The Idol, Barking – 17/04/15

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What “keywords” do you look for in the description of a soft play? “Spacious”? “Natural Light”? “Coffee on tap”? How about “sinister”? That was the description of The Idol soft play in Barking, by its Turner-nominated designer Marvin Gaye Chetwynd.  To put it in context, she called the play area “a bit more bling and glam than usual, and a bit sinister, too”. So only a bit sinister. That’s alright then. If the juxtaposition of soft play and gothic blackness wasn’t enough for you to get your head round, there’s that slightly random location. Barking, centre of high art? Who’d have thought it? But my Barking mole, who accompanied us on this trip, tells me that there’s quite a blossoming art scene developing around there, and there’s certainly a bit of renovation in the town centre. Have a look at the new police station:

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And part of the redevelopment is the £14m new leisure centre, the Abbey Leisure Centre, which is where The Idol resides. bk2

 

You can’t really tell once you’re inside, but the structure is in the shape of a giant cyborg, based on the Dagenham Idol, who’s a prehistoric wooden statue. Confused? You will be. It’s art. But it’s also a fully functioning soft play, albeit one in striking shades of black, white and grey rather than the usual primary colours. Bunny’sMummy had had the foresight to dress in matching monochrome, something I nearly did myself (but my black and white stripy top was in the wash). We would have looked totally cool if we’d been matching. She even had a monchrome coffee, to demonstrate her commitment to the theme.

I also tried to dress Eva in black and white but she resisted. I think the resulting outfit was respectably artistic though:

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Ignore the socks. And let’s not even mention Reuben, whose neon yellow t-shirt totally clashed. But so did all the other kids. In fact the presence of multi-coloured-dressed children romping around it did rather detract from the Tim Burton look of the whole thing. The soundtrack – Eminem and Mylo – did its best to install a menacing vibe but it’s never going to be quite as artistic with small people all over it. The bright pink and orange signs with the Idol characters on them also didn’t quite go. But then, I don’t understand art. I really don’t

Essentials then – it’s about a fiver to get in and you’re given 2 hours’ play. There’s a cafe, which is not unreasonably priced and a selection of kids’ box meals, which come super-hot (beware!). There are some adult options too, but not loads of sandwich choice when we went. There’s space to park buggies but nowhere to put shoes (this is fast becoming a pet peeve of mine). And it’s black, Very, very black. You might imagine the Velvet Underground and Nico hanging out in the on these black steps:

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…or you may just be reminded of that Batman line from “The Lego Movie” about only working in black, or very dark grey.  But there’s a splash of light too, in the pure whiteness of the ballpool. I can’t be the only one wondering how long those balls will stay white with ketchuppy toddlers about. They also had one of the ball-hovering things that the kids love so much:

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In the centre of the frame, there’s a huge drop slide, made all the more terrifying for the way it plunges you into black oblivion. The step up to it is sealed off unless there’s a staff member there, as I think it’s for over 6s only. Roo probably could have got onto it but he was a bit scared, as was I.

It’s pretty fun and it wasn’t too busy when we went. There did seem to only be one or two staff members doing everything between them (admission, taking food orders, cooking, serving!) so it could probably do with a bit more managing. But it’s definitely a valuable addition to Barking. And we found a street piano on the way home, which is always a bonus:

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And more monochrome:

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Seems that Barking is getting ever more stylish. Just make sure you dress to match…

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Tea at the Furchester – 10/04/15

 

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Now, this was an exciting trip out. I’d been bribing Reuben with it all week long and by the time Friday came around, all three of us were hugely overexcited. Friday morning turned into a spontaneous rolling playdate, so it was with minutes to spare that I was throwing clothes around my room, looking for something respectable to wear to a posh Mayfair hotel. Or at least to distract from the three giant scars I had given myself on my forehead (it’s not just toddlers that have snaggly nails). I found a creased blue dress and a green cardigan, put them on and ran downstairs to make sure the children were ready and not in any kind of trouble. Optimistic, I know.

“Why did you get changed Mummy? Roo wanted to know

I explained that I wanted to look like I’d dressed up a bit.

“Ooh yes, you’ve dressed up as Cookie Monster!”he giggled “Do I need to dress up as well? Like Furnella?”

“Tookie Monster! Tookie Monster! I want to be Phoebe!” yelled Eva.

And  no-one everyone wonders why I don’t write a style blog…

Let’s skip on. I feel like I might disappoint a few people by revealing that our Furchester afternoon tea was a press event to launch the new episodes and new range of plush toys. It’s not actually a bookable activity. But it so should be! Mayfair Millenium Hotel, you have a serious business opportunity here…

For that’s where we were. I’d convinced Roo that the Furchester monsters had taken over the back of someone else’s hotel to set up their own because this whole reading thing kinda scuppers some of my sneakier mummy ploys. So he was happy that we were at the actual Furchester, even if the signs said something different. And when he and Eva saw the room full of Furchester toys, they didn’t need much more convincing. Here’s Eva with her new best friend, the aformentioned Tookie Monster.

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Sorry Bunny, you’ve been replaced. You should try being more blue and fluffy. Reuben left with a giant Phoebe, which he’s also in love with. She’s busy making friends with BatBear right now.

The toys are rather lovely. Big and plush and cuddly, there are Elmo, Cookie Monster and Phoebe varieties. I’ll get the disclaimer over with now and say we got ours for free but these opinions really are honest and my own. I’d be very tempted to add to the collection – there are smaller figures of Fergus and Furnella and even an Isabel. I love Isabel. I know I have a fairly basic sense of humour, but I laugh at that pun every time. Here’s a smaller Cookie Monster:

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All ready to hug! More on the Adventures of Phoebe and Tookie Monster later but first, there’s afternoon tea to deal with. While the kids sat and watched the new episode – and wondered whether they would be brave enough to take a teddy from a sleeping tiger – the piles of cakes and sandwiches came out. Us parents may have snuck a few when the kids weren’t looking, I’ll be honest. But how could we not when they looked so good?:

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Eva never eats much anyway, and she was further distracted by the appearance of the Furchesters themselves. Who wants to be welcomed with furry arms? Everyone!

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And that’s the actual voice of Furnella there! I was so impressed. Please dear readers, forgive all this smugbloggery. And enjoy this picture of Roo with the actual Elmo:

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Ah yes, that’s a flattering one. The kids enjoyed it so much, I really think someone needs to start throwing Furchester tea parties on a regular basis. And seeing as the Millenium Mayfair already do a very lovely afternoon tea, they probably should. They even do a kids’ variation with peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and little pots of jelly on the top. The jelly was pretty much the only thing that Eva ate. But Reuben made the most of it, downing sandwiches, scones, cakes and a couple of glasses of smoothie. Which, incidentally, led us to check out the super-fancy toilets:

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Eva did agree to drink a tea cup of milk. I think she likes the idea of afternoon tea, even if she was a bit too excited to eat more than jelly and a strawberry:

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But that left the lemon curd and scones for me. More fool her:

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Now, this trip was worth a bit of stress and, indeed, violating several of my own LWAT rules about travelling in Central London with a buggy. When I planned it, Eva was going to be on her scooter which makes step-free access less vital but she was tired and flaky and we seemed to need a lot of stuff. Given that we left the hotel with even more stuff (bathrobes! giant toys! CBeebies magazines!) the buggy was probably a good idea. But travelling home in rush hour wasn’t such a good idea. It rarely is.

We’d arrived at Bond Street, which has a few steps from platform to street level, but going home I decided to go for Green Park because not only was it completely step-free, it was also handily positioned on the line to Walthamstow. Unfortunately, these handy things make it a very popular station and we were not the only people trying to get on a Victoria Line train during rush hour. We managed to squeeze onto the second train to come in, by walking to the far end of the platform and being a bit bolshy. Then we pretty much folded ourselves into negative space and tried not to breathe out too much. At Euston, someone vacated the fold-down seats and that meant we could get the buggy and Reuben into that space quite comfortably. But Eva and Tookie Monster were feeling a bit unsure about their personal space:

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Phoebe, however, was making herself useful by pointing out tube stops on the map with her hair:

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Did I mention a particularly lovely fountain we passed on the way? No? Was there any way to fit it in? No? Well, let’s slip it in now while me and the kids are sweating on the tube at Highbury & Islington:

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Mayfair is so pretty. Commuter’s armpit not so pretty.

Anyway, we got home eventually and since then we’ve been busy showing the new toys a good time. Like going swimming:

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and being abandoned next to a slide at Passover:

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but at least we observed good car safety:

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The kids were Furchester fans before this, but it’s safe to say that, like the Furchesters, they’ll never give up watching it now…

Actual Disclaimer: We received gift and entertainment in return for this review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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Picnicking at the Barbican – 05/04/15

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As you can tell, the Easter weekend was pretty fun-packed for us. So much so that it’s taken me the entire week to recover write it up. Easter Sunday itself was spent at church but what to do to mark such a special day? Well, setting the aside the madness of an all-age service, how about a picnic? It was sunny, after all. And the City has one prime picnicking spot – the Barbican.

It may not be to everyone’s taste. You have to have some love for brutalist, Clockwork Orange-type architecture and multiple unfenced water features, but it’s a good space to hang out, especially on a deserted Easter Sunday. When we lunched there a few weeks back with Auntie Savage, it was full of not just suits on their lunch break but also an entire graduation ceremony. We had to share benches and make conversation with strangers. This time, the only strange people we were making conversation with were the ones we’d brought with us.

On the way, there was the opportunity to spot a sheep…in fact, there were two sheep. We’d already bagged the Pearly King Shaun at Liverpool Street, but the Barbican has its very own one as well:

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I think this might be another project that we fail to see through. Like the book benches.

Getting back to the picnic, the kids had lots of fun. Specifically, giving me a cardiac arrest every time they ran towards one of the fountains:

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Normally, they’re fairly easy to contain but they’d had a Smarties egg each at church and so were full of sugar and buzziness. Reuben wanted to go right to the edge and climb over the “stepping stones”, which were in various states of disrepair. It was a bit more than my nerves could take, but luckily he found a fearless intern to take him on adventures:

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Look how sunny it was! Sunglasses and everything! In the actual summer, I believe they have ping pong tables there as well, so that could be a fun diversion…or just result in lots of soggy and missing ping pong balls. Even without the tables, there was enough to entertain the kids…as long as you have a nerve of steel, or an intern to help.

(Just to clarify, she’s interning with the church, not LWAT. If only I had my own intern…)

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We carved an entire chicken, shared a jar of pickled onions and much merriment was had. When the kids finally hit meltdown, we walked back through the Barbican and Reuben suddenly had a rare burst of long-term memory. He wanted to go to the “room with the rain in” and he remembered where it had been, despite me telling him it wasn’t there any more. So, he ran into the Curve, looking for the rain and found….a slow moving canoe. I don’t understand art. So, they chased the canoe and came back out the other end. At that point, Eva got a second wind of energy and scampered off, shouting “I don’t want to hold hands! I want to run! I want to run! Oh…I can’t run”.

That lasted well, then. Luckily the scooter was on hand and on the way back to Liverpool Street, she had the chance to scoot across some gloriously empty city plazas (like the one at City Point). On a Friday, that was heaving with people in suits talking about amalgamations but on Easter Sunday we had it to ourselves. So that’s the top tip for finding some space in London – visit the City on festive days…

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Hackney Downs – 04/04/15

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This weekend two things close to my heart celebrated their first birthday – one was Disco 2000, the indie night for aged parents, and the other one was Boby, cheerful daughter of Bob and Not-Bob. It was the second one of those that called us to Hackney and after a few hours playing with Boby’s toys, we took the opportunity to check out the local park. I can’t begin to count the number of times we’ve been to Hackney Downs station but we’ve never been to the place that gives the station its name. A project that’s brewing in my head requires me to rectify this.

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And it’s an interesting park. A big sandpit, a wooden fort and a mosaic of zoo animals. Eva liked the animals too and performed a little dance on the “stage” in front of them. It was made by local people, including the very East London-sounding “Tess of Spitalfields”:

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I wonder what you need to do to be able to affix a place name to your name these days. It used to be all the rage. Now, I’m just stuck with a surname that suggests a far greater skill in hatmaking than I possess. Well, whoever Tess is, I like her. And she has mad mosaic making skills too. Here’s Reuben admiring them:

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So, what else was there to do? Well, the fort was fun although there was a bit of toddler congestion on the rope bridge. Eva very slowly and cautiously walked over it with me, a queue of similarly cautious children building up behind her. Then she got scared at the top of the slide and turned around back over the bridge. It was a bit painful. Roo, meanwhile, had found a short cut to the slide:

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And Eva found some slides that were so tiny that not even she could be scared:

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There was also what appeared to be a monolith in the sandpit, reminiscent of the scene at the start of “2001″. My children provided the ape-like behaviour to go with it:

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Reuben also enjoyed some big-boy swinging on the net swing. You can tell by the angle of this that Daddy was in charge:

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While Eva had a meltdown because she wanted to go on the baby swings. Then when another toddler kindly up a swing for her, it was the wrong one. She’d had some rainbow cake a few hours before and this was the inevitable fallout. It was time to go home. But first, there was just time to pose in the rock garden on the way out:

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Oh, they can be cute sometimes. And it’s amazing how she can put a tantrum behind her when there’s a camera about…

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Owls Play Centre – 03/04/15

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Now, those of you who know Eva IRL will know that owls are something of a theme for her. I think it started with an owl dress and spiralled into t-shirts, decor and snack boxes. So, sooner or later we had to visit the Owls Play Centre in Fairlop Waters. That sooner became a soggy Good Friday, when I ignored my plug for Easter Bounce and set up off with Nathan and the kids for the dryness and serenity of Fairlop.

Only it wasn’t that serene. And bits of it weren’t dry, but there was a man on hand to deal with it, disinfectant in hand. I don’t know why I expected it to be quiet – I think that maybe friends have visited during the school day and described it as such. Clearly, the first day of the Easter holidays wasn’t going to be like that. So, we had to wait a few minutes to get in and were told to strictly observe the 2-hour limit. Not a problem, as we’d already imposed a 2-hour limit on ourselves by choosing the £1.30 option of parking (up to 2 hrs) rather than the £3 all-day option. That was on the basis that if we needed another 2 hours, it’d still be cheaper than paying £3. But unless you flawlessly co-ordinate the parking times and session times, you’re going to lose out somehow. If you do attempt the flawless manoevure, session times start at the hour and half past. Good luck to you.

I was quite surprised we had to pay for parking at all, as we were kinda in the countryside. It was certainly a long way past the North Circular and the wide roads had a distinctively Essex feel to them. Yet, we were right by a tube station (Fairlop on the Central Line) and London buses were driving past. It seems we were just in a particularly bulky part of Zone 4, despite the play centre being in the middle of a Country Park. All very confusing.

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Anyway, we got in and it was packed. An array of brightly coloured tables sat in front of the playframe and not a single one was free. We compiled our belongings in a big pile in a corner and looked around in vain for the kids we’d come in with. They’d long gone, exploring the climbing frames and slides. There was a section that was perfectly sized for Eva – the 2-5s zone – so, naturally, she’d ignored it and was scrambling to the top of the main frame before losing her nerve and crying for Mummy. Once again, I wished for an emergency softplay exit. And some dignity.

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It was while I was rescuing Eva that two things happened. First, that I had a text from Nathan saying he’d found a table but our stuff was still piled in a corner. Secondly that I ran into Reuben, who needed the toilet. Again, my kingdom for a short cut. It was complicated but we managed to get girl out, boy to toilet, stuff moved and table retained with nothing more than a Spiderman mask to save it. Once we were settled on a table, I could start to relax…at least until Eva got herself stuck again, which wasn’t long. Still, I had The Boy buying me coffee and all would be well. I’m not sure how Owls could do things differently as far as tables go – there’s no space to put any more in and it’s natural that every parent there will want to a) sit down and b) drink coffee. But they could really do with some kind of place to put kids’ shoes. Maybe there was one and I never found it, but the number of shoes scattered about the place suggested not. There was also a bit of a wait for coffee as there was only one person serving but when it came, it was much appreciated.

I’m sounding negative. I shouldn’t be. It was actually a very nice soft play – clean, modern and full of kitschy little design quirks like these mushrooms:
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It’s just that one or two tweaks (more staff, somewhere to stash stuff, a more co-ordinated parking system) would elevate it to an awesome soft play. The kids definitely enjoyed it:

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Although Reuben found himself playing in the baby area, building a wall of tessalating bricks and then complaining when the babies had the nerve to knock it down:

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Eva was also delighted by the appearance of her BFF Bunny, which brightens up any of her days. Bunny came in the session after ours but made up for lost time by disappearing with Eva straight away, giggling to themselves and shedding decorative bits of their clothes. If anyone found a button at Owls on Friday, do let me know and I’ll pass it on to the BunnyParents.

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I can’t say it was an overly relaxing experience but that’s our damnfoolfault for going on a rainy bank holiday. The coffee and cake were good and I’d imagine on a weekday, when it was stripped of the bigger kids it would be very pleasant indeed. I wish we’d had time to explore Fairlop Waters itself but the parking didn’t really allow for that, unless we’d paid for all day….and I’m not sure how much exploring there is to do. Maybe we’ll take the tube next time and play and wander at our leisure. While Roo’s at school, obviously.

More information here (official website)

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Easter Holiday Japes

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Here in Waltham Forest, we are screeching into the Easter holidays mere hours before Good Friday. I appreciate that some of you have been on holidays all week but we’ve barely had time to put the PE kit in the wash. If you’re the same, here are some fun things you can do to fill in that full two weeks post-Bank Holiday. It’s a long time.

Anyhoo, first up a bouncy fun day for Good Friday. Chingford-based company JS Bouncy Castle & Party Hire are hosting the party, which may or may not be rainy (doesn’t it always rain on Good Friday?) at Chingford Rugby Club. We’re planning to go if it doesn’t rain and maybe if it does. Wristbands cost £7 for over-5s and £4 for under-5s which allows them to run riot on bouncy castles and inflatable slides. If you fancy something more spiritually minded for such an important Christian calendar date, there’s a full scale passion play on in Trafalgar Square at both 12:00 and 15:15. Sadly, I think my heathen children will prefer the bouncy castles.

And now for something completely different… the MiniBox festival in Shoreditch. If reggae nursery rhymes and a craft village appeal to you and your hipster child, get down to Shoreditch on 8th April. But be quick..it’s only on from 3-5. And it’s free. Woohoo! Meanwhile, in Peckham on the 12th April Nimble Arts are hosting the second ever Indiepop Tots event, playing the kind of music we listened to as stroppy teenagers and now want to introduce our kids too. Sadly, I am otherwise engaged but one day we shall make it to South London and shake our booty to Belle and Sebastian.

There’s more toddler-dancing action at Big Fish Little Fish, who are throwing a “MadHatters Tea Party” in Balham on 19th April. The last Balham party was super fun so you should definitely check it out. I hear exciting things are brewing in the BFLF camp, including festivals and comedy…so check out their brand new website for updates!

Or how about some exciting kids’ theatre? It’s totally not in the Easter holidays, but I hear there’s a production of “Rapunzel” at the Redbridge Drama Centre that should appeal to all fans of “Tangled”, or just girls like Eva who like long, blond wigs. It’s on 30th April and tickets are £6. Landing more solidly in the Easter holidays is “Big Red Bath” on 17th April at the Half Moon Theatre, Limehouse. It’s about a big, red bath I believe and is recommended for the under 6s. On a grander scale, “Tree Fu Tom Live” is swooping Londonwards, with an Uxbridge show on 17th April as well. There will copious amounts of Big World Magic. I’m also very tempted by the English National Ballet’s “My First Ballet” for my dance-loving girl. It’s got to be better than Angelina Ballerina. It’s on at the Peacock Theatre from now until 12th April.

Of course, if this is all too much effort, just come to church with us on Sunday and eat some chocolate. Look at Eva last year:

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Aww, mullety girl!

Happy Easter everyone! 

 

 

 

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Windy Woodford

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Until recently, Woodford was just a giant unknown to me, despite its proximity to my house. It’s impressive in that it has two tube stations to its name but what else is there? Well, we’ve been on a mission to find out.

To be completely honest, we were actually on a mission to pick up some daffodils. I’d got in from work to find a “Sorry we missed you” card and a florist’s address is South Woodford. Sensing an opportunity for adventure, I picked up Roo and we battled a gale-force wind to see what lay in store in the store. This isn’t going to be a surprise – it was some daffodils. I said that already. But I was surprised, as I really wasn’t expecting them and they turned out to be a thank you from someone for humiliating them in song in front of everyone they’ve ever met. What most people would class as bullying, Shirley clearly thinks is worthy of a floral thank you. Any time, Shirlz. Really.

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What we didn’t expect to find were some giant daffodils twice the size of Reuben, and other assorted flowers. I think Eva would really like these:

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South Woodford seems to be full of cute little things – antiques shops that look like beach huts, a tube subway that’s echo-y and good for running through and the world’s most sparsely populated KFC. Roo wanted McDonalds, but that’s only for special occasions dontcha know? I’d vaguely mentioned a playground but there didn’t seem to be any of those about, so fast food and big flowers had to do instead. Besides, the weather was crazy-assed today. The aforementioned galeforce wind didn’t really let up much all the time we were out and was occasionally accompanied by torrential rain and hail. Though by the time we were back on the bus, the hail had given way to a rainbow. Like I said, crazy-assed.

It wasn’t my first trip to South Woodford, oh no. That had been an illicit trip to Waitrose with Mrs Rabitt. Illicit mainly because we only had one of our collective four children and at least one of us was meant to be doing some work. But they had a lovely coffee shop there and served tea in pretty willow print teapots. Eva had a gingerbread wand:

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Totally worth the danger. I also bought cake to take home. See, danger.

I also took the kids to the other bit of Woodford that’s on the other side of the North Circular. There we found a park called Elmhurst Gardens that isn’t the motorway verge that Google Maps suggests it is. In fact, it’s a spacious park with some comedy animals to ride:

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You can tell from this photo that the weather wasn’t much cheerier that day either. Nor was it when we passed through Woodford on the way to the Discover Centre. The sun may always shine on TV but it doesn’t always shine in E18. Maybe we’ll revisit the park during the summer as it’s really a nice space:

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I feel there’s more to discover in Woodford yet. I haven’t yet mentioned the Shepherds Bakery on Snakes Lane East that does a lovely hot and cheap sausage roll. But maybe I won’t mention it, or you might all get there and snaffle them before I get another chance to…

 

 

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JellyBug Launch at the Rainforest Cafe

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Get ready to have your head filled with songs about baby lunar baboons playing bassoons and badgers. So many badgers. A new online channel for kids is launching. It’s called Jellybug and the videos are both psychedelic and insanely catchy. Badgers, badgers, badgers.

(Before anyone gets all smart-ass on me and tells me that the badger video is a copy of one by MrWeebl…well, it’s the same people behind both channels. So there. Try playing both versions at the same fun, for extra funz.)

We were lucky enough to go to the launch this morning, at the Rainforest Cafe. That’s one of those places I’ve been past a million times but never been into, for fear of having to buy my children All The Toys. But this morning we had so much fun to look forward to that I could usher them past the cuddly anacondas without spending anything. We only stopped to pose on the comedy animal barstools:

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And then we went to the lower floor, where all manner of Jellybug-related treats awaited. There was colouring:

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and, of course, food. Breakfast, which included some tasty, tasty bacon.

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Then it was time to view the cartoons. Of course, you can see them yourself at the youtube channel but to give you an idea, it was brightly-coloured, Japanese-style animation accompanied by super-hyped versions of children’s favourites, along with some originals. They reminded me a bit of the animations on those Wii Play games, where you have to speed-eat noodles and things like that. All huge eyes and sparkles. Reuben’s favourite was “Pop Goes the Weasel” because he liked the bit where the treacle-covered man exploded (“pop go the people”). Nathan enjoyed “Shrimp Glockenspiel“, a surreal look at musical marine biology. Eva was totally freaked out by this gorilla:

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She just did a little shudder just looking at the picture of him. We retreated to the loos for a minute so that I could reassure her that the gorilla couldn’t hurt her and she agreed to be in the same room as it again. She liked the videos and keeps demanding to watch them (if this post has a stop-and-start feel, that’s why) but she never quite reconciled herself to that gorilla.

Then, Reuben decided to get his face painted like Iron Man….because it’s all about superheroes now. Dinos are out. Obviously. The nice lady on the face painting stall didn’t have an Iron Man design, but she improvised something based on his t-shirt:

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See? The Iron Man row is just by his hand. The hand is holding a dinosaur but it’s a superhero dinosaur. Again, obviously.

After that, he was thrilled to be part of the magic show, alongside the  girl was who the  daughter of JellyBug’s Sarah and Jonti and the “voice of JellyBug”. Here they are, shrinking the magician’s socks:

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In case you’re wondering, Jonti (Picking) is also Mr Weebl, of youtube fame, and his partner is Sarah Darling of XFM fame. They’re the team behind the channel and enthusiastic about high-energy, high quality kids’ entertainment. Talking of which, there was just time to dance to “Let it Go” before we had to go and that brought a smile to Queen Eva’s face. She even forgot about the gorilla for a minute.

So, a grand morning out and a launch that we’re very excited to be a part of. Go and have a look at JellyBug now and tell me what you think!

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I’m Trying to Be the Best Mother I Can Right Now – A Mother’s Day Reflection

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It’s Mother’s Day soon. You’d be forgiven for not knowing if you haven’t switched on the TV or stepped inside a branch of Tesco lately. If you have stepped inside a branch of Tesco, you might have spotted that most inappropriate of Mother’s Day gifts – the Bambi necklace. If one of my children gives me that, I’d be horrified. It’s like sending someone a Valentine’s card with a picture of the Baroness from “Sound of Music” on it. How better to say “So long, farewell darling. I’m replacing you with Julie Andrews. Maybe you should have learnt how to giftwrap a villa”?

I digress. I often do when I’m thinking about Julie Andrews. Now, she was a good mother. Step-mother to seven is a rough gig at the best of times, and must be even harder during an Anschluss. Am I off again? Sorry. I meant to say the other reason you may not have noticed it was Mother’s Day is that it’s clashed with Comic Relief this year, so the kids have come home with handfuls of  arts and crafts that I can only suppose pertain to one or the other. For example, the matching red nose cards that Eva and Bunny brought back from nursery were probably for Comic Relief but the cupcakes they’d decorated were probably intended for Mother’s Day. You can guess which one made it back to the mothers in question. Roo gets a few more points – presenting me with not just a plant pot of daffodils but also stashing a homemade card under his bed that no child-respecting mother would have snuck a look at while it was still in his bookbag. It says lots of nice things about me in simile, comparing my softness to a cloud and my intelligence to a troodon’s. It concludes that I am the best mummy in the world.

That’s sweet, Roo but I’m really not. For one, I already read your card. For seconds…well, there’s a lot I could say but let’s not go there. What I can tell you is that I’m constantly trying to be the best mother I can be right now. That might not always be super-obvious but essentially, it involves figuring out what is not working and what we can do to make it better. And that’s as much as I think any of us can hope for – to make decisions that make things not worse.

Like me going back to work this week. Yes, my three-year maternity leave with Eva has come to an end (and sensibly, I’ve weaned the baby before starting back). I know I’ve been working through most of the last two years, but this feels different. Being self-employed, even when you have a regular job, is a different ballgame to having a Proper Job where you work for someone else. And I am joyfully embracing the end of freelancehood. No more working in the evenings, no more trying to get finance reports done with a tiny Elsa draping herself across my shoulders. Work is for the office and when I’m home I’m actually home. Well, except for a few freelance projects I’ve kept on. I wouldn’t like myself to get bored. The first evening of unemployment between jobs, I made 20 tiny cards and filled them with poems, crosswords and pictures before shoving them into an envelope of glitter and sweets that would later get opened by a suspicious postal service. That between-jobs gap lasted three days and I think Nathan at least was relieved when I started the new one. Who knew what crazy side project my unoccupied mind would come up with next?

From that you might have gleaned that I need work. I need something outside parenting to focus on. But it’s whatever works. When Eva was a year old, Proper Freelance was ideal – working on my laptop in my PJs of an evening, baby in a sling or on the boob, working on a word count rather than a hourly rate so that I could stop and tend to her whenever she did a giant poo. Another year on and Self Employed at a  couple of regular jobs had its attractions – the flexibility of freelance but other people to talk at and a never-ending supply of coffee. Now, Proper Employed again. And that’s the principle I base all my “parenting” on. Do whatever works for you, right now. I wish I’d had that freedom when Roo was a baby, but like any first time parent I was too scared of the health visitors and too intimidated by the “experts” to try anything like co-sleeping that might have snatched us a few precious hours’ sleep.

Because, ludicrous as it sounds, I was all about the future. Supernanny says that if I let Baby feed to sleep, he will be doing this forever. So I must keep both of us awake for feeds, for the sake of Future Kate and Future Reuben and Future Kate’s lack of rods for Future Kate’s own back.

But you know what? Screw Future Kate. I’ll sort things out when I become her. The path of “but if I do x, what becomes of y?” leads to madness. It’s OK to just do things for now and not worry too much about how they work out. You don’t know how you’ll feel in a year. You don’t know what your baby will be like in a year. There’s no point in moving close to a nice school pre-foetus when you might decide to uproot the entire family a week after your child has started Reception (for the record, I am not recommending this as a good life strategy). Parenthood is full of surprises and some things you just need to take as they come.

It’s hard though. Us, as a generation of parents, face pressures that no previous generation has. The explosion of social media in the last ten years has meant that those of us with kids at primary school have raised those kids in front of the world. There’s nothing that’ll rock your confidence like a dozen pieces of well-meaning advice every time you post something on Facebook. Share a photo of your latest sling? Someone will have an anecdote about how dangerous they are. Record your daughter’s latest utterance with the kind of phonetic analness that only a degree in Linguistics gives you? Someone will ask if you’ve seen an SLT about her inability to pronounce /g/. Take a spontaneous video of the kids playing? There will be someone who comments on the state of your house. Guaranteed. The “hide comment” button is useful here.

And it’s not just social media. The internet is so packed with information that new parents have no idea which opinions to listen to and which to discard. A favourite party trick during my first pregnancy was to Google anything I was just about to eat and find out all the reasons why I shouldn’t eat it whilst pregnant. It worked with literally anything, which you might naturally conclude would lead to pregnant women eating literally nothing. I hate to add yet another opinion to the mix but that sounds unhealthy to me.

All this virtual noise just drowns out your motherly instincts, doesn’t it? You end up so saturated with opinions on Gina Ford, Dr Seers, Dr Seuss and all the rest that you have no idea what you actually think any more. Well, try something and see if it works. If it doesn’t, try something else.

Which brings me back to working. I’m in for 4 school days now, which seems like a lot but actually Eva and I were driving each other crazy. The 24/7 closeness we had when she was a baby would be suffocating by now if I hadn’t gently put some distance between us. When she was tiny, she only wanted to be next to me in a sling or a bed. She needed nothing in the way of attention, just closeness and milk and I was happy to keep her physically close so that my mental energy could be spent on Roo. Nowadays, those old tricks don’t work and she wants the kind of attention that I can’t give her while trying to work from home. So, more childcare for her and cleaner work/life segregation for me is the way forward. Let’s see if this works. I think it will. She gets me in the evenings (which are quite long when I finish work at 2:30) and for a 3-day weekend. I get my break by being at work and the time we spend together is more focussed on what she wants to do. Except today when I went to the dentist and then lay on the sofa, barely able to talk from all the anaesthetics. But I think she kinda enjoyed it. The dental nurse admired her Elsa wig and gave her three stickers. Good times.

So, we’re doing what works for us right now. I need to work. Some  people don’t. Some people are excellent at being with their kids every day of the week and that’s totally right for them. But that’s something that, really, you need to do because you love doing it – not because a blog told you that  you couldn’t be an Attachment Parent if you don’t homeschool, not because you feel pressured into it by society and randoms on Mumsnet. I’d go as far as to say that you shouldn’t even let finance dictate to you what you do. You might feel like you want to work, but will be barely turning a profit. Ah, do it anyway. As long as you’re not actually losing money, why not? And I say that as someone who never makes much of a profit from working but never really expected to. But the profits I’ve made in Kate Sanity have been off the scale.

And that’s it. That’s the simple message I want to give to you this Mother’s Day. Try to be the best mother you can right now. If that means working full-time, part-time, from home or not at all or your partner staying home while you work…whatever particular combination is going to keep you sane, do it. That goes for every aspect of parenting – feeding, sleeping, dressing, housekeeping. Do what keeps you going. That makes you the best mother you can be right now.

Congrats.

(I’ll leave you with a picture of me doing some Earth-mothery biscuit making with the kids for Nathan for Valentine’s Day. Note the completely unimpressed expressions on their faces and take from that what you will)

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Oliver Jeffers at the Discover Centre – 28/02/15

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Now, Friday was a nice sunny day but Saturday not so much. It was cold, grey and drizzly and we needed an adventure. We’ve been East Londoners for almost a year now, but I still hadn’t got round to revisiting the marvellous Discover Centre, which we lasted visited with a tiny baby Eva in 2012. So, we jumped on a bit of the Central Line that I hadn’t sat on for hours last week (and there’s not much of the Central Line that fits that description) and arrived at Stratford, with its promise of hot dogs, trains and rhubarb. And that’s just on the walk from the station.

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The Discover Centre is currently hosting an exhibition on the “World of Oliver Jeffers”, who wrote such whimsical classics as “The Day the Crayons Quit”.  I’ll be honest – I had no idea what this exhibition might entail, but when we got there we were given a timed ticket for later in the afternoon So, we’d find out. Before then, there was plenty of time to explore the rest of the centre.  We were too wimpy for the outside bit (greyness! drizzle!) so the craft table seemed as good a place as any to start.

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It may have been almost three years since we last visited, but they still have the same activity on the craft table – spoon making. This is not a bad thing. For the modest price of 10p, Reuben made a “Lord Business” spoon, which you can see above. Bunny’s Daddy (BunnyDaddy) later found this vampire spoon:

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I lost Eva within a few minutes – she disappeared into the tunnel and I never saw her re-emerge. Luckily, Nathan had her trapped and was wrapping her up in a giant pink sheet that she’d found in the dressing up box. I think she wanted to be Elsa. As ever.  The sheet slowed her down quite a lot and I was able to keep up with her as she struggled up the steps to the slide (you try climbing stairs with your legs tied together).

Meanwhile, Reuben and Nathan were playing a complicated, life-size board game that was something to do with being in a forest:

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Then Eva and Bunny put on a puppet show:

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They couldn’t agree on whether the curtains should be closed or open, so it didn’t go too well. It was also lacking something in the narrative thread department. You can, however, see Eva’s sheet still wrapped around her legs and beyond.

What I love about the Discover Centre is that it’s all so stimulating. Why have a plain carpet when it can have flowers on it? Why have a wall without lights or sensory patches? The level of detail is astonishing and there’s probably loads we didn’t even notice. Even the toilets, with their child-size seats, are brightly coloured and covered in spots. I love it.

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Soon enough, it was time to go downstairs for Oliver Jeffers. The children gathered at the bottom of the stairs as a “Lost and Found Officer” explained that they were about to jump into the pages of…you might guess this…”Lost and Found” by Oliver Jeffers. They all jumped together and walked through the door..into a perfectly realised little bedroom. She started reading the story, and asked them to open the door to see whether there was a penguin there. There were plenty of delighted squeals when it turned out there was. Then they had half an hour to explore the “world” before the conclusion of the story. Reuben got to keep the penguin:

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For those who, like me, aren’t familiar with the book, it takes place over a number of locations including a beach and the South Pole.  And here they were, all recreated and full of things to play with. It was wonderful. Here we are in the boat:

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And here’s the kitchen, full of play food that the toddlers were allowed to rearrange (I was worried for a second):

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And the beach huts, complete with a tray full of brightly coloured (plastic) ice creams:

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It really did feel like we were in the book, and everywhere had so many lovely details. The sea had ducks swimming in it, and the oars of the boat had hooks on the end to catch them with. The pet shop had cuddly rabbits in it. The bedroom had a wardrobe full of red and white stripy tops. so that the kids could dress up just like the protaganist. And then BunnyDaddy noticed a tiny mousehole, which had its own scene set up inside:

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Nathan found another one by the beach:

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So cute! After a while, the story resumed and Roo perched on the bed to listen. Then they had a few more minutes’ runaround in the magical world but Nathan, BunnyDaddy and I were in desperate need of coffee, so we extracted them and went upstairs to the cafe.

 And this is where the Discover Centre falls down a bit. I’d promised Eva cake but there was none, only a few cookies (and the woman behind me in the queue also wanted cookies). So I bought a couple of those and we went sharesies on some M&Ms. I’m not going to push the point too much, but for such an ace venue it’s a disappointing selection. I know it was late in the day and they’d been busy but I just think they’d stand to make a killing on the cafe if there was a bit more choice. It has lots of seating, a lovely range of books and toys and not-bad coffee. But the people have spoken. The small people. And they want cake.

That aside, it was a great day out and I’m very glad we opted for that over BunnyDaddy’s forest idea. Drizzly, I tell you…

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