London Loves

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

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My Apprentice Life

I’m not entirely sure why I’m sticking with The Apprentice. I’m sure everyone else gave up on this show years ago. And this series is trying its hardest to repel me – first with an episode about teeth (boak) and now an episode about gutting fish (double boak). But hey, I’ve been home for six straight days now and I certainly don’t have anything outside-worldy to blog about. So instead I’m watching The Apprentice and thinking about times when we actually left the house.

It was triggered by the opening scenes in the National Maritime Museum, where the besuited ones stood on the giant world map that a toddler Eva scooted around in March 2013:

The year before that we had, apparently taken an Apprentice-inspired trip to Regent’s Park after watching an episode where hapless candidates failed to realise how big the park was. I don’t really remember this day but, reading back, it seemed that I was pregnant and hangry so it’s not surprising I blanked it out. More surprising is that I ate a hotdog that day and thought it was good. Definitely pregnant.

I do remember an encounter with some real-life Apprentice candidates, though at the time it took me a while to make the connection. We were in a pub for Bob’s birthday, after a trip to Spitalfields City Farm and I noticed someone dressed as a life-size hotdog. Weeks later, when we were watching someone traipising round Shoreditch in a hotdog costume, something sparked in my weary brain. I asked the group mind on Facebook and it turned out that yes, we had been on the scene as they’d been filming. There’s a bit of a hotdog theme. I didn’t buy a hotdog that day though because I wasn’t pregnant then and had regained my former mistrust of them from my cinema days. If you only knew what I knew….

Talking of cinemas, there was that one time we met another Apprentice candidate at a cinema. We were there for a CBeebies Premiere and Luisa from Series 9 was there. And very nice she was too. I think I was a bit preoccupied by the lovely Sid from Beebies at the time though.

That’s not the most notable Apprentice encounter though. I’ll save that till last. First, here’s a picture of the notoriously awful “Relationship Guru” game from Series 10 that I spotted in the wild in the window of Zest, Broadwick Street. I even considered buying it for a brief moment, as a funny Christmas present for Nathan. But that was a very, very brief moment.

And then there was the time my whole belief system fell apart as I realised that the conversations in The Apprentice were staged. Yes, really. The candidates were in a taxi, passing through Kennington, which is where we lived at the time. In the first line of the scene you could see the Lobster Pot, as it was then, and the car was heading towards Elephant & Castle. In the second line of the scene, the car is heading the opposite way down Kennington Lane, with our local Tesco in the background. Two shots, half a mile apart and in opposite directions. I was outraged.

But I promised you something notable to finish on and this, honestly, boggles my mind to this day as it’s one of the weirdest things that’s ever happened to me. A Eva and I needed to travel to Milton Keynes one Monday and, on the Sunday night, my mind was full of the logistics of it because previous trips to Euston with a two-year-old had not gone well. So when I fell asleep, I had a typical-for-Kate anxiety dream about the next day’s travel. In it, we were at Euston and Nick from the Apprentice walked past and demanded a snack from Eva’s snackbox. On the Monday morning, when we got to Euston who do you think walked right past us?

Correct, Nick from the Apprentice. I told you this was weird. He didn’t ask us for a snack but I darn near offered it to him in case that’s what I was meant to do.

So there you go, my #1 all-time Apprentice-related memory. I hope you enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the fish episode….

 

 

 

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Kew Gardens – 01/01/22

Today has had some spontaneous elements. That will become apparent as you read on but, in my defence, it really is quite difficult to plan ahead at the moment isn’t it? So I’m never sure whether anything will actually happen, whether we’ll be in Hampshire for NYE or not and whether or not the children will be up for a bracing New Year’s Day walk. Actually, scrap the last one. We have enough data from previous years to confidently assess that, whatever their mother says about “tradition”, they will not be up for it but will grudgingly go along with it.

So, much uncertainty and, as Eva said during The Masked Singer tonight, “a plan with so many moving parts”. Turns out we *were* in Hampshire for NYE and the children *were* up for a bracing New Year’s Day walk. Well, kinda. So, in the style of Shed Seven, we chased rainbows all the way up the M3, only stopping at Fleet services for a meal that I intended to be brunch but was pretty much lunch because the kids wanted Burger King.

My whole concept for this day was “breaking up the driving” because we’ve been up and down that M3 a fair bit lately and we’d all been late to bed last night. So lunch at Fleet and then a visit to Kew.

The only problem was that Kew closes at 3PM this time of year and the latest entry slot is 1:00-1:45. I didn’t want to leave Winchester until 11ish, so Nathan could sleep as much as possible between partying and driving, so that wouldn’t give us huge amounts of time to explore. Still, with some careful planning we could make the most of it.

Ah yes, that’s where I went wrong. I only really checked where to park around Kew this morning and had found a road somewhere near the Lion Gate. I knew we drove past Kew Gardens on the way home from Winchester and I thought as far as “get somewhere that looks like Kew Gardens, stop car, go through gate”. Kew don’t encourage people to drive – presumably out of courtesy to the local residents – but I thought it was justifiable seeing as it was the halfway point of a 70 mile drive back from Winchester. I think otherwise we would probably have got the tube, like we did to the National Archives.

We parked up fine, not far from the Lion Gate and on a road that was only permit holders for Mon-Fri. I may have even spotted Peter Serafinowicz as we were looking for a spot and Eva took the opportunity to do some hopscotch along the way:

But what I didn’t consider is that we also had tickets for the Children’s Garden (which are free but need to be booked) and had come in at precisely the opposite end of Kew Gardens to where we wanted to be. The Children’s Garden timeslots start 15 minutes after your entry time so ours was for 1:15…but considering we were running lateish and didn’t even get in through the gate until 1:20…well, you can imagine. Also, Kew is a lot bigger than I anticipated. We drive past it all the time, and it does seem to go on forever at that cringingly slow 20mph on Kew Road but still, I didn’t imagine it would take almost half an hour to traverse.

Anyway, it did. Along the way, we passed some of the hothouses and an art installation but we didn’t stop to look because we were on such a mission. We made it to the Children’s Garden by 1:45 and it was closing for the day at 2:15, so we had half an hour to explore. Eva completely missed the whole area with sand and slides and only noticed it as we were being shepherded out by a woman with a bell. But here are some of the things she did find:

The age range for the Children’s Garden is 2-12 but most of the play equipment was geared towards smaller children. Roo was slightly underwhelmed by the trampolines but Eva enjoyed them:

I think he would have had more fun if he’d been wearing shoes he could climb in, rather than his sliders but that’s an argument I’ve given up on.

Oh, and Eva was dressed as a Dalmatian all day but again, that’s pretty standard at the moment.

After a late night and a long walk, I was pretty desperate for a coffee by this point. The Family Kitchen, right next to the Children’s Garden, looked promising. But alas! It closed at 2! We consoled ourselves with a trip to some toilets nearby and started making our way back towards the gate. Yes, I know we’d only just got there but the gardens closed at 3 and it was a long walk out. See, I told you this was badly planned.

Looking at the map in hindsight, it seems like the Brentford Gate or the Elizabeth Gate would have been better options for getting to the Children’s Garden quickly. But parking near either of those looked challenging and possibly even involved parking in the middle of the Thames, so I can’t go on living with so much regret. Maybe though, finding a spot closer to the Victoria Gate, which was the gate we used to exit, would have been a nice compromise.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! There were some interesting things to see on the way out. I realise that Kew is meant to be a celebration of nature and most of the interesting things I’m going to talk about were man-made but you probably know by now that I’m not really that good at nature-related things. Still, here’s a Monkey Puzzle tree:

And this is The Hive, which is inspired by nature and had a soundtrack piped into it from a real beehive:

Mainly though, it was just a nice spot for taking photos:

My favourite spot, though, was right next to the Victoria Gate and had several neon stars in front of the Palm House. I would have stayed there longer if it wasn’t so close to kick-out time:

 

Eva wanted to go to the shop and I assumed that this would also be near to closing. It was but we still had time to circle round three times in increasingly frantic loops as Eva looked for a “souvenir that would last”. I was pretty keen to get her out of the souvenir-shop loop so she scored a wooden pen, as well as pricey bags of sweets for both her and Roo. The cafe that was housed in the same building *was* closed already, so still no coffee…but at least she had her souvenir.

After that, it was just a simple matter of a half-mile walk back down Kew Road to where we’d left the car, with kids that got moanier with every step. As The Cat would say, 100% Successful Trip. I think we might need to revisit soon and go to all the bits we missed, like the Treetop Walk but we did at least get those kids out for that bracing walk.

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“Ever After” at Chickenshed – 22/12/21

Copyright Chickenshed

In the last few days, the festive cheer has taken a bit of a dour turn, hasn’t it? We’ve not been out of the house too much in the last week or so but Eva and I had this treat in our diary and, with negative LFTs for the pair of us, we set off to do at least one fun thing this holiday.

And what a fun thing it was! “Ever After” is a big, raucous show that’s full of joy and energy. With four casts of 200 performers each, it must be a logistical nightmare to stage but it meant that there was always something to look at. The basic premise was that the Brothers – and possibly non-binary sibling – Grimm had mixed all their fairytales up and the result was what we were watching. Hansl and Gretl stumbled upon the Man With No Name and the twelve dancing princesses and all the tales wove into each other seamlessly.

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With such a busy stage, it seems difficult to pick out individual performers but there were a couple of people that kept catching my eye.  The lead dancing princess didn’t have any lines as far as I remember but she infused the character with an acute sense of mischief as she drugged the guards so she and her sisters could sneak out to dance. And her dancing was effortless but stunning. Every time she was on stage, she absolutely lit it up and the rest of the dancing princesses were exhilarating too. Eva’s very fond of “The Restless Girls”, which is a recent retelling of the story so she was delighted when the Queen first mentioned the trouble she was having with worn out shoes.

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The other person who really impressed me was the blonde signer. With the rotating and extensive cast I’m not quite confident in matching actor’s names to parts so I apologise for that but I think she may be called Maddie. Either way, she was amazing. Signing, acting, dancing and I think even singing at one point as well. The BSL in this show was so well integrated into the story that it just seemed absolutely natural. The signers were part of the story and mirrored what the main cast were doing. If an adult and child were talking together, an adult and child signer would be doing the same beside them. I’m probably not explaining it well but it was incredibly well done. It meant that any hearing-impaired audience members not only followed the dialogue but also all the nuance and emotion that went with it. Maddie’s movements when shadowing the wicked stepmother were sharp and flawless and her dance moves were similarly flawless.

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Oh, and the wicked stepmother (played by Bethany Hamlin) was also one of my favourites. She might have been pure evil but she had a lot of style. I would totally wear that purple dress. Also, she had a gorgeous singing voice. Admittedly, one of her songs was the only but Eva struggled to cope with – it was to do with eating children – but her sneeze was one of Eva’s favourite parts. I won’t say more than that but it an impressive sneeze.

Eva was very emotionally invested in the story all the way through. When the characters were desperately trying to guess the name of the Man With No Name, she was shouting it out in the hope they’d hear her. I should have explained to her that it wasn’t a panto and no-one was waiting for her input. When the characters finally worked it out, she let out an audible “yes!”, much to the amusement of the people behind us. Her overall verdict on the show was “amazing” and she liked it as much as she liked “Rapunzel“, which has always been her high benchmark for Chickenshed shows.

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Of course, just because I’ve singled out some of the performers for praise doesn’t take away from the excellent way the whole ensemble worked together. Everyone moved perfectly in sync and even the smallest child knew their lines and said or sang them well (having sat through many performances by my own children, this is in no way a given). Some of the best moments in the show were when the stage was full, such as the gloriously colourful court of the Queen:

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Still, I can’t say I’d fancy being one of her 16 husbands.

Ashley Driver, who I think we’ve seen before in “Mr Stink“, was a lot of fun as Hansl and Gretl’s father who talents included gardening, tongue twisters and marrying unsuitable women. The four Siblings Grimm were also very funny and, straight away, got the audience laughing.

We always enjoy our Chickenshed trips but there is something particularly special about a huge, fantastical show like this one. The sets, music and production values are some of the slickest we’ve seen at the ‘shed. It’s really worth seeing and it’s on till 8th January, so plenty of chances left…all being well.

For tickets and more info, click here.

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

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A West End Day – 11/12/21

I feel like Christmas has snuck up on me this year. Real-life singing is back after a year of being cancelled and there’s something about prepping three choirs’ worth of people to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” that has pushed all other to-do lists out of my head. But today I had a clear day between a Friday night choir gig and a carol service/choir gig Sunday special. So I decided we should have a Lovely Family Day Out and do some Christmas shopping. I know, it sounds like I’m setting myself up for a disaster but don’t worry  – expectations were low and snack levels were high.

To keep that balance tipped in the right direction, I decided we would go for coffee as soon as we got off the tube. I had vague thoughts about going somewhere in Carnaby Street so we could see the decorations but most places either had outdoor seating only, which would have been a bit chilly, or were going to be way too Instagram for me and my surly tweens. I’d hate to think that my slovenly pastry eating would ruin someone else’s perfect selfie.

Still, we wandered up and down Carnaby Street a bit to see the decorations and they were definitely worth the walk. Look how pretty they are!

But the kids were already complaining of being too tired to walk so the slightly-delayed hunt for a coffee stop was back on. We ended up in Costa on Argyll Street, mainly because Eva had requested it and it’s a bit of a bonus if she’s guaranteed to like something that’s on offer. It had plenty of seating downstairs and, importantly, toilets so we filled up on sugar and caffeine before tackling Oxford Street.

Oxford Street has changed a lot since my day. Entire streets leading to Soho seem to have vanished and there is a surplus of “American Candy Store”-type shops but fewer big-name retailers than there were 18 years ago. (Also, I’ve just realised that I am really, REALLY old).

One shop that’s still in place is Urban Outfitters so that was our first stop. At this point, we were in the tried-and-tested Two Teams formation, with Eva and I buying presents from her to Reuben and Nathan and the boys buying presents from Reuben to me and Eva. At least, I hoped that was what they were doing. I was somewhat dubious when we bumped into them in the menswear department of Urban Outfitters. I don’t know if they were lost or if they’d already veered off track, perhaps distracted by the vintage arcade games down there…but I’m pretty sure there were no gifts for me or Eva in the menswear department. But we left them to it and scarpered before they could see where we went next.

Looking back at my posts from the first time we ever tried this, I realise that Urban Outfitters was my first stop then as well. Some things don’t change. At least I’m not having to carry Eva as well as all the Christmas shopping this time though. That time, Nathan and Reuben got distracted and started thinking about buying things for themselves rather than us so again, some things don’t change.

I can’t tell you where else we went because the boys both have internet access and one of them might actually read this. Suffice to say though, we had quite some success with the shopping and ticked all the boxes well before the 1PM deadline we’d agreed. We even ticked some boxes I hadn’t anticipated ticking like “buy sinister gift for Eva’s BFF” and “avoid meltdown in Hotel Chocolat after I pointed out chocolate dogs that I thought were cute and Eva thought were a hideous crime against caninity”. And we bumped into the boys again, this time near Tottenham Court Road tube. They were heading to Waterstones, so our planned meeting point of Five Guys in Argyll Street seemed a little pointless and instead, we went for the Five Guys next to the Dominion Theatre.

I seemed to remember we’d had a Five Guys on our Lovely Family Christmas Day out in 2018 and it had been a success then. So it was again today. Eva only had chips but she had a lot of them, and the refillable drinks were universally appreciated, especially after the disappointing drinks machine in Gloucester Road Burger King a few weeks back. So we had a bit of time to relax and recharge before swapping teams for the afternoon shopping.

The only downside to Five Guys was our order number. I’d like to think that no Jedi knights died in the making of our delicious burgers but I can’t be sure.

I think I had the 2018 day in mind when I suggested heading to Covent Garden after lunch. More lights and pretty Christmas decorations would be fun wouldn’t they?

Would they though?

By this point, I was on team mother-son, shopping for Nathan from Reuben. That bit was achieved fairly quickly and painlessly, so we decided to wander around Covent Garden and soak up the Christmassy atmosphere. On the way there, a man was handing out free tasters of something green that turned out to be soap. I really should have taken that as a bad omen – you might take a bite of something appealing but you’ll end up with a bitter taste in your mouth. Not that we ate the soap, but it was a close run thing. It really did look like sweeties.

There was nothing wrong with Covent Garden, as such. It was just manically busy. Oxford Street had been relatively quiet and so I had assumed the new variant and the drizzle had made people stay home. Nope. They were all in Covent Garden.

We tried to find the loos and the ones I remembered next to the Transport Museum were locked up so we had to use the nightmarish ones downstairs in the Plaza that cost a quid and have an inexplicable queuing system. Or at least the ladies’ door did. The gents didn’t seem to so Roo ducked through with relative ease but then seemed to have to wait hours for a free cubicle. I didn’t even try to join the queue. If only I’d take 2018Kate’s advice and gone to the Royal Opera House. It did cross my mind but I think I was conscious that I was lugging around an enormous bag of shopping by this point – the kind of bag you use to move house – and I would have had to go through bag inspection to get in. We really just should have done that though.

I’d also hoped Reuben would be wowed by the Lego installation but, 12yo cynic that he is, he mainly had constructive criticism to offer. There was a Lego Santa to pose with if you didn’t mind queueing for a few minutes so younger kids might like that (and not just shrug and say “you could probably just photoshop that”).

 

It was time to get out of Covent Garden. We squeezed through a tunnel of sparkly twigs that was probably very ‘grammable on a less busy day and called Nathan to see where they were. Then I got confused about where Maiden Lane was, fought our way through the crowds in the opposite direction and eventually cut our losses and told them to walk to Holborn tube and we’d meet them there. Covent Garden tube had a queue to get into it and I was guessing Leicester Square would be no better. Plus, Holborn was on the Central line which meant we could go home via Liverpool Street and have a loo break there, seeing as Covent Garden had been a bit of a toilet bust. If you’ll excuse the expression, which conjures quite the visual image. It did have a massive Christmas tree though:

So very much a day of two halves – some successes, some fails (let’s not even talk about how horrendous the Central line was) but I kept the kids fuelled with food and we bought everything we needed to. Christmas Family Day Out – done. Hopefully Eva’s forgotten that I also promised to take her to Winter Wonderland….

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Science Museum – 20/11/21

Ah Science Museum – it’s been a long time. With all the Covid-safe complications and just being dog-tired from getting back into the swing of life we’ve been mainly spending our Saturdays mooching around HP rather than going on grand days out. I mean, we did go to B&Q last week but that’s as exciting as it’s got.

This week was different though. We had Yorkshire folk staying, who were wide-eyed at the prospect of doing some London things in That There London. We got them to do all the booking – cause pre-booking is essential for the big museums at the weekend nowadays – and, even though they’d booked early, the Wonderlab slots were all sold out. Still, there would be plenty of other bits of the museum to explore.

We had a specific timeslot for arrival and South Kensington tube is currently closed for the Piccadilly line so I wasn’t sure how it would all work. Naturally, we were about half an hour early so just dawdled from the tube and the nice lady on the queue barrier let us in when we still had around 10 minutes to go, technically. Once we were through the doors we had to scan our e-tickets at some new scanning stations but other than that, everything was pretty much normal. Of course, we were strongly advised to wear masks and there were some exhibits that were closed because of distancing but yknow, as normal as possible under the circumstances.

We didn’t have much of a plan, except that we were booked onto the Force Typhoon at 3 o clock. Eva was keen to go and see the Space bit first, so we started wandering through the ground floor to see what was new in space.

Well, this was new…I think. I can’t remember when we last visited, pre-lockdown but I think it may have been early on in 2019.  And Tim Peake’s Soyuz spacecraft arrived in the museum in the May of the same year. There was an interactive screen next to it where you can look around a virtual interior of the craft and, of course, both kids wanted to use it at once despite there being a window they could look into to see much the same thing. We also had a look at some of the old favourites, like the hologram planet:

This piece of narrative took on new meaning post-lockdown though:

The same faces for months on end? Imagine that!

We were planning to go to Pattern Pod but there was a queue and, as it transpired, both my children are way too old for it anyway because it’s only for Under 8s. I’m not sure there was an official age limit before but I definitely thought Roo was in danger of trampling the small ones even a couple of years ago so it seemed fair enough. There is a bit of a gap for older kids though, given that Wonderlab sells out so quickly. Maybe the interactive exhibits like “Who Am I?” would fill that gap?

The answer is yes, partly. As we walked in the large screen was showing some kind of system error and there were a number of exhibits that were closed. But the ones that were on and working were good. Eva did a game where droids tried to capture human emotions:

And Reuben thought that these human expressions were all variations on “having a dump”:

From there, we went down and back up to the new Medicine galleries. I’d seen some pretty, flower-like things from the ground floor that, of course, turned out to be some kind of sinister representation of how disease spreads.

I’d noticed the old Pandemic section next to the Pattern Pod had disappeared, which made me think it had been quietly shuffled away when pandemics became less like a fun computer game and more like something that took over our entire lives. I was wrong though – the pandemic game has just been moved upstairs into the new section so, if you’re not already tired of predicting how a pandemic can infect an entire city, you can still play the computer game version.

There are interactive bits in the next gallery as well. Reuben spent some time putting this poor man’s organs back in entirely the wrong places, giving him a liver as a hat and a pair of lungs as a pair of trousers. What has happened to the British educational system?

The medicine galleries were a bit much for the squeamish girl but she liked the communications gallery better. She’s keen on all things internet and phone-based and there was a game where you had to plan where to put phone masts in order to gain the best coverage. Again, Reuben didn’t exactly take the challenge seriously and put all his masts in the same place, to ensure really good coverage for that one guy. Hopefully not the same guy who’s currently wearing his lungs as a pair of slacks.

 

I think we swooped by the Mathematics Gallery at some point as well but the kids were flagging at that point so I think we just had a bit of a sit down next to this things and didn’t really look at any of the exhibits:

We were booked onto Typhoon Force at 3 so had to rush through the flight gallery in order to be there on time. We’d often walked past these simulators on the way to Wonderlab but had never tried one before. Eva seemed a bit nervous just before it started but she declared it to be “so much fun” as she came out. It’s not as nauseau-inducing as I’d feared it might be and was actually quite a gentle swoop over the Lake District and some unnamed mountains in Wales. It lasted six minutes which was about right.

After that though, we were well ready for refreshments and we had the usual confusion at Shack Bar about where to queue and where to stand while waiting. Plus the added complications of masks and perspex screens. It took a few sprints to the table at the far end of the cafe area before everyone had what they needed and I did get melting ice cream all over my hand. But then my brother-in-law got ice cream all over his mask because he forgot he might need to take it off before eating. So I win. Plus I had a coffee and a millionaire’s shortbread, so I was definitely winning.

It was almost time to start heading home but we had a few more places to check out first. We had dashed through Flight in the manner of people who had a genuine flight to catch (chance would be a fine thing!) so it was nice to walk back through in more of a relaxed manner and view the planes from the walkway. Also, if I’d been so inclined, I could really have hocked a loogie from up here. Lucky Nathan was wearing his hat:

 

(Also don’t hock loogies. It’s not Covid-secure)

There was also a plane with a cut out to the cockpit, that the kids liked:

From Flight, we could walk across the top to “Engineer Your Future”, which I thought might be new but a quick google suggests it’s been there since 2014. I guess we’ve just never got to the top-west corner of the museum before. It was very interactive, with games like Rugged Rovers:

I downloaded the app and tried to connect it to the big screen but it wasn’t working. There seemed to be a few bits that were similarly glitchy. We couldn’t make this one do anything:

But there were lots of other fun things, like a game where you had to design a baggage sorting system for an aeroplane. Spoiler: no baggage got sorted on my watch.

We popped downstairs to Atmosphere, which I don’t remember much of except for this photo opportunity:

I think I was a bit tired by that point. Roo wanted to go back to “Who Am I?” and this time, the interactive screen as we walked in was working:

This is pretty much what happens when you ask Reuben to stand still for a photo. Which is how the Christmas card shot we later took outside the NHM was a bit blurry:

On the way out of the museum, we stopped at the gift shop. Eva was tempted to buy a Laika space dog but I’m glad she didn’t because that might have made me sad every time I looked at her. So instead, she spent £12 of her own money on rocks. Obviously.

We were aiming to pull off the Gloucester Road fast food hack, which has the advantage of walking past a very pretty and Christmassy NHM. But my beloved hack didn’t go so well this time. The ordering machines were broken and let us put the full family order in (twice!) before bleeping out and telling us to go and order from a real person. More masks, more confusion. There was no napkins and – hopefully unconnected – no loo roll in the toilets. Only one of the drinks machines worked and it didn’t have any of the fun flavoured Sprites or Cokes, just normal Coke and orange Fanta. But we got the kids fed, which was verging on urgent by 6PM, considering their last meal had been a 10:30 brunch.

And we also got to spend a bit of time contemplating the underside of the emergency staircase at Gloucester Road tube. Don’t ask why.

So covid-era Science Museum – a few bits missing here and there but still fun. Don’t forget to pre-book. More information here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“We Are Gonna Be Okay” – 23/10/21

Image taken from E33 Facebook page – copyright E33 Dance Company

As we came out of lockdown restrictions over the summer, always with an eye to possibly going back into them by November, there was a bit of a challenge in the arts sector as to how to reflect and deal with all that’s gone on over the last two years and how we deal with it. I wrote a few weeks back about “The Wishing Tree”, which was the Little Angel interpretation of post lockdown optimism. Tonight I saw a different interpretation but, as we edge closer to November and with rising case numbers, it feels slightly bittersweet that the optimistic summer months when these shows were conceived may soon be a fond memory.

But for now, we’re allowed to leave the house and do fun stuff so, to an extent, I’m enjoying it while I can.

And top of my list of things to do while we can was to try out the new branch of the Northern line! If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might have noticed that I’m a bit of a tube geek and the Northern line extension is particularly exciting for me, seeing as we were Kennington residents for seven years. I’m glad we left not long after they put a giant hole into Kennington Park in order to facilitate that extension tho.

I’ve gotta say that Kennington station has not changed much. It was a smooth cross-platform change from the southbound Bank branch to the new bit, which I guess is just the end of the Charing Cross branch now? That’s gonna take some mental adjustment. At which point do we start admitting that the Northern Line isn’t really one line at all but two, bound loosely together at Kennington, Euston and Camden Town?

Anyway, the end of the Charing Cross branch seems pretty infrequently served, as three of the four trains on the board terminated at Kennington. We only had to.wait a few minutes but the friends I was with told me they had to wait a full 13 minutes on the way back.

Once we were aboard, we were slightly struggling to see what was new. The tunnels looked grimy as ever and the trains haven’t changed.

But, oh.  THIS was new:

And, more to the point of the trip, THIS:

It’s very chrome-y and shiny, much in the style of the newer Jubilee line stations. It had a huge line of ticket gates – Kennington might have six times as many trains as Battersea Power Station Station but Battersea Power Station Station probably had six times as many ticket gates as Kennington’s three. Plus some very shiny escalators in place of Kennington’s very irritable lift. And a cool colour changing light thing. Ooh space agey!

OK, so let’s get to the point of the post. I was in Battersea to see a dance show called “We Are Gonna Be Okay” by E33 Dance Company. We were there primarily to support a friend from church, who was both dancing and choreographing for the show, and honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Last time we’d been to see a friend from church in a contemporary dance show, I’d enjoyed it but also not quite known what was going on. I just assumed that I’m not high brow enough to really understand interpretive dance

As it happens, this show was pretty accessible, even for someone like me. The first piece was to “The Greatest Show”, which is a crowd-pleasing start, and I had to do my best not to sing along. Then the director of the company, Rachel Riveros, introduced the individual dancers and explained a bit about the company and where they came from. Then came the first real indicator of All That Stuff Last Year – a film called The Peace Project, filmed by individual dancers in lockdown. It might have been at this point that I first noticed my friend  – who I’ll call Bella for now – wiping away a tear or two. The first time but not the last.

There was a short interview with some of the kids from the classes that E33 run at their partner organisation Providence House and then a piece called “Ahava”, which was choreographed by one of the young people from the E33 mentoring programme. It was really lovely to see how the company connected with inspired kids of different ages and backgrounds. Honor Dixon, the 16-year-old choreographer of “Ahava”, introduced her piece and, while I know nothing about choreography, it was pretty amazing work for someone that age. I believe the inspiration might have been from Ezra:8 in the Bible but I’ll admit that Ezra is not the most well-read bit of my Bible so I was happy to follow Honor’s suggestion and not try to follow the narrative too much but just enjoy it. This was followed (I think) by one of the Providence House singers – Jessica – performing “You Gotta Be”, accompanied by the Providence House kids as backing dancers.

By now, we were taking bets on when Bella would cry next and the fourth piece – “Beloved” -was a sure thing. The narrative on the programme says “Knowing who you are and that you’re unconditionally loved”. It was a very moving song and a beautiful dance to go alongside it. I too might have been welling up by the end but hey, I’ve denied being an easy crier.

I full on cried during the next bit as Rachel Riveros came back to share the inspiration behind the last dance before the interval. It was titled “You’re Gonna be OK”, which also provided the title for the show. She shared a very honest and raw account of her recent miscarriage and how she struggled to find God in the midst of it. Blimey, I’m welling up just writing this. I always find it emotional to hear stories of baby loss and, as she talked about looking out at the view from the top of St Thomas’ Hospital I could picture exactly where she meant. I never lost a baby in that hospital but we did have some highs and lows on that maternity ward, especially in the very first days after Roo was born. So that was a real emotional connection for me. We’d each been given an electric candle on our seats as we came in and, halfway through the piece, Rachel was handed a candle by her son and, right on cue, we all lit our candles too. See, you’re crying just reading this aren’t you? After all the darkness of the last few years, the wave of light was a little bit of hope and I think we all need that. I also don’t think it was a coincidence that, just a week after Baby Loss Awareness Week, we were lighting candles to tell a bereaved mother “You’re Gonna Be OK”.

Phew, I needed a quick break after all that emotional labour and luckily it was the interval next. By the way, I don’t have any pictures of the show as there was no photography allowed but I’m hoping to get my hands on the press photos soon so you can see some of the things I’m talking about and not just rely on my vague descriptions.

The first piece after the interval was choreographed by the friend we’d come to see so, of course, we all thought it was amazing. It was called “Endurance” and was inspired by his experience of arriving in London this time last year, just before a grim winter of lockdowns. I think Bella might have cried again at this point. After that was a film called “When We Whistle”, which was shot just by the Thames during the second lockdown. You can watch it here though be warned – when I just played a clip, Eva wanted to know what the “chicken sounds” were.

I must have been getting tired by the end because I don’t remember too much about the last three pieces – I know that “Rescue” was choreographed by Randall Flinn, a friend of the company, and that the music for “Father’s Song” was considered an unusual choice because the rhythm was quite slight for dancing. It was a beautiful song though, and made a fitting finale. There was also a lively dance to house music, called “Onwards” just before the end, performed by the second company.

All together, the show was a rich emotional journey  – almost exhausting at times but also uplifting and reassuring. E33 are hoping to take the show on tour soon so make sure you go and check it out. More information here.

Image taken from E33 Facebook page – copyright E33 Dance Company

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A Fairly Ordinary October

I realise I haven’t blogged for a while and now am doing the cardinal sin of starting a blog post by apologising about not blogging for a while. So I apologise and I apologise for the apologising. Truth is, we’ve been busy but not doing anything especially bloggable. It’s amazing how tiring it is, just doing the ordinary life that we used to do all the time. School, church, office, choir…all these things are good but somehow take more effort than they used to pre-pandemic. It’s nice to be back wandering about The City during the week but come the weekend, we’re generally too tired to go out anywhere much.

 

Roo and I did go out today tho, to get the boy jabbed at Tommy’s. It wasn’t as gloriously sunny as it was for both my jabs but the worst of the torrential rain was while we were inside the tent. By the time we were back out by the London Eye, it was edging towards sunnyish.

We went to Giraffe for lunch, and the boy had a sticky toffee pudding that was a marked improvement on Maggie’s (sorry Maggie)

And saw a giant teapot on top of the Hayward Gallery:

Also, excitingly, we almost got a chance to go on the secret train when the Vic line stalled for ages at Highbury & Islington. We ended up getting back on the Vic line because it was seven minutes till the secret train and the Vic line decided it was ready to go. But it is always thrilling to wander along those time-capsule platforms:

It doesn’t look like we’ve just stepped through a passage from a full train of people does it? It always feels like we’ve gone through a weird portal.

Other than that, we haven’t been up to much. Reuben went to his first ever gig last Sunday – Rend Collective at Hammersmith Apollo. A friend and I hung out at a riverside pub just around the corner, in a bit of Hammersmith that is far more scenic than either the flyover or the gyratory:

 

And on the same day, Eva went to Kew Gardens, which would have been highly bloggable if I’d gone with her. Instead, I was at a partners’ meeting at church, debating the finer points of building maintenance and pension plans. Still, she had a lovely time and apparently spent a long time gazing up at this sculpture and saying “I can’t believe how incredibly beautiful it is”

So I guess Kew is one that she might want to revisit and maybe she’ll take the blogger along for the ride this time. Till then, it’s back to church choir admin for your host. More adventures coming soon!

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“The Wishing Tree” at Little Angel Theatre Studio – 11/09/21

With the restrictions lifting, we were well overdue a visit to Little Angel Theatre. Luckily, we were only halfway there when I realised that this production was at Little Angel Studio, not the theatre itself. Unluckily, I realised this after I’d dropped my phone and shattered the glass so I had to figure out the route through a plastic bag that formerly held my mask and had been hastily repurposed as a makeshift screen cover. Arsenal were playing at home so our route via Highbury and Islington was a little slow but we made it to the show almost exactly on time.

The-Wishing-Tree-performed-by-Chris-Nayak-and-Nadia-Shash.-Photo-by-Ellie-Kurttz

“The Wishing Tree” is the story of Ben, an 8-year-old boy who has moved to a new estate in Islington, far away from his friends and family. He explores the estate and finds himself on a quest to help a tree sprite called Green. It’s a simple and charming story about overcoming loneliness and the voices of real Islington school children are heard, talking about their worries and wishes. There are two performers and, of course, a cast of puppets to tell the story.

The-Wishing-Tree-performed-by-Chris-Nayak-and-Nadia-Shash.-Photo-by-Ellie-Kurttz

I’m always keeping half an eye on Eva during live shows as she gets easily overwhelmed by the emotion involved. And the story was a bit emotional at the start when Ben was missing his old life so much. But she seemed OK, which means that this show is probably fine for even the most sensitive children. There are lots of light moments during the story -like when Ben meets the conker-shaped sprite of the Tree of Play – to keep the kids engaged and smiling. There was a bit of a darker moment with the eyeless sprite of the Tree of Seeing but Eva coped fine with that and the next sprite – a mango-obsessed parrot had her laughing and also “hungry for mango”. Weren’t we all?

The-Wishing-Tree-performed-by-Chris-Nayak-and-Nadia-Shash.-Photo-by-Ellie-Kurttz

Compared to some of the shows in the main theatre, this was a bit simpler using just the one set although the performers and puppets ducked in, out and around it. But the story – written by Joseph Coelho – touched on some very big themes, which might well resonate with the children who have been through such a traumatic couple of years with Covid. Who doesn’t identify with feelings of not knowing your place in the world or how to fill your time while your parents are on work calls? The real-life voices of kids added to the relatability of the piece – these children worried about climate change and not being able to see their grandparents. In a way, they spoke for all the children who’ve had to carry such a lot of anxiety around with them during These Times.

The-Wishing-Tree-performed-by-Chris-Nayak-and-Nadia-Shash.-Photo-by-Ellie-Kurttz

But as I mentioned previously, the show never verged too far into darkness and emotional turmoil. There was enough humour and fun to reassure any kids watching that, even through the darker times, there was still light and colour and optimism. The ribbons of the rebuilt wishing tree at the end very much symbolised this hope – that there was a better future ahead and that kids could make wishes and believe that there could come true.

So, pretty much the perfect show for these times, as we slowly emerge from Covid and try to make sense of the world around us. Challenging in parts, but reassuring too and imbued with a real warmth and humanity.

And Eva emerged smiling from the theatre, which is a real win. Of course, it might have been the prospect of buying a fox glove puppet on the way out that was making her smile too:

Or maybe the prospect of yummy ice cream at Udderlicious on Upper Street:

But either way, it was a lovely day out for me and the girl. And here’s hoping there will be many more theatre trips to come….

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

“The Wishing Tree” runs at Little Angel Studios until 26th September. For tickets and more info, click here

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Britannia Leisure Centre – 03/09/21

 

It’s pretty much the end of the summer holidays! Eva went back to school today, which meant Roo and I had a day to do something fun together without her. I was on annual leave for the latter half of this week and used yesterday’s day to comb Westfield for PE kit (I’m not blogging about that one. It’s too painful) so I wanted today to be actual fun, rather than just survival. Reuben’s only request was to go swimming and, by chance, a message from a friend on a church WhatsApp group reminded me that we had not yet checked out the new Jewel of Hackney – the state of the art Britannia Leisure Centre.

When I say Hackney, I mean the Borough of Hackney. Not that this sparkly new swimming pool is somewhere conveniently near Hackney Downs or anywhere else easy to get to from Chingford. In fact, it’s tucked right into the south-west corner of the borough, near the Islington border but again, not so near to church that we could just take a variation on our usual route there. The nearest station is Hoxton but that’s not particularly handily connected so I made the bold decision to just walk it from Liverpool Street and stop for brunch somewhere along the way. Which all worked fine, mainly because the boy wasn’t paying much attention to how far we’d walked and instead was busy walking me through a hypothetical battle for global supremacy between vampires and zombies. The vampires would win.

Anyway, we saw some pretty things along the way, like this tunnel of lights underneath Broadgate Circus:

The walk between Liverpool Street and our brunch spot took about 20 mins and was around a mile or so, which means it wasn’t a totally crazy idea with a long-legged boy. I’d spent a while researching brunch spots in the Hoxton and Shoreditch areas because a lot of the options were bound to be way too hipster for the likes of us. Anywhere that threatened to deconstruct a fry up was struck off the list but Muzzy’s Cafe on Pitchfield Street seemed like a likely candidate.

And it did indeed tick all the boxes! At £5.45, the “Little English” breakfast was good value and the bacon was exactly the right level of crispiness. The sausage was properly yummy too. Roo had the Sunshine smoothie and I had the fresh orange juice, both of which were good, and it was all very unrushed and unpretentious….which are rare traits in Hoxton bruncheries. My food photography has not improved, but you get the gist.

Now everyone knows you are not meant to eat directly before swimming because of your stomach falling out or piranhas or somesuch so it was lucky that we had almost an hour to kill between brunch and our booked swim slot at 12:30. I say “lucky”, I mean I planned it this way. Didn’t stop Reuben thinking I’d epically failed when I said we had to hang around Shoreditch Park for 45 minutes before we’d be allowed in. But there’s a substantially sized playground there, so he managed to occupy himself for that fallow time. It looks like it’s been quite newly developed, with challenging climbing apparatus and a “natural” play area.

The park also has a vast stretch of grass, which had plenty of dogs for us to coo over. And they’re well looked after, with these Pawstations:

So onto the point of our visit – the new pool. As with all Better centres, the facilities are good but the admin can sometimes be challenging. We’d prebooked but when we got there, there was quite a queue at Reception and someone telling us to just scan the barcode to go through the gates. That didn’t work, so we asked someone else who said that we needed a wristband for swimming, so had to join the queue. Which was all fine, but a sign or two with instructions would not have gone amiss.

The changing village is fairly large although I struggled to find a cubicle when we got out. Everything was pretty clean, except for something unsightly in the loos but there was a cleaner on hand to deal with that. Loads of available lockers and piping hot showers…so far, so good.

And then there’s the flume! At the point of showering, there’s the option to turn right for the Main Pool and Training Pool or left for “Leisure Water”. We figured that’s where the flume would be, so took the left option assuming we could come back to the Main Pool later. That assumption turned out to be wrong, and we were told that once we’d picked the flume side, we had to stay there. Again, it’s that Better level of admin where you find out rules as you’re dripping wet by the side of a pool as opposed to at the point of booking. No signs anywhere mentioned that it was only one or the other and I’m sure I read the Attendance Rules when I booked in case of these kind of shenanigans. Looking at the site again, I think because I clicked through from the picture of the slide it only gave me the option of the Leisure Pool booking but, as ever, booking with Better is all very confusing. There is a swimming pool on the Leisure side but it’s designed for toddlers so not really somewhere a 12-year-old can swim without bumping into a tiny one. At the same time, very few 12-year-olds would want to swim up and down the lanes on the other side without giving the flume a go. So it’s tricky if you fancy a bit of sliding and a bit of swimming. But I’m clarifying the rules here so that you read them before you’re on that poolside. To be fair to the lifeguard, she did say something about how he could do the swim test but he’d wandered off by then so we just spent all our time on the Leisure side, probably annoying anyone with a baby or toddler. Sorry about that.

But enough negativity! Because the actual Leisure pool was amazing. I only went down the flume once before concluding it was a young woman’s game but Reuben went down five times. It’s not quite like any other flume I’ve ever been on before. There are lights, sounds and images inside the flume and one bit in particular makes you feel like you’re going through a portal into another dimension. It’s like the opening sequence to Doctor Who but with a better budget and, sadly, no David Tennant.

While Roo repeatedly scampered up the steps to the flume, I relaxed in the toddler pool underneath it. There’s a tiled seat built into one end, with jets of water so it gives the effect of an underwater jacuzzi-sofa. Good for soothing those muscles after our long walk. There are also fountains of water on each side of the pool, which are fun to swim under, and a curious area that is very shallow and acts a bit like a shelf with a couple of inches of water above it. I’m guessing that might be for disabled access but I have no idea and there’s no explanation on the website.

There’s also a paddling pool for the very littlies, with lots of water play activities, and an area called Splash Pad, which had larger scale water jets and showers and a small slide. I don’t think Roo was meant to be in that bit but he did have a sneaky play with the water buckets just so he could tip a load of water into my face. Charming child. The showers that come off the Splash Pad are very hard – also good for aching muscles – and every so often, the giant bucket on the top tips over and we all get drenched. It’s fun.

We left after 45 minutes because I was paranoid about being late for school pick up on the first day back. Roo had to be frogmarched away from all the fun stuff and because we left while the next session of people were getting ready to go in, it was a bit of a challenge finding a cubicle each. So probably best to just use your full hour and then it’ll all work more smoothly.

On the way out, we grabbed a coffee and a Coke and a couple of shortbreads from the cafe, which has two counters and one of them is handily near the entrance to the changing village. We decided to get the bus back to Liverpool Street – or at least as far as Moorgate – so hopped on a 21 but my plan for a leisurely trip back was scuppered when the driver announced the bus was on diversion and wouldn’t be going to Moorgate. So we got out on the wrong side of Finsbury Square and had a bit of a schlep back to Liverpool Street while I tried to convince Reuben that I didn’t need to check Google Maps because I was 91% sure where we going and look, there’s that bit of wall where I once saw something unsightly in a Wasabi box.

Anyway, we made it back and it turns out that Liverpool Street has a whole new extra shopping mall bolted onto its western end nowadays. We didn’t have time to properly see what was there but there’s a list of shops here if you’re interested. At a glance, no sign of that school-uniform-and-teacher-gifts shop us City mothers so desperately need though.

So, a lovely day out with my boy and really excited to find a fun new pool. He definitely wants to go back, we definitely need to work on our route to get there. And Better definitely need to work on their signage. But, in the words of Loki and often quoted by Reuben, what did you expect?

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Kidwelly Castle – 19/08/21

On our fourth day in Llanelli, the weather was looking threatening. After two days on the the beach under ambiguous skies, it was time to find an activity that might withstand a bit of rain. And given we were in Wales, what better than a visit to a castle? I do understand that most castles don’t have roofs and so aren’t really weather-proof at all but the logic was that it would be better than sitting on wet sand  At least we could keep moving.

There are a few castles to choose from but there was another part to my plan. While we’d been sitting on Llanelli Beach, I’d spotted a tiny train that went right along the coastline and for some reason I really wanted to have a trip on it. We could have driven to Kidwelly but we had done a lot of driving and the tiny train would take us there too. It would be an adventure!

The first thing I noticed on our adventure was a level crossing, which made us feel very at home because it’s just like the one in Highams Park. The next thing I noticed was that we were wayyyyy too early for our train. I’d imagined that leaving the apartment would take longer than it did and I’d also imagined that the walk would take longer too. Trains only run every couple of hours so it was very important to me that we didn’t miss it. Which meant, almost inevitably, that we were half an hour early for the train. As we sat on the platform and waited, an announcement told us that the Cardiff Central train had been cancelled. Which was fine, cause that was in the opposite direction to Kidwelly, but it did make me wonder whether ours would be cancelled too. It wasn’t, but it was around 15 minutes late. So we were sitting on Platfform Un of Llanelli station for 45 minutes, all told. My kids were unimpressed by this adventure so far.

But you know what? The tiny train was cool! It went so close to the edge of the coast that it felt like we were about to tip into the sea.

It’s entirely possible that I was still the only one enjoying this adventure. But they’d be fine once we got off the train in the middle of nowhere, right?

Ah no, more complaining ensued. What was not fun about wandering around a small Welsh town in search of a castle?

Luckily, we found a playground where we stopped for a while so the children could rest their walking legs and let their playing legs take over.

There was an interesting looking sensory garden there but we didn’t have time to explore. The train back was at a very specific time and we still had a castle to find and walk around.

Luckily, everything in Kidwelly was helpfully labelled, so, having walked down Station Road away from the station, we used Bridge Street to cross the river and then Castle Street was right there on our right.  And there was a castle!

I didn’t realise at the time but it was the castle from the first scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I think we were talking about the Holy Grail as we wandered around but it didn’t occur to me that we were in an actual filming location. If it had, we definitely would have had more conversations about swallows from the parapets.

But we did walk the parapets, and the kids saw off any invaders with their light sabre and imaginary arrows:

Nathan and Roo also went to the top of one of the towers but Eva and I wussed out because of the very tight spiral staircase. We got about halfway up and then aborted but the boys made it all the way:

Eva and I also weren’t super keen on the dungeons but Roo and Nathan had a look around the Slytherin dormitories:

Roo’s favourite thing seemed to be folding himself into small spaces that used to be ovens or fireplaces:

Although he also enjoyed the throne room:

And a chance to pose with real armour:

Eva also liked that bit:

We spent around an hour wandering about, with an eye always on that train back that we needed to not miss. We saw some very Good Dogs and stopped on the benches to eat Pringles and hobnobs. Despite my misgivings about the weather, we were actually super lucky and the rain held off. It even occasionally tipped over into “sunshiney”.

There’s a lot to explore at Kidwelly and we could have stayed longer but I think we covered the main bits. We could have used a bit more time to stop and read everything but most of the time we were chasing the kids anyway. I’ve always been slightly sceptical about castle visits ever since a very disappointing childhood visit to a mott and bailey castle, which was all mott and no bailey. In other words, it was just a hill with a sign on it. So it’s always good to find a castle that still has walls and towers and ovens that you can pop the firstborn into.

We left with plenty of time before the train and I was surprised to find out it was a request stop where you had to flag down the train, Railway Children style. We didn’t have any red petticoats but I considered using Nathan’s red t-shirt instead. Luckily, some local people turned up and we had to assume they knew what to do and it wouldn’t involve any spontaneous flag-fashioning,

Happily, the train turned up only a few minutes late and stopped to let us on before delivering us back to Llanelli 12 minutes later. I call that a successful adventure. And the family sort of agree….I think.

 

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