The Imagine Festival – 14/02/17

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Well, not really much of the Imagine Festival. We were there for a bit and then we weren’t but I got some photos and I’m confident that I’ve lowered your expectations after all these years so you’ll be grateful that I’ve ever managed to blog about it before the whole thing’s over.

Half term has something of a curse for us, and none more so than February half term. It really peaked in Feb 2014 when we visited the Imagine Festival but it was marred by frantic calls from the estate agent, as our buyer was threatening to pull out and our seller was suddenly demanding an extra £40k. Then Roo’s faithful scooter Scooty broke on the way home. We thought that was unlucky enough but the next day Eva woke up with chickenpox. And it got worse from there.

So you can see why I’m a touch paranoid about Feb half terms. We had a close call with a bug on Sunday night which turned out to be nothing after a full day of cautionary quarantine. But I twitched whenever either one of them needed the toilet and tried to keep their interaction with other children brief. You’ll be pleased to know they were fine and they remain fine. I am probably just insane.

Anyway, we got to the Southbank Centre at ten and found this incredible den (that rhymed didn’t it? Not intentional I assure you. Keep those expectations low). It was basically just some matresses to bounce on and a bed to climb on but the kids loved it. They’re not always allowed to bounce on the beds at home.

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There was also a wardrobe with a Narnia-style false back:

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But we’ll come back to that because it was storytime with Nimble Arts Becky and Boris the Bird! It was in the Clore Ballroom, which feels huge after the intimate storytelling sessions we used to enjoy at The Dish and the Spoon. It was aimed at the under 5s but I figured that Reuben would still enjoy Becky’s surreal sense of humour and I think he did. Not so sure about C, who joined us briefly but thought he was a bit above it all. The toddler hordes were well into it though:

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It’s basically preschool Glasto.

We had to nip off and collect the mothers from Waterloo so we could go for lunch. My masterplan was to visit the Nando’s opposite Southwark tube, which we did, but first we had half an hour to kill as it wasn’t yet acceptable lunchtime. So I spotted a playground on the map in Nelson Square. It was a nice day and not too cold and I thought the kids could have a run around and we could have a sit down on the benches. Except the benches were covered in polythene sheeting and so was the rest of the play equipment. And there were workmen still building it. Darn. But good news folks, brand new playground on the way…although it’s running behind LB Southwark’s schedule.

So instead we nipped to a nearby Costa for much-needed caffeine, while Eva whinged about only being allowed one mini muffin (“I WILL eat my dinner if I have another one” she claimed, against all empirical evidence), then off to Nando’s where our table for six was encased in a cute nest that Nathan and I entirely failed to get a photo of. Told you, I’m winning at this blog thing.

But hey, I found this little bit of wonder under the bridge on Blackfriars Road:

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We unanimously agreed it sounded far tastier than a Trump Burger.

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Then we walked back to the Southbank Centre but really, by the time Eva had painstakingly eaten a tiny amount of food and then walked ever so slowly on her tiny yegs, it was nearly time for us for go home for Roo’s swimming lesson. Still, we had a few minutes to play with that wardrobe, which has its own escape hatch:

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Wheeeee!

We dropped the mothers back to Waterloo and on the tube home, Eva experimented with the Rosie the Riveter look, which is curiously appropriate given one of the friends we met today:

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And…saving the most exciting news for last. There are new seat covers on the Bakerloo Line. Yes, you read it here first. The red, blue and brown has given way to this tasteful, almost-monochrome:

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They still have the fingernail shapes on the wall though, don’t worry.

If you fancy doing the Imagine Festival a bit better than we did, check out the full listings here. There are Lego workshops, virtual reality trees and the temporary Moomin exhibition downstairs. Though sadly, I think you’ve missed the Finnish singing dinosaurs. I’ll have to get the report back from Bunny and Bunny’sDad.

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

Institute of Imagination – 11/02/17

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It’s been a complicated day. I swear that’s not the first time I’ve opened a blog post like that but maybe we just have a lot of complicated days. So you don’t need any boring explanations of my inner workings to understand why a journey from Highams Park to Hammersmith involved a stop off in Kennington. It just made sense, OK?

The occasion was the opening of the Institute of Imagination and, after talking to some of the people behind it I think I understand the vision. The space in Lambeth is a stepping stone to bigger things – they’ll be here for a year, running regular schools workshops and public days on a more spaced-out basis (around every 6 weeks I think, to fit with the changing themes). The eventual goal is to open a permanent space around 2019 which will be a centre for all things STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Art and Maths) – an interactive family museum. So this warehouse space is a taster of what’s to come.

With that in mind, I’ll try to give you an idea of what was there today. We only did a small amount of it, and it was the lower-level stuff because I only had Eva with me. There was so much that Roo would have enjoyed, including coding for kids (Key Stage 2 upwards) but he was in Hammersmith…I told you it was complicated.

Let’s start at the beginning. The space is also a pop-up museum for the London Fire Brigade, which has a fire station just over the road. There was a 1960s “Look at Life” film showing in the lobby filmed in that very fire station. Look, here are the fire engines going out onto the Albert Embankment:

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There was also a play fire engine that Eva didn’t want to go past:

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But I made her, cause there was so much else to see. We started at the craft table, making “Superhero Body Armour”. See, I told you Reuben would have loved this. Eva made some spare hands, though I have to say I did most of the glove blowing up work. They are currently slightly deflated.

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Next, we moved to the doodle table, which was hosted by this guy. Dedication or what?

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These were such satisfying pens to use – kind of paint-pens. I coloured in a dog and Eva drew a cat. Not such we were really using the outer reaches of our imaginations yet but we were having fun.

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At the same time, there was a workshop on contemporary dance going on in the middle of the room, hosted by the Royal Academy of Dance. I apologise for the general rubbishness of this photo. I didn’t want to stray too far from Eva.

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Then Auntie Savage turned up. back in the fire engine!

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I should point out that Auntie Savage is a bigshot director at one of those thought-innovation companies so this was partly a casual hangout with us and partly a networking trip. She combined the two with panache. We chatted to Gareth Binns (the Chief Executive of the Institute) Tom Doust (Director of Experience and Learning) and Henrietta Yoxall (Director of Marketing and Communications), which is how we found out so much about what the Institute was looking to do and how wide their remit was – hence the 25 partnerships today with everyone from the aforementioned dancers to FUZE Coding.

We hung out in the Zen Den (I may have got that name wrong but I’m sticking with it cause I like it), where there was calm music, fake candles, beanbags and rosequartz. It was a lovely little calming spot in the midst of the busyness. Soon though Eva got hungry and we moved into the Imagination Lab to grab a table and eat her sandwich. She got a little distracted by the play area though:

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And making some structures with paper straws:

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So I had a little play around with the wooden letters, while Auntie Savage had a go on the 3D printers.

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I’d packed lunch for Eva but I figured I would pick something up as I went. And there was a crepe stall selling savoury crepes, right next to where we were seating. Result!

I won’t tell you how long it took to get a crepe but we definitely had time to do another activity before it arrived. So we chose one of the artist installations that the Institute might be funding (they were taking votes on three options). I missed the subtleties of this one, as I was hovering around Crepeville, I know that Eva had to write on a tag what her favourite activity of the day had been (“Making body armour”) and then choose which areas of her brain she’d used and thread the appropriate beads onto the string. Savage was supervising that one.

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It was almost time to go and get Reuben but Eva was thirsty, so we stopped off at the Vivid Drinks stall, and she mixed her own juice, before carefully writing a label for it:

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It was a great space – the pipes were painted in bright primary colours, which apparently had been like that when the iOi got the space and even the toilets were funky, if ambiguous over which gender they were intended for. The Imagination Lab is the permanant space for the year, and the bigger space will be used for large-scaled events like this. There was a room for buggy parking and bag drop, which featured a sofa curiously like the one we used to sit on at the Doghouse. Could it be the same one, rescued from this roadside where I photographed it four years ago? Compare and contrast!

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We didn’t do any of the techier stuff at all and would have done if Roo had been there. But, as I may have mentioned, he was in Hammersmith, which is where Eva and I now headed before returning to HP for a party at 3…ish… I only mention the Hammersmith bit because of a wonderfully condescending remartk from Eva as we disembarked at Hammersmith tube and I expressed a small concern that just moments before, we’d been on the wrong side of the A4 to where we were meant to be and I was hoping we didn’t have to someone traverse the Hammersmith Flyover. “Don’t be silly” said she of  the full 4.75 years “Haven’t you heard of a thing called ‘Crossing the Road’?”

Thanks for that Eva. It’s been a pleasure hanging out with you today. Mostly.

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Find out more about the Institute of Imagination, including upcoming events, here.

 

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

St Pancras Lock Open Weekend – 04/02/17

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Some days are harder sells than others – when we were sitting in our friends’ flat in Hackney, watching the rain streak the windows the idea of an afternoon on the canalside wasn’t as appealing as it could have been. But yknow what? This worked out fine.

Let’s spin back though, past Hackney and to the kids I was trying to motivate to leave the house at around 10am. It was already raining then and my Plan A – let’s go to church and retrieve Mummy’s lost phone and then go to Kings’ Cross – was not shifting their tiny asses off the sofa. But then I got into a conversation with Bob on Facebook and found out that she, Not-Bob and Boby were going to watch “Hey Duggee” at the Hackney Picturehouse at 11. I know, Facebook is totally replacing face-to-face interaction isn’t it? Except when it’s really useful, like this time. Of course, having lost my phone I didn’t then have Facebook for the rest of the day so who knows what else we missed out on.

Anyway, my kids love Duggee. It’s the last show we watch before leaving for school in the mornings, so it’s very much a “shoes on, coats on, go go go” time of day rather than sitting and enjoying. This would make a nice difference. Before we could enjoy it though, we needed to do that whole ”shoes on, coats on, go go go” thing in order to (narrowly) catch our train. Ironic, huh?

Also, I needed to check my kids could actually go. It was a Toddler Time show and whatever the blog’s called, I don’t actually have a toddler any more. But I checked and as long as we had a bona fide toddler with us, we could sneak one older child in. Eva’s still an under-5 anyway so I think she was OK but Reuben is a bit leggy to be passing as a preschooler.  We went to one of the first ever Toddler Times that Brixton Ritzy had and in my review of that, I was fretting about how big he’d got. That was four years ago. Gosh darn.

It was fun, anyway. You notice all kinds of jokes when you’re actually concentrating on the show, and Nathan and Not-Bob particularly enjoyed the Donkey Kong reference in the Jam episode. Just a pity they didn’t show my favourite episode, which appeared to spoof Steve Zissou. It’s a great show – it looks awesome and it’s never offensively sickly like some kids’ shows can be. It even looked good in the high res of a cinema screen.

All of which brings us to a spontaneous lunch at the Bob-house, during which I sensed Nathan’s enthusiasm for a Kings Cross jaunt waning. We were at Hackney Downs and could be home in a matter of minutes for a post-lunch nap. But remember that we have kids, and in actuality it would be an afternoon of post-lunch-squabbling-over-the-X-Box-controllers. Better to keep them out and exhaust them, right? I don’t know how I persuaded them all to side with me but we took baby steps. We were near church, so let’s pop that way and see if we can retrieve the phone. Then once we’re there, we’re practically at Kings Cross, right?

One massive advocate came out in my favour – and it was the sun. Suddenly this was all looking a bit more manageable.

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Sadly, there was no-one at church (which we were kind of expecting) so phone will remain unretrieved until Sunday, but I did spot this advert, which I just love. International London FTW:

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We were halfway there to Kings Cross by now and it seemed foolish not to at least try and see what the St Pancras Lock Open Weekend had in store for us. Besides, by the time we got there, it was a gorgeous day:

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We walked behind the station and past the birdcage, which now has its swing restored to it. I stopped to look at the unusual basket-weave architecture of this building:

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And of course someone wanted their photo taken in front of it:

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Slow progress then, but we were greeted by some Canal and Riverside volunteers who pointed us in the direction of the kids’ activities aboard the Jena. It was gone three by this point, and the day finished at four but we were going to do as much as we could. We’d pretty much missed the boat rides, but we found the Jena:

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And inside, we were making bird boxes with copious amounts of glitter glue:

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The cost of the activity was a £3 donation but we had no change on us, so I’ve just paid online. Happily, you can donate too if canals and rivers are your thing. And they should, be because look how beautiful the area was:

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It’s difficult to believe we were in Zone 1, just behind three of the UK’s busiest stations. We took a floating walkway from the Jena to the lock, which Roo described as “awesome” and I’d describe as “slightly terrifying”, as it tipped at an angle whenever anyone walked off-centre. I saw one person attempting to cycle along it but he too looked slightly terrified.

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The lock was only two minutes’ walk away along the floating path and no-one managed to fall in in that time, which was a positive. I’m not sure how buggy-friendly it would be so if you’re taking a little ‘un tomorrow maybe consider a sling.

And here was phase two of the action – the lock and St Pancras water tower.

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We went briefly down inside the lock but I couldn’t really explain to the kids how it worked so we moved over to the more obvious charms of the water tower – a Victorian era brick tower which again looks slightly incongruous against the background of modern and ultra-urban Euston Road.

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It was crowded inside. Like, really crowded. I don’t think it’s often open apart from things like Open House Weekend. They were serving tea and cake but we pressed on up the spiral staircase to catch a look at the views from the top.

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Southwards, it was pretty much the back of the stations and a glimpse of London Eye just past the British Library. But northwards, you could see as far as Alexandra Palace.

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We were also overlooking Camley Street Natural Park, which seems smaller than it used to be. I might be wrong, but I remember a hilly bit with a gazebo to the left of the gate? Again, it was four years ago that we visited.

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We climbed back down as the stalls were starting to pack up – it was 4PM by now and the open day was all but finished (back on tomorrow though!) So we had a quick runaround in Gasworks Park, which is just a grassy space but surrounded by mirror pillars similar to the ones in the Olympic Park.

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You can guess who *loved* all the mirrors:

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Roo, meanwhile, was taking “a quick runaround” quite literally and getting us to time him every time he did a lap of the circle. Remember, the whole point of this exercise was to wear him out. Eva was shuffling along behind him, imploring him to let her catch up:

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On the way back to Kings Cross, we stopped at Granary Square to use the toilets and the kids spent quite a long time just looking at the colour-lit fountains. We told them not to touch them, as 4:30PM in February was not ideal water play time, but Roo got us to agree that he could touch them with a stick. Next we knew, he had fetched a stick to poke them with. I swear that boy is mostly puppy.

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The sun really was setting now, which made for some fantastic views:

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But also meant we should be heading home. Kings Cross had one last distraction though – the aforementioned birdcage swing, which now has colour-changing lights. It gave Nathan the opportunity to nip off for coffees while the kids had another quick play.

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Just as a finishing flourish to the day, we arrived back at Walthamstow to see more spectacular skies:

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I feel like I’ve ended blog posts this way before but, unlike the members of “Walthamstow Life” I can never get sick of sunsets. Hey, Reuben look at that view. Look well. If you can’t see, fashion an optical device out of something nearby:

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The St Pancras Lock Open Weekend continues tomorrow, on 5th Feb. More details here.

Posted in Just wandering.... | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

HipChips – 27/01/16

 

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Hipster food trends continue to flourish in London and if you don’t keep up, you could easily get left behind and as confused as Ellie was when I offered to take her out for crisps before our cinema trip. Apparently “going out for crisps” is not yet A Thing. But the team behind HipChips, a new cafe in Soho, are looking to make it one.

But let’s start at Piccadilly Circus station, with something of beauty and something that’s not so beautiful. Here’s the beautiful – a wall commemorating one of the Founding Fathers of the Underground, Frank Pick. Under Pick’s guidance, the tube network rapidly expanded and he oversaw the branding that we still use today. In other words, respect to Frank.

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The not-so-beautiful? Well, I have a theory that the more you pay for a public toilet, the worse it is. My theory was only proven more right yesterday. I had to use the one at the station (that’s all you need to know) and it’s 50p at Piccadilly Circus. I had 35p in change or a pound coin so spent a while searching my bag for 5ps and was up to about 45p plus chocolate coins when some women came up, waving a 10p piece and saying “cincuante” to me. Now, were they offering me the 10p or were they asking me for 50p for the loos? My rudimentary Spanish wasn’t really up to it. In the end, I paid a pound for a pee and was still none the wiser. Should have waited till I got to HipChips really.

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Yes, HipChips – the point of this whole article and I sincerely hope I haven’t ruined your appetite talking about public toilets. Let’s move rapidly on to artisan crisps – the concept that HipChips revolves around.

It’s quite simple really – crisps are cooked fresh (and yes, I’m going to say “crisps” not “chips”, to save confusion) from a variety of unusual potatoes and then they’re served with dips. Here’s a small twist – the crisps can be savoury or sweet. Yes, dessert potatoes. You heard right. So there are savoury dips and sweet dips, to be eaten with the cinnamon-sugared variety of crisp.

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We took some advice from the server and had a mix of savoury and sweet crisps and dips…so that we could really sample everything HipChips had to offer. So, we chose Katsu Curry, Moroccan Yoghurt, Cheese Fondue, Lemon and Raspberry Tart, Chocolate Salted Caramel and Cheesecake. If you’re thinking that sounds like an odd combination, it was but hey,  a responsible reviewer always goes to lengths to provide the most comprehensive report. I was sitting next to Giles Coren in a Chinese restaurant a few weeks back and he ordered the pigs’ ears. So I know. I’m clearly moving in food critic circles.

We had a large box between us and it was really quite substantial:

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Honestly, it’s probably a bit much for two people who had eaten dinner already but I wasn’t sure how filling crisps would be. We started with the savoury side and the crisps tasted pretty good on their own but the dips certainly added some welcome variety. The Cheese Fondue was nice but the pickled onions sank to the bottom and so were quite hard to eat. The Moroccan yoghurt was nice but surprisingly spicy. I think the Katsu Curry was the favourite of both of us.

Now, I had carefully picked Ellie, knowing that she’s not one to be precious about skipping about between main course and dessert – when she lived with us, she’d often have a bar of chocolate as a starter while waiting for pasta to cook. She is a bit precious about not eating things with nuts in – too many near-death experiences – but I’m happy to say that we chose wisely and none of the dips were potentially fatal for her. I mean, I would have liked the peanut butter one but it’s not worth the risk. It would have really spoilt our night out. If I was less facetious, you could read this whole last paragraph as “allergy information was well displayed”.

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So anyway, onto dessert crisps and this is naturally the point where HipChips veers off from the norm. The whole concept is a bit unusual but the sweet crisps do taste really nice – kind of like a cinnamon bun. Again, you could enjoy them just on their own. The dips were divine – I’m full of regret that I didn’t scrape every last bit out of the cheesecake one but you have to understand just how full I was getting by this point. A dinner a few hours before, a lot of crisps, creamy dips and then cheesecake…I was hitting the crisp wall.

The cheesecake and lemon tart dips could have worked just fine as independent desserts and, in fact, a spoon is provided for that very purpose. For me, the fruity flavours didn’t work with the cinnamon of the crisps – it was all a bit too much. But separately they were lovely. And the chocolate salted caramel really did work with the crisps – I think it’s the salty edge that stops the combo from being overpoweringly sweet.

Talking of which, we had salted crisps to finish up so we went back to savoury as a kind of palate cleanser. Without the creamy dips, I found I could still fit a lot of crisps in. Finishing the salted caramel with a spoon was just going to be pushing myself over the edge, unfortunately. Still, good effort I think:

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On the way out we noticed the iPad barista – you select your coffee and it somehow magically comes out of a tap. The 21st century is amazing sometimes.

I wouldn’t haven’t necessarily thought of a crisp cafe as being a vital destination but it was a really fun and different place to go. The staff were friendly, the food tasted good and the decor was cool. I can’t imagine it would replace dinner but as a pre-cinema bit of snackage it worked well. I certainly didn’t need any popcorn as we were watching “La La Land” (which you should do – it’s ace). I can also imagine it’d be good to take the kids too during the day, though I think they’d be straight onto the chocolate dip and ignore the savoury ones.

HipChips is now open, at 49 Old Compton Street – find out more info here.

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

Posted in Cake and the finest wines known to humanity (eating out) | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Need to Leave the House?

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I know it’s difficult to imagine moving far off the sofa when it’s this dang cold but c’mon London, there is a world of opportunity out there. I’m snuggling right down tonight in the lurid reindeer onesie my choirsters gifted to me, but I’ve already done trampolining at the Feel Good Centre tonight and I may have to leave the house at 4am to rescue Eva from her first sleepover. So I’m justified for tonight. But tomorrow is another day and I refuse to let this chilly weather restrict me. I’m taking my pet scouser for Hipster crisps at HipChips and nothing’s gonna stop me. I’ll be reporting back soon.

If you’re feeling similarly determined, let me recommend a few wintery outings to you. Don’t worry, a lot of them are indoors. Let’s start with the ever reliable Chickenshed, who are taking “Tales From the Shed” to the Royal Albert Hall on 16th Feb. They have a host of other events going on too, with weekly Friday and Saturday shows at their Southgate theatre and holiday clubs running over the Feb half term and Easter holidays, also in North London. Have a look at their website for more details.

Talking of holiday clubs, there are a couple of good options in other parts of London too. Our old friends Nimble Arts are once again bringing their creative madness to East Dulwich and the kids’ drama school Perform are running “Peter Pan”-themed holiday courses in Highbury, Blackheath, St John’s Wood and Belsize Park. Don’t tell Eva – she’s obsessed with Peter Pan at the moment and she’s spent quite enough of Mummy’s money for now.

Something that I’m excited about is the Institute of Imagination, which is opening on the edge of our old estate in Kennington. Obviously, I’d be more excited if we still lived there but hey…they’re booking now for a launch day on 11th Feb which promises  ”dance and movement, crafting and engineering, numbers and language”. The Imagination Lab is going to be a creative community space which runs family events and I’ll be visiting soon. Perhaps not that day, which is already mind-bendingly complex but soon.

And on to what would be Reuben’s pick if I let him know about it – Art of the Brick are returning to London with a DC-heroes-themed exhibition. Now, we’re more of a Marvel household but I’m pretty sure he would love this anyway. It’s at the Southbank Centre from March and ties in nicely with the Lego Batman movie which I’m predicting may cause a swing to the DC Side. The last Art of the Brick show we went to was pretty amazing, and Eva got on Al-Jazeera so what’s not to love? Also coming up at the Southbank Centre is “Adventures in Moominland“, which runs from tomorrow and sounds just awesome.

I’ve also heard about some interesting theatre shows that are opening soon, especially for those of you with older kids. “Running Wild” is an adaptation of the Michael Morpugo novel of the same name and it’s visiting the Hackney Empire as part of its UK tour. The story is based on real-life events – when an elephant named Ning Nong saved the life of a small girl by running away from a tsunami with her on its back – and is told through the use of puppets as well as live action. It’s recommended for ages 6+. Another show that uses puppetry to tell its tale is “The Missing Light“, which opens at the Old Vic on 24th March. For kids aged 7 and above, it’s about two elderly friends on a journey together to restore the light in their lives. I’m pretty sure it’ll make me cry.

It’s always worth mentioning our friends Big Fish Little Fish, who seem busier than ever. Their parties sell out pretty quickly nowadays but there are still tickets for Hackney in Feb and Balham in March if you look on their Events page. Plus, they’re launching in Southampton, land of my fathers! Go and support them, Hampshire folks.

After all that, do you still need more? OK, well here’s two final tips for you – the Discover Centre is holding some author events, the first being 28th Jan, and is also taking some time over half term to celebrate the anniversary of “The Cat in the Hat”. Have a look at their website to prebook. Lastly, an outdoorsy one – the St Pancras Lock is having an Open Weekend on 4th and 5th Feb, where you can explore the lock and climb the St Pancras Water Tower. There are kids’ activities on one of the boats.

Have I convinced you to leave the house yet? Let me know what it’s like out there…

Posted in Facts! And facts are important! | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Truth and the Trump Fan

Note: I wrote this on Monday when my face was still a permanent :o at the speed and ferocity of the bullcrap coming out of Trump’s wherever. It was destined for a different site but…meh…it’s not happened (possibly too libellous? who knows) so here it is. I considered rewriting, to reflect the week’s work he’s put in since I did this but no, it would change the article too much and I quite like the panicked shellshock feel it has. So, enjoy and don’t judge me on the timing…..

 

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I’m worried about the state of truthfulness today. This morning I left my 4 year old to put her shoes on while I got dressed. When I came back, she’d put them on in a way. …by stuffing them down her skirt.

You don’t need the full and horrific details of the argument that followed but just know this – there’s no way they “just fell there” as she tried to convince me. Evidence of shenanigans was right in front of me, yet she fixed me with steeley eye and iron spirit and told me that I needed to ignore what I thought the truth was. She’d tell me what happened and I needed to believe her.

It felt strangely familiar. It felt strangely like several arguments I’d been having online with Trump fans, who were trying to convince me of their truths – he was going to be a great leader, he isn’t really a misogynist and the state of misogyny isn’t too bad anyway. Women might suffer abuse and violence but only the same amount as men so sit down, shut up, get on with your ironing and for goodness sake don’t march again.

I’m clinging on to my own ideas because it seems to me that in this brave new world, truth might be a scarce commodity. Trump has already threatened the press with punishments if they don’t write what he wants them to write and we even have a name for this new type of doublethink – “Alternative Facts”.

The facts in question are to do with Inauguration Day because, let’s face it, that’s all we’ve got to go on when trying to capture the mood of the Trump presidency so far. All three days of it.

We were told that the inauguration was the biggest and best ever. We were told the sun shone during Trump’s speech. Both of these things are provably untrue but the argument from Trump fans is – why bother trying to disprove it? What does it matter to you what the weather was?

Ah, it matters. It matters, it matters, it matters. It’s the first little tester lie to see what else they can get away with. First, can we convince them it was raining? Next, can we convince them that 2+2=5? Then can we convince them that China is about to attack us and that we should strike first? Or India or Pakistan? Or the EU? Or anyone that the USSR deems an enemy? Did I say “USSR”? I meant “USA”. Sorry, I got confused and misspoke.

And the New Truths have already started taking hold. There’s no arguing with a Trump supporter who just doesn’t believe that violence against women is a problem or that climate change is real. It’s a tactic used all the time by abusers…drip the information slowly but persistently into your victim’s brain to convince them that they’re the one at fault. After a while, the abuser starts believing their own story. Incidents and conversations are rewritten with a new slant. Now, all that’s left is to convince the world of this new reality and that’s it – the victim is no longer the victim.

This is what Trump is doing on a grand scale. Spreading untruths, creating new realities for his new society. It’s no surprise that there have been so many sexual assault allegations against Trump. ..but it’s also no surprise that none of them have been able to make the allegation stick. A potent cocktail of denial, death threats, lies, discrediting slander and gaslighting have made victims terrified to speak out.

Yet, we must still speak out. This war on truth will be waged on social media – there is no need for Trump to put screens in all our homes when the screens are already there. He can reach each of us instantly on iPads and phones and he must think the global brainwashing operation will be a simple one.

But there’s a flipside. With global communication comes fact checking and it’s getting easier and more instant to debunk the “truths” presented to us from America. We must keep doing this – researching and arguing, otherwise all we have fought for will be lost. The “We Believe You” campaign will become “We Believe Him”.

Welcome to the era of Alternative Facts. When you see how tremendous it is, you won’t believe your eyes.

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Women’s March on London – 21/01/17

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Now, here’s a conundrum – I made a decision three hours ago to stop talking on the internet about the President we’ll refer to only as P45 (we can only hope)….for tonight at least. But I need to do some blogging today and it’s going to be really tough to tell you what I was up to yesterday without mentioning him. Bear with me, would you?

Essentially, it was a day out in Central London with a lot of other people. We started by fuelling up at the ever-reliable Station Cafe in Highams Park. I wasn’t sure when we’d next eat, so Nathan, Roo and I all had big breakfasts – Reuben’s being around twice the size of his head. There was an American theme to the day, so ridiculous portion sizes are expected, right?

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Then we met up with a load of people we knew and lost nearly all of them by the time we’d got out of the tube at Oxford Circus. Not intentionally, you understand. It’s just that the station was even busier than usual. Remarkably busy. And we all had special t-shirts to wear for the day. The kids and I had made our own, with electrical tape and sharpies:

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Whereas Nathan thought he was a bit better than the rest of us, and it was Vistaprint for him:

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Show off.

So, we were shuffling down Oxford Street with a lot of other people, who also had special t-shirts and placards. Some were there to talk about the change of administration over the pond, others were focused on things like LBGTQ rights, racial equality or just a little light crushing of the patriachy. Bunny was busy crushing her own patriach by sitting on his shoulders. And yes, mutual friends. you have heard that joke many times already. Bunny’sDad was particularly proud of it.

By this point, Bunny’sDad and Bunny were the only two friends we had left, out of the 20 or so we’d started with. I caught up with some of later in a jacuzzi. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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We turned into Duke Street and there we stopped. We were meant to be assembling in Grosvenor Square but there was no getting near it. The streets on all sides were packed with women, men and kids of all ages and backgrounds. There was a happy atmosphere of anticipation and every so often a “Wooo” would ripple through the crowd for no apparent reason. That irked Reuben, who said we shouldn’t be making happy noises when we were complaining about something. I explained that the gathering had a slightly more positive slant than that – we were affirming our rights, not just having a moan. It’s an important point to make.

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Then…we waited. For a while. The kids had their snacks and started complaining. An hour or so passed.  Someone dropped a 6-pint bottle of milk and it looked strangely symbolic, like it was questioning whether a woman was more than just a 3-legged, 2-armed Milk Person. That was peak excitement for a while.

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Then a chant started echoing through the crowd. It started like “Turn Around!” which I thought was some kind of rallying slogan. But no, they meant it in a literal way – we were changing route and giving up on getting into the square from the north. It was back onto Oxford Street for me and several thousand others.

I remember seeing protests going past when I worked on Oxford Street, and always being worried that there were going to start smashing windows and looting – it was only a few years after the May Day riots – so I made sure that I smiled and waved at shop assistants as we walked by. This was a polite and friendly march, and I was determined to be polite and friendly but here’s the strange thing…so was everyone else. Even as we squeezed along the pavement, there was a complete lack of cross words, just people handing out rainbow stickers and chatting. And a little bit of chanting “Brick by brick/Wall by wall/Patriachy’s got to fall”. Reuben enjoyed that.

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We turned into North Audley Street, back towards the square and again it slowed to a shuffle. The kids continued to complain. Their hair was crazy with static, from being on the same level as so many people’s coats. I tried to tame Eva’s a bit but only made it look madder, if I’m going to be honest.

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The American Embassy was in sight. I was a little awed by the brash, bold Americanness of it all. Nathan used to work nearby, so I’ve seen it many times before, both in real life and on “The Omen” but it was like I was seeing it anew. It felt like a real statement to be right outside the heart of London America and I wondered gently to myself what the staff inside made of their new overlord.

The kids had a sandwich.

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It took us a long time to filter past the embassy. There was talk of a kids’ area somewhere in the square but I think that had long since packed up and moved on. So we started talking about escape routes instead. We’d been on the march for two hours now, even if we’d only moved a matter of metres, and it was time to head home. We got through the square and the pace picked up once we were heading towards Park Lane. On Park Lane itself, we seemed to be sharing the bus lane with some coaches, which wasn’t ideal but we kept walking. Our target was Hyde Park Corner tube but after another slow shuffle, we ducked out down South Street and made our way to Green Park. I was extremely pleased to see – among other things – the Green Park tube toilets. It was a 50p I didn’t begrudge spending.

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The three kids had done remarkably well – yes, they’d whined but there were no full-on meltdowns and, in the end, I’m glad we took them. It felt like an important thing to do, both for my small manfolk and my proto-feminist girl (very much a work in progress. Yes Eva, women can be doctors). We’re trying to teach them that there are times to speak out…and that misogyny and right-wing totalitarianism are things that need to be called out. If P45 continues to suppress the Press, it may be up to bloggers and tweeters to keep the true stories going out there and I take that responsibility seriously. I’m not going to let anyone tell me that 2+2=5 and that it always has done or that it was sunny when I know it was raining or that night is day and I just need to adjust my eyes to see the post-truth truth. I believe we now call it “Adjusted Facts”.

By the way, one of those “truths” came from the man of the moment, another one came from Bunny. It’s hard to tell which is which.

With such momentous and deep thoughts in my head, I did what any liberated feminist would do. I went to the spa.

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Oh good grief, I totally recommend it after a protest march. It may have got us labelled as “Prosecco Socialists” by a grouchy HP Dad but I can’t see how that’s a bad thing. I like both socialism and Prosecco. Besides, he’s just grumpy he didn’t get invited. That’s why we ditched him at Oxford Circus. Did I just say that aloud?

Anyway, I was off to the spa experience at the new Feel Good Centre in Walthamstow, along with some other marchers and a whole load of HP Mums. I always feel like life with two kids earns me a soak in the jacuzzi  but even more so after three hours pounding the pavements. Steam to clear some of those Oxford Street pollutants out of my pores, and a lie down in the relaxation lounge to put the world to rights. Perfick. At least until the water got shut off by a burst water main. Small details. Naturally, I have no photos of me in swimwear but if you need a photo to sum up my day, here’s one of the other mother’s placards in the changing rooms:

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Cast off the muscle-ache of the day/Shoulder to shoulder with jacuzzi spray

Up the Sisterhood of Prosecco Socialism!

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(Girls and) Boys Keep Swinging…

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No, not swinging in that sense. What’s wrong with you? Swing-dance-inspired fitness. Obviously. Get those minds out of the gutter. Let’s move on…

It’s January 19th and so far I have been to two exercise classes this year. It’s just as well this wasn’t my official New Year’s Resolution, otherwise I’d be awarding myself “nul point” around now. Learning French wasn’t a resolution either, which is also lucky. But I’ve been looking for a class to go to for ages, albeit it in a mainly-googling way rather than an actively going out and trying things way. I enjoy something that’s more dance-y than hardcore ab-crunching – I’ve been to Zumba quite a lot and that was fun but the times just weren’t fitting in with my lifestyle. Nothing was fitting in with my lifestyle. When I heard about SwingTrain and its 12:00 on Saturday class in South Woodford I thought that probably wouldn’t fit in with my lifestyle either but I’ve made it to one so far.

(In case anyone’s wondering, it’s not a particularly glamorous lifestyle. I’m not busy flashing the cash and blinging the bling-bling. It’s mostly work, child-wrangling and ten thousand different musical commitments. But really, try adding anything else in. It’s pretty tough).

So, I bothered Nathan into driving me to South Woodford and along the way, took in an Odeon Juniors’ screening of Storks. Amazingly, Eva sat through an entire film without screaming in terror. I’d recommend it for your nervous 4-year-old. And the class was lots of fun, but our Saturdays tend to be quickly filled up and so I needed a backup plan in case I never made it again. Which is why I found myself yawning on the 7:33 out of Highams Park this morning, leaving behind me kids already dressed and breakfasted and a slightly grumpy husband with slightly ambigiuous instructions about dropping those kids off at breakfast club.

I’d never been to the Bishopgate Institute before but it’s quite incredible. It’s much bigger than its carved-stone entrance would suggest, and inside it’s all retro green tiling and wall displays about the history of the civil rights movement. This lighting-up picture is a timely lesson for us all:

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Looking around, it seems that there are meetings rooms, a library and a cafe in the building plus the dance studios in the basement. I could have got very distracted but I was already on the edge of late so I hurried on down the stairs:

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And there I was, 8:05 am in Liverpool Street and ready for class. At this point, I should probably stop talking about myself and tell you what SwingTrain actually *is*. The official description is ” a high-intensity dance cardio workout inspired by the joyful, energetic sounds of Swing”. In truth, it’s not dissimilar to Zumba. There are lunges, kicks, shimmies and all kinds of fancy walks. Plus what I’d estimate were 56,000 squats. So say my thigh muscles. The difference is the music – it’s retro, happy. kitschy music which covers genres like R&B (in the original sense of the word), Gospel and Hot Jazz. I don’t claim to be an expert on any of those kinds of genres but trust me, it’s better than Justin Bieber.

It’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek and doesn’t take itself too seriously…there are moves like “Scared by a Bear” and “T Rex” as well as Mambo and Charleston steps. It’s full-on and I might have blacked out for the middle part of the class but I managed to keep up and I think I had fun. I am very far from fit so it was challenging but hey, it’s meant to be, right?

We were done by 8:55 and it definitely set me up for the day. There’s a shower in the changing rooms next door so I didn’t have to go to work smelly and afterwards I wandered happily through the back streets of Spitalfields, taking in some street art:

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And a hipster sweet shop:

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So, if you actually some kind of resolution that involves getting fit, you could do worse than join us on a Thursday morning. I’m paid up for the next six weeks (don’t worry – the kids enjoyed Breakfast Club) and hopefully won’t shimmy myself to death. More info here if you’re interested.

(Not a sponsored post by the way…I know it’s hard to tell sometimes)

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Why I’m Marching on Saturday

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Marching doesn’t come easily to me, especially in January. If there’s an opportunity to protest while sitting down and having a cup of coffee, I’ll generally take that option. But sometimes you have to make a stand.

This Friday, the 45th President of the United States will be inaugurated. It’s a victory for all that is prejudiced, fearful and hateful. It’s a victory for misogyny, xenophobia and climate change denial. The handover from America’s  first black and feminist President to America’s first unqualified and tempramental President is one I find so painful to contemplate that every time I sit down to write about it, I get a strange kind of writers’ block. Not so Reuben, who had plenty to say on the subject of America’s next leader. He also supplied the picture at the top – note how “Kill Trump” has been neatly crossed out and replaced with “Arest Trump” after I pointed out that killing him might be a bit extreme.

Roo’s murderous fantasies aside, what can we actually do? Well, we’re joining thousands of others in Central London on Saturday to march, not just against Trump but against the gradual eroding of women’s rights this vote represents. All the details are here but the basics are – meet outside the US Embassy at 12:00, in time to move off at 12:30. It’s meant to be child-friendly and I believe there’s a kids’ area behind the Embassy, with craft tables and face painting so I’m taking that to mean it’s fine to bring my kids along. Have a look at some good tips here on taking kids to protest marches.

Besides. it’s their future we’re marching for. I want them to be able to live their lives, whatever choices they make. I’m saddened to read the stories of mixed-race or same-sex couples living in America who suddenly feel like they’re being judged and discriminated against just for who they’re in love with. Trump hasn’t even taken office yet and already people feel like their lives have radically changed. And sure, my kids don’t live in America and they’re barely even contemplating marriage yet but that’s barely the point. I don’t want them to be adults in a world that’s less tolerant than the world I’m an adult in today. I never thought it would all slide backwards this way, but I was wrong. 2017 is a less tolerant place to live in than 2016 and 2016 was a less tolerant place than 2015. It’s enough to make you weep. Or march.

See you there?

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VIctorian Santa’s Grotto at Museum of London Docklands – 17/12/16

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I feel like I may have gone into Christmas-panic mode. I’ve got Nathan wrapping presents and watching “Scrooged” while I down Minstrels, print out carol music and blog about Santa’s grottos. I may yet go for an emergency Tesco trip tonight.

So in the spirit of Christmas panic, we fitted a soft play party, two pub trips and a Santa’s grotto visit in to today. It started with Eva and I at 10am, attending her classmate’s birthday at “Tumble in the Jungle” in Walthamstow. Despite threats to close it, it’s still open and battling on..if you’re local, I’d suggest a supportive visit there. She had a great time and ate all her party lunch but I was hungry, so when Nathan and Reuben came to meet us we went for a restorative burger at The Duke in Wood Street.

I have heard about these legendary burgers before so let me be the latest to say it – they are indeed something special. I didn’t read the menu properly and was surprised when my burger was a breadcrumbed patty of brisket and mac n cheese but it was awesome.  I’m constantly astounded by the resurgence in popularity of the humble mac n cheese but seeing as it’s something of a hipster staple, I’m willing to indulge in its comforting goodness. And the shine on this brioche is spectacular too:

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The food was good but I wasn’t totally convinced on the pub’s layout. All the tables were reserved, so we squeezed on to a small one  which wasn’t reserved till 5pm but there was a huge empty space where they could easily have packed a few more in. Who am I to question the hipster aesthetic though?

Eva munched through her party bag as we dined and then demanded ice cream. I wasn’t feeling it right that moment so suggested we head towards the museum and maybe we’d find ice cream nearer by. So, a bus, a tube and a wizard train later we visited pub #2 – The Ledger Building, an accountancy-themed Wetherspoons right next to Museum of London Docklands. I can’t complain about the lack of tables there but it too was pretty full. Still, we found one right under the TV which had an RSPCA special on (Don’t look Eva! Some scenes may not be suitable for the more sensitive viewer!) and the children coloured quietly while we waited for piles of ice cream and sticky toffee pudding.

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After that, it felt like it might be nap time but no, we had a Santa to visit. And this was what it was all about. The grotto was on the third floor and we followed the footprints to Scrooge and Marley’s shop, then made our way through atmospheric Victorian “streets” to join the queue. I tried to convince Reuben that we’d stepped  through some kind of portal but the smartarse pointed out the electric lights. I briefly worried that if he was questioning the footprints and the time travel then this whole thing might be wasted on him. But we’re OK for another year I think. He still believes.

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The queue wasn’t long but we had a bit of a wait. Along the way, we found a door and a spooky red cave. This is Reuben – he is the one who knocks:

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It was pretty dark in there as you can tell – I won’t share the pictures where I used the flash. They’re just Roo with his eyes closed. But do have a look at the one Nathan took at the top of his post. Eva does make a good oil painting doesn’t she? I’d taken a photo of her earlier which I like to call “Waif on the Wharf”:

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To go off-topic for a while, there were some interesting things along the waterfront. We found a Big Apple, a church on a boat and a whole host of sparkly trees:

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We also found our way to the museum from Poplar, which wasn’t the easiest. There’s a dual carriageway in one direction and a building site in the other. I spotted it pretty much by chance from the top of the stairs but if you’re ever there, head to the building site side of the dual carriageway. You’re welcome.

Anyway, back to the grotto and we are moving forward in the queue every time Santa’s elf rings a bell. There’s a woman behind us singing “Starry Night” to her kids, which was my favourite carol at school. I should have done it with choir this year.  And eventually we reached the rope, where the elf came to chat to the kids and get their names.

Then, the bell rang! It was our turn! We went into the grotto, where Santa knew who they were and seemingly knew how good they’d been this year. He asked Reuben if he’d done all his homework, to which he confidently said yes. I mean, he got an award for homework from his teacher so he’s on solid ground. Then Santa asked Eva if she’s been good at keeping her room tidy. Less solid ground. Still, he flicked through the book and decided they’d both been excellent. I wonder if he ever makes any different decisions.

They were given their presents and then we had a little photo shoot – first just the kids, then with us as well. We chose to buy the one without my giant face in..this is the one we went with:

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After that we wondered about going to Mudlarks but the session was full and the kids were tired and so it was time to get home. They really enjoyed the experience and at least one of them was grateful for their gifts (the other one is just ungrateful). The Victorian streets gave it a real magical atmosphere and Santa seemed to have plenty of time to talk to them. There aren’t many days left before Christmas but if you have time, I’d recommend booking ASAP. And make sure you organise your timed ticket to Mudlarks too. Forgive me another side note, but it’s well worth checking out the East London exhibition with its own Monopoly board and a reimagined East End map with Stratford as its heart. Look what they thought was of note in E4:

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Sainsburys. Says it all. I think I’ll got to Tesco now…

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