BerkoFest 2017 – 09/10/17

berko3

This is our second year at BerkoFest and it could be said that 2016 was defined by one thing – rain. Relentless, driving rain. So you’ll be glad to see this glorious sunshine when we arrived.

 berko7
Now I’m not saying it lasted all day. But we weren’t soaked to the skin this year….at least not yet. I’m writing this while watching Alabama 3 as my boy sits next to me, also engrossed in his phone. Nathan and Eva are up front dancing but Reuben’s gone a bit sulky so the two of us are stuck further, reduced to just listening to those Deep Southern grooves.

 

Of course if you know one thing about Albama Three, it’s that they’re not really from Alabama. They’re from Brixton. If you know a second thing, it’s probably that there aren’t three of them. Today there are four but  Nathan reckons there were about eight of them when we saw them at Jamm on Brixton Rd. That was in the hazy pre-children days where we could go and see bands whenever we felt like it. Nowadays it’s not so easy, but it’s still possible. I’ll come back to Alabama 3 later but let’s start at the start.

 

In case you can’t guess, I am no longer perched in front of the main stage as I write this bit. So we’re going to make an awkward shift into the past tense and rewind to the first act of the day. As we walked on to the site, the words “Who the hell cares about Kasabian?” drifted across from the stage. We were intrigued. We also didn’t care much about Kasabian. The singer was Grace Petrie, a self-proclaimed leftie who hated Theresa May before it was fashionable. I liked the cut of her jib. Her set finished with a Spanish Civil War-themed singalong  (thankfully not that latter-day MSP song) – if we take action today, we can “Save Tomorrow!”

 

berko11
And with that revolutionary spirit in our hearts, we went to do sand art. I’m not sure how Eva making a Disney princess picture is smashing either capitalism or the patriachy but ho hum. I’ve probably been kicked out of the lefties club this weekend anyway, after that whole nationalist moment on Friday night.
So back to the sand art. Hooray, it’s something that keeps Eva occupied for a full 45 minutes. I sometimes think we should get her a kit to do at home, but then I remember the inevtiable sandy mess. Best kept for festivals. Their sand art from last year is still up on their walls so it was something they were very keen to do again. Reuben made a giraffe for Eva because that’s her favourite animal (he can be sweet occasionally) and Eva made Cinderella. There’s a slight black smudge on her nose but it’s something we’ve agreed never to speak of again.
berko10
Roo had knocked the giraffe out a lot more quickly than Eva’s carefully crafted princess so he and I went for a wander. Along the way, we had a go at Splat the Rat at the Young Farmers’ stall. He didn’t splat any rats but he scored two packets of haribo, so was pretty happy with that. Under some pressure, he gave one to Eva. See, I told you he was only sweet occasionally. Then the first rain shower of the day started and so we dived back under the cover of the Sand Art gazebo to wait it out while Eva perfected her princess.
berko9
Next, we ducked into the beer tent for the kids to have a sandwich and were entertained there by the sweet sounds of Lucy Mair, harmonising with herself through a loop pedal. As she was singing, the next rain storm broke and suddenly the tent was rather fuller than before. The horizontal rain created a bonus crowd for Lucy but what Robin Ince described as a “health and safety nightmare” on the main stage. Still, he said he’d chatted to Thor and Odin and from now on the rain would only happen between bands, not during them. That’s one ominous looking sky though:
berko8
It was time for John Power, and the first episode of “keeping the kids still while Mummy and Daddy listen to music”. As challenging as it sounds. They lay on the grass for a bit in a catatonic state, but Eva eventually perked up and had a dance at the front with the other children:
berko5

This is the sum of stuff I know about John Power. Cast were one of those bands that fell on the oasis side of the blur/oasis divide so I’ve always classed them as one of my brother’s type of bands (he was oasis, I was blur). And there was that whole thing in Southampton in 1999 where someone who now calls himself Akira the Don made some offensive t-shirts about him. And I know that his speaking voice is a lot like John Lennon’s, which is unsurprising when you realise they went to the same school. I knew he’s been in the La’s and I had a vague awareness he’d had a solo career. But that’s pretty much it. So I didn’t have too many expectations.

berko6

It was a good set though. He started with what sounded like solo material and then played the familiar opening to “Sandstorm”. I can’t remember exactly what followed but I recognised a lot of the old Cast singles – “Fine Time”, “Guiding Star”, “Alright”, “Walk Away”. The sun shone throughout and we had a good singalong, even if Reuben was still lying on the grass.

Time to perk them up a bit. We’d never had churros before but I figured that doughnuts rolled in sugar and dipped in chocolate might be just the energy boost they needed. And it worked. Which brings us back to Alabama 3, with Roo sitting playing Minecraft, Eva on Nathan’s shoulders and the band giving the children advice on which super-strength lager to drink.

 

Wait, what?

 

Yup folks Alabama 3 are in the house and Berkofest’s no-swearing-on-stage rule seems to been tossed out of the fast-moving car on Coldhabour Lane. Presumably next year, there’ll be an additional rule about not giving kids cans of Red Stripe, as A3 did at the end of the set. Or talking about how “drink responsibly” labels are pointless when you’re drinking Strongbow. Or telling everyone how stoned you are. They’re outrageous but I love em.

 

berko2

At some point, I abandoned my sulky son so I could actually watch the band. It was an acoustic set and at times descended into freestyle acapella rapping but they played most of the hits, including Sopranos theme “Woke Up this Morning” and a joyous version of “Old Purple Tin”. I heard “U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno” while accompanying small children to the portaloos but the good thing about Berkofest is that you can still hear the music wherever you are, so I was tapping my foot in time as I was pumping water for Eva’s hands. Eva had earlier got hold of A3′s mic for a brief moment as they were passing it around the children at the front, but she got stage fright and ran away. In a really bizarre way, it was a very family friendly show. And that seems a good note to end on – thanks once again Berkofest. It’s been fun.

berko1

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Een Nederlands Avontuur Part 2

hollb11

 

It seems a long time ago now, but there was a time we were on holiday at Center Parcs de Kempervennen, just a few kilometres into the Netherlands. It was a roasting hot day when we arrived, so we decided to go straight to the beach. It wasn’t a real beach – Kempervennen is a long way from the sea – but it was sandy and on a lake, so it was all you needed. And a swim in the lake was what I needed after many hot hours in the car.

hollb9

What we probably didn’t need was an overly friendly goat trying to eat our sandwiches. Several overly friendly goats in fact:

hollb4

They scored a half eaten sandwich that, at one point, had belonged to Eva and she wasn’t fussed on finishing. It had a kind of cured meat in it that I thought was chorizo, but I later found to be ossenworst – a raw beef sausage that’s something of a dutch delicacy. Probably why it wasn’t a big hit with Eva but let’s not dwell on the weirdness of goats eating raw cow. Suddenly Roo’s goat fear seems entirely justified.

The next morning didn’t seem like beach weather but luckily there was a great wet-weather alternative – the Aquamondo complex. For those who are unfamiliar with Centre Parks lingo – like we were – it’s a swimming pool with a wave machine, flumes, rapids slide, children’s activity pool, outdoor pool and jacuzzis. For those of you unfamiliar with Eva, she has a number of irrational phobias which now include rapids slides and jacuzzis. Sigh. But after Nathan took Roo on the rapids slide and Roo told me he’d “nearly drowned” I was quite glad that Eva didn’t want to go on it. I took Roo on the rapids slide too and it was hairy in parts but I hung on to him and his head generally stayed above the water. The compulsory Centre Parks lifejackets definitely helped the kids not to drown though. We went to the Aquamondo every day and by the end of the week, Roo was swimming on his own with the help of his jacket and even Eva was bobbing up and down in the outdoor pool without any support. She’s still scared of jacuzzis though. Sigh again.

hollb8

It wasn’t like we did nothing but swim though. On the second day we took a pedalo out on the lake, with Eva whining and moaning for almost every second of it. Turns out she’s scared of swan-shaped pedalos too. Moaning aside, it was pleasant to be out there on the lake, watching the pond skaters ably skimming the water and the water skiiers not-so-ably skimming the water. We also did a spot of pirate-themed bowling and Roo really fuelled his taste for gun violence with what he called an “awesome” game of laser tag.

hollb7

On the last day, I decided we needed to go out and see the countryside surrounding Kempervennen. Again, there was some complaining from the troops. They didn’t want to leave the safe confines of Centre Parks. And Centre Parks didn’t want us to leave, either. Google Maps had told us that there was a village a few minutes’ walk away where we could get an offsite coffee and be able to say that we’d actually taken the kids to The Netherlands, rather than just to International Centre Parks Land. But could we get to the village? No. There was a fence everywhere we tried and one very locked gate. The only way was to walk right round to our car park and drive out the official way. Which meant we might as well go to the nearest town, Valkenswaard.

hollb3

Eva still wasn’t convinced that there was any point to this expedition and there was some some background grumbling as we wandered through a market and past some interesting churches. She perked up a little when we saw a jazz band playing near the sweetie stall but she probably needed some sugar to cheer her up. We’d spotted a cafe called “Brownies and Downies” but were a little unsure what – this being the Netherlands – those brownies might contain. At this point, Google intervened. “Are you at Brownies and Downies?” it asked, somewhat intrusively, and provided a number of user reviews, which both reassured me re the child-friendliness of the brownies and explained what “Downies” meant. Turned out the cafe had a policy of employing staff who were neuro-diverse and “Downies” was a slightly un-PC reference to the staff with Down Syndrome. Not what I’d call a cafe but you gotta applaud the concept.

hollb6

And the brownies were damn good too. I had the caramel and sea salt and both the boys had the white chocolate blondies. Eva had an apple tart, which she obviously didn’t finish, but it had had the desired effect of perking her up. She loved the garden of the cafe and we went out to look at the fishes in the fish pond. The cafe was in what seemed to be a converted house, which gave it a lovely cosy vibe and I even managed to order in Dutch. With plentiful pointing. A successful outing.

Sadly, the next morning was our time to leave Kempervennen. We had a long journey, so fuelled up at the Evergreen restaurant’s all you can eat breakfast buffet. Reuben was overjoyed to have as much red meat and juice as he could handle, and Eva was thrilled to have a breakfast that contained both sausages and sprinkles. At 10Euro for adults and 7 Euro for kids, it wasn’t bad value either and meant we didn’t need to eat again till Calais.

hollb2

Because yes, we made it back to Calais. Three hours driving straight through, with only a brief stop for petrol and a little snarly traffic around Antwerp. There were happy times, when the sun was shining and we were on fast, straight roads and there were unhappy times, when torrential rain all but blinded us and we crawled along between HGVs. But we made it with an hour to spare before we even needed to start queuing for the ferry. We celebrated with Coke and Pommes Frites and then I made the family walk out of the terminal to set foot on French soil, again just so that we could say we did. There was no time to actually explore Calais but we did walk round a roundabout a few times and walk as far as the bridge that marked the edge of the port. I know how to show my kids a good time.

hollb10

And then, we were homeward bound. We weren’t so lucky on the British stretch of the journey, with a confusing few turns around Port of Dover before getting stuck for hours at Dartford. Not the best end to the holiday but it was a great adventure overall. Despite everything I’ve said about Eva complaining, she did enjoy the holiday and Centre Parks is well set up for families, with pretty much everything we needed onsite albeit at a price. Driving abroad was scary at times but it was fun too and saved us a ton on airfares. And it meant we could stop at the Marias too, which is always a bonus. If you fancy a similar break, have a look here for all the information you could ever want. Happy holidays!

hollb1

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Een Nederlands Avontuur Part 1

hollb13

Thank you Google translate for that post title…and for everything I said in the Netherlands that wasn’t embarrassed English or panicked German. But we’ll get to all that. Let me give you a short overview first – it’s the now-annual LWAT “What I Did on My Holidays” post. In this one, we cross the channel and not just to the Isle of Wight. I know, exciting stuff.

hollb18

Where else to start but Dover? I’m what you might call a cautious traveller, so we turned up with nearly three hours to fill before our ferry left. It was totally justifiable. We made the fatal mistake of asking the kids whether they wanted to go to the playground first or go and find a cafe for some brunch and inevitably, the vote was split. So we gave in to the bolshiest one and started with the playground, overlooked by the majestic Dover Castle (not to be confused with the pub near Nathan’s office) and also by the funfair that was just setting up. Luckily it wasn’t going to open for quite a few hours so the kids didn’t have a chance to drain all our cash before we’d even left the country, but we did splash out on some pork-related sandwiches and some coffees in a nearby Costa. Nathan was perfectly acting the part of the caffeine-deprived Londoner, standing in the playground whinily asking where the nearest Pret was…so I eventually took pity on him.

hollb15

 

The hours flew by and pretty soon we were on board the DFDS ferry to Calais, with only the briefest of tedious interludes as we queued up for customs. The children initially had some interest in the famous white cliffs, but it diminished after 30 minutes or so of staring at them. So we’ll skip straight to the boat, where Eva is enjoying the pleasures of an on-board soft play. Roo, unfortunately, was a little too big for Adventure Island (6 years and under) but made do with his Lego magazine and a lot of staring at the horizon whenever he felt too seasick.

The journey lasted 90 minutes, though we were an hour further on than that once we disembarked, thanks to the time difference. We’d claw that hour back on the way home and trust me, we’d need it. We were cautiously following Maria’s directions of “drive up the coast, turn right at Ostend, head to Brussels” but it couldn’t really be that easy, could it? Especially as this was the first time Nathan had ever driven on the right?

hollb16

 

Well, it was fine. Improbably so. The kids were quiet, the junctions were smooth and once we got on to the motorway the next turn was 173km away. We got through France on the 130km/hr roads within about half an hour. We turned right, just as Maria had said and then there was Brussels. There was a little navigating to do as we joined the Brussels Ring but the lanes were well marked and instinctive and there was always a decent amount of slip road. I wonder how the poor Belgians fare on our chaotic roads when they drive in the UK? The only glitch-ette we found was driving through towns once we’d turned off the E40 –  200km of motorway driving had made Nathan a little complacent and we’d forgotten that we still hadn’t the slightest clue about traffic lights, roundabouts, zebra crossings and provincial Belgians. But we arrived at Casa Maria safely and a splendid weekend ensued.

hollb12

Last time we’d visited, we’d been to the bright lights of Brussels itself, taking in the EU and a lot of trams. This time we pottered around the local area a bit more, visiting a great adventure playground at Kessel-Lo, complete with high ropes, cafe and kissing gnomes: Just don’t forget that you need to pay 3Euros in change to get out of the car park – a bit of a challenge when you’re new to the area like we were. Luckily, the Marias came back to rescue us.

Later, Maria and I went to pick your own vegetables where I (briefly) got my hands dirty extracting a lettuce and learnt a bit about nature and gardening stuff. For example, I can now identify this plant as a tomato plant. Aced it.

hollb17

 

The next day we were driving on to Centre Parks in the Netherlands but we just about had time for a den-building date with some imaginary friends in Park de Tervuren. “Park” is a bit of an understatement for what it is – it’s a huge natural area, with woods and lakes and tree-lined boulevards. Quite lovely.

hollb14

 

And then on to our holiday home stopping only at a service station to use the loos. More Euro change needed. Some frantic change-making in the attached store. And then some meatballs and pommes frites. I knew our destination wasn’t terribly far into the Netherlands but even I was surprised when we reached the turn off six minutes after crossing the Dutch border. To be precise, it was the whole of “Belle” and a few minutes of “Man or Muppet?”. So we’d driven in three countries to get to Center Parcs de Kempervennen but we spent three times as long driving through the car park as we did driving on the Dutch roads. Eventually we turned the engine off, put “Gracelands” on and waited to check in. And what we did at Centre Parks? Well, that’s another *thrilling* installment that’s coming up soon. No, do not leave that seat-edge….

hollb19

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , | Leave a comment

September Science Museum – 02/09/17

sm6

In case you haven’t heard my whooping from miles away, it’s September. Nearly the end of the summer holidays. Much as I love my kids, conjuring up 7 weeks of childcare is about as easy as it sounds….so I’m quite glad they’re back to school next week. But before they do, a last hurrah. Two last hurrahs in fact, using the divide and conquer method of child wrangling that saw Nathan taking Roo to see a Spiderman movie, and me and Eva heading to South Ken with Bunny and her long-suffering maternal parent.

Eva had first floated this idea last week, when we were going to an entirely different museum. She expressed it in a vigorous and whingy manner so we weren’t keen to actually take her there ever. But then it became a convenient carrot to use during back-to-school shoe shopping and sure enough, by midday today she was there, marvelling at the projection of the Earth that sits in the Exploring Space gallery. Or rather, it was an artist’s impression of “what an Earth-like planet would look like”. Earth, apparently. Still, she and Bunny sat and watched the planet for about ten minutes as it changed from Mercury to the Sun to a moon of Jupiter. I’m not sure they took all the information in, but they thought it was pretty.

sm12

Next stop was the ever-popular Pattern Pod, where they drew on the kaleidoscopes and danced in the video room. Eva also enjoyed putting on the duck feet and baby booties to walk and crawl over the footprint trails.

sm11

We’d brunched before leaving home, but the Bunnies hadn’t so we went to the cafe in the basement for a sandwich for Bunny and whatever I could convince Eva to eat that resembled food. There was some unpleasant moments, as there often are when you hear “Eva” and “food” in the same sentence…so let’s skim right over that and onto the Bubble Show, which has now moved to a much bigger space under the Wellcome Wing. There’s a long runway marked out, so that more kids can sit close to the bubbles and it works well. Eva and Bunny didn’t get chosen to take part in the show, but surprisingly they seemed to cope with the trauma of it.

Better than BunnyMummy and I coped when I’d queued up at the Shake Bar for ten minutes, only to find out they had no coffee. OH THE HUMANITY. The coffee machine was broken and we’d have to cope with Wonderlab without a caffeine boost. Eva and Bunny managed to entertain themselves while I was in the queue though, with this mirror and the “choir of Evas” contained within it:

sm10

They were more Evas to be found in the Illusion Box inside Wonderlab.  Three of them in here:

sm8

And countless Evas in this one:

sm7

You can imagine how all of this pleased the narcissistic girl.

Last time we went to the Science Museum, I’d baulked at paying for both kids and both of us for Wonderlab  so had sent Eva down to The Garden with Nathan and I just took Roo in. So all of this was new to Eva. She liked the giant rotating Earth, and the paper aeroplane machine and the tree with the magnets on it, and all the other bits that Roo liked. She even enjoyed the giant slides, although I found them a bit scary when I was helping her into the mat and tipping her over the edge:

sm9

What she didn’t like was the “Bang, Flash, Wallop” show – we lasted a few minutes before I gave in to her pathetic scared noises and took her back in. So, we played with these two Black Holes for ages instead:

sm5

It was definitely coffee time after this, and we found the nicest little coffee shop on the second floor. They didn’t have huge amounts of cake, but they had nice tiled booths and – unusually for a Kensington museum – a view to the outside world.

sm4

We were eating our brownies and slightly crumbly muffins when Eva said the strangest thing. She was looking down at the street and said she could see “two people who don’t have heads but have umbrellas”. It didn’t make any sense to me or BunnyMummy so eventually we stood up and took a look. Yes, the girl was telling the truth. Human statues hanging out on Exhibition Road who, as described, had umbrellas but no heads:

sm3

Talking of which, we met another street entertainer a few minutes later who did have a head and let both girls try it on:

sm2

You’ll have gathered by now that we’d left the museum. It was 5 PM, so we’d spent a full five hours in there and we wanted to flit by the Butterfly tent at the Natural History Museum before we went home. BunnyMummy had member passes, otherwise it would have been another £22 for a family ticket which might have been wasted seeing as it took us 5 minutes to walk through it. It was interesting though – lots of butterflies, some of them huge and one of them who was friendly enough to land on Eva:

sm1

Don’t worry though – we checked ourselves both in the mirror before leaving the Butterfly House and we didn’t let any escape. Unlike that time in Clissold Park a few years back. I guess we would have spent a bit longer in there if we’d paid for it or if it wasn’t already so late but it did seem like it’d be pricey for what it was.

We had one last stop to make before we hopped on the tube and that was the wonderfully-named Jeff de Bruges, where BunnyMummy bought us all little chocolates in the shape of ice cream cones. We needed the sugar for the long train ride home, where Bunny took control of an iPhone and took a series of pictures we won’t be sharing here but do look out for a future Turner Prize-winning exhibition called “Knees of the Piccadilly Line”. A fitting souvenir of our end of holidays hurrah.

More information here (official website)

SM13

Posted in Token attempts at culture (museums) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Braintree District Museum – 26/08/17

wiz2

A few weeks back,  I was contacted by a childhood friend of Nathan’s, inviting us to a Harry Potter exhibition in Braintree. Did we want to go? Merlin’s Beard, yes! But the summer’s been busy and it’s only now that I’ve got organised enough to get us there. So apologies if this review would have been *really useful* as a day out tip at the start of the summer holidays. I only have myself to blame.

wiz20

The exhibition’s called “School for Witchcraft & Wizardry” and it’s at the Braintree District Museum. which is pretty much in the town centre. There’s a car park right opposite and we paid £3 for 6 hours’ parking so it’s pretty reasonable. The machine even took new pound coins.

You know what wasn’t being reasonable? Eva. As soon as I told her we were going to a museum, she’d got it into her head that we were going to the Science Museum. Cue massive tantrum and clothes refusal. It would take some extra special wizard magic to turn this one’s mood around.

wiz17

Reuben, by contrast, was right into it. He’s the one with some basic Harry Potter knowledge, as he and Nathan read the first book and he’s played the board game many a time. He was straight on to the video tutorials on spell casting and, dressed as a Ravensclaw, was soon “Wingardum Leviosa”ing in a way that’d make Hermione proud.

Eva, meanwhile, was starting to thaw out a little as we went hunting for dragon eggs on one of the three trails you could follow. She was soon distracted by the giant dolls’ house in the non-Harry Potter section though:

wiz5

She spent ages trying to work out how the rooms connected up and decided that she liked the kids’ bedroom the best. Later, when we were discussing the Mirror of Erised, she said that her heart’s desire would be “a huge dolls’ house, just like the one in the museum”. We told her not to tell Nana that next week because Mummy darn sure wasn’t carrying a dolls’ house the size of that one back on the train.

wiz4

As well as the Harry Potter rooms, there are a number of permanent exhibitions on local history, which is where the dolls’ house came in. There was also a Victorian classroom, and Eva couldn’t quite believe that I had these same desks when I was at school. Actually she believed it all too easily but then didn’t believe my school days were only 20 years ago. She asked whether my classroom looked just like this and yes, it pretty much did. My secondary school was a bit behind the times in the 90s. Later on, Nathan and I were musing over when the map of the world was from – it had the USSR on it so we didn’t think it was Victorian but couldn’t see a date. Yes sir, we are geeky.

wiz7

But we were at a Harry Potter exhibition so that’s OK, right? And happily, Eva had started to enjoy herself so we could go back through the HP rooms at a more leisurely pace. She dressed up in the Ravenclaw robes and practised her spells. Then I dispatched Reuben to the gift shop with a pound and he came back with two tiny bottles to put sand into, to make “potions”. As with anything crafty, Reuben did his in seconds and Eva spent ages layering hers ever so ever so carefully. They both enjoyed it though.

wiz6

In case you’re wondering why both kids chose Ravenclaw robes, it was the way they were sorted by the flowchart and the four talking boxes in the background of the photo above. Nathan was also Ravenclaw, which he’s always said he was…but so was I. Which I’m going to dispute because clearly, I’ve always been a Gryffindor. I’m not one of those background introverts. Hmph.

wiz11

Talking of introverts, Nathan and Roo chose to play some chess next. Eva and I completed two of the trails – the Dragon Egg trail, where we had to find baskets of egg-shaped stickers, and the Fantastic Beasts trail, where we had to spot the insects lurking in the glass cases. We also got some photos of the kids in the “Have You Seen This Wizard?” photo frames and of course, being wizard photos they had to be moving. I’ve GIFed Eva’s for you, but for technical reasons there’s no Roo GIF. Sorry Roo.

via GIPHY

There was another room we didn’t really get to explore much, because Eva and I looked in when we were mid-Beasts Trail and focused. It looked fun though – there was drawing stuff, wooden animals and a caterpillar tunnel:

wiz12 wiz13

Other interactive bits included Roman dress-up, a sandpit with hidden artefacts in it that you could dig for and a chance to try our weaving. There were also a good range of Harry Potter memorabilia like this collection of surreal taxidermy:

wiz19

There were props from the films, toys and fan art. If you’re into Harry Potter, there’s plenty there to muse over – a display of wands and another of Quidditch items as well as a pair of Extendable Ears to send secret messages with. We were there for an hour and a half and would have stayed longer except that we were all hungry. Eva had requested chip shop chips and sausages for dinner and this bit we were willing to agree to:

wiz16

She eventually admitted that she liked the museum, by the way. It took a while because she’s stubborn and had taken against the whole idea but as we walked through the town after lunch, she said “I didn’t think I’d like the museum but I enjoyed it”. High praise indeed.

wiz22

We were in search of a park, and found Braintree and Bocking Public Gardens, which had a playground in it and also toilets, which are always an essential part of any family day out. It wasn’t huge but the kids played happily for an hour or so. I wondered about a cafe trip but honestly, I was still a bit stuffed from the chip shop. As stuffed as that two-head chick up there. The Cool Beans cafe did look like a nice place to have a cuppa though.

wiz21

I won’t bore you with our trip to Shoe Express for plimsolls so let’s leave this post on a few more pretty pictures of Harry Potter stuff. Look, sparkly horcruxes and wizard wheezes!

wiz18

wiz14

It’s a great little museum, very affordable – £4 for adults, £2 for kids – and not too far from London. It took us around 45 minutes to drive there. I’d def recommend it as a day out, especially if you or the kids are Harry Potter enthusiasts.

More information here (offical website)

wiz15

Posted in Token attempts at culture (museums) | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Holland Park – 11/08/17

holl11

We’ve just arrived back from a week in the Netherlands and Belgium….but more on that another day. Let me first tell you about the preparatory trip we did before we left – to Holland Park, in West London. Believe it or not, I didn’t intentionally choose the park because we were off to the Netherlands the next day, but once the kids realised the pun, they were pretty delighted with it. Lucky that, as Eva had kicked up a fuss about not going to her choice of park – a small playground on a street corner in Walthamstow. Girl doesn’t know when she’s onto a good thing.

holl24

We were meeting Ellie and Wiley in a place that was convenient for none of us but Holland Park has a certain novelty value that’s hard to beat. I reviewed it on the very first day of this blog and believe I used the word “crazy-assed”. I stand by that opinion. It’s a park of many parts and none of them really fit together but that’s what makes it fun. We started by the art deco-y white wall in the grand terrace, which is how London always looked in my imagination as a kid. On the other side of the wall, you’ll be surprised to find a tropical garden:

holl23

I wasn’t cause I’ve been there before, but the kids were because it was too long ago for Roo to remember and Eva wasn’t even born then. We walked through the woods and the kids found a few good climbing trees and a wooden chair they completely refused to share nicely.

holl22

 

Then we stumbled across the very stern looking Lord Holland. Turns out that the park was named after his familial name rather than being anything much to do with the land of segregated cycle paths. Shh, don’t tell the kids.

holl21

We wandered through the woods, past a very manicured lawn and out to this huge stretch of green for our picnic. There were some people in orange t-shirts running a sports event and Wiley made a really good gag about them being the Dutch football team. I  mention it here only because I never normally understand sports jokes so I was pretty pleased with myself.

holl19

We hung around there for an hour or so,  lying on the grass and chatting while the kids climbed on the log and entertained each other. This is why we had Eva. I need to remmeber this sometimes. Then we moved on to the sand-filled toddler playground, which Roo is clearly too big for but this didn’t seem to bother him. He spent his time constructing this rather lovely sand-bridge:

holl18

Last time we were there, we only had a toddler so had no need of any bigger playgrounds but rumour has it there was another one somewhere. We also spent most of our time then trying to stop him running into this pond which I swear had ducks on it last time I looked:

holl10

This time, thankfully, the children were slightly more aware of the hazards. Didn’t stop me panicking when we were crossing this very narrow bridge in the Kyoto Garden though:

holl13

The Kyoto Garden! That was a treat we didn’t find before. It’s a peaceful space, so we didn’t dwell too long but it’s so pretty and atmospheric. We even spotted some peacocks lurking in there.

holl15 holl14

Oh yes, peacocks and giant chess. Just the crazy-assed park I remember. Giant chess, you say? Why yes, played by the world’s most nonchalant chess player. I’ve never seen anyone play chess in such a casual manner as this guy. And he was winning.

holl17

So it was inevitable we’d wind up in the hitherto unexplored adventure playground…and I’m glad we did. It was huge. There was a rocket ship the size of a house and a climbing frame with lots of little trampoline parts. We watched from afar as Eva tried to climb aboard but it was a bit wobbly for a nervous girl until a bigger child gave her a leg up. Didn’t deter her from scooting straight up the giant rocket tho.

holl16

So, I haven’t changed my vies on Holland Park – it’s as random and nonsensical as ever. But doesn’t that just add to its charm? On the way home, we sat exhausted all the way to Woodford on the Central Line because we were just too knackered to get off at Liverpool Street. That’s some quality fresh-air round-around time right there. And as for the real-life Holland? Even more fresh air and running around. I’ll get there…but maybe not today.

holl20

Posted in Token attempts at fresh air (parks) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

When a Business Lives or Dies by its Facebook Reviews

 

fbook rants3

We live in an era of People Power. The will of the people has decided that we’re leaving the European Union and that the most powerful country in the world is run by a misogynist narcissist with the attention span of a tweet. Good times. And it seems that this kind of populist decision making filters right down from the government to the small businesses of the UK. The People have the power to break a small business now, more than they ever have before.

And it’s worrying. It takes years to build up the reputation of a business and now, it seems, only hours to break it. The reasons people turn against a company can be true or just hearsay but once a complaint goes viral, fact-checking seems to go by the wayside and the masses pile in, giving their 1-star reviews on a Facebook page, attacking on Twitter and organising boycotts via change.org. The power of social media is immense.

Take Cedar Falls Health Farm, currently enjoying a rating of 4.1 stars on Facebook after years of consistent good reviews from happy customers. 371 5* reviews, 82 4*reviews and a smattering of 3* and 2*. So why is the rating only 4.1? Why that’d be the 80 angry reviewers from July 2014, who piled in with their 1* reviews. What do you think happened in that month? Were the 80 people all there on a hen party that somehow went disastrously wrong? No. I doubt any of them ever set foot in the place. What happened was a thread on Mumsnet that called the spa out for discriminating against breastfeeding mothers and before the spa even had a chance to respond, it was deluged with critical reviews. There was some ambiguity about the actual charges brought against the place – the policy actually excluded all under 16s, not just breastfeeding babies – but the damage was done. Obviously, their star rating has recovered, three years on, but you could see how something like that could sink a business.

The most recent example of a social media slaying concerns the Tea House Theatre. Now, if you’ve read this blog for long enough, you’ll know how much we loved the Tea House during our time in Kennington. We watched movies there at Christmas, hung out for hours on those mat leave mornings and even carved pumpkins there one Halloween. And I’m going to go there and say it – they don’t deserve the treatment they’re getting. I’m not going into the details of the admittedly ill-advised job ad that started this storm but I know how hard it has been to keep a cafe and arts venue running in an expensive part of London for what must be six years now. It would be a horrific shame if it was all destroyed by this one incident. Two actors had a burst of temperament. Quite frankly, I’m amazed that anyone is amazed.

It’s not just cafes and spas that find their reputation threatened by social media users on a mission. Lately, I’ve seen a community Facebook page hammered by local Conservatives because the owner expressed a pro-Corbyn opinion. I went to post something on the Facebook page for my kids’ drama classes and noticed 1* reviews from people who were angry about something the drama teachers had no control over. A visitor centre that hasn’t even opened yet is defending itself for its late licence application, amid shrieks of “illegal marsh raves”.

But it’s small businesses that take the brunt of it – there’s a thread brewing on Mumsnet right now, where a cafe owner has been accused of being unfriendly to children and there’s pressure on the original poster to “name and shame”. What happened in the cafe is only known to the people who were there, but if the name of the cafe is released there could be a social media assault of epic proportions. These things spiral out of control and the truth is lost in the whirl of outrage.

So, think – next time you’re ask to hashtag, share, boycott, review, petition or generally speak out against a small business, ask yourself if it’s worth it. Verify the truth of the accusations. Assess what impact this actually has on your life. Assess what impact it might have on someone else’s life. Think about whether a social media storm might destroy a business that’s actually doing some good in the world. Think about whether the business owners may have a clutch of small children that are depending on the business succeeding. Ask someone who’s actually been there. Don’t get caught up in mob mentality.  Decide for yourself whether the Beast is actually a monster that needs to be killed or someone who can be kind and good, given the right kind of care and attention from a bookish French peasant girl.

I think I got a bit off piste there but here’s the take home. Don’t be an arse on social media unless you’re 100% convinced it’s worth being an arse. If you need to troll someone, refer back to my first paragraph. Trump’s on Twitter all the time. Fair game.

 

Posted in Rants | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“Stomp” – 27/07/16

Photo credit: Steve McNicholas

Photo credit: Steve McNicholas

 

So, I didn’t actually go to see Stomp today but bear with me…I sent my small envoys to review it for me. Reuben plus the two teenage temp-LWATers. They enjoyed it, and I’ll get onto their comments later. I probably won’t explain the complex calculations I did that led to them going and not me (short version: Eva is spooked by loud noises) but let me walk you through stuff I did and didn’t do today.

stomp1

I didn’t go to the Tower of London. But the assorted kids and young people did. Reuben liked the armour and Eva liked the crown jewels. Little surprise there. I was at work while they were having fun/killing time but I picked the whole load of them up at Tower Hill at 2 and we headed to Covent Garden for the next part of the day – Stomp!

In case you haven’t heard of it. Stomp has been a fixture of the West End for the last 15 years – it debuted around the time one of my young reviewers was born. I know, I feel old too. Even if you don’t know the name, you’d probably recognise the iconic poster of a man leaping in the air with a dustbin lid – it’s the show where everyday objects are used to make percussive music. There are no words, no songs as such but a fierce energy and a lot of rhythm.

Teen #1, henceforth known as “niece”, is a dancer so really appreciated the complexity of all the movement. She said the timing was really tight, down to the split second. The ensemble works instinctively together and make it look effortless, which I’m sure sustaining 100 minutes of perfect rhythm can’t be. There’s a great chemistry between the players and a lot of physical comedy.

Talking of which, Reuben’s sole comment was that “it was very loud and funny”. When pressed, he said that he particularly liked a “funny bald guy”. A conflab with the teens and a quick Google suggests to me that it might be Paul Bend. Whoever it was, you made Reuben laugh. Roo also thought the bit with the bins was hilarious – I think he might be inspired to start creating his own music on stuff he finds around the house. That’ll be peaceful.

Niece’s favourite cast member was “the really attractive guy”, who we think might be Rob Shaw. Teen #2, who we’ll call “niece’s boyfriend” has been a bit quiet on this subject. It must be tough competing with a guy who can get a tune out of a broomhandle. All of them enjoyed the dishwashing scene, where four men appeared with sinks slung round their necks and used the cups and plates in the sink, their rubber gloves and even the sink itself to make music. I’ve just looked it up on YouTube and I love the subtle competitiveness of it all, especially the moment where it threatens to turn into a full-on water fight.

The show is 100 minutes with no interval and I wasn’t sure how they would all cope with it, given they’ve had a full on week so far and a long morning at the Tower. But niece said the show went much quicker than she was expecting and even Roo managed to sit still through it. I think he was mesmerized. Still not convinced that Eva would have coped, but for your 6ish plus child it’s a winner I reckon.

stomp2

So what did the sensitive girl and I get up to for those 100 minutes? Well, we started off with a stroll through a newish development called St Martin’s Courtyard, which had pretty flower bunting that Eva liked. We were on the hunt for coffee and cake, so were attracted to a large “Eat Cake” sign. Turns out they have a whole cake-based street food market here, which would be blissful if it wasn’t starting to rain. I could have coped with a slice of rainbow cake and game of ping pong.

stomp5

We lingered just longer enough for Eva to strike a couple of poses with a giant E:

stomp4

But then it started really chucking it down and so we made a dash for the Covent Garden Plaza, where we found a moomin wandering around outside the moomin shop, and then on to Patisserie Valerie. It’s not the cheapest place in the world to eat cake and drink coffee but it’s pretty reliable and I know from experience that they don’t chuck you out if your girl is taking an hour to nibble the pastry of her strawberry tart:

stomp7

We still had time to kill after that but I can spend hours just wandering the streets around Seven Dials, looking at the shops, and Eva seems to like that too. We ducked into Tatty Devine and she squealed over “yuvyee” rainbow necklaces. She also really yiked this shop:
stomp6

But then the rain turned apocalyptic and it was all we could do to dash back to the theatre and cower in the lobby, waiting for our assorted family members to come out. The staff were very kind. Another reason why you should make this one of your summer holiday trips out.

Stomp is running till January 2018 at the Ambassadors Theatre. For tickets and more information click here.

Posted in Reviewing the Situation | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ten Pieces Presents…” Prom – 23/07/16

proms9

We’ve got a couple of temporary LWATers with us this week. They’re young and full of energy and they’ve been tasked with looking after the kids while Nathan and I go to work. But first, I thought we’d show them some London culture – a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall along with a picnic and a stroll through Hyde Park. What could be more London than that?

Rain. Obviously.

proms7

It was only a light drizzle so we still had a picnic in Hyde Park. But we found this little shelter near the Italian Gardens that Reuben described as “somewhere that looks like it might have a curse on it”. That’s a reassuring thought as you’re eating a chorizo wrap.

On the upside, there are toilets right next door. And they’re a bargain 20p per pee.

The kids needed a runaround before they had to sit still for the press conference and luckily we had a mile or so of park to walk through. We’d picked up the young people at Paddington and walked all the way through Bayswater and Hyde Park. It was a lovely walk, even with Eva complaining most of the way about her poor tired yegs. We spotted the Albert Memorial though, before she got too whiney, and the shiny goldness of it gave her the push she needed to stumble the last little bit.

As it happened, our first destination wasn’t the Albert Hall at all but rather the Beit Hall in Imperial College. There we dropped off the massive suitcases we’d lugged through the park and settled in for the “Ten Pieces” Children’s Press Conference. Audio was being recorded so I warned my kids not to say anything outrageous….though they couldn’t have lowered the tone much after a question related to toilets. I’ll get to that in a bit.

The press conference was hosted by BBC’s “School Report”, in collaboration with “Ten Pieces” and the panel consisted of Vikki Stone, Sasha Boult and Gabriel Prokofiev. Vikki is a classically trained musician and comedian, which is an unusual combination. Sasha is a 17-year-old professional cellist and Gabriel is the grandson of another Prokofiev…but more importantly is a composer and DJ. We were there to hear them talk about music and the Proms and field questions from the assembled children.

The first question was about how old the panel were when they decided to become musicians. Not surprisingly, they all knew from an early age that they wanted to be involved in music – Sasha thought she was around 5, Gabriel around 10. Then they answered questions about how much they practiced (a lot was the answer), their inspirations and dealing with criticism. They all admitted to having a touch of stage fright still but said that the adrenalin helped them to perform. Sasha talked about her top tips for playing in a youth orchestra – passion and hard work –  and there was a good-natured argument over whether being a musician was “a real job”. Vikki was asked if she ever stole anyone’s jokes (only her Dad’s, apparently) and they all discussed the other genres of music they’d like to be involved in if they weren’t making classical – jazz and funk came up a fair bit.

Then it was open season on the kids’ questions and the crucial question was asked – what if you need to pee during a performance? Well, apparently that’s another way of channelling adrenalin. At this point, it probably would have been OK for Reuben to ask a question but given the one he had prepared – “do you ever play in the nude?” – I’m quite glad he didn’t. Then we went for a quick group photo on the steps outside the RAH and retired to California Roadside Burger for a bit of refuelling.

proms10

Then back to Kensington Gardens for a bit of a puppy runaround and we were ready for the Proms concert. Last time we were at the RAH, we were in the stalls. Today it was the Rausing Circle – a touch higher up.

proms11

This was Prom #12 – “Sir Henry’s Magnificent Musical Inspirations!” and it was aimed at first time promgoers, which we all were. It was a series of short pieces, none longer than 7 minutes, from a range of different composers and eras. The format worked well in keeping the kids’ attention and was curated by no less a person than Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms. He’d been summoned by to the RAH by a magic flute, brought along by two “audience members” (Ellis George and Louis Walwyn). Other character that joined Sir Henry  on stage included the Queen of the Night (also connected with a magic flute), Henry V and a giant animatronic gnome.

The musical selection started with a buoyant “Fanfare for the Common Man”, a World War Two piece by Aaron Copland, before the Ten Pieces Children’s Choir joined the Royal Philharmonic to sing Elgar’s “We are the Music Makers”.  Then the story of the magic flute was explored a little more, with the overture from the opera of the same name. The aforementioned gnome made his entrance during “Gnomus” from Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” – a giant puppet, glumly stomping his way through the auditorium both delighting and terrifying the children as he did so. Kudos to the children of Fox Primary School for designing it.

Then we heard the poignant tale of Lili Boulanger who died at the age of 24 but composed “D’un matin de printemps” shortly before she did. Ellis George brought the young Lili to life, playing the part of the sickly composer trapped in her Parisian flat. The first half was then wrapped up with two Indian-inspired pieces – “The Faces of Brahma” by musicians from the North Lincolnshire Music Hub, and Ravi Shankar’s “Banjara” from his 2010 symphony. See what I mean by a varied programme?

The first half was an hour long, which was verging on pushing it for my kids after a long day. But some interval ice cream perked them up again and they were ready for the second half, complete with their notepads from the press conference in case they got bored and needed to doodle. They didn’t seem to though – the music, acting and bright lights kept them interested to the end, even though it was way past their bedtimes. Eva was particularly taken with the rainbow lighting effect during one of the pieces (I forget which).

The second half started off in a lively fashion, with Vivaldi’s “Gloria” before mellowing right out with a contemporary piece about rural Australia – “Island Songs- Song of Home” by Peter Sculthorpe, featuring Jess Gillam on solo saxophone. The mood  changed abruptly again, with a absolute classic piece of Proms-ing – the hornpipe, arranged by Sir Henry himself. The whole Hall was on its feet, bobbing up and down, clapping, climbing the rigging and saluting., If there was one definitive “I’m at the Proms” moment, it was probably that – and designed to be so.

In case the evening wasn’t cultured enough, it was time for a bit of Shakespeare. Ivanno Jeremiah walked out into the arena to deliver the famous pre-battle speech from Henry V. This led naturally into two rousing excerpts from William Walton’s Henry V suite – “Overture:The Globe” and “Charge and Battle”. I think Reuben enjoyed the battle-y one most.

The evening was almost drawing to a close but next up we had a brand new piece – “No Place Like” by Kerry Andrews, again featuring the Ten Pieces Children’s Choir. I didn’t find it quite as stirring as some of the more traditional pieces but it was very effective and made good use of the chorus of voices, blending wistful vocals with football chants. I guess it reminded me a lot of the “Express Symphony” we sing with WAM and some would say that singing through that eleventy billion times has filled my contemporary classical quota for the time being.

Throughout the show, soprano Kathryn Lewek had appeared on the screen as the Queen of the Night from “The Magic Flute”. She too had been summoned back from the past and was angry about people enjoying the music. Since that evening, Eva has repeatedly pointed out the irony of the Queen hating music so much and then turning up singing but that’s exactly what she did  - her aria in fact. It was a thrilling moment – the savagery of those high notes (a top, top F I believe) and the leaps between them. Of course, there was some kind of MacGuffin to send the Queen away again but don’t let that spoil a good bit of villainry. Lewek certainly didn’t, milking the Wicked Witch of the West image for all it’s worth.

But the happy ending came with a more positive piece- “Pines of Romes” by Respighi. The music designed to accompany a Roman army marching home was a fitting end to a musical odyssey, topped only by a reprise of the hornpipe. It finished off an exhilarating evening, which served as a fine introduction to the Proms for my kids and to London for one of the temp LWATers. It’s all recorded on IPlayer for the the next 27 days or so if you want to listen too. Thank you, Sir Henry!

proms6

Posted in Reviewing the Situation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Summer Holidays Are Here!

 

summer1

So, it’s four days into the holidays and already my kids have watched six Marvel movies. Nathan’s been in charge and apparently, “there’s a lot of MCU to get through”. If you’d like your children to be slightly more productive, here are some ideas of what you can get up to:

I’ve already blogged about the fab new show “The Midnight Gang” at Chickenshed but hurry if you want to see it – it’s only on till 6th August. More information and tickets here. For younger audience, “The Jumble Book” also looks fun and that’s on till 4th August. Another thing I’ll soon be reporting back on is the BBC Proms. Not the “Last Night” where we all sing patriotic songs and wave flags – that’s a whole other, Highams Park-related story – but rather the “Ten Pieces Presents…” events where bite-size classical pieces are performed in a family-friendly way. The performances are happening tomorrow (July 23rd)  so book quickly if you want to come too!

Coming up on 31st July is a Q Pootle 5-themed event at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. There’s an appearance from Q Pootle creator Nick Butterworth, a screening of an episode in the Planetarium and arts and crafts activities to take home. More details here. And in the “nepotism” section of this preview, why not check out Cecil Sharp House’s “Fun with Folk” – a three day holiday club for 6-8 year-olds? They’ll learn about folk music and hone their dancing and singing skills. There’s also a 4-day version for 9-12-year-olds, “Get Your Folk On!”

Summer in London wouldn’t be complete without something slightly surreal and the Royal Parks’ Giant Snail may well be this year’s. It’s moving around the different parks, bringing with it storytelling and creative activities. I probably haven’t explained it well, so have a look here.

There are also the usual array of community festivals. An interesting new addition is the Battersea Power Station’s “Power of Summer” Festival, which runs right from 22nd July to 1st Sept and includes things like a pop-up beach and “The Bureau of Silly Ideas”. There’s another beach at Canary Wharf, which is hosting beach volleyball, and the Olympic Park, which has a funfair as well as “sand” and “sea” at Beach East. The Royal Victoria Beach in Newham also looks well worth a visit.

Lastly, there are a couple of brand new openings I want to tell you about. The Postal Museum is reopening on 28th July with a new family area called “Sorted”. I feel like I’ve mentioned it before but it looks like it’s going to be awesome -interactive exhibits for older kids and a soft play area for littlies. More information here. And closer to(our) home is Centre17, a new theatre space in Walthamstow. I don’t know much about what’s going on there yet, but it looks like they’re hosting some drama workshops for kids over the summer so have a look here to find out more.

I’ll be reporting back on some of these things once I lure the kids out of their pyjamas and then the house. Have a good summer!

Posted in Facts! And facts are important! | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment