Aftercare, not Afterthought: The Mumsnet Campaign for Better Postnatal Care

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It’s pretty unusual for me to share anything painful or personal on this blog – it’s more about sandpits and sarcasm round here. But Reuben’s nearly 8 and sooner or later I knew I’d write down what happened in the first two days of his life. And Mumsnet’s Campaign for Better Postnatal Care has inspired me to finally do it and share my experience. I covered some of it in this post but I only really skirted round it. So let’s cycle back to Monday 15th June 2009, when my child was one day old.

I was exhausted. I had woken up on Sunday morning at 6AM in labour and by Monday evening I’d been awake for nearly 40 hours and was facing my second night alone with a newborn. I’d thrown up all the way through labour and the hospital was suffocatingly warm in a June heatwave so I was horribly dehydrated. Needless to say, feeding wasn’t going well.

Reuben was screaming. I was crying. My husband and mother were being sent home because we weren’t allowed overnight visitors. A lactation consultant told me to strip off to the waist and she would come and help me feed. Then she went off shift and I never saw her again so eventually I put my clothes back on. At some point, I let a midwife give Roo some formula, which they insisted on doing in a cup. It spilt all down his vest so 10 minutes after they’d swaddled him and settled him into the bedside cot, he woke up wet and grumpy. His clothes got soaked in the rain yesterday and so I can confirm that’s still something that makes him grumpy. Nowadays though, I have parenting a little more figured out.

Back then, I’d written the whole enterprise off. I had failed. It wasn’t working. I could settle him to sleep in seconds perched on top of me on the hospital bed, but with no sides on the bed and a hard floor that was hardly safe. I could settle him standing up but by midnight I was so tired I almost fell asleep standing with him in my arms. I just couldn’t settle him in that darn plastic crib. Every time I put him down, he woke up and screamed. Again, he still doesn’t like sleeping on anything hard and plastic.

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I was worried about waking up the other mothers on the ward, so I took him out into the corridor but I got told off whenever I wandered too far. I rang the bell for help with feeding but none came. Remember that I still hadn’t slept since giving birth – Sunday night had passed in a kind of post-labour haze, aided by brusque midwives who came and latched the baby on to me forcefully. Now, in the early hours of Tuesday morning I had no clue what to do next. I couldn’t feed him without assistance and there was no assistance coming. I needed sleep and help but neither of those were forthcoming either.

Around 3AM, an angel of sorts appeared. She was an Australian midwife called Rachel and I can’t even think of her without welling up. She saw how distraught I was and offered to take the baby for a few hours while I slept. I could have hugged her but I think I just managed a weak smile before falling into three hours of blank, oblivious sleep. When I woke up again, feeding still wasn’t going well but as the dawn broke Roo and I finally got our act together and later that day I was able to take him home. Home, where food and drink were on tap and I had Nathan and friends and family to take shifts while I caught some fitful sleep. Baby life still wasn’t easy – we had months of broken nights ahead of us – but I never once felt as powerless as I did those first two days of his life.

There’s something about being alone – SO alone – with a newborn that’s screaming for milk and not being able to do anything about it that breaks you completely. All the skills I had learnt in my 28 years of life were useless in the face of this tiny creature. I thought I was pretty strong and determined and wiley. After all, I had managed stores in crisis, I had recruited through a recession, I had completed my degree while working my arse off amid piles of popcorn in the cinema….but nothing had prepared me for those first few hours.

Some small things could have made all the difference. Support with feeding when I needed it. A space for a friend to stay. Water and food whenever I needed it. And a little bit of understanding when it came to the complete shell shock Reuben and I both felt. After all, he was only three days past full term when my waters broke and neither of us were expecting any of this yet. So that’s why I’m joining the Mumsnet campaign – to see if I can make the difference for other women and other babies.

As a postscript, my experience with Eva  - in the same hospital – was a world of difference. Good 40weeker that she was, she popped out fully ready for the world and was feeding within the first hour of her life. If only she would eat so well now. We were allowed to stay in the birth suite – Nathan, Eva and I – and the three of us shared a sofa bed, with the approval of the midwives. I slept lightly, feeding her when she needed it and we woke up at first light, ready to start her life on a positive note. I’m  no longer so positive when I see her at first light now.

Here’s that Mumsnet link again. See how you can help – share the campaign page on Facebook or tweet your own thoughts and experiences using #BetterPostnatalCare. It’s painful but cathartic so come on, let’s share.

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Pack Your Bags…There’s So Much to Do

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Yeah, yeah this was clearly a case of “Picture first, blog title later” but it’s a lame lead in to a big old list of entirely un-lame things to do over the next few weeks. Which, you’ll be shocked to know, includes the May half term. Wasn’t it just Easter??

First off, a brand new discovery of mine and I mean I really did just find out about them ten minutes ago so forgive me for lack of info….but it’s Museum Trips for Children. They’re a Hanwell-based company that organise trips for 5-11-year-olds to museums – there’s one coming up on 31st May around the theme of American pop art, which is something Reuben is studying at the moment. From the look of their facebook page, they give the kids a guided tour of the artworks and organise themed craft activities. It sounds fab.

Next up, the Institute of Imagination are hosting some more events, with their “Lab Life” family workshops landing on half term and the next large scale event – “Lab Live” – on 18th June. The theme for this run is “Metropolis”, exploring urban life through activities like Virtual Reality games and kinetic sand building. Have a look here to see what Eva and I made of the iOi last time we visited.

Also in June is a massive show for Chickenshed, who are taking over the Royal Albert Hall in association with Amnesty International for “Dreams of Freedom“. On 26th June, they’re bringing 600 children to perform a show together, many of whom have SEN, in what they describe as a celebration of human rights. It sounds powerful and thought-provoking. Book now!

To cycle back to half term once more, I’ve heard of a few more events that might be fun if you have kids to entertain. One is the Feria de Londres on 27th and 28th May, which is an Andalusian festival of food, dancing and art. It’s being held in Potter’s Fields, just near Tower Bridge and they have face painting and dance classes for kids. Another is the “OAE Tots Musical Journeys“event at the Southbank Centre, which introduces kids to the baroque music of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. If that’s not enough, there’s also a series of drop in workshops at the National Gallery, including a sing-and-play session based on “What the Ladybird Heard”.

Plus a couple of old favourites on the horizon – In the Night Garden Live returns to London for the 8th consecutive year, bringing its gentle delights to a new generation of toddlers from 17th June – 5th July in the Old Deer Park in Richmond. And then there’s our friends Big Fish Little Fish who continue to expand and spread their confetti-popping joy everywhere from Inverness to Melbourne. If you do wanna catch them as they vogue through London, book quickly for their Hackney party on 11th June or Balham on 18th June.

After all that you’ll want to catch your breath, so let me give you some advanced warning of this last one – the return of Berkofest on 9th September. Headlining this year are Alabama 3, John Power and Dan Gillespie Sells of The Feeling. Last year was a touch on the soggy side, but we still had a great time and this year I’ve been absolutely promised sunshine. Don’t blame me if that turns out to be an empty promise though…

 

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Epping Forest Pub Walk – 01/05/17

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So I get it, you’re just like me. Right? You wake up on a bank holiday Monday and go “I know what I want to do today. I want to drag an overhyped, overtired girl two miles through a forest before I get any lunch”. Right? That was your plan too, yeah? No?

Well, it wasn’t exactly mine either. We were meeting some church friends at Chingford station with the intention to have a play in the forest and some lunch. I figured we’d wander up to Warren Pond, muck around in the hollow tree, have some lunch near the station but no…our friends, despite being urban Dalstonites, are clearly way harder than us and were up for a two mile trek from Chingford station to The Owl pub at High Beach. Eva had slept over at Bunny’s the night before, on top on birthday parties on Saturday and Sunday, one of those being hers…so she wasn’t quite so up for it. But our friends promised to carry her if the going got tough and here come the spoilers, gentle reader, they did have to. Quite a lot. She’s flaky at the best of times.

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But if we can make it under those circumstances, you probably can too. The route is fairly straightforward and maybe even buggyable for the most part as long as you don’t go off-piste and take a creative “short cut”. I’m going to attempt to talk you through it.

So, from Chingford station you head down Station Road towards that big expanse of green. That’s the easy bit. From there, we picked a path across Chingford Plain – you sort of go a bit down Bury Road and there’s a path to your right just before the golf club. We passed the circus on our left but that’s not going to be super helpful most of the year round. There’s a brook to your left, which is probably more of a helpful landmark. Anyway, you follow this path for ages until you reach a path that crosses it and goes over the brook on your left. Take that left. It looks like this:

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This path is another hugely long stretch of foresty stuff. Yeah, I’m still not a countryside person. There were some trees on the way that the kids enjoyed climbing and this logpile:

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By the power of Google Maps, I reckon it’s about a 0.7 miles of straight path, until you get to a left turn. Not the first left turn. No No. A different one. I’m aceing this.

At that point I was distracted from taking photos of the turns by an invisible and imperious voice coming through the bushes telling us to stop making so much noise. Let’s not go into the details of that encounter but suffice to say, the kids were quietened afterwards. And busy trying not to step in giant steaming piles of fresh animal poo.

Anyway, next turn came about 0.3 miles down the track and this I did get a photo of:

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We took the left and this brought us out onto a road for the final push towards The Owl. I was a bit worried about the narrowness of the road and the lack of pavements but we managed to balance the kids on the verge and we spotted the car park of the pub just a few minutes after hitting the road. This is the bit that would be tricky with a buggy and has a few blind corners but it is literally 200m or so…much closer than I’d expected.

After all that walking, we definitely deserved a sit down and a pub lunch. Unfortunately, we’d only planned this as far ahead as halfway-through-the-forest and when we rang to book a table we’d been told they were fully booked. Ah. But there was a beer garden we could sit in, and it was only a tiny bit stormy. So, we got a large table under a tree and were only rained occasionally.

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The good thing about the garden area was that there was an outdoor BBQ stall to order food at. It probably wasn’t as fancy as the main pub menu and it only took cash, but we got meals for 11 of us within about ten minutes of sitting down, which I don’t think we could have if we’d been ordering from the main kitchen of a fully-booked pub on a bank holiday. It also wasn’t super cheap, with adult burgers at £10 and kids’ burgers/hot dogs at £5 but we were starving and in no position to haggle.And my pulled pork burger was pretty tasty and filling. There was a play are there too, with swings, a climbing frame and a seesaw so I’m guessing the kids would want to be outside even if we were seated inside.

Plus, we’re British. What’s more British than sitting in a beer garden in the rain on a bank holiday?

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Err, maybe playing cricket in the rain on a bank holiday? As that’s the first thing we did as soon as we got back into the forest. I haven’t picked up a cricket bat since 1991 but managed to hit the ball once or twice and managed to avoid getting hit *by* the ball by running away and cowering. Eva was similarly cowering from the rain and exhorting the rest of us to build a shelter like she had cunningly constructed:

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Though she later went for a Daddy-shelter instead:

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At this point, some of the more adventurous of our party decided that, instead of taking the wide smooth path back, we’d veer off onto a smaller path into the woods “to keep out of the rain”. Then the path went off at the wrong angle so we took that “creative shortcut” I mentioned earlier. The kids, who are too young to watch the Blair Witch Project, thought it was an adventure. I was glad to see a discarded coffee cup as it reassured me that we would eventually, one day, see civilisation again. Or at least the path.  And we did, after struggling through a holly bush and constructing a makeshift bridge over a ditch that would have supported the caterpillar we later found…but didn’t support the weight of any actual children. It came with a disclaimer, absolving the engineer of any blame in the case of injury so that’s OK.

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As you can guess, Eva was very tired by now. They all were. We kept them going with haribo and marching songs but I think we were all glad to see the turning back towards Chingford Plain. For on top of that hill lay Butler’s Retreat and the coffee opportunities within. It was 4:30 and it closed at 5 so we abandoned the children in a tree, loosely supervised by the menfolk, and ran up the slope towards those welcoming white walls and even more welcoming flat whites.

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More meltdowns were inevitable after that but hey, we made it there and back against the odds. I would recommend packing all the water and chocolate you can carry, along with thick socks and plasters for blisters but why not try it? Here’s our rough route:

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Do What You Can….But Vote

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Thank you to the Chingford and Woodford Green Labour Party for the GIF above and apologies for once again getting political on your collective asses. But the nightwalker Iain Duncan Smith is stalking the streets of Highams Park and I’m getting that uncomfortable feeling that we’re headed for another bitter and divisive election. So I’m setting out my stall and suggesting that you think about setting yours out too. Unlike other elections, we don’t have a huge amount of time to make decisions and not voting, for me, isn’t an option. It would just be like stamping all over Emily Wilding Davison’s grave to waste my vote on the 104th anniversary of her death. So, here is where I’m at.

I feel pessimistic on a national scale. After three electoral shockers in a row – 2015 GE, EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election – my spirit is drained and my outlook bleak. I don’t feel entirely confident in Corbyn. He’s a good man, of that I’m sure, and principled but he’s not yet a leader that can tackle the might of May. That’s not all his fault. He’s been undercut at every turn by infighting within the party and has never been able to unify and consolidate his MPs. It’s not a good time to fight an election campaign but hey, this is where we’re at  as a country and the campaign needs to be fought with the resources available. I’m expecting the worst and when I say the worst, I mean an increased Tory majority. I’m not going to pretend I’m neutral on this – I dislike and always have disliked the Tories and their austerity cruelty while facilitating the tax breaks of the rich has done nothing to make me warm to them. And you don’t need to even ask on my thoughts on UKIP (but you can read them here).  But I’m realistic and I accept that June 9th will probably see little in the way of national change.

So I’m not focusing on the big picture. I’m trying to get my mind into a place that’s more manageable and doesn’t make me feel like I’m falling down a rabbit hole. IDS is vulnerable. The voters that enjoyed having a cabinet minister as their MP may well have gone off now he’s lost his prestige. We may not be able to topple him but we might be able to take a chunk out of his majority. It’s not trying to change the world but we may be able to change Chingford and Woodford Green. Highams Park is already a lefty stronghold and we’re brimming with clever people who like to make a noise about social injustice. We can do *something*.

And that’s all I’m asking you – my politically inclined but weary reader – to do too. Something. Something local, something manageable. Vote tactically. Support tactically.  I generally align myself with Labour but I’m not a die hard supporter and I would always take a pragmatic view of things that if another party – say  the Lib Dems or the Greens or the SNP or Plaid Cymru – were better placed to oust the Conservatives, then they would get my vote. So try not to think just about the way you’ve always voted or the reasons for not voting for these parties. You may not trust Corbyn. You may not want an independent Scotland. You may not want to give up your car and cycle everywhere. But do you really want another five years of cuts to education, healthcare and social care? Do you want to lose every ally except Trump? Don’t just say that “All these politicians are just the same as each other”. They’re not. Labour and the Conservatives are more dissimilar now than they have been in 20 years. Listen to what each party is actually saying. Don’t dismiss easily.

And vote. Please vote. Please vote well. And do all you can in your area to make even the smallest change.

 

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Ashlyns Farm Shop -14/04/17

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This was a spontaneous kinda plan. Every Good Friday we consider doing something worthy, like going to see the Passion Play in Trafalgar Square and we end up doing something completely different. Today was no exception. Miles away from Central London, we spent the afternoon at a farm park, and very pleasant it was too. Not *as* sunny as these photos make out but I’ll admit it, gentle reader-  I’ve been playing with photo filters.

We essentially answered a distress call. Like Obi Wan Kenobi, or the crew of Red Dwarf when they go to the Nova 5 and find Kryten tending a bunch of skeletons. This had fewer skeletons in it, but I did see some skulls in the tank where the boa constrictor lived. But we did come to the aid of a family who were facing a disappointing day. I could call them the JJ Aprams family, but the -ams bit was missing, so we’ll just go for JJA.

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It was lunchtime when we got there, so we started in the restaurant. Eva – dressed as Princess Anna, naturally – sat and wrote out her alphabet while plaintively wailing about how hungry she was. Luckily service was swift and brought her and Roo sausage and mash pretty promptly. J1 had a giant jacket potato and Nathan and I had equally giant chicken burgers with chilli mayo and what looked like an entire tub’s worth of coleslaw on it. It wasn’t cheap – £5 for a kids meal. £11 each fpr ours – but it was goooood. A starter plate of warm pitta and homous was pretty tasty too, even if I disgraced myself by dropping houmous all over the chic wooden tables.

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After lunch, it was vaguely sunny (not as sunny as this photo pertains to be) so we did the outdoor bits first before the soft play. You can buy a ticket just for farm park or soft play but unless it was the depths of winter or the height of summer, I doubt you’d get away with only doing one. You have to walk past the soft play bit to get to the farm park, so the kids do notice and they definitely will comment if you don’t take them there. An important thing to note – the ticket counter does not take card payments, so it’s only by luck rather than judgement that I had the £15 cash on me to get the four of us in. The restaurant did take card, in case you’re wondering.

There are three playgrounds and we started with the nearest and tamest – a pirate ship that also had bars to hang off:

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Before long though Reuben tired of the small stuff and wanted to move on to the much bigger one.

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Eva went down the little slide and she loved it and then she told me that she needed the toilet. True story. In her own words “I went down the little slide and I loved it and then I told you that I needed the toilet”. For those who need to know, there are two loos in the soft play area, one in the cafe and another building between the two which houses a few more. Handwashing points are dotted around the whole place.

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Which we needed because next up was some animal feeding. Eva was too scared to do it, but Reuben obligingly held his hand like a plate for a friendly sheep. Then we wandered through the pet barn and saw the tiniest cutest baby goat.

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There were also some sugar gliders but they were quite hard to spot because they were in a tinted cage. I’m not sure whether that’s because they’re nocturnal or just that they live in Essex. I spied them hanging out in their feeding bowl but when I went back they were nowhere to be seen. Check out these adorable snuggling chincillas though:

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Talking of snuggling, we later saw some raccoons doing a little more than snuggling. To answer J1′s question from earlier, we can expect the babies in 63-65 days. Maybe we’ll go for Roo’s birthday.

There were loads of other animals – a tropical room with an iguana, snakes and fish in and back outside there were emus, llamas and peacocks. And goats. Oh yes, the goats.

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Years ago, when we visited a Hampshire farm park with my parents, Roo refused to go near the goats in case they ate his goats. I don’t think he was wrong to be paranoid. Goats are greedy beggars. I’d identified the one I liked the most – a little brown and white fella on the end. But every time I tried to feed him, he was barged out of the way by the big grey one and, in one instance, rammed right up the backside before I’d even produced the food. Greyster was taking a pre-emptive strike.

And when I did hold my hand out, they were all on me. It was scary.

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JJA, meanwhile, had fallen for the charms of a little black goat that had escaped its enclosure and was wandering around freely:

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We briefly stopped at the last playground but it was 3:30 by now and soft play closed at 5, so we headed inside. J1 shouted Nathan and I some much-needed caffeine as we’d run out of cash entirely and we watched the kids run around and exhaust themselves. Eva was even so sweaty she agreed to take her full length princess dress off. And that’s all I’ll say about kids and clothes for now.

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At 4:30 they started hoovering and hinting for us to go but it was OK, we were done by then. We’d got 4 hours worth of eating and playing for our £15 but JJA had been there since half nine so had really made the most of it. It was a nice place out for the afternoon and maybe we’ll return to see those raccoon babies…

More information here (official website)

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Posted in Food in cages! Walking around! Or maybe some alpacas! (Farms and zoos) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Eckington Gardens and the London Eye – 06/04/17

 

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I’m starting to repeat myself. It’s inevitable at my age, but also when you’ve been blogging for almost six years. Both the places we’ve visited today have featured before, in 2011 and 2013 but they can take a revisiting. Especially Eckington Gardens, which I didn’t even name all those years ago. So that’s where we started off today.

Well, actually we started off in Highams Park, catching the train to Walthamstow Central and changing onto the Victoria Line to Highbury & Islington. I mention all this only because Reuben planned it and I’m really quite pleased with how my proto-tube geek is coming along. It wasn’t the ideal route to New Cross Gate but it wasn’t bad at all. And he wasn’t the one who got confused about platforms at H&I like I did. In the cold light of day, it seems obvious that Platform 1 and Platform 2 are in different directions, even though they both seem to serve the same routes. But it was a bit confusing and we ran down one set of steps and back up again before we figured out where we were meant to be.

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But we got to New Cross Gate, which seemed to be twice the size that it used to be, and found a far less ambiguous sign. Want Central London? Same direction as Sainsburys. Obviously.

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It was a beautiful sunny day and we spent the next few hours hanging out at our friend’s flat but also in the park. The yellow slide of death seems a lot less scary when you have an almost 8-year-old rather than a 2-year-old: Didn’t stop him trying to jangle my nerves by fashioning a pair of wings out of some cardboard he found lying around. He didn’t fly, but not for lack of trying.

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Eva spent her time chucking gravel down the slide and at one point deposited a small piece of green glass in my hand, telling me she’d found something beautiful. These kids keep you guessing, don’t they? And then on to the London Eye.

le11   This part of the trip was entirely the kids’ idea. When I’d asked them what they wanted to do on a sunny, free Thursday Reuben came up with “the London Eye” and Eva enthusiastically joined in. Now, it’s not my idea of fun. I don’t like heights and a glass capsule on a hot day, crowded with tourists seems like an unpleasant thought. Plus, it cost a lot. But then I cashed in some clubcard vouchers, which paid for a fair chunk of it. And we were in South London anyway, so I went with it. Why not? I did book for late in the afternoon though – 5pm – so the bulk of the tourists would be gone. Any excess time we had was rapidly eaten up b y the playground anyway. le10

They also found a model of the London Eye with Easter baskets and bunnies:

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And they enjoyed the 4D cinema experience that comes free with the Eye ticket. Eva jumped when the dragon came out and Reuben tried to catch the seagulls. Though it’s essentially an advert for the Eye with an extra chance to spend money on a green screen photo, it was worth going to see. The effects are pretty cool and it gets them hyped for the Eye itself.

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First though, some queuing. Only about ten minutes’ worth, which I think is down to the late-afternoon lull but enough for the kids to complain about being hungry and badger me for snacks from the little kiosk that tries to sell you Coke in the middle of the queue. No opportunity is missed round here. One thing they didn’t complain about was needing the loo, as I’d made them go more than once before we got in the queue. You don’t want an emergency when you’re trapped in the capsule. Plus, check out the amazing taps with built in hand driers:

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So, the Eye. It’s great for people who like views. It’s not ideal for people who don’t like heights, but I coped. My children didn’t fling themselves against the glass walls as much as my niece and nephew did the first time we ever went on it., back in 2003ish. That was nervewracking. Instead, they let me sit on the bench in the middle and gently wibble to myself while Roo kept up a running commentary about what sort of angle we were at. I calmed down by the time we got past the acute angles.

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Reading my last post about the Eye, I realise I mentioned my niece and nephew before. I told you I was repeating myself. It seems that Reuben tried to grab the seagulls on the last visit too. Some things never change.

Roo remembered our last trip, with cousin Nat and he’s been with his school as well. So he was a bit blase about it all. But it was Eva’s first time since that 2013 trip when she was a babe in sling. So she was excited:

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If you’re wondering about the inside out Disney dress, it’s her “SuperFast Girl” outfit. Obviously.

Of course, the main thing to do on the Eye is to take photos of the views so prepare yourselves for a whole load of them. It was a glorious day to be on there and by 5pm not too roasting. Just look how pretty it was:

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And with that, we were back down to land. It may have been a pricey half hour but the kids really enjoyed it and they’re still talking about it almost a week later. So, if you’re struggling with ideas for this second week of the holidays, you can do worse than a little sky cruise…

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La Boîte – 31/03/17

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The kids broke up from school today. You’d probably be able to hear the sheer noise of them from any point within the M25 but somehow they seemed noisier in a small signal box, eating pancakes at 5pm.

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We’d been on a long walk round Highams Park after school – drinking coffee at Ziggys, playing in the part roped-off Snail Park, transferring to Vincent Road Park (where Eva was apparently beautiful enough to frame) and then persuading a complete stranger to let Reuben use her toilet. So pancakes were the next obvious step. Obvious.


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La Boîte, in case your français is not as beau as mine, means “The Box” and it’s a conversion of the old signal box next to Highams Park station, which has stood empty for years. I didn’t take a photo from the outside, so let’s use an image by the very talented local artist Juliet Thomas:

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Copyright Juliet Thomas

 

Now, it sells crepes and gallettes and by night you can enjoy a glass of wine there, all while the trains are rumbling by. I’m not going to say that chocolate and marshmallow pancakes at 5 were a great idea in the grand scheme of things but hey, the kids thought they were. Between Reuben , Eva and Bunny they had the full range of white, milk and dark chocolate and I can confidently say that each one of those is as messy and sticky as the others. Pack baby wipes. I can also say with confidence that gloss paint was a good idea for the door frames, as Bunny’s chocolate handprints rubbed straight off.

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The kids devoured their pancakes, though us grown ups had to wait a little longer and they *may* have been a bit restless by the time we got our strawberry and cream crepes. It’s obviously not a huge space and the 20-odd seats in there were all full at one point, so not a lot of scope for sugar-filled kids charging about. There is a small balcony at the back though, which is great for a bit of a fresh air and a view of the trains.

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Because what a USP! Especially is you have one of those transport-obsessed toddlers that I used to own. Trains go past every seven minutes or so and the kids were full-on channeling “The Railway Children”, waving to the trains as they went past. More often than not we got a wave back from the driver which, let’s face it, is exciting whether you’re six or thirty six.

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So it’s not a place to spend hours in with kids because the space is limited, but as long as you get your food at the same time it’d be fine. And they were particularly lovely pancakes. They had savoury options too but we were throwing caution to the wind and enjoying some sugar and cream, even though one of us had eaten literally nothing savoury all day. There’s a great people-watching aspect too, though I was disappointed to not see anyone I knew. If we’d been sitting station end I may well have. Downstairs, there’s a small garden and – crucially – a toilet. They also take credit card payments.

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It’s sticky and messy and the resulting sugar crash is messier still but you should definitely pay a visit if you’re in the area. It’s a charming little place with lovely food and the most Highams Park of views. More information here.

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The Gruffalo Trail – 25/03/17

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For reasons too complicated to explain here, we needed a jaunt out of London today. So we drove from Nearly-Essex, where we live, to Proper Essex where everyone wears fur gilets and designer boots for a walk in the woods. I thought Eva was overdressed, in a floor-length Anna dress, but no she was probably best suited out of all of us.

Our destination was Thornden Country Park, home of the Gruffalo Trail. I’d read online that it was a good day out, tainted only by the expensive and cranky parking machines. Well. on this second point they were not wrong. Parking was £4 for 3 hours, which doesn’t sound hideous to my London brain but is quite steep if you’re used to country parks having parking for free. There was no entrance fee to the actual park though, so just see it as a donation to the general upkeep. The pay and display machines were a bit eccentric though. The first one didn’t recognise my card or accept coins and the second one took an awfully long time to even consider my request for a parking ticket as something it might be able to produce, while a queue built behind me. You also needed to know your registration number, which I didn’t.

But it’s OK. Google had prepared me for parking stresses and once that was done, the rest of the day was pretty straightforward. We bought a trail map for 50p in the shop (the only other compulsory outlay really) and set off for a stroll in the deep, dark wood.

Eva was navigating, although she and Roo would fight over the map for at least the first half hour, after which they’d lose the map entirely. In so many ways, I should have bought two. But no fear, as we found the first model with ease. Or rather do fear, because oh help, oh no, it’s a…..

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Reuben had spotted what he called a “logpile house” (which I think most would call a “stick den”?) and wanted to make his own, so started dragging around massive sticks and propping them against a tree. He got bored after about three of them and luckily before blinding his sister with the twiggy end. No wonder she skipped off without him to find mark no 2, the Gruffalo’s Child:

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This one Eva kept kissing, because “he’s so cute”. Hardly could bring myself to tell her that the Gruffalo’s Child is a girl. They also did one of the suggested activities on the trail map – putting beech shells on their fingers to make Gruffalo claws:

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Mark #3 was the actual logpile house, which was taped off – I assume to stop children climbing all over it:

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Next up was the owl, which was appropriately high up in a tree. “But how will we get all the way up there?” squeaked Eva. Short answer is, she didn’t.

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We were skipping through the markers pretty quickly, so I decided to stop for a while and just let them round around. Eva found another stick den to set up home in, Reuben made another attempt at building his own. And then they both walked along this felled tree:

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They were playing for ages while we were sitting on a bench but I was starting to crave a coffee, so I started hurrying them along. Especially when Eva declared that the fox wanted her to “stay up her for much longer. Maybe two hours”

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Eva found a tree to sit in as well, where she could balance without even sitting on anything, which she thought was pretty amazing. She was less impressed a few minutes later when I tried to get her down and got her head stuck between the two branches. Let’s focus on the moments before that happened:

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I really needed coffee but these children needed to play. All three of them:

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Luckily, we were nearing the end. Just a mouse to find!

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So yes, it was coffee time. The trail had taken us about an hour but the kids could have spent longer, climbing trees and playing on the wooden beams near the mouse. Which makes it pretty good value considering we only paid for parking.

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The cafe was nice and spacious – there was a bit of a queue and apparently it had been busy all day (it was about 4pm). It wasn’t quite what I’d fantasised about in the woods – cupcakes and soya lattes – but there were biscuits and machine coffee and kids lunchbox pic ‘n’ mix. I had a full-cow latte and this cheeky bottle of pop:

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We all had snacks then all went back for seconds. We were clearly hungry after all that fresh air. My kids also proved that you’re never too millenial to get excited about a piece of curved plastic in swirly colours:

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There was a little more time left to run on our parking ticket, so we went to the sandpit in the picnic area for one more little play before we went home. Nathan and the kids also spotted a secret squirrel up a tree but I didn’t get a photo because, well…it’s a secret, right?

 

 

 

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It was a beautiful day to be in the woods and a pretty good day out for minimal amounts of money. Yes, it requires going outside the M25 but I reckon it’s worth it once in a while. Just dress for the occasion.

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London, You Know the Drill

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What happened yesterday was awful. Anything that hurts people in our city is awful. But you know what we have to do. We have to carry on with life as usual, just like we did on July 8th 2005 and like Londoners have done since the first Celt said “Blimey, these Romans are a bit rough. Shall we have a brew?” The first post I ever wrote on this blog was the day after a shooting in broad daylight on our road in Kennington. Last night, overshadowed by the events in Westminster, there was another Kennington incident – a stabbing in the middle of a massive street brawl. There is always violence around us as we jostle for space in this huge city. But I’m with Sadiq Khan – it cannot stop us living our lives and it should not.

Four years ago, I wandered around Vauxhall after a helicopter crash claimed two more lives. Four and a half years ago, it was the riots. There’s always something. Nowadays, we live further away from the centre of it all  - for reasons of financial necessity, not fear – but it still feels so close to home when it happens somewhere that used to be so literally close to home. Westminster Bridge was the first view either of my children saw – or it would have been if newborns could see further than the end of their own noses.  I wandered along that strip of the South Bank so many times with babies, toddlers and not-quite-born-yets, gazing at that famous view. It hurts to see it defiled by one man with a vicious, and as yet undetermined, agenda but we move on.

Not everyone can. Those who were at the scene and will replay it in their minds infinitely. Those who were injured or killed. The families of all those people. But the rest of us, we must share in their sorrow, feel their pain but keep this city moving. Professional trolls and far-right politicians are waiting for us to fall apart or turn on each other. Let’s not indulge them. London, you know the drill. Life as usual.

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L.O.L. Surprise Doll – 19/03/2017

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One of the many things we missed out on over February half term was the launch of a new surprise doll – the L.O.L Surprise. Luckily I hadn’t told Eva we were ever meant to be going (it was planned as a sur… you get the idea) so she was thrilled when one just appeared in the post for her. I’ve already overused *that* word but let’s just say it was unexpected.

So we decided to go Full Disney Collector and film her as she unwrapped it. It’s an amateurish attempt at a vlog – my phone memory ran out before we’d fully explored everything inside and also, my voice is annoying. I apologise. But here it is:

Ignore the fact I keep calling it an egg. It’s a ball, not an egg.  And you unpeel the layers using a cute little zip marker. Essentially, it’s seven layers of surprises – the first is a coded message, the second is a sticker telling you what to do with your doll (bathe it or feed it and it’ll do something unexpected). Next is a bottle, which I seem to remember is embedded in a secret compartment in the plastic ball. Then there are outfits and accessories and eventually you get the doll, along with some instructions on what to do with the plastic ball (it can be a handbag or a hangout or a bath) and a chart telling you whether you have a popular or rare doll. We got two baby dolls and they were both super-rare! Go us!

Eva enjoyed unwrapping it and immediately wanted to take it all up to the bath so she could bathe the babies and see what they did – the sticker promised they would either cry, spit, pee or change colour. I think we got the last of those, which is the best option I think. I’m sure she’ll want to collect them all now. If you have a child who’s similarly interested in surprises and dolls, have a look here for all the L.O.L. Surprise info you need.

Disclaimer: I received a free L.O.L. Surprise Doll in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. 

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