Right, let’s get this straight before we get carried away – do not go to Stratford over the next month or so. It will be hell. The station was busy enough today and will be worse over The Olympics. You will never get out. Or in. Wherever you’re trying to go, you will not get there. And yes TFL, combining DLR, tube, Overground and bus station into one “hub” may seem like a good idea on paper but good grief, it’s confusing to those of us who just want to exit your station. Please!
Assuming you’ve taken my advice and visited Stratford after All This Nonsense has calmed down, you will eventually exit Stratford station and catch sight of the famous Stratford Rhubarb, just past the not-so-famous Stratford Centre. Walk towards the Rhubarb, for behind it lies a thing of wonder. The Discover Centre. And therein lies the point of this post.And it must be a thing of wonder to lure anyone to Stratford that isn’t in possession of a rare and overpriced piece of paper. I last went to central Stratford on New Year’s Day 2007 – a sorry tale involving having to hand some shop keys over to someone on our way back from Hampshire, with no car. Nathan didn’t thank me, even after I took him to Nandos. I may have also visited a friend round there later that year, but that was only to move her the hell out of the place. Tammy – as ever – bested me on this front, but her story of why she hasn’t visited Stratford for 20 years isn’t mine to tell.
So, the Discover Centre! It’s two floors of interactive-y goodness, loosely linked by a “story” theme. Activities for older children involve listening to and making up their own stories (there are booths for both listening and recording), and the whole place is meant to spark their imaginations. There are fake rivers, with crocodiles, there are monsters and dragons and a secret cave. Obviously, Roo isn’t at the story-writing stage yet, so breezed past the writing and the suggested activities. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t appreciate the monsters, crocodiles and secret caves. He played for four hours and still didn’t want to leave at the end. A recommendation if there ever was one.
The first section (after the cafe/foyer) was the Story Trail, home of the aforementioned secret cave. Roo could have spent hours on that alone – a simple mixture of a cave with climbable sides and roof. Scramble up one side, play with the blocks on top, wave to Mummy through the portholes and netting, scramble down the other side. Repeat. It was great fun, except when he had a tussle with a small girl and she gouged a hole in his face. Ah, East London. Roo came out crying that “little girl hurt me” and I did the “there there, not so bad” routine till I saw she’d actually drawn blood. Ouch! To be fair, it was dark in there and I’m sure it was an accident but still, it’s an impressive battlescar for a day out. And will do nothing for his phobia of little girls (thus far, it’s only one specific little girl at playgroup that he’s scared of…and she is a bit spooky looking)
So, what else was there to do on the Story Trail? An indoor slide, overlooked by a dragon, a helicopter with steering wheel, a puppet booth, dressing up clothes, a craft table, floor lights that make noises when you step on them…and a lot more. Everything was so tactile and interactive, and kookily designed. It was great.
I love this photo. Roo and I are wearing “knight hats” (his description..could be “night hats” for all I know), Eva is looking unimpressed and Tammy is just giggling at us in the background. And – like 95% of photos on my phone – it features my new wrap. I dyed and batiked that myself, with only a little help from a friend. I bet you didn’t know I was crunchy, hey? I never used to be…
So, onto the Story Garden. I love an imaginative outdoor space and this was really well designed. There was a huge pirate ship, which always goes down well with Roo (though he was not welcoming to stowaways), a wooden taxi, which Jake drove to “Number One Shop” at Roo’s request, outdoor musical instruments, a treehouse and a monster slide. Too much to take in, just reading that? Try being there. I loved the monster slide especially, though again Roo wasn’t happy about sharing it. The musical instruments were great too, and had their beaters attached to them, unlike at The Horniman Museum, so kids couldn’t run off with them and leave others musically frustrated.
So, the garden was a big hit. Lots of scope for imaginative play or -like Roo and Jake – just running around going “aaahhhhhhh”….like boys do. There’s also a lot of space for picnicking (tables and chairs on the patio and benches under a wooden gazebo), which I would recommend you do. Neither Tammy nor I brought lunch for ourselves and both ended up choosing between the world’s most uninspiring sandwiches in the cafe (cheese salad or ham salad). The staff there admitted that the cafe is kinda peripheral to the whole operation and you could really tell. It was equipped well for a drink or snack, but not for lunch. Literally two choices of sandwich and that was it – nothing else vaguely lunch-like. A missed opportunity, I think. So…bring a picnic.
Lastly, onto the special exhibit in the basement – “Superheroes”. I didn’t quite follow the plot (something to do with missing vowels), but that’s what happens when you’re chasing a 3-year-old around. I think Jake may have been disappointed that the superheroes weren’t ones he knew (he was wearing his Spiderman t-shirt for the occasion), but Roo seemed to have fun. It was set up in the form of a town, with different shops to duck into and do activities in. There were buttons to press, a super car to drive, a supermarket to raid and a pulley with foam bricks that fitted into a wall (similar to the pulley system at The Science Museum). Oh, and a toddler-sized basketball court. Roo, as you can guess, loved it. Eva, as you can guess, was largely oblivious.
I’ll leave you with this image, cause you can really see his face-gash here (and attractive sweaty head). Remember kids, play can be dangerous….
VERDICT: A gem in the heart of Stratford – great for a full day of play. Could do with more of a selection at the cafe and more than one baby-changing point.