Before I tell you about our epic day yesterday, I need to make one thing clear – I am giving nothing away about the 2014 CBeebies Panto. It was magical, brilliant and remarkably well-cast but beyond that, nothing is escaping from me. Not even under torture.
And torture may be the word that flies to most people’s minds when they consider 2 long train journeys in one day with a 5-year-old. But, yknow what? It all worked perfectly. It wasn’t torturous at all, or even particularly strenuous. It was a lot of fun and, while it could have gone horribly wrong, it didn’t. So, let me tell you all about it.
When considering the madness that is London–>Manchester and back in a day, I made a few important decisions. Firstly that I would take a rucksack full of snacks and games for fuel and entertainment. Secondly I would pre-book tickets for the train so that we would have reserved seats. Thirdly, that I wouldn’t take Eva. That was probably the most important decision. So, she stayed with Nathan (and actually, they ended up going to Winchester…see Eva talking about it here) and Reuben and I went on a mother-son bonding day. We were both very excited, up at 6 and dressed by ten past, all of which led to us arriving at Euston at:
For an 8:40 train (just to the left of the clock). I know. But better to be prepared, hey? With so much time to kill, we went for a coffee-and-juice break at Caffe Nero:
That set us up nicely for the day, along with a second breakfast of croissants once we were in our seats (see, told you I was prepared). Roo busied himself with a Beebies magazine while I watched the horizon and tried not to let the tilting train make me travel sick. Turns out the countryside is quite pretty when you’re going past it at high speed:
England slipped by and so too did the 2.5 hour journey. Just as Reuben starting to complain of boredom, the train manager magically appeared at my elbow with an activity pack for him.:
That, and a pack of dinosaur top trumps, saw us happily gliding into Manchester Piccadilly at just before 11. Oh, along with the recorded “do not flush” message in the train toilets that Reuben thought was the most hilarious thing ever. Virgin must think it’s quite hilarious too, as they’ve written it on the lid as well:
Brilliant. Anyway, back to Manchester..
Now, the bit I hadn’t quite prepared for was the journey from Piccadilly to Media City. I knew it involved either a tram or a train of some kind, and we managed to find one of those more by luck than judgement. We didn’t have a ticket though, and every machine had a confused family in front of it trying to buy tickets to get to Media City too. I was beginning to suspect that the Beebies event might be quite popular. I was also suspecting that we wouldn’t get a ticket in the minute we had before the next tram. We didn’t. We missed the tram and the next one was a full 12 minutes away. That seemed like a long wait to us, so we dived back upstairs to get some sandwiches before getting on a tram that we assumed would take us in the right direction. The hundreds of other families talking about pirate ships gave me a clue that we might be OK. But which stop to get off at? Now, that was a question. Salford Quays? Media City? Somewhere in between? On the advice of another family, we chose Harbour City. Was it right? Well, you’ll have to wait and see. First, we had the excitement of going on a train on the road that also ran on grass. It blew Reuben’s mind, and mine too if I’m honest.
We also had the fun of sitting at the fron and pretending to drive. Again, not a pleasure solely reserved for Roo:
We arrived at Harbour City pretty quickly but, as you Mancunians know, it wasn’t the right stop. Still, it was close enough and we could follow signs to the Lowry to find where we needed to go.
Arriving at the Lowry, it was pretty packed. There was the CBeebies Jolly Rodger, and a row of activity tents, offering crafts, water play, sand play and workshops. There was also the CBeebies live stage, where Dr Ranj compered a line up of poets and entertainers that had the crowd singing or rapping along. There were also a lot of queues – I think it was busier than anyone could ever have anticipated. So, we skipped the activities for the time being and went to the blissful peace of the bloggers’ drinks reception. I won’t tell you much of what went on in there…but it was pretty cool. Roo was excited enough to pose with what he calls the “Furniture Hotel” characters:
So, you can imagine how excited he was when some real live Beebies ‘slebs walked in. As was I. I’ll show you the slightly blurry shot of him and Dr Ranj:
But the other presenters were in costume, so that would be spoilerific. Maybe I’ll show you after Christmas.
Gosh, I sound smug now. I apologise. It was just such a lovely experience for
me Reuben to meet these people we spend every day with. We’d met a couple of them before, but Roo has a mega-short memory so he was just as excited as he was last time.
And then on to…the panto! I really am giving no details away, but I can reveal this EXCLUSIVE review of the show by one Reuben A.Schoolboy:
“It was funny and nice”.
I can confirm that Reuben did indeed find it funny. He bounced out of his seat several times with laughter. I can also confirm that he did indeed try and ask the Controller of CBeebies which channel the panto will be showing on. If you can work it out, please do let him know.
I also can’t confirm who was or wasn’t in it, including a certain “CJ” who is a bit of a friend of the blog. But if you are a CJ fan, I doubt you’ll be disappointed. That’s all I’m saying.
After the exhilaration of the panto we headed back into the madness outside. It was still very crowded, so we walked through the activities and onto the grassy area on the other side of the Quay. Now, Londoners may not believe this but the weather was nicer in Manchester than it had been at home. It was a lovely day for a wander so we walked around and saw what there was to see. Salford Quays has that slightly surreal feeling that new areas do when you suspect you might be in a brochure rather than an actual place. . But it’s all very shiny and nicely designed.
Roo was keen to have a play so joined some kids on this sculpture that belongs to a channel most definitely not showing the CBeebies panto this year:
Then we spotted the home of Beebies itself and Roo ran in to admire the Tree Fu Tom wall before we carried on our stroll. I’d noticed the Imperial War Museum from the other side of the water and we thought it’d be fun to pop in there, if only to use the loos, and then go back out to have a snack and then go back in to play in the family activity room.
Which is what we did. Roo built a brachiosaurus out of foam blocks:
He also had something of a meltdown, which was pretty inevitable given we’d been on the go for 8 hours by this point. Outside once more, snacks administered and a toddle back over the bouncy bridge to meet an imaginary friend…it all seemed to help.
(To all the other imaginary friends who might be reading this – no, it wasn’t the one I’d planned to meet, who lives in Manchester. It was one from Somerset. Crazy, huh?!)
On the way we’d seen a little park that Roo wanted to explore, so it was back over the bouncy bridge and to this piece of sculpture, dedicated to the workers of the old shipyard. There were also a number of little jetty-things that were perfect for a bit of “Swashbuckle”-style plank-walking. But before you can walk the plank, you have to complete the tasks which, for Roo, involved dashing around the sculpture and climbing the rigging of this fiendishly difficult climbing frame:
My task involved faffing about taking arty pictures:
Well, I completed mine and Roo never got to the top of the slide so he was the one walking the plank. Not into the actual quay, you’ll be pleased to know.
Time was really starting to get on, so we started thinking about Nandos. I often think about Nandos. Sadly, Nandos wasn’t thinking of us. The Salford Quays one was extremely busy, with a 20-minute wait for tables and the alternative I found near Piccadilly didn’t exist, at least not anywhere near where the Nandos website said it was. Bah! I’m skipping ahead a bit, but the tram was so very packed on the way back in that it is probably best skipped. As is the wait at Piccadilly, where we had a much-needed Burger King and I stared at this sign for a long time before realising it said “Demonstration Only”:
So, join me if you will on the train back. It’s only 6:45pm but we’re in that weird train-time where grown men snuggle down for sleep at that time. I too was ready for sleep and built Reuben a little bed for him to do the same:
Of course, he didn’t sleep. It wasn’t even 7 o clock and he was on a train and it was all exciting. So, while adults snoozed all around us, he shut his eyes for seconds at a time before demanding more Dr Seuss books, more snacks and more dinosaur top trumps. We also made a short film, at his request. Doesn’t he look and sound sooo tired? And bless him, he gets very confused over chicken nuggets.
It was a long way home, but peaceful in its own way. We staggered off the train at 9, when again it felt like the depths of the night rather than the middle of the evening. The tube home was less peaceful, and required a lot of reading dino-facts out loud but we made it to the carpark at Walthamstow without any meltdowns and Nathan and Eva were there with the car to meet us. It was, indeed, an awfully big adventure.