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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Christmas in Covent Garden – 08/12/18

Ah, family days out. Don’t ya love them? So spontaneous and trouble-free. I’m not pinning Reuben down in this photo, honestly. Just trying to ensure there’s some distance between him and Eva.

That said, it was actually quite a nice day out that we had yesterday. It was the first Saturday in a long time that I didn’t have a choir gig so we planned a day of wandering around Central London, looking at Christmas lights and stuff. And it pretty much worked out smoothly against the odds. So there.

We started off in Bru, Walthamstow which is a regular haunt of ours for drama-club-time snacks but this time we were sampling the brunch options – a meal that Roo has been planning for a long time. He and Eva both had the strawbella wafflepops and Roo asserted that they were “300% delicious”. Eva pushed hers around the plate a bit and said hers was only 50% delicious but the rest of us ended up finishing it for her, and trust me it was pretty delicious. As were mine and Nathan’s – the Cookies and Cream and Apple and Cinnamon wafflepops with a coffee each. This was gonna be the kinda brunch that got us through a family day out alright.

Of course, the most likely outcome was that they would be totally sugar-hyped on the Victoria Line and we’d be kicked off by Seven Sisters. But thankfully that didn’t happen because they’d packed books and were busy reading them. Oh yes, this was going smoothly.

A smallish glitch at Covent Garden tube, obviously. I’d made the rookie tourist mistake of not getting off at Holborn and just walking down. So we had to queue along the platform and then again for the lifts along with every other Christmas shopper in the world. As we emerged from the tube, Eva looked around and declared that Covent Garden was “wonderful and horrible”. I think she’s pretty accurate – it’s one of my favourite places in London for Christmas decorations and always has a bit of a magical atmosphere…but the crowds can indeed be described as horrible.

It was time for our first stop – the Christmas Pudding Race. We’d last been to see it when Roo was three and he and C had been most distraught that they didn’t get to run the funny race, only watch it. This time, he’d started to react in the same way when we suggested it but quickly came round to the idea of spectating. The minimum entry age is 14 so maybe one day he will run it himself. I think he enjoyed watching though-  it’s a great spectacle, with team dressed as Santas or Christmas trees or the entire Toy Story cast and all trying to climb over inflatables with a Christmas pudding in hand.

Eva, however, was mostly enjoying the between-races entertainment, courtesy of The Roxys…or as Eva described them, “those wonderful girls”. She just stood gazing at their perfect hair, shiny shoes and velvet dresses in amazement. Such a fangirl already. I was enjoying singing along to doowop versions of “Beat It” and “Careless Whisper”.

Very soon, the races were all run and the prizes presented by Her Majesty The Queen*. It was time to warm up a little and find some toilets. I’d remembered vaguely that the Royal Opera House was opening up to the public, Southbank Centre style, and I decided to go and see whether I’d remembered correctly and whether it could tick the boxes of both warm and having toilets available.

*May not be the actual Queen. But we’re not sure

 

I was right! Doors are open from 10am every day and there are several cafe spaces you can sit in or just have a wander around. Because we’d already had coffee we didn’t go for another one, tempting as it was, but we did have a good explore and found not just the loos but this giant cherry in the basement:

And nearby, a display of ballet shoes and costume samples that Eva yuvved. She would like to wear all of them, apparently.

Then we took the escalators up to the top floor and found the best costumes of all – tutus worn by Margot Fonteyn (I think) for the twin roles of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake. Again, it was hard to pull Eva away:

There was also a balcony, which had a great view over Covent Garden:

And a interesting piece of artwork over the escalators:

Altogether, a really interesting place to snoop around and I’d like to stop off longer and try out the cakes there someday soon.

But we had shopping to do! I took Eva off around the market so that she could choose presents from Nathan and Reuben, while the boys did went to buy a present for her. It was tough getting her past the pretty windows of the shops so we made slow progress. One of her favourites was the “Narnia opticians”:

We did eventually find something which I won’t spoiler here but we had a few minutes to kill so ended up in Paperchase, a shop that Eva declared she was “seriously falling in love with” thanks to the sheer quantity of sparkles and unicorns. You can probably tell that she was having one of her eloquent days. The best is yet to come.

We’d arranged to meet back at 2PM but Reuben somewhat impatiently phoned me at 1:58 to say he was hungry. Time to get some lunch that wasn’t wafflepops. And Five Guys seemed just the place.

It’s not mega cheap but it’s affordable and they don’t move you on as quickly as they do in McDonalds. We found a table in a little booth and stayed there for almost an hour, taking our time over the piles of chips and the refillable drinks. There were spare table nearby so I felt totally justified in not rushing. I’m even justifying it right now.

Despite this being our relaxed day, we did have some marks to hit. Eva and I had long been pencilled in for a singalong showing of Muppet Christmas Carol at the Prince Charles at 4:30 so to make it fair, I’d booked the boys into “Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse” at the Odeon Luxe Haymarket which, despite its name and reclining seats, is no more expensive than any other West End cinema.

We had a few minutes to kill before that so wandered round the Christmas market in Leicester Square, marvelling at the spinning illusion things and pretending I couldn’t hear Eva as she asked to get her face printed on a teddy. I’m not sure I can think of anything more terrifying than a bear with the face of a girl and specifically, a bear with the face of my girl. Then the boys left for their show and Eva and I had yet more time to kill so went to look at the windows of the Lego Store (there was too much of a queue to actually go in), where she told me the windows were so cool that “I might vomit with amazement”. I told you she was feeling eloquent.

And then she made me go to the M&Ms store where I nearly vomited with the sheer smell of sugar and the intensity of the crowds. We went to all four floors, bought nothing and gratefully took the side exit pointed out to us by a member of staff. This landed us just off Lisle Street with still 15 minutes to kill before we meet the Bunny family for the Muppets. Both my legs and my ideas were exhausted by this point, so we sat on the pavement. Oh yes, I am showing my kids a good time alright.

The Muppets singalong was an enjoyable experience but it was odd not to have subtitles so that everyone could…yknow…sing along. Luckily I knew most of the words from singing the songs in choir but I often felt like Kermit and I were doing a lonely duet. Plus, I had to miss “One more sleep till Christmas” because Bunny and Eva both needed the toilet. Still, I got to eavesdrop on a very amusing conversation between the two of them on why you shouldn’t throw “stationery products” down the toilet.

At the end of the film, I had one more engagement before calling it a day. So I met up with Nathan and Reuben and sent Eva home with them and the bunnies. Then I set off on foot through Soho and Marylebone to catch my friend Vicky singing with the Constanza Chorus in Marylebone Parish Church. My phone died on the way up there so I didn’t get a single photo of the gorgeous church, heavily decorated with Christmas wreaths or the pretty lights of Marylebone High Street. But I did get a blurry one of the Bohemian Rhapsody-themed lights on Carnaby Street on the way. Oh, and Constanza Chorus were amazing. You should totally check them out or buy one of their CDs.

So one jug of mulled wine after the concert and I was on my way home after what had proved to be an epic day out in Christmassy London. I’m tired today. Still, pretty successful I think….

 

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Guest Post from Equi Supermarket- Where to go Horseback Riding in London

 

While London and horse riding might not be words you would normally associate together, living and working in the city doesn’t mean you have to give up your dream of becoming a horseback rider as there are plenty of places you can go.

From gentle hacking trails to polo teams, there is plenty of equestrian action to be had in London if you know where to go – here’s a guide from Equi Supermarket  to the best places to go horseback riding in the capital.

 

  1. Wimbledon Common

The Wimbledon Village Stables have been delivering riding experiences to Londoners for over a century thanks to the 3,000 acre setting of Wimbledon Common and nearby Richmond Park. They offer hacking, riding workshops, dressage lessons, horse riding camps in the holidays and sponsored rides, among their services.

  1. Hyde Park Stables

Hyde Park is a 350 acre green oasis right in the middle of London and home to the Hyde Park Stables which offers all kinds of riding experiences in the city for all levels and ages. The park has many riding paths throughout the acreage offering lots of opportunities for hacks through the grounds, from the stables. They also offer riding lessons in their outdoor paddock and can offer children’s events and hen parties as well.

  1. East London

The Lee Valley Riding Centre can be found in Leyton, East London and you can’t fail to be impressed by the amazing facilities. Lee Valley has an indoor arena as well as two outdoor areas with flood lighting.

They also have show jumping facilities along with cross-country courses on the premises. For those who prefer to watch, there is a spectator zone and a café to chill out while you wait for your horse-loving friends.

This centre has something for everyone, running a full programme of events and activities including horse ball, pony days and evening riding classes –it’s a real equestrian haven in the middle of the capital city.

  1. Richmond Park

At the Robin Hood Gate entrance to this park you will find the Stag Lodge stables. You can access the park from here without needing to go onto the road. They offer pub rides through the park and Ham Common in the summer months. For those looking for a challenge you can take part in their intensive one-day course or sign up for a block of lessons to help get your experience levels up.

  1. The Riding Club, London

The Riding Club, London, acts as a bespoke service for equestrian events. It will help to arrange your horse riding tuition at some of the best venues in the city, organise hacks in the Royal Parks, set up country weekend escapes and also hosts a wide variety of social evenings. Events they offer include dressage training weekends and drinks events.

  1. North London

If you head up to Mill Hill, North London, you will find Belmont Carriage Driving School which is the city’s only horse carriage driving school and is based in broad parkland. They teach the basics from harnessing up; driving a single turnout and you can also undertake a theory-based course on the history of the sport of carriage driving as well.

  1. The Pony Club

For children growing up in the city, going pony riding could seem impossible but thanks to The Pony Club, it’s now easy for city kids to take part in all the joys of the club. They have Pony Club Centres across the capital where children without ponies can take part in all the activities including camps and competing for badges.

They can be found across the city, including at the Hyde Park Riding School, Deen City Farm, Vauxhall City Farm and the Lee Valley Riding Centre.

  1. Ham Polo Club, Greater London

If you are an established horse rider looking for an equestrian event with a difference then head to Ham Polo Club, just eight miles from Hyde Park Corner. It’s the last polo club in Greater London and has been in place since 1926. You can come along and have a go, or if you prefer to spend the afternoon watching a match on a Sunday, you can do that too.

If you thought city life meant giving up your love of horses and horseback riding hopefully this quick guide will help to reassure you that you can still enjoy and take part in many equestrian activities even while living or working in the capital city.

From Pony Club to Polo, from gentle hacks through the parks to fancy dress sponsored rides and the thrill of learning carriage driving, there really is a huge variety of opportunities to take part in horseback riding lessons and events no matter which part of London you live in.

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“Finding Santa” at Little Angel Studios – 18/11/18

 

It might seem a tad early to talk about Christmas but I’ve been working hard on Christmas music since September and we had our first Christmas choir gig yesterday. So I think I’m OK to go to a show about Santa’s elves, full of snow and candy canes. It was also extremely convenient that we’d just been at church in Canonbury so were only a short saunter away from the Little Angel Studios (a separate venue to the theatre we went to for “The Everywhere Bear”)

Eva squealed with delight at the front of the studios, which were decorated with baubles and ribbons. As we walked through to the studio, the corridors were hung with letters to Santa, a key motif of the show we were about to watch. The studio itself had a set made of icebergs and icicles and elves were wandering around the audience, chatting to kids. It may be November, but it sure was Christmassy in there.

The show started with a shadow-puppet style film, telling the story of two elves who collected the letters to Santa and delivered them to the North Pole. Then we were thrown into the action with our two heroes – Tatty and Pumpkin – as they tumbled out of their sleigh and had to find their way home with the letters in time for Christmas Eve.

It was a simple enough plot but with a twist – at several points, the audience had to choose between two different options and that determined the path the show took. Just like those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books we had in the 80s. I suspect that every possible path would have led to a happy ending cause it would have been a very different show if the elves had genuinely faced the prospect of freezing to death or being eaten by a troll. With a show aimed at 3-8 year olds, it was always going to work out well.

That troll, though. He had Eva doubting it. She’s easily spooked and the idea of the friendly elves being eaten was a bit much for her. I apologise to anyone nearby us for the ear-piercing scream.

It did work out well though and she said she yuved the show in the end. She was really keen on the audience participation elements and said that her favourite character was Tatty because of all the “really funny jokes and riddles” she told. Trolls aside, it was an easy watch – light on peril and big on preschool-friendly laughs. There were a variety of sets as the stage blocks moved around to make a frozen lake, a bridge and a sleigh. The interaction with the kids was well handled despite a few heckles and both actors seemed to be having a great time.  It’s a delightful Christmas show, ideal for the smaller child in your life.

“Finding Santa” runs every day between now and Christmas Eve. For more information and tickets, click here.

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

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Fireworks at Scout Park – 03/11/18

My posts about fireworks are inevitably vague and full of dark, fuzzy photos so I’m pleased to announce that this post is no different. But, unlike 2014, it doesn’t contain any references to explosive diarrhea so that’s a bonus.

We’ve been to a few different displays over the years – Brockwell Park, Battersea Park, Clapham Common and Crystal Palace in the south, Coram’s Fields in Central London and Gunpowder Mills in M25Land – but are always looking for a good, early-evening solution. Last year Eva was terrified of the loud noises, so a mild version aimed at toddlers might just work for her. Plus, Nathan and I had a Disco 2000 to get to in the evening so couldn’t be doing with any of these 8PM starts.

The one I found was a little way away  – 20 mins on the North Circular according to Google Maps, even with what seemed like endless North Circular traffic. Still, at least there was a pretty sunset to look at along the way:

Scout Park is near Bounds Green station so we could have gone on the tube but it would have been a bit convoluted and the kids would have been tired and grouchy afterwards. So we decided to drive, even though we were pretty sure that parking would be a nightmare. As it was, we mananged to find a space a 6-minute walk away from the entrance so it wasn’t terrible but we were circling long enough for me to start formulating all manner of Plan Bs in my head, all of which would have involved wrangling those aforementioned tired and grouchy kids home on the tube on my own. I was quite relieved when we found a space.

The display is hosted by Wild Wolf Explorers and is fairly intimate as these things go – it’s a wooded site, with lots of different areas to explore and it wasn’t too crowded for the early display (There was a later one at half 7ish I think). The gates opened at 4PM but of course we weren’t anywhere near ready in time for that so scraped in around 5, half an hour before the display started. I didn’t know how much there would be to do beforehand but the answer was “Enough to make Eva feel like she’s missed out thanks to out poor planning”. Or maybe her refusal to put her shoes on, Who knows?

The one thing we did manage to do was go on the bouncy castle, which was an extra £2 per child bringing the cost of the 4 of us to £22 overall including entry fee. Again, if we’d been more organised we could have booked in advance and got that got that quite a lot cheaper. The bouncy castle was floodlit but still quite dark which explains why this photo is quite so ropey:

We were queuing next to the queue for the campfire, which is the thing that Eva would later wail about missing. She’d smelt the bonfire on the way and made an instant memory association with toasted marshmallows and, obviously, then wanted some. I don’t even know whether there were any marshmallows at the campfire or whether it was just sitting around and singing that classic Scout anthem “Baby Shark”.

So we should have got there earlier, done the campfire, had a marshmallow and followed the sign to where it said “Kids’ Games”. Lesson learnt for next time. But we were in position in the car park in time to watch the fireworks, which was kinda the whole point really.

Now, Roo was disappointed at the lack of bangs but it was a display specifically targeted at the under 6s and children with additional needs that require a quieter display. He’s 9 and doesn’t have those specific needs but really just needs to go along with it if he doesn’t want his little sister crying and hiding behind my leg the whole time. The fireworks were definitely tamer than the later display would be but plenty to wow the younger viewer:

The main selling point of Scout Park though, would be its atmosphere. The fairy lights hung up in the woods gave it a really lovely feel and there was live music drifting through the trees as we wandered around.

If we’d had more time to explore, I would have been able to give it a more useful review but hey, I warned you about the mediocrity of this post from the off. Fancy a really blurry firework picture? Of course you do:

So a nice family-friendly display and not inconvenient for us NE Londoners at all. On the way back I was excited to see that we’d be taking a slightly different route and so would be turning onto the North Circular just by the Protex “Pest of the Week” sign – always a highlight of our family trips out. Sadly though, this was my view as we waited to turn:

And then I forgot to look while we did the turn itself. Denied! I’ll never know what this week’s pest was.

Still, if you want to get more of an idea what the Wild Wolf Explorers fireworks were like, here’s a handy video:

Probably a touch more helpful than anything else in this post. We’ll do better next year!

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Product Review: The “Electro Hero Kit” by Tech Will Save Us

 

I don’t do loads of product reviews but something about this one sounded really appealing – maybe it’s the constant MCU talk that’s filled the house for around four years now and has stepped up a gear since *that* finger click. Or maybe it’s the interest that Roo has developed lately in all things scientific. Either way, this electro hero kit from STEM startup Tech Will Save Us seemed like it would fill a quiet Saturday afternoon.

It’s probably best to prep a little before you even show the kit to the kids – your child will need a maker account set up at www.twsu.co/hero before you can access the instructions for the missions. And you’ll need some playdough as it’s a vital component of the circuit making. We didn’t prep and so had a frantic hunt around the house before chancing upon a pot of freshish orange stuff tucked behind the telly. But fear not if you don’t keep any playdough in the house any more – once you’ve logged on to the mission portal, the first mission tells you how to make the dough from kitchen cupboard ingredients.

We skipped over that and went straight for the Hulk Smash! mission. For that, we needed to construct a wall of playdough bricks using the clever little brick mould:

That’s a quite satisfying part of the process for adults and kids alike. Then you need to make a Hulk fist and construct a switch by connecting fist to wall. Smash!

I won’t give too much away as you probably want your kids to discover the secrets of the circuits themselves but there were three separate missions to complete, and endless scope for free play with the LEDs, wires and power pack. The Avengers theme is a nice added on touch but the main joy is in completing the circuits from the basic:

to the arc reactor:

 

It absorbed both kids for two hours and included an element of experimentation, asking the children to test out different materials and predict whether they would be conductors or insulators. Both thought it was brilliant fun and have asked what other kits are available. I enjoyed it too, though found some of the bits with the LEDs a bit fiddly as my manual dexterity is pretty non-existent. It would also be good to have a bit of a clearer sign for which LED leg was the long one and which was the short one but apart from that, I don’t have any complaints.  The playdough moulding on its own would be a fun activity for littler ones and Eva often took that task while Roo was doing the wiring.

So definitely a hit with my kids (9 and 6) and I haven’t even shown them the online certificates they got for completing the missions yet. I would definitely recommend it for a bit of hero-themed family STEM play. More information here.

Disclaimer: I received a free Electro Hero Kit in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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“Paddington’s Musical Adventures” – 07/10/18

Paddington’s Musical Adventures performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ben Palmer, narrated by Simon Russell Beale and presented by Lindsey Russell (Illustrations by R.W.Alley) in Milton Court concert Hall on Sun. 7 Oct. 2018.
Photo by Mark Allan/BBC

It’s been a busy day. A spontaneous trip to Winchester for me and Eva yesterday rolled straight into a spontaneous sing at church so by the afternoon I was ready for something soothing. And a Paddington-themed concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra seemed just the ticket.

First though, we had to find it. Essex Road station was unhelpfully shut so we couldn’t get the secret train to Moorgate, but the 271 did pretty much the same job and we managed to find a food outlet that was open on a Sunday too, which isn’t easy in the City. Bless you Leon and all your lattice fries.

I’d never been to the Milton Court Concert Hall before but I keep a pet musician at church who knows about these things and he told me that it wasn’t part of the Barbican Centre as I’d thought, but over the road in the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. The giveaway when we got closer was the large windows of the foyer seemed to be filled with small children and accompanying parents. I was pretty sure we’d found the right place.

We didn’t have enough time to get to the hands-on musical workshop before the concert but it looked fun – lots of little ones trying out different orchestral instruments. We just about had enough time for a loo trip (on Level 2 to avoid the crowds) and for both kids to have  quick hugs with Paddington before the show started.

There were two parts to the concert, which was introduced by Blue Peter presenter Lindsey Russell. The first was a story called “Paddington’s First Concert”, with accompanying soundtrack by the orchestra and the second was a new story called “Paddington at St Paul’s” – both were written by Michael Bond and narrated by Simon Russell Beale, who you might recognise from “The Death of Stalin”.

Paddington’s Musical Adventures performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ben Palmer, narrated by Simon Russell Beale and presented by Lindsey Russell (Illustrations by R.W.Alley) in Milton Court concert Hall on Sun. 7 Oct. 2018.
Photo by Mark Allan/BBC

“Paddington’s First Concert” included some of the origin story and a charming version of the classic theme tune, which recurred throughout the story and even had lyrics sung to it at the end by the narrator. The orchestra added other musical motifs through the story – a trilling flute to represent the birds of Darkest Peru and snatches of Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, which the orchestra in the story were playing. It was a simple enough tale but very Paddington, with some unfortunate misunderstandings and mishaps. The setting for the story was the Royal Albert Hall, which was slightly incongruous when we were in such a different and more modern venue but the kids both whispered excitedly when it was mentioned (“we’ve been there!”).

“Paddington at St Paul’s” was published recently to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Paddington and was completed by Michael Bond before his death last year. This section was exciting because it had some gorgeous illustrations which helped the kids to focus – they get a bit restless of a Sunday afternoon and listening isn’t their strong at the best of times even when it’s listening to a world-class orchestra. So there were pictures to look at, a story about what Eva would call a Yundon Yandmark (she’s learning about those in school) and some famous pieces of music interspersed, like “The Flight of the Bumblebee”. It worked so well together and kept the kids’ interest to the end. There was only one place where the music got a little too soothing – I think it was the Tchaikovsky (“Preghiera from Mozartiana”) and all around me kids and adults started snuggling down a bit. I can’t be the only one that didn’t want to go back out into the real world after that. It’s not quite so soothing out there!

So a lovely afternoon – Paddington has a timeless appeal and his charming, cheeky nature  appeals to today’s kids as much as it did 60 years ago. The music was superb, the narration evocative and really interesting to learn some facts about Michael Bond (Did you know that he was a cameraman on Blue Peter?). It was also great to have a snoop around a relatively new venue on London’s cultural scene.

Then we went home, watched Doctor Who and now Reuben has forgotten all the soothingness of the afternoon and is probably going to have nightmares about aliens. Ah well, life’s an emotional rollercoaster when you’re a kid…

“Paddington’s Musical Adventures” will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in December. More details to follow!

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

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“The Everywhere Bear” – 15/09/18

Ah, the class bear experience. We’ve all been there. Last October, we babysat Pluto the Class Dog for the entire half term, taking him to the Wetlands and the V&A. Here’s Eva with him on the platform at Hackney Downs, reunited after she’d dropped him at a bus stop near Hackney Downs and I’d had to retrace our steps to go find the poor little chap:

Losing the class bear is the all-too-real premise of “The Everywhere Bear” but before we tried to find the bear, we needed to first find the Little Angel Theatre . It’s not overly obvious especially if you’ve chosen to walk along Liverpool Road instead of Upper Street for dull and complicated reasons of my own. Still, it meant we go to walk down this road of brightly coloured doors, which only grate if you’re of the rainbow-OCD persuasion:

Back on Upper Street, look out for the massive church on the east side of the street and take a path that cuts through the churchyard to the north of it:

And this, slightly unhelpfully, is the view back down the path once you’ve found the theatre:

Because the theatre is off to the right of this photo, just at the end of the path. Quite literally off the beaten track but definitely worth because it’s a small but perfectly formed place. At a guess I’d say the auditorium seats about 100 and there’s a little cafe area as soon as you walk in through the doors as well. That was home to Eva’s favourite feature – an animatronic version of the Princess and the Frog. Push a button and the door opens to reveal one of three different frogs or the prince! I can’t quite convey how exciting she found it:

So onto the show. It’s a joint production with two other theatres – the Polka in Wimbledon and the Royal & Derngate in Northampton – but I’m glad we saw it in the intimacy of the Little Angel because we were so close to the stage that it felt very immersive. Eva got *too* emotionally involved if anything but more on that later. I like the way they reserve the aisle seats for kids as well in order to maximise sightlines for little ones. It’s a very thoughtful touch.

The show’s based on a Julia Donaldson book and the Donaldson connoisseur might notice similarities between this work and some of her others  – notably “Stick Man” and “Tiddler”  – but the theme of being lost and finding your way home is a pretty universal one. I forgot how much “Stick Man” makes Eva cry though. Oops. I mean, we were both emotional today for reasons I won’t go in to and the story tugs at the heartstrings a bit. It opens in Class One, with the teacher reeling off a list of names as kids’ faces appear in the round screen at the top of the stage. Even this bit made me a little weepy as they introduced the puppet Matt, who was new in class and worried about not having any friends. The teacher was played by Amy Tweed and she and Daniel Harlock between them played every part in the show, as well as operating the puppets.

Matt gets to take the Everywhere Bear home and sings an affecting song about being new while planning his fun weekend with his new friend. It’s at this stage that the cleverly-designed set starts to take effect – it converts from school to Matt’s room and an ice rink becomes a picnic at the flip of a board. You can guess what happens when Matt is taking the bear back to school on Monday – it was similar to our Hackney Downs experience. From then on, the story splits with us seeing both the bear’s adventures at sea and in a fish shop as well as Matt’s sadness at home and his worry about losing the bear.

It sounds pretty simplistic but there’s a lot that’s gone into the show. There’s a pair of Welsh (?) fishermen who deliver the bear to Mrs Bishop’s Fish Shop, where she sings a song packed with fish puns at an ever-increasing tempo. Eva had her hands firmly over her ears at that point – not because she didn’t like Daniel’s singing but because she feared the bear was in grave danger and her response to anything “too scary” is to put her hands on her ears. She couldn’t tear her eyes off the stage though…

I did try explaining to her beforehand that this was a show for 3-8 year olds and any peril would be surely be mild enough for a 6-year-old to handle but the message didn’t seem to have sunk in. She feared for that bear.

Of course, there was a happy ending. When the bear was discovered by a librarian, she rescued him by climbing up a lamp post while entirely talking in bear-related rhyming couplets. It would have enraged a friend of mine but Eva found it hilarious (if I tell you that the friend in question is called Claire, you might start to understand where she’s coming from). All seemed well as Class One arrived at the library but it was at that point that Eva burst into uncontrollable tears – she couldn’t tell me afterwards whether they were happy tears at the bear being safe or sad tears because Matt didn’t realise the bear was safe yet….they were just tears. I think the emotions of the piece and of the week overwhelmed her a bit and I can totally see why. A younger child may well have handled it much better but Eva is at that stage where she *feels* everything so very much and quite frankly, she’s her mother’s daughter.

So big emotions aside, we both really enjoyed it. It’s a short show – about 50 minutes I think – and has a bouncy mix of songs and dialogue to keep things moving quickly. There’s some lovely use of props – a book opens to reveal a glittering sky full of stars  – and a real warmth to both the actors that makes them believable whether they’re playing kids – as they did on the stage before the start of the show – or adults. I’d recommend seeing it and Eva is very keen to return for “The Singing Mermaid” in January. It’s a lovely theatre and a well-overdue visit. Just pack some tissues if your little one is of the empathy-overload variety.

“The Everywhere Bear” is on now and runs until 11th November. For more information and tickets, please click here.

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

 

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“King Arthur” at The Scoop – 30/08/18

 

It’s been a wild week. The kids have been staying at my sister’s in Wales and Nathan and I have been kidfree and fancy free. There was a night out dancing, which I might write about soon if I have the energy, and pub trips every day. Literally every day.

It’s little wonder that by Thursday I was feeling a little dazed. I left work in Bank at 4ish and my head was in desperate need of some clearing before the next trip out, so I wandered down towards the river and took in some not-quite-fresh air. My eventual aim was to meet Nathan near Southwark Bridge but I had time to kill so I followed the River Path along the north bank for a while, taking in sights like this cool little Art Deco-esque tunnel:

And the Queenshithe mosaic:

And the imposing columns of this building, which Google tells me are the offices of Miki Travel Limited:

There’s always something to see on the river and I was hoping to see a few more things to see in the Tate Modern. So I crossed the wobbly bridge to get there, which was disappointingly unwobbly.

Talking of disappointing, the Turbine Hall seems oddly empty at the moment. I could see some swings outside the back doors of the building and they may be the same ones that used to be in there but safe to say, it’s in a transitional phase right now.

So I went up to the Start Gallery on the 2nd Floor, which was indeed a good place to start. There were some huge, colourful pieces that I think Eva would like although the strobing of this particular one was not making my impending headache any better.

Then I looked through rooms about genocide, mourning and slavery and started to realise that I wasn’t quite in the right place for art. The right mental place, I mean. Being in an art gallery is exactly the right place for art. So I sat down for a long time with my magazine on the fourth floor, then when I realised the gallery was emptying at 6pm, I vacated too and sat on a bench by the river.

It’s surprising after all this that I decided to go through with the evening’s plans. The headache was threatening to take me down altogether but somehow the rest, the fresh air and a pint of lemonade with Nathan’s colleagues at The Anchor pulled me back from the brink and by 7:30 I was ready for the main business of the evening – an open air production of “King Arthur” at The Scoop near Tower Bridge.

Well, almost ready. First we picked up some tasty food from Pod just by the Scoop. Apparently after 7:30 everything is half price, so we got a pot of curry, a falafel wrap and a bottle of water for £7. Score!

Though it did mean we missed the first few minutes of the show. We picked it up pretty quickly though – the guy in the crown was Arthur (Adrian DeCosta) and schemey ones were the baddies, Mordred (Tom Gordon) and Morgan LeFay (Eva Fontaine). The basics of the plot we knew from a combination of “The Sword in the Stone”, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “The Magician’s Chamber” but there were some new elements in this one. It was based on Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” (spoilers!) and adapted for this season by Phil Willmott. The language had a Shakespearean feel to it but there were some decidely modern elements, like the feisty female knights who joined the Round Table as part of Arthur’s brother-sister knighthood. It’s a female Gawain/Gawynn (Emma Hoey) that goes in search of the Green Knight although there’s a bit of ambiguity about whether her hosts in Anglesey realise she’s a woman. Kay (Sarah Agha) is also female, holding her own and then some against Gaheris (Hadley Smith) as they fight with both words and swords. As you can imagine, I enjoyed the strong women characters though it did have the effect of making Guinevere (Siobhan Cha Cha) look a bit wussy as she stood around waiting to be rescued a lot.

Guinevere is key to the whole plot though – it’s her marriage to Arthur that brings Lancelot (Henry Wyrley-Birch) back from abroad and the rekindling of the love between Lancelot and Guinevere that sees the country descend almost into civil war. Word of advice Arthur – don’t keep walking around telling everyone how perfect your happiness is. It’ll all fall apart by dinnertime, no really.

The first half of the show was quite lighthearted, with the wedding of Arthur and Guinevere and the aforementioned perfect happiness, along with the arrival of the Scottish siblings and their integration into the court. The sun was setting as we got closer to the interval and the plot, accordingly, was about to take a darker turn.

But first a loo break for anyone who, like me, worries about these things. There’s a wooden building behind City Hall that contains what you need and you don’t even need to pay for them. There’s also a bar for people who don’t worry about needing to pee all the way through, and a fried chicken shack. We brought our own snacks, which was good as I didn’t see anyone selling any nearby, and we also brought a couple of cushions each, for sitting on the hard steps, and a blanket or two as well. The production runs for 2.5 hours so the cushions were well needed.

Back to the show! Guinevere and Lancelot’s very chaste affair was about to be discovered, thanks to the scheming of Mordred and Morgan and the resulting drama made the second half speed by. Arthur looked suitably heartbroken to be betrayed by his queen and Guinevere showed nothing but dignity as she was led to her death by the clearly quite sinister Mordred. I won’t say what happened next, for fear of spoilers but a few people die. I was very fond of some of them.

There were well choreographed sword fights, taking the actors well off the stage and on to the space around them. There’s a timely intervention by Merlin (PK Taylor) who seems convincingly in touch with the higher powers. And inevitably there’s some villainous cackling as the plot reveals itself. Along with some very tactile-looking velvet cloakery.

If I haven’t mentioned this so far, all this was for free – the cast just appealed for donations at the end. It was a great evening’s entertainment in a very scenic location and we really enjoyed it. We even got to meet Mordred on the way out:

It was billed as suitable for kids but I’d say the adult themes of death, adultery and vengeance make it for the older end of the kid-market. Reuben (9) would have enjoyed the sword fighting but might have lost patience with the romance. Eva (6) would have *loved* the beautiful costumes and scenery but would have been overwhelmed by the big emotions. Of course, it’s easy to drop in and out of the performance so if you’re not sure whether your kids would like it, you always go for a bit and see how they find it.

Anyway, they were miles away so it didn’t matter whether they would have liked it. But they’re back now, so our adventures are at an end. I may still tell you all about that wild night in Shoreditch though….

 

“King Arthur” runs till 2nd Sept. More information here

 

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Highbury Fields – 19/08/18

Here’s the problem with finally having a “BBQ Summer” – there’s nowhere to actually have a fricking BBQ. I understand the H&S logic of not making fire on dry grass but I think the tabloids and TV weathermen responsible for this phrase need to either rebrand the experience or build a fireproof BBQ pit in their collective back gardens and invite us over for a chipolata in penance.

The reason I came up against this was because we’d promised – as a home group – to send our Brazilian church intern back off to Brazil with a traditional English BBQ, partially-raw sausages and all. But as the agreed date drew closer the restrictions stayed in place. We scoured the Olympic Park to see if their brick BBQs would do the job but intel suggested there were likely to be all full on the day of a West Ham match. Still, Islington Council broke with the habit of a lifetime and did something in a timely manner – the weather cooled and the ban on BBQs in Highbury Fields was lifted. With, like *hours* to spare.

Which is how we ended up inventing the very unusual Chargrilled Wotsit Delight avec sausage juice jus:

Kids loved em. Natch. So much so that Eva was leaning over the grill to get her next fix, hair perilously close to the flames. But don’t worry, this isn’t a sad story. She didn’t catch fire and we went to the playground. Let me tell you all about that:

Whole load of buttocks.

Strangely-detailed mosaics aside, it was a nice playground. A big sandpit and then climbing frames around the corner and then a separate area with some massive slides. Not quite the size of the Victoria Park ones but big enough. The climb up alone is pretty intimidating:

No wonder that both kids got to the top and then changed their minds about going down. Reuben claimed that the Orbit slide experience had put him off dangerous slides forever.  But Eva eventually gave it a go:

Roo was more comfortable sticking to the climbing frames:

And the bonus was that there was a toilet, although there was a strict rule about only using it with a child in tow, which would lead to me later having to borrow a child in order to use it.

So here’s a few more pics:

See, lovely! And not too crowded on a sunny Sunday afternoon. And yes, Eva was dressed as a fairy for no apparent reason.

It’s worth mentioning too that there’s a little swimming pool on Highbury Fields that we visited sometime during the heatwave – I believe it was on the day that England played Sweden. A pretty basic pool with a very warm training pool and a little slide in it..not worth a blog post of its own but handy if you’re in Canonbury to teach an English class and the kids are demanding a swim.

Don’t say I never tell you anything useful…

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Wild Child Festival – 18/08/18

 

Some of the events we go to seem very aptly named for my kids and “Wild Child” is certainly one of them.  For those who have missed my Wild Child previews, it’s a folksy kinda family festival in leafy Dulwich and it’s where we spent the day today so don’t worry, I’m gonna tell you all about it. At length.

I wasn’t the best prepared for this day, mainly cause we’ve been to the moon and back this week (well, to the ‘pool and back) and my head is spinning a little. So I’d planned a route but hadn’t factored in things like the kids needing a ticket to travel from Victoria to West Dulwich because it’s not run by TfL…or there being nowhere near West Dulwich to either buy a picnic or get cash out. There’s pretty much nothing on the walk from the station except the very scenic Dulwich College and a lot of trees. Be warned, if you’re planning the same route.

So we arrived at Wild Child with food and snacks for the kids but nothing for us and a tenner in cash. The first thing I clocked when we walked in was that the Toasty Badger took card payments so at least I knew we’d be able to afford lunch and it would come with a dobble of tasty chutney. The second thing I clocked was how long the coffee queue was so we decided to skip that and run on natural adrenaline for a bit.

I’ve unfairly skipped over the entrance to the festival, which was as pleasant as any I’ve ever experienced. No queues and a double-bass and guitar duo playing Disney classics while you sign in. The site is open and grassy and inviting, with different areas spread out through the field. Eva looked at the map and straightaway wanted to go to the Unicorn Meadow, where a show was just about to start.

Reuben was a bit reluctant at first as I think he classes unicorns along with fairies and mermaids and other “Eva things” but he was soon drawn into the mission to find colours of the rainbow which would then summon a unicorn. The two “unicornologists” from Skewbald Theatre had the kids running from one corner of the meadow to the other, collecting the colours and eventually creating this rainbow:

Eva was, of course, taking the whole thing very seriously in the hope of seeing a real live unicorn. Obviously it was a “travel size for your convenience” substitute but she wasn’t too disappointed.

There was also a brief spurt of rain at this point but luckily it didn’t last long. Long enough though that we took shelter at the Harmony Hideaway, which was a live music stage with a bit of a roof on it. Groove Baby were midway through their “Groove Into the Woods” set and we arrived just in time for a bit of audience participation. We were wizards (zap!) and it gave the kids time to sit down for a bit, hop around for a bit and have a restorative snack.

Next stop was the Okido stall, which promised science and art. The science was bubble mixture making – each kid had a giant test tube and had to add fairy liquid, glycerine and food colouring to water to make their mix before decorating an espresso cup to hold it in and fashioning a bubble wand out of a pipe cleaner.

Doing this activity early was a bit short sighted because it then meant toting two cups of bubble mix round for the rest of the day, but it was a good fill in before the El Baldinho Magic workshop at 12, which is something Reuben had been keen to do from the start.

I missed most of the workshop because it seemed a good opportunity to go and get those toasties, while the kids (and Nathan!) were occupied and the queues weren’t too long. It still took a while, as getting lunch at these kind of events always does, so if there’s any improvement I’d suggest for next year it’d be to have a few more food vans. It was really only one of two options, the other being pizza, so there wasn’t much for people who don’t like cheese. The badgers did offer a vegan cheddar, although I just indulged myself was a full-cow version and TWO types of chutney. It was a gooooood toastie.

Nathan and the kids came back, full of magic tricks they wanted to show me from their paper bags full of props . Who knew such illusions could be drawn from a balloon, a paper cup and three crayons? Then Eva arsed about for a bit and refused to eat her roll. Let’s skip on.

Most of the activities stopped between 1 and 2 for lunch but there was a Poppy’s Parties storytelling and drama workshop starting at 1:30 so we went for that. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it turned out to be everyone going on an adventure story with games along the way to help them solve problems. The Enchanted Fox had one of those great drama teachers voices – energetic and dramatic to the point of parent-terrifying shoutiness at times. The kids loved it, obviously. Eva especially was very taken with the Fox’s yuvyee red hair and Roo was mainly in it for the bum jokes. And messing with the other kids’ minds by giggling guiltily in the “who took the bear?” game even when it wasn’t him. Psych! At some point, it all became a Bit Too Much for Nathan and he went off to get us coffee….Now that noon had past, the queue had died down. I imagine they were all at the bar instead.

Coffee was both a good idea and a bad idea. I think the advantages are obvious but the disadvantages became apparent when we moved to the circus tent (“Little Top”) and both kids launched themselves into doing stuff that seemed to always involve grabbing us by the coffee-arm. You know the stuff – stilts and tightropes and that kind of thing. Eva combined the two, propelling herself along the tightrope by using the stilts like ski poles, which was a lot better than the nightmarish vision I’d had when she first proposed it. I thought she was talking about being on stilts, on the tightrope. She still managed to fall off and clonk her head on the wooden stilt though.

Time for something calmer. And that something was one she’d circled early on as “Not to be missed” – a ballet version of the Princess and the Frog, by Let’s All Dance in the Bop-Along Ballroom. It was definitely a highlight of the day for her. She’s very into the idea of ballet at the moment, even though I refuse to get her lessons because she’s already highly strung enough without becoming a ballerina. I’m turning into an Aunt June type from Sadlers Wells, aren’t I? I didn’t see that coming. So she’s interested in ballet but has never seen any up close before and this was up very close – she even got to stroke the Princess’ tutu at one point. Needless to say, she YUVED it.

I enjoyed it too. The dancing was flawless and the playful chemistry between the two leads was delightful. Once the frog head came off, the handsome prince looked a tad flushed but who wouldn’t after you’ve been leaping around in a giant animal head? At the end there was a photo opportunity and my phone was flashing 1% battery as we lined up for it. Miraculously though, I managed to get the shot before it died:

Luckily because Wild Child is a fairly small festival, we were able to find Nathan and Roo again even without the aid of a phone. We gathered back in the Playhouse for our final show of the day – Sam Quinn in “Mr Danger’s Really Safe Show”.

The tale of a traumatised daredevil who has decided to play it safe, it combined “daring” stunts with time travel and a variety of characters including a cleaner and Mr Danger’s sinister trainer. It was a lot of fun and Reuben got up on the stage at least three times and was left holding a ticking bomb at least once. Eva wussed out of taking part at least once. I got in a good heckle about self-tying shoelaces and, all in all, it was a good way to end the day.

We left the tent at 4:30 and just had enough time to play with some giant bubbles and for Eva to colour in a pair of lungs back at the Okido stand before leaving at 5. The journey home was somewhat fraught, with a slow P4 journey back to Brixton starting off with a screaming tantrum from Eva (we had to throw her bubble mix away as it was leaking). A pack of haribo that I’d stashed in my handbag created a fragile peace though, at least enough to get us as far as the tube station where we could load up on milkshake and crisps for the long journey back to Walthamstow.

So our verdict on Wild Child? A great day out! It’s got a few teething problems like the food queues and the lack of running water in the loos but the idea and the execution are both superb. The setting is lovely – you totally forget that you’re in London – and the spacing works well so it never feels rushed or too crowded even though plenty of people attended. The quality of the entertainment was tip notch and there was plenty that we could do if we went for a second day. We never even got round to doing the craft or exploring Dino Land (tho we did spot the dinos having a wander about and Eva tickled one of them) and the day just flew by. Obviously a bit of a trek for us North-East Londoners but that’s our fault for leaving South London.

I can only hope the organisers feel similarly positive and decide to go for a second year in 2019. If they do, we are there.

Disclaimer: I recieved free tickets and a small fee in exchange for a preview, review and social media interaction. All opinions remain honest and my own. More information here (Wild Child website).

 

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