The year was 2004. The birthday was a significant one. We decided to celebrate by visiting Dreamscape – an inflatable art installation where you wander through brightly coloured chambered wearing primary coloured clothes. So, a bit like soft play really. Amazing what you think of as fun before you have children.
Getting off the 12 at the Plough, we somehow missed Dulwich Park and ended up in Dulwich Woods. Walking deeper and deeper into the wilderness, we slowly realised that the chances of finding an art installation in the forest were slim. We started to panic as we discovered a Blair Witch-style bundle of twigs, but were comforted when we bumped into a family with a 5-year-old child. Presumably they’d only been walking round in circles for a few years at most then. We thought we’d never get out. Until we got out, and realised that we hadn’t been more than 100m from a main road the whole time. Countryside phobia strikes again.
Eventually, we found Dreamscape and Nathan posed for some soulful photos:
Then I made him go and stand on a traffic island in Waterloo, waiting to photograph a number 4 bus, for a project I was doing at the time. We’d invited some friends over for pizza but only two turned up and neither was in a good mood. Not the best birthday ever.
So, you can imagine my trepidation when someone nominated the Dulwich Park Cafe for the Toddler-Friendly Award. All my fears came flooding back. But this time, I planned my route carefully, to make sure we got the right park, and lodged it firmly in my head. KateMap, if you will. But should KateMap fail, Google Maps might just be able to help. I didn’t have Google Maps in 2004. And the edition of KateMap I had was that glitchy mid-2000s version which often did unpredictable things.
As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. A longish walk from the 3 route took us past the grandeur of Dulwich College and up a road which only had pavement on one side…but I did not panic. And there were the gates of Dulwich Park and there was the Maria Family waiting to greet us.
It was a bit early for lunch, so we walked through the park to the playground to see what we could see. And on the way we found good climbing trees, and a wooden bridge that crossed a pretty, duck-filled lake.
The ridges on the bridge make it a pretty extreme ride for a buggy with no suspension, but I think Eva enjoyed it. She pointed and said “duck” a lot. We miss Reuben on these adventures, but the replacement toddler is shaping up nicely.
The playground, when we found it was huge. Two roundabouts (one a wheelchair friendly one), lots of sets of swings (again, one was wheelchair-friendly but you have to get the key from the cafe), two climbing frames and a seesaw, plus some climbing things for bigger children:
It was a pleasant day, but not boiling hot so I was slightly worried about Eva’s refusal to wear her coat. Still, it did showcase her outfit, which was ever-so-slightly inspired by the “late 90s All Saints” look:
Check out those baggy combats! Eventually, she started shaking and goosepimpling, so I did some Actual Parenting and made her wear her coat. Then she was much happier, and she and Niamh just chased each other round in circles on the toddler climbing frame (you can see it in the background here…it’s about a centimetre off the ground).
Then it was time for the whole point of this trip – to see whether the cafe is toddler-friendly enough to make the shortlist. I think it’s safe to say it is. It had everything a toddler might want – highchairs, a variety of smoothie pouches, baby food and a toddler “chill-out area” with toys and dressing up things:
We were sitting outside, because we’re totally in denial about this whole oncoming winter thing, so the kids didn’t have much chance to play. But Eva had a little rummage around while I waited for the loo (which of course had baby changing facilities – and if you forget your nappies, you can buy them from the counter).
The sausages in hers were smaller. That’s quite some lateral thinking. Meanwhile, Thomas enjoyed some baked beans which fitted his baked bean ideal and I had some lovely, studenty potato wedges with cheese and bacon. Maria had a coffee, which seemed to be a pretty good standard (she didn’t reject it outright…and she has high standards). The cafe was packed with small children, to the extent that you feel slightly sorry for anyone trying to have a quiet coffee on their own. It is quite ridiculously baby-friendly. The shortlist hasn’t been finalised yet, but I like its chances.
Sausage sandwich doggy-bagged up (not in the kind of doggy bags they were selling at the counter…you don’t need to know about those), we walked back past the lake and Eva and Thomas stopped to make friends with some Canada Geese:
But we needed to go and pick Reuben up and so cut through the gardens of Dulwich Picture Gallery to get there, taking in some random modern art along the way:
Reuben happily finished up Eva’s sausage sandwich, and then we went to do something completely different. It was the Kennington Harvest Celebration at the local church at 5PM and we went along, on the promise that there would be animals from Vauxhall City Farm in the service. We weren’t disappointed. Here’s the pony that was waiting outside:
I sadly didn’t get any shots of the chaos that ensued when the animals came inside, but I should have. The appearance of some baby bunnies sent the school girls into a frenzy of “Awwww….!” and the sight of a goat wandering down the aisle of a church was something quite special. There was also ballet, opera, a gospel choir and a reading from Kate Hoey MP. All kinds of people were there, and lots of children so it was a lovely community event. One to go to again next year!