirly graphics as Pootle and Oopsie rode their way through a comet. The kids liked the swirliness of it too –  it was Eva’s favourite colour – and it was very visually pleasing. Reuben had some nitpicks, as he always does, but they were mainly to do with how “the guy with the two heads should get two lunar sticks, not one”. He has a fair point.

We watched two episodes on Saturday night and then they had to go to bed, but they were keen to watch more. Eva asked “About the third one tomorrow morning? And the fourth one?” As it was, they got the rest of the DVD on Sunday. Aren’t they lucky? They had some questions about what a major bird was (I’m guessing it’s a play on myna bird?) but otherwise enjoyed it.  They learnt to do some beatboxing a few weeks back, so were happily singing along with the version of “Welcome to the Shack” in “Beat Box Bud-D”.  Eva also liked the glitterball.

Overall, Roo said the DVD was good, Eva said she “yuved it”. It’s a good quality programme, with great voice talent (Stacey!) and the cinematography is impressive too. If you’d like to know more, why not read the Q&A I did with creator Nick Butterworth back in 2014?

Pootle The Explorer is out now, priced at £7.99 and including a free poster. Full list of episodes below:

The Cosmic Whipple

Pootle The Explorer

The Groobie Woogie

A Friend For Ray

Rocking Not Rolling

Beat Box Bud-D

Planet Dave In A Spin

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LWAT’s Guide to Tabby McTat

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Listen up, Londoners…this is important stuff. I know this blog covers a wide variety of topics, from the trivial (politics) to the vital (sandpits) but this is one of the life-changing ones. I’m going to tell you where all the places in Tabby McTat are.

Of course, if you haven’t read this book every night for a solid month or so, you may not quite be feeling the urgent Need to Know that I did but I’m sure I can’t be the only person who was delighted to see a Donaldson/Scheffler book that seemed to be set in the real world rather than a fantasy one…and a recognisable one at that! Apparently this was not Axel Scheffler’s favourite book to illustrate, quite because of that whole photo-realistic thing, but I enjoyed it and it’s been quite the challenge to try and pin down where all the locations are meant to be. Obviously, there’s been some artistic licence taken and they’re often amalgamations of different places, but this is the coin that I’m going to throw into the old checked hat…

So, where else would you start but The Square?

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Here’s where the story opens, with McTat singing along with Fred. But which London square they in? My best guess is Golden Square, in Soho where I’ve spent many a tense lunchtime wrangling stir-crazy children. I’ll explain why.

First off, ignore the lions. They’re a red herring. Red Herring-Lions. Me and Google can’t find any London squares with lions except Trafalgar and it’s clearly not there. The square has to have a raised middle (cause there are steps going up to it) and be surrounded by office-type buildings. I present to you now, Golden Square:tabby14

Contender, hey? I swear when I looked at it yesterday the fence had those golden tips, like the ones in the book. Maybe they’ve Google-painted them overnight. But still, I think it’s on the money and it’s not far from where we met Axel Scheffler once, although that was years after the book came out.

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I had a sudden flash of inspiration when I realised that the publishers. Nosy Crow,  used to have offices on Vincent Square in Pimlico. Could that be The One?

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No, it’s clearly flatter and greener than the busker’s square but I include it because it seems to have a playground in it which I didn’t know about before. Top Pimlico tip, there!

Let’s move on, as McTat did. Prunella and Pat’s house clearly isn’t meant to be anywhere specific – it’s just a house, designed by people who really, really love cats. Even stray cats who rock up, trash the joint and knock up the lady cat. It’s also clearly in North London.

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Why?  Cause it just looks like it is. They seem like North London people. They’re probably both writers (who else still has a desk at home with pens on it?) and Pat probably bought it for a song in the 1970s. I would say it’s somewhere like Kentish Town or Tufnell Park, though that’s hardly “a stroll round the block” from Soho. But there has to be a fantasy element in there somewhere, right?

Next up, a familiar looking view as McTat goes for a stroll “all over town”. This one took me no time at all – I’m pretty sure the hill he watches the sunset from is Greenwich Park:

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The dome confused me for a bit as I assumed it was St Paul’s. It wasn’t until I pinned down the exact location – One Tree Hill – that I realised it was probably the top of the Naval College instead. Here, filched from Google Maps are some views from that spot:

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The first one just *looks* like the illustration and the second has a very similar skyline (Canary Wharf, pointy building, domey building). It was the angle he was looking at Canary Wharf from – South-Easterly – that made me sure it was Greenwich. And besides, Axel Scheffler lives in Blackheath…but more on that later.

The other scenes on that page I’ve failed to pin down. The market is pretty generic and doesn’t look much like a London market. The canal could well be the Regents Canal but it’s all gentrified now, so doesn’t look much like it did then. We went there in 2012 and though Roo said there was an  Octopus in there, I don’t remember many floating bottles. It was more floating bookshops.  I wish Google Maps had let me see under this bridge, as it might have been the one:

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 Now, onto the most obvious bit of all and the reason I knew this was set in London. The heart-rending reunion between cat and musician. Where else but the South Bank?

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But which bit exactly? It took a bit of virtual strolling, but I think I found it, just by Blackfriars Bridge:

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 Lampost? Tick. Top of St Paul’s? Just about? Building that’s mostly white with a different colour roof? Yup. We have a winner.

Which just leaves one mystery, and this is the one that I spent longest puzzling over. The park at the end.

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When I first saw it, I thought instantly of Brockwell Park:

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It’s all in the gradient, ysee..and Brockwell Park is a lot steeper than it looks in this picture. Trust me, I lost Reuben once as he shot down that hill on his scooter and I couldn’t keep up. Scary stuff. The gates are similar too.

Then I googled and read that someone on Mumsnet thought it was Victoria Park in Hackney. Well, I’m sorry Mumsnetter but I beg to differ. Victoria Park is dead flat  - it’s not like this at all. Then I found the Twitter account of the Blackheath Bugle Blog, which pointed out that Axel Scheffler was a neighbour of theirs and that he was probably inspired by one of their local parks. I puzzled for a while – Blackheath itself is flat again, even though it’s high up – but then I saw what they meant…

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It’s Greenwich Park again! Local to Blackheath, a park of startling altitude and a gate arrangement that matched the one on the picture (Narnia lamposts plus concrete ornamental things). It’s not perfect – there’s no bookshop, for one – but I think it’s probably as close as we’ll get.

Which concludes our guided tour of Tabby McTat’s London. How about we finish with a sing-song… all about how purrfectly happy we are.

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Easter Fun at The View – 28/03/16

view8   In the Great British Tradition, Easter weekend was largely a washout. As we were driving along Euston Rd in a hailstorm, an hour late for Easter Sunday service we never would have imagined that 24 hours later we’d be skipping around the forest in glorious Spring sunshine. Yet we were. I think you call this a “window of opportunity” and The View at Butler’s Retreat certainly picked their window well. After another stormy morning, the sun broke through just in time for their Easter activity afternoon. Hooray! view5 There were two Easter trails to complete – one inside and one outside. We were taking no chances on the weather, so went for the outside one while the sun was still shining. Note also the extreme weather proofing on that child. The kids had to find nine eggs, scattered around the grounds of The View and the hunting lodge, then rearrange the letters to make a word. This photo is of Eva finding the letter E, which I thought would make her happy but unfortunately Roo’s extreme competitiveness kinda ruined the moment for her (“I saw it first! It’s an E!”). That’s why she’s looking so very grumpy. We also spotted the Easter Bunny, out and about doing the trail: view6   Really though, it was an excuse to run about and shake off some cobwebs in the glorious expanse of space. The prize was kinda secondary. Though I’m proud to say I worked out the word from just three letters – CHC. Maybe I have a one-track mind… view3

Outdoor trail completed, we moved on to the indoor one..and this time we were finding chickens with questions around their necks, scattered through galleries that told the story of Epping Forest. The exhibitions looked really interesting but I didn’t have much time to stop, as Reuben was keen to find the chickens and claim his next prize. There was a tense moment when we couldn’t find number 9, but luckily we spotted it before he flung himself to the ground in  despair. Nathan and Eva had lost interest by that point and had gone to decorate eggs in the arts and crafts room.

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There was the option to roll your egg in the garden at hourly intervals but Nathan dropped it before they got that far. It was later discreetly disposed of behind Butler’s Retreat while we were having a much-needed coffee.

Before that though, Reuben needed a run. And happily, we’d found some equally energetic boys for him to run around with. Hooray for open spaces and the HP community!

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Roo also enjoyed climbing on the wooden animals in the garden, though he was less impressed when I threatened to leave him up there:

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Check out this blue sky, people! It was amazing. We sat out the back of the Larder, drinking coffee and eating cake with our neighbours and all was well in the world. Except that our collective children were head-to-toe in mud. It might have been a sunny afternoon, but there had been plenty of rain in the run up. And Reuben, he tells me, likes his puddles squidgy.

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If you need any proof of how wet it was underfoot, take a look at this previously dry patch of grass:

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That puddle has ducks on it. No word of a lie.

It was almost home time but Reuben had asked to visit the hollow tree – after all, what visit to the Forest would be complete without an argument over whose “house” the base of the tree was?

They did not disappoint.

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But that was but a small blip on a pretty perfect afternoon. I’ve been past The View many times and never thought to go in, but it’s a pretty decent sized visitor centre, with a gift shop and exhibition rooms. They run other seasonal activities too – I hear the Christmas one was good. More info here.

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Hackney to be Wiped Off Map Following Online Poll

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The residents of Hackney have taken a unanimous decision to anonymise themselves after an online poll branded maps “conformist, facist and obvious”. The poll, on Instagram, asked locals whether they agreed that Hackney would be a better place “if no one could ever find it”. Tens of residents replied with comments like “those who need to know, already know” and “stop the brandification of Hackney! Reclaim the purist ideal. No one had a Google Map of Eden, did they?”

Under the new regime, the area between Mare Street to the South and Clapton to the north will become a white space, reminiscent of Yoko Ono’s mid 60s work, and the tube map will simply have an absence of anything in the Zone 2 North East London area. Working on the basis that “no one knows where Hackney Wick is anyway”, up to five stations will cease to be… although they will continue to exist in actuality so that the hipsters can get to work. However, signs will be covered over and any references to the “H word” replaced with innovative street art.

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Says artist in charge, Diana Rossgeller, “We’ve been really inspired by Blitz chic. There was such simplicity in never knowing where you were that meant people were less obsessed with who they were. Identity is a 21st century construct, iterated through the falsitude of social media. Why are we all so hung up on being just the one person our whole lives? I wasn’t born with this name. I possibly won’t even be called this name tomorrow. That’s because I’ve ascended past the need for identifying myself as myself. Government ID cards? Bag of bollocks”

Diana works full time as an innovator and thought gardener and prefers to be referred to using the 13th reflexive person Finnish pronoun itselleni. Itselleni also fronts a band, “Tinky Winky and the Dipsomaniacs” who haven’t played a note since 2003. Instead, they create “corporate storyising experiences” (though not corporate in the sense of wearing a suit and actually turning up on time) They facilitate this experience by showering the audience with cards from the Neighbours Game and encouraging them to “forge their own odysseys”. Sometimes they’ll also screen an episode of Red Dwarf.

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Whether Operation Christopher will be a success remains to be seen. It certainly may confuse some of the area’s older residents, many of whom remember when it was all London Fields round here and the only coffee available was a non-ironic Gold Blend. Harry, who lived here in the last century before even 9/11 or The Strokes’ first album, expressed an element of infuriation with the latest plan, which will also see the numbers being removed from all buses as they go down Balls Pond Rd. “Bloody incomers and their trendy ideas. I’m confused enough by life as it is…how am I supposed to get the 55 to Bingo now? Immersive art projects? Bag of bollocks”

Follow the progress of Operation Christopher by using the hashtag #E8ReBirth or by following the scent of anti-hipster lynch mobs…

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Krazy Kidz Fun Forest – 19/03/16

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It’s strange for the LWAT family to have aSaturday afternoon with nothing planned and nowhere to be, but last Saturday was one of those afternoons. I called the kids over to the laptop and excitedly told them all the things we could do. I knew the Find Your London festival had loads to offer so we could do that! Something cultural and vaguely arty! Or there was a new soft play opened in the Costa in Chingford….”SOFTPLAYSOFTPLAYSOFTPLAY” they both said. So, that was decided. Happily, we could do a small bit of both as there was a Find Your London event taking place right pretty much opposite our house. We have a new piece of wall art emerging…

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Can you tell what it is yet? I’ll give you a clue…there are a lot of them in Eva’s room. And it’s not a princess.

Culture – done! Next stop, coffee. There are certain advantages to a soft play being inside a Costa. And also certain advantages in seating all the kids together on a separate table. It was almost like having a civilised cup of coffee. Almost.

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The soft play section is at the back, in a separate room but it seems fine to take coffee through with you. Which is good, because you often need a coffee at soft play. This one is pretty small, which means you can sit back and relax a bit because even delicate flowers like Eva and Bunny would struggle to get stuck on this and require help. Eva was wearing a giant princess dress, which slightly impeded her climbing but she still managed it all without any intervention.

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I wish I could say the same about Roo. Sadly though, he required a fair bit of intervention. The area was a bit young for him (something I hate to say but it’s probably true) and he was forever pushing the boundaries by climbing on the walls or trying to ride the baby-ring down the slide. So, I set him a project. Around the floor – and clinging to the hem of Eva’s dress – were velcro letters. That could entertain a literate boy for a bit! And it did…

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Good improvisation on the “A”s there. He wasn’t bored at all, I was just aware that he was close to squishing babies as he demonstrated his forward rolls and he was possibly a bad influence on some of the less stable toddlers who might decide to follow him onto the gingerbread roof.

For the nearly-4-year-olds though, it was a good size. A little slide that neither of them were too scared to go on, and a special little den with a disco floor:

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And then they went to the library over the road and read a book about “Best Friends”. Awwwww….

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So, a nice addition to the Chingford toddler scene but probably not one for the wilder older kids. More info here.

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Parks and Waterslides

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Last week, as I was writing a hard-hitting piece on my cuddly local MP, I made a promise on my Facebook page. I promised that, before long, I’d move on from the political agitation and serve up a more traditional slice of LWAT parks-and-waterslides kinda stuff. So, here it is. It actually follows directly on from my chat with IDS –  after he terminated our conversation, Eva and I walked off purposefully. Problem was, we had nowhere that we were walking to.

So I stopped, a little way out of sight and asked Eva where she wanted to go. It was a beautiful sunny day so we agreed a park could be a good destination. I checked Google Maps and we weren’t far from Pimp Hall Park, which was meant to be nice and somewhere I’d never been to before. True, it happened to be in the opposite direction to the one we’d walked off in so it meant we had to sneak back past IDS in a less assertive way than we’d walked off. When political agitation gets awkward, hey?

But it was worth it and also worth the slog up the hill in the searing, 8 degree heat. From the top, you get spectacular views over Chingford…true, it’s only Chingford but a view is a view:

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I think some of the play area has been redone lately, because it has that fake grass stuff that seems popular with playground makers recently. And little mounds and things to walk on:

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Don’t ask why Eva had her coat on backwards. She had it like that all the way through the IDS chat too…kudos to him for not mentioning it.

On the subject of top Tories, I thought I’d stumbled upon one of Cameron’s exes for a minute:

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I’m not really sure how to move on from that gag so I’ll tell you about Eva’s time on the swing tyre, where she befriended another nearly 4-year-old and they talked about princess movies. It’s a pity I have no idea who the other small girl is so we’re unlikely to take her up on her invitation to watch “Brave” at her house.

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And then there were roundabouts:

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and climbing frames:

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and then a call from the mouse man which saw us jumping on the 212 and heading home. So, where do the waterslides come into this? Well, that was the week afterwards when we finally made it to that most mystical part of the East End – the Leyton Leisure Lagoon.

Except it’s not called that anymore. It is now, rather boringly, called Leyton Leisure Centre. But it does have an exciting water-play area that’s perfect for toddlers plus. It also involves parents wandering around in swimwear through ankle-deep water so, weirdly, I didn’t take any photos of us there. Also, I don’t think you’re allowed phones in the pool. So, I’ve filched this image from www.isgplc.com in order to show you the excitingness of it all:

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So, there’s a main pool, a smaller pool and a teaching pool alongside the water play area. Which is good, because it can get a bit cold if you’re not immersed in the water. I’d brought along a real live toddler to test it out with, and a baby too so I’m pleased to report we had the full preschool range. Boby, who is now the toddler, thought the splash area was great fun and enjoyed going down all the slides with Bob. I think the thing she liked best, though, was sitting in the basin of the water trough which, Bob pointed out, she probably could have done at home. BabyR, who is a genuine baby, spent her time in the deeper water in her inflatable seat because of the whole getting cold thing. Eva, who’s scared of most things, was scared of aspects of this area, including the snake/dragon, the slides, the water falling from overheard….but she still seemed to enjoy herself. The red and yellow slides in the picture above and really not very high – maybe a foot off the ground  - so she was OK with them. The blue one was bigger and you splash down into a pool of water at the bottom so she wasn’t so sure. But I think Roo would enjoy it.

I’ve never really been to a pool like it, and it was a fun thing to do with even my scaredy-cat child. It could do with the air being a tad warmer but I imagine if it was busier like it would be on a weekend, then it’d feel warmer. The changing facilities were good, the lockers spacious and all pretty clean so I’d definitely recommend it. And just up the road is a huge Greggs for a warming pasty afterwards.

So, there you go – two genuine Places to Go With Toddlers and one of them is even in undisputed London territory. Don’t worry folks, I haven’t lost the thread just yet…

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Posted in Token attempts at exercise (leisure centres), Token attempts at fresh air (parks) | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No System is Perfect” – IDS Speaks on Benefit Deaths….

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Do you ever have bad days at work? Do you make mistakes? Well, we all do. No system is perfect and that’s exactly the expression Iain Duncan Smith used to describe his welfare system, which unfortunately makes the kinds of mistake that kill people on a regular basis. I’m lucky, as many people are, that my mistakes at work can be quite easily rectified with a credit note or a change of formula but even when it all goes wrong, nobody dies. A claim that IDS can’t make. Also, I apologise when I make mistakes and again, that is where we differ.

I fear I may have created a “bad day at work” for IDS when I accosted him outside a health clinic , to ask him about some of this stuff. I was fairly polite about it and waited for him to finish his sadface photoshoot before I invoked the rights of a constituent to contact their local MP. That’s all I wanted to do – it just so happens that my local MP is responsible for horrific human rights violations and it was those things that had prompted me to contact him. But where better to start than with the issue in hand – local authority funding? After all, he was there to protest about a GP’s clinic making cuts and didn’t it seem ironic to him that those cuts were probably a direct result of his vote to cut local authority funding by 24.6%  just a few weeks before (source theyworkforyou.com)?

It didn’t seem ironic. He’s not cutting local authority funding. “I’m not cutting local authority funding” he said.

That took me aback a bit, I must admit. I knew that local authorities were all being forced to face funding cuts and I was pretty sure IDS had never voted against his party on something like that. So, we tried to unpack this a little. A story had broken that morning  about my council, Waltham Forest, raising council tax for the first time in six years in order to offset the government cuts and to “help pay for the growing adults social care bill”. When I asked IDS about this, he was again in denial. He said that most local authorities were looking at a “stable budget” this year, that social care was protected and that the government was providing all funding needed. But I was still confused. In one breath, he said that social  care was not being cut  and there was “an extra pot of money going into social care” but in the next, said that councils were being allowed to raise taxes if they liked, “to bring some money into their social care at a local level…to get a better level of social care”. I might be having one of those maths-mistakes days, but if there’s extra central funding, why would councils need to generate their own extra funding as well? If the social care bill is rising and the government are not providing enough to cover that rise, surely it’s a cut in real terms? Our borough is getting ever more populous and so it’s inevitable that all sorts of costs will rise…”allowing” councils to raise council tax hardly seems an acceptable solution from the government, It sounds very much as if they’re washing their hands of local authorities.

And, of course, blaming them for their own failings. After all, everyone in business has to make these kinds of cuts all the time. According to IDS, that is. He’s a great believer in that Tory watchword, “efficiency”. If only people could be more efficient, they’d save money. Oodles of it. “I don’t believe services need to be cut” he said, in answer to a question about how a London Borough could save £58m “There are loads of ways, yknow”.

Loads of ways, people! Like efficiency, streamlining, rationalising and all those other words which are actually fairly meaningless when you’re staring down a budget that needs £58,000,000 taking out of it in order to provide the same services to a growing number of people. We’re used to a lack of maths skills from Gove – all schools are still expected to be above average, by the way – but it’s hard to calculate out an 8-figure budget hole. IDS claims that he’s successfully taken money out of his own department and it’s running more smoothly as a result but certainly, news reports from a year or so ago suggested it wasn’t all that smooth. Nevertheless, he thinks that “most businesses and companies have to do it all the time…that and considerably more”. So, if you’re a small business owner who’s saving £58m this year please get it touch and share your tips! There must be thousands of you out there.

We moved on. I took the efficiency topic as a springboard to discuss the Work Capability Assessments, which have been widely reported as costing more than they save. IDS rubbished these claims, saying that they were actually saving money – over a billion pounds. Well, I don’t know about you but I’m impressed. A billion pounds is a lot to be saving, even if it’s clearly at the expense of the sickest and most disabled of our society. But the report from the Independent gives the same figure as the savings in benefits payouts around – a billion, give or take – but offsets it against the £1.6bn cost of the assessments. Which was kinda my point in the first place – yes, the WCAs may cut your benefits spend by £1bn but your bottom  line will still be £600,000,000 short and you’ve ruined a whole lot of lives along the way.

If, like IDS, you’d like to dispute this, here‘s the source of that information. And a screen shot for the truly-lazy-but-argumentative:

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But it seems I was missing the point – his purpose in the WCAs was not to save money, it was to “ensure people know what condition they’re in and what services they have a right to”. Fabulous. People who are sick and/or disabled apparently are ignorant of the condition they’re in and need IDS’ help in figuring it out. So, we’re spending billions to essentially replace the holy trinity of diagnosis – Google, intuition and a decent GP. If you lose a leg, don’t bother working out for yourself what’s wrong just wait for the WCAheroes to swoop in and point at where it used to be.

But unfortunately, things don’t always go right. As IDS himself said “No system is absolutely perfect. Nothing you (emphasised) do in life is absolutely perfect” and he’s right there. I have my flaws. As discussed previously, though, my typos in a blog post don’t normally kill people. There are thousands of stories coming out about people who have died following benefit cuts and, in some cases, having the grace to die while the decision was being made so therefore saving the DWP an extra bit of admin. Now, that’s efficiency.

Even IDS himself admits that aspects of this are “absolutely appalling”. When I brought up the story of the woman who was being told her benefits were being cut on the day she died, he agreed that the case was one of those things that “went wrong” and said that he always apologises to people that suffer from those kind of things. Weirdly though, I couldn’t pin him down on whether he’d actually apologised to that particular family or not. It’s almost like he’s a politician.

At that point, I sensed our brief time together was drawing to a close. He suggested I was trying to create a row, which was never my intention. I only meant to fire off a barrage of abuse and it’s not my fault he argued back. I only hope that this week, as he went in to vote “aye” for yet more disability benefit cuts, he felt a strange twinge of conscience in his cold, cold heart. But I doubt it.

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