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

More Galleries | Leave a comment

“Power Up” at the Science Museum – 19/10/17

power5

Last year we went to Power Up. You might know this not just from reading this blog but also the way that Reuben’s “concentrating” face has popped up all over social media and even the print media to promote the exhibition reopening. In case you missed it, here’s the photo:

power7

So naturally we were keen to revisit this year. There were some complicated plans to get there, which I explained to Nathan using four different colour pens to represent the four members of the family, a teenage babysitter and Uncle Wiley, our other child. All of which plans were almost scuppered by a cancelled train at Highams Park. The boys went on ahead and I made some time by running up escalators and down exhibition road, pausing only to take in the pretty lights of the Natural History Museum.

power1

I got there to find all three boys plugged into the 16-player halo console, all wearing identical vacant expressions. Roo acknowledged me with a vague wave and then went back to shooting em up. I went to get some drinks and then persuaded him to have a bit more of a look around. We only got as far as the Minecraft area before he settled in again. That’s the “problem” with Power Up. ..it’s hard to get too far around the exhibition without getting drawn in. I suspect most people wouldn’t see that as a problem at all.

power3

Nathan was off playing Nintendo and Roo and I went over to the Lego games, where we spent a long time trying to get C3PO picked up by a magnet so that he could open the door that R2D2 couldn’t. Roo sighed in frustration at Mummy’s complete lack of gaming skills and ended up wrestling the controller off me so he could control both. We never did open that door and even Uncle Wiley couldn’t figure it out.

power8

Time to try something different. And the drumming games seemed to be the change we were looking for. I may not have gaming skills but I think I have a fair sense of rhythm. The scoring system for the game may not have agreed but I think we did a pretty good version of Carmen.

power6

Before we left, I wanted to introduce Roo to a game I could play – Sonic the Hedgehog. Those hours of gaming in the 90s were not wasted as I zipped through the Green Hill Zone and he said “Wow Mum you’re really good at this” in a tone that was only mildly condescending. No matter that when I tried the versions of either side of the mega drive I did nothing but get stuck. And I’d never have passed the marble zone. But Act 1 of GHZ on the mega drive….aced it!

power4

Nathan meanwhile was lost in his own world. …I suspect he retreated into the VR headset to avoid having to go home with me and Reuben. He would have been wise as Reuben was crazy-bouncy on the way out of the museum and then swiftly crashed on the Piccadilly Line. Ah well, it was an evening well spent. Power Up opens today and is on till 31st October. More information here.

power2

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Suntrap Open Day – 14/10/17

sunt3

We’ve been meaning to go to Suntrap for a long time. And when I say we, I mean me. The kids have both been there on school trips and so were talking knowledgeably about the invertebrate room with all the superiority that a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old can muster. So when I saw that Suntrap were having an open day, with free shuttle buses form Chingford station…well, we were in. Nathan was off to buy a new stereo and despite not wanting to come with us, Eva saw Suntrap as a lesser evil than Currys. Roo, in contrast, was “10 out of 10 excited” to be going back to Suntrap so at least he was on board with the whole plan.

The shuttle bus from Chingford was one of those thing that sounded easier than it actually proved to be. No one quite knew whereabouts the bus would go from but a small crowd of us gathered on the main road, opposite the Station House pub and that turned out to be correct. The departure time passed and the small crowd grew bigger so I was starting to worry that we’d missed it but no, a 70-seater coach rolled up and it wasn’t long before we were cruising through the Essex countryside, enjoying the contrast of a flower-bedecked church next to a pile of mattresses. Almost before the kids starting moaning, we were at Suntrap.

sunt1

he first activity the kids wanted to try was the pond dipping. There were nets and trays and microscopes, for close examination of the pond life but Eva was mainly interested in in examining her own hand:

sunt4

Roo was more interested in how much pond weed he could fit into his net and dump into the tray. But he’d brought his own binoculars and notebook with him, so that showed an enquiring mind. Somehow, we managed to scoop something that looked alive and wasn’t just a fancy acorn:

sunt2

Next up was the low ropes course, which was 50p for Roo and free for Eva. I’m not sure how the system was worked out but I didn’t begrudge paying for one of them. They got three lives to complete the course and Roo did it twice with no lives lost. Eva needed all three of hers but then her legs are pretty tiny.

sunt5

 

Talking of no lives lost, I dithered for a while about letting Eva fry her own pancake over a campfire while wearing a dress that was both dangly and flammable. Eventually, I went with caution and she made pancakes in her coat and leggings. I occasionally manage something approaching good parenting. Of course, a better parent wouldn’t have let her wear a nylon fairy dress to the forest in the first place, but it seems to be all she wants to wear at the moment and I have to wrestle her into school uniform five days a week so yknow, anything for an easy weekend.

sunt8

Reuben gave his pancake a thumbs up, in case you’re wondering:
sunt9

Fuelled by pancakes, we went to do some crafting inside. We gathered some leaves for Eva to make an owl picture. She was very pleased with herself:

sunt10

Roo struggled a bit more with his origami pigeon. It took two of us and several attempts to get anything that even vaguely resembled a bird:

sunt11

Having concentrated so hard, the kids needed a runaround. We found some other HP kids and they all piled into a tree together, except Eva who chose to sit and look dramatic for a bit:

sunt12

But then she piled into a tree with the rest.

We were running out of time before the 4:30 coach back to Chingford but I needed cake, so we had a quick trip to the tearoom before a bit more pond dipping and then back up to the invertebrate room. There was one last thing Reuben wanted to do before we left and I was only slightly reluctant. OK, so I was full-body-shuddering all the time but he was more than content with the “very friendly corn snake” wrapped around him like a belt.

sunt14

*SHUDDER*

And on that note we headed back to semi-civilisation. Happy 50th birthday Suntrap!

sunt6

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Write to Be Counted” Launch – 04/10/17

Courtesy of Nicola Jackson at Write to Be Counted

Courtesy of Nicola Jackson at Write to Be Counted

You may know that I run a choir. What you probably don’t realise is that it’s full of multi-talented people. Not only are most of my singers busy mothers, they’re also artists and actresses, crocheters and famous shoe-complainers…and lately I discovered we have a poet amongst our ranks too.

Which is why I found myself at the Poetry Cafe, squeezing into a packed performance space with a hot cup of peppermint tea. My pet poet was reading from an anthology she’s featured in, along with several of the other writers. It’s called “Write to Be Counted” and it’s a collection of poems on the subject of human rights. Obviously that’s a massively broad topic and the poems being read that night were quite diverse in their focuses. The subject of Trump came up every so often, along with the refugee crisis. Nasrin Parvaz read about the experience of arriving in England and waking up at the immigration centre in Heathrow. John Gonhorry read a powerful poem entitled “You sit on the back row” about people passively watching current affairs and not doing anything about it. There was a poem inspired by a Georgian snuff box, a reflection on motherhood and a reminiscence about a candlelight vigil in August 1968, when the peace and love movement were starting to realise that war never would be over, however much they wanted it.  These are weighty subjects but beautifully expressed and always with a glimmer of hope for the future of humanity.

The anthology is out now on Amazon and I’d encourage you to buy a copy – profits go towards an organisation that promotes free speech around the world. At times like these, when peaceful protesters get called “sons of bitches” by their President, we need free speech more than ever. Not the freedom to be arseholes to each other on the internet, but the freedom to stand up to institutionalized prejudice without losing our liberty. I’d also encourage you to pop down to the Poetry Cafe if you’re in Covent Garden – it’s a lovely little space with lots of events going on, including some for families. And it had some nice-looking cake too. Which, human rights aside, is definitely the most important thing…

Courtesy of Nicola Jackson at Write to Be Counted

Courtesy of Nicola Jackson at Write to Be Counted

Posted in Reviewing the Situation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Anatomy of a SwingTrain Class

You may wonder why I love SwingTrain so much and why I keep plugging the classes without even getting paid for it. Well, let me tell you about Beville.

Beville (not his real name) was a Boxercise instructor I encountered around ten years ago in West London, when Bob and I were on a foolhardy fitness mission. He wore lycra, he shouted a lot and made us run around a gym for six minutes at a time. We once tried a spinning class that was so tough I left halfway through, went to drink cocktails with Bob’s boss’ girlfriend and woke up at 4am on Bob’s sofa with my thigh muscles convulsing uncontrollably. It was enough to put me off exercise classes for life.

Then came Zumba and I managed a whole class without dying of exhaustion or embarrassment, though I’m far too British for all that sexy Shakira stuff. And then came SwingTrain. Like Zumba, the instructors are laid back and friendly – there’s no Beville-style yelling and to date I’ve never had to run round a gym in circles until I collapse in a heap. Plus, Charleston finger.

So what actually happens at a SwingTrain class? Well, luckily I’ve been to enough of them now to fill you in. Here’s a rough guide:

0-15mins – Warming up. This is easy. “Clap Your Hands” you say? No problem. I’ve been able to clap my hands since I was a baby. I totally have this. A quick shimmy? Some kicks? Why not? I can never have too many jazz hands.

15-30mins – Dancing time! Charleston and mambo a go-go. . I look so good, good, good when I do that swing thing. I could be on Strictly with these moves. I may be reaching my limit when it comes to jazz hands. That didn’t seem possible 15 minutes ago.

30-45mins – Woh there, push-ups? They never do that on Strictly. My teacher swears there are only 8 of them but doesn’t mention the other 24 near-push-ups after that.  It confirms my belief that dancers are very good at counting up to 8 but not so good at counting past 8. Then there are some hops and now it’s me that needs to be really good at counting to 8. And 4, and 2 and 1. Luckily these are also things I’ve been able to do for quite some time. When it comes to Charleston Squats, on the other hand, it’s best to stop counting.

45-60 mins – Coming in to land. I don’t feel like dancing? Ah, maybe I do for just one more song. And then some stretches to a mildly depressing ditty about Minnie the Moocher. Nothing says “fitness goals reached” like a Dixieland funeral march.

After all that, you might have some aching muscles but you’ll have some smooth moves. Just like Eva…because my baby can dance, my baby can sway…

 

swingfing

 

Posted in Reviewing the Situation | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Autumnal Times

autumn1

I’m calling it. The heating’s on and I’ve just comfort-eaten half a packet of chocolate digestives. It’s Autumn. Which traditionally means we’ll get the best weather of the year so far but just  in case we don’t here are some ideas of stuff you can do with the kids. It’s a mix of things I forgot to blog about over the summer and things I keep meaning to blog about.

Firstly, here’s something new we found over the summer – the basement of the Natural History Museum. I mean, I knew it was there in theory and that there was picnicking space down there but I never realised there was a whole interactive discovery centre down there. I find the NHM a bit hands off sometimes, but this room had trays of bones, rocks and other artefacts that kids could study in as much detail as they wanted. There were tape measures and microscopes and computer factfiles to find out more about the items in the trays. It’s like schoolkid stuff rather than toddler but the three schoolkids we took certainly enjoyed it.

Autumn2

There’s also been a bit of a change of scene in the main entrance hall. We’re all sad about Dippy but actually, the flow of people is much easier in that space now without a giant dinosaur replica there. Pity the front doors were shut and we had to get in through the side instead. And also a pity that it was a spontaneous visit and I’d forgotten I was meant to be babysitting a friend’s child on the other side of London. We may have made a hasty exit.

autumn3

Here’s another summer jaunt out – the Lego Store in Leicester Square. I meant to go there at Christmas but the queues were way too intimidating. The hype has died down a little now, so you can just walk in and gaze in wonder at the giant Lego sculptures. It was when our Young People were staying, and it was a pretty perfect thing to do with a mix of kids and teens. And if you can believe it, I got away with not spending any money. I know, I can’t quite believe it either.

autumn4

And so on to some exciting things that are happening right here, right now. Not right here, obviously. All that’s happening is biscuit eating. But in London this month. Our friends at Chickenshed have been enjoying a residency at the Old Vic every Thursday in September and I’m sad to say there’s only one day left. But it’s not too late – tickets for Tales From The Shed are still available for this Thursday, 5th October. Click here for more details. Or as ever, you can catch the Chickenshedders in their usual home every Friday and Saturday till 28th October. Here’s the link for the Southgate theatre. There’s also an appearance from Chickenshed at the V&A’s Family Art Fun Day on 27th October, where parents and children can share a day of drama and art. It sounds like fun! So fun, in fact that I’ve just booked our (free) tickets. Gotta make it worthwhile taking annual leave over half term!

Talking of half term, that leads me smoothly on to the Walthamstow Children’s Festival which is taking place at Mirth, Marvel and Maud in Walthamstow, between 23rd and 27th Oct. There’s a packed programme of theatre, from “Little Maestros’ Music”, for the 0-4s, to “Captain Cauliflower and Marvin the Mischievous Moose”. See here for more details.

Credit Benjamin Ealovega, Science Museum

Credit Benjamin Ealovega, Science Museum

What’s more, the Science Museum are running “Power Up” again – the exhibition of computer gaming that I darn near lost Nathan and Roo in last year. You can check out my review here and get booking – it’s on from 20th till 31st Oct and you can find out more information here.

As ever, our old friends at Big Fish Little Fish are throwing some exciting parties in the next few weeks. They’re back at the Museum of London Docklands but that looks to have sold out already, so get booking NOW! for their November parties. They’re always fun, especially if you like glitter cannons and giant balloons, and really November’s the kind of month that needs some glitter in it. Booking link here.

dock19

There’s also fun to be had at the Institute of Imagination, who this week are hosting a “Okido Crazy Drawing Party” (8th Oct, 10-40. I have no idea what that is, but I want in. They also have one of their “Lab Life” family workshops next weekend, focussing on coding for 5-12 year olds. More details to be found here.

And something a bit whimsical to end on – it’s been a long time since I last went to the Tate Modern but the new installation looks intriguing – they’ve filled the Turbine Hall with giant swings, in what the Guardian describes as “an adult playground”. I’m sure it’s more wholesome than it sounds and I’m also pretty sure kids will be allowed to play alongside the adults. But interesting, huh? And perfect for a wander across the wobbly bridge afterwards. Obviously we haven’t visited yet, but here’s what it might look like. Only not in swimwear:

hollb11

Happy Autumn!

 

 

 

Posted in Facts! And facts are important! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BerkoFest 2017 – 09/10/17

berko3

This is our second year at BerkoFest and it could be said that 2016 was defined by one thing – rain. Relentless, driving rain. So you’ll be glad to see this glorious sunshine when we arrived.

 berko7
Now I’m not saying it lasted all day. But we weren’t soaked to the skin this year….at least not yet. I’m writing this while watching Alabama 3 as my boy sits next to me, also engrossed in his phone. Nathan and Eva are up front dancing but Reuben’s gone a bit sulky so the two of us are stuck further, reduced to just listening to those Deep Southern grooves.

 

Of course if you know one thing about Albama Three, it’s that they’re not really from Alabama. They’re from Brixton. If you know a second thing, it’s probably that there aren’t three of them. Today there are four but  Nathan reckons there were about eight of them when we saw them at Jamm on Brixton Rd. That was in the hazy pre-children days where we could go and see bands whenever we felt like it. Nowadays it’s not so easy, but it’s still possible. I’ll come back to Alabama 3 later but let’s start at the start.

 

In case you can’t guess, I am no longer perched in front of the main stage as I write this bit. So we’re going to make an awkward shift into the past tense and rewind to the first act of the day. As we walked on to the site, the words “Who the hell cares about Kasabian?” drifted across from the stage. We were intrigued. We also didn’t care much about Kasabian. The singer was Grace Petrie, a self-proclaimed leftie who hated Theresa May before it was fashionable. I liked the cut of her jib. Her set finished with a Spanish Civil War-themed singalong  (thankfully not that latter-day MSP song) – if we take action today, we can “Save Tomorrow!”

 

berko11
And with that revolutionary spirit in our hearts, we went to do sand art. I’m not sure how Eva making a Disney princess picture is smashing either capitalism or the patriachy but ho hum. I’ve probably been kicked out of the lefties club this weekend anyway, after that whole nationalist moment on Friday night.
So back to the sand art. Hooray, it’s something that keeps Eva occupied for a full 45 minutes. I sometimes think we should get her a kit to do at home, but then I remember the inevtiable sandy mess. Best kept for festivals. Their sand art from last year is still up on their walls so it was something they were very keen to do again. Reuben made a giraffe for Eva because that’s her favourite animal (he can be sweet occasionally) and Eva made Cinderella. There’s a slight black smudge on her nose but it’s something we’ve agreed never to speak of again.
berko10
Roo had knocked the giraffe out a lot more quickly than Eva’s carefully crafted princess so he and I went for a wander. Along the way, we had a go at Splat the Rat at the Young Farmers’ stall. He didn’t splat any rats but he scored two packets of haribo, so was pretty happy with that. Under some pressure, he gave one to Eva. See, I told you he was only sweet occasionally. Then the first rain shower of the day started and so we dived back under the cover of the Sand Art gazebo to wait it out while Eva perfected her princess.
berko9
Next, we ducked into the beer tent for the kids to have a sandwich and were entertained there by the sweet sounds of Lucy Mair, harmonising with herself through a loop pedal. As she was singing, the next rain storm broke and suddenly the tent was rather fuller than before. The horizontal rain created a bonus crowd for Lucy but what Robin Ince described as a “health and safety nightmare” on the main stage. Still, he said he’d chatted to Thor and Odin and from now on the rain would only happen between bands, not during them. That’s one ominous looking sky though:
berko8
It was time for John Power, and the first episode of “keeping the kids still while Mummy and Daddy listen to music”. As challenging as it sounds. They lay on the grass for a bit in a catatonic state, but Eva eventually perked up and had a dance at the front with the other children:
berko5

This is the sum of stuff I know about John Power. Cast were one of those bands that fell on the oasis side of the blur/oasis divide so I’ve always classed them as one of my brother’s type of bands (he was oasis, I was blur). And there was that whole thing in Southampton in 1999 where someone who now calls himself Akira the Don made some offensive t-shirts about him. And I know that his speaking voice is a lot like John Lennon’s, which is unsurprising when you realise they went to the same school. I knew he’s been in the La’s and I had a vague awareness he’d had a solo career. But that’s pretty much it. So I didn’t have too many expectations.

berko6

It was a good set though. He started with what sounded like solo material and then played the familiar opening to “Sandstorm”. I can’t remember exactly what followed but I recognised a lot of the old Cast singles – “Fine Time”, “Guiding Star”, “Alright”, “Walk Away”. The sun shone throughout and we had a good singalong, even if Reuben was still lying on the grass.

Time to perk them up a bit. We’d never had churros before but I figured that doughnuts rolled in sugar and dipped in chocolate might be just the energy boost they needed. And it worked. Which brings us back to Alabama 3, with Roo sitting playing Minecraft, Eva on Nathan’s shoulders and the band giving the children advice on which super-strength lager to drink.

 

Wait, what?

 

Yup folks Alabama 3 are in the house and Berkofest’s no-swearing-on-stage rule seems to been tossed out of the fast-moving car on Coldhabour Lane. Presumably next year, there’ll be an additional rule about not giving kids cans of Red Stripe, as A3 did at the end of the set. Or talking about how “drink responsibly” labels are pointless when you’re drinking Strongbow. Or telling everyone how stoned you are. They’re outrageous but I love em.

 

berko2

At some point, I abandoned my sulky son so I could actually watch the band. It was an acoustic set and at times descended into freestyle acapella rapping but they played most of the hits, including Sopranos theme “Woke Up this Morning” and a joyous version of “Old Purple Tin”. I heard “U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno” while accompanying small children to the portaloos but the good thing about Berkofest is that you can still hear the music wherever you are, so I was tapping my foot in time as I was pumping water for Eva’s hands. Eva had earlier got hold of A3′s mic for a brief moment as they were passing it around the children at the front, but she got stage fright and ran away. In a really bizarre way, it was a very family friendly show. And that seems a good note to end on – thanks once again Berkofest. It’s been fun.

berko1

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Een Nederlands Avontuur Part 2

hollb11

 

It seems a long time ago now, but there was a time we were on holiday at Center Parcs de Kempervennen, just a few kilometres into the Netherlands. It was a roasting hot day when we arrived, so we decided to go straight to the beach. It wasn’t a real beach – Kempervennen is a long way from the sea – but it was sandy and on a lake, so it was all you needed. And a swim in the lake was what I needed after many hot hours in the car.

hollb9

What we probably didn’t need was an overly friendly goat trying to eat our sandwiches. Several overly friendly goats in fact:

hollb4

They scored a half eaten sandwich that, at one point, had belonged to Eva and she wasn’t fussed on finishing. It had a kind of cured meat in it that I thought was chorizo, but I later found to be ossenworst – a raw beef sausage that’s something of a dutch delicacy. Probably why it wasn’t a big hit with Eva but let’s not dwell on the weirdness of goats eating raw cow. Suddenly Roo’s goat fear seems entirely justified.

The next morning didn’t seem like beach weather but luckily there was a great wet-weather alternative – the Aquamondo complex. For those who are unfamiliar with Centre Parks lingo – like we were – it’s a swimming pool with a wave machine, flumes, rapids slide, children’s activity pool, outdoor pool and jacuzzis. For those of you unfamiliar with Eva, she has a number of irrational phobias which now include rapids slides and jacuzzis. Sigh. But after Nathan took Roo on the rapids slide and Roo told me he’d “nearly drowned” I was quite glad that Eva didn’t want to go on it. I took Roo on the rapids slide too and it was hairy in parts but I hung on to him and his head generally stayed above the water. The compulsory Centre Parks lifejackets definitely helped the kids not to drown though. We went to the Aquamondo every day and by the end of the week, Roo was swimming on his own with the help of his jacket and even Eva was bobbing up and down in the outdoor pool without any support. She’s still scared of jacuzzis though. Sigh again.

hollb8

It wasn’t like we did nothing but swim though. On the second day we took a pedalo out on the lake, with Eva whining and moaning for almost every second of it. Turns out she’s scared of swan-shaped pedalos too. Moaning aside, it was pleasant to be out there on the lake, watching the pond skaters ably skimming the water and the water skiiers not-so-ably skimming the water. We also did a spot of pirate-themed bowling and Roo really fuelled his taste for gun violence with what he called an “awesome” game of laser tag.

hollb7

On the last day, I decided we needed to go out and see the countryside surrounding Kempervennen. Again, there was some complaining from the troops. They didn’t want to leave the safe confines of Centre Parks. And Centre Parks didn’t want us to leave, either. Google Maps had told us that there was a village a few minutes’ walk away where we could get an offsite coffee and be able to say that we’d actually taken the kids to The Netherlands, rather than just to International Centre Parks Land. But could we get to the village? No. There was a fence everywhere we tried and one very locked gate. The only way was to walk right round to our car park and drive out the official way. Which meant we might as well go to the nearest town, Valkenswaard.

hollb3

Eva still wasn’t convinced that there was any point to this expedition and there was some some background grumbling as we wandered through a market and past some interesting churches. She perked up a little when we saw a jazz band playing near the sweetie stall but she probably needed some sugar to cheer her up. We’d spotted a cafe called “Brownies and Downies” but were a little unsure what – this being the Netherlands – those brownies might contain. At this point, Google intervened. “Are you at Brownies and Downies?” it asked, somewhat intrusively, and provided a number of user reviews, which both reassured me re the child-friendliness of the brownies and explained what “Downies” meant. Turned out the cafe had a policy of employing staff who were neuro-diverse and “Downies” was a slightly un-PC reference to the staff with Down Syndrome. Not what I’d call a cafe but you gotta applaud the concept.

hollb6

And the brownies were damn good too. I had the caramel and sea salt and both the boys had the white chocolate blondies. Eva had an apple tart, which she obviously didn’t finish, but it had had the desired effect of perking her up. She loved the garden of the cafe and we went out to look at the fishes in the fish pond. The cafe was in what seemed to be a converted house, which gave it a lovely cosy vibe and I even managed to order in Dutch. With plentiful pointing. A successful outing.

Sadly, the next morning was our time to leave Kempervennen. We had a long journey, so fuelled up at the Evergreen restaurant’s all you can eat breakfast buffet. Reuben was overjoyed to have as much red meat and juice as he could handle, and Eva was thrilled to have a breakfast that contained both sausages and sprinkles. At 10Euro for adults and 7 Euro for kids, it wasn’t bad value either and meant we didn’t need to eat again till Calais.

hollb2

Because yes, we made it back to Calais. Three hours driving straight through, with only a brief stop for petrol and a little snarly traffic around Antwerp. There were happy times, when the sun was shining and we were on fast, straight roads and there were unhappy times, when torrential rain all but blinded us and we crawled along between HGVs. But we made it with an hour to spare before we even needed to start queuing for the ferry. We celebrated with Coke and Pommes Frites and then I made the family walk out of the terminal to set foot on French soil, again just so that we could say we did. There was no time to actually explore Calais but we did walk round a roundabout a few times and walk as far as the bridge that marked the edge of the port. I know how to show my kids a good time.

hollb10

And then, we were homeward bound. We weren’t so lucky on the British stretch of the journey, with a confusing few turns around Port of Dover before getting stuck for hours at Dartford. Not the best end to the holiday but it was a great adventure overall. Despite everything I’ve said about Eva complaining, she did enjoy the holiday and Centre Parks is well set up for families, with pretty much everything we needed onsite albeit at a price. Driving abroad was scary at times but it was fun too and saved us a ton on airfares. And it meant we could stop at the Marias too, which is always a bonus. If you fancy a similar break, have a look here for all the information you could ever want. Happy holidays!

hollb1

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Een Nederlands Avontuur Part 1

hollb13

Thank you Google translate for that post title…and for everything I said in the Netherlands that wasn’t embarrassed English or panicked German. But we’ll get to all that. Let me give you a short overview first – it’s the now-annual LWAT “What I Did on My Holidays” post. In this one, we cross the channel and not just to the Isle of Wight. I know, exciting stuff.

hollb18

Where else to start but Dover? I’m what you might call a cautious traveller, so we turned up with nearly three hours to fill before our ferry left. It was totally justifiable. We made the fatal mistake of asking the kids whether they wanted to go to the playground first or go and find a cafe for some brunch and inevitably, the vote was split. So we gave in to the bolshiest one and started with the playground, overlooked by the majestic Dover Castle (not to be confused with the pub near Nathan’s office) and also by the funfair that was just setting up. Luckily it wasn’t going to open for quite a few hours so the kids didn’t have a chance to drain all our cash before we’d even left the country, but we did splash out on some pork-related sandwiches and some coffees in a nearby Costa. Nathan was perfectly acting the part of the caffeine-deprived Londoner, standing in the playground whinily asking where the nearest Pret was…so I eventually took pity on him.

hollb15

 

The hours flew by and pretty soon we were on board the DFDS ferry to Calais, with only the briefest of tedious interludes as we queued up for customs. The children initially had some interest in the famous white cliffs, but it diminished after 30 minutes or so of staring at them. So we’ll skip straight to the boat, where Eva is enjoying the pleasures of an on-board soft play. Roo, unfortunately, was a little too big for Adventure Island (6 years and under) but made do with his Lego magazine and a lot of staring at the horizon whenever he felt too seasick.

The journey lasted 90 minutes, though we were an hour further on than that once we disembarked, thanks to the time difference. We’d claw that hour back on the way home and trust me, we’d need it. We were cautiously following Maria’s directions of “drive up the coast, turn right at Ostend, head to Brussels” but it couldn’t really be that easy, could it? Especially as this was the first time Nathan had ever driven on the right?

hollb16

 

Well, it was fine. Improbably so. The kids were quiet, the junctions were smooth and once we got on to the motorway the next turn was 173km away. We got through France on the 130km/hr roads within about half an hour. We turned right, just as Maria had said and then there was Brussels. There was a little navigating to do as we joined the Brussels Ring but the lanes were well marked and instinctive and there was always a decent amount of slip road. I wonder how the poor Belgians fare on our chaotic roads when they drive in the UK? The only glitch-ette we found was driving through towns once we’d turned off the E40 –  200km of motorway driving had made Nathan a little complacent and we’d forgotten that we still hadn’t the slightest clue about traffic lights, roundabouts, zebra crossings and provincial Belgians. But we arrived at Casa Maria safely and a splendid weekend ensued.

hollb12

Last time we’d visited, we’d been to the bright lights of Brussels itself, taking in the EU and a lot of trams. This time we pottered around the local area a bit more, visiting a great adventure playground at Kessel-Lo, complete with high ropes, cafe and kissing gnomes: Just don’t forget that you need to pay 3Euros in change to get out of the car park – a bit of a challenge when you’re new to the area like we were. Luckily, the Marias came back to rescue us.

Later, Maria and I went to pick your own vegetables where I (briefly) got my hands dirty extracting a lettuce and learnt a bit about nature and gardening stuff. For example, I can now identify this plant as a tomato plant. Aced it.

hollb17

 

The next day we were driving on to Centre Parks in the Netherlands but we just about had time for a den-building date with some imaginary friends in Park de Tervuren. “Park” is a bit of an understatement for what it is – it’s a huge natural area, with woods and lakes and tree-lined boulevards. Quite lovely.

hollb14

 

And then on to our holiday home stopping only at a service station to use the loos. More Euro change needed. Some frantic change-making in the attached store. And then some meatballs and pommes frites. I knew our destination wasn’t terribly far into the Netherlands but even I was surprised when we reached the turn off six minutes after crossing the Dutch border. To be precise, it was the whole of “Belle” and a few minutes of “Man or Muppet?”. So we’d driven in three countries to get to Center Parcs de Kempervennen but we spent three times as long driving through the car park as we did driving on the Dutch roads. Eventually we turned the engine off, put “Gracelands” on and waited to check in. And what we did at Centre Parks? Well, that’s another *thrilling* installment that’s coming up soon. No, do not leave that seat-edge….

hollb19

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , | Leave a comment

September Science Museum – 02/09/17

sm6

In case you haven’t heard my whooping from miles away, it’s September. Nearly the end of the summer holidays. Much as I love my kids, conjuring up 7 weeks of childcare is about as easy as it sounds….so I’m quite glad they’re back to school next week. But before they do, a last hurrah. Two last hurrahs in fact, using the divide and conquer method of child wrangling that saw Nathan taking Roo to see a Spiderman movie, and me and Eva heading to South Ken with Bunny and her long-suffering maternal parent.

Eva had first floated this idea last week, when we were going to an entirely different museum. She expressed it in a vigorous and whingy manner so we weren’t keen to actually take her there ever. But then it became a convenient carrot to use during back-to-school shoe shopping and sure enough, by midday today she was there, marvelling at the projection of the Earth that sits in the Exploring Space gallery. Or rather, it was an artist’s impression of “what an Earth-like planet would look like”. Earth, apparently. Still, she and Bunny sat and watched the planet for about ten minutes as it changed from Mercury to the Sun to a moon of Jupiter. I’m not sure they took all the information in, but they thought it was pretty.

sm12

Next stop was the ever-popular Pattern Pod, where they drew on the kaleidoscopes and danced in the video room. Eva also enjoyed putting on the duck feet and baby booties to walk and crawl over the footprint trails.

sm11

We’d brunched before leaving home, but the Bunnies hadn’t so we went to the cafe in the basement for a sandwich for Bunny and whatever I could convince Eva to eat that resembled food. There was some unpleasant moments, as there often are when you hear “Eva” and “food” in the same sentence…so let’s skim right over that and onto the Bubble Show, which has now moved to a much bigger space under the Wellcome Wing. There’s a long runway marked out, so that more kids can sit close to the bubbles and it works well. Eva and Bunny didn’t get chosen to take part in the show, but surprisingly they seemed to cope with the trauma of it.

Better than BunnyMummy and I coped when I’d queued up at the Shake Bar for ten minutes, only to find out they had no coffee. OH THE HUMANITY. The coffee machine was broken and we’d have to cope with Wonderlab without a caffeine boost. Eva and Bunny managed to entertain themselves while I was in the queue though, with this mirror and the “choir of Evas” contained within it:

sm10

They were more Evas to be found in the Illusion Box inside Wonderlab.  Three of them in here:

sm8

And countless Evas in this one:

sm7

You can imagine how all of this pleased the narcissistic girl.

Last time we went to the Science Museum, I’d baulked at paying for both kids and both of us for Wonderlab  so had sent Eva down to The Garden with Nathan and I just took Roo in. So all of this was new to Eva. She liked the giant rotating Earth, and the paper aeroplane machine and the tree with the magnets on it, and all the other bits that Roo liked. She even enjoyed the giant slides, although I found them a bit scary when I was helping her into the mat and tipping her over the edge:

sm9

What she didn’t like was the “Bang, Flash, Wallop” show – we lasted a few minutes before I gave in to her pathetic scared noises and took her back in. So, we played with these two Black Holes for ages instead:

sm5

It was definitely coffee time after this, and we found the nicest little coffee shop on the second floor. They didn’t have huge amounts of cake, but they had nice tiled booths and – unusually for a Kensington museum – a view to the outside world.

sm4

We were eating our brownies and slightly crumbly muffins when Eva said the strangest thing. She was looking down at the street and said she could see “two people who don’t have heads but have umbrellas”. It didn’t make any sense to me or BunnyMummy so eventually we stood up and took a look. Yes, the girl was telling the truth. Human statues hanging out on Exhibition Road who, as described, had umbrellas but no heads:

sm3

Talking of which, we met another street entertainer a few minutes later who did have a head and let both girls try it on:

sm2

You’ll have gathered by now that we’d left the museum. It was 5 PM, so we’d spent a full five hours in there and we wanted to flit by the Butterfly tent at the Natural History Museum before we went home. BunnyMummy had member passes, otherwise it would have been another £22 for a family ticket which might have been wasted seeing as it took us 5 minutes to walk through it. It was interesting though – lots of butterflies, some of them huge and one of them who was friendly enough to land on Eva:

sm1

Don’t worry though – we checked ourselves both in the mirror before leaving the Butterfly House and we didn’t let any escape. Unlike that time in Clissold Park a few years back. I guess we would have spent a bit longer in there if we’d paid for it or if it wasn’t already so late but it did seem like it’d be pricey for what it was.

We had one last stop to make before we hopped on the tube and that was the wonderfully-named Jeff de Bruges, where BunnyMummy bought us all little chocolates in the shape of ice cream cones. We needed the sugar for the long train ride home, where Bunny took control of an iPhone and took a series of pictures we won’t be sharing here but do look out for a future Turner Prize-winning exhibition called “Knees of the Piccadilly Line”. A fitting souvenir of our end of holidays hurrah.

More information here (official website)

SM13

Posted in Token attempts at culture (museums) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Braintree District Museum – 26/08/17

wiz2

A few weeks back,  I was contacted by a childhood friend of Nathan’s, inviting us to a Harry Potter exhibition in Braintree. Did we want to go? Merlin’s Beard, yes! But the summer’s been busy and it’s only now that I’ve got organised enough to get us there. So apologies if this review would have been *really useful* as a day out tip at the start of the summer holidays. I only have myself to blame.

wiz20

The exhibition’s called “School for Witchcraft & Wizardry” and it’s at the Braintree District Museum. which is pretty much in the town centre. There’s a car park right opposite and we paid £3 for 6 hours’ parking so it’s pretty reasonable. The machine even took new pound coins.

You know what wasn’t being reasonable? Eva. As soon as I told her we were going to a museum, she’d got it into her head that we were going to the Science Museum. Cue massive tantrum and clothes refusal. It would take some extra special wizard magic to turn this one’s mood around.

wiz17

Reuben, by contrast, was right into it. He’s the one with some basic Harry Potter knowledge, as he and Nathan read the first book and he’s played the board game many a time. He was straight on to the video tutorials on spell casting and, dressed as a Ravensclaw, was soon “Wingardum Leviosa”ing in a way that’d make Hermione proud.

Eva, meanwhile, was starting to thaw out a little as we went hunting for dragon eggs on one of the three trails you could follow. She was soon distracted by the giant dolls’ house in the non-Harry Potter section though:

wiz5

She spent ages trying to work out how the rooms connected up and decided that she liked the kids’ bedroom the best. Later, when we were discussing the Mirror of Erised, she said that her heart’s desire would be “a huge dolls’ house, just like the one in the museum”. We told her not to tell Nana that next week because Mummy darn sure wasn’t carrying a dolls’ house the size of that one back on the train.

wiz4

As well as the Harry Potter rooms, there are a number of permanent exhibitions on local history, which is where the dolls’ house came in. There was also a Victorian classroom, and Eva couldn’t quite believe that I had these same desks when I was at school. Actually she believed it all too easily but then didn’t believe my school days were only 20 years ago. She asked whether my classroom looked just like this and yes, it pretty much did. My secondary school was a bit behind the times in the 90s. Later on, Nathan and I were musing over when the map of the world was from – it had the USSR on it so we didn’t think it was Victorian but couldn’t see a date. Yes sir, we are geeky.

wiz7

But we were at a Harry Potter exhibition so that’s OK, right? And happily, Eva had started to enjoy herself so we could go back through the HP rooms at a more leisurely pace. She dressed up in the Ravenclaw robes and practised her spells. Then I dispatched Reuben to the gift shop with a pound and he came back with two tiny bottles to put sand into, to make “potions”. As with anything crafty, Reuben did his in seconds and Eva spent ages layering hers ever so ever so carefully. They both enjoyed it though.

wiz6

In case you’re wondering why both kids chose Ravenclaw robes, it was the way they were sorted by the flowchart and the four talking boxes in the background of the photo above. Nathan was also Ravenclaw, which he’s always said he was…but so was I. Which I’m going to dispute because clearly, I’ve always been a Gryffindor. I’m not one of those background introverts. Hmph.

wiz11

Talking of introverts, Nathan and Roo chose to play some chess next. Eva and I completed two of the trails – the Dragon Egg trail, where we had to find baskets of egg-shaped stickers, and the Fantastic Beasts trail, where we had to spot the insects lurking in the glass cases. We also got some photos of the kids in the “Have You Seen This Wizard?” photo frames and of course, being wizard photos they had to be moving. I’ve GIFed Eva’s for you, but for technical reasons there’s no Roo GIF. Sorry Roo.

via GIPHY

There was another room we didn’t really get to explore much, because Eva and I looked in when we were mid-Beasts Trail and focused. It looked fun though – there was drawing stuff, wooden animals and a caterpillar tunnel:

wiz12 wiz13

Other interactive bits included Roman dress-up, a sandpit with hidden artefacts in it that you could dig for and a chance to try our weaving. There were also a good range of Harry Potter memorabilia like this collection of surreal taxidermy:

wiz19

There were props from the films, toys and fan art. If you’re into Harry Potter, there’s plenty there to muse over – a display of wands and another of Quidditch items as well as a pair of Extendable Ears to send secret messages with. We were there for an hour and a half and would have stayed longer except that we were all hungry. Eva had requested chip shop chips and sausages for dinner and this bit we were willing to agree to:

wiz16

She eventually admitted that she liked the museum, by the way. It took a while because she’s stubborn and had taken against the whole idea but as we walked through the town after lunch, she said “I didn’t think I’d like the museum but I enjoyed it”. High praise indeed.

wiz22

We were in search of a park, and found Braintree and Bocking Public Gardens, which had a playground in it and also toilets, which are always an essential part of any family day out. It wasn’t huge but the kids played happily for an hour or so. I wondered about a cafe trip but honestly, I was still a bit stuffed from the chip shop. As stuffed as that two-head chick up there. The Cool Beans cafe did look like a nice place to have a cuppa though.

wiz21

I won’t bore you with our trip to Shoe Express for plimsolls so let’s leave this post on a few more pretty pictures of Harry Potter stuff. Look, sparkly horcruxes and wizard wheezes!

wiz18

wiz14

It’s a great little museum, very affordable – £4 for adults, £2 for kids – and not too far from London. It took us around 45 minutes to drive there. I’d def recommend it as a day out, especially if you or the kids are Harry Potter enthusiasts.

More information here (offical website)

wiz15

Posted in Token attempts at culture (museums) | Tagged , | 1 Comment