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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Adventure Island – 03/05/21

Over the course of the last few posts, I’ve been trying to persuade you that we’re back to our old adventuring ways, now that we’re armed with an armful of Pfizer. But I know, 90 mins playing golf next to a roundabout in Walthamstow is not the kind of mad plan you came to expect from LWAT in our pre-pandemic days. Hopefully today’s plan fits the bill a little better. It certainly was a little insane and there was a real return to the old school LWAT haplessness. Plus, it literally has “Adventure” in the title. What more could you want?

In our first trip across the M25 since August, we decided to mark Eva’s birthday with a trip to Adventure Island in Southend. There were a fair few flaws when it came to the idea of taking an anxious girl to high-octane thrills theme park at the tail end of a pandemic when even like low-octane thrills stress her out….but I figured we’d work it out when we got there. The more pressing issue was parking.

The Adventure Island website assured me that “parking in Southend is easier than you think” but I didn’t find that too reassuring. I thought it was going to be very hard, so maybe it would just end up being moderately hard? Turns out the website was right – it was remarkably easy. We went past several signs on the way into town, which told us which car parks had spaces. We had to adjust the route a little towards the end so that we turned right at the last roundabout before the seafront, instead of left but as soon as we took the right, we saw the gigantic Seaway car park which had loads of spaces. It wasn’t cheap – and we had to download the Mobon app to be able to pay – but it was easy to find and just a couple of minutes’ walk away from Adventure Island.

Going well so far. What was trickier was actually getting in to Adventure Island. There’s a queue as you walk down into the sunken garden but no signage to tell you what anyone is queuing for, so it’s all too easy to do what we did and go down the other side of the path, straight past the line of people. Only to be turned back and have to do the walk of shame to the end of the queue. That’s the queue to get in, apparently. I’m telling you this so that you don’t make the same mistake as we did.

It moved quickly tho and once we’d done the Track and Trace check in, we were allowed to roam free. There was little point in roaming before we got the kids’ wristbands tho and this is another confusing thing that I’ll explain to you now so that you don’t have the pain of figuring it out.

We had vouchers that needed to be exchanged for wristbands. That’s the first thing to note. We’d bought them at a discounted rate through a local school but the bits of paper alone did not get us in or on anything. We had to go to the wristbands booth along with thousands of other people to make the exchange.

At that point, there are more queues for different windows but before you get in a queue, your kids have to be measured and stamped to say whether they’re over 1.2m or not. You’d hope at this point neither child would reveal a pathological fear of hand stamps but our hopes were dashed. So there was a mini-scene while we tried to figure out a way around this system. Eventually we just got into one of the wristband queues and hoped for the best.

Exchanging vouchers for wristbands was fine and the handstamp issue was solved by the child in question agreeing to get a stamp on the wristband, rather than the hand. What was slightly more confusing was the question of who even needed wristbands in the first place. I’d seen something on their website about blue, red and green rides and how adults could ride for free on the red and green rides if they were accompanying a child. Now, the system has changed. Adults ride free on some rides if the child is under 1.2m but if the child is over 1.2m they have to ride alone or the adult has to pay to go on it with them. Now, it all makes sense when you know but when there’s a disconnect between the headline “Ride for free if you’re aged 14+ and accompanying a younger guest!” and the reality, it can be a bit confusing.

It all worked out fine. The kids are 1.3m and 1.5m and I had wristbands for them both and they could both go on rides unaccompanied for the most part. Nathan and I didn’t particularly want to go on any rides so us not having wristbands didn’t matter too much. But for the early ones where Eva was nervous and Reuben wasn’t always prepared to babysit her, it would have been beneficial if one of us had the option to go on with her. But, as I say, it was fine in the end and only cost me 2xdiscounted wristbands, which is a bit of a bargain really.

Anyway, on to the actual fun bits. The park is divided into two ends, with an undercover bit in between. Most of the middle bit is closed off at the moment, for obvious reasons, and you have to wear a mask as you walk through. So we walked the length of the park first to decide which rides Eva might agree to go on and started at the far West side with the American Whip.

This was a remarkably tame ride, with a bit of spin at either end of the track (the aforementioned “whip”). Walking through the park and seeing the terrifying vertical rollercoasters had made me concerned that we wouldn’t find anything Eva-friendly, especially as the sight of the rollercoasters had put her on edge a bit too. But this was plenty gentle enough and Reuben was gracious enough to go on it with her.

Next door to that was a ride which I keep referring to as “Sk8ter boi” as they were blasting out the Avril Lavigne hit all day. I don’t think that was its actual name but it was skateboard-themed and alternated between that song and two others. “Heaven is a Halfpipe” was one that Nathan and I had confidently predicted but “Surfing USA” was a bit of a curveball, given the boi was definitely on a skateboard rather than a surfboard. Eva refused to go on this one or even look at Reuben as he went on but Roo described it as “epic”. And I sang along a lot.

After that we tried to find something else that Eva would like, given it was her birthday. The helter skelter seemed like a strong possibility but she had a wobble just as she got to the front so Reuben went on it alone. I think she was worried about all the steps inside – this was definitely one where it would have been handy for Nathan or I to have been able to go on with her and encourage her up the stairs. Roo was not enthused about that task so was a bit relieved when she decided not to go on, I think.

By this point, it was past 1pm and definitely time for lunch. The croissants we’d had in the car were not fulfilling the same role as a Harvester breakfast buffet does on our Legoland trips. I’d packed some sandwiches but was going with the flow a bit so happy to buy Reuben a hotdog when he asked for one. Slightly less happy to wait ten minutes for the hotdog but I used to be in the hotdog hawking trade and I know that those little snaggers can take their time, so I wasn’t judging. We also got a bucket of candyfloss for Eva that was bigger than her head (not *for* lunch, I should probably point out), a coffee for Nathan, a Coke for me and some chicken fillet bits to pep up the sandwiches I’d brought with us. So I’m probably wrong to blame the hotdog anyway.

There wasn’t a huge amount of seating but we managed to find a bench near the Helter Skelter and the West entrance to the park. It had a view of a truck and spiky plants invading our personal space but it was good to sit down.

I balanced my Coke in the plant pot and we were all set up. In a remarkable feat of comedy timing, it was just when I’d taken a messy bite of chicken fillet-enhanced sandwich that we were spotted by someone Eva absolutely idolises. I kinda waved hello while trying to wipe off the chicken grease but I’m not sure what kind of impression we made back, half buried in plant life. Ah well… I later found out that there were picnic tables up a flight of steps that Nathan had failed to notice when he and Eva were scouting rides up there but I bet they would have been all full at lunchtime anyway. Our bench a la spiky plant did us just fine and was very convenient for the toilets.

After lunch, the hunt was back on for a ride Eva might like. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that Eva had one been on one ride so far on her grand birthday day out. So we split up and Nathan took Reuben off in search of thrills while I took Eva to the tamer seas of the Jumping Jolly Rogers. Not to be confused with the terrifying Jolly Rocker at Legoland, this was a very mildly exciting ride with the same velocity and altitude as a drive along Wadham Road. An enthusiastic staff member shouted piratey things at them and Eva seemed to be finally having a good time.

 

The next thing she wanted to go on was the Go-karts. Now, this is where things get confusing because their wristbands covered the majority of the rides but the Go-karts and the dodgems were both added extras. I was happy to pay a few quid for the karts if that’s what her tiny heart desired but hoped Reuben would go on with her. He did not want to and, as it turned out, wasn’t tall enough to drive anyway. Besides, he was off with Nathan at this point queueing for the Green Scream (his verdict: “terrifying”).

So I paid the £4 for me and Eva to go in a Go-kart together and had to leave all my bags on the side as I squeezed in in a somewhat ungainly fashion. I definitely understand now how I buggered up my knee getting into that boat at Legoland. Once we were in and seatbelted, there was a bit of a wait while the single-person karts did their race and the juddering and petrol fumes were making me feel a bit nauseous. But then we were given the green light and I tried to move forward. You have to turn the wheel as well as push the accelerator apparently. And try not to get stuck on your way out of the lane. Once we were on the track, I found my groove but didn’t fancy doing any of that aggressive overtaking stuff. I mean, I didn’t even have wing mirrors to check before manoeuvring! So Eva and I stayed in the left hand lane, going daringly fast on the straights but easing up on the corners. Despite the repeated mantra of “Use yer brakes! Use yer brakes!” I never found that I had to…I just took my foot off the gas a bit. Thinking about it now, that probably means I wasn’t going very fast.

Ah well, Eva enjoyed it. And Nathan and Roo magically appeared at the side of the track to cheer us on even though we were never going to be anything but last.

Seeing as big brother was back on the scene, I thought he could make himself useful and take Eva on the Pharoah’s Fury – a ride she’d noticed before but not been brave enough to go on alone. His head was still spinning from the heights of the Green Scream I think but he agreed because this one more or less stayed on the ground.  Eva later said that this one was her favourite ride, even though the forces made her squash Roo into the corner. Glad we read the bit about the bigger person sitting on the outside.

By this point, we were all ready for another break. So we climbed to the upper levels of the park, where everything was a bit calmer and shared a large bag of crisps together. This is when I found out there were picnic benches up there but even at 3PM they were all full, so I imagine they would have been overrun at lunchtime. We sat on the floor and breathed in some restorative sea air while formulating the next part of the plan. Eva hadn’t really spent much time in the Eastern side of the park and Reuben wanted to go on the giant turtle chair ride thing. So we headed that way and he did that, while Eva enjoyed more gentle thrills on the Viking ride:

And got one of those supremo hot chocolate things (plus more coffee for me and Nathan and a Coke for Roo):

The end was drawing nigh, even with the caffeine boost. The rain had held off all day but the skies were menacing and we were verging into “pushing our luck” territory. So we split up one last time, with me taking Reuben to do the Sk8terBoi again while Eva went on the ChooChooVille train and disappointed herself on the Hook-A-Duck. Then they went on the Jolly Roger boats together again and it was definitely time to leave.

It was coming up to 5PM when we passed the remarkably louche giant and went out through the West gate. Chips were definitely on the agenda and there were many, many outlets that would sell us those on our walk back to the car. We still had half an hour left on the parking and it would have made sense to grab some as we went past but in my brain was a half-remembered conversation with my boss, who is an Essex native. He’d said there was a much nicer beach called Thorpe Bay a mile or two down the coast and my romantic notions of how a day at the seaside should end latched onto this idea. I was sure he’d said there were chips there so we could just hop in the car, park up at the nice beach and buy some chips for dinner. Given we’d technically been at the seaside all day, I had seen very little of the sea and thought it was time to remedy that.

As you might have guessed, this is where it all gets a bit farcical, in true LWAT tradition. I definitely should have ignored any romantic notions and just bought the chips on Southend seafront. For one, the wind was getting stronger all the time and the chances of actually being able to eat on the beach accordingly reduced. For two, there were no chip shops at Thorpe Bay and you had to pay to park there. So we kept on driving. My phone was running out of battery but I had “chip shops near me” as a Google Maps option open already and directed Nathan to a place called Nessy’s, a little way inland. Again, parking was tricky as it was on a busy main road and the bays were on the wrong side of the road…..so we ended up round the back of a housing estate, which wasn’t quite the picturesque dining scene I’d envisaged. I mean, we’d eaten lunch in front of a truck so was it too much to ask for something a bit more scenic for dinner? And maybe just a little less broken-glassy?

We left the car on the estate, walked a few minutes back to Nessy’s and ordered our chips, battered sausages and burgers. Because of Covid regulations, we had to wait outside while it cooked and even I was prepared to admit it was getting a bit chilly. Eva huddled inside my coat while we sang her current favourite song – “Roar” to ward away the cold. Reuben leapt about to keep warm, inevitably jumping straight *into* something and Nathan was stoic but, as someone who hadn’t packed a coat, very, very cold.

I got it. There was no buy-in for al fresco dining. I compromised and agreed to eat in the car as long as we were somewhere near the sea. So we set off again and, with one false start, managed to park up on the main road going past Thorpe Bay. We had turned right into the parking spot, which meant we were facing away from the sea and it wasn’t yet 6PM which meant I needed to use the app again, with the last gasps of my phone battery, to buy another hour of parking.

But I got my chips at the seaside, even if we were in a car facing away from the sea with a gale-force wind blowing the door shut if I even tried to open it to – for example  – go to the bin. I don’t often share close-ups of my face on this blog but I think this illustrates how windy it was:

But hey look – seaside! Well, Estuary-side! And the chips were good so it all worked out well.

And then it was most definitely time to drive home. In fact, it was probably about an hour later than we should have driven home given the wind was pushing our little car all over the M25. But everyone agreed it was a fine day out. If any of this makes you want to do the same, you can find out more info here.

 

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Hampstead Heath – 24/04/21

It’s been a while since we’ve climbed Parliament Hill. The last time was around the genesis of this blog so it was well overdue a revisit. Plus, with all the months we’ve spent mooching around our own house, an adventure was also well overdue.

And what an adventure it was! We had driven to church in Canonbury so the first adventure was driving over to Hampstead, a journey Google Maps suggested would be very straightforward:

Yet, when we actually got into the car AngelGoogle turned into AngelusGoogle and took us through a fiendish maze of tiny streets in the outer reaches of Islington.

Some of those streets were terribly pretty and lined with blossom-y trees but it was a bit hard to appreciate them when we were never pointing in the same direction for more than two minutes.

But we saw some interesting sights along the way, including Pentonville Prison. And at one point, we pulled up just behind this prankster:

Which had the kids both fooled and freaked out. Eventually we came out somewhere I recognised – a piece of pavement outside Kentish Town tube that I had definitely sung on at some point. But that meant I knew how to get to Hampstead Heath from there and I knew it wasn’t far, so that was good. A few minutes later, we were parking up on one of the residential streets near Gospel Oak station (no restrictions on Sunday) and wandered down to meet the rest of our party, a full 20 minutes early.

What to do with that spare time? Oh, if only a neon sign would give us an indication of what we should do…

So Nathan went to get us coffees and mango juice for the kids and shortly afterward, we met a delightful cockapoo who was desperate for someone to scruffle his head and call him a Good Boy. I apologise now if he was actually a Good Girl – we didn’t get into too much conversation with the owner past “can we scruffle your dog?”. And we did. In fact, there were many dogs wandering by on their way to the Heath, which kept the kids entertained.

But soon enough, our friends turned up and we followed the stream of dogs past the Mutt Hut and onto the vast expanse of green. It was Bunny’s birthday celebration and she wanted to picnic on the very top of the hill, so that’s where we aimed for. I said something foolish about how it didn’t feel as steep without a scooter and a toddler like last time…but that was before we hit the near-vertical part of the ascent. I may channel Fraulein Maria in several ways but not in the running up mountains stakes.

Still, you can’t beat the view from there:

And happily, we stopped right by a bench dedicated to Jim Henson who has indeed brought much joy to my life over the years:

It was both sunny and windy up there. The clouds to the East looked like a heavily redacted document but overhead there was nothing but blue skies, as Bing would say (Crosby, not the CBeebies bunny). Last time, we’d brought a kite and there was no wind to fly it. This time, it was as if Nathan was trying to fly a picnic blanket:

We ate our picnic and when the kids got restless, they decided to go into the woods and build a den with the den-making kit Bunny’s parents had procured at the Jumble Trail the day before. That kept them occupied for hours and us grown ups sat atop our hill, lazing in the sunshine and wondering what kind of trouble the kids were getting themselves into.

Some trouble, as it happens…but slightly unfairly. Reuben popped back out of the woods to tell us that some people in a uniform had ordered them to dismantle the den because, and I quote, “people might set fire to it”. Presumably that applies to any bit of wood in the Hampstead Heath area and it must be a losing battle attempting to stop any child ever arranging any of them, but we complied and took the (very fine) den down before we left. Wouldn’t want to put temptation in the way of the local arsonists. I don’t blame the uniformed people for enforcing the rule but I have to admit, I don’t *quite* understand it.

It’s has, however, led me to look up the set of Hampstead Heath Byelaws and there are some really quite specific rules in there that I wasn’t aware of, including prohibitions on sorting bones and mending chairs on the Heath. I think I broke one of the byelaws unknowingly by humming a few bars of the “Rentaghost” theme tune. You’d think that I, of all people, would be fully conversant with the laws around singing wouldn’t you?

The drive home also looked straightforward on Google, but we’ve been down this metaphorical road before haven’t we? And, thanks to a “Road Closed Ahead” sign on Highgate Hill, we went down – or up- many non-metaphorical roads. Although we turned off the road called “Hill”, I was pretty confident that we’d encounter the terrifying gradients of Highgate sooner or later and so we did, going past some beautiful 1930s blocks of flats and the imposing entrance to Highgate Cemetery. Luckily, the road became one-way at some point as I’m not sure what we would have done if anything had come down the other way.

There was more 1930s loveliness as we passed by Bounds Green tube, just before turning onto the North Circular:

On the way we’d seen more glimpses of memory places, from the unsettling (old bosses, old offices) to the undefined (something to do with a telly and Muswell Hill and some Brazilians). But it was lovely to bust out of our LBWF bubble for a day and breathe the rarefied air of posh North London. We noticed on the way out that there was an adventure playground reopening in May this year so Roo made me promise we’d go back. Mind you, I said on the last post that we’d be be back to check out the playground and that’s taken us almost a decade. Ah well….

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Jurassic Falls Adventure Golf – 16/04/21

We’re still in Easter holidays here, for another few days at least. And today, Nathan and I were both off work so I decided we would have a Fun Family Day Out that I could blog about. There wasn’t huge amounts of enthusiasm for that, so we ended up with a Fun Family 90 Minutes Out that I could blog about. I know, I spoil you all.

Going far away was one of many things that was failing to raise any kind of enthusiasm. I think we’ve all got a touch of Stockholm Syndrome from being cooped up for so long. So we decided to go somewhere that was only the slightest toe-length outside Highams Park. We’d driven past the dinosaurs a million times on the North Circular and always said that it would be good to actually visit one day. Today was that day. It was so close by that it was barely worth driving but the location didn’t seem particularly pedestrian-friendly and I wasn’t sure exactly how we would get there on foot without having to either cross the North Circular or walk alongside it at some point. So, a 5 minute drive it was. Accompanied by a slightly hairy sharp left turn off aforementioned circular when we didn’t really have the opportunity to slow down before taking the corner. It’s set up to drive to but the driving is every so slightly scary. There’s a decent sized car park though.

Obviously, with These Times you need to book ahead for everything and I’d definitely advise booking ahead for golf as I think they were sold out of slots. It certainly seemed busy-ish. We had a 10:30 slot, showed our barcode to the friendly guy at the entrance and he gave us our clubs. Then we had to mask up to walk through a small indoor bit, where we got a pencil and score card and a ball each. The kids had shades of purple – Eva’s matched her rucksack, which was quite pleasing – and Nathan and I had shades of green. It was all very efficient and we took our masks back off as soon as we were through the building. They’re currently only allowing players to go round in household groups and the natural pattern of one group per hole made it easy to distance.

The less easy bit was striking a balance between actually playing the game and keeping the kids from melting down. I issued a decree that we wouldn’t be too strict about the rules and it didn’t matter if I shuffled Eva’s ball a tad closer to the hole on occasion. The main aim was to all still be speaking to each other by the 18th hole, which we were pretty much were. I also told the kids that the winner wasn’t allowed to brag too much so it took the competitive edge off a bit. Dagnam, I just wanted to give us the best possible chance of actually having a nice time.

It was pretty hard not to brag though, when I got the first three holes in 2 shots each. I’m normally terrible at crazy golf so I have no idea how that happened. I assumed Nathan was going to win (spoiler – he did, but only by a couple of points) and that the rest of us would all throw our clubs down and storm off crying at some point due to our genetic lack of co-ordination. But no, it went surprisingly well. There was one hole that took me 10 shots and there were a few where Eva got stressed so we either let her start again or just plain cheated to help her….but most holes we managed to do in a fairly efficient way. We did let the group behind us overtake around Hole 9 because they were even more efficient than we were…but that was shortly after one of those stressy holes and Eva needed a biscuit and a minute to breathe anyway.

It’s a very compact course but well laid out so you never have to cross anyone else’s path unless they’re overtaking. The dinosaurs are largely incidental but Reuben would have loved it when he was 4 and in his dino phase. I kinda miss that phase.

You never forget that you are right next to the North Circular. It’s a bit noisy and I can’t help wondering whether anyone has ever managed to chip a ball right over the fence and into a passing windscreen. Hopefully not.

There’s also no coffee, which is fine cause we brought our own but definitely something for tired parents to be aware of. The indoor bit has a refreshment stand with slushies and other cold drinks plus a few packets of sweets but no hot drinks as far as I could see. There’s a Turkish restaurant next door which would be a nice lunch stop in more normal times. Turkish food is one thing that Eva actually eats so that might just work for us.

Carrying coffee cups, clubs and scorecards round can be a little cumbersome especially when we also had to carry Eva’s cuddly corgi “Summer”. It was Summer’s birthday, you see, so she had to come with us. Luckily the course was dog friendly:

There are a few tricky parts of the course, especially the last hole where your ball is liable to fall into the disturbingly neon-green stream half way through the hole:

Reuben’s ball went in there first time so we had to fish it out and somehow it then ended up in a different neon-green stream. So we advised Reuben to hit the ball a little harder next time, at which point he hit it so hard that it went off the end of Hole 18, over Hole 1 and almost through the fence into the car park. It’s all about balance.

Talking of Reuben tho, here’s his victory stance after getting a hole in one:

It’s a bit Breakfast Club, isn’t it? I’m sure Nathan would want me to tell you that he got a couple of holes in one too so there you go, I told you. I never did get a hole in one but I got quite a few twos and threes, which I was pretty pleased with.

Eva, meanwhile, would like me to tell you that she got a slushie that was half orange and half lime. Here it is:

The tricky bits on the course were nothing compared to the trickiness of the drive home. A hard left off the North Circular is a challenge but a hard left back onto it even more so. Credit to Nathan that he made it with only a small amount of tyre screech. But then having to deal with the “part time traffic lights” roundabout straight afterwards might be an ask too far. Maybe we should just walk next time…

 

 

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Valentine’s Park – 07/04/21

The adventuring continues! We’ve left the borough again today, after Sunday’s jaunt to Islington. I know, this is WILD after so many months stuck in LBWF. Today was a trip on the 123 bus with some friendly friends and a very friendly dog to the magical land of Redbridge.

I’ll admit, I might have thought we’d made a mistake when we went past this shop on the way:

I know Ilford is to the East of HP but I didn’t realise we’d strayed so far east that we were on the other side of Europe. And yes, let’s not dwell too much on what a “Taste of Dracula” might be.

But Valentine’s Park was barely sinister at all. It was as pleasant as it had been last time we visited, when I think I’d been surprised by just how pleasant Ilford could be. What it was though, was extremely cold. Ongoing Covid restrictions mean that pretty much everything has to happen outdoors at the moment, which is fine when the temperature is in the late teens, as it was on Sunday. Today, my phone reckoned it was -1C and, although I don’t quite believe it, it certainly was the kind of day where I should have reminded the kids to take gloves with them. Despite the prescence of a palm tree, this was no tropical island.

They did attempt to play on the the equipment for a bit but quickly got fed up with having cold hands and not being able to grip on to the climbing frame because their fingers had gone numb. Bear in mind, they’ve barely left the house this winter so it was all a bit of a culture shock.

Luckily it was 10:30 by this point and that’s when the cafe opened. A chance to queue inside for a few minutes defrosted them a tad and a round of coffees and hot chocolates gave them enough inner warmth to play a little more. First on the outdoor gym and then on a giant swing just by the stream.

It’s not immediately obvious that there’s a stream there but trust me, there is. We’ll get to that.

The restorative powers of hot chocolate and an oreo muffin only lasted a limited amount of time and before long, we were being pestered for more food. By 11:30, we gave in and called it lunchtime. The cafe provided us with many portions of chips and we put our picnic blanket down behind a little hut that acted as a bit of windbreak, keeping us warm enough to be able to eat the chips and have a bit more time playing on the giant swing by the stream before leaving for home.

Ah yes, that stream. I said we’d come back to it. Given that the theme of the morning was children complaining about being cold, what would be the ideal mitigation against further coldness? Well, I’ll tell you for nowt that sodden feet as a result of standing in the stream is not the mitigation you’re looking for, Eva.

It was definitely time to head home. On the way out, we encountered what Reuben referred to as “the army of pigeons” which, naturally, the boys and dog wanted to run through and scatter. It was only after they did so that I noticed several people sitting in cars, clutching loaves of bread and giving us most disapproving looks. Apparently Valentine’s Park has a strong contigent of pigeon fans. Best to keep them away from boys and dogs…

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Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! We celebrated not only the Resurrection yesterday but also the easing of the Covid restrictions and some sunshine. Triple whammy! What it meant in practice was wandering around Islington after church a few hours and then wandering around Islington in a slightly more structured way for another hour or so, to complete the Easter Trail.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of those wandering-around kinda days so I thought I’d share a few pictures with you. Last time I mentioned Astey’s Row playground, it was under renovation and had some multi-coloured boulders whose purpose was very much tbd. Now, two years on, we’ve finally revisited and I can confirm that it’s some complicated climbing thing:

As you can see from the photos, it was quite gloriously sunny for April so we had the first family ice creams of the year from a tiny shop called Romulus Wines Merchant.

We also walked along large stretches of the New River, which was as stagnant as ever, but the pathway is quite pretty and there were loads of Good Dogs to say hello to:

And we hung out for a long time in Nightingale Park, eating our sandwiches on the concrete sun loungers and enjoying the sun:

Lastly, Eva spotted a series of trees on Arran Walk that she said looked like all four seasons in a row. She has a poetic turn of phrase but I can see her logic. Here’s summer:

Winter and Spring:

And Spring and Autumn:

(Not to be confused with Eva’s dogs of the same names)

By our usual standards, it wouldn’t have been much to blog about. But after a long winter of not really leaving Highams Park, it was so exciting to be somewhere else and on a sunshiney day as well! Bring on many more of these….!

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Let’s Talk About Women’s Health – IWD 2021

 

Last Sunday, I virtually met with a group of Highams Park women (and one man) to mark International Women’s Day, for the fourth year running. This year was a bit of a different format to the previous IRL gatherings but still, some powerful conversations were had and we all went away with a lot to think about.

The conversation has moved on a bit this week, for obvious and horrific reasons. I’m not going to write about male violence today – other women are doing that so much more powerfully than I could – but it is, of course, on my mind like it is on so many women’s minds today.

What I wanted to write about is what’s been lurking at the back of my mind ever since that conversation on Sunday and happily, there is some small action we can take on it. I’ll come to that. The conversation was about how women’s health issues are misunderstood and minimised and just a few days after IWD, I found a prime example. Research led by the University of Birmingham has found that PCOS signficantly increases the risk of contracting Covid. Significantly! This is a condition that affects 10% of all women and a disease that is currently affecting the entire world and it hasn’t even made the papers. I found it because I went looking for it but the only sources I found were medical journals, not the mainstream media. Women’s health is just not headline-making news.

When I shared this on Facebook, the responses all told a similar story to what I’d heard on IWD – that our health issues aren’t taken seriously by doctors and women are made to feel like they’re being hysterical or over-emotional about their physical issues. Which is pretty circular and annoying when you think about it – the same hormones that give us these physical issues also give us extremes of emotion. Yet we’re not allowed to get emotional about it all?

Screw that! We deal with so much, compared to men, and we deal with a lot of it on a monthly basis. Ovulation pain, period pain, mood swings, pelvic floor problems from pregnancy and birth, issues to do with pregnancy and birth themselves, female cancers that don’t get picked up till too late. The whole gamut of symptoms that we are told are “normal”. It’s normal to be in pain every month. It’s normal to feel dizzy every month. It’s normal to struggle with breastfeeding or struggle to get pregnant. It’s supposed to be reassuring but it’s not. It’s patronising and minimising. We want our pain dealt with, our cancers diagnosed and our fertility issues addressed. What Would Men Do?

I said there was a positive to all of this and there is – the government launched a public facing survey on this exact issue to mark IWD. We have a chance to feed back all these injustices and, even if no action is taken on the back of this, at least our voices can be heard. All the context is here and the actual survey is here. It’s only open for 12 weeks, which sounds like ages but it’s probably best to get it done while we’re still thinking about it and before the next thing comes to knock us off course. Let’s take the chance to do something and have our say. It might be painful and emotional to fill out but I’d urge you to do it if you can. This needs to change. Let’s be heard!

 

 

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Back to Back to School

 

Congrats, fellow parents. It seems like we’ve almost done it again. Primary aged kids go back tomorrow and secondary kids follow at their own, test-lined pace. After the 6 month school-hiatus of 2020, we’re all used to understating what we’ve achieved but consider this – this latest break from school has been double the length of the summer holidays but with no holiday clubs, no trips to the grandparents’, no playdates, no cinema, no McDonald’s, no soft play and, for our primary-aged ones, not even an option to legally meet up with another child in the park.

It’s insane, that’s what it is. Pre-2020 it would have been unprecedented. And all at no notice at all. When we got our kids home from school on 14th Dec then were told not to send them in on the 15th, then were supposed to send them back on the 16th but didn’t…we had no idea how long this next stretch would be. And that was just Eva. Roo had already been home for a week at that point. So in many ways, we were as ill-prepared as we were the first time round but this time there seemed to be an expectation that kids would actually do some work rather than just playing Fortnite all day.

We got into the groove in the end. We might have been ill-prepared but schools weren’t and the routine of live lessons and recorded ones began to give the kids’ days a soothing familiarity. Which is just as well because these 12 weeks landed neatly between the Go-lives of two phases of a project I’ve been working on so the idea of being able to take some time off work to homeschool full-time was a bit ludicrous. Don’t get me wrong  – I know we’re incredibly lucky to have jobs that we can do from home and I know our 12 weeks has been nowhere near as stressful as it has been for keyworkers who’ve still had to go to work every day. And our kids have been lucky, compared to the keyworker kids who have had to deal with the surreal challenges of virtualschool-in-actualschool.

Still tho, it’s been a bit hardgoing. And it’ll be nice to think that someone else will briefly be reponsible for one or both of them at some points during this week.  Let’s just hope they’re back for good this time…

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Oh Yes You Are, Captain

You probably don’t need me to tell you that Christopher Plummer, who played Captain Von Trapp, has died at the age of 91. If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you probably don’t need me to tell you what an obsessive Sound of Music fan I am. I know he played other parts. In fact, we watched “Knives Out” just after Christmas. But for us obsessives, there is only one defining role.

And that’s why I’m choosing to celebrate his long life with ten moments from just one film. Captain Von Trapp, here are your best bits:

1. Dressed Up Putdowns

I mean, here is a man who looks doch schön in a dress uniform and has the medals to show off with. And although I love his “rather warm” Laendler with Maria in this outfit, my absolute favourite bit of this scene has to be the stinging putdown he delivers to Herr Zeller, soon to be the Gauleiter of the geAnschlusst Österreich:

Herr Zeller: Perhaps those who would warn you that the Anschluss is coming – and it is coming, Captain – perhaps they would get further with you by setting their words to music.

Captain von Trapp: If the Nazis take over Austria, I have no doubt, Herr Zeller, that you will be the entire trumpet section.

Herr Zeller: You flatter me, Captain.

Captain von Trapp: Oh, how clumsy of me – I meant to accuse you.

How clumsy indeed…!

2. Oh Yes You Are, Captain

I nearly used this whole quote as my blog post header but thought anyone who didn’t know the script off by heart might consider it ridiculously insensitive. Still, here’s the context – Georg and Maria are having a blazing row about the children running around Salzburg in their playclothes. And Georg momentarily loses his cool:

Captain von Trapp: I don’t care to hear anything further from you about my children.

Maria: I am not finished yet, Captain!

Captain von Trapp: Oh, yes, you are, Captain!

[pauses, then corrects himself]

Captain von Trapp: Fraulein!

 

3. A Deplorable Lack of Curiousity

Whereas in this scene, he retains his cool throughout…even in the face of mortal danger and the malice of Herr Zeller, who is definitely up for Round Zwei of that trumpet section argument.

Herr Zeller: I’ve not asked you where you and your family are going. Nor have you asked me why I am here.

Captain von Trapp: Well, apparently, we’re both suffering from a deplorable lack of curiosity.

You’d be surprised how often I use the phrase “deplorable lack of curiosity”. Actually, you won’t be.

 

4. Boots and Guitars – My Favourite Things

Now, if you know me even a little you might know that boots and guitars are indeed among my favourite things. And here is CvT modelling both in one scene! Why don’t men wear riding boots any more? I mean, I’m sure Nathan would if they were readily available. He very nearly bought a Captain Von Trapp style jacket when we were in Salzburg. And talking of that trip to Salzburg, I am so pleased that I got to sing Edelweiss..not on the same stage as Georg did but on the stage next door. I don’t know if we’ll ever leave the country/city/borough/house again but, if we do, Salzburg is on our list of places to go back to.

I also love the look on Georg’s face through the whole festival sequence. He wasn’t meant to be part of the singing group, he didn’t attend rehearsals…and you can really tell. Unlike Maria who, naturally, pulls off a festival-winning performance with no warning at all.

5. I Fell in Love With You the First Time You Blew That Silly Whistle

The first scene between the Captain and Maria is just jam-packed with great lines, from the moment he catches her curtsying to herself to the moment he blows that silly whistle for the first time. Most of the zingers in it belong to Maria (“The poor didn’t want this one”) but this whole exchange is just classic:

Captain von Trapp: Now, when I want you, this is what you will hear.

[blows whistle]

Maria: Oh, no, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I could never answer to a whistle. Whistles are for dogs and cats and other animals, but not for children and definitely not for me. It would be too… humiliating.

Captain von Trapp: Fraulein, were you this much trouble at the Abbey?

Maria: Oh, much more, sir.

Captain von Trapp: Hmm.

[starts walking away. Maria blows her whistle & he turns around]

Maria: Excuse me, sir. I don’t know your signal

Captain von Trapp:  You may call me Captain.

6. Who Should We Hear From Next?

So yeah, Christopher Plummer didn’t record his own vocals. So yeah, Christopher Plummer fancied the pants off the person playing his daughter. Neither of these things detract from the magic of this scene. Only one thing could have truly ruined this song and that would be if the Baroness had indeed brought along her harmonica.

7. You’re Just a Boy, Rolf

 

Nothing emphasises what a man CvT is more than the contrast with Rolf who is, as we all know, just a boy. He steps in front of the gun, allowing his wife and children to run to safety and disarms his with a set of skills that Liam Neeson would be proud of. If only he hadn’t pushed it that tiny bit too far…

 

8. To Join Them, Unthinkable

Why was he standing in front of that gun? Because he was an anti-Nazi. Not just a get-along-with-everybody Uncle Max type but a proper 30s antifa. And while it should go without saying that most people are naturally anti-Nazi…well, after all the far-right antics of the last few years, it’s not so much of a given any more. But CvT rips up a Swastika flag. there is no ambiguity about the politics of this guy.

 

9. Dinner Time is Not to Be Disturbed

Now that he’s retired from Sea Captaincy, I have no idea what Georg gets up to all day in that big house. No wonder he needs Max to move in and entertain him. And equally little wonder that  dinnertime is so important to him. It isn’t like there’s much else in the Von Trapp Schedule. Dinner gets two prime CvT moments, which showcase both sides of his parenting style. The “wonderful new world of… indigestion” scene near the beginning is the more Trad Trapp, trying to reign in the madness Maria has brought to his well ordered table. But by the time the second scene comes round, he’s relaxed a bit. He’s got a plan to offload all these kids onto their new mother and she’s got a plan to offload them all onto boarding school. So he figures it’s time to mess with them a bit. Like any parent, he can instantly see through all that Stiershizz they’re giving him about blueberries and he lets them spin themselves into a merry web before instructing Cook to cancel their dinner. And then walks off, smirking to himself.

So relatable

10. You Brought Music Back Into the House

Oh gosh, I’m not sure I can even write about this bit. I have a rule that when emotionally stunted men get emotional, so do I. Giles, Toby Ziegler, Dr Cox…and, of course, Captain Von Trapp. I cry every single time I watch this. I’m crying just looking at that photo. Don’t get hung up on the logistics of quite how a 5-year-old can get changed that quickly and just enjoy the sight of a man’s cold heart visibly melting. Waaaahhhhh

 

Thank you Christopher Plummer for one iconic performance. I know you hated it at the time and drank your way through it but even you softened to it in your later years.

So long, farewell, goodbye, Auf Wiedersehen. I’ll like to stay and taste my first champagne. Yes?

 

…..yes?

 

 

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The Creativity Curve

In August last year, I made a spreadsheet and it produced the graph you see before you. I was trying to express in some kind of numerical way how my creativity had slumped during the long months of Spring 2020. I don’t remember the logic I used to arrive at the numbers or even what I was trying to say through this graph. One thing is for sure though – August 2020 Kate had nothing to complain about. Sure, I was tired and the kids had been off school for ages but the infection rates were super low and the option of a couple of days at the seaside or a trip to Legoland were within our grasp.

January 2021 Kate has plenty to complain about…and among those complaints would be a continued downward curve on that creativity graph. Like many people, I had a spurt of creative energy in March 2020 – moving choir and worship online required a bit of creative thinking and that in turn inspired other projects. In Lockdown#1, I was posting a parody song on YouTube every week right up to the 100 day point, when I filmed an epic song and dance routine and then got thrown off course when someone said something mean about it on social media.

Whether that was the trigger for the creative plunge in June, I’m not quite sure. But lockdown lethargy set in and, over the summer, my creative brain shut up shop. I’m not convinced it’s ever woken up again. Lockdown#3 certainly hasn’t seen us recreating entire Perform shows in our lounge or throwing elaborate Dr Who parties for the four of us. There’s been a lot of TV watching, eating and bickering. The kids and I baked this afternoon but that’s the first mildly wholesome thing we’ve done in weeks.

So, what to do about this creative slump? I’ve cut down on my committments this terms and reminded a few people of my limitations, exacerbated by the current lack of mental energy. If you’re feeling similar, I’d recommend doing the same – hunkering down and managing your own expectations of what you can achieve in times like this. Spring is coming and the sunshine may well help us all to find a little bit of inspiration again after such a long and dreary winter. Although vaccinations are being rolled out, this is still a long haul and we need to pace ourselves. We can’t keep up a constant flow of Insta-friendly family pictures for a year without the normal mood boosters of company and activity. If your surroundings aren’t inspiring you, it’s OK to not be inspired for a while.

Or you can be like Nathan and master a whole new hobby this month, leading to an outstandingly prolific level of output. But let’s not compare…

 

 

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Why the Masked Singer is the Best Thing You can Watch Right Now

Still January you say? And a particularly cold and rainy Saturday in Lockdown #3000? Lucky we have something to look forward to tonight. Yes, the LWAT Family have fallen hard for the Masked Singer, with the possible exception of the moody preteen who considers himself above all this ridiculousness. Because it is ridiculous. But that’s what makes it great.

I’ve always found it hard to get into TV singing shows because they’re mainly quite dull – once the no-hopers are eliminated early doors, it’s just week after week of earnest young things finding extra notes to put into songs you don’t really care about. And they’re also savage – as the actual singing is so dull, the entertainment comes from how mean the judges can be and how they can destroy someone’s dreams with a carefully-placed “meh”. It’s a bit close to home and deeply uncomfortable to watch.

Whereas, the Masked Singer has no malice in it whatsoever. There is a variety of competence levels on show – tho this season, the vast majority seem to be pretty good at the singing bit – but the judges lavish out praise and hold back on the abuse. The singing competition is a mere sideline in the whole glorious guessing game. And the contestants are already successful in their careers, so the stakes are anything but high.

Instead, the heated competition is betwen the four judges on one side and us at home on the other. Can we figure out who that giant purple blob is before they do? What did those words on the school desk mean? Why does Viking pronounce his name with the emphasis on the last syllable? What does any of it mean?

***From hereoin, spoilers for Season 1 are contained. I assume this won’t affect your life in any significant way***

To start with, I was sceptical about the whole show because I assumed it would be the usual tedious reality TV stars that always turn up on these things – your Big Brother and Gogglebox wannabes who are so desperate to keep their faces on TV that they’ll put a giant duck suit right over those faces. But then I saw on Facebook that Justin Hawkins of Darkness had been unveiled as Chameleon and suddenly my interest was caught. It would turn out that three of the singers would be from the indie/alternative world. That giant duck? Skin from Skunk Anansie. Skin! The angriest woman of the 90s! (And that’s a tough title, given how many angry women there were in the 90s) The angriest woman of the 90s singing opera in the giant duck suit! How is that not first class telly?

And the rest of the ‘slebs were no mere wannabes either. My kids hadn’t heard of most of them but they knew Ce Lo Green alright from Teen Titans Go! and they were suitably impressed that he would take time out of his schedule to bumble around in a monster costume for a few weeks.

Which is why we got straight into the second series. It gives me and Eva something to talk about in a month that is depressingly free of any kind of excitement. We can research together and rewatch the clues videos and scour the internet for fan theories.

Yes, I know it’s all a load of superficial pap but so is Bridgerton and I’m enjoying that too (NOT with Eva tho!) A bit of escapism is exactly what we need in this grey, cold month when the world outside is a dangerous and scary place. If you can overcome your scepticism and give it a go, you might just find yourself agreeing with me…

Disclaimer: Not a sponsored post. We’re just fans 😉

 

 

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