A Very Blurry Trip to France – 16/03/19

Well, that was an interesting day. On Friday afternoon, in a fit of despair at the sight of IDS’ Brexit celebration, I pulled a Tracy Jacks and declared I was going to leave the country. Then, as soon as Nathan got home, we packed the car and left home without warning, heading to Dover to stare at the seafront with the aim of getting on the first available ferry to France.

Except it wasn’t entirely without warning and it wasn’t nearly as spontaneous as I made it sound. I just sometimes like to be a bit dramatic on social media and IDS chuckling with Tim Martin over some Turkish food was enough to make me declare something along the lines of “if you don’t hear from me in the near future, I’ll be planning to leave the country”. It was entirely true but honestly, it was something we’d been planning for weeks. A day trip to France as a kind of Brexit farewell tour. Of course, by the time it rolled around it was becoming increasingly clear that we wouldn’t be leaving the EU at the end of March but still, it was a symbolic gesture. A complicated, high-effort gesture but not as pricey a gesture as if we’d taken the Eurostar.

Still, we had our reservations, looking at the yellow weather warning hovering over Dover for Saturday. The ferry was a tenth of the price of the train, which helped me to constantly justify *why* we were on a boat in a hurricane…but we’ll get to that. We also had to pay more as foot passengers than we would have as car drivers but again…we’ll get to that.

Seeing as the crossing only cost us £40, we decided to splash a further £30 or so out on a hotel for the night before the crossing. The Premier Inn on Marine Parade looked pretty close to the ferry terminal, although Google Maps worried me by telling me it was a 28 minute walk to the ferry “via car lanes”. That didn’t sound good at all. I also found it tricky to work out whether we could leave the car at the hotel for the day while we went across and back.

But that’s why I do these things – to find out how it all works so that I can impart my “wisdom” to all of you. Here’s some wisdom – don’t go to France in a hurricane.

Or if you choose to ignore that wisdom, join me at the Premier Inn and we’ll take it from there. Yes, you can leave the car there for the day – the parking was free while we were checked in but we had to pay £6 to leave it there from the time we checked out to midnight on Saturday. At no point did we consider that we might not make it back before midnight but – spoiler – we did make it back. Just about. The £6 had to be in change and I only had a tenner so once I’d installed Nathan and the kids in our room, I went down to the bar to get a glass of wine, which pleasingly cost £3.99. I’d like to say that I enjoyed the glass of wine in the bath with a book, without flooding the bathroom…but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Oops.

Lot 105

Let’s skip ahead to the next morning, where the carpet hadn’t entirely dried out and we were busy getting blown along the promenade towards the ferry terminal:


There wasn’t a lot of obvious signage showing us where to go but we followed the instructions of the hotel receptionist – along the sea front and across the road at the pedestrian crossing. Well, first we got it wrong and walked right past the sign which said “No Access to Docks” before realising that the sign might actually mean something and backtracking.

Once we got on the correct side of the road, we wandered in through the big “Welcome to the Port of Dover” sign with still not much clue at to what foot passengers do. That was to be a theme of the day. Eventually we found a map, telling us to stick to the black and white walkways even though we could only see a red line that was meant for cyclists.

We followed that anyway, crossed a lane intended for HGVs and found a black and white walkway on the other side. It was a bit like following a trail of breadcrumbs but we picked our way to the terminal building and managed to check in on time. Somehow.

Then we sat on some chairs near a Costa for what seemed like an incredibly long time. Eva was looking longingly at the Tangfastics in the vending machine but I had to remind her that it was only just gone 8am and not exactly prime haribo time. She stole Reuben’s joke book and amused herself by telling us all jokes instead. Reuben complained about having his joke book stolen. Time dragged on. Luckily, the sole glass of wine I’d had wasn’t enough to give me a bad head in the morning but I wasn’t exactly filled with a sense of enormous wellbeing.

What we were waiting for was a bus. It hadn’t been at all clear on the P&O website what foot passengers were meant to do at Dover so I’d assumed there would be some kind of walkway from the terminal to the ferry, like at an airport. But no, a bus was going to drive us all onto the car deck before all the cars were loaded and drop us off there, I say all – there were probably around ten of us. No one knew exactly when this bus would turn up, hence the seemingly endless waiting time. And no one mentioned what we were meant to do when we got to Calais either.

But eventually yes, the bus arrived and drove us in circles around the port before stopping at the edge of the ramp and making us all get onto a different bus which, as promised, dropped us on Level 3 of the ferry. Anything we might want to do on the ferry started around Level 8, so it was quite the climb to get up there. Stair climbing would be another theme of the day.

Seeing as we’d boarded before all the cars, we pretty much had the run of the ship. So we went for a breakfast at the food court, where they were very generous with the replacement items (although I didn’t realise they weren’t so generous with the condiments – you have to pay for those) so I ended up with four rashers of bacon plus some scrambled egg for Roo. We didn’t really need to buy him his own, especially as we trying to encourage him not to gorge too much before heading out on the shaky seas. But we did buy him one and he did gorge himself. Luckily, we got breakfast down before we started moving so weren’t trying to eat a Full English while feeling queasy. In case you’re wondering, Eva had a pain au chocolat and a pot of jam. At least she ate *something*.

The journey over was pretty uneventful, if a little rocky. We made a base in the Family Lounge, where Nathan and I alternated who got to lie down on the squishy chairs and who got to sit in the Kids’ Zone on the child-sized red sofa. Reuben made friends with a talkative boy called Ben who liked Marvel, so that was the perfect entertainment for him all the way across. There was a screen with what looked like DC episodes lined up but no one to operate it and unlike the ferry journey to the Isle of Wight, no magic people to amuse the kids. Lucky we found Ben, really.  No one felt too seasick and Calais appeared before too long.

Now for the tricky issue of how we  got off the ship and into Calais. Nathan had spotted a sign somewhere saying “Calais Foot Passenger Exit” but neither of us knew exactly where to find that sign so we did a full loop before locating it near the Information desk. It led us down a flight of stairs where we could see a door that might link up to some kind of walkway. And then we saw the walkway which would link up to the door and it was all making sense…except that no one else was standing in this particular bit of corridor. Where were the other six of so people we boarded with? Eventually Nathan went back up the stairs to see if he could spot them and yes, there they all were sitting around by the Information desk. So we went back up there and waited…and waited some more…. it had a similar feel to leaving Dover.

It was a while before a cheery man in a high-vis turned up and escorted us back down to the car decks to wait in a very small stairwell for the bus to turn up. Obviously, every single other vehicle had to clear out before the bus could drive onboard, so that might give you some idea of how long this whole “waiting at the bottom of the stairs/waiting at the top of the stairs/waiting at the bottom of some different stairs” malarkey took. It was alright being first on the boat but combining it with last out made the whole journey about an hour longer than it should have been. I think we started looking for the exit around 11:30 and didn’t touch French soil until 13:15 French time…so 45 minutes of waiting around by my best guess. Seemed longer with whiney kids.

Once we were on the bus, things were pretty quick. We didn’t need to go through customs as we’d had our passports checked at Dover by both French and British border control  – the French officer had surprised Eva by addressing her by name and she had charmed him by saying “merci” as he handed it back. And we already knew our way out of the port and onto the main road, thanks to a mini-excursion on the way back from the Netherlands in 2017. Google Maps again reckoned a 28 minute walk to the town centre but it was more like 20 minutes, even at dawdling pace. My main aim was to “get some fresh air” after so long cooped up in terminals, buses and boats….we certainly got that. The air was so fresh that it was like having a hurricane blowing in your face. Again.

From the boat we’d spotted the Calais Lighthouse and the kids were keen to have a closer look. So we climbed the hill to see if we could climb the lighthouse but it was shut for lunch, so we just took a photo instead:

Lots of things in Calais were shut for lunch or just shut full stop. Eva, who’d not had a cooked breakfast, was whining for lunch and specifically some french fries or pommes frites as she’d been practising saying. She later informed me that she’d learnt the French word for “French” and I was suitably impressed. Less impressed when I realised she was thinking very literally and now had deduced that “pomme” meant “French”. Good try, Eva. Roo had been practising a phrase that I had cobbled together in my pidgin French – “Ma souer voudra l’escargot s’il vous plait”. Sadly, he didn’t pluck up the courage to use it.

London Loves

We did find a place to eat pommes frites, if not escargot. I’d seen The London Bridge pub on Google Maps and it made my heart sink a little to consider eating out in France in a place so heavily Brit-themed. But the menu contained things that both kids would eat, at a reasonable price and the reviews were positive and the location handy so it was a legitimate option in my mind. As it turned out, it was the only eating establishment in Calais that we passed at 1:30ish that was open and busy and ready to serve us food. So, to The London we went.

I spoke some French though. My skills in translating ice cream flavours for the kids surprised even me and I managed to more or less order for us all without resorting to too much English. The kids mumbled their “merci”s and got disproportionate amounts of praise for it. Eva didn’t eat her chicken nuggets because…she’s Eva…but made a good effort on her chips and her jus de ananas. Needless to say, her glace framboise disappeared without trace. Those of us who’d had big breakfasts struggled a bit to eat our lunches but Nathan managed his chicken burger and I had most of my “Bacon Groove” pizza although it was a little odd. I wanted something I wouldn’t typically eat in London itself and this pizza certainly fit the bill. Stonebaked base, BBQ sauce, lamb mince, boiled potatoes, mushrooms and a sparing amount of cheese. Tastewise, it was more like a cottage pie than a pizza. Not bad, just….odd. And I never eat the crusts on pizza anyway, so I was always going to leave a bit of it.

After lunch, we needed yet more fresh air and exercise so we walked around the square and looked at the statues of Charles de Gaulle and Yvonne Vendroux and the watchtower – Tour de Guet. I worked out that it was built in the 13th Century as it had an inscription saying “XIII siècle” and I know the phrase “fin de siècle”. Aceing this Year 7 French lesson recall!

We wandered past the Notre-Dame church but Eva declared that she was bored so we decided to go back to the lighthouse and see whether it was open for climbing yet. It was! We had to resort to English to navigate the tricky conditions around climbing the lighthosue in such tricky weather and our lack of change in Euros but the staff had excellent English so they did all the hard work.

(As I’m writing this, an advert has just popped up on the TV urging me to “soak up the sun” and “get that ferry feeling” aboard a P&O ferry – “where time is the only thing flying”. Thanks, but I think I got enough of that ferry feeling yesterday and time wasn’t exactly flying. More on that in a moment. Plus, it was not the weather to be thinking about sunny beaches)

So, we paid our 12EURO for the lighthouse and started off by watching a short film about the site before starting the 270-step climb. I was getting a little paranoid about making it back to the ferry on time so think we skipped some of the elements of the guided tour but we made it all the way up, even if only Nathan went out onto the balcony. It was really, really windy so they’d made us promise not to take the kids out there and I think that was probably wise because Eva may well have been whisked away as she weighs so little. Her weight had definitely worked to her advantage as she was skipping up the steps like a mountain goat though. I was ready to give up by halfway but she kept urging me on with a “come onnn Mummy! Why are you so slow?”

I’d probably been a bit overcautious in leaving an hour to get back from the lighthouse to the ferry port but I was still working on Google’s estimates, which were well over the top. It was actually about a 12 minute walk back and we got to the terminal with a full hour before the bus was departing at 4:45 to take us onto the ferry. But at least we’d been told an exact time for the bus departure, and the route into the terminal had been signposted with big friendly signs:

An improvement on Dover, that’s for sure. We were all exhausted after our lighthouse climb, so just found four seats together and slumped there, all reading our books and ignoring each other. I also plugged my phone in to charge for a bit, even though it was out of arm’s reach. My phone is so covered in sellotape that no-one would ever bother to steal it, even when it’s left unattended and the battery was almost out. We were indeed having trouble in the message centre.

When we’d checked in, the lady had mentioned that our crossing had been changed to the delayed 2:20 crossing, which would indeed be quite delayed by the time we sailed at 5:30. But we thought little more of it. Ships were still sailing and that was all that mattered. The bus arrived when they said it would and we got to the ferry fairly quickly, even though we had to go through proper customs this way with a bag scanner and everything. Not entirely sure why as, again, there were only about ten of us and no-one was checking the bags of anyone in the hundreds of cars but still…in this climate you don’t question, you just comply in whatever way you’re required to do in order to get back into the country. I wasn’t *actually* planning on starting a new life in France.

Once again, we were the first passengers on and went straight to the Family Lounge, where we claimed the sofa nearest the Kids’ Zone and collapsed onto it. There we were for an hour or so, slouched on the settee, reading and snoozing and at some point we moved out of the harbour and into the Channel, which was now even rockier than it had been on the way over. By my best guess, it was around 6:00pm French time by the time we left.

On this leg of the journey, someone did turn up to operate the telly and the kids happily watched DC Lego Superheroes for an hour or so, which should by all rights have got us almost back to Dover. But something was afoot – even though we’d been going for hours we were still apparently quite far out from the Kent coast. It later transpires that the wind we were sailing into was so strong that it was preventing us even getting close. Around 6:30 British time (so 90 mins in), we were told that it would be at least another hour. It was around that point that the kids’ DVD finished and they suddenly paid the price for staring at a screen while the floor was rocking – they both felt sick and wanted to get off the boat Right Now.  That was a low. Nathan had been sleeping but was woken up by Roo suddenly having to run to the loo. He wasn’t sick but looked a suitable shade of grey and Nathan wasn’t looking much healthier. We’d been given refreshment vouchers in Calais as compensation for a delay we hadn’t yet suffered so I was planning on getting coffee as we got close to Dover, in order to perk Nathan up for the drive home. But the timings were all messed up now and the coffee I bought for him went largely undrunk as he and Roo sat huddled and queasy on the sofa.

I was sick a lot when pregnant with Roo so had a few virtual tricks up my sleeve. Roo refused mint chewing gum but Nathan accepted and I went to Plan B for Roo – combing the decks for a fruity ice lolly to combat the nausea. I took Eva with me and had just failed to find the shop when she was unexpectedly sick in my hand. Even more unexpectedly, I managed to keep the coffee in my other hand untainted and drinkable.

She felt a lot better after that but we were starting to need to get off the ship. Another announcement around 7PM told us that we were in a queue to get into Dover harbour and that it would be another 45 minutes to an hour before we docked. It wasn’t great news when kids around us were being sick everywhere. Weirdly, the Family Lounge had never filled up although a short-tempered PA announcement suggested that there was child-led anarchy upstairs in the Food Court, with a party of school kids running around and shouting unsupervised. I think we were all losing the will. Eva alone was perky, playing in the Kids’ Zone with some older girls she’d just met.

The last announcement had proved to be accurate and we were docked around 7:50, which was almost three hours since we’d set off, given the time difference. And we yet again had no idea where we foot passengers were meant to be. A steward and the signs both suggested an area past the bar, at the very front of the ship where another door was to be prove to never open on to another walkway. We found the people we’d been on the bus with and together we stood around for another half hour or so, watching all the staff descend in the lift and walk out past the HGVs. We guessed that we wouldn’t be allowed to try that ourselves. Once again, no one told us what was happening and as it turned into four hours since we’d boarded, tempers started fraying. Eventually, someone in a high-vis turned up, escorted us down to the car deck and dropped us back at an entirely deserted terminal building where Eva finally got her paws on those Tangfastics she’d been lusting after. She assured me that they wouldn’t make her sick again and, as it turns out, she fell asleep in the car still clutching a nearly-full packet. Worked out well for me once I’d eased them out of her sleeping hands. And finally, it looked like we’d made it a la fin.

So…lessons learnt from our France trip. Could do with longer to explore as we’d planned to go to the Meccano Lab but it was just too far away to get there and back in the time we had. Don’t sail during a hurricane. And if you’re sailing as a foot passenger, be very prepared to do a lot of waiting round, imagining that you’d been abandoned and losing hope of ever setting foot on dry land again. And remember at all times that you paid more to go on foot than you would have as a driver. I’m not convinced we got our money’s worth.

But as we parked up at home at 10:30, a sleepy Reuben from the backseat piped up with “That was a nice day out, wasn’t it?” And that, for me, makes the whole thing worthwhile. Pretty much.

Footnote: If you’ve been confused by some of the slightly random wording in this post, let me leave you with two images that might explain everything. There was a theme to the day, which I hope I’ve captured here. Well, there were several themes but I’m not talking about the sickness, the stair climbing or the hurricanes. Like I said, this should make all clear. Here’s the kids at two of our local hangouts. Firstly Hugs W Mugs Cafe:

And secondly, the beer garden at the Royal Oak:

There you go….is it all clear now? Or still a bit blurry?

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

How Eva Von Schnippisch Won WWII – 09/03/19

Photo Liz McBurney

I must admit I was a little cautious about taking the kids to see Eva Von Schnippisch. I was originally planning to go to the Thursday night show on my own and was expecting a “hilariously filthy” one woman comedy musical show. So it was surprising to hear that there was kids’ version on Saturday afternoon, with the rude bits taken out…still, I was game so we gave it a try.

Both versions of the show were on as part of the Vault Festival. We’d last been to the Vaults for a cosmic-themed Big Fish Little Fish three years so I vaguely knew where we were going but if I’d read my own post first, I probably would have taken the route along York Rd and behind County Hall instead of the long way round Lower Marsh again. Ho hum, live and learn. And it’s kinda exciting for the kids to go through the graffiti tunnels. Last time there had been Avengers graffiti but this time the Marvel theme was X-Men – specifically, a giant Juggernaut from the New Mutant Army. Definitely worth swinging by if you’re in the area with a superhero fan.

But onto the main attraction – Eva Von Schnippisch and her daring tale of espionage and romance in WWII Europe. Obviously, my Eva was thrilled to share a name with the star of the show (and my Eva takes her name from my German grandmother so technically should be an AY-va too). Roo was less excited about the prospect of a second Eva in the room but likes history and violence so yknow…something for everyone.

The story was told in a series of dramatic and musical excerpts, with recorded voices occasionally standing in for other characters, although often it was just Eva darting from side to side of the stage to represent two or more people at once. She certainly was working hard to tell the tale, with characters ranging from a British officer to a young Marlene Dietrich although one character was often mentioned but never portrayed….and that was the elusive “bad man at the top”, whose inner circle Eva was forced to infiltrate. All of these characters involved costume changes and flicking between languages and accents, all of which Eva did with ease.

It certainly was raucous, even in the kids’ version. There were fart gags galore, massed chanting and a lot of audience participation. Some of the edits were very discreet and prompted a bit of giggle among the adults – did that song really always say “bore”? – and others….err…not so discreet. There was a song towards the end which seemed to have an entire verse missing but Eva just styled it right out.  A bag of haribo stood in for more illicit substances and there were multiple references to Eva’s rubber ball bouncing skills, which I imagine was worded slightly differently in the original. It all worked, though. It added an extra layer of charm to the show and it’s always funny to watch kids’ faces as they’re wondering what the grown ups are laughing about.

My kids’ favourite moment was when a stick of dynamite exploded in a shower of glitter. Everyone in the audience clearly knew that it was going to happen except my Eva, who stood up in her seat and loudly declared “I did not see that coming”. She got a round of applause for that, which pleased her greatly as you can imagine. She also really enjoyed the manic haribo-eating at the end, although Roo was regretting not making a dash for the leftover sweets on the stage at the end.

So a semi-improvised kids’ version of an adult cabaret show may not be your most obvious choice for a Saturday afternoon outing but we all really enjoyed it. And the Vaults are an interesting venue to just hang out in anyway, so it’s worth popping in for a drink at the Craft Beer bar and just to soak up the slightly musty but very hipster ambience. Roo was dressed in trousers that skimmed his ankle because he keeps growing but actually, most of the males in there were dressed similarly. And Eva was dressed in a witch’s dress, a sheep costume and a superhero cape but she’s Eva…they both fitted in just fine. And luckily neither of them asked too many questions about the “Vulvarine” poster in the toilet. A nemesis for the Juggernaut outside maybe?

Oh, and Lambeth North is clearly the way to get there. We went home that way and it’s way closer and less stress than Waterloo. You’re welcome.

Disclaimer: We recieved free tickets for the show in exchange for a review but all opinions remain honest and my own.  For tickets and more information, click here.




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This IWD, Do One Thing for You

Happy International Women’s Day Boxing Day! That might mean you’re suffering a prosecco hangover after attending a rip-roaring celebration of women or it might mean you’re suffering brainache from spending the day explaining IWD to male colleagues or it might mean that you have a vague, nagging sense of emptiness about how you feel like you should have done something yesterday but you didn’t because you’re still in the fog of early motherhood or the busyness of working or just the emotional labour-overload of everyday life.

That was a remarkably long sentence but hopefully it means I’ve covered most of you womenfolk off. Because I’d like to talk to the third category – the ones with the vague, nagging sense of emptiness – but all of you. But we are women and we deserve what I’m about to say.

Do one thing for you today. One thing. Not for your kids, not for your husband but for you. Do something for your own mental wellbeing and it doesn’t need to be expensive or time consuming, it just needs to be something for you.

I just did something for me and it was expensive and it was pretty lame-ass but I’m going to tell you about it anyway but it’s been the best wellbeing thing I’ve done in years.

I delegated out my laundry. I know, I know. I told you it was lame-ass and it doesn’t feel very feminist to be talking about laundry for International Women’s Day but self-care is a feminist issue and that laundry backlog was getting me down every time I saw it. It had been there years. Seriously, now it’s all back and clean I can tell how old it is by the size of the kids’ clothes which means I now have a pile of too-small clothes that I need to put on Sell or Swap but who cares? They are no longer in my fricking laundry basket. I used a site called laundryheap.com, which picked up the massive bag of clothes one day and delivered them back clean and dry the next. I didn’t even see the people who picked up and delivered because Nathan dealt with them while I was out at choir stuff both nights. Yes, it cost us but it was an instant answer to a years-long problem. We are finally on top of the laundry and it feels goooood.

Your One Thing doesn’t need to cost as much as mine or align so depressingly with women’s domestic enslavement. It can be leaving the house for a coffee by yourself. It can be telling your partner to book a babysitter for a night out for the two of you. It can be locking the bathroom door for ten minutes while you take a shower. It can be buying yourself a packet of sugar waffles and a jar of nutella in Tesco and thinking of me while you eat them because that’s like my favourite snack at the moment and I’ve given up chocolate for Lent and am totally pathetic with it. Sob.

Listen to an empowering podcast. Listen to an amusing podcast. Listen to anything that isn’t “Baby Shark”. Order yourself some new pants from M&S online. Make a spreadsheet of things you need to do and things you’ve done already and colour in those cells a pleasing and calming green (just me?). Take ten minutes to play the piano or the guitar or just sing to yourself. Draw a picture. Play some PlayStation. Get some fresh air. Go for a run if that’s the kind of thing you like doing. Put a date in the diary to catch up with a friend. Block someone on Facebook that causes you mental anguish. Leave a few Facebook groups that cause you mental anguish.

Do you think you can do one of these? You don’t have to but I think you deserve it. And if you don’t, we have another shot at the end of the month on Mother’s Day so maybe you can do something for yourself then.

And Happy IWD to all the wonderful and inspirational women in my life. May your days be free of mansplaining and may your payslip look as good as a white male’s.

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Better Extreme Clip N Climb – 02/03/19

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll have the impression that Eva is not the bravest child in the world. Last time I’d taken her to a Better Extreme park she’d sat on the side for 45 minutes before dipping her toe tentatively into the under 5s foam pit. So you may be as surprised as I was by her request to go to the Clip N Climb at the Feel Good Centre – a fiendish array of climbing walls which you’re expected to scale with only the clip and the accompanying rope between you and a fate worse than anything you’ll see in the trampolining “Legmash!” video. But we’re keen to encourage her in new endeavours so it seemed worth spending a tenner on the off chance that she might get some kind of enjoyment out of it.

We started the day with a lively storytelling session from Craig Jenkins Storyteller.  Nathan came to meet us with Roo’s bike at the end and we had a slightly chilly walk along the Ching to Hugs W Mugs, a regular stop off of ours on the way to swimming. The magic of it is that there’s a little kids play area right outside, so you can pretty much sit inside the cafe and have a coffee while the kids play. There’s an outdoor gym across the road, which is Roo’s play area of choice and you can more or less see that one too but it’s probably best left for the kind of kids that are old enough to be crossing roads on their own <sobs quietly at how quickly that baby boy is growing up> <pulls self together and thinks about drinking coffee without children bothering me>

In short, Nathan and I had a coffee. The kids were fed – they devoured chocolate cake in  a matter of seconds before running off to play – but it felt unusually civilised.

We were almost reluctant to move on to the not-quite-so-civilised surrounds of the Feel Good Centre but we’d promised not just climbing for Eva but also trampolining for Roo so we had to go. More biking and scooting ensued, treading what’s become a well-worn path for us now. I must admit we’ve been slacking off on the biking to the Feel Good Centre over January – it’s the return leg in pitch darkness that’s the killer in winter – so have only done the trip once or twice since Christmas. It was nice to do it in daylight and it had even warmed up a bit while we were in the cafe so I could take off one of my many layers.

I’d been keen not to have to rush on a Saturday, seeing as we seem to be rushing every other day of the week, so I’d booked the Extreme Park for 2PM. Which, arriving at the FGC at 12:20, seemed a little bit like overkill. Still, we could get some lunch after all that exercise – I had a jacket potato, Nathan had a panini, kids had sandwiches from home plus a slushie each –  and there were even some kids from Eva’s year at school hanging around so I had a few fellow parents to chat to. We did end up killing a lot of time out just hanging out by the track though. Lucky it was warm, really.

What to do out there? Well, Reuben built a nest out of sticks, they ran up and down the grassy banks and Eva retold one of Craig’s stories at length, enjoying the fact that she had a captive audience. Time didn’t fly, just as Reuben hadn’t when he performed his role of “generic bird” that morning. But eventually it was 13:50 and time for final loo trips, stuff into lockers, disclaimer signing, wristbands, “Legmash!” viewing and everything else you have to do before you’re allowed in. Eva and Nathan disappeared shortly before the trampolining video started, which avoided any trauma on her part, and they watched their own video just inside the doors.

From then on, Nathan was in charge of Eva and I loosely supervised Roo (at 8+ he’s allowed in on his own but I might as well hang out there in case he needs me….it’s not like I had anything better to do). Every now and then, I’d leave Roo bouncing off the trampoline walls and wander over to see how Eva was doing. The first few times I did, she was a foot or so off the ground but not showing any signs of freaking out so it seemed like it had been worthwhile.

Then, about halfway through, the Clip and Climb seemed to empty out except for Eva and at first I couldn’t see where she was either.

Up there! No, really! My timid yittle girl who won’t even jump off a doorstep without someone holding her hand was 7.5metres off the ground and about to press the button. I don’t know what kind of metamorphosis took place at Holiday Club to make her a Climber Girl but I wish it’d happen more. She ended up completing three of the walls and got to the seventh column of the terrifying Stairway to Heaven. My flabber is still slightly gasted now.

There was no way to top that really, so we settled for stopping at Sainsburys on the way home and getting doughnuts. With obviously some basic arguing about scooter/pedestrian etiquette on the way. But relatively little in the way of tears and screaming and look at this lovely rustic spot we found for eating our doughnuts:

Bag of dog poo balanced on tree stump just out of shot. Inches from Roo’s handlebars. No, really. North Circular, giant supermarket and car park and massive pylon all also out of shot. Doesn’t this look like a perfect Pooh Sticks bridge?:

Maybe that’s where the bag came from….a willful misinterpretation of the rules.

Anyway, I’d say that was a pretty successful day out by most measures and Eva truly astonished us all. And trust me, that’s not something I say often.

For more information and to book your own Clip N Climb experience, have a look here.

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Diana Memorial Playground – 22/02/19

Ah, the curse of the working mother – having to fit the whole of half term into one day. That’s the way it worked out this term…the kids did three days of holiday club, one day of lazing around the house with Nathan and then I had one day with them to do Fun Stuff In London. And boy, did we cram a lot in.

The sun was shining, which always helps, and we stopped at the new branch of Pantry – Halex Vinoteca – so that I could fuel up on coffee, which I suspected I would need. Then we got on the train to Liverpool Street and changed onto the Central Line for Queensway. It wasn’t the quickest way but it was the way that Reuben chose because the Victoria Line made his ears hurt. And it was fine cause we had no particular marks to hit – it was all a bit of a spontaneous plan and were largely going where the (lack of) wind took us. Our first destination was somewhere we last visited in 2012, when Eva was a mere scrap of a thing in a sling and Reuben was proudly wearing a t-shirt with the legend “I am 3” on it. Which confirmed my suspicions that we haven’t been there since he was three. It was a playground commemorating Princess Diana, which would turn out to be something of a theme even the kids still have no real idea who she was.

Before that though, we needed to urgently pop to the loos. There are some just inside the gates of Kensington Gardens but they cost 50p and a fellow mother warned me as we went in that turnstiles weren’t working so kids had to duck underneath. I put 50p in anyway, because I’m just too darn British to do anything else…and then let Eva duck underneath to use them. I can’t explain the logic of all this, especially as there are toilets at the playground itself, so please don’t ask me.

I guess I thought there would be a queue to get into the playground, given it was a sunny day in half term. There wasn’t but it was insanely busy inside. I perched on a bit of wooden fence, called it “base” and let the kids loose on the pirate ship. Roo had his phone with him, so was allowed to roam a bit more freely but I tried to keep Eva in sight at all times….not too difficult as she had gone for contrasting pink and red clothes:

It wasn’t long before we had to break up play for lunch because I was starving and, as ever, had packed for the kids but not for myself. So they joined me in the queue for the hot food and I’m not going to say it was the calmest or smoothest part of the day but I got my extortionately expensive buttermilk chicken dippers, the kids found their sandwiches and we nabbed a perfect bit of grass which was, as Reuben requested, half in the sun and half in the shade.

If you’re thinking it looks remarkably sunny for February, it really was. That’s not just a fancy filter. Not quite warm enough for paddling but…we’ll get to that later. Both the kids were after some ice cream, which I agreed was a good idea but I wasn’t joining that food hut queue again. So I told them to do all the playing they wanted to and then we’d leave the park to get ice cream. So they played on the climbing frame at the back:

And on the swings:

And Reuben played “Baby Shark” in a minor key on some chromatic bells in the music area. Yeah, it was time to move on.

I’d found a gelataria in Notting Hill that had decent reviews on Google so we headed there. Our walk took us past the Diana Cafe, which always creeps me out a little. I mean, there are a LOT of pictures of Princess Diana in there. Like, a lot. Still, we’d taken advantage of her memorial so shouldn’t baulk at this particular tribute. It didn’t mean we were going to eat ice cream there though.

Badiano’s seemed like a much sounder choice. Their gelato was beautiful and they even had miniature tables and chairs for the kids to sit and draw at. It was a much-needed mellow half hour after the mania of the playground.

But we couldn’t stay inside for long on such a beautiful day. Eva wanted to go to the Science Museum but that seemed like a sunshine-less option, so I made some vague promises about going there later and took the kids on a long walk down Kensington Church Street. At first, they were fascinated by all the antiques shops and Eva especially liked the sparkly things:

But after the 20th antique shop, they were starting to tire of them. Luckily, Kensington is also a goldmine of Good Dogs and Eva was keeping herself busy by counting how many she’d seen that day. I think her day’s total was 28.

I didn’t really have a plan but thought once we got back into Kensington Gardens we’d find something to play on. I didn’t think there was a playground anywhere near but you never know. In the short term, they made do with a bit of tree climbing:

Then we walked through the Flower Walk but the main theme of the Walk seemed to be less floral and more verminous, as it was filled with squirrels and pigeons who were waging some kind of war against each other. I mean, SO many squirrels. It was like the doggyfnarea in Liverpool but for squirrels. We passed a few pretty landmarks:

But the kids were beginning to clock that no playground was in sight and were complaining accordingly. So, we made a rash and foolish decision. It was still warmish and we were hot after the long walk so what better way to play than in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain? It would allow us to spend yet more time dwelling on her life and use up the last of the sunshine hours. As long as the kids didn’t get their clothes wet because we didn’t have any spares and it wouldn’t stay warm for long once the sun was down.

What happened? What do you think?

Ohhhhhh dear. Time to go to H&M in High Street Kensington. It might seem like we were doubling back on ourselves when we had got so close to the Science Museum and that would be a true thing to think. It involved turning in the exact opposite direction to the Science Museum, waiting for the bus (the 23 turned up first) and then sitting on the bus in ridiculous amounts of traffic for the three stops we were intending to travel. It clearly would be quicker to walk, so we got off the bus opposite the Kensington Garden Hotel and sped-walked in order to beat the bus to H&M, which we pretty much did. Pretty much.

Hey kids, this is just the kind of crazy fun you get on Mummy Days. Entirely pointless long walks, winter time paddling and then ridiculous detours back again. But at least you get brand new clothes, pants and all!

Next, another ridiculous detour on the 49 bus. Don’t ask.

We made it to the Science Museum, though. It closed at 18:00 but I’d neglected to check the last entry time which, it turns out, was 17:15. So scooting in through the doors at 17:13 was cutting it finer than I intended, although a helpful staff member later told me that they actually opened till 19:00 during school holidays so I really wasn’t cutting it fine at all. I didn’t tell Eva it was open that late though, because by that point I was trying to get her back out again.

It really wasn’t the most productive Science Museum visit. We got in at 17:13, spent around 10 minutes changing into our brand new and dry H&M clothes, went to the Pattern Pod, spent 20 minutes waiting around for the parents of small children to realise that there was a queue for the drawing screens, had a dance in the little dance area and left. It was 17:45 by then and, as explained above, we were still leaving Eva under the impression that it was closing time.  My phone had died so I didn’t get any pictures, but you’ve all seen pictures of the Science Museum before, right? It also meant that the last leg of our journey wasn’t tracked as it would have shown yet another backtrack. I’ve added it in red paint on the map below so you can see just how ridiculous our day was:

Our final stop of the day was, of course, Burger King at Gloucester Road which is our now-standard Science Museum hack. It gets the kids fed before a long journey home and means that we avoid South Kensington station. Eva was delighted to get a Wonder Woman toy in her bag,  which Reuben pointed was called Diana. Princess Diana. I know, spooky….


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A Girls’ Day Out – 16/02/19

Today, Eva and I went out. With only the barest bones of a plan and only one Rainbow Magic book. And somehow we stayed out for 11 hours and, more remarkably, didn’t have any fights. It was a charmed day and I’m sure I’ll pay for it tomorrow.

Our first stop was the English class at church, which we often teach together. The students think she’s adorable and don’t even mind when she gets restless and starts flashing her pants. That finished at 1 and we were both hungry so went for a quick Happy Meal (Lego Movie toys FTW) and then went to meet some of our imaginary friends at the Candid Arts Centre behind Angel tube.

It’s an eccentric place, Candid Arts. I went there 15 years ago for a series of singing lessons and had kinda forgotten it existed until now. There’s a surprising amount of space in there, and a cafe tucked away up two flights of steps. But we’ll get to that. First, the Cambridge School of Art MA Children’s Book Illustration Graduation Show. The imaginary friends had gathered because one of us has just completed the MA – the very lovely and talented Robyn Wilson-Owen, who previously featured on the blog almost five years ago. We really should convene these imaginary friend meetings more often. I was also meeting, among others, C’sMum who featured on many adventures back when we lived nearish each other and were on mat leave at the same time. Plus friends from gig adventures, Coram’s adventures and even a friend who’d thus far only existed in my head. SPLENDID times.

And while I was chatting to them all, Eva was having a splendid time too. There were foam stickers out on the floor and paper so she could make a “nature picture” and when she’d finished that, she cruised around the various illustrators’ stand, reading all their books cover to cover and leaving encouraging notes in their feedback books. She really enjoyed it. You can tell from this bit of feedback:

If you can’t read Eva’s writing, allow me to translate – “Tee hee hee hee! Ha ha ha. Now I’ve – tee hee read – ha ha – Home – ha ha – I can’t stop – ha ha! Laughing”. I can only hope that “Home” was meant to be funny. I believe it’s the work of Bethan Stevens so I apologise if it was meant to be deadly serious.

She also wrote some touching feedback for a book called “The Gardeners” by Jo Berry – something along the lines of “I love “The Gardeners – so much mystery!” along with her reproduction of the front cover. Drawn while singing the “I Have Friends” song from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, obviously.

I should point out that we don’t let Eva watch CXG, because she’s 6. But apparently I’ve been singing that song around the house a bit too much and she’s picked it up.

And of course we had to take advantage of this ready-made photo opportunity, courtesy of Dongni Wei

By 4PM she wasn’t even partly done with the exhibition but I needed coffee so dragged her away. I wasn’t sure how much enjoyment she’d get out of it, but honestly she loved it all. More beautifully drawn books than she can ever imagine and she got to critique them all! In some ways she does take after me, I guess…there’s a future reviewer in her I reckon.

We went next door to the Candid Cafe, which was up two or three flights of narrow stairs. Eva was lured in by the front half of a golden horse sticking out of the building and she was curious to see if we could find the back. We didn’t. But we did find this little room of wonders, which I vaguely remember from my singing days there (I think I had to walk through it and out through the fire escape at the back to another room but I may have imagined this all):

There was a giant picture of a naked lady on the back wall that Eva confidently told us must be of a god because only gods are allowed to be painted naked. Reuben told her this so it must be a Fact. I’m pretty sure it’s not a fact but it wasn’t worth arguing about. She sat down to do some of her own artwork, which mainly consisted of very leggy people dressed as fairies and we awaited our coffee and cake.

Now, this probably isn’t the cafe for you if you’re in a rush as C’sMum had pretty much finished a main by the time our coffee and cake arrived but if you have no particular marks to hit, like us, then it’s just grand. Try to resist picking the wax off the candle. If I can resist, anyone can. Oh, and it was good cake – Eva got halfway through before handing it over so I did well out of the deal.

Before long, though, we did have a mark to hit. Holly and her family were in town and wanted to meet us for dinner around the Waterloo area. So we said goodbye to the imaginary friends and headed south on the Northern Line, intending to go down to Kennington on the Bank branch and back up the Charing Cross. But fate intervened, as it often does, and we found ourselves diving out of the tube at Elephant and Castle to use the toilets in the shopping centre. It’s been a long time since I last visited those particular facilities and I’m happy to report that they’re still only 20p to use and sad to report that it’s still not 20p well spent. Enough said. We got back into the tube and headed to Charing Cross as there’d been a change of plan and we were now meeting the Hollies in Pizza Hut in the Strand.

It was almost six by the time we got there so you’d expect Eva to be flagging but no, she was still being suspiciously sweet and charming, happy to eat a bowl of salad bar salad (nachos count, right?) and chat to her friends even long past her bedtime. I’m not sure she technically had dinner but again, she let me finish off her ice cream so I’m not complaining.

It was final stretch time.  I can never resist a walk over Waterloo Bridge at nighttime to take in that most London of all views so we escorted the Hollies back to Waterloo before saying goodbye outside the station:

Before going down to the Waterloo and City Line. Where we got to sit opposite this poster for five minutes and, oh lawks was it a talking point:

Eva’s reading is good and her voice clear and piercing so I’m just relieved she didn’t manage to pronounce all the words correctly. Still, as a neighbouring and only marginally more appropriate poster said, “Awks”.

We finally got home around 8:30, with he Lego Movie Happy Meal toys providing the entertainment she needed on that long final stretch. It was a remarkably successful day but don’t get used to it…normal LWAT chaos will resume soon…..

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Fleet Air Arm Museum – 10/02/19


This post has been a long time in the making – we first visited the Fleet Air Arm Museum back in October, on a visit to the Hollies. That day we spent a few hours in the cafe and the playground because the sun was shining but we didn’t actually go to the museum itself. So most of the playground photos I’m gonna use will be from that day because yesterday, the sun wasn’t particularly shining. But at least it wasn’t tipping it down like it was when we were breakfasting at a different transport museum just down the road:

Don’t ask why – it was a complicated plan. But they did a good Full English and have a room entirely full of red cars so could be worth a revisit sometime in the future. Yesterday’s aim, though, had to be an aeroplane museum. Eva’s into aviation at the moment. She yearnt about it at school. For once in her life, she even did the homework project and created a biplane from toilet rolls:

So that’s why, in short, we left one Somerset museum for another. It had stopped raining by the time we got to Fleet but the playground looked like it would be wet enough to put the kids into waterproof trousers. Luckily we had those in the car and I definitely felt like the sogginess of the playground justified all the faff of getting them both into them and then swapping them over when it became apparent that Eva had the large ones and Reuben had the small ones. Yup, definitely worth it:

It’s a lovely playground though – all air-themed and lots of things to climb:

You can see how much sunnier it was that day it was in October. Yesterday we managed about ten minutes in the waterproofs before moving on to the museum itself.

We stopped for a moment to read the instructions and make sure the kids understood the bit about NOT TOUCHING the planes. I think they understood. There was a bit of aeroplane to touch on the instructions sign itself in case impulsive kids felt the need to touch *something* right the second. Well anticipated:

Eva was anxious to get to the early aviation hall so we went through the Pioneers Gallery at quite a pace, stopping only to look at the pictures of her current heroes – the Wright Brothers – and play with the fuzzy felt board:

But the real prizes were in Hall 1 – not only the biplanes:

but also a full size helicopter you could climb into. This is how excited the kids were to be playing the “waiting to sit in the navigator seats” game:

They soon perked up:

In the same room, there was more interactive fun with dressing up and a liferaft they could climb into:

And then in Hall 2 there was an even better plane to sit in – this one let you right into the cockpit:

I asked the kids to only have a quick turn because I could see that someone else was waiting. This was not what I meant by that:

I’m glad he was having fun.

Next up was the mezzanine floor, which had a banner advertising “family activities”. Clearly by the photo above, the whole family already *were* taking part in the activities but there was more to be found. Like one of those war-planning tables you see in WW1 films where generals are pushing round soldiers and boats with long wooden sticks. You know the ones. Way cooler than the way they probably do it nowadays, all CGI and stuff.

Oh, and more dressing up too I’m guessing by the look of this photo. I was busy trying to interpret the painstaking Morse Code message Eva had left for me (it was “Mum, I love you” but frankly her Morse coding needs some work). Next door was a recreation of a plane crash in a frozen lake that was weirdly spooky:

We were all starting to flag after sleep-lite night in our Travelodge so we began to plan an escape to the cafe. First though, there was the Flight Deck simulator that looked interesting so after much deliberation, we dived through a green-lit door onto the “helicopter” which “flew” us onto the deck of an aircraft carrier. We experienced a plane landing and one taking off and both were a bit too exciting for some of the smaller people in our party. Roo wasn’t one of the smallest but he does have a brand new phobia of dummies since he started watching Doctor Who. Which was unfortunate because the “Island Tour” of the ship was full of dummies:

In each room, we had to wait for the light next to the door to turn green before we were allowed to proceed and at times, he was clinging on to the door just waiting for the light. He may have been being a tad overdramatic. Still, at least there was somewhere he could take shelter when it all got a Bit Too Much:

Talking of a Bit Too Much, it was definitely time to go for a coffee before the long drive back to London. We stopped for a quick photo opportunity:

And then left the main building to cross over to the cafe next to the playground. It was around half one and Eva hadn’t taken part in brunch so she needed lunch of some kind and Reuben decided he did too…so it was chicken nuggets and chips for the kids, caffeine for the grown ups. In Nathan’s case, the delicious and never-before-sampled “Glove in Cappucino” thanks to Eva making a oversized gesture with her glove. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t good for the glove or the coffee. Spoiler alert 2: Eva didn’t really eat this meal either because it had beans all over it. Sigh.

But still, we’d had a good day and the kids had been exercised enough to rest in the car for a few hours. Defintiely worthy of the revisit especially if you have a child that’s inexplicably into aviation.

More information here


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London With a Hangover – 19/01/19

Not a proper hangover…it’s been a long time since I had one of those. But certainly the slight grogginess that comes the morning after a Highams Park Parents’ curry night and makes you regret offering to remove the children from the house for the entire day while your husband packs stuff into boxes. But the decorators are coming to paint the kids’ rooms this week, the floors and walls of the kids’ rooms haven’t been seen for a while and it seemed like the best option was dragging myself and my progeny out for eight hours. On a a Saturday in January.

We started at a storytelling session at school, where the sound of several children pretending to be animals kick-started my recovery. Coffee and bacon seemed to be the next logical step and luckily we had a date arranged with a lady and a baby in a place that would hopefully sell both. Specifically Ellie and BabyWylie in the basement cafe of Waterstones’s, Tottenham Court Road. I never knew it was there so I think it’s relatively new and the reviews all said it wasn’t too busy so seemed like a good hangout for a couple of hours.

The coffee was good. The bacon croissant was good. I might have dropped some bits of croissant and bacon grease on BabyWylie’s head but Ellie isn’t that precious. The kids had smoothies and their own sandwiches and then went upstairs to the shopfloor to spend the book tokens Ellie had given them for Christmas. A pleasant hour or two passed, with my kids absorbed in books, a bottle of lemonade to *take the edge off* and lots of cuddles with BabyWylie.

But eventually we had to leave, and pop into Soho for the launch of a book written by a friend of ours from church. If this sounds a bit too highbrow, it probably was…the children had used up their good behaviour already and the launch was so packed out that we dropped the Wylies off and ran for it before we caused any breakages. Next stop was Forbidden Planet and thank goodness there’s nothing expensive and breakable in there, hey?

So we moved on again, to the main aim of the day which was the Museum of Childhood. Here, they keep anything expensive and breakable behind glass:

But it wasn’t really the vintage toys that we were there to see…it was the temporary exhibition on pirates. Eva had already visited with the Bunny Family but had enjoyed it so much that she wanted to go straight back and, as she kept reminding me, it’s only on till 22nd April.

They ran straight up to the first floor when we got there and started looking for clues to where the treasure was. We weren’t really stopping to look at much so just raced through the three rooms until they had all the answers.

Then it was time for some dressing up and playing on the pirate ship. And obviously making Eva walk the plank:

Before going back through at a more sedate pace so Roo could stop and listen to the “choose your own adventure” sections. The one in the first room wasn’t working but the others were quite long so he didn’t mind missing one.

I was seriously flagging by this point. We’d had a quick stop at Sainsburys at Holborn after our Forbidden Planet trip and there I’d stocked up on some mood-boosters – watermelon juice for hydration and vitamin C, Squashies for a sugar boost and salt and vinegar peanuts because it’s what Ford Prefect would do in the situation.

All of that had got me from Holborn to the museum without collapsing but there wasn’t much magic left. It was hot and noisy in the pirate room and I’d lost Eva one too many times, so we retired to the more peaceful surrounds of the duplo table, where Roo built robots and Eva played on the fire engine, tried on the vintage shoes and looked at the mannequins. At one point, a security guard approached her and asked if she was lost but it turned out he was looking for a different girl in a unicorn headband. What are the chances?

Then, of course, we needed to stop in the disco room:


And at the rocking horses:

But mainly it was time to try and remember the way to Bethnal Green overground station and, from there, return to HP. We’d stayed out for an impressive eight hours and the kids’ rooms were what Eva would later describe as “naked”.

And then I slept. You can’t blame me for that, right?

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“Welcome to the Forest” – London Borough of Culture 13/01/19

This might only be news  to those of you who have been living under a rock – or living outside the boundaries of LBWF – but London’s first ever Borough of Culture has launched this weekend and yes, it’s us! Waltham Forest! Home of Harry Kane and Damon Albarn and Iron Maiden and really, what other cultural touchpoints do you need?

The opening event was based in two different locations – Lloyd Park and Waltham Forest Town Hall – with street entertainers along Forest Road to link the two sites together. It meant that no buses were going down Forest Road, so we ended up walking from Walthamstow Central and down Hoe Street but Eva liked looking at the sparkly dresses and cake shops along the way so it wasn’t a bad walk. We got there at 5:30 and the gates were due to open at six but the queue wasn’t horrendous. We could at least see the lightshow from the outside. It looked a bit like this:

And it got moving around 5:50 so even with bag checks and scanners, we were still stepping through the gates at six exactly. I know other people weren’t quite so lucky – the queue towards the Bell didn’t seem to move as fast and friends of ours got stuck in that one for probably about an hour. We just got lucky.

First stop when we got in was the Fire Garden. It was, for very obvious reasons, a look-but-don’t-touch exhibit but the kids thought it was amazing and looked at it for ages.

Then we walked past the William Morris gallery and they wanted to lie on the lawns, looking up at the lights and making “grass angels”. They did that for ages too.

And then finally, we got into the Nest itself and again lay down on the floor, watching the projections.

It’s hard to explain the light show but it was pretty mesmerising – set to an original soundtrack by local artists, the lights moved in sequence, forming curves out of straight lines and vortexes that looked like you were just about to be beamed up by aliens. Basically, it was a giant version of my favourite doodle from secondary school maths lessons. I should revive that one for dull meetings.

As soon as we’d left the Nest and used the loos, we got word that some friends of ours had actually made it in and were in the Nest. So Eva and I circled back round to find them while Roo and Nathan went to the lantern making workshop. This time, we only caught the tail end of the light show but it was still pretty cool and Eva was overjoyed to find her friend.

Leaving the Nest for the second time, we took the now-tired kids to the craft tent to make lanterns and it might have been a mistake, given how thin their patience was by then and how even thinner Roo’s patience was as he watched Eva do the same craft he’d just finished himself. But they all emerged with lanterns to carry, which made the kids easier to locate in the dark. And Reuben and Nathan filled in some of the time taking sinister photos:

It was time to head home. Luckily our route home was planned to take in the installation at the Town Hall as well as anything going on on Forest Road so we didn’t miss out.

In fact, as soon as we left Lloyd Park we were apprehended by this terrifying steampunk-horse

And then further up, near the Disco Shed, we saw ballet dancers on stilts and this pair of fauns:

I’m not entirely sure what these were but, as with the fauns, it was only Eva that was prepared to get close enough to pose with them:

And then there was the Town Hall itself, which had a film about the borough projected on to the front of the building and exploding fire pits on the front lawn:

Happily, we managed to find another friend at this point, and re-find the friends we’d lost around the horse thing. But Roo was seriously flagging so we left them all and started off home. Google Maps was extremely pessimistic about the chances of getting a bus from around Wood Street Library, so we stopped at a shop to stock up on snacks and braced ourselves for a longish walk.

But then a 212 appeared and we jumped on it just in time. It truly was a night of wonders!

Reactions around the borough to the launch have been mixed but I can say that we enjoyed it. It certainly beat the usual Sunday night activities of fighting and sulking. Now I just need to sort out my own contribution to the Borough of Culture programme…more on that later in the year….


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Museum of London – 07/01/19

Congratulations all of you for making it through the Christmas holidays! All of you who don’t have kids at the same school as my kids, that is. Cause we’re still on holidays and end only just in sight.

Which is why I found myself off work yet again and looking for fun places to take the kids to. I was considering the Museum of Childhood and the new Pirates exhibition there but Eva went there on Saturday with the BunnyFamily while Roo and I were off at the Extreme Park in Finsbury Park. Eva still doesn’t yike trampolining. And don’t ask how Nathan got out of any childwrangling at all on Saturday…but he did.

So with Museums of Childhood and Science both recently visited, I had to think of somewhere we’d been a little bit longer ago. Maybe somewhere we’d last been with Eva in utero? Yes, the Museum of London – the City one, not the Docklands one.  My reasoning was flawless; it was close to Liverpool Street, likely to be not-too-busy with most of the schools back and it had a section on what Eva calls “The Great Fire of Yondon”. She recently performed a very festive musical on the subject so is a little bit obsessed. So much so that when I told her where we were going, she insisted on dressing as someone from 1666:

In fact, she wrote a checklist of all the items she needed which is a new high in getting-dressed-procrastination levels. She based her costume on what one of the other narrators was wearing and she didn’t manage to find a cloth cap but overall, she was pleased with her Look.

I was imagining there wouldn’t be any school trips at the Museum today as it’s probably first day back for most people. But as we walked down London Wall, we were following a group from a private school, all wearing matching blue hats. I mention it only because it allowed Eva to tap into another one of her current obsessions – “Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger”.

“It’s the children from Oakmoor School” she hissed as we lurked behind them “And I can see someone who looks like Mr Peterson”

Now, this was getting interesting. Because as all “Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger” fans know, Mr Peterson is played by the divine David Tennant. Could Eva really see someone who resembled him, hanging out by the Corporation of London car park?

No, couldn’t see anyone. I was very disappointed. But we’ll come back to that saucy timelord. Frequently, I expect.

What we did see was an inflatable sculpture of some mould or possibly slime next to an old bit of wall. The seats looked newly put in and presumably it’s a nice space for us oxygen-starved City workers to have five minutes away from our desks. But I’m not sure the mould added anything. We’ll come back to Weird Square Mile Artwork later too.

But onward to the museum! And I was really pleased with myself for having remembered the way. There’s an escalator next to these giant pipe outlets:

And that takes you up to the highwalks and from there you can follow signs to the museum. Do not follow Reuben’s advice and scale the pipe things or parachute off the highwalks. He’s been playing a touch too much PS4 over the holidays I think.

We got to the museum around 11:45 which is early for lunch but I was cranky so we sat down in the cafe near the entrance for a sandwich and a oat latte (I think soy is falling out of fashion). I had brought the kids’ rolls with me but bought them drinks and giant cookies to justify their bums being on cafe seats. Not that their bums ever stayed there for long….I think they were impatient to get on.

There was a lot to get through. And Eva seemed to be in danger of missing most of it as she insisted on walking through the first gallery – “London Before London” with her eyes tightly closed. She’s developed a phobia of bones apparently and there were some on display. Nathan discovered this at the Natural History Museum a few days back. The ideal place to discover it really.

Still, Roo found a lot of interest in that gallery – he liked looking at the early weapons and the maps of prehistoric London and did the quizzes on both the display boards (ironmongering) and the computer screens (roundhouse building). It was a very different experience to taking him as a two-year-old, where he just ran through the whole place in a matter of minutes.

Next up was Roman London and Eva consented to open her eyes to see the giant picture of the elephant on the wall and the model Roman town. But we moved quite swiftly through it because there were still occasional bones. We did hang out in the medieval house for a while, trying out the beds, but it was a bit dark in there so I didn’t get any decent photos. Sorry.

We paused by the Shakespeare sign for Roo to recite the entire “Life is a Stage” monologue from “As You Like It”. He really has changed a lot in the last seven years…well, you’d hope so wouldn’t you? We tried on some Tudor headgear and then made our way to the main attraction – the Great Fire of London display.

Here, Eva consented to read every panel although fire is much more scary than animal bones in my opinion.  It might have been because she had a song for every one. They both tried on the fireman’s helmets and played the “Heroes or Villains?” quiz, with some interesting angles on what made a villain (a cowardly postman, according to Roo). Then we went in and watched the GFOL film, complete with the model of London that lights up as the fire spreads. It’s pretty basic but effective. I wasn’t sure why the film only seemed to be playing in the top corner of the screen though?

I was ready for a little break by now and we headed downstairs to a seating area where there was drawing stuff for the kids and some questions for them to answer and put into a box. The answers were eclectic, as you’d expect from my children. In answer to “What do you expect to see in the Museum in 100 years’ time?” Eva drew a cat in a dress and high heels. Of course. Still, it gave me a few minutes to sit down.

Right next door was a room that hadn’t been there in 2011 – an exhibition on the making of the Olympic Cauldron. If you’re clever, you can probably work out why it hadn’t been there in 2011. It was really interesting and weirdly moving to see the copper torches close up. Neither of the kids remember the Olympics but were suitably impressed by the size of the things:

In the next section, the kids took the opportunity to gender stereotype themselves even more than normal as Roo took a quiz on becoming an apprentice gunmaker and Eva admired the Georgian-era dresses and footwear. Honestly, these kids are all about weapons and shoes. I don’t know where I went wrong.

But I clearly went right somewhere because on entering the Victorian Pleasure Gardens section, Reuben made the exact same comment as I did seven years ago about the blank-faced models in Victorian dress – that it was just like the Autons episode of Dr Who. That’s my boy. Or rather Nathan’s boy. Roo took it a few steps further though, tying in the red phone box just outside and the earlier “Mr Peterson” spotting to theorise that we were actually in an episode of Dr Who. Or maybe the HISHE 12 Days of Christmas song with the 3 Creepy Dolls. Yeah, he needed some time away from screens.

Except the very next thing we stopped at was all about kids’ TV – the Flowerpot Men of the 50s specifically. The kids didn’t pay much attention, dismissing them as “more creepy dolls” but did spend some time playing with the teddy and the blocks trolley and the combination of the two:

We were flagging a little so had a quick wander around the Victorian shops and took in Booth’s Poverty Map before visiting the downstairs cafe for a cup of tea for me and the remainder of their giant cookies.

There were a couple more stops to make before we headed home, seeing as we were in Great Fire mode already. The first was St Paul’s – a few minutes gentle wander away from the museum. This was pivotal in Eva’s one line in her play so she really wanted to see it close up. We didn’t go in, but walked the perimeter and looked out for the Bird Lady from Mary Poppins who was sadly absent.

Next, we walked down past Mansion House and Cannon Street towards the Monument and Pudding Lane. On the way, we spotted another new piece of Weird Square Mile Artwork. Again, Reuben thought it might be something from Dr Who but it just looks like soggy piles of rope to me. I’m clearly uncultured:

The Monument is strangely hard to spot from where we were but the kids were competing as to who’d see it first so Reuben made a few haphazard guesses before the real one came into sight:

We weren’t climbing it today – we’d already walked a lot and those yittle yegs were not gonna cope with 300 stairs. But we took a photo on Pudding Lane:

And played and sang on these themed concrete benches:

So, if you’re that way inclined there is a lot of GFOL-themed entertainment to be found on a grey January day and for not a lot of money either. I don’t imagine Eva’s next obsession will be anywhere near so cost effective – I can’t say taking Roo to Greece because he was going through an Ancient Greeks phase was the kind thing we could do every year. But a few hours at a museum and seeing some London landmarks? Bargain! And now, how long till they’re back at school….?

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