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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Fireworks at Scout Park – 03/11/18

My posts about fireworks are inevitably vague and full of dark, fuzzy photos so I’m pleased to announce that this post is no different. But, unlike 2014, it doesn’t contain any references to explosive diarrhea so that’s a bonus.

We’ve been to a few different displays over the years – Brockwell Park, Battersea Park, Clapham Common and Crystal Palace in the south, Coram’s Fields in Central London and Gunpowder Mills in M25Land – but are always looking for a good, early-evening solution. Last year Eva was terrified of the loud noises, so a mild version aimed at toddlers might just work for her. Plus, Nathan and I had a Disco 2000 to get to in the evening so couldn’t be doing with any of these 8PM starts.

The one I found was a little way away  – 20 mins on the North Circular according to Google Maps, even with what seemed like endless North Circular traffic. Still, at least there was a pretty sunset to look at along the way:

Scout Park is near Bounds Green station so we could have gone on the tube but it would have been a bit convoluted and the kids would have been tired and grouchy afterwards. So we decided to drive, even though we were pretty sure that parking would be a nightmare. As it was, we mananged to find a space a 6-minute walk away from the entrance so it wasn’t terrible but we were circling long enough for me to start formulating all manner of Plan Bs in my head, all of which would have involved wrangling those aforementioned tired and grouchy kids home on the tube on my own. I was quite relieved when we found a space.

The display is hosted by Wild Wolf Explorers and is fairly intimate as these things go – it’s a wooded site, with lots of different areas to explore and it wasn’t too crowded for the early display (There was a later one at half 7ish I think). The gates opened at 4PM but of course we weren’t anywhere near ready in time for that so scraped in around 5, half an hour before the display started. I didn’t know how much there would be to do beforehand but the answer was “Enough to make Eva feel like she’s missed out thanks to out poor planning”. Or maybe her refusal to put her shoes on, Who knows?

The one thing we did manage to do was go on the bouncy castle, which was an extra £2 per child bringing the cost of the 4 of us to £22 overall including entry fee. Again, if we’d been more organised we could have booked in advance and got that got that quite a lot cheaper. The bouncy castle was floodlit but still quite dark which explains why this photo is quite so ropey:

We were queuing next to the queue for the campfire, which is the thing that Eva would later wail about missing. She’d smelt the bonfire on the way and made an instant memory association with toasted marshmallows and, obviously, then wanted some. I don’t even know whether there were any marshmallows at the campfire or whether it was just sitting around and singing that classic Scout anthem “Baby Shark”.

So we should have got there earlier, done the campfire, had a marshmallow and followed the sign to where it said “Kids’ Games”. Lesson learnt for next time. But we were in position in the car park in time to watch the fireworks, which was kinda the whole point really.

Now, Roo was disappointed at the lack of bangs but it was a display specifically targeted at the under 6s and children with additional needs that require a quieter display. He’s 9 and doesn’t have those specific needs but really just needs to go along with it if he doesn’t want his little sister crying and hiding behind my leg the whole time. The fireworks were definitely tamer than the later display would be but plenty to wow the younger viewer:

The main selling point of Scout Park though, would be its atmosphere. The fairy lights hung up in the woods gave it a really lovely feel and there was live music drifting through the trees as we wandered around.

If we’d had more time to explore, I would have been able to give it a more useful review but hey, I warned you about the mediocrity of this post from the off. Fancy a really blurry firework picture? Of course you do:

So a nice family-friendly display and not inconvenient for us NE Londoners at all. On the way back I was excited to see that we’d be taking a slightly different route and so would be turning onto the North Circular just by the Protex “Pest of the Week” sign – always a highlight of our family trips out. Sadly though, this was my view as we waited to turn:

And then I forgot to look while we did the turn itself. Denied! I’ll never know what this week’s pest was.

Still, if you want to get more of an idea what the Wild Wolf Explorers fireworks were like, here’s a handy video:

Probably a touch more helpful than anything else in this post. We’ll do better next year!

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Product Review: The “Electro Hero Kit” by Tech Will Save Us

 

I don’t do loads of product reviews but something about this one sounded really appealing – maybe it’s the constant MCU talk that’s filled the house for around four years now and has stepped up a gear since *that* finger click. Or maybe it’s the interest that Roo has developed lately in all things scientific. Either way, this electro hero kit from STEM startup Tech Will Save Us seemed like it would fill a quiet Saturday afternoon.

It’s probably best to prep a little before you even show the kit to the kids – your child will need a maker account set up at www.twsu.co/hero before you can access the instructions for the missions. And you’ll need some playdough as it’s a vital component of the circuit making. We didn’t prep and so had a frantic hunt around the house before chancing upon a pot of freshish orange stuff tucked behind the telly. But fear not if you don’t keep any playdough in the house any more – once you’ve logged on to the mission portal, the first mission tells you how to make the dough from kitchen cupboard ingredients.

We skipped over that and went straight for the Hulk Smash! mission. For that, we needed to construct a wall of playdough bricks using the clever little brick mould:

That’s a quite satisfying part of the process for adults and kids alike. Then you need to make a Hulk fist and construct a switch by connecting fist to wall. Smash!

I won’t give too much away as you probably want your kids to discover the secrets of the circuits themselves but there were three separate missions to complete, and endless scope for free play with the LEDs, wires and power pack. The Avengers theme is a nice added on touch but the main joy is in completing the circuits from the basic:

to the arc reactor:

 

It absorbed both kids for two hours and included an element of experimentation, asking the children to test out different materials and predict whether they would be conductors or insulators. Both thought it was brilliant fun and have asked what other kits are available. I enjoyed it too, though found some of the bits with the LEDs a bit fiddly as my manual dexterity is pretty non-existent. It would also be good to have a bit of a clearer sign for which LED leg was the long one and which was the short one but apart from that, I don’t have any complaints.  The playdough moulding on its own would be a fun activity for littler ones and Eva often took that task while Roo was doing the wiring.

So definitely a hit with my kids (9 and 6) and I haven’t even shown them the online certificates they got for completing the missions yet. I would definitely recommend it for a bit of hero-themed family STEM play. More information here.

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

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“Paddington’s Musical Adventures” – 07/10/18

Paddington’s Musical Adventures performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ben Palmer, narrated by Simon Russell Beale and presented by Lindsey Russell (Illustrations by R.W.Alley) in Milton Court concert Hall on Sun. 7 Oct. 2018.
Photo by Mark Allan/BBC

It’s been a busy day. A spontaneous trip to Winchester for me and Eva yesterday rolled straight into a spontaneous sing at church so by the afternoon I was ready for something soothing. And a Paddington-themed concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra seemed just the ticket.

First though, we had to find it. Essex Road station was unhelpfully shut so we couldn’t get the secret train to Moorgate, but the 271 did pretty much the same job and we managed to find a food outlet that was open on a Sunday too, which isn’t easy in the City. Bless you Leon and all your lattice fries.

I’d never been to the Milton Court Concert Hall before but I keep a pet musician at church who knows about these things and he told me that it wasn’t part of the Barbican Centre as I’d thought, but over the road in the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. The giveaway when we got closer was the large windows of the foyer seemed to be filled with small children and accompanying parents. I was pretty sure we’d found the right place.

We didn’t have enough time to get to the hands-on musical workshop before the concert but it looked fun – lots of little ones trying out different orchestral instruments. We just about had enough time for a loo trip (on Level 2 to avoid the crowds) and for both kids to have  quick hugs with Paddington before the show started.

There were two parts to the concert, which was introduced by Blue Peter presenter Lindsey Russell. The first was a story called “Paddington’s First Concert”, with accompanying soundtrack by the orchestra and the second was a new story called “Paddington at St Paul’s” – both were written by Michael Bond and narrated by Simon Russell Beale, who you might recognise from “The Death of Stalin”.

Paddington’s Musical Adventures performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ben Palmer, narrated by Simon Russell Beale and presented by Lindsey Russell (Illustrations by R.W.Alley) in Milton Court concert Hall on Sun. 7 Oct. 2018.
Photo by Mark Allan/BBC

“Paddington’s First Concert” included some of the origin story and a charming version of the classic theme tune, which recurred throughout the story and even had lyrics sung to it at the end by the narrator. The orchestra added other musical motifs through the story – a trilling flute to represent the birds of Darkest Peru and snatches of Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, which the orchestra in the story were playing. It was a simple enough tale but very Paddington, with some unfortunate misunderstandings and mishaps. The setting for the story was the Royal Albert Hall, which was slightly incongruous when we were in such a different and more modern venue but the kids both whispered excitedly when it was mentioned (“we’ve been there!”).

“Paddington at St Paul’s” was published recently to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Paddington and was completed by Michael Bond before his death last year. This section was exciting because it had some gorgeous illustrations which helped the kids to focus – they get a bit restless of a Sunday afternoon and listening isn’t their strong at the best of times even when it’s listening to a world-class orchestra. So there were pictures to look at, a story about what Eva would call a Yundon Yandmark (she’s learning about those in school) and some famous pieces of music interspersed, like “The Flight of the Bumblebee”. It worked so well together and kept the kids’ interest to the end. There was only one place where the music got a little too soothing – I think it was the Tchaikovsky (“Preghiera from Mozartiana”) and all around me kids and adults started snuggling down a bit. I can’t be the only one that didn’t want to go back out into the real world after that. It’s not quite so soothing out there!

So a lovely afternoon – Paddington has a timeless appeal and his charming, cheeky nature  appeals to today’s kids as much as it did 60 years ago. The music was superb, the narration evocative and really interesting to learn some facts about Michael Bond (Did you know that he was a cameraman on Blue Peter?). It was also great to have a snoop around a relatively new venue on London’s cultural scene.

Then we went home, watched Doctor Who and now Reuben has forgotten all the soothingness of the afternoon and is probably going to have nightmares about aliens. Ah well, life’s an emotional rollercoaster when you’re a kid…

“Paddington’s Musical Adventures” will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in December. More details to follow!

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

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“The Everywhere Bear” – 15/09/18

Ah, the class bear experience. We’ve all been there. Last October, we babysat Pluto the Class Dog for the entire half term, taking him to the Wetlands and the V&A. Here’s Eva with him on the platform at Hackney Downs, reunited after she’d dropped him at a bus stop near Hackney Downs and I’d had to retrace our steps to go find the poor little chap:

Losing the class bear is the all-too-real premise of “The Everywhere Bear” but before we tried to find the bear, we needed to first find the Little Angel Theatre . It’s not overly obvious especially if you’ve chosen to walk along Liverpool Road instead of Upper Street for dull and complicated reasons of my own. Still, it meant we go to walk down this road of brightly coloured doors, which only grate if you’re of the rainbow-OCD persuasion:

Back on Upper Street, look out for the massive church on the east side of the street and take a path that cuts through the churchyard to the north of it:

And this, slightly unhelpfully, is the view back down the path once you’ve found the theatre:

Because the theatre is off to the right of this photo, just at the end of the path. Quite literally off the beaten track but definitely worth because it’s a small but perfectly formed place. At a guess I’d say the auditorium seats about 100 and there’s a little cafe area as soon as you walk in through the doors as well. That was home to Eva’s favourite feature – an animatronic version of the Princess and the Frog. Push a button and the door opens to reveal one of three different frogs or the prince! I can’t quite convey how exciting she found it:

So onto the show. It’s a joint production with two other theatres – the Polka in Wimbledon and the Royal & Derngate in Northampton – but I’m glad we saw it in the intimacy of the Little Angel because we were so close to the stage that it felt very immersive. Eva got *too* emotionally involved if anything but more on that later. I like the way they reserve the aisle seats for kids as well in order to maximise sightlines for little ones. It’s a very thoughtful touch.

The show’s based on a Julia Donaldson book and the Donaldson connoisseur might notice similarities between this work and some of her others  – notably “Stick Man” and “Tiddler”  – but the theme of being lost and finding your way home is a pretty universal one. I forgot how much “Stick Man” makes Eva cry though. Oops. I mean, we were both emotional today for reasons I won’t go in to and the story tugs at the heartstrings a bit. It opens in Class One, with the teacher reeling off a list of names as kids’ faces appear in the round screen at the top of the stage. Even this bit made me a little weepy as they introduced the puppet Matt, who was new in class and worried about not having any friends. The teacher was played by Amy Tweed and she and Daniel Harlock between them played every part in the show, as well as operating the puppets.

Matt gets to take the Everywhere Bear home and sings an affecting song about being new while planning his fun weekend with his new friend. It’s at this stage that the cleverly-designed set starts to take effect – it converts from school to Matt’s room and an ice rink becomes a picnic at the flip of a board. You can guess what happens when Matt is taking the bear back to school on Monday – it was similar to our Hackney Downs experience. From then on, the story splits with us seeing both the bear’s adventures at sea and in a fish shop as well as Matt’s sadness at home and his worry about losing the bear.

It sounds pretty simplistic but there’s a lot that’s gone into the show. There’s a pair of Welsh (?) fishermen who deliver the bear to Mrs Bishop’s Fish Shop, where she sings a song packed with fish puns at an ever-increasing tempo. Eva had her hands firmly over her ears at that point – not because she didn’t like Daniel’s singing but because she feared the bear was in grave danger and her response to anything “too scary” is to put her hands on her ears. She couldn’t tear her eyes off the stage though…

I did try explaining to her beforehand that this was a show for 3-8 year olds and any peril would be surely be mild enough for a 6-year-old to handle but the message didn’t seem to have sunk in. She feared for that bear.

Of course, there was a happy ending. When the bear was discovered by a librarian, she rescued him by climbing up a lamp post while entirely talking in bear-related rhyming couplets. It would have enraged a friend of mine but Eva found it hilarious (if I tell you that the friend in question is called Claire, you might start to understand where she’s coming from). All seemed well as Class One arrived at the library but it was at that point that Eva burst into uncontrollable tears – she couldn’t tell me afterwards whether they were happy tears at the bear being safe or sad tears because Matt didn’t realise the bear was safe yet….they were just tears. I think the emotions of the piece and of the week overwhelmed her a bit and I can totally see why. A younger child may well have handled it much better but Eva is at that stage where she *feels* everything so very much and quite frankly, she’s her mother’s daughter.

So big emotions aside, we both really enjoyed it. It’s a short show – about 50 minutes I think – and has a bouncy mix of songs and dialogue to keep things moving quickly. There’s some lovely use of props – a book opens to reveal a glittering sky full of stars  – and a real warmth to both the actors that makes them believable whether they’re playing kids – as they did on the stage before the start of the show – or adults. I’d recommend seeing it and Eva is very keen to return for “The Singing Mermaid” in January. It’s a lovely theatre and a well-overdue visit. Just pack some tissues if your little one is of the empathy-overload variety.

“The Everywhere Bear” is on now and runs until 11th November. For more information and tickets, please click here.

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

 

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“King Arthur” at The Scoop – 30/08/18

 

It’s been a wild week. The kids have been staying at my sister’s in Wales and Nathan and I have been kidfree and fancy free. There was a night out dancing, which I might write about soon if I have the energy, and pub trips every day. Literally every day.

It’s little wonder that by Thursday I was feeling a little dazed. I left work in Bank at 4ish and my head was in desperate need of some clearing before the next trip out, so I wandered down towards the river and took in some not-quite-fresh air. My eventual aim was to meet Nathan near Southwark Bridge but I had time to kill so I followed the River Path along the north bank for a while, taking in sights like this cool little Art Deco-esque tunnel:

And the Queenshithe mosaic:

And the imposing columns of this building, which Google tells me are the offices of Miki Travel Limited:

There’s always something to see on the river and I was hoping to see a few more things to see in the Tate Modern. So I crossed the wobbly bridge to get there, which was disappointingly unwobbly.

Talking of disappointing, the Turbine Hall seems oddly empty at the moment. I could see some swings outside the back doors of the building and they may be the same ones that used to be in there but safe to say, it’s in a transitional phase right now.

So I went up to the Start Gallery on the 2nd Floor, which was indeed a good place to start. There were some huge, colourful pieces that I think Eva would like although the strobing of this particular one was not making my impending headache any better.

Then I looked through rooms about genocide, mourning and slavery and started to realise that I wasn’t quite in the right place for art. The right mental place, I mean. Being in an art gallery is exactly the right place for art. So I sat down for a long time with my magazine on the fourth floor, then when I realised the gallery was emptying at 6pm, I vacated too and sat on a bench by the river.

It’s surprising after all this that I decided to go through with the evening’s plans. The headache was threatening to take me down altogether but somehow the rest, the fresh air and a pint of lemonade with Nathan’s colleagues at The Anchor pulled me back from the brink and by 7:30 I was ready for the main business of the evening – an open air production of “King Arthur” at The Scoop near Tower Bridge.

Well, almost ready. First we picked up some tasty food from Pod just by the Scoop. Apparently after 7:30 everything is half price, so we got a pot of curry, a falafel wrap and a bottle of water for £7. Score!

Though it did mean we missed the first few minutes of the show. We picked it up pretty quickly though – the guy in the crown was Arthur (Adrian DeCosta) and schemey ones were the baddies, Mordred (Tom Gordon) and Morgan LeFay (Eva Fontaine). The basics of the plot we knew from a combination of “The Sword in the Stone”, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “The Magician’s Chamber” but there were some new elements in this one. It was based on Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” (spoilers!) and adapted for this season by Phil Willmott. The language had a Shakespearean feel to it but there were some decidely modern elements, like the feisty female knights who joined the Round Table as part of Arthur’s brother-sister knighthood. It’s a female Gawain/Gawynn (Emma Hoey) that goes in search of the Green Knight although there’s a bit of ambiguity about whether her hosts in Anglesey realise she’s a woman. Kay (Sarah Agha) is also female, holding her own and then some against Gaheris (Hadley Smith) as they fight with both words and swords. As you can imagine, I enjoyed the strong women characters though it did have the effect of making Guinevere (Siobhan Cha Cha) look a bit wussy as she stood around waiting to be rescued a lot.

Guinevere is key to the whole plot though – it’s her marriage to Arthur that brings Lancelot (Henry Wyrley-Birch) back from abroad and the rekindling of the love between Lancelot and Guinevere that sees the country descend almost into civil war. Word of advice Arthur – don’t keep walking around telling everyone how perfect your happiness is. It’ll all fall apart by dinnertime, no really.

The first half of the show was quite lighthearted, with the wedding of Arthur and Guinevere and the aforementioned perfect happiness, along with the arrival of the Scottish siblings and their integration into the court. The sun was setting as we got closer to the interval and the plot, accordingly, was about to take a darker turn.

But first a loo break for anyone who, like me, worries about these things. There’s a wooden building behind City Hall that contains what you need and you don’t even need to pay for them. There’s also a bar for people who don’t worry about needing to pee all the way through, and a fried chicken shack. We brought our own snacks, which was good as I didn’t see anyone selling any nearby, and we also brought a couple of cushions each, for sitting on the hard steps, and a blanket or two as well. The production runs for 2.5 hours so the cushions were well needed.

Back to the show! Guinevere and Lancelot’s very chaste affair was about to be discovered, thanks to the scheming of Mordred and Morgan and the resulting drama made the second half speed by. Arthur looked suitably heartbroken to be betrayed by his queen and Guinevere showed nothing but dignity as she was led to her death by the clearly quite sinister Mordred. I won’t say what happened next, for fear of spoilers but a few people die. I was very fond of some of them.

There were well choreographed sword fights, taking the actors well off the stage and on to the space around them. There’s a timely intervention by Merlin (PK Taylor) who seems convincingly in touch with the higher powers. And inevitably there’s some villainous cackling as the plot reveals itself. Along with some very tactile-looking velvet cloakery.

If I haven’t mentioned this so far, all this was for free – the cast just appealed for donations at the end. It was a great evening’s entertainment in a very scenic location and we really enjoyed it. We even got to meet Mordred on the way out:

It was billed as suitable for kids but I’d say the adult themes of death, adultery and vengeance make it for the older end of the kid-market. Reuben (9) would have enjoyed the sword fighting but might have lost patience with the romance. Eva (6) would have *loved* the beautiful costumes and scenery but would have been overwhelmed by the big emotions. Of course, it’s easy to drop in and out of the performance so if you’re not sure whether your kids would like it, you always go for a bit and see how they find it.

Anyway, they were miles away so it didn’t matter whether they would have liked it. But they’re back now, so our adventures are at an end. I may still tell you all about that wild night in Shoreditch though….

 

“King Arthur” runs till 2nd Sept. More information here

 

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Highbury Fields – 19/08/18

Here’s the problem with finally having a “BBQ Summer” – there’s nowhere to actually have a fricking BBQ. I understand the H&S logic of not making fire on dry grass but I think the tabloids and TV weathermen responsible for this phrase need to either rebrand the experience or build a fireproof BBQ pit in their collective back gardens and invite us over for a chipolata in penance.

The reason I came up against this was because we’d promised – as a home group – to send our Brazilian church intern back off to Brazil with a traditional English BBQ, partially-raw sausages and all. But as the agreed date drew closer the restrictions stayed in place. We scoured the Olympic Park to see if their brick BBQs would do the job but intel suggested there were likely to be all full on the day of a West Ham match. Still, Islington Council broke with the habit of a lifetime and did something in a timely manner – the weather cooled and the ban on BBQs in Highbury Fields was lifted. With, like *hours* to spare.

Which is how we ended up inventing the very unusual Chargrilled Wotsit Delight avec sausage juice jus:

Kids loved em. Natch. So much so that Eva was leaning over the grill to get her next fix, hair perilously close to the flames. But don’t worry, this isn’t a sad story. She didn’t catch fire and we went to the playground. Let me tell you all about that:

Whole load of buttocks.

Strangely-detailed mosaics aside, it was a nice playground. A big sandpit and then climbing frames around the corner and then a separate area with some massive slides. Not quite the size of the Victoria Park ones but big enough. The climb up alone is pretty intimidating:

No wonder that both kids got to the top and then changed their minds about going down. Reuben claimed that the Orbit slide experience had put him off dangerous slides forever.  But Eva eventually gave it a go:

Roo was more comfortable sticking to the climbing frames:

And the bonus was that there was a toilet, although there was a strict rule about only using it with a child in tow, which would lead to me later having to borrow a child in order to use it.

So here’s a few more pics:

See, lovely! And not too crowded on a sunny Sunday afternoon. And yes, Eva was dressed as a fairy for no apparent reason.

It’s worth mentioning too that there’s a little swimming pool on Highbury Fields that we visited sometime during the heatwave – I believe it was on the day that England played Sweden. A pretty basic pool with a very warm training pool and a little slide in it..not worth a blog post of its own but handy if you’re in Canonbury to teach an English class and the kids are demanding a swim.

Don’t say I never tell you anything useful…

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Wild Child Festival – 18/08/18

 

Some of the events we go to seem very aptly named for my kids and “Wild Child” is certainly one of them.  For those who have missed my Wild Child previews, it’s a folksy kinda family festival in leafy Dulwich and it’s where we spent the day today so don’t worry, I’m gonna tell you all about it. At length.

I wasn’t the best prepared for this day, mainly cause we’ve been to the moon and back this week (well, to the ‘pool and back) and my head is spinning a little. So I’d planned a route but hadn’t factored in things like the kids needing a ticket to travel from Victoria to West Dulwich because it’s not run by TfL…or there being nowhere near West Dulwich to either buy a picnic or get cash out. There’s pretty much nothing on the walk from the station except the very scenic Dulwich College and a lot of trees. Be warned, if you’re planning the same route.

So we arrived at Wild Child with food and snacks for the kids but nothing for us and a tenner in cash. The first thing I clocked when we walked in was that the Toasty Badger took card payments so at least I knew we’d be able to afford lunch and it would come with a dobble of tasty chutney. The second thing I clocked was how long the coffee queue was so we decided to skip that and run on natural adrenaline for a bit.

I’ve unfairly skipped over the entrance to the festival, which was as pleasant as any I’ve ever experienced. No queues and a double-bass and guitar duo playing Disney classics while you sign in. The site is open and grassy and inviting, with different areas spread out through the field. Eva looked at the map and straightaway wanted to go to the Unicorn Meadow, where a show was just about to start.

Reuben was a bit reluctant at first as I think he classes unicorns along with fairies and mermaids and other “Eva things” but he was soon drawn into the mission to find colours of the rainbow which would then summon a unicorn. The two “unicornologists” from Skewbald Theatre had the kids running from one corner of the meadow to the other, collecting the colours and eventually creating this rainbow:

Eva was, of course, taking the whole thing very seriously in the hope of seeing a real live unicorn. Obviously it was a “travel size for your convenience” substitute but she wasn’t too disappointed.

There was also a brief spurt of rain at this point but luckily it didn’t last long. Long enough though that we took shelter at the Harmony Hideaway, which was a live music stage with a bit of a roof on it. Groove Baby were midway through their “Groove Into the Woods” set and we arrived just in time for a bit of audience participation. We were wizards (zap!) and it gave the kids time to sit down for a bit, hop around for a bit and have a restorative snack.

Next stop was the Okido stall, which promised science and art. The science was bubble mixture making – each kid had a giant test tube and had to add fairy liquid, glycerine and food colouring to water to make their mix before decorating an espresso cup to hold it in and fashioning a bubble wand out of a pipe cleaner.

Doing this activity early was a bit short sighted because it then meant toting two cups of bubble mix round for the rest of the day, but it was a good fill in before the El Baldinho Magic workshop at 12, which is something Reuben had been keen to do from the start.

I missed most of the workshop because it seemed a good opportunity to go and get those toasties, while the kids (and Nathan!) were occupied and the queues weren’t too long. It still took a while, as getting lunch at these kind of events always does, so if there’s any improvement I’d suggest for next year it’d be to have a few more food vans. It was really only one of two options, the other being pizza, so there wasn’t much for people who don’t like cheese. The badgers did offer a vegan cheddar, although I just indulged myself was a full-cow version and TWO types of chutney. It was a gooooood toastie.

Nathan and the kids came back, full of magic tricks they wanted to show me from their paper bags full of props . Who knew such illusions could be drawn from a balloon, a paper cup and three crayons? Then Eva arsed about for a bit and refused to eat her roll. Let’s skip on.

Most of the activities stopped between 1 and 2 for lunch but there was a Poppy’s Parties storytelling and drama workshop starting at 1:30 so we went for that. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it turned out to be everyone going on an adventure story with games along the way to help them solve problems. The Enchanted Fox had one of those great drama teachers voices – energetic and dramatic to the point of parent-terrifying shoutiness at times. The kids loved it, obviously. Eva especially was very taken with the Fox’s yuvyee red hair and Roo was mainly in it for the bum jokes. And messing with the other kids’ minds by giggling guiltily in the “who took the bear?” game even when it wasn’t him. Psych! At some point, it all became a Bit Too Much for Nathan and he went off to get us coffee….Now that noon had past, the queue had died down. I imagine they were all at the bar instead.

Coffee was both a good idea and a bad idea. I think the advantages are obvious but the disadvantages became apparent when we moved to the circus tent (“Little Top”) and both kids launched themselves into doing stuff that seemed to always involve grabbing us by the coffee-arm. You know the stuff – stilts and tightropes and that kind of thing. Eva combined the two, propelling herself along the tightrope by using the stilts like ski poles, which was a lot better than the nightmarish vision I’d had when she first proposed it. I thought she was talking about being on stilts, on the tightrope. She still managed to fall off and clonk her head on the wooden stilt though.

Time for something calmer. And that something was one she’d circled early on as “Not to be missed” – a ballet version of the Princess and the Frog, by Let’s All Dance in the Bop-Along Ballroom. It was definitely a highlight of the day for her. She’s very into the idea of ballet at the moment, even though I refuse to get her lessons because she’s already highly strung enough without becoming a ballerina. I’m turning into an Aunt June type from Sadlers Wells, aren’t I? I didn’t see that coming. So she’s interested in ballet but has never seen any up close before and this was up very close – she even got to stroke the Princess’ tutu at one point. Needless to say, she YUVED it.

I enjoyed it too. The dancing was flawless and the playful chemistry between the two leads was delightful. Once the frog head came off, the handsome prince looked a tad flushed but who wouldn’t after you’ve been leaping around in a giant animal head? At the end there was a photo opportunity and my phone was flashing 1% battery as we lined up for it. Miraculously though, I managed to get the shot before it died:

Luckily because Wild Child is a fairly small festival, we were able to find Nathan and Roo again even without the aid of a phone. We gathered back in the Playhouse for our final show of the day – Sam Quinn in “Mr Danger’s Really Safe Show”.

The tale of a traumatised daredevil who has decided to play it safe, it combined “daring” stunts with time travel and a variety of characters including a cleaner and Mr Danger’s sinister trainer. It was a lot of fun and Reuben got up on the stage at least three times and was left holding a ticking bomb at least once. Eva wussed out of taking part at least once. I got in a good heckle about self-tying shoelaces and, all in all, it was a good way to end the day.

We left the tent at 4:30 and just had enough time to play with some giant bubbles and for Eva to colour in a pair of lungs back at the Okido stand before leaving at 5. The journey home was somewhat fraught, with a slow P4 journey back to Brixton starting off with a screaming tantrum from Eva (we had to throw her bubble mix away as it was leaking). A pack of haribo that I’d stashed in my handbag created a fragile peace though, at least enough to get us as far as the tube station where we could load up on milkshake and crisps for the long journey back to Walthamstow.

So our verdict on Wild Child? A great day out! It’s got a few teething problems like the food queues and the lack of running water in the loos but the idea and the execution are both superb. The setting is lovely – you totally forget that you’re in London – and the spacing works well so it never feels rushed or too crowded even though plenty of people attended. The quality of the entertainment was tip notch and there was plenty that we could do if we went for a second day. We never even got round to doing the craft or exploring Dino Land (tho we did spot the dinos having a wander about and Eva tickled one of them) and the day just flew by. Obviously a bit of a trek for us North-East Londoners but that’s our fault for leaving South London.

I can only hope the organisers feel similarly positive and decide to go for a second year in 2019. If they do, we are there.

Disclaimer: I recieved free tickets and a small fee in exchange for a preview, review and social media interaction. All opinions remain honest and my own. More information here (Wild Child website).

 

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Museum of Liverpool – 13/08/18

We’re slowly getting through this thing they call the summer holidays. It’s a long haul, like the walk to Mordor. But we’re on day 29 of 47 now, which I reckon puts us around the end of the Two Towers. And successfully getting the kids to Liverpool and back without any major fallouts was an unlikely victory of Helms Deeps-like proportions.

I know, it’s Liverpool so I could have gone with a whole “Magic Mystery Tour” metaphor instead. But it’s kinda obvious Robert.

So we set out from Winchester – don’t ask – very early on a Sunday morning and spent five hours in the car with only a lunch break at our friends’ church in Coventry and a stop at Sandbach services to break up the long haul of snacks and Mr Gum books. Kudos to the kids, they were well behaved but it was a long journey. Still, we had the joy of spotting “God’s Fidget Spinners” on the way:

We were staying with Ellie and Wiley just outside Liverpool – the Waterloo that had confused me all the way back in 2013 – and I’d told Roo, quite truthfully, that they lived near the beach. So I think he was expecting more of a beach holiday than North-West England usually provides. The heatwave is partially to blame because the kids have forgotten what a *normal* British summer feels like. But on that soggy Monday morning, there was an element of disappointment when he realised it probably wouldn’t be a day on the beach. He was stoically wearing shorts just in case but we had to do an element of expectation management. We’d go and see the beach and then spend the day in Liverpool instead.

It wasn’t exactly raining but it wasn’t exactly sunny either. We walked to the Crosby Coastal Park and the kids played in the massive play area while Nathan, Ellie and I sat on a damp bench watching them. Apart from some bored teenagers, we pretty much had the place to ourselves:

And some lovely views over the lake which wasn’t the sea – it was a lake near the sea. Yeah, it confused us all too. There were loads of *really good* dogs running around it and through it, which delighted both the kids and the adults. Eva dubbed it the “doggy fun area” although according to Nathan, it sounded more like the “doggyfneria”…so that’s what we called the coastal park for the remainder of the holidays.

Then over the sand dunes to the beach itself. Again, it was pretty deserted. In fact, our only company were the hundreds of rusting iron statues that formed Anthony Gormley’s “Another Place”. We had a Gormley figure at the Wellcome Collection – he may still be there – and he hung upside down over the doorway. These fellas were buried in sand or leaning at odd angles in the water. Slightly disconcerting but Nathan really bonded with them:

But it was chilly and starting to rain quite a lot so we dived into the nearby Waterloo Place Gallery and Cafe to have some much needed caffeine and sugar before we even attempted a trip to the big city. And there was certainly sugar in abundance, including “sweetshop cake” for the kids and a very caramelly malteser brownie for me. We were fed, we were partially caffeinated, we were ready to jump on the Northern Line and go and explore. Except that Roo by this point had very cold legs so we had to stop at Ethel Austin in Liverpool Central station and buy him some £3 jogging bottoms.

Then we were ready.

Our destination was the Museum of Liverpool but there was a lot to distract us along the way. Like this street filled with umbrellas:

And these giant grassy steps:

And these eyes in a tree, which the kids christened “Stick” because of “Hey Duggee”:

And of course, some superlambananas. Obviously.

But eventually we made it round the Royal Albert Docks to the museum, which is both massive and modern. I think it was opened in 2011 and it’s three floors of local history and interactive stuff. First off though, we needed lunch. We’d picked up some sandwiches at the Sainsburys at the station so went straight to the picnic area on the ground floor (turn left at the information desk) before we did anything else.

Then up the grand sweeping central stairs to the Education Area, where the kids made thaumatropes out of a bit of paper and a straw. If you don’t know what a thaumatrope is, it’s a bit like a zoetrope. If you don’t know what a zoetrope is, go to the Museum of Childhood sometime.

The first floor was full of galleries about the history of Liverpool and there was lots for the kids to do – magnetic blocks with animals on (sort them into “meat animals” and “scavengers”), interactive maps on screens and a bit where you could slide blocks of tree bark to try and work out how old the tree is. Eva liked making her own coat of arms:

and she chose the most positive symbols, as opposed to Roo’s version which was full of weapons. She also liked the model houses, from different eras and insisted on reading all the facts in the windows and doors aloud to us.

There was also a carriage from the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which we sat in while Eva very slowly read out all the stops until we reached our destination, which I seem to remember was Sandforth Sands. Ellie and I accidentally got out of the carriage too early and Eva made us get back in until we’d completed the journey. Oh yes, this girl knows how to enforce fun.

Nearby was the retro dressing up area. Meet Lucy the evacuee:

and Kenneth the schoolboy:

They’re really into Narnia at the moment, so they got right into playing wartime children. Next to that was the LGBT area, where Eva equally enjoyed playing “Gay Clubbing” and having a boogie to the banging tunes next to the sparkly dresses. This one was her favourite:

 

Next we went up to the top floor, which had exhibits on Liverpool culture including a paid (donation £5) exhibition on John and Yoko. We didn’t go into that bit because we were running out of time, but we did browse round the model of the cathedral that never was and this very sparkly suffragette with skulls on her skirt:

There was also a drawing wall, which someone had adorned with the not very fair, or truthful, words “Kate Smells”:

Maybe I did. It was warm in there and we’d been walking up and down a lot of steps. Time to use one of the many toilets on offer (I like a place that doesn’t skimp on toilets) and head out for some fresh air.

We had idly wondered about going on the Ferry ‘cross the Mersey but the kids were getting tired and it would have been a tricky sell given they’d never heard of the song. An easier sell was to sit next to the ferry port, eat some doughnuts and chase some pigeons. Roo wanted to go on some of the rides but we managed to persuade him that we’d do that kind of thing in Southport the next day instead (spoiler: we didn’t really) so we got away with a pretty cheap day out.

One thing he did manage to persuade us to do was to return to the Doggyfneria once we’d got back to Waterloo. It still wasn’t exactly beach weather – and you can’t swim there anyway cause the sea is too far out and there are massive ships around – but it was sunny at least:

We’d bought some cheap spades along the way and they spent a joyous half hour or so excavating the feet of the iron statue:

Which eventually earned itself the privilege of wearing Nathan’s most precious possession:

And I KNOW. Those nipples freak me out too.

So a fun day in the north – culture, views, sand play. The stuff of perfect holidays, even with a bit of drizzle. Right?

For more information on the Museum of Liverpool, have a look at their official website.

 

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Barking Splash Park – 03/08/18 and 04/08/18

Yesterday, I’m proud to say, was a magnificent feat of persuasion. I don’t often win discussions with Eva but somewhere around 8:30 this morning, I got her not only to turn down her Helen Love disco tunes but also to downgrade our Mummy-daughter day out from Kensington to Barking. Don’t ask why the Science Museum was on her agenda today – it’s a complicated and dull story – but it wasn’t where I wanted to hang out on a 32C day. In fact, I didn’t want to hang out anywhere that was either airconditioned or abounding in cold water.

And we got both! Once we’d picked our way through a building site in the carpark at Walthamstow Central, we found Queens Road and the Goblin Line. Which has airconditioned trains! Hallelujah! Just the time to play the “two shades” game:

If you’re wondering where Reuben was in all this, the answer is “at the cinema with Nathan”. Nathan had booked a day off work when I was already off so instead of the two of us spending time together we went our separate ways with a kid each. It seemed the best idea given how fighty the kids have been of late.

So just me and the girl, alighting at Barking and trying not to make too much eye contact as we walked down the hill towards the greenery of Barking Park. Google said it was about half a mile but we could see it from the station so it probably was a bit closer. Just turn left out of the station and straight ahead at this roundabout:

And you’re there. Along the way, we picked up some friends who were battling with the Phone to Pay system for car parking. The first hour is free but you still have to call and register your car. By all accounts, it was a touch tedious.

But never mind because water play and cooling down opportunities were just around the riverbend. The Barking Splash Park is in the middle of Barking Park and there’s a small fee to get in (£4 kids, £2 adults, £10 families). We got there just after opening at 10 and it was still fairly quiet – all the deckchairs had been taken but we nabbed a bench in the shade and went for a play.

Now, the signs at the splash park itself say no photography but the website suggests that discreet photos of your own child are permitted. So here’s as much as I can show you of the splash area:

By the look of the walls around the whole area I’m guessing it was where the 1930s lido used to be, which gives you an idea of how big it is. There are a ton of different water features – walls of water, arches of water, sprayers – and two ornamental fountains at either end. It was pretty much the perfect place to be on a boiling hot day. They take card payments too, so you don’t need unlimited amounts of cash but the range they sell is limited to drinks, crisps and Carte D’or ice cream. There’s nothing lunchy as far as I could see, although there is a cafe just outside the splash park.

We were on the ice cream by about 11am, if you’re wondering. It was that kind of day. Strawberry for both of us and darn good it was too.

So with the lack of lunch options in mind, we were starting to move towards an exit strategy. But the rides around the sides opened at midday and suddenly all the kids wanted to go on all the things, which all cost extra money. Eva had her heart set on the boats at 2 tokens (£2) each but the queue was massive and not in the shade so we compromised on the bouncy castle, which was the same price and had no real queue at all. Eva later said that she didn’t like it because it wasn’t bouncy enough but I think she was just bitter about not going on the boats.

One hasty departure and one lift from my friend later and we were lunching in the foresty coolness of The Owl at Loughton. I had a very nice chicken burger while Eva mainly snuck her fries to a 2-year-old and danced about in the forest like some kind of woodland sprite:

She had eaten a pepperami and satsuma wrap while we were still at the splash park so fries were just an add-on really.

You’d think all of this would satisfy the girl but no. When I asked her what she’d like to do the following day, she said she’d like to return to the splash park and go on the boats. Staring down another tropical day in London, I didn’t have much reason to say no.

This time we had the boys with us and Nathan drove us all from Highams Park in a matter of minutes. As it was a Saturday there were no parking restrictions on the roads opposite the park entrance so we parked on one of them, thus avoiding grappling with the Phone to Pay system.

And yes, they both got to go on the boats. Even though Eva spent most of her ten minutes looking like she was stuck in some corner of the pool or other.

As soon as they came off those, they were keen to do the final activity – walking on water in a giant plastic ball. We managed to dissuade them for a bit so they amused themselves in the water play, had some crisps, some more water play and then started nagging again.

I wasn’t keen for all sorts of reasons. Mainly that it was 5 tokens each to go on and I was sure that they’d freak out and refuse to do it once they were inside the plastic ball. After all, what’s worse on a hot day than being trapped inside a giant ball breathing recycled air? Eventually we struck a deal with them – if they paid for it out of their own cash then they could go on. I often forget that they both have stashes of birthday/Christmas money and so are far more cash-rich than their parents are.

And so it came to pass that, mere days after watching my firstborn hurl himself off the Orbit, I had to watch him climb inside a giant beachball and be tipped into a paddling pool.

And then the other one. If that paddling pool was a basket, all my eggs would have been in it:

Still, they had fun. They didn’t manage to stand up for long but both came off bright eyed and shouting about it being “AWESOME”.

Time for another ice cream, to steady all our nerves. This time, Eva chose marshmallow flavour which she was initially very excited about but then decided she didn’t yike. I don’t blame her – it was a weirdy synthetic taste like bubblegum ice cream. Didn’t stop me finishing hers tho. Roo had the safer option of chocolate, which he said was yummy.

Then just a few minutes in the playground next door before heading home. It all looked very new, with nice clean sand and a pirate ship for climbing. Roo would have loved it a few years ago but I think he found it a bit tame nowadays. Eva still managed to get herself stuck on one of the climbing frames though.

So not just one nice day out in Barking but two! Who would have imagined it? If only I could sleep under those fountains tonight…

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ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide – 30/07/18

We have a kind of family routine over the holidays where Daddy Days are spent lazing around in pyjamas and playing board games and Mummy Days are…well…not. Today was not just a Mummy Day but one with the temp LWATers as back up. We had to have something of an adventure. Putting my firstborn into a metal tube at height was possibly too much excitement, even for me but the firstborn was pretty keen on the idea. We were using the National Rail 2FOR1 discount to get tickets, which I think meant booking on the door so I was just hoping we’d get there and there would be no timeslots left for the slide. As you can guess by the length of this post, my plan didn’t work. He slid. Oh yes.

But first we needed to get there and that was no mean feat, given that every shop in Westfield had something sparkly in it to distract Eva. Reuben ended up dragging her by the arm past the sandals of Russell and Bromley only to find we were walking towards a park entrance that no longer existed. Do they ever stop changing the Olympic Park?

It was half twoish by now and they did have slots for the slide at 5PM – not an unreasonable amount of time to wait. Unfortunately. You see, the very idea of a 178m slide terrifies me and I thought Roo would have similar thoughts once he actually saw the thing but no. So we just had the task of entertaining ourselves on a slightly overcast day.  Not a hard task, given that the kids find stuff to play on every few metres along the paths:

We spent a long time in the playground by the fountains, which boasts a slide accessible only by climbing wall. I used to fear it greatly but now, with a leggy 9yo, it’s just the ticket. It took some persuasion to get the kids to move on to the Tumbling Bay and along the way they got distracted by the outdoor gym. Then even more distracted by Eva falling over and getting blood all down her leg. Turns out I’m the only one of the party who isn’t a bit bloodphobic. But I wans’t feeling too superior, given my phobia of heights was gonna kick in in the not-too-distant future.

We eventually made it, Eva limping and eating healing haribo, to Tumbling Bay. I’ll admit that my main motivation was using the toilets there but the water and sand play is always a bonus in the kids’ eyes. Eva was dressed in velvet, which I always feel is the most practical possible material for this kind of play:

Roo, meanwhile, was finding yet more hidden places to play:

It was nearly time to chuck my boy off a building so we needed to get back to the Orbit by the quickest possible way. Or maybe via a series of wrong turns and semi-rural diversions. Starting with this flight of steps down to the river, which Eva assured me would definitely be OK:

It wasn’t OK. It led to a bridge which was fenced off so we had to turn back.

The next path we tried came up against the railway line and went nowhere else. It was time to revert to Plan A – back the way we came. We did see a little black and white bird along the way, with a blue patch on his back. Yes, it’s LWAT Naturewatch again. We also saw this peculiar piece of art:

We were seriously cutting it fine for our 5PM timeslot by now, so charged back across the park and got to the Orbit just in time, dragging a half-limping-still Eva along with us. There were five of us and only Roo and Niece’s Boyfriend were actually doing the slide so we all went up together to Level 1 and arranged to meet back there after they’d slid down. It’s expected that sliders do the slide first and then go back up and enjoy the view after so that worked out pretty well. I just had to endure 10 stomach churning minutes of watching the boys put on protective gear and imagining the worst.

Then standing by the viewing panel in the middle of the Orbit, waiting for a glimpse of them as they whizzed past:

Then more stomach-churning waiting and admiring the view while we waited for them to re-emerge from the lift. Eventually they did and my heart starting beating again as they seemed unharmed and only a little traumatised. “IT WAS TERRIFYING” screamed Roo as he flung himself into my arms but later he admitted that it was a little bit fun too. 5% fun to be exact and only 95% terrifying.

So there you have it – if you have a child who is 8years plus and over 1m30 and you fancy terrifying them a little this summer, the Orbit is where it’s at. For more information have a look here.

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