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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“The Slightly Annoying Elephant” at Little Angel Theatre – 18/05/19

 

Eva and I have been to a few Little Angel productions now and always enjoyed them – even the one we both cried happy tears through– but up till yesterday I’d never taken Roo, thinking that at nearly a decade old he might be too big for puppet shoes. But yesterday’s was a David Walliams story and Reuben is a big DW fan so I thought I’d take both. I was teaching English at church in Canonbury first, so it seemed like it would be all straightforward as we’d already be in the area. However, Eva got a party invite a few weeks ago and that was in North Chingford so that threw a bit of a spanner in the works.

That’s why I went to Islington to teach English with just my boy in tow, who wasn’t as keen on helping as my girl normally is. He liked the role play and the sweets tho. Then we went for lunch at our favourite Islington cafe – appropriately called “My Favourite Cafe” and, with an hour to kill before the show, headed to Astey’s Row playground to a runaround.

Alas! The playground is being redeveloped so we couldn’t go in. Any idea what these multi-coloured boulders might become?

In lieu of slides and stuff, we hung out in the rock garden where he climbed a few trees and clambered over some boulders. Then it was time to meet Eva and Nathan just outside the taxidermy shop and head to Little Angel.

Except Nathan didn’t fancy hanging around and went home to follow Eva’s instruction to recharge his social batteries (she read it off his t-shirt…she’s not that insightful). So it was just me and the kids wandering up Cross Street, which is surprisingly posh. It’s one of those streets that would appear in Time Out as a “hidden treasure”. So hidden that despite going to several meetings at Cross Street Baptist, I have never noticed the posh bit before. But it really is. I mean, it has whole shop dedicated to Farrow and Ball paint. I am not making this up.

It was just off this street that we found the wisteria-covered Dagmar Passage that led to Little Angel Theatre. It was a lot easier than finding it from the Upper Street side. Settling into our seats at the theatre, we spotted a celeb in the audience. I won’t invade his privacy by saying who it was, but it struck me that the last thing I’d watched him in had a very strikingly similar plot to “The Slightly Annoying Elephant”. In short, uninvited and demanding house guests.

But obviously, the house guest in question here was an elephant. A very large elephant. I think we’d all expected the elephant to be hand-puppet size but instead, the puppeteer was dwarfed by the size of it especially the very large blue bottom that made Eva howl with laughter every time she saw it.

The plot is fairly simple – a kid called Sam adopts an elephant at the zoo but the paperwork is doctored so that, in actual fact, he’s agreed to the elephant coming to live at his house. And all the elephant’s friends. The elephant is demanding and likes to bellow “silly booooy” at him as Sam gradually loses patience. There are a few songs worked into the show but essentially, it’s a physical comedy sketch between a boy and an elephant. And the kids loved it.

There were a few easy wins with my children – an extended toilet gag near the beginning, which always plays well – and towards the end there was a sharp change in direction when ten more elephants appeared, which kept the momentum up and delighted the audience with the sheer number of elephant heads that kept coming through the door. Eva’s favourite was the baby elephant, obviously.

It’s a bouncy, fast-paced show with a brightly coloured set and fun use of flashbacks as the stage transformed into a zoo and an aeroplane (how far was this zoo that the elephant had to get a plane back from it?) There’s no doubt that the elephant is more than just slightly annoying and it’s quite refreshing that the expected resolution – boy and elephant reconcile their differences – never comes. Everything just escalates and escalates again, with the chaos building to a elephantine crescendo. With extra crash.

So, the show is aimed at 3-8 year olds but my nearly 10-year-old enjoyed it just fine and so did other kids of a similar age in the audience. It’s 45 minutes so a 3-year-old would probably be fine to sit through it but any younger might get a little restless or a little terrified by the loud noises. It definitely hit the mark for a 7-year-old Eva though. If you have a similarly aged child who likes pachyderms and bottom jokes, then the show is on till 4th August – for tickets and more information, click here.

 

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

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Legoland – 06/05/19

Yes, another year and another trip to Legoland. This time it was for Eva’s birthday, not Roo’s, but in every other way you’d think it’d be the same as the other years. Still, I think I have one or two new things to tell you about.

One thing that was definitely not new was our brunch stop at the Windsor Lad. It’s become a vital part of the Legoland prep and we were quite distraught when we got there and it seemed like cooked brunch might be off the menu as the gas wasn’t working. But not to worry – we started off with the breakfast bar and half a crumpet down, the hot food was ready to go. So we successfully loaded up on meat and carbs before we ventured into the park. Except Eva. Obviously.

We still haven’t cracked the drive from the pub to Legoland itself. We defied Google Maps and followed the brown signs but it felt like we were going on a giant diversion and Nathan and I both had a creeping sense of deja vu – didn’t we start doubting the brown signs last year? And the answer was yes, the brown signs do seem to take you on a delibrately convoluted route in order to avoid traffic going through the middle of Windsor. Fair enough if there was a Duchess in labour at the time who might need the roads clear but they can’t use that excuse every year.

Still, we were parked and at the turnstiles by about half ten. I’d bought tickets online – half by using Clubcard Boost, half by using a Kelloggs code – so we could walk right in without queuing for tickets. All was going to plan until we got to the lockers. The last minute panic where we’d raided Eva’s purse for £1 coins was all in vain as this year the lockers only took £2 coins. This seemed unreasonably steep and, from a practical angle, impossible as we didn’t have any £2 coins on us. So we took the hit and decided to carry a bulky rucksack full of swimwear and a bag of snacks round with us all day. Spoiler alert – the swimwear didn’t get used. The snacks did.

Eva was in charge of setting the itinerary as it was her birthday and she wanted to start in the same place as last year – the Star Wars dome. It hasn’t changed much, but there are some new Lego Movie 2 related displays in the shop, including the set for Apocalypseburg. We played with the Lego building boards for a bit and Roo tried to leave a LM2 spoiler but I swiftly removed a vital bit of it so that he couldn’t. I know the movie’s been out for months now but still, it’s not sporting.

As we walked past the Viking River Ride, we noticed it was only a 10 minute queue, which seemed pretty reasonable. It was totally against my better judgement to go on “You might get wet” ride so early in the day but I was outvoted by the family and actually, they were right. We stayed mainly dry for the whole ride.

Next was a visit to the Knights’ Kingdom. Both kids said that they were brave enough to go on the Dragon rollercoaster but I somehow doubted they were so, so suggested we started on the Dragon’s Apprentice and take it from there. It was our first long queue but happily there was a duplo bench halfway through and it was the same time as my choir’s radio program was on HSpark radio. So I listened to that and the kids played duplo and the time passed quickly enough. And no, they were not brave enough to go on the Dragon. The Apprentice was definitely terrifying enough for the pair of them – Reuben staggered off recalibrating his “Top 3 Most Terrifying Rides Ever” list.

After all that queuing, it was time to for a stretch out in the pirate playground and then we split into two groups – I took Roo to the Ninjago courtyard and Nathan took Eva shopping in Heartyake City. Now, I slightly misunderstood what the Ninjago ride was because it was classified as a purple – same as The Dragon – so I thought it was a terrifying rollercoaster that Roo wouldn’t enjoy. Friends from church yesterday told me that it was a walkthrough ninja-training ride that Roo would have loved but shhhh…our secret. We did everything in the courtyard but it was a touch lame – spinners that were just playground equipment that didn’t really spin, a reflex tester and a little climbing wall. Time to move on to the Kingdom of the Pharoahs.

And here we found something we’d never done before – Laser Raiders. Again, I had little idea what it was but it didn’t look too extreme so we joined a very dark queue inside the temple. There were screens showing the Lego Laser Raiders TV show, which Roo was enjoying, and an option for kids to sit in their own zone in front of the big screen while parents queued. Roo and I took this option and it worked reasonably well except that I panicked when I was in a part of the queue out of the view of the kids’ zone. I thought he might panic too and run away or something but of course I was wrong and he was still sitting in front of the screen when I came back round the corner. I forget he’s not a toddler any more. Still, it’s not a method I would risk with a younger child because the kids are, essentially, unsupervised for 20 minutes or so and they have to be mature enough to understand the passing of time and that you will re-emerge to pick them up when you get to the front of the queue. Object permanence is an important factor here.

The actual ride was good fun. You sit in a vintage car, shooting at mummies and snakes as you wind through the Indiana-Jones style temple. I beat Roo’s score as well, so was feeling well pleased with myself. But he found the PS4s in the room at the end of the ride and was building Lego worlds while despairing of my poor gaming skills…so I think it’s a draw.

We had a message from Team Dadeva at this point, saying that they were in the Bricksville playground and that Eva had bought a pug in a unicorn onesie. That, sadly, was true. Its label said “Pugsley” but when we met up with them again, Nathan had already re-christened it “Pug Ugly”. And it really is, whatever Eva might say to the contrary.

While we’d been separated, Eva and Nathan had also tackled my nemesis from last year. No, I’m not getting confused with Alton Towers. Different nemesis. I’m talking about the Fairytale Brook, Legoland’s Most Extreme Ride and the cause of my knee injury last year which crippled me for at least a month. Nathan said it was nice and soothing but really, what does he know?

We split up again after the playground and this time, I took Eva to the driving school that Roo had done last year while Roo and Nathan went to the brand new ride, the Haunted House Monster Party. They said it was awesome, with a room that does a 360 degree spin and some creepy monsters.

Driving School was….as you’d expect. The girl got stuck a lot and had to be pushed free by the staff. She and I later got stuck on the Coastguard ride too (boats that you pilot around a small course) because someone – let’s call him Reuben – bumped the back of our boat and wedged us in sideways. I wasn’t best pleased with him but at least we didn’t sink, which I thought was likely when I climbed in and realised the imbalance between mine and Eva’s relative weights. A bit of shifting over sorted us out and it was smooth sailing until the back barge. There was no really good way to get ourselves free either, so I just kinda had to bump us free while spectators shouted encouragement from the bank. Like I said, not best pleased with Child#1.

It was at that point that I realised we were all getting towards overtired. Plus it said 5PM on the clock, which was probably a good sign that we should start wrapping things up. We’ve ended on the submarine ride every time we’ve been there and the screens said it only had a 5-minute queue, so that seemed like a good place to finish up. 5 minutes was wildly optimistic but still, we were on the hill train back up to the exit well before 6. Then an extended browse around the Big Shop so that Eva could spend yet more of her birthday money and then it was definitely time to leave.

The journey home was….tricky. I did think, as I was preparing to chain myself to the gates of a supermarket car park in Ealing, “this’ll be good blogging material one day” but it’s been two days and it still feels a bit soon. I’m pretty sure Nathan isn’t ready to laugh about it yet.

It was all to do with dinner. The Harvester hack worked a charm, as always. The kids had a sandwich around midday but Nathan and I had some crisps and biscuits and didn’t need another meal until around park closing time at 6. But we weren’t likely to make it home without hanger, so we planned to stop for food en route. The first year, we’d gone back to the Harvester for dinner but the kids had been grubby and tired and there’s always a risk of disrupting someone’s diamond wedding anniversary meal in a Harvester. So last year we stopped at the Burger King in Heston services instead. No-one goes for a diamond wedding anniversary meal in Burger King in Heston services unless they’re some kind of loon. Or motorway obsessive. Hence us planning to do the same again this year.

But don’t ask how – we missed the car park at the services. We were following someone who went wrong, there was no way to turn round, nowhere to stop without causing a hazard and before we knew it, we were back on the M4. The kids were mercifully silent as we replanned but replanning was tricky with my phone being dead and Nathan’s being used to navigate. I did locate a McDonalds in Ealing Broadway that seemed to be not too far off the M4 and not too far to get back on the North Circular either and it was still open, which was the main criteria. Parking was kinda a secondary concern, as we were a bit busy taking the world’s sharpest left turn off a slip road and then weaving our way through Brentford and Ealing towards the dot on the map.

Parking quickly became a primary concern as we got closer and then past that dot. I saw a sign for Morrisons car park, which said it was open till 10 on a Monday. Result! We drove up the ramp and round a perilously tight bend which had a large Morrisons lorry sticking out into it but at least we were parked. Signs said it was £1.50 for an hour. Fine, I still had those pound coins that I didn’t use in the locker earlier. But the machines weren’t working. Result? Then neither were the lifts. Suspicions grew. We had to walk down the car ramp, edging along the tiny bit of pavement. Then I saw another sign which said that the gates to the car park would close an hour after the store did but the store was open till 10, right? Right?

Oh yes, bank holiday. We rushed round the corner and confirmed that yes, the store was closed but no indication as to whether it had been an hour or anywhere close to it yet. So I made a plan. We wouldn’t sit and eat in McDonalds – just grab food and run. By now, a raging migraine-in-waiting had put me off the idea of food altogether and Nathan was too stressed to eat so we ordered the kids’ meals and one portion of fries to share and then the kids and I went and positioned ourselves back in front of those gates. If anyone came to lock them, I would throw myself at their mercy and beg them to wait until Nathan had arrived back, Happy Meals in hand. Luckily, it didn’t come to that and he was back swiftly so he could walk back up the ramp, drive the car back down and we could throw kids and kids’ meals into the back before jumping in and getting the hell out of Ealing. I won’t mention the other diversion on the way home as Nathan definitely isn’t ready to laugh about that bit but we did eventually get back, get fed and get the kids to bed. Phew!

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Free Comic Book Day 2019 – 04/05/19

 

Occasionally I think that I may have spawned a tiny comic book nerd. Even more occasionally, I think that I may have spawned two tiny comic book nerds…and today was one of those days when I was mainly thinking the latter. We left the house with a masked-up Spiderman in tow and a Quidditch player aboard her brand new Nimbus 2000, cloak alternately flying in the wind and dragging in the mud. We were all exhausted after Eva’s birthday celebrations but we had a mission of a day ahead of us.

It’s Free Comic Book Day and for the last two years Nathan as braved Soho on his own with both kids because I was teaching English, in an unfortunate clash of schedules. Reuben would put air quotes around the “unfortunate” at this point.

But this year, I had no convenient excuse and I had a reason to head into town as we were meeting an old friend from across the seas for brunch at Bills in Brewer Street. If I was going to do FCBD I was going in prepared, and that meant sausages and coffee for me and a giant stack of pancakes for Nathan and our friend Leanne. Eva nibbled on a slice of toast (for £1.25 – she’s a cheap date) while Roo destroyed a kids’ breakfast. They’d put on the fanciest table, under a chandelier and with giant comfy green chairs. I could have stayed there a while longer, and moved on to the prosecco, but Nathan and the kids were keen to get their hands on the bounty of FCBD so we moved on.

Our first stop was Gosh in Berwick Street. It wasn’t planned that way but I’m starting to think that Nathan hadn’t planned this at all. We milled around the shop for a while before being brave enough to ask where the free comics were. And the answer involved joining a large queue some way outside the shop, stretching back as far as So High Soho. It began to dawn on me why a man with two onesie-d kids had called to us “prepare yourselves for a long queue” as he’d passed us on the way. So we joined that queue.

I’d made some miscalculations when leaving the house, like not checking the weather. Or thinking about whether we would be standing in the street for an hour. I thought it looked sunny out so I’d chance it with the Spring jacket and no cardigan. My logic was that I didn’t want to be carting an armful of winter coats round Forbidden Planet in the musty warmth of many men gathering in a small space. Sound logic! But it meant that I was chilly and the kids didn’t have coats either, so they were similarly chilly. It was sunny out, as I’d thought, but not warm and sporadically raining. I think there was a gale at some point. As I said, miscalculated.

So we had some oreos and played an alphabet game based on the Avengers version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, which Roo now knows off by heart. You see why I keep suspecting that he might be of the geeky persuasion? We also took the opportunity to get some action shots of Eva and Roo on the broomstick. Roo’s is more convincing than Eva’s because he can do proper jumping flying and her feet barely left the ground. Still, it killed a few minutes.

Eventually we got in, and Nathan and the kids went downstairs to the Room of Comic Wonder while Leanne and I hung around upstairs trying to warm up. Leanne noticed a guy perched on the edge of the table we were at, and pointed out that he was signing a stack of books. She asked me whether he was a writer. I was pretty sure that if he was, it would be someone I had never heard of…until I realised that the books he was signing were “Looshkin” novels and that probably made him Jamie Smart, of “The Phoenix”. I had a sudden flash back to Reuben waving his comic in my face a week or two back and excitedly telling me that Jamie Smart had a new strip coming soon. I HAD heard of him! My kids had heard of him! Eva has her own “Bunny vs Monkey” book. Now, that was pretty exciting. I had a quick chat to him, to make sure I was correct and as soon as the kids came back upstairs I told them who I had found and they were pretty excited too.

So we left with them clutching a brand new, signed book each as well as their freebies. Everyone’s a winner.

Having got all the comics they wanted, there was little point in going anywhere else but I didn’t think my opinion on this would be welcomed so we went to Forbidden Planet. There, I trailed around after Eva, picking her robes up so they didn’t get trodded on. She already was starting to resemble a Quidditch player on a particularly muddy day. Leanne, Eva and I browsed the toys while Reuben and Nathan broke away from us and emerged later on with “The Infinity Gauntlet”, which will be a present for Roo’s birthday. And when I say “The Infinity Gauntlet”, I mean the graphic novel and not the £1200 prop replica in the window. Though trust me, Roo wanted both.

Reuben also got papped and tweeted out by Forbidden Planet, which he was super chuffed about. Spidey!

After all that it was time for coffee and the kids to have lunch. We left Forbidden Planet in the face of a gale force wind, which snapped off bits of tree and threw them down Shaftesbury Avenue and into my face. The first likely coffee stop I could see was in the newish St Giles development so we ran across the road and found a Caffe Nero we could hole up in until the storm passed. Which was about 5 minutes later, because the weather was crazy today. But it was good to sit down on their fanciest sofa (oh yes, we were living it up today) and have some restorative coffee, hot chocolate, sandwiches and cake before trying one more shop.

As I said, we hadn’t really planned this well. Last year, there had been cosplayers at Orbital Comics so the kids were keen to go back there to see them. But I now realise the cosplayers were there early doors and the free comics – along with the crowds- had gone by the time we were having coffee (1ish I think). So next time, we should probably head there first…or maybe to Forbidden Planet to get the grab bags first to have something to read in the queue. But if we’d done that this time, we wouldn’t have met Jamie Smart. Oh, the dilemmas!

So Orbital was quiet and we had everything we needed by then anyway. The kids browsed the kids’ corner for a while, with Roo/Spidey perched on a toadstool but we were all feeling the need to move on. On the way out, Eva started to read an age-inappropriate comic about a dolphin but a canny staff member stopped her before she got to the disturbing bit. Teach me to read the cover properly first next time.

As we’d gone down Charing Cross Road, we had noticed a group of people gathering outside a sweet shop, with a guide telling people to go in and buy their Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. I smiled wryly as we went past, with Eva still in full Quidditch gear but thought nothing more of it. Then we passed them again on the way back up towards Denmark Street and this time the guide clocked the Small Seeker and yelled “That’s perfect for this tour! Everyone follow her!” And just like that, Eva was leading a Harry Potter tour through the West End. No sooner had we parted ways from them than we spotted the Silent Disco West End tour dancing down the other side of the street, led my by one-time cinema buddy Shaun in a spangly jacket. It was the strangest of times, it was the weirdest of times. I might have dreamt it all.

After all that excitement it was a bit of a comedown to trawl the music shops of Denmark Street looking for chromatic tuning pipes while telling the kids to just STOP TOUCHING the instruments, and even more of a comedown to go home via Liverpool Street because we needed to check the lost property for a certain boy’s mobile phone. But we ended the day in a pub in Walthamstow, celebrating a friend’s birthday and the kids happily read their new comics for the duration of at least two pints. Happy days.

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Another Girls’ Day Out – 06/04/19

Yeah, I know…this was ages ago. We’ve been to Portugal and back since then but the Portuguese blog post will probably take a bit more brain power than I have right now and I did mean to blog this little trip around town that Eva and I did at the start of the holidays.

We started in Islington. Obviously. We were taking students from the church English Class on a field trip and we had to scoop them up on our way. It was slightly nerve-wracking trying to ensure we got all of them on the 56 together and I stood poised at the bus stop like a woman who’d never caught a bus before…but we managed it. 25 or so of them got on in Islington and off at St Paul’s and they may even have been the same 25. As we passed the Museum of London, Eva wistfully remarked that she’d like to go there again soon but it wasn’t where we were heading. Our destination was the Tate Modern, somewhere I’d visited briefly, childlessly and with an impending migraine last August.  Back then I hadn’t taken in a lot of the artwork. This time, wrangling a 6-year-old and several English students, would be much more successful….right?

What was successful was the walk from St Paul’s to the Tate over the Millenium Bridge. The students loved seeing the cathedral up close and posing for selfies on the bridge with all the London sights behind them. As a vantage point, it’s a rival for Waterloo Bridge – you can see glimpses of Parliament and the London Eye in one direction and Tower Bridge and the Tower of London in the other. Perfect for London newbies

We gathered a few more students at the Tate itself and went downstairs to establish our meeting point and for Eva and I to get our “Tate Visiting Teacher” stickers, which may have suggested we were taking more responsibility for the students than we actually were. In fact, Isa, our multi-talented intern, was in charge and I was just enjoying having a sticker to wear. We set a time to gather back at the meeting point, went up to Floor 2 as a group and then kinda lost people around the galleries, however much we tried to stick together. I’m glad they were fully-grown adults and not kids….and it did remind me why I never volunteer to help on school trips.

Before we’d left the house, Reuben was contemplating whether to come with us or not and had asked what kind of art there was in the Tate Modern – “Pointillism? Surrealism?”. While I was impressed by his art knowledge, I couldn’t actually answer his question. But yes, there was Pointillism in the Pop Art section.  I think.

Eva quite liked that section and she enjoyed the Mondrian paintings, which she recognised from Bunny’s hallway. She also really yuved this ballerina statue:

She also liked the colourful abstract paintings, like this optical illusion:

There were plenty of bits she wasn’t so keen on, including a short film on Dimitri Tsafendas, the man who assassinated the South African Prime Minister in 1966. She sat through around ten minutes of it, but told me afterwards it was a bit scary. I think it might have been the pitch black room it was being screened in.  By this point, we were almost at the assembly time so we made our way back downstairs to find at least some of the students. Like I say, I’d be rubbish at school trips.

However, I do have some skills in locating drinking places near the Thames and I successfully guided the group to the Anchor near Southwark Bridge for a very British pint and a spot of lunch on the roof garden under thunder-grey skies. Having got them all up there, I then left them to it which seems harsh but again, these are grown ups we’re talking about and they could have rescued themselves any time. Plus, Eva was getting whiney.

So we stopped in at Leon in London Bridge for our own spot of lunch, where Eva ignored the doughnut she’d asked for and stole all my lattice fries (she’d had her own sandwich while we were still at the Tate) and then we jumped on a bus back towards St Paul’s because Eva, having briefly glimpsed the Museum of London earlier, now had her heart set on going there.

I’ve no idea why. It hasn’t changed much since we went there at Christmas. But she wanted to see all the same things again and we did find one or two new things – like some giant dollhouses under the stairs and a pirate hat to try on. She also wanted to go to the Beasts of London show but it was late in the day and we hadn’t booked so I promised her we’d return another day for that one. She was fascinated by this antique museum piece tho, which only bears the smallest resemblance to what she sees on Nathan’s feet every day:

It’s safe to say the fashion mannequins at the end are among her favourite exhibits, along with the Georgian dresses and shoes. She’s verging on the superficial. But she seemed very happy when we left because when she decides she wants something, it’s sometimes easier to give it to her even if it’s a completely superfluous museum trip. Or an even more superfluous trip to the Barbican after that because the cafes at the Museum were crowded so we ended up with crisps and hipster cherryade from the Barbican cafe, eaten outside near the hazardous “stepping stones” that Reuben had terrified me with four years ago.

So that was our day out – three venues, a lot of walking, spontaneous snacking but a lot of fun for me and my girl. Right, now who wants to know about Portugal? Give me a few days on that….

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“The Tigon and the Liger” at Chickenshed – 13/04/19

Today is a bit of a trains, planes and automobiles day for Eva and I..but only because, as most normal people do, we decided to squeeze in a theatre trip before we leave for holiday.  Nathan and Roo are coming for the  holiday bit but opted out of early morning Big Cat shenaningans at Chickenshed in the form of “The Tigon and the Liger”  – based on the book by Keilly Swift and performed by the team behind “Tales From the Shed“.

It was a kind of mixture between a typical “Tales From the Shed” performance and a more formal Chickenshed play like “Mr Stink” – it was downstairs in the Rayne Theatre and was more choreographed than a “Tales” performance but it had the relaxed informality of one. Tiny kids ran onto the stage and were embraced as part of the performance without the dancers missing a beat or ever dropping their smiles. The seating had been folded back and so we sat on pink fur on the ground and were encouraged to dance along, with the dance moves being taught at the start of the performance. As we walked in, there was already a jam going on, around the lyrics “we’re back where we belong” so there was no awkward waiting for the show to start, which can be tricky with the very littlest ones.

The show itself was fairly straightforward – two animals who don’t fit in leave their homes, eventually find each other and return to show the other animals that there’s nothing wrong with being different to society’s idea of normal. If you know anything about Chickenshed, you’ll recognise this theme running strongly throughout their work. The two creatures are a Tigon – product of a tiger father and lion mother – and a Liger – vice versa. They were portrayed three different ways in the show, with two actors in face paint taking up the main narrative bulk but with actors in full animal costumes appearing towards the end and puppets as well. There was shadow puppetry and mime and well as acting and narration. There were full-ensemble dance numbers, with the opening “Harmony” living up to its name as a standout piece. So, in short, a lot going on. The simple story stretched itself well into around a 45-minute show with no feeling of padding,  just joyful music and dancing.

Eva’s favourite character was probably the bird with the red bottom who kept falling over, and who implored us not to break the fourth wall even though we were encouraged to do just that at the end.  He wasn’t in the source text but added an extra layer of physical comedy which kids always adore, don’t they? She also really liked the dual character representing the sun and the moon – played by Chickenshed regular Sarah Connolly  – because of her sparkly hat and lipstick. At the end we got to meet her, along with the rest of the cast, but Eva was a bit starstruck (sun/moonstruck?) and didn’t quite know what to say. She enjoyed playing with the drums and the shadow puppetry though:

Another great show from Chickenshed – not many shows combine the simple storytelling beloved of pre-schoolers with the dazzle and choreography of a company well used to each other’s work. As the closing song told the audience to be happy in their own skin – with video backdrop illustrating the point – Eva turned to me and said “Yes, I’m quite happy with my skin. It’s quite nice”. And that’s how Chickenshed always makes you feel – you should be happy with your own skin. It’s quite nice.

“The Tigon and the Liger” is on till Thursday 18th April, with performances at 9:15am, 11am and 1pm. For tickets and more information, click here.

Disclaimer: I received a free press ticket in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

 

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“Wow Everything is Amazing” at Battersea Arts Centre – 11/04/19

 

I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sounds Like Chaos‘ “Wow Everything is Amazing”. The promotional materials had asked a lot of questions about our relationship with technology but hadn’t answered many in terms of what this piece of theatre actually was. Was it a play? Spoken word? Performance art? Contemporary dance?

Well, a little of all of the above. Like Rebecca Bunch, it’s hard to summarize. But in one way, I can pigeonhole the genre of this piece – it was a dystopian drama and it shared many features with the great dystopian dramas we all know and love.

It opens in a church, 50 years into the future, but not a church as we know it. The unseen deity some of us currently worship had been replaced with something more tangible, yet still undefinable – the Godhead. Human in appearance, worshipped as a god and formed of mankind’s data, willingly shared. The worshippers hang on every word the Godhead says, clicking their fingers in appreciation, which subtly places it in a world where hand-clapping has become obsolete. It’s also a world where sex and race have no value judgements attached – everyone is described as either an XX or an XY and by the varying levels of melanin in their skin. Age, however, seems to still be a key discriminator, with the entire congregation described as being in their early teens and it’s hinted early on that a great misfortune befell the older generation.

It’s in this setting that the Godhead preaches his sermons. Anyone who’s watched the “Church Hunters” parody will understand that the modern church often skirts perilously close to being “a TED talk with a Bible verse” and so it is here – the Godhead spouts almost-profound messages about “the network” while the worshippers click away furiously. He’s flanked by a shiny-robed choir, who both chant and sing to reinforce the messages, and the Alpha Geeks, who effectively hold all the power in this universe.

It seems like everyone is blissfully happy – “Everything is Amazing” makes its appearance late on in a song not dissimilar in tone to the Lego Movie’s “Everything is Awesome” (which I totally class as a dystopian movie FYI). But there’s the hint about the misfortunes and tragedies of the past, the ones left “outside the Network” and eventually our 1984Winston/Emmett character starts to break free and question it all.

I won’t tell you more of the plot than that for fear of spoilers. But it’s a very slick and effective show – the small space of the Staff Recreation Room works well as the chapel, with pew-like seats for the audience making you feel like you’re part of the action. The screens at the back project images of obsolete technologies as well as a giant Godhead preaching to his flock and the lighting makes it feel suitably high-tech and futuristic. The actor who played the Godhead is disconcertingly convincing as the cyber-deity, gliding in on a hoverboard and speaking with zen-like calm even when there appears to be a…glitch… …by contrast, the 1984Winston/Emmett character, as I’ll call him, is all high emotion, bursting with the kind of curiousity that always gets you into trouble in these kinds of situtations. The ensemble work very well together,showing subtle shades of doubt as things start to unravel, and there are some high energy gospel-style dance numbers which showcase the talents of both the dancers and the choir. A special mention to our narrator character for those backflips. Amazing.

It’s only around an hour long so suitable for kids though probably older ones would get more from it in terms of understanding all the themes. I didn’t take either of mine as I went in the evening and they were both shattered and emotional form holiday club but I think both would have enjoyed it and Eva certainly would have been wowed by the sparkly dress and room-length train of The Sponsor. The show only has one more night to run at BAC – you can blame various members of my family including myself for this review being so late – but transfers to the Albany next week for three nights ( Tue 16 – Thu 18 April, 7.30pm). I would recommend trying to catch it before it moves on, even if it might make you feel a bit uneasy next time you reach for your smartphone…

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

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“Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster” at Battersea Arts Centre – 23/03/19

photocredit Joyce Nicholls

 

After spending time with Eva this morning, it was time for some mother-son bonding with Reuben this afternoon. Which initially seemed to consist of me clutching his pepperoni sandwich for half the length of the Jubilee Line while he read a David Walliams book and ignored me. But then we changed at Waterloo, he ate the sandwich, we did some make up and ribbon shopping and it was a proper day out for the both of us.

Our destination was Battersea Arts Centre, a place I’d last visited for a wedding in 2012 when Eva was a tiny baby. This is how Reuben looked on that visit:

And this is him today:

Sob!

It’s not just Roo that’s changed tho – the BAC has had a massive overhaul after a devastating fire in 2015. It’s striking as you walk through the corridors how extensive the damage was and the BAC have made the decision to keep the charred walls as they were the morning after the fire, although the ceiling has been completely rebuilt. Again, here’s the hall in 2012:

And I’m far too lame to have got a decent comparison photo from today. I did take a pic of this nice bit of stained glass roof tho:

We had a bit of kerfuffle in the cafe on the way in and failed to get the fries we’d ordered, mostly through my own incompetence in moving tables but not taking our order spoon with us. So apologies to anyone sitting near us that Roo was snacking all the way through – he needs constant fuelling nowadays. He did enjoy an apple juice and a critique of the cafe artwork though:

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this production from the BAC Beatbox Academy. I’d looked on the website for an age recommendation and hadn’t found one, so made an educkated guess that it would be Roo rather than Eva (she gets freaked out by anything slightly sinister). In a lot of ways, I think it was aimed at slightly older kids still – the early teens rather than the under 10s – based on some of the constant and the occasional F-bomb. Roo got a lot out of it, but I think he was slightly struggling to follow the plot as it was more of a loose interpretation of the Frankenstein story rather than an obvious narrative arc.

The show started with a bit of background from the Academy’s director and a demonstration of beatboxing by some of his current pupils. Then the lights dimmed and the six performers took their places sitting on amps, ready to guide us through a 21st century hip-hop version of the classic tale. It was hugely creative, and everything in the show was live using nothing but vocals from the six of them. It’s hard to believe that sometimes but the short piece of improv they did at the end proved their skills. The performers were Aminita (Aminita Francis), Glitch (Nadine Rose Johnson), Wiz-rd (Tyler Worthington), Native (Nathaniel Forder-Staple), ABH (ABH Beatbox) and
Grove (Beth Griffin) – all South Londoners who’d been through the academy and devised the show together.

Each performer had a different area of skill but of course there were overlaps. Aminita and Glitch were particularly prominent  and talented vocalists when it came to singing rather than beatboxing, but a version of Pachbel’s canon in 5(?) part harmony showed that every member of the group had significant musical talents as well as beatboxing. Of course, their timing was incredible but their pitch was perfect as well and it surprised me just how musically complex beatboxing can be at times.

The story was split into chapters – each dealt with an episode in the Frankenstein story, from the initial idea of making a monster, through the execution (no pun intended), through to finally the “descent”. In each chapter, they pulled out themes and developed them into stand alone songs, some more directly relevant to the story than others. These young people have a lot to say – covering off social media, body image, violence and bullying – and they were passionate as well as skilled in their delivery. There were some moments of comedy and some moments of confrontation that bordered on uncomfortable – like when they shone an actual spotlight on members of the audience and decried them as “hideous” to drive home a point on beauty standards. It wasn’t always an easy watch but it was challenging and groundbreaking and that’s what theatre should be. As I said before, it wasn’t kids’ theatre as you’d imagine it but 10 pluses would definitely find it inspiring and interesting. Reuben said he enjoyed it, even if he wasn’t always sure what was happening and I told him that’s OK….you don’t always have to understand art to enjoy it.

photocredit Joyce Nicholls

The performance ended with a bit of audience participation as we learnt a few percussive noises ourselves, then a few rounds of beatbox battles and a bit of improv at the end. It was an impressive way to showcase all the performers’ skills but might have been ten minutes too long for Reuben. It might have been that we were both hungry. But don’t worry, a stop at Pizza Express on the way homre sorted out us both out. And that’s the kind of thing we can do without Eva. Hooray!

So a really interesting show, flawlessly executed and full of hard-hitting messages. It felt very real and authentic and at the same time, slick and professional. It’s on for another few days so please do catch it while you can.

 

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

 

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Big Up at Stratford Circus Arts Centre – 23/03/19

Credit and Copyright: Helen Murray

 

Yknow, often Twitter feels unrewarding. Like shouting into a big room full of other people who are also shouting. Sometimes you get into massive fights with Radio X DJs and all their followers. And then sometimes, just sometimes, you get a retweet from the guy who did Zippy on Rainbow and ALL is right with the world. I don’t quite know if there’s a connection between Ronnie Le Drew and Big Up – the show we saw today – or whether it was just puppeteer-to-puppeteer solidarity but blimey, it made my day.

Unlike Eva’s mood when we got to Stratford this morning, which wouldn’t make anyone’s day. We found our way to Stratford Circus Arts Centre with only a few glitches – veer left round the Stratford Centre when coming out from the station – but she wasn’t being the most so-operative of theatregoers. Still, a pain au chocolat from the cafe perked her up a little just in time to go in, leaving Nathan and Roo finishing their coffee and their drawing respectively. Big Up was aimed at 3-6s so Roo had opted to hang out with Nathan at the Lego Store instead of going to the show.  We’d swap the kids over later on, which is why we didn’t just leave the boys at home…but that’s another story.

Eva insisted we sat right at the back, in the corner and then she couldn’t see. That might give you an idea of the kind of contrary mood she was in. Plus the set – some closed flight cases – wasn’t filling her with optimism. But as soon as the first performer came on and opened up a flight case to reveal a glowing set of DJ decks, she was entranced.

Big Up is light on plot and largely wordless but it’s about sounds, lights, movement and the interplay between the performers and puppets. The puppets only appeared about halfway through, so it was mainly carried by the human performers but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It started with one man – the beatboxer, DJ and sound effects guy who I believe is known as Hobbit. He set the scene for the show by laying down some beats and was soon joined by the angel-voiced Dorcas Sebuyange, who opened up another box and sang as the room filled with multi-coloured lights….the first of many “Wow” moments in the show. Another box wheeled on by the seeming-roadie Clarke Joseph-Edwards contained something of a surprise package…the fourth performer, Iestyn Evans, the acrobat and puppeteer.

Credit and Copyright: Helen Murray

With the cast all assembled, the story unfolded. Each box that was opened added something new to the story and I was a little sad that Nathan wasn’t watching, because a lot of the show revolved around setting up PA equipment and that’s how he likes to spend his Sunday mornings. Plus the occasional Sunday afternoon, untangling those great bundles of jack leads that here provided something of a plot device but to your average AV techie are just a pain in the jackside. Of course, I’m just a musician at church, so my input is similar to Dorcas’ here – to point at the microphone when it isn’t working and to look annoyed until they bring me a new one or a new lead. If only my new mics were delivered by illuminated puppet-man as they were here tho! And also, if only I could sing like Dorcas can!

Credit and Copyright: Helen Murray

Eva was starting to get restless around the halfway point because – as discussed – she was just in that kind of chair-kicking mood. But she was delighted to see a baby introduced into the show, even if it was a baby robot puppet with a nappy made out of yet more jack leads. Eva does yuv a baby. There was a song that Reuben might well have appreciated about how babies do nothing but poo and cry and wee – one of the the few parts of the show where words were used rather than just sounds – and the baby magically grew before our eyes into first a toddler and then an adult in a long coat who joined the other adults and the audience for a final dance along. I think she figured out it was just Clarke in a robot head tho.

Credit and Copyright: Helen Murray

So at the end, we were all on our feet dancing and singing along and the girl who was reluctant to do anything was later heard to tell Reuben how much she yuvved it. It was a very clever show – perhaps aimed at a slightly younger child than my almost 7-year-old – but full of impressive beatboxing, deft physical comedy and real heart. At one point, that was a literal heart made out of foam blocks. Literal heart makes it sound like an internal organ but you know what I mean. A heart shape. One of Eva’s favourite moments. I would have liked to have heard slightly more of the singing but that’s because singing is more my thing than beatboxing…there is no deny Hobbit’s talents when it comes to laying down those beats.  It was a captivating show, even for the smallest members of the audience and when it next comes to London I’d advise you to get tickets quickly before they sell out like they did this morning!

Disclaimer: I recieved press tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. For more information and tickets click here

 

Credit and copyright:
Helen Murray

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A Very Blurry Trip to France – 16/03/19

Well, that was an interesting day. On Friday afternoon, in a fit of despair at the sight of IDS’ Brexit celebration, I pulled a Tracy Jacks and declared I was going to leave the country. Then, as soon as Nathan got home, we packed the car and left home without warning, heading to Dover to stare at the seafront with the aim of getting on the first available ferry to France.

Except it wasn’t entirely without warning and it wasn’t nearly as spontaneous as I made it sound. I just sometimes like to be a bit dramatic on social media and IDS chuckling with Tim Martin over some Turkish food was enough to make me declare something along the lines of “if you don’t hear from me in the near future, I’ll be planning to leave the country”. It was entirely true but honestly, it was something we’d been planning for weeks. A day trip to France as a kind of Brexit farewell tour. Of course, by the time it rolled around it was becoming increasingly clear that we wouldn’t be leaving the EU at the end of March but still, it was a symbolic gesture. A complicated, high-effort gesture but not as pricey a gesture as if we’d taken the Eurostar.

Still, we had our reservations, looking at the yellow weather warning hovering over Dover for Saturday. The ferry was a tenth of the price of the train, which helped me to constantly justify *why* we were on a boat in a hurricane…but we’ll get to that. We also had to pay more as foot passengers than we would have as car drivers but again…we’ll get to that.

Seeing as the crossing only cost us £40, we decided to splash a further £30 or so out on a hotel for the night before the crossing. The Premier Inn on Marine Parade looked pretty close to the ferry terminal, although Google Maps worried me by telling me it was a 28 minute walk to the ferry “via car lanes”. That didn’t sound good at all. I also found it tricky to work out whether we could leave the car at the hotel for the day while we went across and back.

But that’s why I do these things – to find out how it all works so that I can impart my “wisdom” to all of you. Here’s some wisdom – don’t go to France in a hurricane.

Or if you choose to ignore that wisdom, join me at the Premier Inn and we’ll take it from there. Yes, you can leave the car there for the day – the parking was free while we were checked in but we had to pay £6 to leave it there from the time we checked out to midnight on Saturday. At no point did we consider that we might not make it back before midnight but – spoiler – we did make it back. Just about. The £6 had to be in change and I only had a tenner so once I’d installed Nathan and the kids in our room, I went down to the bar to get a glass of wine, which pleasingly cost £3.99. I’d like to say that I enjoyed the glass of wine in the bath with a book, without flooding the bathroom…but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Oops.

Lot 105

Let’s skip ahead to the next morning, where the carpet hadn’t entirely dried out and we were busy getting blown along the promenade towards the ferry terminal:

 

There wasn’t a lot of obvious signage showing us where to go but we followed the instructions of the hotel receptionist – along the sea front and across the road at the pedestrian crossing. Well, first we got it wrong and walked right past the sign which said “No Access to Docks” before realising that the sign might actually mean something and backtracking.

Once we got on the correct side of the road, we wandered in through the big “Welcome to the Port of Dover” sign with still not much clue at to what foot passengers do. That was to be a theme of the day. Eventually we found a map, telling us to stick to the black and white walkways even though we could only see a red line that was meant for cyclists.

We followed that anyway, crossed a lane intended for HGVs and found a black and white walkway on the other side. It was a bit like following a trail of breadcrumbs but we picked our way to the terminal building and managed to check in on time. Somehow.

Then we sat on some chairs near a Costa for what seemed like an incredibly long time. Eva was looking longingly at the Tangfastics in the vending machine but I had to remind her that it was only just gone 8am and not exactly prime haribo time. She stole Reuben’s joke book and amused herself by telling us all jokes instead. Reuben complained about having his joke book stolen. Time dragged on. Luckily, the sole glass of wine I’d had wasn’t enough to give me a bad head in the morning but I wasn’t exactly filled with a sense of enormous wellbeing.

What we were waiting for was a bus. It hadn’t been at all clear on the P&O website what foot passengers were meant to do at Dover so I’d assumed there would be some kind of walkway from the terminal to the ferry, like at an airport. But no, a bus was going to drive us all onto the car deck before all the cars were loaded and drop us off there, I say all – there were probably around ten of us. No one knew exactly when this bus would turn up, hence the seemingly endless waiting time. And no one mentioned what we were meant to do when we got to Calais either.

But eventually yes, the bus arrived and drove us in circles around the port before stopping at the edge of the ramp and making us all get onto a different bus which, as promised, dropped us on Level 3 of the ferry. Anything we might want to do on the ferry started around Level 8, so it was quite the climb to get up there. Stair climbing would be another theme of the day.

Seeing as we’d boarded before all the cars, we pretty much had the run of the ship. So we went for a breakfast at the food court, where they were very generous with the replacement items (although I didn’t realise they weren’t so generous with the condiments – you have to pay for those) so I ended up with four rashers of bacon plus some scrambled egg for Roo. We didn’t really need to buy him his own, especially as we trying to encourage him not to gorge too much before heading out on the shaky seas. But we did buy him one and he did gorge himself. Luckily, we got breakfast down before we started moving so weren’t trying to eat a Full English while feeling queasy. In case you’re wondering, Eva had a pain au chocolat and a pot of jam. At least she ate *something*.

The journey over was pretty uneventful, if a little rocky. We made a base in the Family Lounge, where Nathan and I alternated who got to lie down on the squishy chairs and who got to sit in the Kids’ Zone on the child-sized red sofa. Reuben made friends with a talkative boy called Ben who liked Marvel, so that was the perfect entertainment for him all the way across. There was a screen with what looked like DC episodes lined up but no one to operate it and unlike the ferry journey to the Isle of Wight, no magic people to amuse the kids. Lucky we found Ben, really.  No one felt too seasick and Calais appeared before too long.

Now for the tricky issue of how we  got off the ship and into Calais. Nathan had spotted a sign somewhere saying “Calais Foot Passenger Exit” but neither of us knew exactly where to find that sign so we did a full loop before locating it near the Information desk. It led us down a flight of stairs where we could see a door that might link up to some kind of walkway. And then we saw the walkway which would link up to the door and it was all making sense…except that no one else was standing in this particular bit of corridor. Where were the other six of so people we boarded with? Eventually Nathan went back up the stairs to see if he could spot them and yes, there they all were sitting around by the Information desk. So we went back up there and waited…and waited some more…. it had a similar feel to leaving Dover.

It was a while before a cheery man in a high-vis turned up and escorted us back down to the car decks to wait in a very small stairwell for the bus to turn up. Obviously, every single other vehicle had to clear out before the bus could drive onboard, so that might give you some idea of how long this whole “waiting at the bottom of the stairs/waiting at the top of the stairs/waiting at the bottom of some different stairs” malarkey took. It was alright being first on the boat but combining it with last out made the whole journey about an hour longer than it should have been. I think we started looking for the exit around 11:30 and didn’t touch French soil until 13:15 French time…so 45 minutes of waiting around by my best guess. Seemed longer with whiney kids.

Once we were on the bus, things were pretty quick. We didn’t need to go through customs as we’d had our passports checked at Dover by both French and British border control  – the French officer had surprised Eva by addressing her by name and she had charmed him by saying “merci” as he handed it back. And we already knew our way out of the port and onto the main road, thanks to a mini-excursion on the way back from the Netherlands in 2017. Google Maps again reckoned a 28 minute walk to the town centre but it was more like 20 minutes, even at dawdling pace. My main aim was to “get some fresh air” after so long cooped up in terminals, buses and boats….we certainly got that. The air was so fresh that it was like having a hurricane blowing in your face. Again.

From the boat we’d spotted the Calais Lighthouse and the kids were keen to have a closer look. So we climbed the hill to see if we could climb the lighthouse but it was shut for lunch, so we just took a photo instead:

Lots of things in Calais were shut for lunch or just shut full stop. Eva, who’d not had a cooked breakfast, was whining for lunch and specifically some french fries or pommes frites as she’d been practising saying. She later informed me that she’d learnt the French word for “French” and I was suitably impressed. Less impressed when I realised she was thinking very literally and now had deduced that “pomme” meant “French”. Good try, Eva. Roo had been practising a phrase that I had cobbled together in my pidgin French – “Ma souer voudra l’escargot s’il vous plait”. Sadly, he didn’t pluck up the courage to use it.

London Loves

We did find a place to eat pommes frites, if not escargot. I’d seen The London Bridge pub on Google Maps and it made my heart sink a little to consider eating out in France in a place so heavily Brit-themed. But the menu contained things that both kids would eat, at a reasonable price and the reviews were positive and the location handy so it was a legitimate option in my mind. As it turned out, it was the only eating establishment in Calais that we passed at 1:30ish that was open and busy and ready to serve us food. So, to The London we went.

I spoke some French though. My skills in translating ice cream flavours for the kids surprised even me and I managed to more or less order for us all without resorting to too much English. The kids mumbled their “merci”s and got disproportionate amounts of praise for it. Eva didn’t eat her chicken nuggets because…she’s Eva…but made a good effort on her chips and her jus de ananas. Needless to say, her glace framboise disappeared without trace. Those of us who’d had big breakfasts struggled a bit to eat our lunches but Nathan managed his chicken burger and I had most of my “Bacon Groove” pizza although it was a little odd. I wanted something I wouldn’t typically eat in London itself and this pizza certainly fit the bill. Stonebaked base, BBQ sauce, lamb mince, boiled potatoes, mushrooms and a sparing amount of cheese. Tastewise, it was more like a cottage pie than a pizza. Not bad, just….odd. And I never eat the crusts on pizza anyway, so I was always going to leave a bit of it.

After lunch, we needed yet more fresh air and exercise so we walked around the square and looked at the statues of Charles de Gaulle and Yvonne Vendroux and the watchtower – Tour de Guet. I worked out that it was built in the 13th Century as it had an inscription saying “XIII siècle” and I know the phrase “fin de siècle”. Aceing this Year 7 French lesson recall!

We wandered past the Notre-Dame church but Eva declared that she was bored so we decided to go back to the lighthouse and see whether it was open for climbing yet. It was! We had to resort to English to navigate the tricky conditions around climbing the lighthosue in such tricky weather and our lack of change in Euros but the staff had excellent English so they did all the hard work.

(As I’m writing this, an advert has just popped up on the TV urging me to “soak up the sun” and “get that ferry feeling” aboard a P&O ferry – “where time is the only thing flying”. Thanks, but I think I got enough of that ferry feeling yesterday and time wasn’t exactly flying. More on that in a moment. Plus, it was not the weather to be thinking about sunny beaches)

So, we paid our 12EURO for the lighthouse and started off by watching a short film about the site before starting the 270-step climb. I was getting a little paranoid about making it back to the ferry on time so think we skipped some of the elements of the guided tour but we made it all the way up, even if only Nathan went out onto the balcony. It was really, really windy so they’d made us promise not to take the kids out there and I think that was probably wise because Eva may well have been whisked away as she weighs so little. Her weight had definitely worked to her advantage as she was skipping up the steps like a mountain goat though. I was ready to give up by halfway but she kept urging me on with a “come onnn Mummy! Why are you so slow?”

I’d probably been a bit overcautious in leaving an hour to get back from the lighthouse to the ferry port but I was still working on Google’s estimates, which were well over the top. It was actually about a 12 minute walk back and we got to the terminal with a full hour before the bus was departing at 4:45 to take us onto the ferry. But at least we’d been told an exact time for the bus departure, and the route into the terminal had been signposted with big friendly signs:

An improvement on Dover, that’s for sure. We were all exhausted after our lighthouse climb, so just found four seats together and slumped there, all reading our books and ignoring each other. I also plugged my phone in to charge for a bit, even though it was out of arm’s reach. My phone is so covered in sellotape that no-one would ever bother to steal it, even when it’s left unattended and the battery was almost out. We were indeed having trouble in the message centre.

When we’d checked in, the lady had mentioned that our crossing had been changed to the delayed 2:20 crossing, which would indeed be quite delayed by the time we sailed at 5:30. But we thought little more of it. Ships were still sailing and that was all that mattered. The bus arrived when they said it would and we got to the ferry fairly quickly, even though we had to go through proper customs this way with a bag scanner and everything. Not entirely sure why as, again, there were only about ten of us and no-one was checking the bags of anyone in the hundreds of cars but still…in this climate you don’t question, you just comply in whatever way you’re required to do in order to get back into the country. I wasn’t *actually* planning on starting a new life in France.

Once again, we were the first passengers on and went straight to the Family Lounge, where we claimed the sofa nearest the Kids’ Zone and collapsed onto it. There we were for an hour or so, slouched on the settee, reading and snoozing and at some point we moved out of the harbour and into the Channel, which was now even rockier than it had been on the way over. By my best guess, it was around 6:00pm French time by the time we left.

On this leg of the journey, someone did turn up to operate the telly and the kids happily watched DC Lego Superheroes for an hour or so, which should by all rights have got us almost back to Dover. But something was afoot – even though we’d been going for hours we were still apparently quite far out from the Kent coast. It later transpires that the wind we were sailing into was so strong that it was preventing us even getting close. Around 6:30 British time (so 90 mins in), we were told that it would be at least another hour. It was around that point that the kids’ DVD finished and they suddenly paid the price for staring at a screen while the floor was rocking – they both felt sick and wanted to get off the boat Right Now.  That was a low. Nathan had been sleeping but was woken up by Roo suddenly having to run to the loo. He wasn’t sick but looked a suitable shade of grey and Nathan wasn’t looking much healthier. We’d been given refreshment vouchers in Calais as compensation for a delay we hadn’t yet suffered so I was planning on getting coffee as we got close to Dover, in order to perk Nathan up for the drive home. But the timings were all messed up now and the coffee I bought for him went largely undrunk as he and Roo sat huddled and queasy on the sofa.

I was sick a lot when pregnant with Roo so had a few virtual tricks up my sleeve. Roo refused mint chewing gum but Nathan accepted and I went to Plan B for Roo – combing the decks for a fruity ice lolly to combat the nausea. I took Eva with me and had just failed to find the shop when she was unexpectedly sick in my hand. Even more unexpectedly, I managed to keep the coffee in my other hand untainted and drinkable.

She felt a lot better after that but we were starting to need to get off the ship. Another announcement around 7PM told us that we were in a queue to get into Dover harbour and that it would be another 45 minutes to an hour before we docked. It wasn’t great news when kids around us were being sick everywhere. Weirdly, the Family Lounge had never filled up although a short-tempered PA announcement suggested that there was child-led anarchy upstairs in the Food Court, with a party of school kids running around and shouting unsupervised. I think we were all losing the will. Eva alone was perky, playing in the Kids’ Zone with some older girls she’d just met.

The last announcement had proved to be accurate and we were docked around 7:50, which was almost three hours since we’d set off, given the time difference. And we yet again had no idea where we foot passengers were meant to be. A steward and the signs both suggested an area past the bar, at the very front of the ship where another door was to be prove to never open on to another walkway. We found the people we’d been on the bus with and together we stood around for another half hour or so, watching all the staff descend in the lift and walk out past the HGVs. We guessed that we wouldn’t be allowed to try that ourselves. Once again, no one told us what was happening and as it turned into four hours since we’d boarded, tempers started fraying. Eventually, someone in a high-vis turned up, escorted us down to the car deck and dropped us back at an entirely deserted terminal building where Eva finally got her paws on those Tangfastics she’d been lusting after. She assured me that they wouldn’t make her sick again and, as it turns out, she fell asleep in the car still clutching a nearly-full packet. Worked out well for me once I’d eased them out of her sleeping hands. And finally, it looked like we’d made it a la fin.

So…lessons learnt from our France trip. Could do with longer to explore as we’d planned to go to the Meccano Lab but it was just too far away to get there and back in the time we had. Don’t sail during a hurricane. And if you’re sailing as a foot passenger, be very prepared to do a lot of waiting round, imagining that you’d been abandoned and losing hope of ever setting foot on dry land again. And remember at all times that you paid more to go on foot than you would have as a driver. I’m not convinced we got our money’s worth.

But as we parked up at home at 10:30, a sleepy Reuben from the backseat piped up with “That was a nice day out, wasn’t it?” And that, for me, makes the whole thing worthwhile. Pretty much.

Footnote: If you’ve been confused by some of the slightly random wording in this post, let me leave you with two images that might explain everything. There was a theme to the day, which I hope I’ve captured here. Well, there were several themes but I’m not talking about the sickness, the stair climbing or the hurricanes. Like I said, this should make all clear. Here’s the kids at two of our local hangouts. Firstly Hugs W Mugs Cafe:

And secondly, the beer garden at the Royal Oak:

There you go….is it all clear now? Or still a bit blurry?

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

How Eva Von Schnippisch Won WWII – 09/03/19

Photo Liz McBurney

I must admit I was a little cautious about taking the kids to see Eva Von Schnippisch. I was originally planning to go to the Thursday night show on my own and was expecting a “hilariously filthy” one woman comedy musical show. So it was surprising to hear that there was kids’ version on Saturday afternoon, with the rude bits taken out…still, I was game so we gave it a try.

Both versions of the show were on as part of the Vault Festival. We’d last been to the Vaults for a cosmic-themed Big Fish Little Fish three years so I vaguely knew where we were going but if I’d read my own post first, I probably would have taken the route along York Rd and behind County Hall instead of the long way round Lower Marsh again. Ho hum, live and learn. And it’s kinda exciting for the kids to go through the graffiti tunnels. Last time there had been Avengers graffiti but this time the Marvel theme was X-Men – specifically, a giant Juggernaut from the New Mutant Army. Definitely worth swinging by if you’re in the area with a superhero fan.

But onto the main attraction – Eva Von Schnippisch and her daring tale of espionage and romance in WWII Europe. Obviously, my Eva was thrilled to share a name with the star of the show (and my Eva takes her name from my German grandmother so technically should be an AY-va too). Roo was less excited about the prospect of a second Eva in the room but likes history and violence so yknow…something for everyone.

The story was told in a series of dramatic and musical excerpts, with recorded voices occasionally standing in for other characters, although often it was just Eva darting from side to side of the stage to represent two or more people at once. She certainly was working hard to tell the tale, with characters ranging from a British officer to a young Marlene Dietrich although one character was often mentioned but never portrayed….and that was the elusive “bad man at the top”, whose inner circle Eva was forced to infiltrate. All of these characters involved costume changes and flicking between languages and accents, all of which Eva did with ease.

It certainly was raucous, even in the kids’ version. There were fart gags galore, massed chanting and a lot of audience participation. Some of the edits were very discreet and prompted a bit of giggle among the adults – did that song really always say “bore”? – and others….err…not so discreet. There was a song towards the end which seemed to have an entire verse missing but Eva just styled it right out.  A bag of haribo stood in for more illicit substances and there were multiple references to Eva’s rubber ball bouncing skills, which I imagine was worded slightly differently in the original. It all worked, though. It added an extra layer of charm to the show and it’s always funny to watch kids’ faces as they’re wondering what the grown ups are laughing about.

My kids’ favourite moment was when a stick of dynamite exploded in a shower of glitter. Everyone in the audience clearly knew that it was going to happen except my Eva, who stood up in her seat and loudly declared “I did not see that coming”. She got a round of applause for that, which pleased her greatly as you can imagine. She also really enjoyed the manic haribo-eating at the end, although Roo was regretting not making a dash for the leftover sweets on the stage at the end.

So a semi-improvised kids’ version of an adult cabaret show may not be your most obvious choice for a Saturday afternoon outing but we all really enjoyed it. And the Vaults are an interesting venue to just hang out in anyway, so it’s worth popping in for a drink at the Craft Beer bar and just to soak up the slightly musty but very hipster ambience. Roo was dressed in trousers that skimmed his ankle because he keeps growing but actually, most of the males in there were dressed similarly. And Eva was dressed in a witch’s dress, a sheep costume and a superhero cape but she’s Eva…they both fitted in just fine. And luckily neither of them asked too many questions about the “Vulvarine” poster in the toilet. A nemesis for the Juggernaut outside maybe?

Oh, and Lambeth North is clearly the way to get there. We went home that way and it’s way closer and less stress than Waterloo. You’re welcome.

Disclaimer: We recieved free tickets for the show in exchange for a review but all opinions remain honest and my own.  For tickets and more information, click here.

 

 

 

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