Isle of Wight HighWights

Yes, it’s another exotic holiday for the LWAT family…we’ve just returned from a week on the island and it’s my pleasure to show you some of the interesting things we did. As you can tell, we were incredibly lucky with the weather and it was only on the last day that we found ourselves huddling outside Waitrose in the rain, eating a cupcake to try and kill time before we got on the ferry. So, what’s worth doing?

 

Alum Bay and the Needles

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This is as iconic as the IoW gets. If you recognise anything, it’ll be these stacks of rock on the westernmost point of the island. Parking at the top is £5 and there are restaurants and amusements next to the car park (carousel, go karts…those ubiquitous Water Walkerz). I totally wussed out of getting the chairlift down the cliff and we took the 105 steps instead.

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But on the way back, faced with the prospect of dragging an over-tired Eva back up those steps, we braved it. It was completely terrifying. I clung onto her tightly in case she slipped through the gap and joined the mass of hats and flip-flops on the cliff face. I’m glad we did it but I still have flashbacks.

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The bay at the bottom is gorgeous, by the way. Clear turquoise water and ice-cream colour cliffs, with those 21 different shades of sand. Of course, back at the top we had to do the filling-plastic-pot-with-sand thing. You can’t get more IoW than that.

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Sandown Pier

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Sandown is pretty much as archetypal British seaside as you’re likely to get on the island. There’s a sandy beach, deckchairs and a pier which forces you to walk through – or push a wheelchair through – a tacky amusement arcade before you’re allowed out to breathe that fresh sea air. It smelt a bit like an old people’s home. …the arcade, not the fresh sea air.

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My brother and his family were with us that day, so he took Roo off to play crazy golf while Eva and her small cousin rinsed us for every coin we had so that they could go on the “teatup ride”. I might have bought sambuca flavoured rock in my panic to make yet more change for yet more noisy neon rides. Nathan doesn’t quite understand how that happened.

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Ventnor 

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Ventnor was a bit of an unexpected hit with the kids. Even before we got down to the shingley beach, there was the excitement of a clifftop playground:

. With its own compass, so that I knew how to get back to everywhere I’ve ever lived. I love how London is an afterthought next to Shanklin.

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And then there was a paddling pool with a giant map of the Isle of Wight on it! I take it back about the sand art. ..THIS is the most IoW thing you could ever do.

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Roo’s butt fitted nicely between the Coweses:

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And the cafe next to it does good coffee. ..it even has soya milk, though I noticed that too late. We planned to go back later for ice cream, but Roo was literally blue with cold after an extended dip in the sea so for once he didn’t fancy it. What to do to warm him up? Nathan knew! Walk the entire length of the solar system! So that’s what we did.

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Walking a few minutes along the sea front, back past the cafe you’ll find a plaque which tells you all about Pluto. As you walk on, the planets are spaced out according to their actual distance from each other. It’s about a 2km walk but once you get past Saturn, they start getting closer together. And there’s lots of lovely sea scenery on the way as well:

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Sadly there wasn’t a tea room and, after 2km of planet-finding, I was seriously craving a cuppa and a scone. So we decided to walk back along the top of the cliff, to see what was there.

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Nothing. There was nothing there. There was an old church and a duck pond and a cafe that was just closing but there was not a cup of tea to be had anywhere in Bonchurch village. We sat on a bench and plumbed the depths of the snack bag for ageing haribo. The children were unimpressed with this bracing walk at the end of the day and they never got ice cream and I never got my scone. Good paddling pool though.

 

Tapnell Farm Park

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In case of wet weather, it’s good to have a plan that doesn’t involve just lounging around on the beach all day and eating ice cream. As it happens. the day we went to Tapnell Farm it wasn’t rainy at all but hey, we deployed the plan anyway. There was some good outdoorsy stuff, including a giant jumping pillow that made Reuben “want to jump just looking at it”. Adults were also allowed on:
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There was a small play area in between the jumping pillow and the wallaby walkabout area and a big green space for picnicking. But the best stuff is inside. Like this straw bale pyramid:
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In the same barn, there was a zipwire and a go kart track. Then there was a play barn with a soft play frame, giant foam construction blocks, ride-on tractors and a chalkboard cow. Also coffee. Good coffee. Nathan had the Flat Wight. See what they did here?
Eva’s favourite bit was the role play area:
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Roo’s was obviously the jumping pillow. The boy is made for an all-bounce environment. Obviously, there were plenty of chances to meet the animals as well so both kids got to feed this mad-looking calf:
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It was only £29 for the four of us to get in, so it was half the price of some of the other attractions on the island. We stayed pretty much until we were kicked out and it was a lovely day…even if it didn’t rain.
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Ryde

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There was also a good bouncing opportunity at Ryde on our first day -Roo went on the trampoline by the beach while Eva rode the carousel and did sad-eyes on me because I wouldn’t let her go on the Water Walkerz.

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We also found open-air church next to the beach, so we sat and sang along while eating our ice creams. We ate a lot of ice cream last week, but the blackcurrant cheesecake stuff from Ryde might have been the best one. It was this place:

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The beach itself was also very lovely – lots of golden sand and warm, shallow water. Eva and I walked all the way out to a buoy and still didn’t go far above my knees. I think it was Reuben’s favourite of the week, which meant that the beaches and ice cream both decreased in quality as the week went on. Ah well.

I also made the kids go to the end of the pier to see what was there but, like Bonchurch, there was nothing. Just a ferry terminal with a Costa that’s only accessible to people with ferry tickets. Luckily, I hadn’t made them walk it – we’d jumped on the train and after discovering we couldn’t get into Costa, we jumped on the train right back. But how exciting to realise it was a vintage tube train! It was the roundels on the window that gave it away:

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Exciting for me. Clearly not for Roo here…

So, what to do when the weather actually breaks and it rains non-stop all day? Well, that happened on our very last day when we had an awkward 6-hour gap between leaving the apartment and getting our ferry back. The answer was – cinema and Pizza Hut in Newport, followed by a trip to the Garlic Farm. Once again, Roo was unimpressed. It had a funny smell, apparently. Oh and don’t bother getting to Cowes an hour early unless you really like traffic jams and eating soggy gingerbread outside Waitrose…

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A Happy Strike Day – 05/07/16

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I know, I know…..this was months ago. But it was a happy day, and I think I’d like to write about it if I may. It wasn’t a successful camera day, so I don’t have a huge amount of photos but that’s pretty standard LWAT rubbishness, isn’t it?

Let’s start at the start. There was a teachers’ strike.  I was pretty stropped out about it. Nathan and I carefully mapped out all our annual leave at the start of the year, to cover school holidays, half terms and INSET days. There was no wiggle room. No wiggle room for the two election days that had closed the school and forced me to splash out on paid childcare. And definitely no wiggle room for a teachers’ strike just two weeks after that last closure. But I gritted my teeth, rejigged some stuff, paid for yet more childcare and alakazam – I had a Tuesday off with both kids. From then on, I decided we’d just have a nice day. A “yes” kinda day. I would forget how very irritating it is to have work disrupted every week of the summer term and we would just have a day out…a trial run for our summer days out.

Unfortunately, it was not starting in a very summery way. It was 9AM, it was raining and we were in the unglamourous surrounds of Barkingside. What do you do in that situation but go to the pub? I’ve rarely been to the pub at 9AM before, even in my student days, but apparently it was not a crazy thing to do -the Wetherspoons was open and it was pretty full. I was not the only one to think this was an OK thing to do and, worryingly, I was one of the only ones sticking to coffee (and hot chocolate for the kids). It was a strange experience.

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But the coffee was much needed and gave me the energy to walk to our destination – Owls play centre in Fairlop Waters. We were trying out the public transport route and so far, it was working fine. Hence being half an hour early to meet J&J&A just before Owls opened at 10. We’d successfully got the 275 for the first bit and I’d successfully ascertained that there was no caffeine to be had on Forest Road, hence the pub. All we needed to do now was pick our way along that long and apparently pavementless road.

There are two ways to do this – you could just stick to the Fairlop tube side of the road, and there’s actually pavement right the way along. We didn’t do that though. We took a path off to the right, which looks a little like this (thanks Google Maps!):

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Luckily it had stopped raining by now. We found ourselves walking along the edge of the golf course, talking about shoes (that will become significant later) and it brought us out nicely at the turning to Owls. It was a very pleasant alternative to the main road and we didn’t even go out of the way. There were even some hay bales to play on:

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We hit Owls at 9:53, 3 minutes after the designated rendez-vous time and we were the first ones in. We’d been worried about it being rammed on a strike day, but it wasn’t too bad. And naturally, we bagsied the best table.

Now, I was already loosely planning to go and get the kids new shoes. Roo had said his casual shoes were pinching and Eva’s bunny trainers had had a hard life and now were falling off her feet, thanks to her habit of treading the backs down. I’d already wussed out a few times though – shoe shopping with Eva can be an ordeal and proved time and time again. This time though, fate stepped in. Or rather Reuben almost stepped in some sick that someone else had left in his current shoes. Yes, a random child was sick in Reuben’s shoes and left it for us to find later. That one incident marred what was otherwise a very pleasant morning at Owls. Eva might have even eaten something at some point. I forget. It was months ago.

So, we really, really needed to buy shoes. In the spirit of spontaneity I decided we’d go to Westfield. It was actually a logical decision – Fairlop is on the Central Line and would get us to Stratford speedily and once we were there the East London world was our oyster. I’d toyed with ideas of Ilford or Barkingside Clarks but this seemed much sounder. And the transport link worked like a dream.

Of course, we got suckered in to the Disney Store on the way to Clarks. I’m not sure the kids had ever gone into one before but they were entranced. So much Marvel and Princess tat in one place! And they had a magic mirror and a Princess tower! I’m amazed I ever got them out of there and into Clarks, especially as I refused to buy them anything but shoes. No Eva, that does not mean sparkly Disney shoes.

Mission was eventually accomplished, though shopping at Clarks during the sale is a harrowing experience and even more so when you end up having to pay for two pairs of full-price. Ouch. By now, the sun was shining hard and we were next to the Olympic Park so I figured – why not? Let’s go play.

Fate once more intervened and this time it didn’t have carrots in it. Some friends of ours from church had seen a Facebook appeal of ours for Olympic Park buddies. They were there, in the fountains, and we were welcome to join them. Of course, we had no swimwear but this was Spontaneity Day and so they went in wearing just their pants. It must be liberating to be able to do that.

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Then Eva set up a shoe shop, carefully balancing a single shoe on the top of each post. Lucky tourists now had the opportunity to buy Roo’s sick-splattered trainers but sadly, none did. That would have paid for ice cream.

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Because there was ice cream. Of course there was. It was a sunny Yes Day. It was almost as painfully expensive as the Clarks trip but Eva managed to eat the whole thing without dropping it. I think. I forget. It was months ago.

Every silver lining has a cloud though, doesn’t it? And the kids’ lack of dry pants were that cloud. There were some complaints about chafing and so I decided that the solution was to buy myself some new shoes too. If I did that at Primark, we could get fresh pants for the kids at the same time. But have you tried queuing in Primark at the end of a crazybusy day with two crazytired children? This is one bit that I wish to forget but so far haven’t. Don’t do it.

But spontaneity, friends and ice cream? Yeah! Do it. It was pretty fun, after all…

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Cycle Confident at Ray Park – 10/08/16

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Is it possible for a boy to go to terrified-of-falling-off to peddling a bike in 45 minutes with minimal instruction? Why yes, I was cynical too but I signed Reuben up for a free Cycle Confident course and…we’ll get to the results later.

First though, a tour of Ray Park, which is where our course was being held.  It didn’t look like much on Google Maps, but given we were an hour early (Roo was not the only one channelling some anxiety that day) I thought we might as well have an explore. It’s right in the shadow of the M11 but it’s surprisingly big and wild, with a river running along one side. There’s a lot of green space:

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But also an outdoor gym, playground, sand pit and cafe. We started on the outdoor gym:

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Eva was really getting into practice for her future career as a WAG:

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You can see her now on “Footballers’ Wives” can’t you? I persuaded them to stop hogging the grown-ups equipment and go to the actual playground.

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Where there was a little complex of tunnels and bridges, known as “Mineshaft”:

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The sky was surreally blue that day. I think it might have been the fumes from the M11 or maybe the sun always shines in Redbridge

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The hour of playing went quite quickly and soon it was time for the kids and I to cross over to the basketball courts for the cycling lesson. We didn’t bring our own bike, because we came on the bus and some drivers get antsy about taking bikes on buses (see here) but the instructors had some to borrow so it was OK.

They started Roo off on a balance bike, sending him round the court and instructing hime to take his feet off for the ground for a few seconds at a time. He’s not ridden a balance bike before, but got the hang of it and was soon taking his feet off the ground for 20 seconds at a go.

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I don’t know what voodoo the instructors performed to get him over his fears but essentially they just told him not to be scared because he could do it. I’ve told him similar in the past, but for some reason he believed them. Soon he was moved on to a bike with pedals:

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And jus like that…he was peddling! They showed him how to push off and get started and a few more practice goes later, he was circling the court on his own two wheels. It was amazing progress in a short time, and the instruction was really non-intrusive – they gave him some simple instructions and left him to get on with it and it worked. He could fly!

If you live, study or work in a qualifying borough, you too could get a free course…they run them for adults as well as kids. Take a look here for more info. 

After all that hard work, it was time for a refreshing drink in the cafe. Which was home to some toads and a gecko:

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And a mosaic, showing life in the park:

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And a blue slush machine, which is all Roo was after:

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The cafe was really nice – it had a hot food menu, as well as cakes, coffee and slush. It takes card (hooray!), has toilets and plenty of seating, including some comfy sofas. It also has a soft play area, but it’s for children under the age of 4 so sadly both of mine were too big. When did that happen??

So, despite the nerves it was a really lovely afternoon out – a play in the park, a cake and a milestone achieved. I would definitely recommend Cycle Confident and am so proud of Roo for tackling his fears. Next up, the swimming phobia…

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Project MC2 Season 2 Launch – 12/08/16

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You may remember that last year, we went along to the launch of a new series, designed to get young girls interested in science. Four sassy friends – McKayla, Adrienne, Bryden and Camryn – use science, math(s) and tech to solve mysteries and complete spy missions. And now there’s a second series!

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It was not an easy screening to get into though. We had to track down McKayla in an expensive-looking Mayfair street and she gave us the password to get in. So far, so good. But there was more – an hour-long spy mission that took us all over the Royal Institution in search of rogue agents.

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I believe these guys were from the party people Sharky and George but as far as Roo and Eva were concerned, they were real spies, who had all the gadgets a spy would need – a briefcase full of mysterious objects, a tracker, a UV torch, walkies-talkies…the lot. The kids had to crack clues -some to do with the exhibitions, some not – and track down the spy, who they eventually cornered and tickled into redemption.

We kinda whipped round the actual exhibitions and I’d like to go back some time. I had a plan but it’s not going to work because the museum (and cafe!) are Mon-Fri only. I’ll talk more about that in a few weeks. But here’s the rather lovely staircase chandelier, which reminded me of the one at the Wellcome Trust:

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And a fun elements game, where you had to hit the panels as they lit up, in time to Tom Lehrer’s “Element Song”:

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But there was no time to linger. Once the spy was caught, we had science experiments to be getting on with, including some dry ice fun:

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And growing our own crystals in tube, using liquid glass, copper powder and something that might be magnesium. You don’t come here for scientific accuracy, right?? All I know is that it started off with some clear stuff, then added some white stuff then some blue stuff. Sciencey!

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There was much fun to be had, and we were so busy playing with this digital mirror-photobooth that we almost missed the screening itself.

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But phew, we screeched in just as they were closing the doors and heard one of the Mad Science women talking about the need for more girls to be taking STEM subjects at school and she got interested in science herself. There was more dry ice and then…the first episode of season two!

Now, I haven’t seen the whole of season one, as my kids are still a bit young to be target audience but I picked up the gist – the girls have completed a successful mission as spies, but have busted their secret identities wide open as a result. Temporarily deactivated, they feel the urge to investigate when a former master criminal moves into town…will they go undercover and off the record to find out what she’s up to and save the day? Of course they will, but first another villain has unleashed their dastardly plot and suddenly the millenials find themselves without their beloved tech…

The episode ended on a cliffhanger and I might just have to get onto Netflix and watch the rest of the season, with or without the kids. I think they did both enjoy it though – Reuben liked the way they solved problems using science, and Eva liked the clothes. Yeah, we have a long way to go before we reach equalityville in this family.

She was very pleased with her new doll though – an Adrienne to go with the Camryn she got last year. I keep telling her that Adrienne is not just pretty and fashionable…she’s also a culinary scientist! I’m not sure how well the message is going but she did get an opportunity to at least use her numeracy skills on the way out. “This floor has diamonds made of diamonds!” she squeaked excitedly in the toilet while we waited for Roo, and then she went on to successfully count the 36 “diamonds” that made up the big one. Maybe there’s hope for her yet…

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Project MC2 is available on Netflix now. More information here.

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Slap Haddock and Ridgeway Park -06/08/16

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Yesterday was a busy day. Forgive me if I don’t talk you through all of it, especially not the bits in a Brick Lane basement, but there are two bits I’m going to share with you – a performance by Slap Haddock and a trip to Ridgeway Park.

I was excited that Slap Haddock were coming to Chingford – it felt almost like home turf. So I rounded up a small posse and we headed to The Mount. Everyone was enthusiastic but as 11:30 ticked closer and there was no sign of any street theatre anywhere, I felt like my entourage were starting to doubt me. Panicked, I checked and double checked the location and time and I was starting to panic when we suddenly spotted this giant across the road:

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Phew! There was, as ever, no need to question me. Remember that next time, entourage.

The giant in question was Alfred Hitchcock, local Leytonstone boy with an inexplicable Italian accent and a convincing rotund belly. The ushers were here to celebrate Mr Hitchcock’s films but, as so often happens, they had a technical problem with the projector (I think it was missing entirely) and so the ushers and crowd were going to have to act the films out.

Like an audience member seeing Marion stabbed for the first time, I did not see that coming.

First up was “The Birds”. Reuben always loves a bit of audience participation, so it was good that he could get involved early on – here he is, joining the line up of birds waiting to peck Usher Betty:

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I’ve never seen that film but I think it would terrify me. I don’t like birds.

Alfred was pleased with our corporate reenactment of his classic, so we moved on to “Psycho”. You can guess which scene they went for – the only question was who would play the victim. So Ushers Betty and Billy both gave us their best death scenes and whoever got the loudest cheer won the part. Only there was some confusion and I think Billy forgot that he had won the competition, as he and Betty both started out trying to be the murderer. Soon though, he was lathering up as the crowd produced a Mexican wave of violin noises to accompany the scene. Eva was the clapperboard girl:

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Then it was time for a couple of improvised trailers – I have no idea what “Spellbound” is but gosh darn, that trailer makes me want to see it. I have to nitpick the “Frozen” trailer though – when Elsa is dancing around in the snow, she is not a princess. She is a queen. There are audience members out there who really care about this kind of thing:

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If you’re going to start fact-checking improvised theatre though, you’re setting yourself up for a world of despair. So let’s move on and just say that the Hitchcock tribte was everything you want in a bit of street theatre-  interactive, hilarious, family-friendly and relentless when it comes to getting people involved. Even an old lady pushing her trolley straight through the set became part of the action. At the end, there was some bowler-hat-juggling and a group polaroid, which we got to take home.

In case you’re wondering, Reuben’s favourite bit was the death scenes. The gorier the better.

As you can tell, it was a gloriously sunny day, so I decided to take my boy to a park he’s never been to before. We were attempting a bit of “divide and conquer” – the kids have spent a lot of intensive time together this summer and they’re getting a little sick of each other’s company. So Nathan took Eva to “Oh My” for a play and a brownie, and Roo and I schlepped up the giantest hill in Chingford. Look, we made it to the top:

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It’s not entirely obvious where the entrance to Ridgeway Park is, from this leafy residential road, but you need to take a veer off to the right just after the pub. It looks like this:

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It looks like bits of the park have recently been redone – I believe the tennis courts are new, and there was a play area that looked all shiny too, Roo ran off to play while I lay down in the shade. It had been a long walk up that hill.

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I knew there was an under 12s play area and an under 7s, so I assumed this was the bigger one. There were some challenging climbing frames, a zip wire and a swing. Roo did some climbing but soon complained that his head felt dizzy:

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So he came to lie in the shade with me, and we played “Superhero Who am I?” while cloud-gazing:

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Roo is never still for long though, and soon he was up again and climbing trees in the little copse behind us:

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Sadly the miniature railway was closed when we were there – I think it’s open on Sundays and August-Wednesdays – but there was a mini funfair I’d forgotten would be there, and an exercise area too. Roo insisted on trying out every piece of equipment before wanting something to cool him down:

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There was an ice cream van right next to the outdoor gym, but it was a close call between that and the slush offered at the fairground. Slush is flavour of the moment, so that won:

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After that, he naturally wanted to explore the fairground, which I was a but wary about because these places inevitably burn through my money and bring nothing but disappointment and a stretchy chicken. But he was in a good mood after all this mother-son bonding and forgave me my refusal to pay £2.50 for hook-a-duck (guaranteed prize!). I let him have a go on the cork guns, where he demonstrated the family lamentable–lack-of-aim and the trampoline/soft play house where he demonstrated his usual Reuben…energy.

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Wandering back through the park. we found the actual under-12s play area, and the under-7s one, so I’m not sure what the extra play area was. A bonus?  These two areas were slightly neglected-looking but that has never stopped my boy having a good time, and he had a go on everything in sight, including a roundabout pushed by a Daddy at terrifying Daddy-speeds. He probably needed another lie down after that…

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A lovely afternoon out with my biggest one then – it’s not the easiest park to get to from HP but it was worth making the effort for a full three play areas plus extras. I’d like to go back and try out the railway one day. More information here.

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Some Summer Theatre Picks for You…

Chester Tuffnut - Design by Robyn Wilson-Owen

Chester Tuffnut – Design by Robyn Wilson-Owen

 

How’s your summer been so far? Long? Me too. So I’m back with a few more ideas of Stuff To Do To Entertain Those Dang Kids.

First off, if you’re looking for entertainment in East London TODAY! then don’t forget Slap Haddock are rolling out their street theatre mayhem at Chingford Mount (11:30) and South Leytonstone (junction of Harrow Green and Leytonstone High Road) at 2pm and 3pm. It should be fun.

I am also very, very pleased to give a plug to the wonderful-sounding Chester Tuffnut shows at Polka Theatre in Wimbledon (see image above). With design by one of my very talented imaginary friends, it’s  a magical woodland adventure suitable for ages 2-5. It’s 50 mins long, with time afterwards to explore Chester’s world – I believe some Saturday shows also have workshops after them. I’m late to the game on this one, as it’s been running since June and is closing next Saturday but all the more reason to book quickly!

Of course August is also the month of Kids Go Free week, which is a great opportunity to see some West End shows for reduced prices. There’s everything from “The Tiger Who Came to Tea” for the littlies to huge shows like “Wicked” and “Kinky Boots” for your older kids and teens. Well worth having a look.

If you fancy something smaller scale, I’ve heard good things about the Little Angel Theatre in Islington. This weekend, they have a puppet show called “Isabel’s Well” on, which sounds pretty charming. It’s suitable for 3-7-year-olds but babies are admitted for all-age performances. Unicorn Theatre is another child-friendly venue and this month they have a show on for the very smallest theatregoers, called “It’s Baby’s First Adventure“, suitable for 6-18 month-olds, and tickets are very limited so book quickly!

And for fans of Peppa, she is returning to the Hackney Empire for just two days on the 20th and 21st August for “Peppa Pig’s Surprise“. I know how obsessive these Peppa fans can be, so make sure you don’t miss out on her brief flight back. For older kids (5+), I think “Air Play” at the Southbank Centre looks good – it’s a mime show, with giant umbrellas flying over the audience and all manner of air-based trickery. It runs till 14th Aug.

Chickenshed sadly don’t have any shows on over the summer but are returning with “Tales from the Shed” in the autumn. Their shows are affordable, accessible and lots of fun so I would definitely recommend going. Plus, it’s something to look forward to in September so you’re not moping over those kids going back to school…

 

 

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Re-Opened Discover Centre – 01/08/16

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So here’s a great way to start August – go to the newly reopened Discover Centre! And you might thank me for that recommedation, as August is invariably wet and miserable (my “months of the year” jigsaw when I was a child really did lie to me). After an extensive refit, it’s all ready to go and I’m happy to say a lot of things have improved.

The foyer is, naturally, the first thing you notice. The cafe has moved upstairs, so there’s a lot more space for the shop – and for generally hanging out in when you’re waiting for someone:

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Then the layout has changed as well – the doors to Story World are still where they were, but there’s a new entrance, which incorporates a cloakroom/buggy park area so you can put things in lockers without your kids running off and looking at the shiny lights and things. I guess you can still use the old entrance but the signage definitely points you the new way. It removes the bottleneck and there’s a much more efficient way of storing buggies, with the lockers on top:

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So this is to the left of the ticket desk, if you can kinda picture that – I tried to photograph the whole setup but couldn’t get the right angle. Mind you, I left my camera at home and my camera app has long been unusable, so you’re lucky I’ve got any pics at all (go on…ask me how…it’s magic. Alakazam!)

Following the new entrance then, it brings you out kinda behind the toilets into an all-new foresty world. You’ll recognise some of the old elements but they’re rearranged and there’s some brand new stuff, like this boat:

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And this story sorting office:

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It’s pretty cute – you write a story on the form and then put it in an appropriate pigeon hole (“adventure” was one…I forget the rest). There weren’t any story forms that I could see when we were there but that’s OK because the kids were very busy doing everything else. Like climbing through the tunnels and up the slopes of the “forest” and peering into the bit where the floor-lights now live. And doing puppet shows in the “castle” and yelling at me for steeping in the “sea”.

(I must apologise for the overdose of speech marks in that paragraph. It’s a habit)

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It’s kind of moodily lighted, for the forest ambience. This guy who wandered into my shot was not feeling moody though:

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I hope that whoever he is, he doesn’t mind me sharing this pic. As Eva would say, I just yuv it. It sums up the excitement of being somewhere so new that you can smell the wood glue.

We spent some time in the garden too, which hasn’t changed in the refit. But it’s still a fun place to sit atop a taxi, pretending to be an Avenger:

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I was hoping to get the kids fed before our 12:15 Dr Seuss event but that involved dragging all the kids away from playing and into the all-new cafe. Which would be a tricky proposition anyway, without the disadvantage of having no idea where the cafe was. I had a notion it was upstairs, so we went up the stairs in the corner of the play area and found….another play area!

This one was more ethereal themed:

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Eva pointed out that the lollipopter, which used to be downstairs, has relocated to this new bit. I’m amazed by her recall sometimes. Especially when she can’t remember agreeing to eat her dinner and things like that.

dis14The slide had also made it upstairs:

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And there was a new bit – something like the Rhyme Rocket I think – which had some great random word generators. One was a series of blocks you span round to come up with story titles – “The Fascinating Adventures of the Smelliest Children” was one of our favourites. And this one:

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Which  Roo could not resist leaving on:

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But really, these children (and mothers) needed feeding, so we asked a handy red-shirt and they directed us through the door at the back of the play area (by the cloud seats) and across the landing to the new cafe. It’s where the storytelling studio used to be – the studio is now a smaller space next door (that used to be just kinda empty I think) and is a chill-out zone for babies and toddlers when they get over-stimulated. And the cafe is therefore much bigger than it used to be:

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Now, the cafe was always a weak spot in the Discover experience – the space was confused, sharing with the shop and ticket desk, and the menu was limited. Post-refurb, the space is sorted out but I get the feeling they’re still working on the menu. The sandwich options were combinations of cheese, chicken, ham, tomato and rocket. They could toast them for you too, but in gentrified East London, the sandwich expectations run quite high and so there’s probably still room for improvement. Reuben was delighted to see a slushy machine though, so that was one very happy customer.

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Time for Seuss! I have enjoyed every exhibition they’ve run in the basement and am gutted that we didn’t get organised to see the Michael Rosen one. They are always so immersive and imaginative – great fun. And I’m happy to say that Seuss is just as good as the others. The experience starts with the beginning of “The Cat in the Hat”, up to the point where the Cat comes in. Then the kids are encouraged to – as the Cat says – go and have lots of good fun that is funny.

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There’s lots to do. There’s a ball game from “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think” (I think) and you can dance with the Boom-Boom band or complete the Lorax wordsearch. There’s some green eggs and ham that someone has painstakingly created:

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And you can channel the spirit of “Sam I am”, with some magnetic letters. Reuben claimed to be a Mancunian Britpop band:

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Don’t believe him. He’s not even Bonehead.

The house from “Cat in the Hat” was there too, so you could recreate “Sally and Me” looking out of the window at the rain. My one regret in life is that I got the kids the wrong way round in this photo:

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Sally should be on the right. Dagnam!

There were building blocks to play with in the house:

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There was also dressing up stuff. Eva was dressed as Thing 1 when the story resumed, which meant she got to play the part:

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After such excitement, I was well ready for a coffee…but first, the obligatory Discover-spoon-making:

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The cafe at 2ish was much calmer than it had been at 11:30ish and so I could sit and enjoy my coffee while Roo rearranged the giant magnetic monster on the wall:

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And when he complained about being too hot, well…I just stuck them both in front of the fan:

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It was time to be getting home, as I sensed they were tired. I can congratulate myself on my Mummy instincts on this occasion because they were indeed tired. Eva denied it until the moment before she fell asleep. On the train. Just as we were pulling in to Hackney Central and had to make the change. I was,,,unimpressed. 5 flights of stairs later, on the platform at Hackney Downs, I was even less impressed:

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Luckily, she woke up on the next train and in time to a) walk home and b) go to Tesco. Because there was something that impressed me at Tesco. Free fruit for kids!

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Eva chose an orange, which took her the entire shopping trip to peel so it was vitamins and entertainment all rolled into one.

So, the Discover Centre is clearly a good place to tire your kids out this summer, and I like what they’ve done with the spaces. I would strongly recommend booking your Seuss session in advance – find out more info here.

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

Southwark Park – 29/07/16

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There are many reasons to return to South London – some good, some bad, some sad. This was a mixture of good and sad, as our friend Maria is moving away and it was the last time we were going to see her and her adorable children for a little while. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you probably don’t need any introduction to Maria – she was a great companion when I was on mat leave and instrumental in the rating of toddler-friendly cafes. She is superbly skilled in the eating of cake, as well as in the forging of precious metals.

I’m not entirely sure why I chose Southwark Park as a meeting place except that it’s not far from a tube and not too far from her ‘hood. The area is somewhere I spent an intense six months, a decade ago, when I was managing the Surrey Quays branch of Ravel. Stepping through the doors of the shopping centre felt like a step back in time. But it was retro even in the mid 2000s so I think we can blame it on the 90s flooring.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First off – a walk through Whitechapel.

A very long walk, as it turns out. Google Maps had breezily suggested an interchange between Bethnal Green overground and Whitechapel as it was a mere skip and jump away. Not so much, especially now that Crossrail is blocking off large sections of the station – we walked round what felt like 3 sides of a square and then had to walk a fair way through the station itself. We didn’t even catch a glimpse of our friendly neighbourhood Crossrail contractor. We did, however, spot a building that had been part of a “Where am I?” quiz last week. This is for you Ali – a little greyer than the picture you took!:

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We did eventually find the train we needed and it was pretty quick to get us to Canada Water. I imagine it’d be a quicker interchange if you didn’t have a 4-year-old shuffling along the wall because she needed to touch every railing. Just a thought.

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So, as discussed above, Surrey Quays hasn’t changed much in the ten years since I worked there. We went to the loos but didn’t linger – it was bringing back some stressful memories. I will, however, share this photo of Eva and her Happy Meal toy, Princess PuffaPuff* because..well, she wants me to:

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*Not her actual name

You can tell by this photo that it wasn’t the sunniest of days and I think the was the point where it tipped over into actual rain. Still, we were not deterred as we set off to find Gomm Road and the gates to Southwark Park. If you want to do the same, it’s the road that goes down the side of Seven Islands Leisure Centre. And look, here are the gates:

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We were meeting the Marias at the cafe, which I believed was near the gates. And yes, it was very easy to find:

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Look, that’s the gate right next to it! It’s also very handily located for the play area, which was lucky as we had a few minutes to kill. The kids took a fancy to this seesaw thing – it didn’t occur to me at the time that the orange barriers lying around it were an indicator that it should be avoided:

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Later on, they seemed to be around it in a slightly more barrieresque manner. Oh well.

The cafe was small, with no indoor seating, but it had a gazebo outside which covered a large table so there was a wet weather option. Luckily. by this time the sun was out…well, pretty much anyway. The portions were huge – my £5 sausage and mash would have been enough to feed me and Eva is I hadn’t naively assumed that she required her own. She did not do it justice. Maria’s Thomas did a much better job on his, but it defeated even the boy who said he could eat an entire cafe’s worth of food.

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I gave up on the idea of Eva eating anything and we moved back to the play area, where the 4-7-year-olds had huge amounts of fun on the giant slide. And Eva ascended this crow’s nest almost all by herself:

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Now, I’d had some mental confusion before we set out on the issue of water play. The last time I’d been to Southwark Park, Roo was a year old and he had got involved in some kind of fountain – I remember that because I put his wet clothes in a bag and then promptly dropped it somewhere in the vicinity of Lambeth Bridge. If you do see a 6-year-old pair of soggy dungarees, please return them to me…not that he’d fit into them any more.

So, I had a feeling there was some kind of water play at Southwark Park but all my googling efforts came to nothing – the only relevant picture that came up was this one:

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Yup, those are the soggy dungas I mentioned earlier.

So, on the basis that my blog was the only online evidence of any water-based fun at Southwark, I decided it probably wasn’t there any more. Which meant I didn’t bother to warn Maria that it might be a possibility. Which she didn’t thank me for when a number of fountains did start spurting out water, especially as I’d believed myself enough to pack swimmers for my kids. I got to recreate the photo above though!

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For the record, there IS a small splash park there. It’s only three water sprays or so, but if you know children you’ll know that’s more than enough to get wet. There was also a large and stinky mud puddle right next to the splash zone, so the kids kept running through it. Lucky the water was on, really!

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Once the kids were dried off and changed, the Marias headed off (there’s 4 hours free parking..but they go quickly). We needed to go too, but first we wanted to have a stroll around the lake and the rose garden, just because it was pretty. We got distracted for a while by a squirrel eating a sandwich:

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It was very pretty and tranquil in the Ada Salter Garden. We sat for a few minutes as Eva ate a sandwich, watching the swans and a family of ducklings. We could have stayed longer but rush hour was approaching and we had to get a move on.

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Now, this is a proud moment. I wasn’t keen to go back the same way as we’d come – I didn’t fancy dragging the kids from Whitechapel to Bethnal Green again. But Roo had noticed that Canada Water was on the Jubilee Line, so he suggested we go to Green Park and change onto the Vic Line from there. He planned an actually logical route without even looking at the map. I’m so proud I could burst.

(And this is all my genes – I don’t think Nathan has ever achieved this same thing, even after 16 years of living in London)

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So, that’s what we did and it worked just fine. We were back at Pantry &Co in Highams Park by 5PM, where it was definitely time for a little treat. Or two little treats for me:

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I didn’t realise the ice lolly would be quite as alcoholic as it was – hence chasing it with a glass of wine. I think I thought alcohol evapourated when it froze, but I realise now I got that confused with boiling alcohol. Ah well. It was a good ice lolly and definitely earned after 7 hours out with the kids. I’m sure Maria will agree I deserved it…. farewell for now! Hope it was a good, if soggy, send off…

 

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“Power Up” at the Science Museum – 21/07/16

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I mentioned in my last post that the Science Museum are running a very exciting exhibition over the summer, called “Power Up”, featuring 40 years’ worth of vintage video games.  Well, we got a sneak peek at it last night and yes, I did put a gloating status on Facebook specifically designed to make one particular person jealous. You’re welcome, Wiley.

But first, a little Piccadilly Line cabaret for all those rush hour commuters. We’d caught the Victoria Line down to Finsbury Park but very annoyingly, I’d stood up to make the change and realised I had chewing gum on my trousers. Not an awesome look for a press night. And Nathan had got the kids out of the house without me, was travelling light and so didn’t even bring any wet wipes with him. I faffed around a little with tissues before I realised that I had a floor length sundress in my bag that I’d not changed into yet because…well…it wasn’t that sunny. So as we passed through the unpopular stations of Caledonian Road and Arsenal, I passed from workwear into sundress using a technique I’ll describe as “clever layering meets shoulder dislocation”. All done by the time the train filled up at Kings Cross, and I think we can all be grateful for that.

An inauspicious start then, but things were about to look up. We found the right exit from the South Kensington labyrinth, and emerged at the door of the Science Museum  with both the kids we’d left Walthamstow with. The “Power Up” exhibition is on the first floor, so you need to go straight ahead after security and take the lift or the stairs. It’s quite well signposted:

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It’s a chargeable exhibit, as most of the temp exhibitions are, so make sure you leave plenty of time to make the most of it. Because you could spend literally weeks in there. 160 consoles, each loaded with a different game – it’s amazing I ever got Nathan and Reuben out of there.

I lost them pretty much as soon as I got in. There was a fighting game involving some Marvel characters, which I believe was called “Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter” and the Marvel fanboys got sucked right in:

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The girl was not quite so convinced, so she and I went for a wander. It didn’t take her long to find a bowl of jellybeans, which I believe might have been the highlights of her evening. It kept refilling itself! If only I played Candy Crush, I would have some cool gaming in-joke to make here.

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You see, I’m not really a gamer. I struggled to get the Mario game on the Wii working for her to play, and the Wii is a console we actually own. I was later chatting to a guy from the Press Association and when I said he was a blogger, he asked if I blogged on gaming. Considering I was, at the time, failing to load the Dora the Explorer game on a different Wii console, I think the answer was fairly obvious. Don’t worry though, I found something to Eva’s tastes:

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And we actually managed to play it! True, it was mainly just two princesses running up and down staircases and occasionally changing the design of their dresses but she has rock-bottom expectations when it comes to video games, so she was happy.

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As you may have discerned, I made up for my own failings by bringing along with me two slightly more proficient gamers. All those Saturday X Box sessions have prepared Roo well for an occasion like this and he and Nathan slipped seamlessly from Playstation to 16-player Halo and PC- Minecraft. Well, Nathan didn’t really know how to do the last one and was bitterly watching a young person behind us effortlessly build a house, complete with pot plant, while Reuben was stuck in a mine:

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But they had a LOT of fun and the beer and pizza meant that Nathan was tempted to move in. It was a hot night though, and eventually even he could be persuaded to go for some fresh air. Just look at it though:

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It’s the perfect Daddy-creche and it’s thoughtful of the Science Museum to provide it. I did earn some gaming kudos with a slick performance on Sonic 2 (I passed the level!) but, as the aforementioned Wiley reminded me, I never could get past the Marble Zone…

“Power Up” is on until 7th August – see here for more information.

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

Nick Butterworth Winner Announced!

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So, who’s the lucky person that’ll be joining the Pootle crew at the Planetarium on Tuesday?

It’s Chelsea Williams!!

Congratulations Chelsea – let us know what it’s like!

If anyone else fancies going, I believe there are still some tickets available here. Enjoy!

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