London Loves

London has been in the news way too much recently, for all the wrong reasons. So I wanted to make a space where we celebrate the London we know- not the one that’s full of tragedy and police tape. Every … Continue reading

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Summer Holiday preview 2018

I don’t know why the school holidays always catch me by surprise but, once again, they have. The kids finish this week and I’m not allowed to hand them back over till September. If you’re in a similar position, you may be looking for some things to fill those long weeks and I might be able to help you out. Of course, if it’s this glorious then you can probably hang out in the park for a full month and a bit but just in case, here are a few rainy day things to plan in.

We’ve talked about the Institute of Imagination before but this summer they’re teaming up with my old employer the Wellcome Collection to run a series of free workshops on how our brains work. You can book either for a morning or afternoon session over three days 25th-27th July but it’s explained better here. Knowing Wellcome, it’ll be medically frank but very educational and interactive.

More interactiveness over at the Horniman Museum, who are still running their Rainbow exhibition, exploring how colour shapes our world and why some colours “taste” better than others. They also have a host of other things going on, including crazy golf in the gardens, so it’s probably worth planning to hang out for the full day if you’re heading down there.

We still haven’t been to the refurbished Postal Museum but there’s loads going on there over the summer as well – craft workshops and storytelling plus the sorting office play area and the mail train. I will review it one day, honest.  A bit more familiar to us is the Discover Centre in Stratford and they have a packed summer programme, including screenings of films of Donaldson/Scheffler books. If you’re a Newham resident they often have deals going for locals, so worth signing up to their mailing list. Nearby is the Olympic Park, which is always fun to hang out, and the new IQL (International Quarter London) has some activities planned. Their Lego City Workshop seems to be sold out, which is a pity but again it’s probably good to keep an eye on the website in case they run more sessions.

Of course, we always recommend a bit of kids’ theatre on this blog and one of our favourite places to go is Chickenshed. This summer they’re staging Mr Stink by David Walliams, starring Jeremy Vine. It opens this week, 18th July, and is running til 6th August (booking and details here). Chickenshed are also hosting a instrument making workshop in Hyde Park on 4th August, which sounds like lots of fun – have a look here for more info.

We seem to have segued neatly into sunny-day things to do which, for once feels like we’re not tempting fate. So let’s talk about some super fun festivals coming to London this summer. First on the calendar is Monstrous Festival, which takes place on 29th July at the Printworks, Surrey Quays, and features activities for all ages of child – I reckon Reuben will love Arcade Alley, with 1000 video games, and The Beast – a giant inflatable obstacle course (pictured below). Eva is probably going to be more interested in the Prince and Princess Unicorn Land, obvs.

 

 

Later on in the summer, and with a folksier vibe, is Wild Child Festival in Dulwich (17-19th August). Here you’ll find storytelling in the woods,  theatre and ballet shows and more unicorns. Eva’s gonna have the best time this summer. Tickets for Wild Child have to be bought in advance, as they’re not sold on the door, but they include everything like crafts and face painting and all the performances. It should be super fun.

Two more things to tell you about and you probably know about them already – Udderbelly Festival at the South Bank Centre featuring such shows as “Morgan & West’s Utterly Spiffing Spectacular Magic Show For Kids (and Childish Grown-ups)!” – and London Theatre Kids Week, where kids go free with the purchase of any adult ticket. More information here.

Phew! Is that enough to keep you busy? Don’t worry if it isn’t…more tips and ideas will be coming soon…

 

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Welcome to London, Mr President!

 

You may have noticed there’s a special guest in town. Well, not actually *in* town or at least not more than briefly. He stopped off in Regents Park last night but hightailed it out before any of those very, very sad protesters turned up. He felt unwelcome, apparantly.

Which is a pity because so many of us came out to mark his trip! It’s hard to pin down exactly why we’re all compelled to come out on the streets against Trump when other despots visit London with minimal fuss. But it’s hard to ignore the motormouth tangerine Tweeting machine so we’re all more than familiar with his words and actions.

And there is plenty to protest about. Do you dislike sexism? Racism? Bullying? Homophobia? Islamophobia? Sexual harassment? Cruelty to children? Nepotism? Aggressive capitalism? Fascism? Plagarism? Reality TV? Pick one, pick any and tell me again why there’s no point in protesting. I don’t often get active in my activism but this time I felt I should. For all of the reasons above and more.

A weekday protest is a tricky one when you have a job and kids in school and stuff but I got round it by putting the kids into afterschool club and going down to the protests after work at 2. That gave me a solid 90 minutes or so and I was determined to use it wisely.

I’d seen on Facebook that the Commoners Choir were looking for extra singers to bolster their numbers and you know me, any excuse to sing. They were meeting at Regents Park tube at 2 but I got there a full half hour later than that, so totally missed them there. And there didn’t appear to be any kind of protest either. A few protesters, sure, wandering in various directions but no massed crowds.

I took a punt and turned down Great Portland Street. Still nothing. So I took a right towards Portland Place, hoping to find a friend even if if I didn’t find the choir. And I did find a friend! A WAM choir friend. So unexpected and lovely in the midst of the crowds. Because yes, I’d finally found the protest as well.

Reassuringly, it was huge. Stretching down all the way to Oxford Circus and (I was guessing) beyond with people queued up Portland Place towards the park. I’d started to worry that no one was gonna turn up.

Then I found the Commoners! For those of you who don’t know they’re a politically charged choir from Leeds, who sing about injustice, ignorance, prejudice and fascism. The perfect fit for a protest against someone like Trump. There was a little maneuvering to do before we were in a good position to sing, away from the loud music and brass bands, but once we were on Oxford Street we marched and sang “Citizens of the World” and “Get on Your Bus and Go Back Home”. Obviously I didn’t know the songs but they were pretty easy to pick up as we went along. I can only apologise to the proper choirsters if I was singing something completely different to what I was meant to be but hey, it was pretty noisy so I’m not sure anyone could hear all the detail.

I hadn’t taken the kids because I was worried that the atmosphere would turn ugly, especially in the light of England crashing out of the World Cup. But actually it would have been fine – the vibe was sunny and polite. Maybe we’ve taken the example of Gareth Southgate to heart as a nation and have decided to tackle tricky issues with a good spirit. All kinds of people were there – from kids in slings to older protesters, like camel lady here:

I couldn’t work out what it meant so I asked her and it was a representation of Donald Trump’s hair. You see – now it all makes sense. There were signs about Trump’s foreign policy, his harassment of women and the simple but eloquent “Trump Means Fart”.

So welcome to the UK Donald! Maybe next time you’ll be brave enough to come out and see us all.

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“Stig of the Dump” at Chickenshed – 28/06/18

 

This is the third time we’ve been to an evening show at Chickenshed and, seeing as the last two posts started with a bit of what I loving call “tube geekery”, I see no reason to deviate this time. Cause we got the tube bit spot on! Roo and I were in Walthamstow for drama club, met Nathan on the platform to hand Eva over and then we got the Vic line to Finsbury Park, one stop down the Picc line to Arsenal and then an easy change to go back up the Picc line to Southgate. We’d nailed it for once!

Except then I screwed the bus bit up. I thought we were on the wrong bus but we weren’t – the 299 had alarmed me by taking a right turn off the road that Chickenshed is on but it would have come back round to the theatre if I hadn’t panicked and made us jump off. That resulted in a mile-ish power walk, which wasn’t my greatest idea given we were avoiding the tricky change at Finsbury Park because of my sore leg. Whoops.

Ah well, we got there on time and to get home we used the excellent Southgate Cars who texted us the car details just as we came out of the show. So another mission successfully completed by the Go-Glitchers.

I’ll talk about the show now. It was the adaptation of classic children’s novel “Stig of the Dump” by the Chickenshed Children’s and Youth Theatre groups, as part of the New Routes Festival. It was an 8pm start but only an hour long and on a midsummer night like this I don’t think a late night hurts my 9(!!) year old. The director introduced the piece by telling us it hadn’t really had a full run through yet, which provoked a nervous laugh around the auditorium, but it actually went pretty smoothly. There was the odd technical hitch where a microphone wasn’t turned on at the right time or a song where the timing went slightly out but as a choir leader and worship leader, I can safely say that PA issues and timing issues happen to us all.

In true Chickenshed style, it was a massive ensemble piece with around 100 children and young people performing. The cast was truly diverse and inclusive – one child was in a wheelchair and another was wearing headphones as I presume he had some sensory stuff going on. Some of these performers had buddies with them, who dressed the same and made sure they were in the right place at the right time. I’ve said it before but it’s so lovely to see performers who don’t fit the norm seamlessly woven into a large ensemble without fuss or making an issue of it.

There were a few different boys playing Barney, as well as a group of different people representing Stig, but it was suprisingly smooth and easy to follow. The Barneys all wore the same uniform and at times appeared together, which was very effective – one Barney was talking about his adventures with Stig, while the others were enacting them. The Stigs worked well together too, flowing and moving as one to invoke the primal essence of Stig rather than being pinned down to one physical form. There’s a touch of ambiguity over whether Stig is real or not but that’s straight from the book.

Another thing straight from the book is the episodic plot, which could be tricky in play form as there’s no one strong narrative. But the heart of it is the relationship between the two main characters and the leopards and jamjars that frame these interactions are largely incidental. As with all literature from the 50s and 60s, there are things which don’t translate to a modern North London audience – I swear I heard someone next to me tut when Barney proposed fox hunting – but you have to consider it in the context it was written in.

Some of my favourite bits were the set pieces, with the whole cast singing and dancing together. It’s an impressive wall of sound when 100 singers are all in unison and the opening number about “stacks of sticks” was a strong beginning to the show. The fancy dress party too was a welcome moment of outright comedy in among some of the more introspective scenes and Reuben laughed out loud when the hostess fainted, revealing her neon pink tights. There’s a great dance and then the cast come together to repeat the “Leopard Hunt” chant which builds to a crescendo and then freezes…it was all very effective. But there were some lovely quieter moments too, with floppy-haired Barney and his sister Lou sitting back to back reading newspapers. The contrast between the loud and the quiet really kept the show interesting.

So, a charming and short piece of theatre which was pretty well suited to Roo as he’d read the book in class. I think it’s recommended for 5+ and I think Eva might have enjoyed it too but I’m always cautious with her as she’s just a sensitive soul. It’s only running for another three performances but there’s plenty more going on in the New Routes Festival. Find out more here.

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

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Legoland – 17/06/18

 

This was our second jaunt to Legoland and like the trip in 2016, I planted the seed early in Reuben’s brain about what he wanted to do for his birthday. Eva had a Star Wars-themed Perform party with her entire class invited and I wasn’t up for another party six weeks later. Legoland it was.

We were keen to see what had changed in the last two years and the first thing that had changed was that the Windsor Lad – our Harvester breakfast stop – now didn’t open till 9am so we had to sit in the car for a bit. Also, they’ve started selling Blue Cheese juice:

The bottomless breakfast worked wonders last time to fuel up for the day and it was a good call again this year. Eva had the £1.70 Breakfast Bar option so it didn’t matter too much that she only ate a tiny bit of Weetabix, some fruit and half a crumpet. Roo, on the other hand, had got the fuelling up memo and destroyed a cooked breakfast plus fruit and an extra crumpet. It meant we didn’t have to think about food again for quite a while, so we could concentrate on having fun once we got in.

A tip tho on how we got the tickets – I used Clubcard Boost to get one adult and one child ticket online and then a Kelloggs voucher BOGOF to get the other two tickets at the gate. I’m not sure if Clubcard Boost still works but there you go – £52 for the whole family to go to Legoland and £24 for a breakfast that kept us going all day.

Reuben had made it very clear where we were headed to first and it wasn’t “Heartyake City”, as Eva suggested. It was the Star Wars dome, which we didn’t even go into last time as it was before the kids really hit the Star Wars obsessional phase.

This year though, they knew EVERYTHING. Everything . The exhibition covered episodes 1-6, with a different section for each episode and the sequels well represented in the gift shop. Obviously Eva yuvved the Rey and Leia figures the best:

And all the kids had to have their photo taking battling Darth Vader. Nathan included:

Roo’s next target was the Lego Driving School but it was almost the opposite side of Legoland from where we were, so we stopped on the way to have a go on “Desert Chase” in Land of the Pharaohs, which looked a bit like a carousel to me but what do I know?

Eventually we made it to the driving school and Nathan and Roo joined a substantial queue to get in – not surprising as it’s one of the most popular attractions. Eva could have gone it as she’s just turned 6 but she preferred to go for a wander around “Heartyake City” instead.

She quite liked the idea of going on “Mia’s Riding Adventure” but took one look at the track it went on and changed her mind. I think she was too short for it anyway:

Now I don’t know whether it’s because Legoland is on a steep slope and we were at the bottom but I realised after separating from the boys that I had no reception on my phone and therefore no means to find them again unless I managed to connect to the Wifi. So we went old-school and just hung around the last place we’d seen them – the driving school queue – until they popped out near the front of it. Eva wasn’t too thrilled at the “standing around and waiting to see Reuben drive” part of the plan but hey, it wasn’t her birthday.  Roo really enjoyed his driving experience and look, we got an excellent view of the back of his head:

After we’d done so much queuing/standing around, we felt like the kids needed a stretch out and we were very close to Duplo Valley so they went for a play and a run around in the playground there while Nathan went to get us a refillable drink. I’m still not sure whether it was good value or not – we had four or five refills for £8.50, which is way cheaper than buying five drinks at £5 each but it did involve a lot of standing in kiosk queues, especially as the drinks machine in the kiosk near Chicken Joe’s wasn’t working. But still, sweet sweet caffeine for us adults and the kids had water bottles in their bags so they were fine.

Next stop was the Duplo Valley Airport, which was a short queue and we managed to get on all together with me and Eva choosing the red helicopter that she so badly wanted. I don’t think she was a professional pilot, despite her claims as she flew the helicopter pretty bumpily. Across the way, Nathan seemed to be having a similarly rough ride at the hands of Roo:

Then we decided to split up again. Reuben was hungry and so wanted to walk back up the hill to our locker and get his sandwich. Eva was desperate to get to the 2PM Lego Friends show back in Heartlake City. We agreed a time and meeting place and went our separate ways. I am about to make two major mistakes so please, read and learn.

The first was to do with the Fairytale Brook. We just about had time before the show, it was on the way and it was one of those rides that Eva wanted to do but Reuben didn’t. It all seemed to be working out until I made a ridiculous dyspraxic misjudgment getting into the boat. Eva was already in but I’d allowed her so much time that I had to rush my own boarding. I stepped into the wrong part, tried to climb to the front and slammed my knee and shin into the middle of the boat. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s five days on and I still can’t really walk on that leg. It’s no-one’s fault but mine but if you’re of a similar klutz level to me, watch out when stepping onto moving things.

The second mistake was that I didn’t give the boys the locker key. They made it all the way up the hill (the train wasn’t running) before they realised and phoned in the middle of a riotous show, while I was still in some degree of pain, asking me to come meet them by the lockers. It was a no from me. Eva was having way too much singing and dancing with the Lego Friends and learning the true value of friendship. She even met them after the show:

So Nathan and Roo were a touch hungry and grouchy by the time they’d made it down the hill to meet us. I fuelled the boy with some crisps and we set off back up the hill, with me limping a bit, to retrieve our sandwiches and water play stuff. A slushie from the very exciting 6-flavour-slushie dispenser got both kids energised again and I think I even persuaded them to pay for it themselves. I know, I’m winning. Apart from the leg thing.

Water play you say? Why yes, we were headed back towards Duplo Valley to splash around Drench Towers and Splash Safari. Like last year, it wasn’t the ideal weather for water play but the kids are British and hardy and they enjoyed it anyway.

We were running out of time and we still had two big rides we wanted to do – the Atlantis Submarine Voyage and the Viking River Ride. Atlantis had a big queue but it moved quickly and we had these fellas to look at on the way:

It was worth a queue – it’s such a cool little ride, with sharks swimming about beneath your capsule. We jumped straight out when it finished – well, I limped out – and ran – kinda – to the Viking ride, which we had just enough time to go on before park closing at 6.

Last time we went, Reuben had declared the river ride “awesome” and Eva was terrified. This time, she thought it was awesome too. We didn’t even get that wet – I think because they no longer have water guns that random people can use on you as you float by. Pity as I had full changes of clothes for us all and we barely got to use them.

And then we were done. Just time for Reuben to go back to the Star Wars shop and buy a ridiculously ostentatious lego set that I think was Poe Dameron’s X-Wing or something. He’d discovered a stash of cash in his wallet that had accumulated from various birthdays and Christmasses so technically he had saved up for this set but kinda inadvertently. He asked to put a photo of the finished item on Facebook, which I agreed to on the basis that it was more tasteful than his initial request to put a photo of him holding all his money. It’s almost like we’re bringing the boy up in Essex.

It was hometime. Nathan and I hadn’t really had lunch after that epic breakfast so were starting to get hungry by 7PM. Last time, we’d returned to the Harvester for dinner but the kids were so knackered they weren’t really restaurant-worthy. Burger King at Heston services it was then! As seen in “Hot Fuzz”!

So we were all exhausted and a bit bruised but it was a fabulous day out and a great bargain considering what we’d paid. If you fancy the thrills and spills of “Yegoyand”, have a lookie here for more info. Just watch your step if you’re a bit clumsy tho…

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A Tale of Two Gigs

 

This week I’ve been out twice – I know, steady on – to two events that were in a way very different to each other but also kinda similar. The first was an outing with the friend best known as Auntie Savage to see her little brother performing stand up in Holloway. The second was my nephew performing “chamber folk” in Camden. We were terribly proud at both gigs.

So first off was “Paul Savage Finds All the Jokes in the Bible”. I knew it had played at Edinburgh so I was assuming it wasn’t written with a Christian audience in mind but then until the day before, when I found out the gig was at a church, I’d assumed it wasn’t being performed for a Christian audience this time either. How wrong I was.

The church was St Luke’s, near Caledonian Road and it was a fundraiser so most of the people in the room were from the congregation. Paul said he’d made some edits, which we thought meant he’d cut the ruder bits out. Oh, another assumption down the drain. When I tell you that there was a sex doll joke before we’d even got through the first chapter of Genesis, you’ll get what I mean.

Now, I’m pretty hard to offend but I never know how to read my fellow Christians en masse. We were sitting right at the back so it was hard to gauge how the crowd were taking it. There was a lot of laughter and no one walked out so I think we call that a win. I expect to see that quoted on the posters for the next run, along with the “infinite stars for dead Jesus”.

So what kind of jokes are there in the Bible? Plenty, as it turned out. Soldiers having wet dreams, Samson cracking one-liners as he destroyed an army with a donkey bone and, of course, a hefty amount of circumcision. Come here Ishmael, you little b’stard, Daddy’s got something to tell you.

God was reimagined as some kind of Mafioso, spitting out curses on anyone who insulted his family and Jesus apparently spent three years setting up his “on this rock” pun by deliberately misnaming Simon Peter and just waiting for that perfect set up line. Hey, who isn’t guilty of that?

There was some audience participation too – a husband got up to dramatically recite “Song of Solomon” to his wife and the whole audience got to rain down blessings and curses on Paul. Being a Christian audience, the curses were very tame, unlike one he recieved form a sweet old Scottish Granny. Want to know what she said? You’ll have to buy a ticket to the show. And you should cause it was very entertaining as long as you don’t take your Christianity too seriously. Maybe not one for the Westboro Baptist Christmas social.

And on to that chamber folk which I know you’re curious about. Well, it’s folk songs performed with a chamber orchestra and it’s a genre that Owen Ralph, that aforementioned nephew, may or may not have made up himself.

I’m fighting the urge to fill this post with hilarious anecdotes about Owen’s childhood peformances so bear with me if sometimes that urge wins. He was a cute little boy. And now he’s like an accomplished musician who arranged all his own music and played a plethora of instruments as well as leading all the songs. Like I said, I’m terribly proud.

I was also terribly late. Just like that trip to the Science Museum, the Victoria Line was against me and my alternative route – alighting at Hackney Downs and jumping on the Overground from Hackney Central – also fell over. So I was already late by the time I got to Camden Road and Cecil Sharp House is the other side of Camden and up a hill. Still, Nathan had got there early so was protecting our frail family reputation.

By the time I arrived, sweaty and befuddled, Owen was halfway through a solo although the orchestra were ready waiting for the next song – two violinists, a cellist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist, oboist, bassoonist, flautist and a conductor.  All the musicians seemed very skilled but my favourite was the cellist, who just seemed incredibly smiley throughout and played with both joy and passion. Orchestra musicians look so serious so often, which why I liked her so much.

Looking back at the set list, I missed quite a lot of the first half but I was there in time for one of the “hits” – the second single from Chamber Folk, “The False Young Man”. You can hear it on YouTube here but live the sound was much bigger. The track really showcases the wind instruments with the flute playing an instrumental that leaps off from an unexpected key change…unexpected to my untrained ear at least. He followed it up with a sweet song about a shepherd and his bride that seemed unusually cheerful for a folk song.

Next up was a Welsh tune – was that allowed in the English Folk Dance and Song Society? – that you’d expect to be quite slight given that Owen introduces it as something he first learnt on the recorder. But the way it was orchestrated made it lush and complex. I can’t judge his pronunciation of the lyrics but he assured us it wasn’t about cheese. This was followed by another Welsh tune – “Môn” – that was a lively village dance number that showed off some seriously impressive violining* and rounded off the first half nicely

(*yes it’s a word. I know because I just made it up. What, you wanted me to say “fiddling”?)

Obviously, my nieces and I then went and embarrassed Owen at the merchandise table with much in the way of high-pitched adoration because that’s what aunties/sisters do. I’m not even sorry.

And especially not sorry because he was rude about his family in the second half. Apparently the 1-minute album-opener “This Might Be” was written at Christmas when he was bored of our company. I mean, really. You can go off people you know.

Luckily there was someone new on stage to stand between Owen and his enraged female relatives. This was Rosie Hood, a folk singer who happens to be a friend of one of my imaginary friends. I have imaginary spies everywhere. Together they sang “Isabel”, one of the few songs that was a total original, albeit inspired by a much older folk song about a lady and a knight who turns out to be something of a scoundrel. Owen, with his mother’s love of a happy ending, had rewritten it to make it much jollier. It was nice to hear a bit of vocal contrast with Owen and Rosie has a lovely tone to her voice. It’s a pity they mainly alternated rather than harmonising but I guess I’m just something of a harmony junkie.

Then they did a song of Rosie’s, newly arranged to accommodate the orchestra. “A Furlong of Flight” was all about a monk who made his own wings and tried to fly. It worked really well with the orchestration even though it wasn’t originally written with them in mind. It also marked the first attempt to make the audience sing along with a chorus that has way too many words to remember in it. I would have been up for singing – I always am – but I probably need the words written down.

At some point , Owen donned sunglasses and started playing a banjo. Neither Nathan or I can remember exactly when that was  – possible”Katy Morey” – but it was very entertaining. Then a song accompanied only by concertina which I think was “Poverty Knocks” (sing along if you know it!) and that segued into “Erin’s Lovely Home”.

We were nearing the end of the gig but there was still time for the other hit – first single “The Sign of the Bonny Blue Bell”, which has been stuck in my head ever since. Will he be married on a Tuesday morning? This interfering auntie doubts it. But it’s a great tune and it’s the kind of thing that makes folk accessible to people like me who aren’t necessarily high on folk-tolerance.

The last song of the set was “The Eighteenth Day of June” but there was the most token attempt at going off stage before returning for an encore of “Roll On Silver Moon”. This was the one where we finally managed to get the hang of the chorus and sang along, albeit quietly so not to make more of a scene than we already had. It was a great note to end on even if the actual ending of the song left us hanging on for a musical resolution. Or that might have been the song before, I’m not sure…there were a few bits of musical trickery that caught the audience out and added a bit of intrigue. I love a false ending so much that a musician friend at church nicknamed me “Interrupted Cadance Milner”, which I think sounds really cool. So I did appreciate the bits which were occasionally discordant or not resolved like you’d expect. It keeps things interesting.

So my overall verdict? Well, of course I’m going to be gushingly positive. I thought it wonderful. But then I thought the same about his performance of “Yellow Submarine” in Fuengirola in 2005 and that was in an octave Ringo Starr could only dream about. I’m hardly an objective reviewer. But it was musically rich, the songs were uplifting and melodic and the supporting musicians all fantastic.

I’m ever so proud.

“Chamber Folk” is available to buy now through http://www.owenralph.co.uk/

Paul Savage is not currently touring “Paul Savage Finds All the Jokes in the Bible” as far as I know but see what he’s doing next at http://www.paulsavagecomedy.com/

 

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Athenian Merriment Part 4 – 03/06/18

Since I’ve been back in London I’ve worked three days and had three train crises. Almost made me miss Athens until I remembered the transport chaos we experienced on our third morning there. We’d had a small taster the day before, when we’d attempted to buy tickets at the tram terminus only to find a hole where the ticket machine should be. I’d found a functioning machine in the metro station and made a strategic error in not buying all the tickets we needed for the rest of the holiday then.

Because this morning our faithful ticket machine at Kalamaki had run out of paper. I’d read somewhere that you could recharge paper tickets so I tried using the ones we’d bought yesterday but that didn’t work. I also had some vague recollection that you could buy Ath.ena tickets from a kiosk but we didn’t see any kiosks that seemed to be selling any. Our best option was to walk 600m to the next tram stop  – Marina Alimos – and get one there. The next best option was to walk 600m to the next tram stop and fail to get one there, duck through the bushes and get spiked by a vicious plant. For reasons unknown we went with that plan and, staggering about in excruciating pain from spike in my back, we made a Plan C.

Plan C involved not passing out from the pain – win! – and throwing ourselves on the mercy of a Greek bus driver – win#2! We asked if we could pay in cash on the bus, he said we had to find a ticket machine, I explained there were no functioning ticket machines and he seemed unsurprised. So he let us fare dodge for a few stops to Parc Flisvos.

Yes, this is where we’d planned to go all along. It had just involved a bit more fuss than I’d anticipated. Parc Flisvos is a big park by the sea that promised all sorts of delights and we fancied checking it out. Most of the Google reviews were very flattering, although one gave us cause for concern. It was written in Greek and Google obviously had had a stab at translating it but I feel like the original author’s intentions may have been lost in translation:

“I do not know what coffee soap they put. I’m afraid of the sea and I suck in black, only to get them, and the guy in the air !!!! Generally unorganized. They could be much better.Hair baths filled with urine on the floor!”

Well, we had to see these hair baths for ourselves. First though, the playground.

The problem with sunshine holidays is that it gets a bit too hot to actually do anything for long and after 20 minutes or so in the playground, the kids were done. So we went to get a drink in the cafe and sat there for ages while the kids played with the toys in the play area. Well, we kinda sat there for ages because the service was a bit slow but it was all fine with us. There were toys and aircon.

Then we went to another playground, then found somewhere shady to have our sandwiches. The bouncy castles caught Reuben’s eye but in 30c heat I thought they might be a bit of a burn hazard as well as a burning-through-our-cash hazard. The toilets had a thin film of water across the floor all the way through (hair baths of urine?) and the giant battleship that I’d thought was a climbing frame because of this photo turned out to be a war memorial and not climbable at all. Overall, Flisvos was turning out to be something of a disappointment.

So we went for a wander along the marina, in search of what Google called “The Floating Museum Fairy” but that was MIA. Luckily though, a good alternative was just round the corner and although it wasn’t free entry as Google had said, it was only 9Euro for all of us and it was a real live battleship, not just a pretend one.

I think this probably saved the day as Eva liked the Admiral’s quarters and Reuben liked the big guns and I liked the cooling sea breeze and the lovely view. I think we’d all learnt a lesson about not trusting everything Google said but it worked out OK in the end.

And what of those tickets? Well, the Parc Flisvos station had the same ticket-machine-sized hole as the others but the Trocadero station – which was the closest one to the Averof – had a functioning machine and we could buy not just tickets home but also tickets for the airport bus the next day. Again, we couldn’t buy half price tickets from the machine and this time we did have to pay for Eva (the airport bus is chargeable for 6+) so the 24Euro we spent altogether was only the most nominal saving on the 39Euro it would have cost to get the airconditioned taxi with the friendly drivers and the chilled water and the lack of having to pound the streets looking for a machine. Oh and the not having to sit on a metre-wide strip of pavement next to a three lanes of traffic for 17 minutes before the bus arrived.

But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s not talk about the return trip to England at all in fact. Or our final evening meal out which was something of a disaster. Let’s say goodbye from the Kalamaki beach, which we hopped back to after our time on the Averof. I hope this somewhat self-indulgent 4-part series has been of some use to someone somewhere who’s planning a trip to Athens with kids. If not, thanks for joining us on the journey. It’ll be back to “rainy Hackney” BAU soon, I promise.

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Athenian Merriment Part 3 – 02/06/18

In the last post I promised you some slightly more exciting things would happen in this one…well, buckle up baby. We’re going to the Parthenon.

Every holiday, my kids write a planner and fill in what they’re doing each day. It helps keep them me sane. This half term, Roo had designed it and over four days had written “Greece”, “Greece”, “Ancient Greece”, “Greece”. This was the “Ancient Greece” day and to get there we were taking the very modern tram. T5 – also known as the Plato Line apparently – went straight into Central Athens from Kalamaki and it seemed a simple enough job. Even getting the Athena tickets from the machine seemed straightforward enough, although annoyingly you can’t buy half fares from there. Eva was free though as she was under 7, so that kinda compensated for having to buy a full fare for Reuben. The machines were cash only and didn’t take anything above a 20Euro note but one of the two at Kalamaki was functional and delivered our tickets. More on that later though.

We validated the tickets as soon as we got on the tram – there’s something like an Oyster card reader that flashes green when you’ve done the right thing. The tickets are then valid for 90 minutes’ worth of travel (if you buy the 90 minute option….24 Hour options also available). It took a little googling but we figured it out. The entertainment on the tram was provided by a group of German lads who’d found a phone belonging to an Englishman called John. An associate of John’s kept calling and, despite their excellent English, they were struggling to convince the person on the other end of the line that they’d found the phone and not stolen it. I was tempted to step in but they seemed to be handling it….John, if you’re reading this I hope you got your phone back. Those boys really tried.

We alighted at a station called Fix and had about a 1km walk sharply uphill towards the Acropolis. Along the way, an old man pressed some postcards into Eva’s hand saying she was his granddaughter. I mean, she wasn’t but I understood the sentiment. By this point, she had mastered saying “thank you” in Greek (transliteration: Effkarisoe…don’t ask me how to spell it) and she unleashed it on the old man with devastating effect. Apparently the girl can be charming at times.

So the Parthenon is obviously a giant tourist trap and priced as such. It would cost 60Euros for us to go up to the actual ruins, so we spent 18Euros on icy fruit drinks instead and just took some photos in front of it. I know I’m a cheapskate.

Then we climbed up the Areopagus Hill which was both free and amazing because the view from the top stretched right across Athens. It’s the site of the ancient court and also where the Apostle Paul makes a speech in Acts 17 but all I realised at the time was that it was a darn good place for taking touristy photos. Like really.

Don’t wear flip-flops up there like I did though. It’s really slippery and there’s a long way to fall. In fact, the marble in the pavement of most of Central Athens makes flip-flops a health hazard. I spent the whole day narrowly avoiding falling over.

Coming down from the Acropolis, we may have got slightly lost but it meant we stumbled upon some more interesting historicky things, like the tiny Church of the Tranfiguration (Reuben said it smelt funny) and the Roman Agora with the octagonal Horologion of Andronikos Of Kyrrhos at the end:

The kids were hot and bothered but I think they were still a bit impressed by all this history. True, Eva was more impressed with this array of pretty dresses:

And Reuben spent longer looking at the crocheted Star Wars toys than the ancient Agora but both these things are to be expected.

We were almost on the right track now, after many wrong turns, but we made a quick diversion past the Cathedral and bumped into a parade that turned out to be the Best Buddies Friendship Walk. But we were on a mission to get food and there was only one place the kids wanted.

Believe me, I’m disappointed in myself too. The day I googled the route from the Acropolis to McDonald’s was the day that I realised that I was part of the problem. And as you’ve probably realised, we weren’t that good at following the route. Still, Eva hadn’t eaten properly for days and I was willing to try anything. It worked, she hoovered her McNuggets and my phone automatically connected to the WiFi. But yes, I know, I know….

After lunch, we went for a walk around the National Garden, handily nearby. There was a lot of cool, grassy shade but the kids obviously wanted to play in the dusty playground instead. We also found some more ancient ruins and I’m not convinced that Roo was meant to be sitting on them but…ah, blame Nathan for this photo:

There was also a “Child Library” which was sadly closed, as we’d hoped we could exchange the children we had with us for some better behaved ones there. The kids were relieved that it was closed but honestly, we were a bit disappointed. We started to head home but first I thought it’d be a good idea to find the toilets. So we followed a sign, which seemed to take us on a stepping stone path through the forest. I spotted some buildings that I thought might be the loos but it turned out to be the back of the Greek Parliament and a very nice security guard informed us that we should get back on the main path before he set the guard dogs on us. In a polite way of course, but we didn’t need telling twice. Actually, we did need telling twice as it didn’t quite sink in first time but we certainly didn’t need telling three times. We never did find the loos but, as Nathan pointed out, if we’d been chased by guard dogs we probably wouldn’t have needed them.

After that it was definitely time to get back to the hotel and happily, we passed some of those Greek soldiers with the pompom shoes on the way. Another box ticked!

Getting home was a little trickier than expected because there were no ticket machines at all at Syntagma tram station. So I abandoned the kids with Nathan and cut back through the square into the Metro station to get some tickets. Ah well, at least the ones at Kalamki worked…..or so we thought. That’s one for tomorrow’s post….

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Athenian Merriment Part 2 – 01/06/18

 

If you read my last post, you’ll have gasped along with the *very thrilling tale* of some people who went on an aeroplane. No doubt you’ve been waiting to hear what happened next so here goes…

We woke up at 7, after a fairly solid 12 hours’ sleep. We were all sharing a room so the prospect of a night’s sleep had seemed like an impossible dream. Still, the full day of travelling the day before had worked wonders and we somehow slept through. Going up to breakfast on the 6th floor, we had a glorious view of the sea and, of course, the dual carriageway that we had to cross to get to the sea. It was going to be a beach day, oh yes.

We were also sharing our breakfast buffet with the Chinese National Water Polo team, although it took us a few days to find out exactly who they were. At this point, it was just a bunch of Chinese athletes and a stern looking coach. Roo was thrilled to think that we were breakfasting with some real Olympians in the home of the Olympics. I have no idea whether they were Olympians or not but I let him think they were.

So, about that beach then. Nathan had done a recee on Google Maps and found a beach which looked sandier than the stony one near our hotel. We set off up the dual carriageway to find it and along the way we learnt about the loose relationship Greek drivers have with the rules of the road. A green man combined with a zebra crossing seems to give you the right to cross but never count on it. Always looks. Luckily our hometown of nearly-Essex is full of bad drivers so nothing really surprised us.

There seemed to be a lot of beach along that road and not a lot of way to get into any of it. Finally, we came to the EOT Beach Club, which was marked on the paper map as “Organised Beach”. Turns out that “Organised” means you have to pay for it. We’d already walked too far in the heat to turn back so we just paid 16Euros, which was the Mon-Fri rate and included free deckchairs. It was almost certainly a rip off but the beach was, indeed, organised and we could spread out over 4 loungers and stay all day, reading and eating our sandwiches. If we’d managed to sync our activities and all be reading at the same time, it would have been blissful but hey, holidays with kids don’t really work like that. Still, I spent most of the day in the sea, which is where I’m happiest in the 30C heat, AND I managed to read most of a novel so something must have gone right.

That evening we were out to eat again as the hotel only provided breakfast. Our dinner place this time was the O’Canto pub, which sounded like it might cater to fussy English kids suspicious of change. And it did! I ordered a huge platter of chicken fingers, wedges, halloumi, local sausages, salami and corn pitta, which I shared with Eva and she even ate some of it. Nathan had a burger again.

I know, I know, this isn’t the most thrilling holiday diary ever but wait! Tomorrow gets properly historicky and there’s even a battleship somewhere along the way. Stay tuned for Part 3…

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Athenian Merriment Part 1 – 31/05/18

Today it’s a drizzly grey day in North East London and the kids are playing X-Box and arguing with each other. It seems hard to believe that a day ago they were arguing with each other in the far more picturesque surroundings of the Athenian coastline. But it happened. And here’s how….

There was an early start. No, *really* early. Take that time you’re thinking of and subtract at least two hours from it. We’d all gone to bed early the night before but there was still a certain blurriness about the kids as we tipped them out of bed and straight into the car, wrapped in blankets (they’d gone to bed in their travelling clothes, for ease of transition). In fact, there was a blurriness about everything given that there was fog everywhere. As we drove to Luton, it felt eerie but it hadn’t yet occured to us that the eerieness may lead to delays. Oh how naive we were.

There’s not much to do at Luton before security, I’ll be honest. We’d already had a long wait on an airport bus as it tried to get through the traffic gridlock into the airport itself and we were reaching the hungry and irritable stage of early morning travel. So we went through security, almost without incident. I mean, Roo and I both got searched but we had nothing to hide. It was all fine. Not terrifying at all. And we went for a breakfast at The Smithfield, which did a lovely fry up for me and Nathan and pancakes with bacon for Roo. Eva ate almost nothing, but that’s a recurring theme of the holiday I’m not going to dwell on too much so from now on whenever I mention food, just assume she’s not really partaking.

Our flight was still on time at this point so we had to bolt the food a little and rush to our gate. Everything was moving smoothly so we had final toilet trips, bought some bottles of water, boarded and….waited. And waited a bit more. Fog apparently. Wizz Air couldn’t have mentioned this while we were still eating our expensive breakfasts could they? I’m not sure how long we were sitting on the runway at Luton for but it was somewhere in the region of 1.5 hrs. Long enough, as Reuben pointed out, to have watched a whole movie. Luckily he had a book he was reading so I could have a fitful nap while we were waiting. But I woke up every time he asked when we were leaving and the answer was still that I didn’t know. Across the aisle, Eva was drawing ponies and Nathan was having a sneaky 40 winks too. Well, maybe not 40. Maybe 28 or so.

We did eventually take off and neither of the kids freaked out, which was lucky as it was Eva’s first ever flight and Reuben’s first one since Germany in 2011. A combination of books, Top Trumps and notebooks kept them relatively quiet for the 3.5 hrs we were in the air although I had to skimp on the snacks, given we were travelling hand luggage only. There was enough space for some lollipops for take-off and a cereal bar each and apart from that they just had to cope.

When we landed – an hour and a half late – our transfer driver was waiting for us. I’d booked the transfer in a panic the week earlier because our Plan A (catching the Airport bus) had been scuppered by a bus strike. As lovely as it was for the Athenians to make us feel at home by recreating London tube strike chaos, it wasn’t the most helpful. Still, after a long journey we were grateful to be able to just sit in an air conditioned car and not have to worry about where we were going. We used Welcome Airport Transfers and they were honestly amazing – we had an e-mail with our named driver and his contact details, they provided age-appropriate car seats and even gave us a cold bottle of water each when we got in the car. Honestly flawless. Not too expensive either.

As soon as we got to our hotel we needed to eat. Our body clocks had totally given up by that point but it was around 3:30 Greek time and a very long time since that hasty breakfast. We found the vast Peñarrubia Lounge right by the seafront, which was a sort of nightclub-cafe-restaurant and they provided us with chicken nuggets and chips for the kids, a burger for Nathan and a rocket salad with goats’ cheese and strawberries in it for me.  Yeah, I wasn’t sure about the strawberries at first either. But it worked. And it was just what I needed in the heat after so many hours cooped up.

Sleep was beckoning but before we succumbed, we wanted to try out the local beach – Kalamaki Beach. It wasn’t the most beautiful – you had to duck through a broken fence to get there and there was a bit of broken glass mixed in with the shingle. But the water was clean and it was so very close to our hotel.  We had a quick swim but quite frankly, we all needed to be asleep by about 6PM. So this is where I’ll leave Part One. Join us again for a post about actually doing stuff instead of just playing Top Trumps on a budget airline. It does get more interesting, honest…

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Wild Child Festival Preview

So, the kids have broken up for May half term already (don’t ask) but I’m already thinking past this next two weeks (no really, don’t ask) and onto the summer. One thing we’re very excited about is the Wild Child Festival, who we’re working in partnership with (along with Mothers & Shakers). The festival runs for three days, from Friday 17th-Sunday 19th August and is taking place in Dulwich, not far from our old South London stomping ground. It’s suitable for kids from 0-11 so should be something fun for everyone.

There are 11 different zones to enjoy – I think Eva will be particularly taken with the Unicorn Meadow in the Play House but there are circus zones, music zones, the “Imagination Lab” and a special area for the 0-3s (how do I not have one of those anymore?). Guests include El Baldiniho Magic, Circus Dreams and Seedlings Wellbeing. For more information, have a look at the website or follow Wild Child on Twitter and Facebook.

Disclaimer: LWAT is working as an ambassador for Wild Child Festival in exchange for review tickets and a fee. All opinions remain honest and my own

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