Friends of London With a Toddler

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 Introducing our  Friends of London With a Toddler -parent-led businesses that are run by particularly nice people.

LWAT is ecstatic to be working with such lovely companies and heartily endorse all of them.

* Friends of LWAT are paid ads from businesses LWAT has a personal relationship with. Friends of LWAT ad space is not available to advertisers that we do not know.


Posted in What I suppose you'd call "tips"....? | Tagged | 1 Comment

Christmas is Coming!

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I know at least one person is going to rebuke me for even talking about Christmas, but there are Christmas chocolates on the shelves, the mornings are getting darker and -most excitingly – I’ve been asked to be an official blogger for Father Christmas World in Tunbridge Wells. It’s going to be a wintery fantasy land with its own theatre (the Adelfi), a tinsel train and  a friendly polar bear called Bing . There’s a giant igloo, a snow dome with real snow and, of course, a chance to meet Santa. I am so very excited about this and will be running a giveaway for tickets next month. But if you want to guarantee your place, tickets are on sale now. It’s a 3.5 hour Christmas experience and it should be amazing. More news soon!

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Hippopo Thames – 17/09/14

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It’s funny how much can change in 6 months.  We only left Vauxhall in March but the gentrification that pushed housing out of our price range has gathered pace.  Now, Vauxhall has its own Street Food Garden,  swanky new tower blocks and an art installation.  Even the horses at Vauxhall City Farm have a nice new stable.  It’s a funny kind of gentrification,  where a homeless hostel still nestles next to Waitrose and the toilets in the refitted Starbucks have to be locked to keep out undesirables. And the developments that are arriving seem aimed at people like us – Dirty Burger,  Nandos, street food- but people like us can’t afford to live there anymore.  With the American Embassy arriving,  Vauxhall will soon be the playground of the super – rich but they’re unlikely to want to play under the railway arches in what used to be a gay club or bondage shop.  And at heart,  it’s still a massive gyratory. Which,  if the gay clubs go,  will be the only gyrating that goes on round there.  I can’t imagine what it will be like in ten years but the next few seem to be full of empty apartments with a million pound price tag and confused hipsters sipping pho by the train line before boarding the train back to Walthamstow with all the other Hackney refugees.

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I might sound bitter.  I’m not, really but the area does seem to be going through a bit of an identity crisis right now.

Anyway,  that was a remarkably downbeat note to start a post about a nice day with. Let’s rewind. Back to the all new Starbucks. Where I’m having a cuppa and some cake with Bob, Boby and Tombles. Our mission today is to seek out the giant hippo in the Thames.  As you can probably guess from the photo,  we found it.

But first, there was some time to kill. So, at Eva’s request we went to Vauxhall City Farm so that she could coo at the bunnies, fear the chickens and attempt to feed the ponies. Here’s that swish new stable I mentioned earlier:

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Eva also liked the eco-house, where we chatted with a random person about donkey rides. Boby seemed pleased to see the animals but she’s a girl with a heck of a lot of city farms under her belt. She’s not easily impressed.

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Facebook friends of mine will notice that Eva is still, at this point, sporting the same topknot that she had at nursery the day before, albeit in a more dishevelled state. It’s about to come undone in a spectacular Cyndi-Lauper-esque power mullet:

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Toddler Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

With a mullet in place, it was time to head to Hackney-on-Thames aka the Vauxhall Street Food Garden. It was super-nice of Vauxhall to put on a whole market just to make Bob and Boby feel at home and I’m glad we could reciprocate by styling Eva in such a hipster way. It’s a long slither of land, just beside the railway tracks and I can’t remember what was there before, which suggests to me that it was nothing much. Now, they’ve packed in two bars, several food stalls and a whole bank of gazebos:

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There were burritos, curries, paella,  crepes and a BBQ as well as a Vietnamese stall and some others I’ve clearly forgotten. It wasn’t outrageously expensive either – mine and Eva’s BBQ food came to £6.50, which was a very tasty artisan sausage in a roll, with an extra sausage for the girl. It was a piece of art, too:

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Onion chutney, avocado salsa, some kinda fancy bread, sauce and salad all came as standard although Eva, the purist, just went for sausage plus ketchup:

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(In a roll I’d brought with me just in case I needed it…I swear I am turning into my mother)

Tombles had the bacon burger and said it was very tasty. Bob had the curry and it was pretty good. Boby looked like she would have given anything a go. The seating is plentiful and undercover, so we didn’t need to worry too much about those impending storm clouds, and we even got a free coffee at the bar! It’s a nice addition to the Vauxhall scene…just a pity that, as I said earlier, the multi-millionaires of aSt George’s Wharf might think they’re above it. But who could be above these classy toilets?:

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I’m guessing this has another life as a nightclub (hence the “only one per cubicle” signs). In some ways, Vauxhall doesn’t forget its roots:

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Ahem. Anyway, it was night on half one by this point, which is when we got access to the foreshore for hippo-viewing. If you’re not sure what I mean, it was a rare opportunity to climb down into the Thames at low tide and stand on a bit of shore that’s normally a bit of riverbank. Oh, and there was a hippo in the river. Obviously. I think it’s part of the “Totally Thames” festival.

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You can access the foreshore just past St George’s Pier, down a set of specially constructed metal steps. It’s not suitable for buggies, but Boby had it all worked out:

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Mummy-wearing FTW! As you can tell by Boby’s expression, the hippo itself isn’t that much to look at but it’s a cool thing to have, even if it’s largely facing the wrong way to take pictures of. The real prize is a scamper around the riverbed, getting a view of Battersea, Westminster and Pimlico that you never normally would. Of course, I completely failed to capture this view so instead, here’s Eva getting her shoes dirty:

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It’s definitely worth a look, for the two things combined – novelty artwork that looks like an oversized Kinder snack and access to a place you can’t normally go. And it’s freeeee!

As we went back up the steps, I also noticed that someone was trying to invite me to some kind of rendez-vous:
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We were in spyland, after all. Sadly I had other plans so had to decline but I’ll let you imagine the adventure I could have had. Me, the hippo, the double agents, the toddler….crazy fun. And so was our day in Vauxhall.

More details here (official site)

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The Bucket and Spade List Part 8 – Spitalfields City Farm

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I’m really tired today. Eva had me up during the night, I was working today and then looking after Roo and that’s the reason my brain is running so slowly that I can’t even mock hipsters properly. It’s taken ten minutes to come up with this opening joke, so you’d better appreciate it. OK, here goes…

Where do hipster ducks live?


I know. It’s not my best.  But it kinda introduces you to the whole concept of hipster animals, just in time to take a virtual trip to Spitalfields City Farm, as part of item 7. “Notch up some more city farms”. We’ve notched up one and this was it. Still, it was a pretty good one.

It’s signposted from the main road but you basically turn off by a very East London piece of graffiti:

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As with every trip to Spitalfields, you should ensure that your daughter is wearing appropriately edgy clothes:

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With the scratched camera, this actually looks like it was taken in the 80s, doesn’t it? The residents of E2 photoshop for hours to get this kind of look.

Anyway, let’s get back to the farm and we managed to steer Reuben away from the park next door with the promise of some animals. On first glance it looked pretty big- bigger than Hackney City Farm anyway.

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It’s also full of bits of shiny artwork, which are all made of of hundreds and hundreds of bottle tops:

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These pieces were the work of Robson Cezar, who is an East End regular and currently artist-in-residence at the farm. How many farms have their own artist? This is getting no less hipster. Anyway, Reuben liked the monkey:

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But we were here to see real animals and those they had in abundance too. There were pigs, a pony and donkeys called Bayleaf and Derek. I can’t help feeling that Bayleaf got the nicer name. Derek obviously felt that too, and skulked at the back of his pen, ignoring us. But Bayleaf came up for a stroke after a little coercion:

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And some yummy stinging nettles as well. Lucky Bayleaf.

Reuben was very impressed that the goats had their own climbing frame, although they didn’t seem to be maximising its potential:

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You might even say they were less impressed with Reuben than he was with them. Ah well, there’s always a cow to befriend..

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We thought we’d seen all the animals, so stopped off at the treehouse, which both kids managed to climb without any help. At the top, Reuben starting flinging off his shoes. You might wonder why, as we did. His answer was that there was a tiny soft play in the tree and you don’t wear shoes at soft play.

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That didn’t sound right. We scaled the tree too, just to investigate.

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He was right! A tiny soft play in a treehouse! There was a pile of these blocks and some stools to sit on. In this picture he still has his shoes on, but that didn’t last long. Nathan and I had a bottle of flat coke and a relax while the kids stacked the blocks and knocked them over. Then I went to the “Bug Hotel” to listen to the sounds of a beehive through some earphones. Or it could have been experimental jazz – never forget we’re in Shoreditch.

At the bottom of the tree, there were also some ride-on toys and a little table to sit and draw at. Sadly my phone battery died so I have only one more photo to show you and none of Reuben pulling Eva round on a little trailer.

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Technology, huh? The kids could have played for much longer but we had Bob’s birthday to get to and it appeared that we’d missed out a whole other side of the farm. It was called The Farmyard, and was home to the aforementioned hipster ducks, some rabbits, sheep and even a free-range cat. We tracked the cat down sitting inside a little cabin, enjoying the sunshine and the stroking of random strangers. He soon scarpered at the sight of a toddler though. And the toddler and her brother were settling in to stay, with a big pile of puzzles and books and some comfy cushions to sit on. There were plenty of things for us to look at too – from a whole snakeskin to some fly-vision glasses. If only we didn’t have somewhere to go and if only we could save time by skipping the playground in neighbouring Allen Gardens (we couldn’t. Our kids aren’t dumb). So, we left the farm after about an hour but really could have stayed longer. It was one of the best equipped city farms I’ve been to, in terms of things to do for kids. We didn’t even get a coffee…we’ll never make hipsters, will we?

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More information here (official website)






Posted in Food in cages! Walking around! Or maybe some alpacas! (Farms and zoos) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bucket and Spade List Part 7 – Nando’s and Book Benches

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Sometimes change is for the best. You have to make your choices and move on. That’s what I kept telling myself as I stared at a Nando’s menu, willing myself to order something that wasn’t a chicken pitta. We were in the Middlesex Street branch, a hop and a scoot away from Liverpool Street, and the staff had kindly opened up the downstairs area to accommodate the 15 people who turned up to celebrate Nathan’s 35th birthday.  I knew that this Bucket & Spade List item was going to be a toughie ( 6. “Order something different at Nando’s”) but I hadn’t realise quite how attached I was to my usual. I haven’t even looked at a Nando’s menu in years, so confident am I in my choices, but it was time for change. Was it going to be the Butterfly Burger, serendipitously placed in the “Try Something New” section? Or the Prego Steak Roll? Some Fino Sides instead of peri-peri chips

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No, I went for the chicken wrap. That’s new for me, OK? Even if it’s not a massive departure from the chicken pitta. And it was nice enough – a hint of chilli jam in there – but it didn’t have enough chicken and all the pineapple got pushed to the bottom so that you had it eat it on its own. I think I’ll stick to the pitta in the future. Excuse the fuzziness of these photos, by the way – my phone camera has had some trauma of late and now makes everything look like it’s in an early 80s music video. Which is cool in its own way.

On the way home we stopped by Plaza Park in Wood Street, which still has highly escapable toddler boltholes around the playground despite local parents complaining. I like the playground though, with its innovative seesaw and bouncy swings. Today, Eva found a new feature, which pleased her. The fountains were on! Perfect for a fully clothed girl in wellies…in her opinion, anyway:

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“Oh no! Mine tights got soggy!” the toddler may well have said. I failed to be surprised. Meanwhile, Nathan was trying out this bench-futon:

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And Eva found a place to relax too:

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The subject of benches leads me smoothly onto the second part of this post, and that is our progress on item 9 – “Find some of those book benches” – which has been..minimal. To be fair, they aren’t in the most obvious places – I’ve spent a lot of the summer in Soho and there are none there. But we bagged a couple in Bloomsbury Square:

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This was at lunchtime on a weekday, so they both had office workers sitting on them and refusing to move so we didn’t get great photos. We did discover a new playground in the corner of the square though:

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It’s a mystifyingly rural theme for a park just off High Holborn but never mind. I also recognise that cow from another Bucket trip – I think it was Clissold Park. Anyway, it all looks shiny and new and Reuben had a lovely time playing there. I also have around 10,000 photos of the park because he wanted me to photograph him on every piece of equipment (climbing frame, roundabout, assault course) so do let me know if one photo just doesn’t cut it for you.

Despite the fun playtime, he was disappointed to not get on a bench so we headed to Red Lion Square and snared this Peter Pan number:

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(You aren’t meant to climb on the benches but I only found that out later)

A little while afterwards, we spotted this one outside Bank station:

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And that’s as far as we’ve got, really. I spotted a “Wind in the Willows” one from afar when going to Maria’s house on my most stressful transport day EVAH but I didn’t get a decent photo. They’re disappearing anytime now I think so not an amazing attempt but enough to tick that one off the list, which just leaves me with four to do by last week the end of September. Wish me luck…

Posted in Cake and the finest wines known to humanity (eating out) | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

More Exciting Announcements!


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Firstly, it’s Nathan’s birthday. Reuben was in charge of cake design, in case you’re wondering.

Secondly, I have two other announcements that might just be more interesting to you. Anyone here like….


Of course you do! And your kids too, I’ll bet. Well, the annual CBeebies panto is coming round again – this year it’s “Peter Pan”, starring all your favourite Beebies presenters and Justin as well. It’s being filmed in Manchester on October 11th and you could be in the audience. I’ll let Beebies explain…

“Free tickets for CBeebies Peter Pan are released at midday today (September 10th 2014) through  and will be allocated via a ballot which is open for one week. The ballot will close at midday on September 17th. Performances will take place at 1pm and again at 4.30pm on Saturday, October 11th 2014, at The Lowry, Salford Quays.

Over that same weekend there will also be a host of different activities and a range of entertainment taking place outside The Lowry, all created by BBC Learning, to excite and inspire young audiences. No tickets are required for the events and the activities will run on Friday and Saturday (10th/11th October) from 10am – 6pm.  As CBeebies Peter Pan is performed on stage there will be live streaming on a big screen for those unable to get tickets. More details of the weekend activities will be released over the coming weeks.”

Well, I’m excited anyway! The ballot is only open for a week, so get onto it quickly!

And the last announcement? Remember that Octonauts Live is coming? Well, I have a chance to interview the director and writer, Richard Lewis. So, if you have any questions for him, send them to me at It’s going to be Octotastic!


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Beware of…

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Card clash! It’s coming, dontcha know…a week on Tuesday. Of course, if you’ve been using a contactless card on a bus you’ll already be familiar with the perils of card clash, but now the warnings are being rolled out over the tannoys where ominous voices warn you to enforce Oyster/Visa acardtheid. Because – and this is the real point – you will soon be able to use a contactless debit card to pay on the tube, DLR and London Overground as well as the bus. And the good thing is that the daily and weekly capping works (where a week = Monday-Sunday). That is GOOD NEWS people. No more queuing at the Oyster top-up machine while your train pulls away. You just pay by debit card and it’ll cap itself at the price of a daily travelcard if you make enough journeys. As you might guess, we often make enough journeys to do that.

There are some cons as well as the pros – you can’t combine Oyster and contactless, so if you’re aiming for a weekly cap, you need to remember which card you started on. Obviously it has to be the same debit card each time as well. There’s no monthly or annual cap, so it’s best to just buy a travelcard for those time periods. And the stickiest issue has to be to do with National Rail services (critical for the people of Near-Essex, like us). Apparently, contactless will be accepted on some NR services but it won’t be announced which ones until just before the date. Not overly helpful. But I’ll bring you more info as and when I get it.

Anyhoo, more info here.

While I’m here, a quick couple of shout outs. Firstly, for the Stow Festival this Saturday (13th September), featuring the Walthamstow Acoustic Massive…and me. Secondly, for the Evelina Children’s Hospital Fun Day at the Oval on the same day. You have no reason to be bored this weekend…

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The Bucket and Spade List Part 6 – Lunch in Leytonstone

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OK, I might have been a bit harsh on Leytonstone in that last post but it was raining and rain puts me in a grouchy mood. Still, going through somewhere on a bus is a bit of a cop-out and so I thought I should probably give it a proper explore. Or at least take Roo to McDonalds there while running some errands for work.

Don’t look so outraged. It’s not like he has McDonalds all the time – in fact, he only ate there for the first time this year. But I’ve created a McMonster and he now has something of a taste for Happy Meals…or at least the toy that comes with them. It was our last Mummy-and-Son day of the holiday and I’ve spent most of those Mummy-and-Son days dragging him round Soho so a treat was in order. More on that later though…

Join me, if you will, at the end of the W16 route outside Leytonstone tube station. Like me, you may be confused about where you are. It will look a little like the bus station you went through on the 257 but with a complete lack of High Street next to it. Still, it had an interesting bus-sculpture:

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..and some ladybirds on the floor. It entertained Roo for a few minutes but it wasn’t quite going to hit the Happy Meal spot. I eventually worked out that we needed to go into the tube and through a subway to get to Leytonstone High Road. The subway was happily decorated with mosaics of Leytonstone’s most filmic son, Alfred Hitchcock:

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Who, according to these pictures, had an unfortunate habit of groping Janet Leigh in the showers:

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No wonder she looks shocked. By the way, I am dedicating this picture to my A-Level English teacher Graeme Hodgson. It’s all in the circles you know…

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Anyway, once we’d got through the subway (possibly heading North-by-NorthWest) we arrived at another bus station which looked fairly similar to the first one. I was beginning to see where I’d got confused. But I was also beginning to see where we were going, past the big church and the Stone Gallery (is that a wee bit of gentrification going on there?) to the big McDonalds, which had…wait for this…a free soft play! Oh yeah, now you’re listening aren’t you? That over-processed food from the evil corporation doesn’t seem so bad once you sweeten it with a play area, does it? As discussed, I have few principles anyway. I save my moral crusading for Nestle, which conveniently lets me buy my boy some McNuggets and a Fruit Shoot. Granted, I’d ordered a hamburger but he seemed OK with the change in plan once he opened the box. He mainly likes the toys anyway.

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So, we ate and then he played. For a glorious 20 minutes or so, while I used the free wifi to send some work e-mails. But it was sunny outside and the park was beckoning. Along the way, we saw what looked like the poshest Tesco ever:

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And then we crossed by the green man roundabout, which I’ve recently heard described as”the beating heart of Leytonstone”. I’m not convinced on that, but it does make for fun road-crossing, when you wait for the green man at the Green Man (the fun mainly involves shouting “Green Man!” a lot. Your child being able to read road signs facilitates this fun). We also saw another mosaic, which I’m starting to think of as an E11 trademark:

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The park I had in mind was the Henry Reynolds Gardens, which promised two play areas – one for under 12s and one for under 7s. And indeed, it had those. Here’s the under-12s:

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And here’s the under 7s:

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Obviously, the under 7s was covered in teenagers, spending their last days of the summer holidays trying to make themselves sick on the roundabout. But that’s just park life.

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Anyway, Roo ran in and the first thing he was drawn to was not the brightly coloured metal but the altogether more natural play area:


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It was a kinda assault course, all carved out of tree trunks. There were lots of intricate details and even a snail, although we have enough of those in the playhouse at home.  There were rope bridges to climb over and things to balance on, and at the end you were rewarded with a good climbing tree which, unfortunately, was full of squealing girls. But, not to worry…there were still those two play areas to investigate, and a handy reminder of where you’d found yourself:

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Some of us have no idea how we found ourselves here, but that’s another matter…

A fairly nice park overall – small ish and with a few too many teens and pre-teens, but prettier than anything I’d expected to find in Leytonstone:

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(As discussed in my last post, the sunshine helps) Altogether, a more successful trip than I was anticipating – parks, greenery, street art and a Big Mac. Leytonstone = done.

Posted in Just wandering...., Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Bucket and Spade List Part 5 – Clissold Park

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Yes, it’s the last week of the holidays and we’re not even halfway through the list. I’m OK with that. The list will go on. But we ticked off another item yesterday, with a trip to Clissold Park with Tammy and Jake. It rained all day.

Wow, that really sounds like the shortest post in the world…but no, you’re not that lucky. I am going to talk you through a rainy day in Clissold Park in the usual excessive amounts of detail and you’ll be surprised at the end to learn it was really quite pleasant. Well, you won’t be surprised now, will you?

Let’s start at Walthamstow Central. A glance at a local paper had led me to believe that a shiny new route had opened up between that station and the Queens Road station on the Overground. I couldn’t see any signs, so just started walking the long way round, confident that we’d find a way through. As soon as we turned up towards Hoe Street, Eva started pointing into the carpark and wailing “No, dat way! We go dat way!”. Like a fool, I ignored her because it turned out that the toddler was right. The correct route through did involve walking through the car park at Walthamstow Central and cutting through a residential street marked with laminated pieces of paper. Of course, I only found that out on the return trip because I was busy walking the long way round. I really am a fool.

We were getting the overground to Harringay Green Lanes and then a bus to the park from there. It may not seem like the quickest route, but the shiny new Overground has that magical step-free access that the creaky old Piccadilly Line stations can’t seem to muster…even the not-quite-so-creaky Victoria Line stations boast but a handful of step-free routes. They do a great line in raised platforms though, so if you can get down there with a buggy or wheelchair you are totally sorted. Anyway, ramps at Queens Road and Green Lanes ensured a smooth step-free route for he buggy, which Eva doesn’t necessarily use all the time, but Eva’s stuff does. And on a rainy day, there was a lot in the way of stuff – particularly extra layers and that hoodless raincoat.

It was pretty drizzly by the time we got there. First impressions were of a big, open park that was also a particularly damp park:

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It’s amazing trick of the camera – or possibly of the weather – that makes Stoke Newington look bleak and unappealing because of the drizzle, whereas a sunny Leytonstone today looked positively utopian. I expect floods of enraged tweets complaining that I’m bringing house prices down. Fear not though – in the cafe, inside the very classy Clissold House, the aspirational spirit of N16 was alive and well. Every table was full of Annabellas and Edwins, fresh from their overpriced singing group, sipping babycinos with their nannies. Even the plants looked a bit disdainful and superior, in their shiny silver buckets:

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This was not a place where you ordered the cheapest drink on the menu and ate your own sandwiches surreptiously under the table. So, naturally we didn’t. No no. Neither did Roo unsurreptiously fashion a crown out of his tortilla. Again, no. We hid out there as long as we could make a packed lunch cup of tea last and then went back out into the drizzle.

A few words of explanations while we’re here – as you approach Clissold House from the front, the cafe is up a slope and then some steps and it looks tiny. It’s actually three rooms’ worth of space, along with an atrium to park the buggy in, and if you go around the back you’ll find a step-free entrance where you can either take a lift up or park the buggy at the bottom and use these Von-Trappesque stairs:

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You may be tempted to sit on the bottom step and slowly shuffle upwards, singing about suns going to bed but repress that urge. The nannies will judge you.

I also noticed a “Quiet Room” behind the cafe, which I assume is more seating. Obviously we didn’t go in there. Equally obviously, I didn’t go in there and sing about suns going to bed. What a well repressed urge that was!

So, back into the rain and it really was a very light, misty kind of rain which totally justified shoving the kids outside for a run around the playground. They had coats. They didn’t wear them all the time, that’s true, but they had them. And besides, it was only an intermittent misty rain. Hardly rain at all. Just as well, seeing that the hardly-rain hardly stopped all day.

The playground then! A dangerous place, or so the gates would have you believe:

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Clearly one of the solicitor parents of Stoke Newington has threatened a lawsuit at some point, for a grazed Grazia or a scuffed Scylla. Remember kids – play safe. Or at least, take responsibility for your own actions.

Reuben didn’t read the sign:

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And Eva just can’t read:

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As for Jake? He was being a rogue train, careering around the playground knocking down innocent bystanders. I’d love to see the H&S paperwork for that.

Anyway, I’ll stop talking for a second while I eat a bourbon and instead show you some pictures of the large and well-landscaped playground:

2014-09-01 12.02.54From the top of the slide:

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And from the other direction (I think that’s a skate park):

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Pirate ship! Or improvised rain-shelter…

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And some quizzical-looking animals:

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Oh, and some mysterious messages in the sand:

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They played for an hour – in rainy times and less rainy times – but I wanted to have a bit more of an explore so me and the kids went to the animal enclosures, while Tammy and Jake played football on the somewhat soggy grass.

Now, we’ve tried spotting deer before but they’re always a bit reluctant to come near my noisy children. This day, though, the children stayed miraculously quiet and a stag appeared right in front of us to sharpen his antlers:

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And…doe! A deer! A female deer! If only she’d brought a drop of golden sun with her…

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We also saw a goat and some chickens and got told off by a parkkeeper for leaving a buggy in slightly the wrong place. Then we went to the butterfly dome, where we didn’t get told off for letting a couple of butterflies escape (only through the first set of curtains…and I don’t think anyone spotted that it was Eva that did it). We watched the Butterfly Whisperer lure them back into place with a net and left feeling only a touch guilty. It was a lovely little feature though – and the butterflies were huge:

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(Although you know that’s zoomed in, right?)

It was almost time to go and get some more food (I’d packed surreptious sandwiches for the kids but not for me) but first we had some wet-grass football to play, some ducks to hassle and an island to see:

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Recognise it? The kids did – it’s the island that Abney and Teal live on, in the CBeebies show of the same name. If you don’t believe me, I’d point you in the direction of the nearby Abney Park. QED. Reuben and Eva were mostly concerned with getting Bop to come out of his lake, and so stood hollering “Wake up Bop!” at him. It didn’t work, but I think we managed to convince them he was just under that little circle of bubbles.

But food was calling, and we chose to leave the pricey surrounds of Clissold Park and go for the slightly more bargainous N4 Eatery near Green Lanes station, where a tasty lasagne and chips – with four different types of salad – costs just £6. For a plate that is literally bigger than your head. Me and Tammy could have easily shared one between us. As it was, she got a doggy bag to take her leftover moussaka home in. There was just such a lot of it. They were also incredibly friendly, helpful with the kids and willing to swoop in with replacement straws and forks as and when they got dropped. I would definitely recommend it.

And what then but another runaround? This time, we went to the edge of Finsbury Park where Roo collected conkers and Jake collected imaginary medals for fastest-downhill-runner-ever. Needless to say, they were both flaking on the way home. We didn’t really do Finsbury Park justice and we’ll need to revisit – we just went there because it was right over the road (although that bit seemed to be private playing fields so we had to walk up the hill to get in). But I think we did Clissold Park quite thoroughly and it was a lovely trip out – even in the rain. Another bit of the Bucket and Spade List ticked off!

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Posted in Token attempts at fresh air (parks), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Bucket and Spade List Part 4 – Olympic Park Boat Tours

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I learnt a lot today. I learnt facts about the Olympic Park, I learnt how often people stop and stare at your toddler if she’s dressed as Spiderman and I learnt where to buy juice in Stratford. I also came home with two different types of sand in my shoe and the kinda tiredness that just won’t quit. That’s what a day out in the Olympic Park does for you.

We were there to try out the Olympic Park Boat Tour, courtesy of Lee and Stort Boats. It was not only an exciting and new thing to do, it also ticked an item off the Bucket and Spade List. But I’m  getting ahead of myself. Our Stratford adventure began with a train. Not to get there, you understand – that was a 2-bus, 1 Asda job. But a steam train that was handily parked outside the bus station, for photo opportunities:


Having befriended “Robert”, we looked for the pink signs that would light our way to the Olympic Park. I seem to remember it being well signposted from the Jubilee line, but from the bus station? Not so much. I found one, but then no guidance on whether to climb up the big flight of stairs or not. We decided we should, and found a lift that would take us up there and we were rewarded with another sign at the top. That took us through The Street at Westfield, and the Olympic Stadium was right in front of us. Of course, if you’re looking for the Tumbling Bay Playground, as we were, you need the opposite end of the park to where the stadium is. So, I followed the route we’d trodden before – all along Westfield Avenue and across the road by the Copperbox Arena. We would later discover that you can turn off Westfield Avenue much earlier, and the Olympic Avenue will take you to Tumbling Bay. I told you I learnt a lot. And now you’re benefitting from my wisdom, if you’re not utterly confused.

To add to your confusion, the boat tours went from nowhere near Tumbling Bay but we had a picnic date with Roo’s Godmother Auntie Savage, and Eva’s Godfather Uncle BSav, who were heading to the velodrome to do the kind of thing they call fun. So, we found some space near the playground but not near enough so that the kids would run off constantly during lunch.

Well, that was the plan.

They hadn’t even seen the sand-and-water play or the climbing frame yet, but a few wobbly things, some enticing pathways and some stepping stones were more than enough to distract them all the time we we picnicking:

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Not to mention that piece of random art that you can see just behind SpiderEva’s head. I said not to climb on it, but things were somewhat slacker on Auntie Savage’s watch and Eva disappeared inside it for a few minutes. When she emerged, we took the kids to the playground itself and they had a fine time getting their clothes wet and filling buckets full of that strangely coarse sand (we assume it’s from the construction of the stadium somehow). I had brought swimsuits for them but didn’t think it was warm enough for them to wear them…so they just water-played in their socks. Godparent watch again.

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It was time to go and find our boat, so we dried them off and headed down Olympic Avenue towards the London Aquatic Centre. On the way we passed a recreation of Hill Valley, from the “Back to the Future” films. I really hope it stays after they’ve finished the showings.

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The walk took us about half an hour because we walk verrrry slowly, but also because the Olympic Park is huge and we were traversing it. We had the wave-shaped Aquatic Centre in our sights the whole time, we just had to wiggle our way towards it. When we got there, we walked past the Centre and took the lift down to the waterside (where the main entrance of the Aquatic Centre is) and then turned right to find the accessible path down to the pontoon:

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Down at he end, there’s the “ticket boat” – a permanently moored boat which looks to have a little cafe aboard. You buy tickets there and then queue along the pontoon for the actual boat (there’s space to leave your buggy on the pontoon too). There wasn’t a huge queue and boarding was pretty swift. When we were settled in our seats, the skipper came around and offered lollipops to the kids, which was a nice touch. He later gave them to all the pensioners too, which was even nicer. Our guide for the tour was Gabrielle, who works in the AcelorMittal Orbit, and she explained that we’d be going up to the northern end of the park and then back down to the south.

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Reuben had hit a bit of a slump by this point, so he sat and ate snacks for most of the journey but Eva really enjoyed it. She peered out of the window, waving to people on the bank and pointing out ducks. Occasionally, she would sing “Row, row your boat” or “3 Little Ducks”…just to add to the ambience. But she was mostly still and quiet, so we could actually hear Gabrielle pointing out the sights. There was the Diamond Bridge, complete with snogging couple underneath, and the lock that remained from the original waterways. As we moved into the North Park, the concrete embankments gave way to reeds and wildlife (we saw a dragonfly…Reuben thought it was an actual dragon) and it was very peaceful – a sharp contrast to the busyness of the South Park, where the Mayor’s Liberty Festival and National Paralympic Day were going on. She told us about the future of the park – the media centre that was becoming a mini Silicon Valley, the athletes’ apartments which had been fitted with kitchens so that normal people could move in. I must admit to having been a bit cynical about the “Olympic Legacy” a few years back, but with so much of the park open to the public and useable, I’m beginning to think it was money well spent. I haven’t swum in the Aquatic Centre yet, but you can just rock up and do that…and apparently it’s only £3.75 to get in and you might even glimpse Tom Daley training in there.


We turned round, at which point Nathan took this lovely – and phone-endangering – shot. Doesn’t it all look lovely and mellow? We were heading back towards the South Park, which would not quite be so mellow, as Gabrielle told us about the new IKEA-sponsored village and the view you could get from the top of the Orbit. I’m quite tempted to go up there now, despite my crippling fear of heights. I want to see what a view from the East, over 20 miles of London looks like. They also have a hawk that’s named after Boris Johnson – that’s gotta be worth a look.

As we went back past the pontoon, Eva spotted her buggy and it was time for her to have a little meltdown. She’s quite attached to it, apparently. We went downstream just a little way before disembarking and reuniting screaming toddler with her precious mode of transport. It was a fun experience, and a good way to get a feel for the scale of the park – something you don’t get from just visiting isolated bits of it. Sadly, the tours are only running till tomorrow but hopefully they’ll be back next summer.

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While we were on that side of the park, I thought we might as well look around the Liberty Festival and discovered….a whole other playground! So, sadly, we didn’t give the festival much attention as the kids were too busy in the (much finer sand) sandpit and climbing the climbing-wall slide:

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There was some kind of theatre production going on at the same time, but it seemed to involve mime and we fear mime. Eva ducked under the fence to have a look, but she was mostly confused so backed away quickly. Me and Eva had a wander around the stalls and listened to the live music but Roo just wanted to play. His dream is to play all day, apparently, and he’s keen to “live the dream” ala the Lego Movie. So, they played till we they were exhausted and it seemed time to head home. Given the option of a portaloo or a gold-plated toilet, Nathan took the latter so we ducked into Westfield to use the facilities and the free wifi and find a cool drink that didn’t break the bank.

The first two bits went OK. The last, not so OK. The prices, the crowds, the tired children…it was ugly at best. So, we got out as quickly as possible. I left the three of them sitting on the big flight of steps while I visited the old, faithful Stratford Centre, where I scored a 1.5l  bottle of Copella for £1.50 from Sainsburys. Remember kids, there is life outside Westfield and its £5 smoothies. And then? Nothing but a long bus trip home with two sleepy children and one sleepy husband. A fitting end to a busy day.


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Aliens Love Underpants Live!

Harrison Spiers in ALIENS LOVE UNDERPANTS photo credit sjsphotopaint

c. SJS photo

The “Aliens Love Underpants” series really have everything in them that a 5-year-old boy could need – aliens, underpants….throw in some dinosaurs and pirates later on in the series and you’re sorted. So, when I heard the aliens and their undergarments were coming to the West End, I thought Reuben might just want to check it out. The timing was perfect – Eva was in nursery and he’d just endured yet another long and boring stretch of “Mummy’s office” time (the joys of being freelance during the summer holidays), so we nipped round the corner in Soho (as Jarvis would say) and joined a gaggle of other small children and their parents to witness some pantsy fun.

Now, if you’ve read the book you’ll understand that a little stretching is needed to make it into a 55-minute theatre production, and the play is quite different. Roo said afterwards that it was “this much” like the books. It helps if you have Reuben’s hand in front of you when you read that, to understand how much “this much” is..but it’s a fairly small amount. However, and this is the important bit, it doesn’t matter. He loved the play, even if it was different to the books. It stands up perfectly well on its own.

The play started with the four cast members cheerily hyping the kids up. Teasing them that there wasn’t going to be a show before having a Cliff Richard-esque “Let’s do the show right here!” moment and deciding to just throw it together. They ran off to change out of their “I <3 Underpants” t-shirts and an hour of rollicking fun began.

Mark Collier as Mr Stevens in ALIENS LOVE UNDERPANTS photo credit

c. SJS photo

The plot goes a little something like this – schoolboy Timmy wants to become a spaceman, a dream he shares with his teacher Mr Stevens (pictured above) but his classmates mock his ambition. Then some underpants go missing and it transpires that it’s the work of some underpant-loving aliens who abduct Timmy and take him to their planet to see their collection of famous pants. It’s not a complex plot, but it can take a little while to see where it’s going – during the classroom scene, Roo called out “We want to see aliens in underpants!’ The subtlety of theatre is lost on him. But it only took a few minutes for the aliens to appear, in their UV-painted UFO, and from then on he was happy.

Bonzo Alien in ALIENS LOVE UNDERPANTS photo credit sjsphoto paint

c. SJS photo

Woven into the plot were songs, a hoedown, footage of Apollo 11 and even Kylie’s hotpants. It was pacey and fun, with a lot of audience participation – a must when you have a room full of small children. I’d say it was pitched about right for Reuben’s age – I’m not sure whether Eva would have sat still all the way through, although she managed 45 minutes of Andy at LolliBop so may well have been OK. There were some younger toddlers there who seemed restless, so I’d say it’s probably more one for 3 and upwards – and definitely one for grown-ups, as long as they aren’t coy about pants. It was a mix of live action and puppetry, with the aliens being voiced by the actors, and the set changed constantly to represent anything from Timmy’s bedroom to the spaceship to “Pants R Us”. There were some clever touches with the lighting, like when the backdrop was stripped away to reveal a wall of star-like lights (see top picture). That was a lovely moment and provoked gasps from all sides.

So, it was funny, lively and made great use of the space. It was, as Reuben said, very different to the book but it retained the charm and the flavour of the books (and there was even a sneaky synposis of “Dinosaurs Love Underpants” in there.) It’s a musical, bloomer-full treat for any pant-lover. And make sure you join in with the singalong at the end…

c. SJS photo

c. SJS photo

Disclaimer: I received press tickets to see and review the show. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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