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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Happy New Year LWATers!

 

Which is my way of saying I don’t have much to report but wanted to wish you all a very happy 2019. The reason I don’t have much to report is that since my last post I’ve either been at work or tramping round cold and muddy fields in Hampshire. This field in Alresford did have a steam train at the bottom of it though, which was quite entertaining. As entertaining as Boxing Day Alresford really gets.

And today I did go to the Science Museum with the kids. But not really. I went to work, Nathan took to the kids to the Natural History Museum to meet their Australian cousins and by the time I’d finished work they’d moved on to the Science Museum and so I went to meet them there. But they were in Wonderlab and I was too tight to pay to go in and join them/couldn’t be bothered to queue so I wandered round by myself for an hour before helping to wrangle them home. A few things of interest though that I found out on my wanders:

1. The giant text-wheel thing in the Science Museum foyer has gone! Replaced by these pretty stringy things which I guess are sunbeams to tie in with the Sun exhibition on the first floor? It’s a paid-for one so I didn’t go in but made a mental note to check it out.

2. There is a temporary exhibition on the second floor, all about the Romanovs and their struggle to conceal Alexei’s haemophilia. It’s fascinating if you like history and/or medical history. Roo wouldn’t have liked it cause he doesn’t like blood but on my own it was a great to spend half an hour. It’s ticketed but free.

3. There are secret toilets just by the exit of the Romanov exhibition! Sadly cordoned off today but just next to this wall…

4. There are 121 steps up those front stairs to Wonderlab. If you’re hauling kids up there you may want to walk through to the main lifts.

5. My Gloucester Road-hack works! We took the kid for tea at Burger King (there’s an Honest Burger and a Pizza Express there too, if you have Standards) and then bundled them straight into the tube, neatly avoiding the crush at South Ken. And not really that much further to walk.

And one last, non-Science Museum related fact:

6. There seems to be a new entrance to Bank station. I was walking to Cannon Street and almost went into Bank by mistake because this one was so close to it (opposite Waitrose). No idea *which* part Bank station it gets you too but hey, life is for adventuring isn’t it??

Happy January Everybody!

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“Mimi and the Mountain Dragon” and Battersea Park Children’s Zoo – 22/12/18

Photo c Skewbald Theatre

Whenever we go to the theatre it can be hard to choose which child to take with me. Of course, I could take both but that sounds like a lot of hard work so it’s easier to treat it precious one-on-one time with without one I choose. This show was aimed at 3-8-year-olds so Eva would have been the obvious choice but she declared that she was scared of dragons so I went for the backup option, who is a little older than 3-8 but not too much. So that’s how I found myself wandering around the Battersea Power Station development with my 9-year-old at 10am on a clear and warmish December morning.

Battersea used to be familiar turf for us when we lived in Kennington but it’s changed a lot in the last few years. We had paused at Vauxhall to get a quick coffee and then hopped on the 436 to get to Battersea – straight away this was feeling odd. Didn’t the 436 used to go to Marble Arch? Times they are a’changing.

I’m not convinced we went the best way but getting off the 436 at the Sleaford Street stop landed us at the gates of the new development and then we walked 10 minutes or so through the building site, all the while not *quite* sure whether we were meant to be there. The show was at the Village Hall in the Circus West Village phase of the development – the first bit to be completed. We eventually saw a cashpoint from afar, which we took as a good sign that we were getting towards the finished bit. As Reuben confidently asserted – where there’s a cashpoint, there’s always a shop. And there was! Plus a few bars, restaurants and a water feature.

What there didn’t seem to be was a theatre venue. It took us a few goes wandering round before we worked out we needed to go down the steps to find the Village Hall. For future reference, it’s in a railway arch so if in doubt, aim for the railway bridge and you’ll find it.

But we did find it and it’s a nice new venue, with walls lined with mirrors (maybe I should have taken Eva after all). Inside the performance space there were rugs on the floor for the kids to sit on and then banked seats behind. Roo decided to sit on the grown up seats because he wanted a backrest – he really is getting old. The actors came out and chatted to the kids at the front so I was trying to nudge him to go forward and interact but he was happy just to observe from afar.

The plot to “Mimi and the Mountain Dragon” is fairly straightforward – a girl living in the Swiss Alps discovers a baby dragon hiding in her woodshed and has to return it to its mother. The execution is similar to “The Everywhere Bear” – a mix of live action and puppetry – and I think the cast may have been the same but, of course, they had Swiss accents in this one. The songs were gentle but effective, often sung in three parts and with the occasional yodel. Reuben, having recently been forced to sit through “The Sound of Music” by his somewhat obsessive mother, now thinks that yodelling is just “something puppets do”. We’ll go with that.

c SKewbald Theatre

There’s a strong family theme – Mimi lives with her Mami and Papi and longs for a baby brother to complete her life. I floated the idea of a baby brother to Roo as a Christmas present but he’s content with Lego for now. The baby dragon becomes like a pseudo-brother to her before being reunited with his true family. There’s a strong sense of community in the little Swiss village as they band together to scare off the mountain dragons. So it’s a perfect play for Christmas – what’s more Christmassy than family, community and dragons? Also, a lot of snow and honeycake. I’m a little disappointed that the marmot that popped up at the beginning wasn’t an integral part of the plot but it was more than compensated for by the giant mountain cow called Martha. And of course, the appearance of Mama Dragon, which even had the brave 9-year-old snuggling in a little closer for comfort. I think I was right not to take Eva.

It was a touch young for Roo but he really enjoyed it and there was enough silliness to keep him entertained. There was even a subtle Star Wars joke in there. He enjoyed meeting the puppets afterwards and gently stroked baby dragon without poking him in the eye or anything. Some of the very small kids in there seemed a bit terrified of some of the more perilous bits but I think your average 3-8-year-old would love it. As long as they’re not scared of dragons.

We had another mark to hit before leaving Battersea and were pleased to discover that we didn’t need to go back through the building site to get to Battersea Park – a short stroll through this light-filled tunnel got us in the right direction:

And on the way we found a exhibition about the history of the power station, complete with interactive switches which I can only hope weren’t linked to London’s electricity supply:

Then we took this bridge going out onto the river and back and that landed us on the edge of the park. Maybe we should have got in that way or used the free shuttle bus from Battersea Park station. Live and learn.

My first thought was to get some lunch. I hadn’t been to the cafe in Battersea Park for years and couldn’t quite remember what it was like but I’m pretty sure it’s got a lot posher since I last went there.

Lunch options were around £13 on the menu but I spotted a posh ham and cheese toastie on the counter which was only a fiver so I got that and some sweet potato fries plus scrambled egg and bacon for Roo. It cost £15 for the two of us, which wasn’t too bad (there was a tap for freely available water) and it was very tasty.Roo’s bacon was superbly crispy and my toastie was tasty. Also, free WiFi which really helped when I’m mega-squeezed for space on my phone and was having to backup and delete on a regular basis all day. I got on to the free WiFi at Circus West Village as well. Result!

After lunch, we had a quick play in a newish playground with a wooden pirate ship in it. Again, I swear that wasn’t like that last time I looked…

And then we headed over to Battersea Park Children’s Zoo for our date with Santa. You see, Reuben had been unconvinced by the version at his school Christmas Fair and I think he’s on the edge of non-belief. This one, though, was very convincing and spent a good long time asking him questions. Then he gave him a cuddly otter (since christened “Harry Otter”) and sent him next door to stroke guinea pigs. You don’t get that in every grotto.

Entry to the grotto had meant buying a ticket to the zoo itself so I thought we might as well get our money’s worth. Reuben was more interested in the play areas than the animals but he proved you’re never too old to enjoy pretending to drive the fire engine:

No really, NEVER too old:

And there’s a helicopter there as well now!

But we did spend some time with the animals – we introduced Harry Otter to the other otters:

and Roo enjoyed going down the meerkat tunnel.

Plus we both liked watching the very cheeky monkeys. Reuben said he wanted to be a monkey so he could not go to school and just cliumb trees all day. Then I pointed out that monkeys can’t go to the cinema and watch “Star Wars” so I think the lure of Episode 9 changed his mind.

At this point, it seemed a good time to claim the free Christmas biscuit and apple juice that we’d been given as a perk of the grotto visit. It’s the gift that keeps giving. We also did the Christmas stocking trail, counting how many animals had their stockings up ready for Santa. A few of the animals seemed reluctant to come out on even this mildly cold afternoon and so some enclosures seemed to only contain a squirrel or a pigeon….but we saw plenty of good wildlife. And I’m not talking about the kids in the playground.

It was 2:30 and already the sun was setting so I decided to shuffle him on to the last part of our adventure – catching the Thames Clipper back to London Bridge. We’d got the Victoria Line down but I thought it’d be fun to get the boat on the way home and get the bus from London Bridge to Liverpool Street to get home.

And it was fun! We had some gigantic waves, which made Roo shout for more and for me to shout for less. It was about £9 for the two of us and 30 mins journey which is a pretty efficient way to get across the city. I ordered Roo’s child ticket online and then used contactless for my ticket so we could just walk on without too much faff.

Excellent views, obvs:

And Hayes Galleria when we disembarked was also pretty pretty. We were looking for gifts for Nathan but only managed to buy some haribo and tissues. I think I was flagging.

So I’ll leave it there. But what a lovely day with my big one! And check out “Mimi and the Mountain Dragon” at Battersea until 31st Dec and then at Little Angel from 2nd Jan. More information here.

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

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Christmas in Covent Garden – 08/12/18

Ah, family days out. Don’t ya love them? So spontaneous and trouble-free. I’m not pinning Reuben down in this photo, honestly. Just trying to ensure there’s some distance between him and Eva.

That said, it was actually quite a nice day out that we had yesterday. It was the first Saturday in a long time that I didn’t have a choir gig so we planned a day of wandering around Central London, looking at Christmas lights and stuff. And it pretty much worked out smoothly against the odds. So there.

We started off in Bru, Walthamstow which is a regular haunt of ours for drama-club-time snacks but this time we were sampling the brunch options – a meal that Roo has been planning for a long time. He and Eva both had the strawbella wafflepops and Roo asserted that they were “300% delicious”. Eva pushed hers around the plate a bit and said hers was only 50% delicious but the rest of us ended up finishing it for her, and trust me it was pretty delicious. As were mine and Nathan’s – the Cookies and Cream and Apple and Cinnamon wafflepops with a coffee each. This was gonna be the kinda brunch that got us through a family day out alright.

Of course, the most likely outcome was that they would be totally sugar-hyped on the Victoria Line and we’d be kicked off by Seven Sisters. But thankfully that didn’t happen because they’d packed books and were busy reading them. Oh yes, this was going smoothly.

A smallish glitch at Covent Garden tube, obviously. I’d made the rookie tourist mistake of not getting off at Holborn and just walking down. So we had to queue along the platform and then again for the lifts along with every other Christmas shopper in the world. As we emerged from the tube, Eva looked around and declared that Covent Garden was “wonderful and horrible”. I think she’s pretty accurate – it’s one of my favourite places in London for Christmas decorations and always has a bit of a magical atmosphere…but the crowds can indeed be described as horrible.

It was time for our first stop – the Christmas Pudding Race. We’d last been to see it when Roo was three and he and C had been most distraught that they didn’t get to run the funny race, only watch it. This time, he’d started to react in the same way when we suggested it but quickly came round to the idea of spectating. The minimum entry age is 14 so maybe one day he will run it himself. I think he enjoyed watching though-  it’s a great spectacle, with team dressed as Santas or Christmas trees or the entire Toy Story cast and all trying to climb over inflatables with a Christmas pudding in hand.

Eva, however, was mostly enjoying the between-races entertainment, courtesy of The Roxys…or as Eva described them, “those wonderful girls”. She just stood gazing at their perfect hair, shiny shoes and velvet dresses in amazement. Such a fangirl already. I was enjoying singing along to doowop versions of “Beat It” and “Careless Whisper”.

Very soon, the races were all run and the prizes presented by Her Majesty The Queen*. It was time to warm up a little and find some toilets. I’d remembered vaguely that the Royal Opera House was opening up to the public, Southbank Centre style, and I decided to go and see whether I’d remembered correctly and whether it could tick the boxes of both warm and having toilets available.

*May not be the actual Queen. But we’re not sure

 

I was right! Doors are open from 10am every day and there are several cafe spaces you can sit in or just have a wander around. Because we’d already had coffee we didn’t go for another one, tempting as it was, but we did have a good explore and found not just the loos but this giant cherry in the basement:

And nearby, a display of ballet shoes and costume samples that Eva yuvved. She would like to wear all of them, apparently.

Then we took the escalators up to the top floor and found the best costumes of all – tutus worn by Margot Fonteyn (I think) for the twin roles of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake. Again, it was hard to pull Eva away:

There was also a balcony, which had a great view over Covent Garden:

And a interesting piece of artwork over the escalators:

Altogether, a really interesting place to snoop around and I’d like to stop off longer and try out the cakes there someday soon.

But we had shopping to do! I took Eva off around the market so that she could choose presents from Nathan and Reuben, while the boys did went to buy a present for her. It was tough getting her past the pretty windows of the shops so we made slow progress. One of her favourites was the “Narnia opticians”:

We did eventually find something which I won’t spoiler here but we had a few minutes to kill so ended up in Paperchase, a shop that Eva declared she was “seriously falling in love with” thanks to the sheer quantity of sparkles and unicorns. You can probably tell that she was having one of her eloquent days. The best is yet to come.

We’d arranged to meet back at 2PM but Reuben somewhat impatiently phoned me at 1:58 to say he was hungry. Time to get some lunch that wasn’t wafflepops. And Five Guys seemed just the place.

It’s not mega cheap but it’s affordable and they don’t move you on as quickly as they do in McDonalds. We found a table in a little booth and stayed there for almost an hour, taking our time over the piles of chips and the refillable drinks. There were spare table nearby so I felt totally justified in not rushing. I’m even justifying it right now.

Despite this being our relaxed day, we did have some marks to hit. Eva and I had long been pencilled in for a singalong showing of Muppet Christmas Carol at the Prince Charles at 4:30 so to make it fair, I’d booked the boys into “Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse” at the Odeon Luxe Haymarket which, despite its name and reclining seats, is no more expensive than any other West End cinema.

We had a few minutes to kill before that so wandered round the Christmas market in Leicester Square, marvelling at the spinning illusion things and pretending I couldn’t hear Eva as she asked to get her face printed on a teddy. I’m not sure I can think of anything more terrifying than a bear with the face of a girl and specifically, a bear with the face of my girl. Then the boys left for their show and Eva and I had yet more time to kill so went to look at the windows of the Lego Store (there was too much of a queue to actually go in), where she told me the windows were so cool that “I might vomit with amazement”. I told you she was feeling eloquent.

And then she made me go to the M&Ms store where I nearly vomited with the sheer smell of sugar and the intensity of the crowds. We went to all four floors, bought nothing and gratefully took the side exit pointed out to us by a member of staff. This landed us just off Lisle Street with still 15 minutes to kill before we meet the Bunny family for the Muppets. Both my legs and my ideas were exhausted by this point, so we sat on the pavement. Oh yes, I am showing my kids a good time alright.

The Muppets singalong was an enjoyable experience but it was odd not to have subtitles so that everyone could…yknow…sing along. Luckily I knew most of the words from singing the songs in choir but I often felt like Kermit and I were doing a lonely duet. Plus, I had to miss “One more sleep till Christmas” because Bunny and Eva both needed the toilet. Still, I got to eavesdrop on a very amusing conversation between the two of them on why you shouldn’t throw “stationery products” down the toilet.

At the end of the film, I had one more engagement before calling it a day. So I met up with Nathan and Reuben and sent Eva home with them and the bunnies. Then I set off on foot through Soho and Marylebone to catch my friend Vicky singing with the Constanza Chorus in Marylebone Parish Church. My phone died on the way up there so I didn’t get a single photo of the gorgeous church, heavily decorated with Christmas wreaths or the pretty lights of Marylebone High Street. But I did get a blurry one of the Bohemian Rhapsody-themed lights on Carnaby Street on the way. Oh, and Constanza Chorus were amazing. You should totally check them out or buy one of their CDs.

So one jug of mulled wine after the concert and I was on my way home after what had proved to be an epic day out in Christmassy London. I’m tired today. Still, pretty successful I think….

 

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Guest Post from Equi Supermarket- Where to go Horseback Riding in London

 

While London and horse riding might not be words you would normally associate together, living and working in the city doesn’t mean you have to give up your dream of becoming a horseback rider as there are plenty of places you can go.

From gentle hacking trails to polo teams, there is plenty of equestrian action to be had in London if you know where to go – here’s a guide from Equi Supermarket  to the best places to go horseback riding in the capital.

 

  1. Wimbledon Common

The Wimbledon Village Stables have been delivering riding experiences to Londoners for over a century thanks to the 3,000 acre setting of Wimbledon Common and nearby Richmond Park. They offer hacking, riding workshops, dressage lessons, horse riding camps in the holidays and sponsored rides, among their services.

  1. Hyde Park Stables

Hyde Park is a 350 acre green oasis right in the middle of London and home to the Hyde Park Stables which offers all kinds of riding experiences in the city for all levels and ages. The park has many riding paths throughout the acreage offering lots of opportunities for hacks through the grounds, from the stables. They also offer riding lessons in their outdoor paddock and can offer children’s events and hen parties as well.

  1. East London

The Lee Valley Riding Centre can be found in Leyton, East London and you can’t fail to be impressed by the amazing facilities. Lee Valley has an indoor arena as well as two outdoor areas with flood lighting.

They also have show jumping facilities along with cross-country courses on the premises. For those who prefer to watch, there is a spectator zone and a café to chill out while you wait for your horse-loving friends.

This centre has something for everyone, running a full programme of events and activities including horse ball, pony days and evening riding classes –it’s a real equestrian haven in the middle of the capital city.

  1. Richmond Park

At the Robin Hood Gate entrance to this park you will find the Stag Lodge stables. You can access the park from here without needing to go onto the road. They offer pub rides through the park and Ham Common in the summer months. For those looking for a challenge you can take part in their intensive one-day course or sign up for a block of lessons to help get your experience levels up.

  1. The Riding Club, London

The Riding Club, London, acts as a bespoke service for equestrian events. It will help to arrange your horse riding tuition at some of the best venues in the city, organise hacks in the Royal Parks, set up country weekend escapes and also hosts a wide variety of social evenings. Events they offer include dressage training weekends and drinks events.

  1. North London

If you head up to Mill Hill, North London, you will find Belmont Carriage Driving School which is the city’s only horse carriage driving school and is based in broad parkland. They teach the basics from harnessing up; driving a single turnout and you can also undertake a theory-based course on the history of the sport of carriage driving as well.

  1. The Pony Club

For children growing up in the city, going pony riding could seem impossible but thanks to The Pony Club, it’s now easy for city kids to take part in all the joys of the club. They have Pony Club Centres across the capital where children without ponies can take part in all the activities including camps and competing for badges.

They can be found across the city, including at the Hyde Park Riding School, Deen City Farm, Vauxhall City Farm and the Lee Valley Riding Centre.

  1. Ham Polo Club, Greater London

If you are an established horse rider looking for an equestrian event with a difference then head to Ham Polo Club, just eight miles from Hyde Park Corner. It’s the last polo club in Greater London and has been in place since 1926. You can come along and have a go, or if you prefer to spend the afternoon watching a match on a Sunday, you can do that too.

If you thought city life meant giving up your love of horses and horseback riding hopefully this quick guide will help to reassure you that you can still enjoy and take part in many equestrian activities even while living or working in the capital city.

From Pony Club to Polo, from gentle hacks through the parks to fancy dress sponsored rides and the thrill of learning carriage driving, there really is a huge variety of opportunities to take part in horseback riding lessons and events no matter which part of London you live in.

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“Finding Santa” at Little Angel Studios – 18/11/18

 

It might seem a tad early to talk about Christmas but I’ve been working hard on Christmas music since September and we had our first Christmas choir gig yesterday. So I think I’m OK to go to a show about Santa’s elves, full of snow and candy canes. It was also extremely convenient that we’d just been at church in Canonbury so were only a short saunter away from the Little Angel Studios (a separate venue to the theatre we went to for “The Everywhere Bear”)

Eva squealed with delight at the front of the studios, which were decorated with baubles and ribbons. As we walked through to the studio, the corridors were hung with letters to Santa, a key motif of the show we were about to watch. The studio itself had a set made of icebergs and icicles and elves were wandering around the audience, chatting to kids. It may be November, but it sure was Christmassy in there.

The show started with a shadow-puppet style film, telling the story of two elves who collected the letters to Santa and delivered them to the North Pole. Then we were thrown into the action with our two heroes – Tatty and Pumpkin – as they tumbled out of their sleigh and had to find their way home with the letters in time for Christmas Eve.

It was a simple enough plot but with a twist – at several points, the audience had to choose between two different options and that determined the path the show took. Just like those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books we had in the 80s. I suspect that every possible path would have led to a happy ending cause it would have been a very different show if the elves had genuinely faced the prospect of freezing to death or being eaten by a troll. With a show aimed at 3-8 year olds, it was always going to work out well.

That troll, though. He had Eva doubting it. She’s easily spooked and the idea of the friendly elves being eaten was a bit much for her. I apologise to anyone nearby us for the ear-piercing scream.

It did work out well though and she said she yuved the show in the end. She was really keen on the audience participation elements and said that her favourite character was Tatty because of all the “really funny jokes and riddles” she told. Trolls aside, it was an easy watch – light on peril and big on preschool-friendly laughs. There were a variety of sets as the stage blocks moved around to make a frozen lake, a bridge and a sleigh. The interaction with the kids was well handled despite a few heckles and both actors seemed to be having a great time.  It’s a delightful Christmas show, ideal for the smaller child in your life.

“Finding Santa” runs every day between now and Christmas Eve. For more information and tickets, click here.

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

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Fireworks at Scout Park – 03/11/18

My posts about fireworks are inevitably vague and full of dark, fuzzy photos so I’m pleased to announce that this post is no different. But, unlike 2014, it doesn’t contain any references to explosive diarrhea so that’s a bonus.

We’ve been to a few different displays over the years – Brockwell Park, Battersea Park, Clapham Common and Crystal Palace in the south, Coram’s Fields in Central London and Gunpowder Mills in M25Land – but are always looking for a good, early-evening solution. Last year Eva was terrified of the loud noises, so a mild version aimed at toddlers might just work for her. Plus, Nathan and I had a Disco 2000 to get to in the evening so couldn’t be doing with any of these 8PM starts.

The one I found was a little way away  – 20 mins on the North Circular according to Google Maps, even with what seemed like endless North Circular traffic. Still, at least there was a pretty sunset to look at along the way:

Scout Park is near Bounds Green station so we could have gone on the tube but it would have been a bit convoluted and the kids would have been tired and grouchy afterwards. So we decided to drive, even though we were pretty sure that parking would be a nightmare. As it was, we mananged to find a space a 6-minute walk away from the entrance so it wasn’t terrible but we were circling long enough for me to start formulating all manner of Plan Bs in my head, all of which would have involved wrangling those aforementioned tired and grouchy kids home on the tube on my own. I was quite relieved when we found a space.

The display is hosted by Wild Wolf Explorers and is fairly intimate as these things go – it’s a wooded site, with lots of different areas to explore and it wasn’t too crowded for the early display (There was a later one at half 7ish I think). The gates opened at 4PM but of course we weren’t anywhere near ready in time for that so scraped in around 5, half an hour before the display started. I didn’t know how much there would be to do beforehand but the answer was “Enough to make Eva feel like she’s missed out thanks to out poor planning”. Or maybe her refusal to put her shoes on, Who knows?

The one thing we did manage to do was go on the bouncy castle, which was an extra £2 per child bringing the cost of the 4 of us to £22 overall including entry fee. Again, if we’d been more organised we could have booked in advance and got that got that quite a lot cheaper. The bouncy castle was floodlit but still quite dark which explains why this photo is quite so ropey:

We were queuing next to the queue for the campfire, which is the thing that Eva would later wail about missing. She’d smelt the bonfire on the way and made an instant memory association with toasted marshmallows and, obviously, then wanted some. I don’t even know whether there were any marshmallows at the campfire or whether it was just sitting around and singing that classic Scout anthem “Baby Shark”.

So we should have got there earlier, done the campfire, had a marshmallow and followed the sign to where it said “Kids’ Games”. Lesson learnt for next time. But we were in position in the car park in time to watch the fireworks, which was kinda the whole point really.

Now, Roo was disappointed at the lack of bangs but it was a display specifically targeted at the under 6s and children with additional needs that require a quieter display. He’s 9 and doesn’t have those specific needs but really just needs to go along with it if he doesn’t want his little sister crying and hiding behind my leg the whole time. The fireworks were definitely tamer than the later display would be but plenty to wow the younger viewer:

The main selling point of Scout Park though, would be its atmosphere. The fairy lights hung up in the woods gave it a really lovely feel and there was live music drifting through the trees as we wandered around.

If we’d had more time to explore, I would have been able to give it a more useful review but hey, I warned you about the mediocrity of this post from the off. Fancy a really blurry firework picture? Of course you do:

So a nice family-friendly display and not inconvenient for us NE Londoners at all. On the way back I was excited to see that we’d be taking a slightly different route and so would be turning onto the North Circular just by the Protex “Pest of the Week” sign – always a highlight of our family trips out. Sadly though, this was my view as we waited to turn:

And then I forgot to look while we did the turn itself. Denied! I’ll never know what this week’s pest was.

Still, if you want to get more of an idea what the Wild Wolf Explorers fireworks were like, here’s a handy video:

Probably a touch more helpful than anything else in this post. We’ll do better next year!

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