The Best Most Awful Job

This probably isn’t the week to be reading about motherhood. The secondary school offers came out and, inexplicably, one of them had Pippin’s name on it. The toddler is toddling off to big school. So it’s no surprise that this collection of essays about motherhood left me feeling a bit tearful about the inevitable passage of time. That’s not to say I’m planning on following in Jodi Bartle’s footsteps and having a brood of six (why would you stop one short of a full Von Trapp?). But the stories about birth and the early days made me more than a little sentimental.

There’s a lot of variety in here, with women writing on all aspects of motherhood including veering towards the less discussed motherhood roles – the adoptive mother, the stepmother and the tragedy of a mother who never carried a baby to term, to borrow editor Katherine May’s words. There were some I connected with on a personal level – especially Saima Mir’s “Maternal Rage” – whereas others were interesting because they were so different to my own experience. There were essays about cross-cultural families and a mother dealing with her own autism, which I found fascinating.  One essay on gender by Michelle Tea threatened to raise my eyebrows so far that they zipped off the top of my head but I ended up nodding along. I too reject the oppression that gender roles impose on children, or I would do if my children weren’t so goshdarn gender stereotyped. So I was relieved that even the most militant rejecter of gender roles has found herself in a similar predicament and has taken a similar journey to be at peace with that. I thought I was going to be lectured on how I shouldn’t let my girl wear tutus but it turned out to be one of the essays I had most empathy with. As Michelle Tea says “Acting as though the dismantling or upholding of the patriarchy rests on the shoulders of my two-year-old is madness”

What I liked most is how open and honest the writers are. Every one of the darkest moments of motherhood appears here – cracked nipples, birth injuries, postnatal depression. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for someone who is tentatively considering trying for their first child….it might make them run a mile. But for the battle-scarred among us who recognise all of this with a wry smile, it’s a good read. You might not agree with every opinion in every essay but whatever form your motherhood takes – conventional, adoptive, step – there will be something for you in here. Enjoy it.

“The Best Most Awful Job” is released on 19th March and available for pre-order now.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

 

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Lager, Lager, Lager, Shouting – Midlife Raving

I might have turned 39 last week. It’s OK, I’m fine about it…I handled it in the most mature way possible, by dancing till 1am to songs from my teens. Sorted.

I know I ought to feel a  bit shamed by this kind of thing, loading up on glitter and sweeties in order to pogo like a mad thing to Supergrass. I know I’m probably too old to be doing any kind of pogoing but I look around at these 90s nights and everyone else is old too. There are bald patches and grey hairs everywhere. And while that sounds like the saddest thing ever, it’s exactly the opposite. The rare occasions that I’ve been out in young people’s places is when I’ve felt like a sad old thing. It’s only ever the odd work do, a karaoke night out or one extremely epic trip from Winchester to Camden and back in the middle of the night… but if I’m in a young people’s venue I feel older than ever. I imagine everyone can hear my joints creaking.

Nathan and I had a very rare night out together last week with no kids or work the next day and it took me ages to find something that wouldn’t make us feel like we’re 100 years old. In the end, we went to a Quentin Tarantino night at the Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch. Because it was Shoreditch, there were hipsters everywhere but because it was 90s themed it felt like we were OK to be relics from that era. It helped that Nathan made a very convincing Vince Vega:

But the best nights are the ones like Disco 2000 – surrounded by our own people, celebrating the music we love. Last Friday’s rave was at Winchester Guildhall, scene of both our wedding reception and our college balls, and the headline DJ was Jo Whiley. Everything about it was on theme. People flung their hands in the air to Ocean Colour Scene. When the lights came up, there were Hooch bottles everywhere. Not that we were drinking when there was serious dancing to be done. Who has time to queue up at the bar when every tune is a banger?

And there’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’re following in the footsteps of generations before us, who went to tea dances because it’s what they did as teens. We went to raves and indie discos as teens so why shouldn’t we do that now when we want to let our thinning hair down? Amusingly, you can still pick out the various tribes at 90s nights – the danceheads, the britpoppers, the pop pickers – although trying to put blur fans versus oasis fans is a bit clichéd. We all liked both bands to some extent. Who would not dance to “Girls and Boys” or sing along to “Don’t Look Back in Anger” given the chance?

Of course, we’re not actual teenagers. I ached for days after that night. As 30- and 40-somethings with kids and mortgages, the raving is naturally on a smaller and sparser scale than it used to be. But that’s what makes it more special….when we went clubbing three times a week, we got blasé and a bit jaded. Now, we’ve paid for babysitters and bothered to paint our nails and we’re gosh darn gonna have a good time. What’s sad about that?

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Being Kind Beyond the Meme

 

These last couple of weeks, we’ve all been told to #be much #kinder. I won’t go into why this is trending because we all know that already but on the surface, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all. What’s wrong with #bekind?

Well, the problem is- it’s just surface. #Bekind is about posting memes and reprimanding people on social media when you don’t think they’re being #kind enough. I’ve already seen it used to shut down arguments and, in a bizarre twist, promote Slimming World magazines. Be what does any of it mean? “Kind” is such a bland word and the more it’s parroted around social media, the less it means.

It’s the same problem with every other well-meaning meme. “Repost in honour of someone who fought cancer”. Why? Cancer doesn’t really have a view on what you post on social media and it’s certainly not going to change its plans for domination based on likes and shares. Not only are these kind of memes pointless, they’re also potentially like-farmers. But you must share to show you care.

I don’t really buy into that. I’ve never personally had cancer but it’s brushed close enough to us through our friends and family that anyone who knows me should assume I’m not in favour of it. What I’d like to see if more memes telling the world at general what they should do to actually support people who have cancer, whether that’s sending packages of gingerbread men or writing the darkest of sitcom episodes to entertain them during those long post-operative weeks. What we need is not more kind thoughts, it’s more actions and understanding.

Sometimes that understanding takes the form of staying away  – when someone is in crisis and you aren’t close to them, they might not want to answer your questions about their situation. Sometimes it’s about sticking close and giving specific offers of help – days you can be there to help them, school pick ups you can cover. Sometimes it’s about empathy and sharing your own experience to help others through tough times and other times it’s just about listening. When a friend lost her father-in-law last year, I gave her the only advice I ever give during bereavement, which is to expect your mood to be a bit “off” for weeks and months following the death. When we went through it a few years ago, no one warned me that grief would lose you friends but it sure did. My snappiness of mood and low emotional energy saw off more than one person who chose to take offence instead of thinking about *why* I might be snappy. Another top tip – try not to lose a close relative when you have a 2yo, a 5yo and a recent house move to deal with. None of those things help.

So I suppose the point I’m coming round to is that there’s no point being kind without trying to be understanding as well. Random acts of kindness are great but they are just that – random. Flung out there into the universe with no real judgement as to whether they will actually help anyone. Whereas extending a bit of understanding towards someone – whether they’re #beingkind or not – is the kindest thing you can do. Don’t use #bekind as a stick to beat others with and instead practise kindness by choosing not to take offence.  Can we do that?

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“The Paper Dolls” at Little Angel Theatre – 08/02/20

It’s been a good day. The kind of day where, if you only saw the pictures you’d think it was #perfectparenthood. But of course it wasn’t – there were brand-new coats grubbied, strops thrown and whinges whinged. Still, a combination of dog walking, lunch with friends and theatre can’t get you far wrong.

The dog isn’t ours sadly. Or even Bob’s..but Bob is dogsitting it for a week so we all got a massive playdate at Hackney Downs this morning. Needless to say, the kids were thrilled:

Eva and I couldn’t hang around with Bob and the dog all day though…we had places to be. Eva was whiney-tired by the time we got to Little Angel and in a contrary mood but she perked up when she saw posters for the upcoming production “Wolves in the Walls“. It’s exactly the kind of story that I’d imagine would freak her right out but no, she read it in class and thinks she’s exactly the kind of “brave 7-year-old” that should go and see it. We’ll see how she handles it if we do decide to go…

So onto “The Paper Dolls”. It’s a show for 3-8-year-olds and based on a story by Julia Donaldson so it’s fairly light on the peril which is good for Eva, whatever claims she might make about her bravery. The story revolves around Rosie, a small girl who cuts out a strong of paper dolls, names them and then makes up stories about their adventures. Rosie is played by a puppet but her mother is played by one of the puppeteers, which gives an interesting human-puppet dynamic. There are a few, 4th wall-breaking moments as the two performers (Jane Crawshaw and Andrea Sadler) whisper asides to each other but it didn’t mess with the story at all. At one point, they both come out into the audience, with a pig in pursuit of a small boy, which Eva found hilarious, and there’s a bit of audience participation when Rosie is playing a little bedtime alphabet game. It’s more interactive than other shows we’ve seen at Little Angel and worked really well for the younger audience.

The story is fairly simple but lends itself well to fantasy sequences involving tigers, crocodiles and dinosaurs. There’s a lovely moment where the front of the stage is transformed into an ocean, with fish bobbing up and down before being snapped by the crocodile. The paper dolls are in a bit of peril at this point, escaping the crocodile in their pea-green boat (not sure if that was a deliberate Owl and Pussycat reference but I liked it)…but there is never anything too scary. Which is why the ending is a bit shocking, with Rosie’s older brother doing what older brothers are wont to do and wrecking her game. Eva looked a bit distressed at this and sobbed a little as Rosie sat on a swing, remembering all the adventures the dolls had been on.

There is a melancholic feel to the end that probably doesn’t affect the youngest kids but does hit home with the adults and the very sensitive ones (yes, still talking about Eva). There are themes of loss and transience but also a nice inter-generational moment as Rosie grows up and makes paper dolls with her own daughter. The music and lighting as Rosie is swinging are so poignant that it might well bring a tear to your eye but in a good way.

Mostly though, this is a light and enjoyable show, charmingly told and pacey. The quirks of the dolls – the one with the two noses especially – still had Eva giggling at bedtime and the names of the dolls are pleasingly rhythmical, as you’d expect from such a master storyteller. “Ticky, Tacky, Jackie The Backie, Jim With Two Noses and Jo With The Bow”.

So, another lovely production from Little Angel. I’d be curious to see the wolves though I’m sure Eva is not nearly as brave as she says, if the fate of the paper dolls reduces her to tears.  I bought her the book though and she seems to really like it. She’s a contrary one.

“The Paper Dolls” is on now at Little Angel until 18th April. For tickets and more info, click here.

Disclaimer: I received free tickets in return for a review but all opinions remain honest and my own. 

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The British Museum – 11/01/20

It’s hard to make this month pass, isn’t it? The kids have only been back at school for three days and it’s the weekend already again. So any glimmer of entertainment hope is welcome and Eva’s new obsession with the Egyptians was one such glimmer of hope. We could fritter away a grey afternoon in the British Museum for not much money and not much effort. Hooray!

And Eva was suitably dressed in her version of a Pharaoh costume. I’d like to point out that this happened while Roo and I were out at the sorting office this morning. In other words, it’s clearly Nathan’s fault that our daughter was leaving the house in January in flipflops.

I’d thought Central London would be packed out on a Saturday afternoon but Russell Square tube was actually spookily quiet. We had the lift entirely to ourselves:

On the way to the museum, we spotted this blue plaque for Emmeline Pankhurst:

Eva knew she was something to do with votes for women but pronounced “suffragette” with a hard g. Adorable. We wandered across Russell Square, stopping to look at the two Bug Hotels and some good dogs. There was a cafe in the middle that was established in the same year as I was but we weren’t going to stop for coffee just yet.

Last time we visited, I remember having to go in through the back of the museum. I had no idea if we still had to do that but it was the closest entrance and there wasn’t a massive queue so we decided to go that way. It’s not as grand as the front entrance but Eva said it had “Roman-Greek pillars” because apparently the Romans stole the idea from the Greeks. She’s full of these little tidbits.

And also, she did not appreciate it when I pointed out some new “Roman-Greek pillars” that were ready to be added. I think she rolled her eyes at me:

The queue and bag check were pretty swift and once we’d got inside, it was then time to stop for coffee. It was Eva’s idea but I wasn’t going to say no. We had a latte and a millionaire’s shortcake under the “criss-cross ceiling” as Eva called it:

By 3ish, we probably needed to start our day out so we headed to Room 4 – Egyptian sculpture. It was a good call because Eva thought everything was “amazing” and couldn’t believe how many Egyptian things could be in one room. She spent lots of time looking at the hieroglyphics and educating me about the Rosetta Stone. She’s learnt a lot in the last three days at school

I mean, just look how excited she was:

She was even more excited to learn that there were another four rooms of Egyptian stuff upstairs so we found the back stairs which led to the Mummies section. Eva had seen a picture of a mummified head in her library book about Egypt and it freaked her out so she asked not to go to any of the Egyptian death rooms. Which was tricky cause basically all the upstairs rooms were death-themed and contained lots of mummified things. But some discreet steering of her meant we avoided the corpses and only looked at the pretty, gold coated sarcophaguses (Eva’s term – should it be sarcophagi?) although she caught a glimpse of a skeleton that she didn’t yike. At least she didn’t walk straight through with her eyes shut like she did at the Museum of London.

We also spotted something else she’d seen in her book – an ancient Egyptian game called “Snake”. Presumably to be played on ancient Egyptian Nokia 3210s:

After that, we made our way through the Greek and Roman rooms, finding things that Eva yiked along the way, like some models of clay dogs:

And something that looked like the bust of Rowena Ravenclaw wearing her diadem:

I was kinda keen to head home after we’d done all the Egyptian rooms but Eva wanted to see everything the museum had to offer. I thought she’d change her mind if we were sitting right by the front doors but no, we sat by the front doors to have a snack and then she made me climb all the way back up to the third floor to go to the Medieval European rooms.

It’s unlike Eva to be keen on stair-climbing but she said she yuved the staircases because they made her feel like she was really going back in time “into a Roman house or an Egyptian temple”. That made me slightly reluctant to go to the Medieval bit in case we actually had gone back in time and we got Black Death or something. No fear – Eva had a solution and handed me an imaginary “anti-plague tablet” to swallow as we stepped into the gallery. That girl has an answer for everything but at least I convinced her to take the flip-flops off and put some shoes on because we weren’t in the “sandal era” anymore.

By this point, we were whipping through the galleries at top speed – Medieval Europe was followed by the Asia galleries (with a quick loo break next to Japan) and again, just as I thought we were going to head home, she told me we had more to see – she had seen a sign to the Africa gallery on the way in and we hadn’t been there yet. Problem was, we needed to be at the bottom of this hole:

Tempting as it was to just take the plunge, we took another way round and found the Africa galleries on level -1.

 

There were some giant masquerade puppets which Eva claimed to be allergic to because she sneezed as she walked past them and a wall of hats which she said were “all the hats in Africa”. It inspired her to sing a little song that sounded like a poor man’s Band Aid. It went something like this: “There are no more hats in Africa because they all are heeerrrreee”. Please donate generously.

We now only had two more stops on the itinerary – the classic end-of-visit combo of gift shop and toilets. Eva wanted a book about Egypt to call her own once she’d taken the other book back to the library. And I was happy about that because it’d keep her quiet on the tube but it turned out that she feel in yuv with a Cleopatra rubber duck and rejected every book option in favour of it. Good luck reading this all the way back to Highams Park:

She christened her Cleo-quack-ra and made duck noises all the way back instead. Ah well. At least it was a way of entertaining her all afternoon…

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The Wonder Factory – 03/01/20

Happy New Year! It seems crazy that we’re here in 2020 and I’m still blogging and haven’t yet got a blog-a-bot to do it for me but Reuben assures me the robot uprising is coming sometime this year so hopefully it’ll all be automated before I know it.

Till then, tho, a trip to Dalston. I’d heard a lot about the pop-up Wonder Factory art installation,  which takes pains to emphasise that it is not a kids’ play area although the promo shots of the marshmallow pool make it look darn similar to a kids’ play area. It is open to all ages though, so I was happy to take my kids along to the art installation. The location might be a touch obscure if you don’t pass it on the way to church like we do every week but essentially, get the train to Hackney Downs if you’re coming from Walthamstow direction and then it’s two stops on the 30/56 or ten minutes’ walk. It’s also close to Dalston Junction and Dalston Kingsland if you’re coming from a more South Londony direction or in fact any other direction that’s not on the Chingford branch.

Once you get closer, look out for the new development by the car park behind Matalan. Then follow the pink and blue signs:

Tickets are for timed 15-minute slots and the door only opens at those times but we managed to go in a few minutes early because the slot before us wasn’t overly full. There’s a buggy park as soon as you go in and we left the kids’ rucksacks there tho I wouldn’t leave any valuables or anything as it’s right by the front door and this is Hackney after all.

The installation is over two floors and there’s a path to follow round each. You start by crawling through a tunnel  – not ideal for anyone with restricted mobility but I think there might be a shortcut through in a different place. The kids could have stalled in the mirror tunnel for ages but I shuffled them on through because other people were waiting to start as well. It was pretty cool though:

We emerged from the tunnel into a beach hut, in a room filled with pinkish sand and walls of fluffy cloud. Again, we could have stayed and played for a long time in the sand but we were all curious to see what was next.

Darkness! Well, nearly – a black-walled room with only the smallest of twinkly lights to guide our way. “I’m walking on the moon” sighed Eva as we wandered through and came out in this neon tunnel, which was one of those moments made for Instagram. In fact, “‘grammable” is the word I’ve heard most often applied to the Wonder Factory and I can see why. Bloggable too.

The next room was similarly ‘grammable but only one of the kids was prepared to interact with this one. You can guess which kid:

A lot of the rooms really have to be experienced to be fully appreciated so I’m not going to spoiler everything here – you really should visit. Tickets are £9 each but we managed to find a 20% discount code, which helped.

Some more highlights though – you’ve already seen the marshmallow pool so that’s hardly a spoiler:

And the hall-of-mirrors room:

And there’s lots more as well. We spent around 45 minutes going round in all and could have spent longer if we hadn’t been so impatient to get to the next bit. The marshmallow pool was definitely the highlight and we spent most of our time there – it was big enough for three or four families to all be enjoying it at once so we didn’t feel like we had to move on too quickly. There are also some wooden sunloungers next to the pool to relax on, though they aren’t the most comfortable.

To get the full experience, I would definitely recommend checking it out yourself before it closes in February. For tickets and more information, click here

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London Aquatic Centre – 14/12/19

Yesterday was one of those rare Advent Saturdays without any commitments in the diary, other than an early morning appointment to get a smart meter fitted. So I decided we should do something as a family and the thing Reuben really wanted to do was to go swimming – that classic December activity. To be fair, we’d skipped out three weeks’ worth of swimming lessons because of various illnesses and school trips so he was owed a bit of swimming time. We also had some Christmas shopping to do, so the logical solution that occurred was one that probably wouldn’t have seemed logical to anyone else – go to Stratford, swim at the Aquatic Centre and shop at Westfield. Sorted.

I’ve meant to try out the Aquatic Centre for ages as we’ve often walked past the “Pringle Building” but never been inside. It’s not massively more expensive than a normal swim – £16 for the four of us – although the kids’ Better memberships only get them 30p off. Booking in advance is advisable and the main pool is limited to strong swimmers – you have to be over 8 and be able to swim 100m in a recognised stroke so Roo probably wouldn’t quite scrape in. As it happened, it was closed for a competition all day so we booked into the training pool and that suited us just fine.

The complicated bit was actually gettting in. First, we had to drag Eva past all the sparkly shops and a Santa’s grotto:

Then we had to negotiate the Stratford Wind Tunnel experience which almost made the kids take flight and almost stopped Nathan taking breath:

Then we had to find a way into the Pringle itself. I’d always assumed the entrance was somewhere around here:

But no, there was just some construction work going on. So we walked around the side:

Still nothing. At this point, I considered going back and checking whether that lift down to the riverside would be helpful but Roo had skipped off ahead down the stairs and there was no calling him back over the noise of the wind. So we carried on round:

Still no entrance, so we climbed back up the other side and found ourselves back where we started. And then we took the lift down a level and from there it was pretty obvious where the entrance was.

Once we were inside, it was slightly less windy – tho the papers on the reception desk were still getting blown about – and fairly straightforward. As instructed, we’d printed off 4 copies of the booking confirmation but only needed to show one and were waved through the barriers. You then walk through an eerie, blue-lit corridor with the competition pool to the right and the training pool (s) to the left and at the end of the corridor, you veer left to find the training pool changing village. There are a number of changing options – male, female, unisex and family – so caters for everyone  tho some slightly bigger lockers would have been nice.

You might wonder why I said pool(s) a moment ago or you may not have wondered at all. Well, either way I’m going to tell you. It’s because the training pool is one 50m pool but has a movable barrier halfway which can split it into 2x25m pools. And there’s a movable floor, so the two pools can be different depths! Well, I was impressed anyway. There’s a section in each of the pools that is free for family swimming (i.e. the bit that isn’t being used for lanes or lessons) so we started off in the pool that was 0.8m, which was perfect for Eva but a bit shallow for Roo and way too shallow for me. So Roo and I spent most of our time in the other pool, which was 1.2m and Nathan and Eva mainly stayed in the shallow one. I think Roo would ideally have liked it a little deeper so he could do some diving but I found it reassuring not having to worry about him being out of his depth for once. His favourite deep end  – at the Feel Good Centre – is 3m and trust me, it brings out all the anxieties.

It was a nice, quietish swim – plenty of room for Roo to do lengths and for Eva to splash about and do water-waltzing. We stayed in for about 50 minutes but it was lunchtime and we were all super hungry so decided to get out. I made an executive decision to have a snack before we even left the centre because the thought of dealing with the Westfield food court with post-swimming hanger was a bit…overwhelming.

It was a wise choice. The Westfield food court was everything you’d expect it to be. Still, it had Pizza Hut for Roo and McDonalds for Eva and not massively long waits for either. Just all a bit full-on.

Unlike the Christmas shopping experience in Westfield, right??

Wrong. Obviously, that was nightmarish too. We split the list into two and Nathan and Roo ended up with a load of male family members to buy for and Eva and I a load of female ones. Of course, I can’t reveal what was bought for anyone but Flying Tiger and Typo continue to be very useful sources of geek presents. Eva was keen to buy this jumper for her teacher but I suggested it might be a bit much in so many ways:

However, I can reveal that I bought a splendid red/green sequin tie for £3 from Flying Tiger which has been involved in both a carol service and a choir gig today. What an investment!

Hours of fun on the train home too, just switching it from red to green and back again:

Eva and I finished out list within 90 minutes and happened to spot the boys in the Lego store as we walked by. Apparently they’d finished their list too. So we all went for cookie dough, which was the price Eva had negotiated for her co-operation. We probably didn’t need one each though – a little cookie dough goes a long way and the kids didn’t manage half of theirs.

Still, a successful day out I think. Let’s leave it there before I have to recount the horror of getting to Hackney Downs and hearing the “signal failure” announcement. For more info about the Aquatic Centre and to book tickets, have a look here. Happy Christmas!

 

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A Day Off – 05/12/19

 

On Thursday, I took a day off. Unusual for me, I know, but it’s been a busy old month and sometimes you just need to channel Ferris Bueller and take some time to watch the world go by. So I dropped the kids off at school and instead of going to work I went to Covent Garden with not much of a plan than “do some Christmassy stuff” and meet Auntie Sabbage for lunch.

As plans go it’s not a bad one. I was too early for anything in Covent Garden to actually be open so I sat in Starbucks and had a toffee nut latte and a croissant. On the way in, I’d read an article in the Metro about festive drinks containing dangerous amounts of sugar and that really made me crave a Starbucks. I don’t think that was the intention of the article but it worked for me.

At 10, I set off for a wander around the market but still nothing was really open yet. So I went to Paperchase, which Eva had “fallen in yuv with” last year but, although the whole shop was fyuffy and sparkyee, there was nothing showstopping for Eva that wasn’t similar to the piles of fyuffy and sparkyee stuff she already has. Christmas shopping wasn’t going too well.

Still, Covent Garden is the most Christmassy place to spend a morning. Even if I wasn’t ticking anything off my to-do list, I was starting to get into the Christmas spirit. I mean, just look at the sheer number of Christmas trees:

And this one I think Eva would particularly yuv:

And there was a giant snowglobe, a mini ice rink and more Christmas trees:

The only thing that spoilt the look was this slightly gaudy pop-up that wasn’t really blending in with the ye olde Eliza Doolittle vibe of Covent Garden:

I’m sure the young folks love it. Eva probably would because it’s so shiny. Eva would also yuv this rabbit:

The stalls in the plaza still weren’t properly open so I wandered over to the Jubilee market where I scored some cheap woolly scarves for the kids in Gryffindor colours. First present in the bag!

I just kept heading south after that and stumbled upon a new shop called Neon Sheep, which was both cheap and sparkly. I picked up loads of stuff for Eva before remembering that it was Roo I really needed to buy for. A bottle of “Trump sucks” Kola Kubes and a desktop punch bag seemed to be the kind of thing that might amuse my boy. So it was lucky that Neon Sheep caters for the Trump-hating 10-year-old market. Plus the unicorn/glitter/fluffy stuff for Eva.

I’d managed to spend a lot in a short space of time so decided to go for a walk along the Strand, naturally humming “Let’s All Go Down the Strand” as I did so. Again, I had no real plan but popped into Somerset House to use the loos and isn’t it just another beautifully Christmassy place to hang out in?

It was at that point that I noticed a friend posting on Facebook about her stall at the Hatton Garden Christmas Market and I was only a mile or so away with time to kill before lunch. So I took a diversion down Fleet Street, past the Royal Courts of Justice and the very dramatic St Clement Danes’ Church:

There are so many nice and interesting buildings around there and it was just the kind of day to walk slowly and take it all in. The last time I’d been in Fleet Street was at the very end of the first day of our Monopoly weekend and trust me, it was not a day to linger that day.

So I got to Hatton Garden, hung out by the heaters and chatted to my friend for a while then back down Fetter Lane to meet Auntie Sabbage for lunch and a lovely cup of tea with a view at her office. And what a view:

And then it was time to go home and get the kids but let’s not dwell on that bit. Just know that I would highly recommend taking a day off if you can…there’s so much to see in London at this time of year and it’s so easy to miss. What would Ferris say?

 

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“The Pixie and the Pudding” at Little Angel Theatre – 30/11/19

Eva and I have enjoyed lots of shows at the Little Angel Theatre over the last few years but the last one we went to freaked her out a little bit. It was aimed at older children and my very sensitive girl didn’t quite cope. This show sounded a lot more on her level – it was aimed at 4-11-year-olds and the peril sounded very limited. You’ll be pleased to know that she came out saying it was “a very nice show” and denied that she was even a little bit upset in the middle when things weren’t going so well. I think that’s a pretty positive review.

So, what happened in the very nice show? It’s the tale of an old farmer who leaves a Christmas pudding out on his window sill every Christmas Eve for a pixie and the pixie returns the favour by blessing his farm with prosperity. Cows produce milk, roosters crow, chickens lay, vegetables grow. That was unintentionally poetic but I’ll pretend I did it on purpose. All is well until the farmer retires and new people take over – naive city folk – who dismiss the farmer’s note about the pixie and the pudding and then suffer a year of agricultural disaster. You can guess how it ends.

It may sound simplistic but it’s a charming little tale. There are songs to mark the passing of the seasons and they gradually become more melancholy as the new owners flail and falter. The two performers – Gilbert Taylor and Nix Wood – control the songs, work the puppets, play all the characters and sing the songs live as well, slipping into sweet harmony and occasionally a full-on dance routine. The puppets move with impressive nimbleness – at one point, the pixie is dancing inside a mixing bowl and leaping from table to floor with grace. The animal puppets were adorable and pretty much life-size. Eva was bought into the show as soon as Molly the Sheepdog appeared because Eva’s dog obsession shows no sign of abating. And Molly really did move like a real dog – so much so that I swear Eva let out a little sob when Molly was sent to sleep outside by the new owners. But as I said, she denies ever getting upset so who am I to doubt her?

There were a couple of emotional pinch points – Molly slinking off through the door with her tail dropping, the new owners facing up to the hopelessness of their situation – but it wasn’t ever overwhelmingly sad. There was a lightness of touch throughout and a lot of humour and liveliness, which stopped even the emotional ones among us getting too upset. The ending was joyous and full of hope so in every way, it was an uplifting Christmas show. Having said that, it wasn’t overly focused on Christmas so will still be enjoyable in the bleakness of January. In fact, I’d recommend it to take the edge off that ever-lasting month.

The take-home message was to have a little faith in the Christmas magic and to always treat your pixie well. Which is especially relevant if you end up taking a pixie home with you:

 

“The Pixie and the Pudding” runs from now until 2nd Feb 2020. For more details and tickets, click here. 

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

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Primrose Hill – 17/11/19

 

At bedtime last night, Eva asked if we could do “something exciting” after church today. To begin with, she was a bit vague about what that thing might be as she only knew it wouldn’t be chasing dinosaurs because they’re extinct. And while she toyed with the idea of riding a lion, it didn’t take her long to decide that it would be too much work to tame it. So, donkey riding it was. Or dog buying. I just let her go to bed and said we’d discuss it further in the morning.

We didn’t discuss it in the morning. She was still asleep when I left for church and it was much later on that I realised I had no plan to offer her, donkey-related or otherwise. So I had a quick look on the Time Out website before she came back from kids’ church and found the Primrose Hill Christmas Fair, which featured a dog show. We’ve been to a few dog shows this year as the kids are a bit obsessed with dogs but we only even seem to catch the tail end of them. And this was no exception. By the time we’d left church, caught a bus and a tube and walked over this bridge, they were about to start Best in Show

Still, the formalities of the dog show are really only formalities. The attraction for the kids is just lots and lots of dogs snuffling around and Eva notched up an impressive dog count of 182 by the end of the day. Only one could be the Best of the Best Boys though, and it was this boy, who matched his owner’s coat:

There were some great doggy antics to watch, even after the show had finished. One tiny pug slipped out of his collar and made a run for it and one dog tried to eat the basket of rosettes. The kids squealed with amusement at the adorable dogs inside the arena but it turns out there were adorable dogs all over the place. Hence Eva spotting so many. We kinda rushed through the fair to the food stalls because Nathan and I were both starving but as soon as we found them, we needed to change plan and find a toilet. We were right on the edge of Primrose Hill itself so we went into the park in search of the loos that Google Maps promised.

Guess what we found? More dogs! Oh yes. Including a pack of three Chows Chows all snuffling around each other. I wonder if they stick together like Bunchems if they get too close?

What we didn’t find were the toilets. They were under renovation and so we had to use a small block of portaloos that had little in the way of loo roll, soap and light. The cafe was also being renovated so we *still* hadn’t had lunch. But the kids had spotted the playground and so we delayed lunch once more while they had a climb:

If you’re wondering, the thing that looks like a giant climbing frame in the background is the bird enclosure at London Zoo. There was a sandpit and swings and Roo found some kind of metal hook thing that acted like a low-octane zipwire.

We eventually peeled the kids away and walked back around the zoo and into Camden, where Nathan and I finally scored some reduced-price sandwiches from the Co-op. It wasn’t quite the edgy street food I’d hoped for – more like bland Victoria Line food. But at least Eva had seen 182 dogs. And that is definitely “something exciting” isn’t it?

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