Britpop Tots – 28/06/15

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If you, like me, are of a Certain Age then you might find it frightening to realise that it’s been 20 years since the blur v oasis battle that marked the height of Britpop. Yes, 20 years since Jarvis was forced to ban that sick stunt, 20 years since a group of Irish upstarts sang about teenage love, 20 years since the last time  John Power sold a record. Supergrass are no longer young and the jury’s out on whether they still run green.  Kenicke took some criticism from Nathan to heart and went their separate ways, with Lauren Laverne becoming a DJ and Emmy-Kate still fuming over being told her band were “really, really average”. So, how to mark the anniversary? Well, we’re not young any more either and so a Sunday morning toddler disco in Peckham seemed just the ticket.

But first we had to get there. If there’s one thing older than Noel Gallagher’s Brit Award it’s the trains that are now running on the Chingford Line. Yes, TfL, Abellio ran away with all the good ones…My heart is breaking for you. Now, could I please get to Peckham on a Sunday morning? No? Why then, I will defy you and get there anyway…a mere hop on a bus to Leytonstone, followed by the Central Line, the Jubilee Line and the Overground. Look at Eva enjoying the South London views:

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Of course, she noticed me taking pictures of her and started to pose:

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This was one of many. Still, it made the journey pass quickly.

Against all the odds, we got there not just on time but early. I’d promised Nathan a coffee, so we sat in the not-quite-open cafe and had a couple of not-quite-white flat whites.

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They take card by the way…it’s the kind of place you assume wouldn’t. But they do. Hooray! Let’s add some chocolate cake to that order:

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Fuelled on caffeine and sugar, it was time to dance. The kids were particularly excited by the “disco fingers”- little lights you could wear on your finger for portable discoing. I was excited to hear some tunes I hadn’t danced to for a long time (“Sandstorm”, anyone?) as well as some timeless Britpop classics. All hands were in the air for “Parklife”. And also for “Design for Life” but in a different kind of way. It’s hard to punch the air and shout about getting drunk when it’s 11:15 on a Sunday morning and you’re dancing with your 3 year old. Still, all the children appreciated a bit of a bounce to Supergrass. We used to play “I Should Coco” to Reuben when he was a baby and I’d like to think he remembers that. But really, I think he was just taken by the rhythm.

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I was taken with the way that Becky had matched The NimbleTot’s dress to her bird puppet. Eva, meanwhile, had taken all the inflatable microphones:

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As ever, I failed to get any non-blurry photos of them dancing as..yknow…they move quickly. But here’s Roo pausing to fix the elastic band on his disco finger:

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After half an hour or so, we were all a little sweaty so it was good to sit down at the craft table and have a rest. Becky had been busily making Britpop-themed stick men to inspire the kids:

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Can ya tell who they are? Nathan went with the theme and made the cover of blur’s “Magic Whip”:

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While Eva was mainly crafting herself:

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All this was to a soundtrack of Marion, Pulp and The Charlatans. I had to go back in and dance when they played “Sale of the Century” by Sleeper and “King of the Kerb” by Echobelly as I’d requested those bands (my first two gigs! 20 years ago next year!). It all went very quickly and I missed the Longpigs because I was faffing around taking children to the toilet. As a matter of fact, toilets like to be scented cause they don’t like the smell of themselves…. Like last time, I wanted to dance more than the kids did and they wanted to sit down more than I did (this is a recent development…I swear Roo never used to like sitting down).  I wish there was a way to combine the two a bit more and I definitely wish it was a bit more local. But we had a fab time, reliving our misspent youth dancing to Britpop in darkened rooms. And the kids who weren’t even born in the Year 2000? They liked the bubbles and the disco fingers…as something for the weekend goes it was supersonic. I certainly won’t be burning this disco down…

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

Yonderland Series Launch – 27/06/15

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As a mother I have many failings – we don’t need to go into those. As a blogger, I have quite a lot of failings. As a London Transport geek, however, I pride myself on having very few. But I have one recurring weak spot that has inconvenienced me almost countless times. By that I mean, I could count them if I really wanted to but choose not to. And that’s the fact that Tottenham Court Road tube is closed for Central Line services until December 2015. As we boarded the red line, my plans for a swift journey to Soho were thwarted – not that Roo cared, as he was enjoying the way that Central Line windows act like fairground mirrors and give you a “double-head”. He was constantly amused by this, which in turn amused the green-haired cyberpunk opposite us. I cursed myself a little for the extra walking we’d have to do from Holborn, but on the upside we found a very quiet branch of McDonalds opposite the tube, for our customary mother-son bonding lunch:

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Judge away, judgers. Yes, that’s a Fruit Shoot.

After we’d had what passed as food, and maybe a hair or two in my “Big Tasty”, we wandered towards Soho. Roo was fascinated by a giant red lumpy thing at St Giles’ Circus and tried to sit in it but it was a bit slippery so he kept falling out.

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Then we walked down Denmark St and marvelled together at all the sparkly guitars. One day, my son, you’ll be responsible enough to own more than a cheap ukulele. Or maybe not, given that Nathan taught him how to do “punk rock” with guitars. There are many things we regret teaching our kids and that’s just one.

We got to Soho a little early for the “Yonderland” screening we were going to, and I’d had in mind that we would wander around Pride for a bit and see what was going on. But basically nothing was…seemed we were a little early for that too. So we popped to the Living Room to see some friends from church and hung out in Soho Square, where Roo befriended this fellow:

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Then it was “Yonderland” time! We found the Soho Hotel, down Richmond Mews and made our way past the giant cat to the screening room.

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Now, I’m not overly familiar with “Yonderland” and must admit I hadn’t seen the first series. Still, when Mumsnet sent me the information, I thought it sounded like a lot of fun. It’s a mixture of live action and puppets, some of which were waiting to greet us when we got to the screening room. We grabbed a glass of mango juice each and settled down to see what this thing was all about:

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So, to sum the plot up I’ll borrow from the press release, seeing as they’ve put it better than I ever could:

“Yonderland follows the adventures of mum, Debbie Maddox, aka The Chosen One as she discovers a whole other world in her kitchen cupboard.

 In series two, settling into her role as Chosen One, Debbie of Maddox (the ‘of’ is optional) tackles more tricky tasks for the Council of Elders, while fending off Negatus and Imperatrix’s attempts to get rid of her. Then there’s hubby Pete, who is growing increasingly suspicious about the blue sparks coming from the kitchen cupboard…”
It’s essentially fantasy but coming from a very real-life setting (in one episode, Pete has an electrician out to try and fix the blue sparks). If that reminds you of “Labyrinth”, you’re not alone. In the Q&A afterwards, the cast/writers admitted that the Goblin King’s influence was strong in this one, and that they’d love to have David Bowie as a guest star. Cast-slash-writers, you say? Why yes, the team that created the show also star in it  - and that’s the core of Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond. That’s generally a good sign – that the writers have enough conviction in the material to front it themselves. It’s an unusual move on a children’s show, but if you consider the comedy greats – Monty Python, League of Gentlemen – it happens all the time.
So, is it a kids’ show? I’m not sure. Roo certainly enjoyed it but it had a few jokes that only adults would get (like a gag about a “happy ending” to a massage). The creators said it was a family show and that’s about right  - there’s plenty here to entertain all ages.
In terms of style, what it most reminded me of was “The Mighty Boosh” – the real mixed with the surreal, the deadpan jokes. I wasn’t surprised afterwards to find out that Simon Farnaby had appeared in “The Boosh” and was working on material with Julian Barratt. I was more surprised to find out that he was Sloman in “The Midnight Beast” – I’m totally kicking myself for not checking earlier and getting a photo with him. I love the Beast. And the Boosh, as it happens.
That CV might give you a taste of the kooky humour that infuses “Yonderland”. The main character, Debbie, essentially plays it straight while the chaos erupts around her. It’s packed with pop culture references – from “Boogie Nights” to The Smiths (the first episode is called “Panic on the Streets of Yonderland”). There’s a pop act called Michael, Jack’s Son, and another who are entirely Blue. There’s a “Sherlock” character (the Cumberbatch version) and a Poirot puppet. And a pastiche of “Lord of the Flies”. Yet within itself, it retains its own identity. The costume design is – intentionally – all over the place. One of the council of Elders wears a Tudor ruff, another is dressed (or undressed) as a 60s dropout – there’s a strong Steampunk aesthetic to the villagers but at the same time, the DJ who is MCing the riots is straight out of 2015′s South London. Some people might not like this. Some might find it messy rather than charming, but I appreciated the carefully-engineered madness of it all. Some of the jokes are completely throwaway – a man dressed as Sharpe is selling “Sean’s Beans” but only for a second. Again, it’s good that they’re confident enough of their material to pile it all in, not worrying about keeping some back for a third series (and there should be a third series).
When I asked Roo what he enjoyed, he said “All of it” but a little further probing revealed that he liked the demons the best, especially when one put on “night vision goggles” that caused everything to go dark and so he stumbled around, walking into things. That sounds about right for Roo. He was flagging during the Q&A so we didn’t stay around for too long afterwards, despite the yummy cakes and mini-burgers. He enjoyed the show but was in need of a change of scene.
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And what a change of scene! We exited into the very bright daylight of Pride, and all around us were men in nothing but their pants. So, an average day in Soho really. Roo liked looking at all the rainbow coloured balloons:
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And I liked this neon shop we found:
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But I had a destination in mind, which was happily on the way back to Oxford Circus tube. Our friends Big Fish Little Fish were playing the Family area of Pride, in Golden Square, and we were on course to catch the end of their set. As long as we didn’t get distracted by the rest of the family area, with its rainbow-coloured floor and giant games…
We didn’t. We just about made it in time for Roo to have a dance on the floor:
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Don’t mock. They’re his moves. I spotted Natasha BFLF and had a chat with her while Hannah BFLF helped Roo to make an X-Men belt. I *think* it started life as a headband, but these things matter little to a boy like mine. Natasha darted off to fire a glitter cannon and left me in charge of her drink, but I’m pleased to say I did  the honourable thing and handed it over to Hannah when Roo, inevitably, did get distracted by the rest of the family area, with its rainbow-coloured floor and giant games. Here he is playing Jenga:
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I apologise to whoever owned the Jenga, as Roo also found a crayon and decided to customise the blocks. You’d think he’d draw superheroes on them but no, it was number bonds:
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True story. We left soon after that, but not before bagging a free activity pack from Asda which kept him quiet all the way back to Walthamstow. So, a fun day out at the screening and just a little bit of Pride as well. Thanks to Mumsnet for inviting us!
Yonderland starts on Sky One on 13th July with a double bill at 8PM,  including “Panic on the Streets of Yonderland”
I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity
Posted in Reviewing the Situation | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Power of Poison – 21/06/15

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Well, it’s been an interesting week. On Wednesday night I baked some brownies and, waiting for them to cool down, wrote a silly little song about the recent train troubles on the Chingford line.  Then Nathan filmed it, we stuck it on Facebook and YouTube and I cut the brownies up to send them into Nathan’s office the next day. The day after that, I was in the local paper. “Woman bitches about late train” is news around here. Don’t believe me? Have a look here.

Luckily, my new found notoriety didn’t stop us from leaving the house today. We didn’t even have to fight off any paparazzi as we tapped in at the station. And that’s just as well, because we had an exciting new exhibition to go to at the Old Truman Brewery.

First though, church. Then a post-church meeting which saw our kids dragging their Godparents off to the park. A park near Liverpool Street? Why, that’s mighty crazy. You may be wondering where this park is. Well, sorry to disappoint…it’s less of a park and more of a building-site – plus-sales-pitch. Presenting….Finsbury Circus!

Yes, the green space is a shadow of its former self as a huge chunk has been scythed off for the Crossrail site. But those Godparents had the kids convinced that it was a source of fun second only to Disneyland. There was a bandstand:

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And somehow that managed to amuse them for an hour or so. Godparent magic. I was more amused by the “Crossrail Living Wall”, where a few plants on the hoardings were somehow meant to compensate for the loss of the 1920s bowling lawn and the other delights that used to be in a rare green space in the City. But apparently it’s meant to be restored some time next yearish. I won’t hold my breath. Why would I when that living wall is producing such lovely oxygen for me?

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Anyway, it was 3PM and Nathan and I hadn’t eaten, so we grabbed a bite at Benito’s Hat, just outside Liverpool Street. Reuben was excited at the prospect of a “Taco Tuesday”, even though it was a Sunday.

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I went for the Balsamic Pork Torta, which was a bit of a squidgy mess. But, ohhhhh such a tasty squidgy mess! I’m drooling a little just thinking about it. If only they’d included a few extra napkins. We perched on the steps of the rotunda to eat, which was appropriate as we were about to do our own little Backpassages of Spitalfields tour.

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Those evenings following Steve and Alan around had paid off, as we kept the kids entertained with tales of Jack the Ripper’s car park and Spooky Hawksmoor’s church. Reuben, wide-eyed, looked at the church and said “Did one person really build that all by themselves?” We said yes, because…yknow…it’s fun to lie to your kids now and then. “Wow” said he “It must have taken him three whole days!”. Indeed. And he didn’t even stop for lunch.

Soon enough, we found our way to the back of Brick Lane and the “Power of Poison” exhibition which, you may have discerned, it actually the point of this post. Very friendly staff checked our coats and bags into the free cloakroom and we headed into a darkened room to find out more about poison.

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And then we left again. Apparently there was something about the darkness that totally freaked Eva out, and she took one look and ran straight back out. Don’t worry, we eventually persuaded her that it wasn’t all “too dary”…but not before another escape attempt and a slightly accelerated move through the first few rooms. So, we didn’t get to watch the film and we barely lingered in the jungle room, although she did like the orangutans hanging from the trees. She calmed down once I’d located something she’d like. Butterflies!

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Obviously, they’re like poisonous butterflies but we didn’t need to tell her that. All we needed was to be able to put her down without her bolting. She said the butterflies were pretty and from then on, it was smooth sailing. A word of caution, though, if you’re planning on taking a sensitive 3-year-old – they might have a similar reaction. A 6-year-old boy, on the other hand has no fear.

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The next section moved started to look at poison in literature, with an interesting explanation of why the Mad Hatter was mad – it’s to do with the mercury involved in the hat-making process. As someone who married into the “milliner” family, I’d say that explains a lot. Both kids recognised Alice for the Disney-figure pack that Roo got yesterday and so were excited to see her. Another Disney favourite was waiting just around the corner…

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Snow White! Now, you’d think this “borrow’d likeness of shrunk death” version of Snow White would freak out a girl who was only familiar with the sparkly one on her synthetic Snow White dress. But no, she loved her. We told her not to cross the rope-line, so she just sat under the sign and looked at her. Later on, she’d come back to her. And again and again. Clearly Eva’s favourite part of the whole thing. On the way to Snow White, we’d passed a few other exhibits and I’d like to have had a bit more time to read all the signs. After all, you aint seen nothing like the…

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The children also enjoyed the story of the rabbit who first brought death into the world. Here, he is, ReaperBunny himself. Isn’t he sinister?

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Eva loved him. She also loved the tarantula. You’ve got to wonder what goes on in her head that some green writing on a black wall reduces her to tears but she’s not even a little freaked out by this snake:

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Oh, and that’s a real, live tarantula I mentioned just then. Obviously behind glass, but the spider is just one of the actual deadly animals in the exhibit. Luckily the snake wasn’t real, and the bunny may have been real at some point but wasn’t any more.

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Round the corner from Snow White was one of my favourite bits –  ”The Enchanted Forest”.  It’s hard to explain how this works, so bear with me but essentially it was a giant book about deadly plants (one of which was growing in our garden last year…eeek!) and the pages were blank when you first turned them and then suddenly filled with content. I assume it was a data projector hidden in the ceiling, but it was ever so clever. There were even red dots that you could press to animate the pages and to unveil hidden bits. The photo I have doesn’t really do it any justice.

Next up were some cabinets, showing the part that poison plays in literature. A selection of great books were discussed, including Harry Potter, complete with Marauders’ Map:

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Lemony Snicket:

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And some superheroes, just to make Roo happy:

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The next room was about solving poison mysteries. That was lots of fun. Three mysteries were set up, in 3D form with clues scattered through the scene. In front of each mystery were a line of iPads, which you could use to find out what had happened and solve the mystery. There was a dead owl, a sick sea captain and a dog that Nathan thought was dead but actually went on to live a long and fulfilling life. Phew. We spent ages in there, with me, Roo and Nathan solving the mysteries and Eva pressing buttons at random…and running back to the Snow White room.

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We were nearing the end by now, with the last room home to a coral reef projection and the aforementioned tarantula. But right at the end, there was a fun activity to do – make your own souvenir postcard using a selection of glittery sands. What you do is peel the stickers off your (free) postcard, scatter sand over the top and ta-da….a bespoke piece of art! It was slightly fiddly getting the stickers off, but even my “blunt instrument” technique on mine and the kids’ resulted in some pretty postcards, and the kids did the sand bits all by themselves

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. Nathan’s, meanwhile, was darn near a masterpiece:

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While we were busy making postcards, a man in a white coat came up to us and told us that he was starting a presentation soon, in the mysteries room. Roo and I went, as Eva was having another stubborn moment and refusing to leave the gift shop. Her loss (and Nathan’s!) because it was very entertaining – he told us the story of a man who’d been poisoned by his grandson, and how a pioneering chemist called James Marsh managed to prove the existence of arsenic in some used coffee grounds. And how then it was thrown out of court because the jury didn’t really know what forensic evidence was. All great fun, and we learnt a lot about arsenic too…or “inheritance powder”, as he called it.

Then it really was time to go, with the kids flaking almost as much as we were. It’s a great exhibition, possibly more suitable to Roo’s age than Eva’s but they both enjoyed it, after the initial freak out. I believe it’s on till 6th September, so don’t hang around too long to go!

Disclaimer: I was given free tickets to the exhibition in return for this post. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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

Testing Times

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Roo is 6 today. Look at him, all proud in his new Captain America costume. Ready to go and beat up some communists or something equally patriotic. He’s had an exhausting weekend, all running about with friends, playing with new Lego and eating cake.  Which is surely how a 6-year-old’s birthday weekend should be. Or should it? Would a responsible mother have kept him at home, rested and quiet in time for his first ever national screening test, which happens to fall this week? Probably.

But of course I didn’t. Because he’s good at phonics. The test isn’t strenuous and he probably won’t even know he’s doing it. So I’ve barely even done the prep I’m meant to have done for it. I just kinda hope he’ll go in and ace it.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t irk me. The whole idea of having to prep a freshly 6ed-year-old for a standardized test seems a little crazy. It’s not like he goes to a super-competitive private school, where everyone is learning Mandarin with a personal tutor from the age of 2. Just a standard state primary which, like every other school in the country, is under pressure to deliver results better, earlier, faster…and a phonics test at 6 is the tip of the super-pressurized iceberg. I don’t know what would happen to an iceberg if you super-pressurized it, so don’t ask. I only know that if you pressurize a child too much there’s a risk they’ll fall apart. Just like that metaphor.

It’s not standardized testing as such that I object to, it’s just the superfluousness of this particular one. What does the phonics test tell a class teacher that, by the summer of Year 1, they didn’t already know? And when did phonics become an end in itself, rather than just a useful tool for teaching kids to read? Why not test how well they read at the age of 6, rather than how well they can decode nonsense words? You can standardize the hell out of a reading test, ask comprehension questions and whatever else you like – just don’t put all the effort into phonics when they’ve already gone past that point. The driving test doesn’t measure you on how well you move the gearstick and put your foot on the pedals…it tests what you do with the driving competence you’ve acquired. Reading is so much more than phonics, and what’s needed is a holistic way of teaching that equips kids for every eventuality, not just decoding sounds.

Because phonics is simply not how adults read. When adults encounter an unfamiliar word, they guess by context, mentally compare it to similar words, break it down into components of meaning etc…the last thing they would do would be to sound it out aloud. In fact, you can read words perfectly well without ever having to know how to pronounce them. Which is just as well in this language known as Crazy English. But more on that later.

Say an adult has led a pretty normal life, is literate and educated but has never had the misfortune to live in a damp-infested house or the great fortune to own a copy of the Argos catalogue. In those circumstances, they may never have come across the word “dehumidifier”. But suppose they do one day, and have to try to work out what it means. I imagine it’d go a bit like this:

Step 1 – Use context. Someone posts on Facebook that “I have just bought a Victorian house and ohmygollygosh it’s riddled with damp. Anyone have a dehumidifier they could lend me?” From that, it’d be pretty easy to deduce that a dehumidifier is something that stops Victorian houses being damp. And then you could move on with your life.

Suppose there’s no context? Just a post saying “Dehumidifier for sale”. You have two more tools you can whip out.

Step 2 – Comparing it to similar words. This one isn’t always helpful. You might look at it and squint and think it looks a bit like “defiler” or “defier” or any number of words which have nothing to do with getting the musty smell out of your laundry. So you move on to Step 3…

Step 3 – Breaking it into semantic units. This is something most native English speakers could do without even thinking, and most students of English learn to do. I’d start at the end, taking the -er to mean either a person or a thing that does something…like a baker or a cooker. Expanding a bit to take in the -ifier bit, that tends to involve a process of some sort. A change from one thing to another. So, an amplifier is something that amplifies, which is a change from a quiet noise to a loud noise. We can then assume our dehumidifier changes something in some way. The next thing to take out would be “humid”, which most people would know the meaning of and then “de-” means it stops something being something. Our completed meaning-word would then be “A thing or person that changes something by stopping it being humid”. How to work out whether it’s a thing or a person? You can’t. That’s OK – even when it come to semantics, you still need to live dangerously once in a while.

The amazing thing is that native English speakers really can do this in a twinkle of an eye. So, there’s no need to sound it out and if you did using the phonics charts, you’d probably come up with something like “deh” like the first bit of “dead”, “um” like “bum”, “id” like “did”, “if” as the sight word “if”, “ie” like the phase three grapheme of “pie” and then a nice big “rrrr” on the end. Try saying that quickly…

deh-um-id-if-ie-r.

I’m not saying that phonics is useless. I’m really not.  You have to start somewhere with reading and phonics is a useful way of starting, of knowing that the “a” in “cat” is the same as the “a” in “had”, but English is not a phonetic language. It’s not regular and predictable. It’s a wild mishmash of a language where a single cluster – ough – can be enough to make a non-native speaker faint (think “through”, “though”, “enough”, “borough”, “thought”…) I’m sure that phonics would work well in a language like German or Spanish, where phonetic variations are rare and logical but English is not one of those. There are a literal handful of letters in the alphabet that only have one pronunciation in English. I think I counted four. So, trying to say that the sound /e/ represents all letter “e”s is like trying to say that the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea represents all London Boroughs. It’s just not true. I think of phonics as trying to attach a lead to a dog that’s already running off across the dog park in pursuit of a rabbit or maybe a smaller dog. You might be able to impose a phonic system onto English but the chances of catching English and pinning it down to get that lead on is pretty remote when there are rabbits to be caught.

You thought the iceberg metaphor lost its way? Well, get a load of that last one. Really, I’m just checking to see if anyone’s still reading.

I suppose where I’m getting to in this whole mess of a linguistic rant is that I don’t think this particular bit of testing is worth the bit of paper the aliens are printed on. It’s not Roo’s school’s fault – they are doing as they are told – but combined with the new, condensed curriculum (Year 2 targets are now Year 1 targets) and the new system of grading schools as “Requires Improvement” if they fall below average, it all lands a heap of pressure on kids who really should just be doing what I described in the first paragraph – eating cake and playing with lego. I’m not going to even start on the unmathsishness of requiring every school to be above average but hey, I bet you just understood “unmathsishness”, even though I clearly just made it up. Ooh, literacy magic!

It all feels like a series of nails in the coffin of childhood. Five pieces of homework every week, on top of five intensive school days do not make for happy children. They make for stressed, nervy, fragile children. Roo often gets to a point where his voice wobbles, he gets confused and he can’t form his numbers any more and at that point, damn it, I’m switching on the telly or chucking him into the garden with a sword of some kind, to run around and shout “Raaargh”. I refuse to push him past breaking point as there’s absolutely nothing to be gained from it. It won’t help Roo’s generation compete with China to build our economy. It’ll help them line the pockets of therapists. Which does help the economy in a way, I suppose.

The alternative is to homeschool, which is the last thing I would ever consider doing given that I would be really rubbish at it. I don’t have the patience or the inclination to teach and I really like the social interaction he gets at school and, quite frankly, the way they take him off me for *hours* at a time so that I can hold down a job or, on a Friday, drink gin all day and watch videos of David Tennant on YouTube.

(I currently have Eva to deal with on a Friday, but one day that will be my reality. Bring it on.)

So, I’m not looking to make any radical changes but I feel a bit stuck. He’s in the system, Eva’s in the system, this is how it is now. And I truly believe that this last year or so has taken the pressure to an unprecedented level in modern schooling. I never had homework as a kid. I never had tests. Last year’s Year Ones weren’t having to achieve the things that this year’s Year Ones are. Roo’s class in Reception last year didn’t have to achieve the things that Rabittkin1′s Reception class have to achieve this year. It’s all kinds of crazy and there’s nothing I can do except rant. Oh, and vote…but I tried that and it didn’t work so I’m back to the ranting.

I know people will find plenty to argue with on this post and I’m happy for you to argue away. But if you don’t currently have a child that’s too small for the rides at Alton Towers but is big enough to be “work-stressed”, then have a little empathy for those of us that do.

To end on a happy note, here’s a nice picture of Roo enjoying his birthday breakfast. Happy birthday boy, and good luck on your big test…

 

 

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IndieTots – 31/05/15

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Our trip out on Sunday was not just to Peckham but into a new era.  Yes, following the last day of Abellio Greater Anglia was, strangely enough, the first day of TfL. And we got to Highams Park to observe..nothing. No changes, apart from a snazzy new orange uniform on the staff. How disappointing. But by the time we got to St James Street, things really were on the up. No lifts had magically appeared overnight but these orange signs had:

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Whoop! Hackney Downs had the same, Bethnal Green didn’t and Liverpool Street seemed to have a newly designated “Overground” zone on platforms 1-4. Is this progress? We’ll see…

Of course, the second part of the journey, from Shoreditch to Peckham was on a well-established Orange Line. That doesn’t mean there are lifts at Peckham Rye though…in fact, there are a lot of steps. Luckily I knew about those already because we’d been there a few days back. Unluckily, Eva had forgotten how to walk, so we had to carry her buggy down with her in it, sedan-chair style. I’m not saying she’s awkward…but she is.

First challenge on leaving the station was finding The Nines, where IndieTots is held. We only went wrong once before finding this promising-looking doorway:

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And from there, we just followed the signs:

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And the street art:

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When we got in, the kids were drawn to the craft table straight away. The disco was in the back room, but first there were flags to be made. Eva’s was especially blingy.

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Once they’d finished their crafts, I persuaded Roo to come for a dance. He liked the inflatable guitars and microphones, although I think his approach was a little too “punkrock” for the gentle indie soundtrack. Here he is, recreating the “London Calling” cover:

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He also enjoyed catching bubbles with his microphone and doing some crazy dance moves with NimbleBecky.

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Eva was unsure about it all at first, and then her best friend in the world turned up. Suddenly, life was a lot better and they had a little boogie together to The Beatles and Squeeze.

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I should probably tell you at this point that I got very little in the way of usable photos. The light was fairly dim and those children just keep moving, so most of the shots I took were a little like this:

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Or this. More punkrock, I believe:

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Roo’s mad dancing takes a lot of energy, so it was good that there was pile of beanbags for him to rest on:

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It was a tad surreal, dancing on a Sunday morning but it was fun. There was the café space in the front, for crafts, coffee and sausage rolls and we did spend a lot of time there, trying to get the kids to stop making things and come for a dance. So, I didn’t get as much partying time as I would have liked but that’s what happens when you involve children in any sort of plan. They scupper it. BunnyMummy said that last time there had been music piped to the craft area too so you could tell what was happening in the disco, even if your child was busy making two versions of Nick Fury:

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It could also have done with being a touch longer, for those same reasons..but as it happened, I had a choir rehearsal to get to so it’s probably just as well I didn’t settle in too much.  Besides, Eva was hitting the wall. Towards the end, she lay down on the floor and refused to move in what we can only assume was a tribute to the “Just” video:

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Time to haul her home. On the way back, I got to see those changes at St James Street in more detail. The fabulous TfL upgrades include this amazing integrated Oyster-reader and  departure board:

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The outside stairs have also been blocked off, funnelling everyone through the ticket gates…a technique that is working oh-so-well at Walthamstow Central. And then there’s the revised timetable:

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I have high hopes for the TfL takeover but it seems to be having an issue or two, even a couple of days in. Watch this space for more updates…and in the meantime, book your tickets for the next Nimble event. It’s Britpop themed! 28th June, 11-12:30. Get ready to dance round the room to the sound of your corduroy flares…

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Lordship Lane Recreation Ground – LWAT is 400!


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As you might have noticed, it’s been a bit of a full-on half term, both in blogging terms and actually getting-out-of-the-house-and-doing-stuff terms. Funnily enough, they always seem to go together. So when I was contemplating how to mark the 400th post this weekend, my brain just began a slow shutdown. Every idea I had seemed like too much effort – a day in W4? Oh but, that’s miles away. A trip down the A400? Well, we covered a lot of that road on the 200th post. Riding the four rail lines that are just about to be handed over to TfL tomorrow? That sounds tiring. And we spend a lot of time on one of them anyway. In the end, I decided to just go somewhere we were planning to go anyway and somehow shoehorn a 4-ish theme into it.

In superhero parlance, the Thor Hundreth post would be Loki.

(Get it? I’m so proud of myself…and I have definitely spent too much time with Reuben lately)

As it happened, we did start our journey on one of those lines that tomorrow magically appear on the tube map. So, here’s Highams Park station on its very last day under Abellio Greater Anglia. End of an era etc.

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I neglected to take one in Chingford because I was busy running for a bus that wasn’t leaving for another ten minutes. Our clue should have been when we barged past the driver of that bus, who was happily ambling along.  Which bus, you ask? Why the most appropriate bus for a 4-based celebration – the 444. From E4. Four fours. Nice. Obviously, the 400 bus would have been even more appropriate, but it doesn’t exist. Also, we did that bus thing last year. Besides, this bus went somewhere I really wanted to go, albeit in a long and winding way. No wonder it didn’t seem overly popular:

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Well, we were keen travellers even if no-one else was. Eva pressed her nose to the glass and told me all the exciting things she could see out of the window. Like a car. And a tree. And Chingford. Lots and lots of bits of Chingford.

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You see, like so many 3-digit buses, the 444 likes to take its time and wander around a bit. It’s not a particularly efficient way of getting about if you start from Chingford station….but if you’re going to get a bus just for the sake of it, you should do it properly. There may have been mutters of dissention from Nathan when we’d been travelling for half an hour and a sign suggested that we were three quarters of a mile from home. But luckily, he and Roo were sitting miles away from me and Eva so I couldn’t hear him moaning.

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It took a while, but we eventually left Chingford behind for an exciting game of Twister with the North Circular. I always find the idea of a London bus on a dual carriageway bizarre, but this is life in Zone 4. We ducked and dived around the road, went alongside it and I think onto it for a short while. The view from the window varied from leafy greenness to industrial scrapyards. And inside the bus, the view was mostly of Eva’s sparkly new shoes:

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See, I told you they were impractical. Gotta dig the hand-me-down pirate socks though.

We were coming into Tottenham, which always has an odd kinda feel to it. I don’t think it’s ever been in the news for anything very positive, and it seems like a place that gentrification has passed by. Which naturally means it’s home to the actual hipsters – the struggling musicians and artists who really do live there before it’s cool. Give it a few years and it’ll be Hackney Part 2.

There were more dissenting noises from the boys at the front regarding the length of this bus journey, so I helpfully bluetoothed Nathan a screenshot of the route map. I was relieved that it was Nathan I sent it to, as his phone wasn’t named so it could have been anyone on the bus with an XPeria. It’s not the most embarrassing photo to send to someone by mistake though, and actually it verges on useful.

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What doesn’t verge on useful, however, is the stop that we were getting off at being mysteriously missing from the IRL  bus route. If anyone else is attempting to get to Lordship Lane Recreation Ground on the 444, be aware…the “Lordship Lane” stop just doesn’t exist. Get off at Granville Road and walk. That’s what Eva told me to do and gosh, I regret not listening to her.

For yes, Lordship Lane Recreation Ground was where we were headed. It doesn’t sound overly exciting but it’s got some remarkable features. The main draw for us was the Model Traffic Area – dating from the 30s, this was a section of the park laid out like a little town for kids to ride their bikes and scooters around. It’s still there, revamped with shiny new signs and it’s huge. In fact, the whole park is pretty vast:

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You can kinda forget that you’re in urban North London when all you can see in front of you is green. And they have bridges that made Roo want to play Pooh Sticks:

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(Yes, I know that’s Eva…Roo didn’t stay still long enough)

It is a very pretty water feature:

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Let’s not talk about the slightly funky smell. Or the tantrum Eva had over some wild flowers she wanted to pick. Let’s move straight on to the Model Traffic Area:

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From the photos, it’s hard to tell that it’s anything but an actual road system. But it’s all for play – faithfully recreated roundabouts, one-way systems and cycle lanes….all for kids to roam free on. Brilliant.

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Reuben doesn’t really have a pair of wheels at the moment, since his faithful Scooty broke. His bike is a little small for him but we decided to take it with us anyway, as he’d definitely want to join in any mini-road fun that was going on. And he managed a lot of bike riding, despite not having touched it in years. He’s getting a big boy bike for his birthday, by the way…in case anyone’s feeling sorry for him.

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There were also three play areas, in and around the road system. This was the smallest:

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Then there was a much bigger playground just next to it, with more climbing frames, a seesaw and swings:

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And a model train! Just in case there wasn’t enough for your transport-mad child already:

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There was also a good range of accessible play equipment – an ability whirl and a accessible swing, for starters. The ability whirl didn’t move very fast though…almost like it didn’t really have the ability to whirl.

Eva watched a bigger girl hanging on to this thing, and twirling through the air:

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She gave it a go but I’m not sure her arm muscles are quite up to it. Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t let go of her.

The third play area was a charming little natural one, just outside the back of the playground. It had a little tree-stump maze, where you had to step on the ducks and avoid the crows and geese:

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It also had natural stepping stones, much like the ones we found at the back of Warwick Services. Only these had probably been risk assessed and stuff:

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Much to my amusement, we also found a woman dressed just like Nathan. I tend to be able to spot Nathan from a distance, thanks to his unusual Australian hat, which he inherited from Bang. But they’re clearly not so unusual in Australia and it was an Australian woman that was wearing an almost identical one, together with a green t-shirt and black trousers. I managed not to grab the wrong person but I’ll be honest, it was a close call.

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It was getting late by now, and the cafe was shutting at 5 so I wrangled the three of them in there in order to get some sugar and caffeine before we headed home. Eva sulked about having to stop scooting about and then sulked again about the lack of blue ice pops. But she was impressed by the cafe’s large range of “That’s Not My” books. There was even one in Spanish!

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See the face on that? A child cruelly forced to eat the wrong colour ice pop. We’re going to send her to gratitude school I think. And also Mr Freeze school because she made a total hash of that one.

Meanwhile, I relaxed with a fruit tea and a brownie in the serene surroundings of the Lordship Hub and tried to ignore all of this^^

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Nathan had a cappucino and he and Roo read a Lego annual that someone had helpfully filled in the answers to. There were toys and crayons and games on hand as well:

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And it was generally a pleasant place to spend half an hour, even with a girl in a not-so-pleasant mood. They take card for transactions over a pound, which is an added bonus:

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On our way out, there was just time for one more play area and this was the adventure playground. I assume it was designed for bigger kids, as they were hanging around all over it and it wasn’t the best-maintained bit of the park. There were a few panels missing and nails sticking out which made it unideal for adventurous kids. Roo liked the rope swing though:

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And, once again, Eva didn’t want to leave it:

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She loves those wobbly bridges, even though Mummy is a bit phobic about them. We did eventually peel her away, squealing about the injustice of it all, and we found the charmingly-named 123 bus to take us back to Walthamstow. Getting on the last bus home, the driver told Nathan he shouldn’t have a bike on board, which was a bit random given it was the fourth bus of the day and Roo’s bike really isn’t much bigger than Nathan is. If anyone could shed any light on the TfL regs re a small child’s bike, that would be super helpful.

For that reason, and a few others, I think we’d probably drive if we went there again. It’s a lovely place to practise cycling and it’ll be super-useful once he has his new bike…but if we can’t take a bike on the bus, driving seems sensible. Obviously “sensible” doesn’t come into the reasoning behind an LWAT anniversary post, so we took a meandering bus route instead.

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Another reason to return is that we didn’t even check out the paddling pool – the kids clocked it as we went past but we didn’t have their swimming things and it wasn’t quite hot enough. Lordship Rec, you deserve more of our time than we gave you. And on that point I’ll….

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ArcelorMittal Orbit – 28/05/15

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Sometimes you catch a glimpse of yourself and wonder “What has happened to me? Where did it all go wrong?”. That’s how I felt on the London Overground this morning, partway through a mother-son bonding day with Roo. Travelling through Hackney, wearing glasses that had no glass in them and shoes with no socks….was I becoming….a hipster? Lyrics came back to haunt me as we stopped at Homerton “20-20 vision just a pair of empty frames/Loafers with no socks/I love my life as a digger”. Is this what a year in East London does to you? I’d even just been for a coffee at a rad hipster hang out.

But fear not. The empty frames were all for a good cause. Specifically, getting into the Orbit for almost nothing by dressing as “Where’s Wally?”. You have never seen anything less hipster than this:

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To be fair, I didn’t look much like Wally either but it was enough to get me in. Reuben looked much more convincing, being a small boy and all, and his dedication to the cause was impressive. Here he is, starting the day by being Wally in Tesco:

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And at the play area in Westfield:

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And in front of the Olympic Stadium:

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Where’s Wally? All over East London, it seems.

If you haven’t gathered by now, the ArcelorMittal Orbit are running a week of “Where’s Wally?” themed events that allow you in for a mere pound if you make the effort to dress up. That’s a total bargain, especially if you’ve been wanting to go up the Orbit for a while. True, I had to buy the t-shirt for Roo but he needs more clothes that fit and it was quite a cool one. The rest of the outfits were improvised – lenses punched out of surplus 3D glasses, Eva’s old strawberry hat co-opted against her wishes..the result was an oddly fruit-themed version of Wally but they could see we’d tried and it was for the astonishing price of £2 that we ascended…this…

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Anyone remember that fear of heights I have? Well, nothing has changed. But, having Wallyed up I was determined to also man up and not show my fear as we ascended in the lift. As we went through the barriers, a cheery Wally greeted us and showed us where to go for the climb and another cheery Wally accompanied us up to the top platform. From there, there were views for miles over London, as well as some freaky mirrors that didn’t help too much with my generally-unsettled feeling. But here’s the obligatory panoramic shot:

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There were opening viewing platforms on this level, but Roo complained they were too windy so we only went out for the briefest of moments before going to the next level down, where the activities were. As we went, I got a quick look at the top of the stadium:

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Downstairs it was all quiet but I’d seen a large group on its way up and guessed it wouldn’t stay like that. The activities were being hosted by the rather wonderful Discover Centre and first up was an interactive story-telling session, all about Wally’s adventures. The “story builder” encouraged the kids to gather round and grab Wally’s walking stick, which would send them spinning off to the Time of the Dinosaurs (Roo’s suggestion) and the Land of the Fairies (not Roo’s suggestion).

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Reuben thought it was all super-fun and was still talking about it over lunch later. After the storytelling, we went on a scavenger hunt around the room to find little Wally characters, then Roo wrote a postcode about his Wally adventure. Surreal as he is, his was quite normal compared to one I found on the wall:

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If you wrote that, please explain yourself. No really, please do.

It was almost time to go back down but gosh darn, what a long way down it was:

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We decided to take the steps, and take in the view at the same time. There’s about 300 of them and Roo wanted to jump down each one. He made it about halfway before complaining that his “legs were like dominoes”.

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I’m not sure what that means…maybe about to collapse? Mine certainly were. It was a bit of a terrifying descent, but we had the recorded “Sounds of London” to cheer us along and the cage was reassuringly protective:

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Finally, we got to the bottom and I was in dire need of some lunch. Reuben found the ideal picnic spot and settled himself in:

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Only problem was that we didn’t have a picnic and I wasn’t up for eating the long grass as our picnic. We headed back towards Westfield but got distracted on the way by a fun, interactive wall thing:

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Each block swivels from black to white, so you can make patterns with it. Neat, huh?

Neat indeed but I really was hungry. We went to the Fast Food Court on the Lower Ground Floor of Westfield, which some might consider a hellish eating experience. I gave my boy free rein to chose which place we bought lunch from and was pleasantly surprised when he chose Harry Ramsdens over McDonalds:

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I was surprised again when his kids’ meal came with a free stick of rock. I don’t think he’ll like rock, but doesn’t it look pretty?:

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And yes, he still has the Wally glasses on. I think he kinda suits them.

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After lunch, there was one more treat to be had and that was a trip to the Lego store. I can hardly believe that it was me who got to take him and not Nathan, but even as the less OCD one I got a small thrill from the neatness of the pic and mix block section:

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Oh, the order! The loveliness! The potential for taking arty photos!

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Made all the more lovely by how improbable it was. I mean, this was Westfield in half term and barely a brick was out of place. Reuben didn’t fancy picking and mixing his blocks or even making his own minifigs. He was after a kit. And it would be a mean mummy who denied him the kit of his dreams just weeks before his birthday:

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Yup, I’m a mean Mummy. He got a double-decker couch from the Lego Movie and he will learn to appreciate it. To give him his dues, he didn’t complain at all about his relatively slim pickings. We’ve been working on gratitude lately.

So, a surprisingly nice day out in Stratford with my boy. The “Where’s Wally?” events run till 31st May, from 12 to 4 each day and it’s definitely worth it to dress up. Enjoy!

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Walthamstow Firsts – 27/05/15

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Another sunny day and this time we were staying local and hitting the streets of Walthamstow. Our aims were many but the big draw was the latest production by Slap Haddock – the charmingly insane people who brought “A Night at the Pictures” to Wood St Indoor Market last year. This year, they were putting on a show at the end of Walthamstow Market, celebrating the “Firsts” that had happened in Walthamstow, both now and in the past. To set the scene, they had a market stall, run by the Fyrst family, where you could write down your own “Walthamstow Firsts” and put them in the “Firsts Box”. Here’s Roo doing his:

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Obviously, he’s dressed as Spiderman. Who wouldn’t want to wear a nylon outfit and mask on top of your clothes on a boiling hot day? His “first” was that the Town Square was where he first saw Mummy singing with the Walthamstow Acoustic Massive. Which is true. And coincidentally, you can see me singing with WAM in the Town Square again on 5th June at 7:15PM, as part of BBC Music Day. I honestly didn’t prompt him to write that, but what a handy way to shoehorn that little plug into this post. Eva also wrote down something, though I suspect it was just her attempt at writing her own name. She’s a narcissist like that:

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And, in case you were wondering, here’s the Firsts box:

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I know you were wondering. You were just too shy to ask.

Talking of people who aren’t shy, Reuben was very keen to get involved in the show once he started. A fact about the first aeroplane flight was elegantly enacted by a confused lady in a chair and Reuben as one of two child-wings:

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His Spiderman shield, borrowed from Captain America, made an ideal wing accessory and he got right into the part, making the appropriate plane noises.  Eva was just watching, but she liked pretending to be a plane too:

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He later said “It was nice of them to let people who weren’t even in the show help with it”. And we were all involved – I got a policeman’s hat and my own line. I think Slap Haddock are keen on audience participation.

There was more to come, as we tried to create our very own first – a tiptoe race. Safety is very important to these theatre types, so all the kids were kitted out appropriately:

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The race was a draw, so we went to a re-run, this time in slow motion. Two girls won, which reduced Eva to tears as it wasn’t her. One of the lovely ladies gave her a medal as well and talked to her about one of her Walthamstow Firsts – watching “Frozen” for the first time at cousin Leo’s house. Possibly even before we moved to this neck of the woods. She perked up a little but was being typically EvaFragile. So, I decided to take her for some retail therapy. More on that in a moment.

Tearfulness aside, the kids enjoyed the show. It was a lot shorter than “Night at the Pictures” and I think that might be because it was in such a public space, which people tend to move through at speed. It was very interesting though, and I learnt some good facts. Roo, as ever, loved being the centre of attention and he certainly got a lot of attention, in his sweaty spidersuit. When one of the performers asked what his real name was, he said “Peter Parker”. Without even a pause. That boy is a comedy genius. Don’t get me started on his superhero-comedy-maths skills.

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So, the retail therapy. I’ve had better ideas. Eva needs new shoes, as you can tell from the fact she’s wearing wellies in the sunshine. As soon as I found out we were having a girl, I started dreaming of going shoe shopping with her but I think it’s safe to say that the reality did not live up to the dream. She melted down in Clarks, as nothing matched the vision she had in her head, gave me the silent treatment in Deichmann and by Shoe Express I was ready to give up. So, we went to BHS to buy Reuben a red and white stripy top (you’ll see why tomorrow) and there she spotted her perfect pair. They weren’t my perfect pair, being canvas, glittery and entirely impractical but I was broken by then. She got them. And ice cream. But I got a new handbag too, so all was right with the world.

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(If anyone is snarling about the gender stereotyping in the last paragraph, I would invite them to actually meet my children. More stereotyped kids do not exist. Spiderman and Belle, I tell you. Spiderman and Belle).

“Walthamstow Firsts” is on until 30th May, from 11 to 3 every day and it’s FREE! Go on down and support local arts and learn some local history…or just try and win a free medal…

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Peckham Rye Adventure Playground – 26/05/15

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Yesterday, it was sunny. Really sunny. The kind of day that leaves a vivid red mark on your shoulders with only a finger-shaped patch of white to show where you rubbed some of the kids’ sun cream off. I hurt. In case that wasn’t obvious.

It was the perfect day to spend lounging around on a picnic blanket with some imaginary friends, and that’s just what we did. At Peckham Rye Park, with Familia Maria and the C family. But let’s not get too far ahead. Let’s start at one of the many rips in the TfL space-time continuum. I’ve previously discovered a void at London Bridge and a time vortex at Liverpool Street but now I’d like to add the Black Hole of Highbury and Islington. Specifically, platforms 3-6, which don’t seem to be at all in evidence between platforms 1-2 and 7-8 on the Overground. Of course, if you dig around, you hear whispers of “deep level” and “Victoria Line” but if those are codenames for “rips in the TfL space-time continuum”, I don’t know what is. All I know is that one side of the coffee hut is Platform 2 and the other side is Platform 7. Spooky.

Speaking of coffee, I was well in need of one by the time we got to Peckham and where better to go than the Dish and the Spoon? It’s finally reopened, after months of flooding torment, and it’s great to see it back. My flat white was smooth as ever and I think I drank it in about two gulps….it had been a long journey with two very talkative children. Coffee was essential. Roo found an X-Man book and sat reading it while eating his chocolate and vanilla cake, and Eva asked for cherry cake but then refused to eat it because…she’s 3 and it’s food. I gratefully gave it a good home.

It’s fair to say that Roo was a *little* overexcited to see Thomas and C. It had been a while but they instantly rebonded over their love of running around in circles shouting loudly. It was time to go to the park. Eva would have been happy at the Dish for ages, playing with the toys in the corner, but three hyperactive 5-year-olds needed to stretch their legs a little. So, I ordered a very yummy bacon ciabatta with tomato relish for lunch and we headed off for a picnic in Peckham Rye Park.

We’d been to the park before with the Marias but I don’t think we had Roo with us and the Adventure Playground bit was on the big side for our then-toddler girls. Even now, I was slightly cautious about the “5 plus” guidelines but it seemed to be full of kids who were nowhere near 5, so we decided to give it a go. I guess you just have to be prepared for much bigger children to be running about and not expect them to have to move around your tiny preschooler. As it was, Eva managed all the climbing bits fine and didn’t cramp the older kids’ style much at all. And we got to sit and have a picnic. Hooray!

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It’s a nice big space, which helps when you have different ages playing together. There’s loads of open grass, huge wooden structures to climb up down and along…and more than one tyre swing, which again helps cut down on conflict. There’s also a small indoor area with a snooker table (over 7s only) and there’s an ice cream van parked just outside. What more could you need?

The older boys were pretty confident on everything, so just ran off for hours exploring the “woods” (a short path that cuts behind a bush then back out again) or hiding under the play frame. Eva needed more hand holding but she liked the little assault course, balancing on logs and chain bridges, and she managed to do most of that by herself. Which isn’t always easy in an Elsa dress. They all came back occasionally, for bites of food or swigs of water, but mainly entertained themselves and each other happily all afternoon.

Which, of course, caused problems when we wanted to leave. It’s a long journey back, so we started going at 3, to avoid the worst of the rush hour, but it was not a popular move. Reuben was particularly distraught, saying that he was having too much fun and that “this place is full of fun”. You can’t ask for a more ringing endorsement.

You might expect the journey back to be a bit fraught, but it wasn’t too bad. We opted for the quiet, slow bus all the way to Farringdon, then a quick hop on the tube to Liverpool Street. We were buggy-free, so could sit upstairs on the 63, where there was plenty of space, and they were both so tired that a long sit down and chill-out with some snacks did them good. By the time we got on the Met Line, they were still pretty zoned out:

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And this pile o’child at Liverpool Street is bordering on the pathetic:

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But the last train came with my secret weapon – doughnuts! Yes, they’d already had cake and ice cream but at 5PM on a crowded train, a doughnut can work wonders for the mood:

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The guy behind is clearly jealous that he doesn’t have one. So, a trip to the South-East with lots of fun and only a few meltdowns? I call that a success…!

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Geronimo Festival! – 24/05/15

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There are probably some LWAT adventures that you read and think “That sounds fun. I too may try to venture out to a small local park at some point. How very manageable” and others that make you wonder if I’ve actually lost my mind. This may be one of the latter. As adventures go, it was a little insane. But also insanely fun. So that’s OK. I’ll tell you about the meltdowns later.

We’ve been to The North a few times lately, most recently on mine and Roo’s Peter Pan trip to Manchester. That time, we took the train and came back the same day. This time, for Geronimo Fest in Tatton Park, we decided to make a full 24 hours of it. With a small amount of travelling time each side. If anyone thinks this sounds badly-planned, then let me direct you to mine and Nathan’s pre-kid holidays, commonly known as the “hit and miss holidays”. Since we’ve had kids, we do at least tend to find somewhere to stay the night and have never yet wound up on the steps of a French train station.

I’m off-track already. Which would precisely have summed up my thoughts half an hour into our epic journey. We’d set out at noon, changing our travel plans at the last minute, thanks to a status update from a Facebook friend saying the M1 was at a standstill. So, we decided to avoid it and take the M11, then the M25. Unfortunately, we also avoided any kind of petrol station on the way and the orange light on the dashboard was giving me a Sheldon-like anxiety. We’re pretty familiar with the M11 from our recent trip and knew there were no services on it. Turning onto the London Orbital, I was frantically googling petrol stations and found one near Waltham Abbey. We turned off and skimmed along the edge of Epping Forest, which bore a startling resemblence to the bit of forest near our house. I tried to ignore that inconvenient truth, as we’d been on the road for 30 minutes and I really didn’t want to imagine that we were no nearer Manchester than we had been when we started. Hang on, did that sign say Chingford? Let’s not take it and stay on the road to HappyDenialLand.

As it happened, we stayed in HappyDenialLand for a long time. All along the M25 as we queued in traffic to get round onto the M40. Traffic is always annoying, but even more so when you’re travelling in the distinctly UnManchesterLike direction of Due South. And the kids had finished all their snacks already. Still, we would be villified once we got onto the M40 and found it blissfully free of all that nasty Bank Holiday traffic snarling up the M1, wouldn’t we?

Yes! We were. In your face, M1. The pain had been all worth it and in another two hours of whinging no time at all, we were breaking for coffee at Warwick Services.

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I always find motorway services to be a bit lacking in fun spaces to run around in. The only one I’ve found with a play area is Leigh Delamere, and even that had the emphasis on the “area” rather than the “play”. Luckily, Warwick had a little green bit in front of the Days Inn and the sun was shining, so it was a good time for a tree-slalom.

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Then we walked around the back of the hotel, where we were almost certainly not meant to be, and found a load of tree stumps that were almost certainly not meant to be an obstacle course for small children. But again, we made our own fun. In London, you have to pay people to make “natural assault courses” in parks. In the Midlands, they’re just there. The kids blew dandelion fuzz and put daisies in their hair and a good break was had by all. Look how excited Eva was:

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Or insane. One of the two.

I sense you want me to move onto the point of this post, which was the NorthWest’s very first Geronimo festival. So I’ll fast-forward us up the rest of the M6, to Stockport for a night with some old friends, round an entirely incorrect bit of countryside, through the gates and up the driveways of the ginormous Tatton Park…and finally, here we are at Geronimo.

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Yes, that’s us with CBeebies legend and “mother’s favourite” Mr Bloom. He was one of the headlining acts, along with ICanKaty and Cook and Line. Those naughty pirates were on when we got there, so the kids rushed to see them while I signed in at the press tent. When I caught up with them, Roo was ferociously doing the “Swashbuckle Salute”, while Eva had her head buried in Nathan’s shoulder. Apparently pirates scare her. This was news to me but apparently I’ve mentioned it on here before. Must remember that for next time. But anyway, look how excited she was to find the “Frozen” bouncy castle in the VIP area:

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So, of course they needed to have a bounce before I jostled with the other mothers to see HisBloomness:

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I’d like to point out that my interest in Mr Bloom is purely to collect another CBeebies presenter, which is kind of an ongoing project of ours. I can’t speak for the other mothers. I was hoping to meet ICanKaty too, but at the time of her Meet and Greet we were at the other end of the field, getting thoroughly distracted by these daring fellows:

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That’s Danny Butler and his little brother Ashley, who have clearly carried over some kind of childhood-Monopoly-grudge into their careers. Danny, Ash may have stolen Park Lane off you but that’s no reason to sacrifice him under the wheels of your weird, seatless bike. Also, I’m getting the impression you’re not too bothered about becoming an uncle, given the positioning of your back tyre.

Sibling rivalries aside, it was an impressive show as they bunny-hopped onto the roof of their trailer. Reuben tried to recreate this stunt later:

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It didn’t go well.

It was very nearly lunchtime and we’d already dragged Reuben out of the Brio tent to go and eat before we’d been sucked into the extreme mountain-biking. There’s a lot to distract you at Geronimo. I’ve also skipped straight past Eva’s favourite moment of the day so let’s take a look at it now:

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Just how thrilled was Eva to have her photo taken with Queen Elsa? Very, very thrilled. I was thrilled too as that means we don’t have to go to Disneyland. Eva keeps asking to look at this photo and I love it too. Nathan was mostly excited to see a Punch and Judy booth that had last been spotted outside our local Tesco last Autumn. Small world.

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A quick break for lunch then, back in the VIP tent where I unpacked our picnic (see, there was some planning) and were given a free CD by Luke and Emma, from Cartoonito. I have to confess I wasn’t 100% sure who they were as we don’t watch much Cartoonito – as Reuben once pointed out at a LazyTown launch. Nothing against it, we’re just Beebies loyalists. So as they came to our table, Nathan was googling them to check who they were. Embarrassing. But we will definitely put the preschool pop CD on in the car. In fact, I almost suggested it on the way home before realising the kids were asleep and that would be a crazy thing to do.

All fed, we headed out for another explore. Eva was most keen to look at this giant, animatronic pig which terrified me:

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Meanwhile, Roo and Nathan were busy in the Sea Life/Legoland dome. Roo loves lego and his topic this term at school is “Under the Sea”, so it was the perfect tent for him. It was a little crowded in there – Sea Life and Legoland could really have done with a tent each. Still, they had fun making superheroes and I vandalised someone else’s Lego masterpiece to make my own. I don’t know what “SPR” stands for, but it was the work of a few seconds to turn it into a tribute to the Super Furry Animals:

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ICanKaty’s show had started on the main stage, so Eva asked to go down there. But halfway down the slope, she froze. Katy was talking about her CBeebies colleagues and had asked the crowd “Who likes Mr Tumble?”. I looked at Eva, stopped in her tracks, and she squeaked out “I don’t yike Mr Tumble”. It took a little persuasion to convince her that Justin wasn’t about to appear and befriend her but eventually she came down the hill to watch the show. And do some dancing! And the sun came out!

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Roo and Nathan came down to join us, and we all watched Junior Frood busting out some moves. It would later inspire Roo to laucnh his own street dance routine on the Baby Ballet stage. I won’t post the video here.

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But I will say that Eva enjoyed holding hands with the teddies of Baby Ballet, and they both liked doing some colouring. Eva also really liked getting a flag to go with her windmill:

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Time was moving on, but there was so much we hadn’t seen yet. Next stop was the Motobike arena, where both kids were fitted with helmets before going for a scoot on some balance bikes. Reuben had a brief meltdown about the lack of pedals, till we explained that they were meant to be like that. I think the bike might have been a tad low for him and those long legs he’s just grown.

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Then he tried to recreate the extreme biking stunts he’d seen earlier. As I said, it didn’t go well.

So, what next? Roo was keen to go on the helter skelter so while he and Nathan queued, Eva and I hung out in the open-air lounge, complete with piano:

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And some Shetland ponies, obviously. The helter skelter queue was quite long, but by the time we’d seen the ponies and played on the piano, the boys were almost at the front. I’d expected Roo to freak out at the top and refuse to go down, but I have clearly underestimated my lad:

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Our last stop of the day was the Circus Zone. Roo and I had visited earlier, while Eva and Nathan were ensconced in the Pimms bus, and I had stunned Roo with my complete lack of diablo skills. So when we returned, we watched the actual professionals instead:

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It’s OK, she did actually have a head. She’s just really bendy. The red light in there made it tricky to get any decent shots, but the acrobats were pretty awesome and we all loved the cheery Mexican juggler. Nathan wasn’t sure about the mime artists, but Nathan is never sure about mime. It was a total bonus, having a whole circus act as part of the festival. Don’t need to visit the one in Chingford now either. See, this is a total money saving venture.

Then we went back to the Circus Skills area, where Nathan picked up some plate-spinning tips:

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Then he picked up that plate. A few times. We were all getting tired and it had been a big old day. So we stopped back at the press tent to pick up our goody bags, which the kids were super-happy with. Eva’s been playing with her LaLaLoopsy dolls and craft kit all day. We piled some sticky, happy, knackered kids back into the car and headed for London.

And the way home? Let’s skim over that. There may have been an ill-timed Intention to Wee notice that saw Eva squatting on her potty on a grass verge in Sutton Coldfield. There may have been a Nandos in that same Sutton Coldfield, opposite the ASK restaurant where Nathan and I had had a romantic but morning-sicknessy dinner date 6 and a half years before. There may have been a fault with the frozen yoghurt machine, which led to all kinds of heartbreak. There was definitely a lot of driving. And the kids definitely fell asleep super-late, just as “Yellow Submarine” came on. And Nathan and I definitely sang along to it anyway.

An epic trip out then – 24 hours in the North, peppered with exciting celebrities and fun things to do. Geronimo feels smaller than LolliBop and less full-on, but there was still so much there that we didn’t have time to do it all. The Inflatable Village and the Adrenalin Zone were sadly neglected by us. We just ran out of time and energy. It was an insane thing to try and do in a weekend but I have no regrets. The kids loved it and so did we, even with the 12 hours of driving. We’ll definitely do it again next year!

 

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