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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Wild Child Festival – 18/08/18

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Museum of Liverpool – 13/08/18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we were ready.

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

And these giant grassy steps:

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

And of course, some superlambananas. Obviously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Kenneth the schoolboy:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I KNOW. Those nipples freak me out too.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide – 30/07/18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monstrous Fest – 29/07/18

It’s been one of those days when everything happens at once. A couple of temp LWATers are on our sofa now, having endured a 4 hour coach journey and an end-of-holiday-club service at church with approx 10,000 over excited kids. But before all that was Monstrous Fest – a family festival at Printworks in Surrey Quays this morning.

I haven’t been to Surrey Quays much since I worked there in 2006 and it’s changed a lot since then. For one, the Evening Standard printworks were still a printworks back then and now they’re a giant, warehouse type venue which this morning was packed with merriment:

Much as I try to fight my children’s gender stereotyping, it seeps out every so often…such as when Eva looked at the site map and declared that she wanted to go straight to Princess Land. Reuben, meanwhile, was going to the Beast Assault Course with Nathan. Guess this is a fight I’m losing.

There was a bit of a queue to pose in the princess carriage so I checked with her whether she wanted to do any of the activities instead of just queueing for princesses but she was resolute – “I just want to meet princesses till there are none yeft to meet”. So that’s what we did. Ariel first:

Tinkerbell:

And Aurora and Prince Philip:

Round about this point, we also watched the Princess show, where Aurora sang “Once Upon a Dream” and Tinkerbell showed the crowd how to dance like a fairy. As you can imagine, Eva took it all very seriously.

Roo and Nathan had enjoyed the inflatable obstacle course so much that when we met up with them again he wanted to go on another one straight away. This one was called the Beast Race Track and it took up the whole of the first floor. For some reason, all four of us decided to go on it together although I’ll be honest – I cheated quite a bit and went round the giant handbags instead of over them. Nathan, though, made a good effort on it and even Eva managed the whole thing without freaking out. Right up until she had to go on the last slide, when she clung to me and said it was too scary. Wheeeee!

When we got downstairs, the princesses had changed shift so there were a whole clutch of new ones to meet. Yes, Eva was serious about not wanting to do anything else. While Roo and Nathan went off to do the Chelsea Football Challenge, Eva and I watched a different version of the Princess Show and met Belle:

Cinderella:

And Moana:

We’d definitely made the most of Princess Land. It had the added advantage that it was next to the Robot area, so we got to see the giant robot in action twice while waiting for the princesses. Roo was gutted to have missed it but not so gutted to have missed the princesses.

Not straying too far from her favoured spot, Eva sat down for a bit at the craft tables to make a 3D picture of a unicorn:

The unicorn had “super glittery eyes” and so did Eva by the end of her craft session.

It was pretty much time to go and collect the Temp LWATers and then on to church. We’d had a great time at Monstrous even if we hadn’t explored the Hello Kitty area or the Arcade Alley (you can guess which kid wanted to do what). It had a cool festival vibe, even though it was undercover – something we were very grateful for, considering it was tipping it down outside. There was more than enough to do to fill a full day’s session, although I’m not sure how it would have worked as the site needed to be vacated between 1.30pm and 2.30pm to allow for the changeover between morning and afternoon sessions. We would have been in the outdoor area during this time, which would have been fine on pretty much any other day in the last six weeks…

But still, an excellent time was had by all – Reuben said it was “really good” and Eva said “Great, except I was scared by the actual monster”. How much more endorsement do you need?

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

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7 Places to Cool Off In London

This weather is getting beyond a joke, isn’t it? It’s been going on for agggeees and we’re really not set up to cope with it in London. Luckily though, there are a few places you can go with or without the kids to cool down a bit.

Disclaimer: Most of these I’ve been to fairly recently or have local intel on but as with all water play during a drought it could be switched off/closed at any time. Please don’t blame me and/or throw stuff. Unless they’re cool, wet sponges.

Here’s a Google Map I made especially for the occasion but there’s a little more info underneath. Why 7? Cause LWAT just turned 7 years old. Happy Birthday!

Ruislip Lido

You know about this one because I literally just reviewed it in the last post. Sandy beach, play areas, giant pirate ship, splash area but no swimming in the lake.

Kings Cross fountains

A favourite if you ever need somewhere to play just before you catch the Eurostar or attend a railway-themed theatre show. My kids played there in February 2017 (don’t ask why) and a bit more thoroughly in the summer of 2013 Check social media before you go to make sure they’re on but they usually are.

Olympic Park Tumbling Bay

More fountains are to be found just outside the stadium but word on the street is that they aren’t currently switched on. But apparently the water play in the Tumbling Bay playground is still fine – check out our trip there in 2015.

Myatt’s Fields

Another one where there seems to have been patchy water play service of late but that’s because of faulty equipment rather than water saving. You should be OK to go there, but have a look at their Facebook page first to check.

London Fields Lido

This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine as I’ve been going before work without the kids and dammit, I’ve enjoyed it. I went this morning and I might even go again tomorrow. Indeed, as I left the pool at 9:15 it was starting to fill up with children but I think the early morning slot is an adult only zone. A (slightly) heated 50m outdoor pool, it’s absolute bliss on a hot day. I haven’t blogged about it but I did take Eva to the paddling pool next door sometime around 2014..

Highbury Pool

I took the kids to this one! I didn’t blog about it either cause there wasn’t much to say – a pretty small main pool and a very warm training pool but it’s in Highbury Fields, which is a lovely picnic spot so you could make a summery day out a few yards from the Victoria Line.

Serpentine Lido

And this one I haven’t even swum in but a Walthamstowian recently gave it a glowing review on a local Facebook group: “Warm, and your lido ticket also covers private green space/sandpit/climbing frame/paddling pool/cafe with no queues”. I did go there once, to make Auntie Savage swim in the Serpentine wearing a wedding-themed cycling helmet. Hen do Lolz. One for this summer’s to-do list I think…

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LWAT is 600! Ruislip Lido – 20/07/18

Wow, it’s been quite a day. First day of the school holidays, dog-tired after a late night at Chickenshed and some sneaky end of term drinks with the Year 1 Mums…and a 600th post Adventure on the agenda that really didn’t seem like it was going to happen.

For the 600th post, my vision was to visit Zone 6. If it had been the 6th anniversary last week that would have been much neater but as it was we’ve slipped out by a year and it was the 7th anniversary last week. I’ll come up with a way to mark that some other time. I scoured the zones map of London for a while, seeing what kind of delights Zone 6 might conjure up. Epping was a frontrunner until I realised there wasn’t much to actually *do* in Epping. The ironic thing is that my children came up with a brand new and very irritating game today, which was coincidentally called “epping” and just consisted of making little “epp epp” noises at each other till one of them snapped. I know.

Next thought was to just post about the night we spent in Zone 6 a few weeks back, camping at Suntrap. But I came to realise I wasn’t ready to talk about that yet. Yes, camping. Yes, I’ve changed.

So when I spotted Ruislip Lido on the map, over to the leftish, it seemed like the perfect plan. It had long been on my list of places to visit. A lido seems a great place to hang out in this heatwave and it linked in with two of my previous Summer Holiday projects – it finally bagged Hillingdon for us in the great London Boroughs Project of 2015 and it certainly ticked a box in the “Spend some time on the Met Line” item of 2014’s Bucket and Spade List. Sometimes I feel like I just do these projects for my own amusement. Scrap that, I definitely do.

But it didn’t seem likely at all. End of term lethargy, a mild hangover after those sneaky drinks and generally bad tempers all round meant that no-one wanted to get dressed and no-one was likely to be making West London sandcastles this afternoon. So we decided to start small. Coffee and milkshakes at Ziggys to get us going, along with a pain au chocolat in Snail Park and then we’d see if we could board a train.

Caffeine, sugar and social interaction worked wonders and by 11am we were on our way. And what a very long way it was. First change was at Walthamstow where we ducked out to Costa to buy a sandwich I would later regret and to have a post coffee pee. Next change was a long one at Kings Cross and after that we settled down for the likely 40 minutes or so we’d be spending on the Metropolitan Line. Roo had got his weekly Phoenix comic through the door just as we were leaving and it seemed like the perfect time to crack it out. Eva had Book 17 of Magic Animal Friends, which we’d managed to find in our library. (it seems fairly similar to books 1-16) so we had relative peace from Kings Cross to around Wembley Park.

I amused myself by watching us overtake first a Jubilee Line train and then a Chiltern Railway one (though the Chiltern fought hard). That’ll teach you puny trains for stopping at Neasden. Once the kids had finished reading, they started to get restless and the “epping” game began again. Ruislip tube could not come soon enough.

By this point, the kids were not convinced of the value of this adventure:

They remained unconvinced as we crammed on to the very crowded H13 bus to get us to the Lido. It was only when they glimpsed the holiday-in-Hillingdon vibe of the sand and the sea that they started to come round to the idea. First though, they wanted a play on the outdoor gym.

Everything properly exciting – the sand, the beach playground and the cafe – seemed to be on the opposite side of the lake to where the bus drops off so we had to walk around the side but happily, there was a planets walk to do as went. We had done something similar on the Isle of Wight a few years ago and it’s a good way to get kids running to the next sign, especially when it starts with the Sun and the planets which are more clustered together, as this one did. Of course, Wilfully Obscure Boy was replacing all the actual planet names with ones from Star Wars and then telling Eva she’d read them wrong but hey, that’s to be expected isn’t it?

Talking of things which are to be expected, let’s not dwell on the insane plan of trying them to sit down on the sand and eat their sandwiches before doing any more playing and/or getting their hands covered in sand. I surprise myself with my incompetence sometimes. The Chipotle Bean Wrap I’d got as payment for the loo trip was a bit of a disappointment too as it contained some stuff I’d been sick during pregnancy and now couldn’t really stomach. I think I just got dazzled by the chipotle sauce and forgot to read on. The wrap had a semolina kinda coating to it too, which in the circumstances tasted uncomfortably like sand. A total washout.

But let’s move on. I realise I’ve hit 900 words without actually blogging about the place we went to so here’s some lovely photos of the shiny new beach playground:

And the kids burying themselves in the sand once they’d finally finished those darn sandwiches:

Now, you might have made the same assumption as me that one of the principal draws of a lido was the chance to swim in the lake. However, I’d been pre-warned by a West London friend that swimming was prohibited and paddling wasn’t advised due to the poor water quality. So I had prepped myself and the kids for what might have otherwise been a massive disappointment. Luckily, there is a splash park right next to the beach so it’s still a good place to cool down after a spot of sunbathing:

I’m totally craving a lake swim now though. I’ve been going to London Fields lido of a morning lately but it’s not quite the same as a wild swim, however wild Hackney might be. But blue-sky thinking about today – I was solo with both kids so couldn’t have gone past ankle depth anyway, as Eva still is nowhere near swimming and gets very wussy in cold water. So wild swimming will have to wait for another time.

Next, we had a play in the other playground which had older and crankier equipment but still perfectly serviceable:

I almost forgot the most important thing about Ruislip Lido, which was that this scene from “The Young Ones” was filmed there. And I am talking about the 1960s Cliff Richard musical, not the 80s TV show. I was channelling my inner Carole Gray as I strolled around being mobbed by kids. I didn’t quite have the statement frock but prom dress shapes are quite impractical for the beach anyway. If you’re a fan of both the lido and the film, someone has put together a side-by-side location comparison here. Gotta love YouTube sometimes.

The sky was darkening and my stomach was rumbling after that half a wrap earlier. It took some persuasion to get the kids into the cafe but I promised them a slushie and/or an ice cream while I had a quick panini. Eva is still not be trusted with a double ice cream as she’s the world’s slowest eater and it had all melted by the time she made any progress. I had to move the Phoenix pretty quickly after this shot:

I was still convinced it was about to chuck it down, so we had the briefest of plays on the sand digger before I made them leave. Obviously they both wanted it at the same time but after some maneuvering, they managed to both have it at the same time:

Because of the thunder and lightning forecast, we decided not to explore the woodland this time but there’s a huge area of forest around the lake as well as the continuation of the planets walk (we’d got from the Sun to Saturn by the time we reached the beach, or Alderaan to Bespin if you believe Roo). There’s also a miniature railway but that doesn’t start its summer holiday schedule till next Monday so wasn’t running today. There’s definitely things we’d like to do if we went back and I’m sure we will go back. It really feels like a mini-holiday but inside the M25. Some practical stuff – there are toilets and changing rooms right by the beach, although the loos are of a metal, seatless variety and the doors are almost impossible to close let alone lock. The cafe takes card although I’m not sure about the smaller ice cream hut as you walk past the outdoor gym bit. There’s a proper pub-restaurant at the entrance as well if you’re feeling flush.

Getting back was reasonably smooth with one small glitch – the board at Ruislip said there was a Met Line train coming but it looked like a Piccadilly Line train and certainly talked like one once we’d boarded. After some deliberation we hopped off at Rayners Lane and got an actual Met Line back to Liverpool Street (didn’t fancy Kings Cross in rush hour…Liverpool Street as home turf seemed somehow more manageable). I briefly contemplated just staying on the Piccadilly Line til Green Park or Finsbury Park but I’m close enough to 40 as it is  – I definitely would have been past that milestone by the time we changed for the Vic Line.

As we got back to Highams Park it had just started to rain, which totally justified dragging all three of our coats around all day. You gotta take comfort in the small things…

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Mr Stink at Chickenshed – 19/07/18

Copyright of Chickenshed

 

I’ll get straight to the point – you’re wanting to know whether Roo and I managed a flawless journey to Chickenshed this time, aren’t you? Well…we aced it. Thank you for the applause. Not jumping off the 299 when it goes in the wrong direction worked out well and in fact deposited us right outside the theatre. In fact, we had time to chill out in the Chickenshed garden before the show:

 

“Mr Stink” is an adaptation of the David Walliams novel and it’s the second of his works to be staged at Chickenshed, the first being “The Midnight Gang” last summer. David Walliams is a big fan of Chickenshed, calling them “probably the most important theatre company in the world” and says he feels proud to be associated with them. Which is how we at LWAT feel as well! Always proud to be associated with Chickenshed. And I’m going to skip forward to the interval and reveal that we got to meet Mr Walliams himself. Roo was so thrilled he couldn’t pull a normal face:

But let’s get back to the start. The set of “Mr Stink” is an ambitious one – a two storey house, with a bedroom set built on top of the kitchen set and a staircase connecting the two. The play starts with the spotlight on 12-year-old Chloe (Lucy-Mae Beacock) telling us the story of Mr Stink, who stank. And so it begins…”Mr Stink stank”.

At heart, this is a buddy movie – an unlikely friendship developing between two lonely souls who have nothing in common on the surface but connect with each other. There’s a lot of heart in this story and it’s an assured performance from 16-year-old Beacock, with an incredibly pure singing voice that hits some very delicate and wistful high notes. When I found out she’d played Matilda, I wasn’t surprised – she has that mixture of youthful appearance but keen intelligence that both characters share.

The rest of the family are more caricatured, with Belinda McGuirk playing politically ambitious and houseproud Mother, Ashley Driver as the downtrodden and long suffering Father and perfect daughter Annabelle twirling round the stage with infinite amounts of grace, played by Courtney Dayes. The mismatch between the different characters provides most of the comedy, from Father’s former career as a rock guitarist to Annabelle performing ballet as she’d doing the washing up.

And Mr Stink himself? Well, the combination of wild beard and public school accent made me instantly think of my brother-in-law Clive but I understand not everyone will make that same association. Played by Bradley Davis, Mr Stink is an affable soul who gets increasingly demanding throughout the play but remains likeable if slightly repugnant to the prissier members of the Crooooomb family. One highlight of the first half is a scene set in Starbucks, where he manages to send all the cappuccino-sipping customers fleeing and leave the barista with a peg on his nose. As you can imagine, Roo found this hilarious.

As Chloe moves Mr Stink  and his dog into the family shed, tensions grow between her and the rest of the family with his very presence threatening Mother’s election campaign (I was surprised that her rosette was red and yellow rather than blue but I suspect that was deliberate in order to avoid making any kind of political statement). The dynamics build to a climax at the end of the first half, where Chloe’s secret is revealed midway through a breakfast interview with The Times.

A quick note for the ensemble, dressed in cheerful coloured woollens (they must have been sweltering!). Always on cue and upbeat, they brought a real energy to the show and provided some of the most memorable musical numbers. I was wowed by the effortless gymnastics during the sweet shop number, Chloe being swept up by some of the male dancers and twirled on their shoulders. It was the kind of visual spectacle that Chickenshed excel at, albeit on a smaller scale than productions like “Rapunzel” or “Stig of the Dump“.

The sun was still up as we left the theatre for the interval, so Roo had a kick around with some kids in the garden, scoring a goal just before we went back in. A goal AND meeting David Walliams – it’s like the dream interval for a 9-year-old.

The second half sees the acting debut of Jeremy Vine who appears on a giant screen as Mr Stink and Mrs Crumb take part in a show called “Politics Today”. It was very well done, with characters leaving the stage and then appearing on the screen a few seconds later. That segment features a fine piece of physical comedy from Mrs Crumb – I won’t spoiler it – as well as some kid-pleasing toilet humour. The rest of the second half digs deeper into Mr Stink’s backstory and sees the Crumb family reach breaking point before reconciling. As you can imagine, it hits a lot of emotional notes and does it very well. The action shifts from poignancy to flamboyant dance routines in a blink of an eye.

I won’t give away any more of the plot as I’d recommend you just go and see for yourself. It’s a visual and musical treat, which kids and parents can enjoy together. It was perfect for the 9-year-old but I think younger kids would enjoy it too, as long as they can concentrate for the 2 hours (including interval). The plot moves along at a steady pace so there’s rarely an opportunity to get bored and the songs are super-catchy (Stinky winky winky!). It’s a great show to kick off the summer holidays – light hearted but with an emotional punch and a strong moral that stay with you just like Mr Stink’s stench stayed lingered in the Crumb’s kitchen. More information and tickets are available here.

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

Mr Stink in rehearsal, Copyright of Chickenshed

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Summer Holiday preview 2018

I don’t know why the school holidays always catch me by surprise but, once again, they have. The kids finish this week and I’m not allowed to hand them back over till September. If you’re in a similar position, you may be looking for some things to fill those long weeks and I might be able to help you out. Of course, if it’s this glorious then you can probably hang out in the park for a full month and a bit but just in case, here are a few rainy day things to plan in.

We’ve talked about the Institute of Imagination before but this summer they’re teaming up with my old employer the Wellcome Collection to run a series of free workshops on how our brains work. You can book either for a morning or afternoon session over three days 25th-27th July but it’s explained better here. Knowing Wellcome, it’ll be medically frank but very educational and interactive.

More interactiveness over at the Horniman Museum, who are still running their Rainbow exhibition, exploring how colour shapes our world and why some colours “taste” better than others. They also have a host of other things going on, including crazy golf in the gardens, so it’s probably worth planning to hang out for the full day if you’re heading down there.

We still haven’t been to the refurbished Postal Museum but there’s loads going on there over the summer as well – craft workshops and storytelling plus the sorting office play area and the mail train. I will review it one day, honest.  A bit more familiar to us is the Discover Centre in Stratford and they have a packed summer programme, including screenings of films of Donaldson/Scheffler books. If you’re a Newham resident they often have deals going for locals, so worth signing up to their mailing list. Nearby is the Olympic Park, which is always fun to hang out, and the new IQL (International Quarter London) has some activities planned. Their Lego City Workshop seems to be sold out, which is a pity but again it’s probably good to keep an eye on the website in case they run more sessions.

Of course, we always recommend a bit of kids’ theatre on this blog and one of our favourite places to go is Chickenshed. This summer they’re staging Mr Stink by David Walliams, starring Jeremy Vine. It opens this week, 18th July, and is running til 6th August (booking and details here). Chickenshed are also hosting a instrument making workshop in Hyde Park on 4th August, which sounds like lots of fun – have a look here for more info.

We seem to have segued neatly into sunny-day things to do which, for once feels like we’re not tempting fate. So let’s talk about some super fun festivals coming to London this summer. First on the calendar is Monstrous Festival, which takes place on 29th July at the Printworks, Surrey Quays, and features activities for all ages of child – I reckon Reuben will love Arcade Alley, with 1000 video games, and The Beast – a giant inflatable obstacle course (pictured below). Eva is probably going to be more interested in the Prince and Princess Unicorn Land, obvs.

 

 

Later on in the summer, and with a folksier vibe, is Wild Child Festival in Dulwich (17-19th August). Here you’ll find storytelling in the woods,  theatre and ballet shows and more unicorns. Eva’s gonna have the best time this summer. Tickets for Wild Child have to be bought in advance, as they’re not sold on the door, but they include everything like crafts and face painting and all the performances. It should be super fun.

Two more things to tell you about and you probably know about them already – Udderbelly Festival at the South Bank Centre featuring such shows as “Morgan & West’s Utterly Spiffing Spectacular Magic Show For Kids (and Childish Grown-ups)!” – and London Theatre Kids Week, where kids go free with the purchase of any adult ticket. More information here.

Phew! Is that enough to keep you busy? Don’t worry if it isn’t…more tips and ideas will be coming soon…

 

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Welcome to London, Mr President!

 

You may have noticed there’s a special guest in town. Well, not actually *in* town or at least not more than briefly. He stopped off in Regents Park last night but hightailed it out before any of those very, very sad protesters turned up. He felt unwelcome, apparantly.

Which is a pity because so many of us came out to mark his trip! It’s hard to pin down exactly why we’re all compelled to come out on the streets against Trump when other despots visit London with minimal fuss. But it’s hard to ignore the motormouth tangerine Tweeting machine so we’re all more than familiar with his words and actions.

And there is plenty to protest about. Do you dislike sexism? Racism? Bullying? Homophobia? Islamophobia? Sexual harassment? Cruelty to children? Nepotism? Aggressive capitalism? Fascism? Plagarism? Reality TV? Pick one, pick any and tell me again why there’s no point in protesting. I don’t often get active in my activism but this time I felt I should. For all of the reasons above and more.

A weekday protest is a tricky one when you have a job and kids in school and stuff but I got round it by putting the kids into afterschool club and going down to the protests after work at 2. That gave me a solid 90 minutes or so and I was determined to use it wisely.

I’d seen on Facebook that the Commoners Choir were looking for extra singers to bolster their numbers and you know me, any excuse to sing. They were meeting at Regents Park tube at 2 but I got there a full half hour later than that, so totally missed them there. And there didn’t appear to be any kind of protest either. A few protesters, sure, wandering in various directions but no massed crowds.

I took a punt and turned down Great Portland Street. Still nothing. So I took a right towards Portland Place, hoping to find a friend even if if I didn’t find the choir. And I did find a friend! A WAM choir friend. So unexpected and lovely in the midst of the crowds. Because yes, I’d finally found the protest as well.

Reassuringly, it was huge. Stretching down all the way to Oxford Circus and (I was guessing) beyond with people queued up Portland Place towards the park. I’d started to worry that no one was gonna turn up.

Then I found the Commoners! For those of you who don’t know they’re a politically charged choir from Leeds, who sing about injustice, ignorance, prejudice and fascism. The perfect fit for a protest against someone like Trump. There was a little maneuvering to do before we were in a good position to sing, away from the loud music and brass bands, but once we were on Oxford Street we marched and sang “Citizens of the World” and “Get on Your Bus and Go Back Home”. Obviously I didn’t know the songs but they were pretty easy to pick up as we went along. I can only apologise to the proper choirsters if I was singing something completely different to what I was meant to be but hey, it was pretty noisy so I’m not sure anyone could hear all the detail.

I hadn’t taken the kids because I was worried that the atmosphere would turn ugly, especially in the light of England crashing out of the World Cup. But actually it would have been fine – the vibe was sunny and polite. Maybe we’ve taken the example of Gareth Southgate to heart as a nation and have decided to tackle tricky issues with a good spirit. All kinds of people were there – from kids in slings to older protesters, like camel lady here:

I couldn’t work out what it meant so I asked her and it was a representation of Donald Trump’s hair. You see – now it all makes sense. There were signs about Trump’s foreign policy, his harassment of women and the simple but eloquent “Trump Means Fart”.

So welcome to the UK Donald! Maybe next time you’ll be brave enough to come out and see us all.

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