London, You Know the Drill

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What happened yesterday was awful. Anything that hurts people in our city is awful. But you know what we have to do. We have to carry on with life as usual, just like we did on July 8th 2005 and like Londoners have done since the first Celt said “Blimey, these Romans are a bit rough. Shall we have a brew?” The first post I ever wrote on this blog was the day after a shooting in broad daylight on our road in Kennington. Last night, overshadowed by the events in Westminster, there was another Kennington incident – a stabbing in the middle of a massive street brawl. There is always violence around us as we jostle for space in this huge city. But I’m with Sadiq Khan – it cannot stop us living our lives and it should not.

Four years ago, I wandered around Vauxhall after a helicopter crash claimed two more lives. Four and a half years ago, it was the riots. There’s always something. Nowadays, we live further away from the centre of it all  - for reasons of financial necessity, not fear – but it still feels so close to home when it happens somewhere that used to be so literally close to home. Westminster Bridge was the first view either of my children saw – or it would have been if newborns could see further than the end of their own noses.  I wandered along that strip of the South Bank so many times with babies, toddlers and not-quite-born-yets, gazing at that famous view. It hurts to see it defiled by one man with a vicious, and as yet undetermined, agenda but we move on.

Not everyone can. Those who were at the scene and will replay it in their minds infinitely. Those who were injured or killed. The families of all those people. But the rest of us, we must share in their sorrow, feel their pain but keep this city moving. Professional trolls and far-right politicians are waiting for us to fall apart or turn on each other. Let’s not indulge them. London, you know the drill. Life as usual.

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L.O.L. Surprise Doll – 19/03/2017

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One of the many things we missed out on over February half term was the launch of a new surprise doll – the L.O.L Surprise. Luckily I hadn’t told Eva we were ever meant to be going (it was planned as a sur… you get the idea) so she was thrilled when one just appeared in the post for her. I’ve already overused *that* word but let’s just say it was unexpected.

So we decided to go Full Disney Collector and film her as she unwrapped it. It’s an amateurish attempt at a vlog – my phone memory ran out before we’d fully explored everything inside and also, my voice is annoying. I apologise. But here it is:

Ignore the fact I keep calling it an egg. It’s a ball, not an egg.  And you unpeel the layers using a cute little zip marker. Essentially, it’s seven layers of surprises – the first is a coded message, the second is a sticker telling you what to do with your doll (bathe it or feed it and it’ll do something unexpected). Next is a bottle, which I seem to remember is embedded in a secret compartment in the plastic ball. Then there are outfits and accessories and eventually you get the doll, along with some instructions on what to do with the plastic ball (it can be a handbag or a hangout or a bath) and a chart telling you whether you have a popular or rare doll. We got two baby dolls and they were both super-rare! Go us!

Eva enjoyed unwrapping it and immediately wanted to take it all up to the bath so she could bathe the babies and see what they did – the sticker promised they would either cry, spit, pee or change colour. I think we got the last of those, which is the best option I think. I’m sure she’ll want to collect them all now. If you have a child who’s similarly interested in surprises and dolls, have a look here for all the L.O.L. Surprise info you need.

Disclaimer: I received a free L.O.L. Surprise Doll in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. 

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Brussels with a Toddler

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Yes, we went to Brussels and yes, we had an actual toddler to explore with. The toddler was one of the Marias and we had a clutch of delightful other children to skip around with too. But first, let me talk you through how you do international travel with two schoolkids without taking any time off school.

Certainly keeping it relatively simple helps. Brussels is only two hours away on the Eurostar and it’s easy enough to get to Kings Cross for us so we left home straight after school – 4ish – and were in Brussels by nightfall. We were travelling light, by our standards, and it turns out the kids are now big enough to carry a rucksack and pull a suitcase:

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They’re also big enough to sit around the terminal at Kings Cross for 45 minutes without complaining too much and to entertain themselves for two hours on the train. I knew there was a reason we didn’t do this sooner.  Here are my boys both reading their way under the English Channel:

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Roo was reading the BFG and that comfortably lasted him the whole trip. Eva looked through a magazine, drew some princesses and then made me talk about princesses. We had a brief visit to the buffet car, which bemused Eva a little. She asked “How did they get a cafe on a humongous boat?” and I must admit that bemused me a little too. Nathan got a beer,  the kids got brownies, we looked out of the window at Lille station and then before long, we were in Brussels.

A sleep at Maria’s and some good coffee saw us out and ready to explore bright and early the next morning. Our first stop was Tervuren tram station, where we found a giant elephant opposite the African Museum:

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That was quite exciting. The tram was quite exciting too and we got a good view of the Brussels suburbs – triangular houses, the dramatically rocky lake of Parc du Woluwe and a tram museum. All pleasingly foreign (look kids, we really are abroad!).

So, where to go to for the bleeding-heart-lefty-liberal parent in Brussels? Why, the EU of course!

Look kids, we really are still in Europe.

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It was drizzling a little by this point, so we didn’t get to play in the nearby park. Instead we jumped on the metro and went for lunch at our next destination – the Comic Strip Museum. There was a brasserie just inside the museum which looked like it might be a bit fancy for us and our collective gaggle of children. But they had highchairs and pencils on the table and every place mat was a riot of smurfs:

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Knowing as I do what a fusspot Eva is, you might be wondering what she would possibly eat in a Belgian brasserie. Well, she asked me before we travelled whether they had salt in Brussels and I’m happy to confirm that yes, they do. So she applied that to her frites, chased it with a bowl of salami chunks and she was happy. Roo had the meatballs and frites and he was pretty happy as well. Nathan had a Belgian beer and well…he thought it was “very Brussels” and “something of an acquired taste”. I gorged on creamy pasta, which was a taste I shouldn’t acquire if I have any respect for my arteries. The food was great, the service quick and friendly and the children relatively happy.

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This all boded well for the Stripmuseum itself, which promised to be both child-friendly and geek-friendly. It was in a beautiful building for starters:

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And the lobby was full of bright and colourful things, which delighted the kids:

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Upstairs there were galleries of original comic art, which Nathan enjoyed, and a screening room which showed a Belgian cartoon I’m going say was called “Dickie” but I’m not entirely sure about that. This guy, anyway:

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Dickie also had one of his strips on magnetic panels on the wall, which you had to rearrange into the right order. It was a custom job, I think, seeing as it was set in the Comic Strip Museum itself:

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Upstairs from that, there were areas dedicated to those most famous Belgian comic exports – Tintin and the Smurfs. Reuben wasn’t really a Tintin fan before we went but he has a good working knowledge of the boy detective now, after reading through all the (trilingual) posters and laughing at the  bowler hat with bird poo on it. He also liked the ancestral portrait:

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The tiny blue people were better known and we all liked the model of the Smurf Village:

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And a full-size Smurf House!

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It was getting late by now and we still had more touristy stuff to do but we needed a small rest and the museum reading room was perfect – comics in English and big cushions to relax on. We even got all five children quiet and still at the same time for a few minutes. Reuben read Tintin and Eva asked me to read a Smurf book in Italian that I believe was about a magic egg. I had a good go at it.

Then we wandered through Brussels, Eva and N hand-in-hand, and walked through the gloriously ornate Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert:

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This was where all the fanciest chocolate shops were and it was undoubtedly a tourist trap but hey, we were tourists. We browsed a few shops before choosing this one because they were giving out free samples:

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The samples worked. Nathan and I bought some chunky chocolate letters to take back to our offices.

Next up was the very shiny Grand-Place where all the old trade guilds were, each trying to outdo the others in gilt and rooftop statues:

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We didn’t linger, as we were all starting to flag. What could get us the energy to get home? Why, Belgian waffles of course!

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We sat outside as it wasn’t yet raining, and gorged on waffle, cream, strawberries, chocolate and bananas. But then it started to rain and so we headed to the station, stopping only to watch some very entertaining buskers tap dancing and playing “In the Mood”.

I won’t review the hotel facilities at Casa Maria as you may not be able to just invite yourselves like we did. But trust me, they were excellent. The kids played together from early morn to bedtime, the boys talking nonsense about monsters and the girls trailing round in high heels. It was a dreamlike weekend and we only snapped out of it on the late-evening Victoria Line leg of the trip on Sunday evening. It was most definitely doable for two nights and Brussels is certainly a good destination for travelling with kids. And maybe if you’re super-lucky, the Marias will come along and act as your native guides…

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The Last Summer of Baby Swings

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Today is the first sunny after school of the year. We went to the park,  along with every other child in a 5 mile radius, and Eva asked to go on the baby swing. As I levered her in,  I realised how much she’d grown since last summer. She’s got two terms of school under the belt of her grubby Belle dress  and in so many ways she is not my baby any more. It’s been 7 years since I first  hesitantly lowered her brother into one of those and now it seems that this summer we might be done with the baby swings once and for all.

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It’s hard to remember that she’s nearly 5, seeing as we’re still in the midst of toddler-like tantrums about dinner and hairwashes. But she is growing up. She’s starting to write and read, as long as the subject material is strictly related to fairytales, princesses or fairytale princesses. Otherwise she’s not interested. Reuben, meanwhile, is speeding through his Roald Dahl boxset, finishing Fantastic Mr Fox in a day.  When we went to Belgium, they carried their own rucksacks and pulled their own cases and made us start daydreaming about the prospect of holidays a little further away than the Isle of Wight.
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It’s so hard to write about this without resorting to cliché so I’ll just embrace it instead. It goes so fast. Not when you’re in the  relentless drudge of sleep deprivation and days pass like  weeks. But once they’ve started toddling away it speeds up like a John Lewis advert and you find yourself organising birthday parties with frightening regularity just so that you can add all those candle-blowing out shots to the turbo-charged montage. You  also start being responsible for other people’s kids at those parties, which is a bit of a bummer and severely restricts your alcohol consumption. But on the bright side, they’ve started to do useful stuff like cleaning up their own yoghurt spill. Maybe one day they’ll be able to eat a yoghurt without spilling it at all.
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That might be living in fantasy land though. Reuben may be capable of teaching people three times his age what a conjunction is but that doesn’t mean he can get from the lounge to the bathroom without knocking over several stacks of paper and dropping at least one thing down the toilet. In some ways, we still have a toddler.
But we won’t forever. And, to end on another cliche, that’s why we need to enjoy the baby swing years while we can. A few more years and they’ll be using them to hold their cans of White Lightning while they smoke on the slide. Can’t wait for those kind of #preciousmoments.
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More About SwingTrain

 

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Once again, this is not a sponsored post. I’m plugging SwingTrain from the goodness of my heart and the hope that enough people will sign up to keep my particular class viable. I’m not getting paid or any freebies, though I did get offered a complimentary extra round of charleston squats on my birthday. I politely declined.

Point being, my opinion is honest and unbiased. But also, it’s a one-off so other brands..don’t get any ideas.

The Bishopsgate 6-week course has come to an end and another one is starting on 9th March (booking link here).  That meant I had today off and I really missed my morning class. It breaks up the week, skipping out of the house without the children and going to prance around a studio doing jazz hands. Over the 6 weeks I’m not going to say I’ve mastered the routines but at least I have a fair idea of what’s coming up next. I even taught Eva a bit of charleston. Look:


SwingTrain is friendly for even the chronically unfit and unco-ordinated. Which means me, obviously. If you work in the city you should come and join us – it’s such a happy way to start your day. And there are even showers in the changing room next door so you don’t have to go to work sweaty. My colleagues are grateful for that.

 

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Mr Bloom Live

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When I mentioned the Curse of February Half Term in my last post, I wasn’t joking, That is how I ended up reviewing a show I didn’t even go to. Bear with me, and I’ll explain in baffling LWATlogic what happened.

I was asked to come and review Mr Bloom’s Nursery at Richmond Theatre, at the same time as Eva had to be at a party in Walthamstow which geography fans will realise is the opposite side of London. Clearly then, it was never going to be a full-family trip but Roo and I could go and it gave us the chance to recruit a real live toddler – henceforth known as Lady H. But we all know what happens to best-laid plans and when the curse struck mercifully close to home, it made me certain I wasn’t taking Reuben far from home the next day. That meant Nathan had to stay with him, while I took Eva to the party. And Lady H had to hastily find her own toddler pal to go with her.

Conclusion was, 4 people went to see Mr Bloom’s Nursery but none of them were me or my child. I’ll come back to what they thought later. First though, what is Mr Bloom’s Nursery Live?

Well, you know Mr Bloom. He’s the Mumsnet-Favourite Faux-Northern CBeebies Gardener who both cuddles vegetables and encourages children to eat them. Don’t think too hard about that.  Now, he’s taking his veggies out on the road in a special live show that see them preparing the allotment for a royal visit. There’s Colin the Runner Bean, Margaret the Cabbage, Joan the Fennel, Raymond the Butternut Squash, Sebastian the Aubergine and the Wee McGregors. And with his veg and plants, he will sing and dance. I imagine.

Between now and 30th April, the show is visiting 40 venues – have a look at the full list of dates here. It’s aimed at 2-7 year olds, which is why it would have been perfect to take my 7-year-old and the 2-year-old Lady H. Ah well, well just chalk it up to another plan scuppered by The Curse.

But Lady H and her friend did enjoy it! They didn’t know all the songs to start with so were a bit unsure at first…but then they warmed up and were doing the actions “admirably” according to PapaH. There was some good audience interaction, with Mr Bloom throwing seeds (balls) into the audience for the older kids to catch, and the timing seemed about right (1 hr 20 inc interval) as some of the smaller ones were getting restless towards the end. So, a ringing endorsement from the 2-year-old and maybe I’ll be able to take the 4- and 7-year-olds when the tour comes back Londonwards. After all, look at how they – like the veggies – love Mr Bloom:

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For more information on Mr Bloom’s Nursery Live, click here

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The Imagine Festival – 14/02/17

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Well, not really much of the Imagine Festival. We were there for a bit and then we weren’t but I got some photos and I’m confident that I’ve lowered your expectations after all these years so you’ll be grateful that I’ve ever managed to blog about it before the whole thing’s over.

Half term has something of a curse for us, and none more so than February half term. It really peaked in Feb 2014 when we visited the Imagine Festival but it was marred by frantic calls from the estate agent, as our buyer was threatening to pull out and our seller was suddenly demanding an extra £40k. Then Roo’s faithful scooter Scooty broke on the way home. We thought that was unlucky enough but the next day Eva woke up with chickenpox. And it got worse from there.

So you can see why I’m a touch paranoid about Feb half terms. We had a close call with a bug on Sunday night which turned out to be nothing after a full day of cautionary quarantine. But I twitched whenever either one of them needed the toilet and tried to keep their interaction with other children brief. You’ll be pleased to know they were fine and they remain fine. I am probably just insane.

Anyway, we got to the Southbank Centre at ten and found this incredible den (that rhymed didn’t it? Not intentional I assure you. Keep those expectations low). It was basically just some matresses to bounce on and a bed to climb on but the kids loved it. They’re not always allowed to bounce on the beds at home.

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There was also a wardrobe with a Narnia-style false back:

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But we’ll come back to that because it was storytime with Nimble Arts Becky and Boris the Bird! It was in the Clore Ballroom, which feels huge after the intimate storytelling sessions we used to enjoy at The Dish and the Spoon. It was aimed at the under 5s but I figured that Reuben would still enjoy Becky’s surreal sense of humour and I think he did. Not so sure about C, who joined us briefly but thought he was a bit above it all. The toddler hordes were well into it though:

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It’s basically preschool Glasto.

We had to nip off and collect the mothers from Waterloo so we could go for lunch. My masterplan was to visit the Nando’s opposite Southwark tube, which we did, but first we had half an hour to kill as it wasn’t yet acceptable lunchtime. So I spotted a playground on the map in Nelson Square. It was a nice day and not too cold and I thought the kids could have a run around and we could have a sit down on the benches. Except the benches were covered in polythene sheeting and so was the rest of the play equipment. And there were workmen still building it. Darn. But good news folks, brand new playground on the way…although it’s running behind LB Southwark’s schedule.

So instead we nipped to a nearby Costa for much-needed caffeine, while Eva whinged about only being allowed one mini muffin (“I WILL eat my dinner if I have another one” she claimed, against all empirical evidence), then off to Nando’s where our table for six was encased in a cute nest that Nathan and I entirely failed to get a photo of. Told you, I’m winning at this blog thing.

But hey, I found this little bit of wonder under the bridge on Blackfriars Road:

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We unanimously agreed it sounded far tastier than a Trump Burger.

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Then we walked back to the Southbank Centre but really, by the time Eva had painstakingly eaten a tiny amount of food and then walked ever so slowly on her tiny yegs, it was nearly time for us for go home for Roo’s swimming lesson. Still, we had a few minutes to play with that wardrobe, which has its own escape hatch:

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Wheeeee!

We dropped the mothers back to Waterloo and on the tube home, Eva experimented with the Rosie the Riveter look, which is curiously appropriate given one of the friends we met today:

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And…saving the most exciting news for last. There are new seat covers on the Bakerloo Line. Yes, you read it here first. The red, blue and brown has given way to this tasteful, almost-monochrome:

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They still have the fingernail shapes on the wall though, don’t worry.

If you fancy doing the Imagine Festival a bit better than we did, check out the full listings here. There are Lego workshops, virtual reality trees and the temporary Moomin exhibition downstairs. Though sadly, I think you’ve missed the Finnish singing dinosaurs. I’ll have to get the report back from Bunny and Bunny’sDad.

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Institute of Imagination – 11/02/17

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It’s been a complicated day. I swear that’s not the first time I’ve opened a blog post like that but maybe we just have a lot of complicated days. So you don’t need any boring explanations of my inner workings to understand why a journey from Highams Park to Hammersmith involved a stop off in Kennington. It just made sense, OK?

The occasion was the opening of the Institute of Imagination and, after talking to some of the people behind it I think I understand the vision. The space in Lambeth is a stepping stone to bigger things – they’ll be here for a year, running regular schools workshops and public days on a more spaced-out basis (around every 6 weeks I think, to fit with the changing themes). The eventual goal is to open a permanent space around 2019 which will be a centre for all things STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Art and Maths) – an interactive family museum. So this warehouse space is a taster of what’s to come.

With that in mind, I’ll try to give you an idea of what was there today. We only did a small amount of it, and it was the lower-level stuff because I only had Eva with me. There was so much that Roo would have enjoyed, including coding for kids (Key Stage 2 upwards) but he was in Hammersmith…I told you it was complicated.

Let’s start at the beginning. The space is also a pop-up museum for the London Fire Brigade, which has a fire station just over the road. There was a 1960s “Look at Life” film showing in the lobby filmed in that very fire station. Look, here are the fire engines going out onto the Albert Embankment:

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There was also a play fire engine that Eva didn’t want to go past:

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But I made her, cause there was so much else to see. We started at the craft table, making “Superhero Body Armour”. See, I told you Reuben would have loved this. Eva made some spare hands, though I have to say I did most of the glove blowing up work. They are currently slightly deflated.

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Next, we moved to the doodle table, which was hosted by this guy. Dedication or what?

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These were such satisfying pens to use – kind of paint-pens. I coloured in a dog and Eva drew a cat. Not such we were really using the outer reaches of our imaginations yet but we were having fun.

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At the same time, there was a workshop on contemporary dance going on in the middle of the room, hosted by the Royal Academy of Dance. I apologise for the general rubbishness of this photo. I didn’t want to stray too far from Eva.

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Then Auntie Savage turned up. back in the fire engine!

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I should point out that Auntie Savage is a bigshot director at one of those thought-innovation companies so this was partly a casual hangout with us and partly a networking trip. She combined the two with panache. We chatted to Gareth Binns (the Chief Executive of the Institute) Tom Doust (Director of Experience and Learning) and Henrietta Yoxall (Director of Marketing and Communications), which is how we found out so much about what the Institute was looking to do and how wide their remit was – hence the 25 partnerships today with everyone from the aforementioned dancers to FUZE Coding.

We hung out in the Zen Den (I may have got that name wrong but I’m sticking with it cause I like it), where there was calm music, fake candles, beanbags and rosequartz. It was a lovely little calming spot in the midst of the busyness. Soon though Eva got hungry and we moved into the Imagination Lab to grab a table and eat her sandwich. She got a little distracted by the play area though:

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And making some structures with paper straws:

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So I had a little play around with the wooden letters, while Auntie Savage had a go on the 3D printers.

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I’d packed lunch for Eva but I figured I would pick something up as I went. And there was a crepe stall selling savoury crepes, right next to where we were seating. Result!

I won’t tell you how long it took to get a crepe but we definitely had time to do another activity before it arrived. So we chose one of the artist installations that the Institute might be funding (they were taking votes on three options). I missed the subtleties of this one, as I was hovering around Crepeville, I know that Eva had to write on a tag what her favourite activity of the day had been (“Making body armour”) and then choose which areas of her brain she’d used and thread the appropriate beads onto the string. Savage was supervising that one.

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It was almost time to go and get Reuben but Eva was thirsty, so we stopped off at the Vivid Drinks stall, and she mixed her own juice, before carefully writing a label for it:

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It was a great space – the pipes were painted in bright primary colours, which apparently had been like that when the iOi got the space and even the toilets were funky, if ambiguous over which gender they were intended for. The Imagination Lab is the permanant space for the year, and the bigger space will be used for large-scaled events like this. There was a room for buggy parking and bag drop, which featured a sofa curiously like the one we used to sit on at the Doghouse. Could it be the same one, rescued from this roadside where I photographed it four years ago? Compare and contrast!

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We didn’t do any of the techier stuff at all and would have done if Roo had been there. But, as I may have mentioned, he was in Hammersmith, which is where Eva and I now headed before returning to HP for a party at 3…ish… I only mention the Hammersmith bit because of a wonderfully condescending remartk from Eva as we disembarked at Hammersmith tube and I expressed a small concern that just moments before, we’d been on the wrong side of the A4 to where we were meant to be and I was hoping we didn’t have to someone traverse the Hammersmith Flyover. “Don’t be silly” said she of  the full 4.75 years “Haven’t you heard of a thing called ‘Crossing the Road’?”

Thanks for that Eva. It’s been a pleasure hanging out with you today. Mostly.

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Find out more about the Institute of Imagination, including upcoming events, here.

 

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St Pancras Lock Open Weekend – 04/02/17

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Some days are harder sells than others – when we were sitting in our friends’ flat in Hackney, watching the rain streak the windows the idea of an afternoon on the canalside wasn’t as appealing as it could have been. But yknow what? This worked out fine.

Let’s spin back though, past Hackney and to the kids I was trying to motivate to leave the house at around 10am. It was already raining then and my Plan A – let’s go to church and retrieve Mummy’s lost phone and then go to Kings’ Cross – was not shifting their tiny asses off the sofa. But then I got into a conversation with Bob on Facebook and found out that she, Not-Bob and Boby were going to watch “Hey Duggee” at the Hackney Picturehouse at 11. I know, Facebook is totally replacing face-to-face interaction isn’t it? Except when it’s really useful, like this time. Of course, having lost my phone I didn’t then have Facebook for the rest of the day so who knows what else we missed out on.

Anyway, my kids love Duggee. It’s the last show we watch before leaving for school in the mornings, so it’s very much a “shoes on, coats on, go go go” time of day rather than sitting and enjoying. This would make a nice difference. Before we could enjoy it though, we needed to do that whole ”shoes on, coats on, go go go” thing in order to (narrowly) catch our train. Ironic, huh?

Also, I needed to check my kids could actually go. It was a Toddler Time show and whatever the blog’s called, I don’t actually have a toddler any more. But I checked and as long as we had a bona fide toddler with us, we could sneak one older child in. Eva’s still an under-5 anyway so I think she was OK but Reuben is a bit leggy to be passing as a preschooler.  We went to one of the first ever Toddler Times that Brixton Ritzy had and in my review of that, I was fretting about how big he’d got. That was four years ago. Gosh darn.

It was fun, anyway. You notice all kinds of jokes when you’re actually concentrating on the show, and Nathan and Not-Bob particularly enjoyed the Donkey Kong reference in the Jam episode. Just a pity they didn’t show my favourite episode, which appeared to spoof Steve Zissou. It’s a great show – it looks awesome and it’s never offensively sickly like some kids’ shows can be. It even looked good in the high res of a cinema screen.

All of which brings us to a spontaneous lunch at the Bob-house, during which I sensed Nathan’s enthusiasm for a Kings Cross jaunt waning. We were at Hackney Downs and could be home in a matter of minutes for a post-lunch nap. But remember that we have kids, and in actuality it would be an afternoon of post-lunch-squabbling-over-the-X-Box-controllers. Better to keep them out and exhaust them, right? I don’t know how I persuaded them all to side with me but we took baby steps. We were near church, so let’s pop that way and see if we can retrieve the phone. Then once we’re there, we’re practically at Kings Cross, right?

One massive advocate came out in my favour – and it was the sun. Suddenly this was all looking a bit more manageable.

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Sadly, there was no-one at church (which we were kind of expecting) so phone will remain unretrieved until Sunday, but I did spot this advert, which I just love. International London FTW:

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We were halfway there to Kings Cross by now and it seemed foolish not to at least try and see what the St Pancras Lock Open Weekend had in store for us. Besides, by the time we got there, it was a gorgeous day:

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We walked behind the station and past the birdcage, which now has its swing restored to it. I stopped to look at the unusual basket-weave architecture of this building:

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And of course someone wanted their photo taken in front of it:

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Slow progress then, but we were greeted by some Canal and Riverside volunteers who pointed us in the direction of the kids’ activities aboard the Jena. It was gone three by this point, and the day finished at four but we were going to do as much as we could. We’d pretty much missed the boat rides, but we found the Jena:

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And inside, we were making bird boxes with copious amounts of glitter glue:

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The cost of the activity was a £3 donation but we had no change on us, so I’ve just paid online. Happily, you can donate too if canals and rivers are your thing. And they should, be because look how beautiful the area was:

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It’s difficult to believe we were in Zone 1, just behind three of the UK’s busiest stations. We took a floating walkway from the Jena to the lock, which Roo described as “awesome” and I’d describe as “slightly terrifying”, as it tipped at an angle whenever anyone walked off-centre. I saw one person attempting to cycle along it but he too looked slightly terrified.

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The lock was only two minutes’ walk away along the floating path and no-one managed to fall in in that time, which was a positive. I’m not sure how buggy-friendly it would be so if you’re taking a little ‘un tomorrow maybe consider a sling.

And here was phase two of the action – the lock and St Pancras water tower.

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We went briefly down inside the lock but I couldn’t really explain to the kids how it worked so we moved over to the more obvious charms of the water tower – a Victorian era brick tower which again looks slightly incongruous against the background of modern and ultra-urban Euston Road.

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It was crowded inside. Like, really crowded. I don’t think it’s often open apart from things like Open House Weekend. They were serving tea and cake but we pressed on up the spiral staircase to catch a look at the views from the top.

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Southwards, it was pretty much the back of the stations and a glimpse of London Eye just past the British Library. But northwards, you could see as far as Alexandra Palace.

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We were also overlooking Camley Street Natural Park, which seems smaller than it used to be. I might be wrong, but I remember a hilly bit with a gazebo to the left of the gate? Again, it was four years ago that we visited.

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We climbed back down as the stalls were starting to pack up – it was 4PM by now and the open day was all but finished (back on tomorrow though!) So we had a quick runaround in Gasworks Park, which is just a grassy space but surrounded by mirror pillars similar to the ones in the Olympic Park.

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You can guess who *loved* all the mirrors:

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Roo, meanwhile, was taking “a quick runaround” quite literally and getting us to time him every time he did a lap of the circle. Remember, the whole point of this exercise was to wear him out. Eva was shuffling along behind him, imploring him to let her catch up:

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On the way back to Kings Cross, we stopped at Granary Square to use the toilets and the kids spent quite a long time just looking at the colour-lit fountains. We told them not to touch them, as 4:30PM in February was not ideal water play time, but Roo got us to agree that he could touch them with a stick. Next we knew, he had fetched a stick to poke them with. I swear that boy is mostly puppy.

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The sun really was setting now, which made for some fantastic views:

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But also meant we should be heading home. Kings Cross had one last distraction though – the aforementioned birdcage swing, which now has colour-changing lights. It gave Nathan the opportunity to nip off for coffees while the kids had another quick play.

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Just as a finishing flourish to the day, we arrived back at Walthamstow to see more spectacular skies:

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I feel like I’ve ended blog posts this way before but, unlike the members of “Walthamstow Life” I can never get sick of sunsets. Hey, Reuben look at that view. Look well. If you can’t see, fashion an optical device out of something nearby:

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The St Pancras Lock Open Weekend continues tomorrow, on 5th Feb. More details here.

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HipChips – 27/01/16

 

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Hipster food trends continue to flourish in London and if you don’t keep up, you could easily get left behind and as confused as Ellie was when I offered to take her out for crisps before our cinema trip. Apparently “going out for crisps” is not yet A Thing. But the team behind HipChips, a new cafe in Soho, are looking to make it one.

But let’s start at Piccadilly Circus station, with something of beauty and something that’s not so beautiful. Here’s the beautiful – a wall commemorating one of the Founding Fathers of the Underground, Frank Pick. Under Pick’s guidance, the tube network rapidly expanded and he oversaw the branding that we still use today. In other words, respect to Frank.

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The not-so-beautiful? Well, I have a theory that the more you pay for a public toilet, the worse it is. My theory was only proven more right yesterday. I had to use the one at the station (that’s all you need to know) and it’s 50p at Piccadilly Circus. I had 35p in change or a pound coin so spent a while searching my bag for 5ps and was up to about 45p plus chocolate coins when some women came up, waving a 10p piece and saying “cincuante” to me. Now, were they offering me the 10p or were they asking me for 50p for the loos? My rudimentary Spanish wasn’t really up to it. In the end, I paid a pound for a pee and was still none the wiser. Should have waited till I got to HipChips really.

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Yes, HipChips – the point of this whole article and I sincerely hope I haven’t ruined your appetite talking about public toilets. Let’s move rapidly on to artisan crisps – the concept that HipChips revolves around.

It’s quite simple really – crisps are cooked fresh (and yes, I’m going to say “crisps” not “chips”, to save confusion) from a variety of unusual potatoes and then they’re served with dips. Here’s a small twist – the crisps can be savoury or sweet. Yes, dessert potatoes. You heard right. So there are savoury dips and sweet dips, to be eaten with the cinnamon-sugared variety of crisp.

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We took some advice from the server and had a mix of savoury and sweet crisps and dips…so that we could really sample everything HipChips had to offer. So, we chose Katsu Curry, Moroccan Yoghurt, Cheese Fondue, Lemon and Raspberry Tart, Chocolate Salted Caramel and Cheesecake. If you’re thinking that sounds like an odd combination, it was but hey,  a responsible reviewer always goes to lengths to provide the most comprehensive report. I was sitting next to Giles Coren in a Chinese restaurant a few weeks back and he ordered the pigs’ ears. So I know. I’m clearly moving in food critic circles.

We had a large box between us and it was really quite substantial:

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Honestly, it’s probably a bit much for two people who had eaten dinner already but I wasn’t sure how filling crisps would be. We started with the savoury side and the crisps tasted pretty good on their own but the dips certainly added some welcome variety. The Cheese Fondue was nice but the pickled onions sank to the bottom and so were quite hard to eat. The Moroccan yoghurt was nice but surprisingly spicy. I think the Katsu Curry was the favourite of both of us.

Now, I had carefully picked Ellie, knowing that she’s not one to be precious about skipping about between main course and dessert – when she lived with us, she’d often have a bar of chocolate as a starter while waiting for pasta to cook. She is a bit precious about not eating things with nuts in – too many near-death experiences – but I’m happy to say that we chose wisely and none of the dips were potentially fatal for her. I mean, I would have liked the peanut butter one but it’s not worth the risk. It would have really spoilt our night out. If I was less facetious, you could read this whole last paragraph as “allergy information was well displayed”.

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So anyway, onto dessert crisps and this is naturally the point where HipChips veers off from the norm. The whole concept is a bit unusual but the sweet crisps do taste really nice – kind of like a cinnamon bun. Again, you could enjoy them just on their own. The dips were divine – I’m full of regret that I didn’t scrape every last bit out of the cheesecake one but you have to understand just how full I was getting by this point. A dinner a few hours before, a lot of crisps, creamy dips and then cheesecake…I was hitting the crisp wall.

The cheesecake and lemon tart dips could have worked just fine as independent desserts and, in fact, a spoon is provided for that very purpose. For me, the fruity flavours didn’t work with the cinnamon of the crisps – it was all a bit too much. But separately they were lovely. And the chocolate salted caramel really did work with the crisps – I think it’s the salty edge that stops the combo from being overpoweringly sweet.

Talking of which, we had salted crisps to finish up so we went back to savoury as a kind of palate cleanser. Without the creamy dips, I found I could still fit a lot of crisps in. Finishing the salted caramel with a spoon was just going to be pushing myself over the edge, unfortunately. Still, good effort I think:

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On the way out we noticed the iPad barista – you select your coffee and it somehow magically comes out of a tap. The 21st century is amazing sometimes.

I wouldn’t haven’t necessarily thought of a crisp cafe as being a vital destination but it was a really fun and different place to go. The staff were friendly, the food tasted good and the decor was cool. I can’t imagine it would replace dinner but as a pre-cinema bit of snackage it worked well. I certainly didn’t need any popcorn as we were watching “La La Land” (which you should do – it’s ace). I can also imagine it’d be good to take the kids too during the day, though I think they’d be straight onto the chocolate dip and ignore the savoury ones.

HipChips is now open, at 49 Old Compton Street – find out more info here.

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

Posted in Cake and the finest wines known to humanity (eating out) | Tagged , | Leave a comment