Brighton – 27/07/19

Today, we went to Brighton. Surprised? That makes two of us. I was expecting to go to Frinton-On-Sea, which is where we’ve been with church for this beach trip the last two years. And if your grasp is geography is any good, you may ascertain that Frinton-on-Sea and Brighton are in very different parts of the UK so it’s just as well we found out about the change of plan before we left the house. I wonder whether any of the Americans we took with us realised just how many miles the plans had shifted – though 100 miles probably seems like a short stroll to Minnesotans.

The weather was the driving force behind the decision – it was due to be tipping it down all day in Frinton with possible thunderstorms. And Brighton was looking brighter tho it didn’t seem that way when we arrived:

Not that it put anyone off visiting for the day. I thought that it would be relatively quiet but no, Google Maps told us it would take 11 minutes to drive the final mile to the seafront and it wasn’t wrong. Obviously, a wrong turn at the roundabout by the pier didn’t help but to be fair, that is a very confusing roundabout. Who knew there was an extra road down there? It looks like you’re just about to drive into the sea.

Finding a parking spot wasn’t the easiest either, despite the rain. Neither was it easy to pay for parking  – we had to download an app and create an account, all while wrangling over-excited kids and their buckets and spades. We were meeting the rest of the church folks by the adventure golf, which was a spot chosen for its proximity to the coach parking and not for its proximity to the naturist beach. Seems like it was a bit too cold for the naturists anyway. I certainly didn’t spot any. Not that I was looking particularly hard.

We found our people camped out slightly grumpily on a pebbly ridge near the shore, with some huddled under raincoats and some in the sea. I’ll let you guess which were the Brits and the non-Brits. Nathan chose to keep his leather coat on and be one of the former group, whereas I thought the sea sounded the warmer option. So I went to the Yellowave Cafe to buy Nathan a coffee, use the loos and change, hoping that the swimmers wouldn’t all have given up before I got back. The coffee took a while and so some had indeed given up, but not all so I still had some company. Reuben changed too, although I doubted he was going to enjoy swimming in cold water in the rain.

He did dabble a little with getting in but I wasn’t encouraging him to. The pebbles were painful to walk on and so standing in the shallows wasn’t totally pleasurable. And then once you were a little way in, there was a very sudden ridge after which even I struggled to get my feet on the ground. His swimming is coming on really well but I’m still not ready for him to be out of depth with no side to cling on to and no watchful lifeguards. When Eva came along in her cossie, I was even less encouraging, although I spent quite a lot of time paddling with her with our flip-flops on (no really, those stones were punishing). Most of the time I spent in the sea was watching to make sure other people’s kids didn’t drown…but I think that was probably time well spent. Over time, the rain even eased off a bit.

I took some time out of the sea to enjoy the very middle class picnic I’d packed – parma ham, rocket, berries, sundried tomatoes and four pots of houmous. Of course Eva wouldn’t eat any of the houmouses because the selection pack contained two caramalised onion ones instead of a plain one. So she mainly ate berries and a delicious “wrap wrap” – a tortilla wrap with salad leaves wrapped in…you guessed it, another tortilla wrap. In so many ways, I wonder how she survives.

After another dip in the sea and some close calls with the increasingly rough waves, I decided to dry off and accidentally went for a coffee with my pastor instead of hanging out with my kids. She asked if I wanted her to get me one, I went with her instead, they gave us the drinks in mugs not takeaway cups…what were we to do? So we spent a very pleasant hour in the cafe and got back to find that the kids of the church had managed to have a sandcastle competition, despite the lack of sand. They’d just dug down under the pebbles a bit. At this point, it hadn’t rained for hours and the sky was even looking a vaguely blue shade although not in a terribly convincing way.

Which obviously mean it was time to go home. We’d already added an extra hour to our parking through the app, to make it 5 instead of 4…but that was ticking away. Just time for a quick visit to the playground:

 

As we drove home, Eva spotted all the exciting things we’d missed around the pier so she’s made me promise to take her back another day. Maybe it’ll be properly sunny next time, just like it was on these previous visits in 2001 and 2007:

But we probably won’t go out clubbing and then sleep in the car like we did in 2001. Probably not. See you again soon Brighton!

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“Mr Stink” at Chickenshed – 20/07/19

Last year Reuben and I marked the end of the school year by visiting Chickenshed for a very special performance of Mr Stink with David Walliams himself in attendance. This year term isn’t quite done yet and it’s Eva with me instead of Roo but Mr Stink is back at Chickenshed before a UK tour and we were there to see in the summer in style. I haven’t read my review from last year in case I spoiler it for myself so apologies if I repeat myself at all. At least I was on time this year.

Early even! Eva and I had time to explore the community market in the Chickenshed garden before the show started and she persuaded me to buy her an oreo pop.

We were lucky enough to be sitting in the front row and spent some time before the start studying the set, which looked a little different from last time. Eva thought it was “amazing” but she was confused by the white lump of plastic that looked nothing like her idea of a telephone. Ah, the youth of today!

It was while we were sitting there that I found out that Eva had read the whole of Mr Stink in one night. I remembered her starting it on Reuben’s orders the evening I told her about the show but I hadn’t realised she’d devoured it in one sitting. I’d like to know what time she went to bed that night. Actually, on second thoughts I don’t want to know….

The show started with a spoken introduction over the PA from David Walliams, which I don’t remember from last time. A lot of the cast were the same but there were a few changes, most notably Joseph Morton in the title role. He certainly filled the stinky boots well tho and there wasn’t a beat missed in the whole show.

As Eva knew the story already there weren’t many surprises in terms of plot- although she jumped when Mr Stink unleashed his almighty burp on the bullies. She loved the songs and dances though, which I think really flesh out the source text and make it into a show rather than just a retelling of the story. The ensemble were slick in both their singing and their dancing, with the main characters seamlessly integrated into the routines. Occasionally there would be a solo singing line that could have done with being at a slightly higher volume but that’s a minor thing. Generally, the music was beautifully blended and, as always with Chickenshed, full of energy. I rightly predicted that Eva would enjoy Annabel’s ballet dancing but I’m hoping she doesn’t get any ideas about how many extra curriculars you can fit into a week.

The main parts were well cast, with Chloe full of earnest youthfulness, wanting to change the world in a slightly misguided way.  Belinda McGuirk as Mrs Croooomb was prissy and cold with the mannerisms of a modern day Hyacinth Bouquet. Courtney Dayes as Annabel was similarly prissy and annoying in the perfect little-sister way. Ashley Driver as Father brought a touch of heart to the family as well as a touch of rock and roll. And then there were cameos from everyone’s favourite David Walliams character Raj (Goutham Rohan) and Jeremy Vine as Sir David on “Politics Tonight”, which was one of Eva’s favourite bits.

I’m pretty sure I said this last year but special mention  has to go to Lucy Mae Beacock who very much carries the show as Chloe. Her singing is so pure  especially her falsetto notes, and her dancing absolutely effortless. I don’t know how old she is – I thought she was older than 12 but Eva thinks she’s 9. “Which means she can compete in Witch Wars and she’d like Witch Wars because everyone wears black and black is Chloe’s favourite colour” However old she is, though, it’s  a very assured and accomplished performance.
The first half ended with Mr Stink’s surprise appearance in the Croombs’ kitchen and with that it was time to get some fresh air and a lollipop in the Chickenshed garden:

Which she later used to pretend she was Chloe, wearing a radio mic:

The second half had a great deal of pathos, which occasionally made my girl let out a sob. Mr Stink’s backstory is all the more tragic for the low-key way it’s portrayed, and the way he is used as a political pawn is subtle but emotional. She didn’t haven’t a proper cry until Chloe and her mother were having a heart to heart in the kitchen and I must admit to feeling a bit teary then too. “Mr Stink” has a lot to say about the nature of family and where we find our true home. It never tips into over-the-top sentimental but, as with a lot of Chickenshed productions, manages to touch the audience right in the feelings.

The show is now on tour and I’d strongly recommend you catch it while it’s nearby. It’s a great family show with plenty to keep the 5+ plus market entertained. It’s two hours, which might be testing for smaller ones, but perfect for Walliams fans who enjoy good storytelling and a bit of spectacle. The tour dates are as follows – more information and tickets here:

Cheltenham Everyman    22 – 27 July.
Shrewsbury Theatre Severn, Walker    29 – 31 July.
Gordon Craig Theatre Stevenage    1 – 3 August.
Lowestoft Marina Theatre    5 – 7 August.
Southport Floral Hall    9 – 11 August.
Southampton Nuffield Theatre    12 – 14 August.
Barnstaple Queens Theatre    16 – 18 August.
Bolton Albert Halls    20 – 23 August.
Watersmeet Theatre Rickmansworth    25 – 27 August.
Llaneli Lyric Theatre    28 – 30 August.

 

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

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A Sunny Weekend in London

Well, that was summer. Did you enjoy it? All three days? We did. We got Out and About over the weekend even though there are no trains from HP for 8 weekends in a row. Which is the kind of situation that leaves you on a sweaty bus to Leytonstone:

But let’s look on the bright side because after an equally sweaty journey on the Central line, we got to go on the DLR, which is one of my favourites. It took a little effort to find the Woolwich branch at Stratford – despite instinctively thinking it was near the “town centre” exit, I got distracted by the big “DLR” sign  and spent a few minutes confused on the platform, wondering why there were only trains to Canary Wharf. Then we retreated.

So I think I’m right in thinking that I’ve never done this branch of the DLR before. Hence not being able to find it. And there’s super exciting stuff on it! Some bits were disappointing, like the glamorous-sounding Star Lane which looked much like an industrial estate:

But the double-decker station at Canning Town was interesting:

And Eva enjoyed seeing the cable cars by the O2 arena, which means I’ll probably have to take her up in one again soon. I miss the days when she was scared of heights:

There was not one but TWO Tate and Lyle factories along the way, one of which had a giant model of a golden syrup tin outside. Both kids were drooling at the idea but I can’t think of anything I fancy eating less on a hot day than a giant tin of syrup. Just me?

We caught glimpses of the Thames Barrier and London City Airport and the inviting waters of Pontoon Dock. And just before we went under the Thames, the kids managed to nab the driver’s seat. Who doesn’t love pretending to drive the DLR?

When we got to Woolwich, there was a community festival going on, which meant it was all a lot more colourful than I suspect it usually would be:

 

But I think this Pride crossing is a semi-permanent feature:

And let’s not forget the wonders of the UK’s 3000th McDonalds:

 

After all that excitement, it doesn’t seem possible that we might have the capacity for more on Sunday. But after church, we headed to Highbury Fields for the Big Jewish Summer Fete and yes, there was more excitement to be had.

Like the exuberant bubble man:

And the terrifying bungee trampolines:

And some gentle crafts from the Jewish Museum:

There was also taxidermy, a Torah scroll and Jewish music from the main stage. Arsenal were there with a goal challenge and the Met recruited their latest member of the Riot Squad:

Obviously, he specialises in causing riots rather than preventing them but still…

It was lovely to see the Jewish community out in force and engaging with local people. Obviously we aren’t Jewish in the most Orthodox sense but it’s an important part of my identity and the kids’ identity so we like to celebrate it when we can. Especially with a picnic in the sun.

We finished the afternoon in the playground, on the bouncy swing that seems to cause nothing but grief:

And a giant slide that’s almost as terrifying as the bungee trampoline:

Good times!

 

 

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End of June can’t come too soon

 

Ee blimey, it’s been a weird month. Mainly not in a good way #vagueblogging. But I thought I’d check in to prove I hadn’t forgotten you all and to tell you a few things we’ve done this month which have been good.

Like visiting the newly completed bit of the Askey’s Row playground in Islington. Some is still under construction, and Roo is sad that the helter skelter has gone but there’s a new slide, new wooden assault course and some brightly painted rocks:

Hanging out and looking moody in the underpass of the Crooked Billet roundabout on a walk to Lloyd Park:

Eating ice cream at Bru. Like all the time. Except today when their freezer was on the blink and so we kinda drank ice cream instead:

Performing at the Chingford Village Festival and seeing lots of the lovely ChoirFest choirs perform too. Eva was most excited by meeting Ariel though:

Swinging by Diagon Alley on my way to work:

And taking a load of rambunctious boys to the Extreme Park at the Feel Good Centre for Roo’s birthday:

Still, not much in the way of *actual* adventuring going on. Bring on July and the summer holidays! Or maybe don’t….

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Debden House Campsite – 01/06/19

Today, we’ve been camping. Yes, I know it’s out of character for us because we’re not natural campers but also, it seems unlikely that I might be able to blog from a tent in the middle of a wood so I’ll let you in on a small secret….we’re not still there. We went camping for the afternoon, had a lovely time and have come home in time to watch “Good Omens” and go to bed. Honestly, it’s the best way to do it. We did camp for one night last year, at Suntrap, and it was more or less bearable but we got about 4 hours’ sleep and were grouching at each other for about a week afterwards. And that was taking the easy route of camping with several of Eva’s peers with other people organising everything for us.

So, when Bob and Not-Bob offered us the chance to come camping with them in Epping Forest, we didn’t quite jump at the chance but we did do a cautious kind of hop at the chance. And it was only on the fringes of the Forest, not right in the heart of it. I think. No-one quite seems to know, even the people who made this poster for the campsite:

But wherever it was, it wasn’t far from home. So we could easily hop in the car, visit for an afternoon and come home again. And that’s exactly what we did….it cost us £19 for a day’s access to the facilities for the four of us (including parking) and that applied from 9am till 8pm. We only got there at 1pm because we wanted to brunch at home first, just in case there was no coffee on site. Turns out that was a wise move. So we had around 6 hours of camping before dragging the kids away at 7 as the weather started to turn a little less than roasting. And what did we do in that time?

Well, there was a lot of tree climbing:

And Eva almost got absorbed in this particular bit of tree. It was quite sinister to see her disappearing like something out a Guillermo del Toro film:

And then Reuben fell right through all those thin little branches and scraped his legs all over so we had to limp back to the campsite and patch him up.

There was a water fight and some marshmallow toasting:

And a pretty good BBQ, where we cooked pork steaks, mango and lime chicken and around 48 sausages. For 7 of us.

The kids did lots of playing in the playground while we sat around drinking cider and non-alcoholic beer for Nathan. He was driving us home, so I got him the Pistonhead Flat Tire “Drinkers’ Edition” 4-pack and he said it wasn’t too bad. A day when I willing go and commune with nature and Nathan drinks non-alcoholic lager….stranger things have happened but it’s hard to think of any examples right now.

We also had a not-entirely successful trip to the camp shop, which only opens on demand this time of year. They had a few ice creams, so we pretty much cleared them out and the random boy who’d attached himself to Boby spent his money on some kind of blue sweet that he wasn’t supposed to have. Ah well. The shop and reception both only take cash so be prepared and no, there is no barista coffee available. The Hackneyites were most disappointed.

As a “getting away from it all” experience, it was pretty effective. No WiFi, no crowds and only patchy amounts of phone reception. Bits of the campsite look like they haven’t changed since the 70s but what do you really need apart from a bit of ground and some toielts? Especially if you’re not actually planning on staying the night. Happy camping!

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Albufeira – April 2019

So, we went to Portugal for a week. You’d think there’d be a lot to say – like my 5-post, 5000-word epic series on our Athens trip – but really we spent a lot of the time lazing around and eating so it would get pretty repetitive pretty quickly.

But here are the essentials. We flew with Ryanair, which was adequate but definitely not inspiring. We took off on time and landed pretty much on time both ways but we had to skimp on baggage and didn’t get so much as a seat pocket to put your book in on what was a seriously frill-free plane. The flights were quite straightforward though – the kids read their books all the way there, even though Eva had taken quite some persuasion to pack a book in the first place. Her suitcase was full of unicorns and, as I said, our baggage allowance was stingy at best.

Flying from Stansted was pretty good – we were playing a serious long game moving to Highams Park because that 29 minute drive to Stansted in the middle of the afternoon felt remarkably stress free. The airport itself is nothing spectacular but it had a Burger King with super quick service so that was all the kids really look for in an airport.

And the holiday itself? Pretty good too. We stayed at Monica Isabel Beach Club in Albufeira. It had some less than favourable google reviews but we’re not overly fussy on decor and things like that so it suited us fine. There was one day where we had no towels for four hours in the afternoon so I had to shiver dry after a chilly outdoor swim…but that was the only glitch. We dined three times a day in the restaurant, enjoying the all inclusive food and booze and Reuben in particular really embraced the ethos of “It is available to eat, therefore I shall eat it”, often squeezing in a hotdog meal between lunch and dinner.

We had one day away from the hotel, when the clouds were gloomy and so our usual swimming and sunbathing activities seemed off the table. There was a shuttle bus from the hotel to Albufeira Old Town but it never materialised so we walked the mile or so in the end, down a very steep hill that we might come to regret on the way back. Coming into the Old Town, there was an outdoor escalator down to the beach, which was a novelty for all of us, and by the beach was a 5D cinema. I thought it would be a bit too scary for Eva but she was the one who loved it the most. At 5Euro per person for 5 minutes, it was pricey but we really hadn’t spent any cash at all since we’d arrived so that was OK. Especially as Eva says it was the best part of the holiday for her.

We chose the Wild West Rollercoaster and it was..intense. You’re strapped into theme park-style seats and given 3D glasses so it really feels like you’re on a tiny cart, rattling through the mountains. The 5th Dimension element – a bit of water squirted in the face – was underwhelming but the overall effect was convincing, if nauseating.

The plan was to go for ice cream straight afterwards but three of us were feeling a bit sick so we wandered around the town for a while first. We visited an art gallery where all the paintings were made with coffee and a shop that sold gigantic versions of Eva’s unicorn Fantastia. I mean, almost as big as Eva. We did not purchase it. But eventually we felt well enough for a yummy ice cream from Sailor Ices on the main town square:

And after that we visited the famous cliff elevator, which really was just a lift on a beach. I mean, the views were cool but not overwhelming. It was free though, so can’t complain.

That’s pretty much all I need to blog about. Compared to the Calais trip, it all went very smoothly and successful trips don’t make the best blog posts. There was one glitch when we arrived in Faro and our transfer driver was not waiting for us as promised – if you ever book a transfer with Best Airport Transfers, always read the small print and realise that you have to check in at their desk before you get a driver. There will be no-one with a sign with your name on it.

Apart from that, a good holiday I thought. Which is why it’s taken a month to post about it…Happy half term!

 

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“The Slightly Annoying Elephant” at Little Angel Theatre – 18/05/19

 

Eva and I have been to a few Little Angel productions now and always enjoyed them – even the one we both cried happy tears through– but up till yesterday I’d never taken Roo, thinking that at nearly a decade old he might be too big for puppet shoes. But yesterday’s was a David Walliams story and Reuben is a big DW fan so I thought I’d take both. I was teaching English at church in Canonbury first, so it seemed like it would be all straightforward as we’d already be in the area. However, Eva got a party invite a few weeks ago and that was in North Chingford so that threw a bit of a spanner in the works.

That’s why I went to Islington to teach English with just my boy in tow, who wasn’t as keen on helping as my girl normally is. He liked the role play and the sweets tho. Then we went for lunch at our favourite Islington cafe – appropriately called “My Favourite Cafe” and, with an hour to kill before the show, headed to Astey’s Row playground to a runaround.

Alas! The playground is being redeveloped so we couldn’t go in. Any idea what these multi-coloured boulders might become?

In lieu of slides and stuff, we hung out in the rock garden where he climbed a few trees and clambered over some boulders. Then it was time to meet Eva and Nathan just outside the taxidermy shop and head to Little Angel.

Except Nathan didn’t fancy hanging around and went home to follow Eva’s instruction to recharge his social batteries (she read it off his t-shirt…she’s not that insightful). So it was just me and the kids wandering up Cross Street, which is surprisingly posh. It’s one of those streets that would appear in Time Out as a “hidden treasure”. So hidden that despite going to several meetings at Cross Street Baptist, I have never noticed the posh bit before. But it really is. I mean, it has whole shop dedicated to Farrow and Ball paint. I am not making this up.

It was just off this street that we found the wisteria-covered Dagmar Passage that led to Little Angel Theatre. It was a lot easier than finding it from the Upper Street side. Settling into our seats at the theatre, we spotted a celeb in the audience. I won’t invade his privacy by saying who it was, but it struck me that the last thing I’d watched him in had a very strikingly similar plot to “The Slightly Annoying Elephant”. In short, uninvited and demanding house guests.

But obviously, the house guest in question here was an elephant. A very large elephant. I think we’d all expected the elephant to be hand-puppet size but instead, the puppeteer was dwarfed by the size of it especially the very large blue bottom that made Eva howl with laughter every time she saw it.

The plot is fairly simple – a kid called Sam adopts an elephant at the zoo but the paperwork is doctored so that, in actual fact, he’s agreed to the elephant coming to live at his house. And all the elephant’s friends. The elephant is demanding and likes to bellow “silly booooy” at him as Sam gradually loses patience. There are a few songs worked into the show but essentially, it’s a physical comedy sketch between a boy and an elephant. And the kids loved it.

There were a few easy wins with my children – an extended toilet gag near the beginning, which always plays well – and towards the end there was a sharp change in direction when ten more elephants appeared, which kept the momentum up and delighted the audience with the sheer number of elephant heads that kept coming through the door. Eva’s favourite was the baby elephant, obviously.

It’s a bouncy, fast-paced show with a brightly coloured set and fun use of flashbacks as the stage transformed into a zoo and an aeroplane (how far was this zoo that the elephant had to get a plane back from it?) There’s no doubt that the elephant is more than just slightly annoying and it’s quite refreshing that the expected resolution – boy and elephant reconcile their differences – never comes. Everything just escalates and escalates again, with the chaos building to a elephantine crescendo. With extra crash.

So, the show is aimed at 3-8 year olds but my nearly 10-year-old enjoyed it just fine and so did other kids of a similar age in the audience. It’s 45 minutes so a 3-year-old would probably be fine to sit through it but any younger might get a little restless or a little terrified by the loud noises. It definitely hit the mark for a 7-year-old Eva though. If you have a similarly aged child who likes pachyderms and bottom jokes, then the show is on till 4th August – for tickets and more information, click here.

 

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

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Legoland – 06/05/19

Yes, another year and another trip to Legoland. This time it was for Eva’s birthday, not Roo’s, but in every other way you’d think it’d be the same as the other years. Still, I think I have one or two new things to tell you about.

One thing that was definitely not new was our brunch stop at the Windsor Lad. It’s become a vital part of the Legoland prep and we were quite distraught when we got there and it seemed like cooked brunch might be off the menu as the gas wasn’t working. But not to worry – we started off with the breakfast bar and half a crumpet down, the hot food was ready to go. So we successfully loaded up on meat and carbs before we ventured into the park. Except Eva. Obviously.

We still haven’t cracked the drive from the pub to Legoland itself. We defied Google Maps and followed the brown signs but it felt like we were going on a giant diversion and Nathan and I both had a creeping sense of deja vu – didn’t we start doubting the brown signs last year? And the answer was yes, the brown signs do seem to take you on a delibrately convoluted route in order to avoid traffic going through the middle of Windsor. Fair enough if there was a Duchess in labour at the time who might need the roads clear but they can’t use that excuse every year.

Still, we were parked and at the turnstiles by about half ten. I’d bought tickets online – half by using Clubcard Boost, half by using a Kelloggs code – so we could walk right in without queuing for tickets. All was going to plan until we got to the lockers. The last minute panic where we’d raided Eva’s purse for £1 coins was all in vain as this year the lockers only took £2 coins. This seemed unreasonably steep and, from a practical angle, impossible as we didn’t have any £2 coins on us. So we took the hit and decided to carry a bulky rucksack full of swimwear and a bag of snacks round with us all day. Spoiler alert – the swimwear didn’t get used. The snacks did.

Eva was in charge of setting the itinerary as it was her birthday and she wanted to start in the same place as last year – the Star Wars dome. It hasn’t changed much, but there are some new Lego Movie 2 related displays in the shop, including the set for Apocalypseburg. We played with the Lego building boards for a bit and Roo tried to leave a LM2 spoiler but I swiftly removed a vital bit of it so that he couldn’t. I know the movie’s been out for months now but still, it’s not sporting.

As we walked past the Viking River Ride, we noticed it was only a 10 minute queue, which seemed pretty reasonable. It was totally against my better judgement to go on “You might get wet” ride so early in the day but I was outvoted by the family and actually, they were right. We stayed mainly dry for the whole ride.

Next was a visit to the Knights’ Kingdom. Both kids said that they were brave enough to go on the Dragon rollercoaster but I somehow doubted they were so, so suggested we started on the Dragon’s Apprentice and take it from there. It was our first long queue but happily there was a duplo bench halfway through and it was the same time as my choir’s radio program was on HSpark radio. So I listened to that and the kids played duplo and the time passed quickly enough. And no, they were not brave enough to go on the Dragon. The Apprentice was definitely terrifying enough for the pair of them – Reuben staggered off recalibrating his “Top 3 Most Terrifying Rides Ever” list.

After all that queuing, it was time to for a stretch out in the pirate playground and then we split into two groups – I took Roo to the Ninjago courtyard and Nathan took Eva shopping in Heartyake City. Now, I slightly misunderstood what the Ninjago ride was because it was classified as a purple – same as The Dragon – so I thought it was a terrifying rollercoaster that Roo wouldn’t enjoy. Friends from church yesterday told me that it was a walkthrough ninja-training ride that Roo would have loved but shhhh…our secret. We did everything in the courtyard but it was a touch lame – spinners that were just playground equipment that didn’t really spin, a reflex tester and a little climbing wall. Time to move on to the Kingdom of the Pharoahs.

And here we found something we’d never done before – Laser Raiders. Again, I had little idea what it was but it didn’t look too extreme so we joined a very dark queue inside the temple. There were screens showing the Lego Laser Raiders TV show, which Roo was enjoying, and an option for kids to sit in their own zone in front of the big screen while parents queued. Roo and I took this option and it worked reasonably well except that I panicked when I was in a part of the queue out of the view of the kids’ zone. I thought he might panic too and run away or something but of course I was wrong and he was still sitting in front of the screen when I came back round the corner. I forget he’s not a toddler any more. Still, it’s not a method I would risk with a younger child because the kids are, essentially, unsupervised for 20 minutes or so and they have to be mature enough to understand the passing of time and that you will re-emerge to pick them up when you get to the front of the queue. Object permanence is an important factor here.

The actual ride was good fun. You sit in a vintage car, shooting at mummies and snakes as you wind through the Indiana-Jones style temple. I beat Roo’s score as well, so was feeling well pleased with myself. But he found the PS4s in the room at the end of the ride and was building Lego worlds while despairing of my poor gaming skills…so I think it’s a draw.

We had a message from Team Dadeva at this point, saying that they were in the Bricksville playground and that Eva had bought a pug in a unicorn onesie. That, sadly, was true. Its label said “Pugsley” but when we met up with them again, Nathan had already re-christened it “Pug Ugly”. And it really is, whatever Eva might say to the contrary.

While we’d been separated, Eva and Nathan had also tackled my nemesis from last year. No, I’m not getting confused with Alton Towers. Different nemesis. I’m talking about the Fairytale Brook, Legoland’s Most Extreme Ride and the cause of my knee injury last year which crippled me for at least a month. Nathan said it was nice and soothing but really, what does he know?

We split up again after the playground and this time, I took Eva to the driving school that Roo had done last year while Roo and Nathan went to the brand new ride, the Haunted House Monster Party. They said it was awesome, with a room that does a 360 degree spin and some creepy monsters.

Driving School was….as you’d expect. The girl got stuck a lot and had to be pushed free by the staff. She and I later got stuck on the Coastguard ride too (boats that you pilot around a small course) because someone – let’s call him Reuben – bumped the back of our boat and wedged us in sideways. I wasn’t best pleased with him but at least we didn’t sink, which I thought was likely when I climbed in and realised the imbalance between mine and Eva’s relative weights. A bit of shifting over sorted us out and it was smooth sailing until the back barge. There was no really good way to get ourselves free either, so I just kinda had to bump us free while spectators shouted encouragement from the bank. Like I said, not best pleased with Child#1.

It was at that point that I realised we were all getting towards overtired. Plus it said 5PM on the clock, which was probably a good sign that we should start wrapping things up. We’ve ended on the submarine ride every time we’ve been there and the screens said it only had a 5-minute queue, so that seemed like a good place to finish up. 5 minutes was wildly optimistic but still, we were on the hill train back up to the exit well before 6. Then an extended browse around the Big Shop so that Eva could spend yet more of her birthday money and then it was definitely time to leave.

The journey home was….tricky. I did think, as I was preparing to chain myself to the gates of a supermarket car park in Ealing, “this’ll be good blogging material one day” but it’s been two days and it still feels a bit soon. I’m pretty sure Nathan isn’t ready to laugh about it yet.

It was all to do with dinner. The Harvester hack worked a charm, as always. The kids had a sandwich around midday but Nathan and I had some crisps and biscuits and didn’t need another meal until around park closing time at 6. But we weren’t likely to make it home without hanger, so we planned to stop for food en route. The first year, we’d gone back to the Harvester for dinner but the kids had been grubby and tired and there’s always a risk of disrupting someone’s diamond wedding anniversary meal in a Harvester. So last year we stopped at the Burger King in Heston services instead. No-one goes for a diamond wedding anniversary meal in Burger King in Heston services unless they’re some kind of loon. Or motorway obsessive. Hence us planning to do the same again this year.

But don’t ask how – we missed the car park at the services. We were following someone who went wrong, there was no way to turn round, nowhere to stop without causing a hazard and before we knew it, we were back on the M4. The kids were mercifully silent as we replanned but replanning was tricky with my phone being dead and Nathan’s being used to navigate. I did locate a McDonalds in Ealing Broadway that seemed to be not too far off the M4 and not too far to get back on the North Circular either and it was still open, which was the main criteria. Parking was kinda a secondary concern, as we were a bit busy taking the world’s sharpest left turn off a slip road and then weaving our way through Brentford and Ealing towards the dot on the map.

Parking quickly became a primary concern as we got closer and then past that dot. I saw a sign for Morrisons car park, which said it was open till 10 on a Monday. Result! We drove up the ramp and round a perilously tight bend which had a large Morrisons lorry sticking out into it but at least we were parked. Signs said it was £1.50 for an hour. Fine, I still had those pound coins that I didn’t use in the locker earlier. But the machines weren’t working. Result? Then neither were the lifts. Suspicions grew. We had to walk down the car ramp, edging along the tiny bit of pavement. Then I saw another sign which said that the gates to the car park would close an hour after the store did but the store was open till 10, right? Right?

Oh yes, bank holiday. We rushed round the corner and confirmed that yes, the store was closed but no indication as to whether it had been an hour or anywhere close to it yet. So I made a plan. We wouldn’t sit and eat in McDonalds – just grab food and run. By now, a raging migraine-in-waiting had put me off the idea of food altogether and Nathan was too stressed to eat so we ordered the kids’ meals and one portion of fries to share and then the kids and I went and positioned ourselves back in front of those gates. If anyone came to lock them, I would throw myself at their mercy and beg them to wait until Nathan had arrived back, Happy Meals in hand. Luckily, it didn’t come to that and he was back swiftly so he could walk back up the ramp, drive the car back down and we could throw kids and kids’ meals into the back before jumping in and getting the hell out of Ealing. I won’t mention the other diversion on the way home as Nathan definitely isn’t ready to laugh about that bit but we did eventually get back, get fed and get the kids to bed. Phew!

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Free Comic Book Day 2019 – 04/05/19

 

Occasionally I think that I may have spawned a tiny comic book nerd. Even more occasionally, I think that I may have spawned two tiny comic book nerds…and today was one of those days when I was mainly thinking the latter. We left the house with a masked-up Spiderman in tow and a Quidditch player aboard her brand new Nimbus 2000, cloak alternately flying in the wind and dragging in the mud. We were all exhausted after Eva’s birthday celebrations but we had a mission of a day ahead of us.

It’s Free Comic Book Day and for the last two years Nathan as braved Soho on his own with both kids because I was teaching English, in an unfortunate clash of schedules. Reuben would put air quotes around the “unfortunate” at this point.

But this year, I had no convenient excuse and I had a reason to head into town as we were meeting an old friend from across the seas for brunch at Bills in Brewer Street. If I was going to do FCBD I was going in prepared, and that meant sausages and coffee for me and a giant stack of pancakes for Nathan and our friend Leanne. Eva nibbled on a slice of toast (for £1.25 – she’s a cheap date) while Roo destroyed a kids’ breakfast. They’d put on the fanciest table, under a chandelier and with giant comfy green chairs. I could have stayed there a while longer, and moved on to the prosecco, but Nathan and the kids were keen to get their hands on the bounty of FCBD so we moved on.

Our first stop was Gosh in Berwick Street. It wasn’t planned that way but I’m starting to think that Nathan hadn’t planned this at all. We milled around the shop for a while before being brave enough to ask where the free comics were. And the answer involved joining a large queue some way outside the shop, stretching back as far as So High Soho. It began to dawn on me why a man with two onesie-d kids had called to us “prepare yourselves for a long queue” as he’d passed us on the way. So we joined that queue.

I’d made some miscalculations when leaving the house, like not checking the weather. Or thinking about whether we would be standing in the street for an hour. I thought it looked sunny out so I’d chance it with the Spring jacket and no cardigan. My logic was that I didn’t want to be carting an armful of winter coats round Forbidden Planet in the musty warmth of many men gathering in a small space. Sound logic! But it meant that I was chilly and the kids didn’t have coats either, so they were similarly chilly. It was sunny out, as I’d thought, but not warm and sporadically raining. I think there was a gale at some point. As I said, miscalculated.

So we had some oreos and played an alphabet game based on the Avengers version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, which Roo now knows off by heart. You see why I keep suspecting that he might be of the geeky persuasion? We also took the opportunity to get some action shots of Eva and Roo on the broomstick. Roo’s is more convincing than Eva’s because he can do proper jumping flying and her feet barely left the ground. Still, it killed a few minutes.

Eventually we got in, and Nathan and the kids went downstairs to the Room of Comic Wonder while Leanne and I hung around upstairs trying to warm up. Leanne noticed a guy perched on the edge of the table we were at, and pointed out that he was signing a stack of books. She asked me whether he was a writer. I was pretty sure that if he was, it would be someone I had never heard of…until I realised that the books he was signing were “Looshkin” novels and that probably made him Jamie Smart, of “The Phoenix”. I had a sudden flash back to Reuben waving his comic in my face a week or two back and excitedly telling me that Jamie Smart had a new strip coming soon. I HAD heard of him! My kids had heard of him! Eva has her own “Bunny vs Monkey” book. Now, that was pretty exciting. I had a quick chat to him, to make sure I was correct and as soon as the kids came back upstairs I told them who I had found and they were pretty excited too.

So we left with them clutching a brand new, signed book each as well as their freebies. Everyone’s a winner.

Having got all the comics they wanted, there was little point in going anywhere else but I didn’t think my opinion on this would be welcomed so we went to Forbidden Planet. There, I trailed around after Eva, picking her robes up so they didn’t get trodded on. She already was starting to resemble a Quidditch player on a particularly muddy day. Leanne, Eva and I browsed the toys while Reuben and Nathan broke away from us and emerged later on with “The Infinity Gauntlet”, which will be a present for Roo’s birthday. And when I say “The Infinity Gauntlet”, I mean the graphic novel and not the £1200 prop replica in the window. Though trust me, Roo wanted both.

Reuben also got papped and tweeted out by Forbidden Planet, which he was super chuffed about. Spidey!

After all that it was time for coffee and the kids to have lunch. We left Forbidden Planet in the face of a gale force wind, which snapped off bits of tree and threw them down Shaftesbury Avenue and into my face. The first likely coffee stop I could see was in the newish St Giles development so we ran across the road and found a Caffe Nero we could hole up in until the storm passed. Which was about 5 minutes later, because the weather was crazy today. But it was good to sit down on their fanciest sofa (oh yes, we were living it up today) and have some restorative coffee, hot chocolate, sandwiches and cake before trying one more shop.

As I said, we hadn’t really planned this well. Last year, there had been cosplayers at Orbital Comics so the kids were keen to go back there to see them. But I now realise the cosplayers were there early doors and the free comics – along with the crowds- had gone by the time we were having coffee (1ish I think). So next time, we should probably head there first…or maybe to Forbidden Planet to get the grab bags first to have something to read in the queue. But if we’d done that this time, we wouldn’t have met Jamie Smart. Oh, the dilemmas!

So Orbital was quiet and we had everything we needed by then anyway. The kids browsed the kids’ corner for a while, with Roo/Spidey perched on a toadstool but we were all feeling the need to move on. On the way out, Eva started to read an age-inappropriate comic about a dolphin but a canny staff member stopped her before she got to the disturbing bit. Teach me to read the cover properly first next time.

As we’d gone down Charing Cross Road, we had noticed a group of people gathering outside a sweet shop, with a guide telling people to go in and buy their Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. I smiled wryly as we went past, with Eva still in full Quidditch gear but thought nothing more of it. Then we passed them again on the way back up towards Denmark Street and this time the guide clocked the Small Seeker and yelled “That’s perfect for this tour! Everyone follow her!” And just like that, Eva was leading a Harry Potter tour through the West End. No sooner had we parted ways from them than we spotted the Silent Disco West End tour dancing down the other side of the street, led my by one-time cinema buddy Shaun in a spangly jacket. It was the strangest of times, it was the weirdest of times. I might have dreamt it all.

After all that excitement it was a bit of a comedown to trawl the music shops of Denmark Street looking for chromatic tuning pipes while telling the kids to just STOP TOUCHING the instruments, and even more of a comedown to go home via Liverpool Street because we needed to check the lost property for a certain boy’s mobile phone. But we ended the day in a pub in Walthamstow, celebrating a friend’s birthday and the kids happily read their new comics for the duration of at least two pints. Happy days.

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Another Girls’ Day Out – 06/04/19

Yeah, I know…this was ages ago. We’ve been to Portugal and back since then but the Portuguese blog post will probably take a bit more brain power than I have right now and I did mean to blog this little trip around town that Eva and I did at the start of the holidays.

We started in Islington. Obviously. We were taking students from the church English Class on a field trip and we had to scoop them up on our way. It was slightly nerve-wracking trying to ensure we got all of them on the 56 together and I stood poised at the bus stop like a woman who’d never caught a bus before…but we managed it. 25 or so of them got on in Islington and off at St Paul’s and they may even have been the same 25. As we passed the Museum of London, Eva wistfully remarked that she’d like to go there again soon but it wasn’t where we were heading. Our destination was the Tate Modern, somewhere I’d visited briefly, childlessly and with an impending migraine last August.  Back then I hadn’t taken in a lot of the artwork. This time, wrangling a 6-year-old and several English students, would be much more successful….right?

What was successful was the walk from St Paul’s to the Tate over the Millenium Bridge. The students loved seeing the cathedral up close and posing for selfies on the bridge with all the London sights behind them. As a vantage point, it’s a rival for Waterloo Bridge – you can see glimpses of Parliament and the London Eye in one direction and Tower Bridge and the Tower of London in the other. Perfect for London newbies

We gathered a few more students at the Tate itself and went downstairs to establish our meeting point and for Eva and I to get our “Tate Visiting Teacher” stickers, which may have suggested we were taking more responsibility for the students than we actually were. In fact, Isa, our multi-talented intern, was in charge and I was just enjoying having a sticker to wear. We set a time to gather back at the meeting point, went up to Floor 2 as a group and then kinda lost people around the galleries, however much we tried to stick together. I’m glad they were fully-grown adults and not kids….and it did remind me why I never volunteer to help on school trips.

Before we’d left the house, Reuben was contemplating whether to come with us or not and had asked what kind of art there was in the Tate Modern – “Pointillism? Surrealism?”. While I was impressed by his art knowledge, I couldn’t actually answer his question. But yes, there was Pointillism in the Pop Art section.  I think.

Eva quite liked that section and she enjoyed the Mondrian paintings, which she recognised from Bunny’s hallway. She also really yuved this ballerina statue:

She also liked the colourful abstract paintings, like this optical illusion:

There were plenty of bits she wasn’t so keen on, including a short film on Dimitri Tsafendas, the man who assassinated the South African Prime Minister in 1966. She sat through around ten minutes of it, but told me afterwards it was a bit scary. I think it might have been the pitch black room it was being screened in.  By this point, we were almost at the assembly time so we made our way back downstairs to find at least some of the students. Like I say, I’d be rubbish at school trips.

However, I do have some skills in locating drinking places near the Thames and I successfully guided the group to the Anchor near Southwark Bridge for a very British pint and a spot of lunch on the roof garden under thunder-grey skies. Having got them all up there, I then left them to it which seems harsh but again, these are grown ups we’re talking about and they could have rescued themselves any time. Plus, Eva was getting whiney.

So we stopped in at Leon in London Bridge for our own spot of lunch, where Eva ignored the doughnut she’d asked for and stole all my lattice fries (she’d had her own sandwich while we were still at the Tate) and then we jumped on a bus back towards St Paul’s because Eva, having briefly glimpsed the Museum of London earlier, now had her heart set on going there.

I’ve no idea why. It hasn’t changed much since we went there at Christmas. But she wanted to see all the same things again and we did find one or two new things – like some giant dollhouses under the stairs and a pirate hat to try on. She also wanted to go to the Beasts of London show but it was late in the day and we hadn’t booked so I promised her we’d return another day for that one. She was fascinated by this antique museum piece tho, which only bears the smallest resemblance to what she sees on Nathan’s feet every day:

It’s safe to say the fashion mannequins at the end are among her favourite exhibits, along with the Georgian dresses and shoes. She’s verging on the superficial. But she seemed very happy when we left because when she decides she wants something, it’s sometimes easier to give it to her even if it’s a completely superfluous museum trip. Or an even more superfluous trip to the Barbican after that because the cafes at the Museum were crowded so we ended up with crisps and hipster cherryade from the Barbican cafe, eaten outside near the hazardous “stepping stones” that Reuben had terrified me with four years ago.

So that was our day out – three venues, a lot of walking, spontaneous snacking but a lot of fun for me and my girl. Right, now who wants to know about Portugal? Give me a few days on that….

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