IndieTots – 31/05/15

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Our trip out on Sunday was not just to Peckham but into a new era.  Yes, following the last day of Abellio Greater Anglia was, strangely enough, the first day of TfL. And we got to Highams Park to observe..nothing. No changes, apart from a snazzy new orange uniform on the staff. How disappointing. But by the time we got to St James Street, things really were on the up. No lifts had magically appeared overnight but these orange signs had:

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Whoop! Hackney Downs had the same, Bethnal Green didn’t and Liverpool Street seemed to have a newly designated “Overground” zone on platforms 1-4. Is this progress? We’ll see…

Of course, the second part of the journey, from Shoreditch to Peckham was on a well-established Orange Line. That doesn’t mean there are lifts at Peckham Rye though…in fact, there are a lot of steps. Luckily I knew about those already because we’d been there a few days back. Unluckily, Eva had forgotten how to walk, so we had to carry her buggy down with her in it, sedan-chair style. I’m not saying she’s awkward…but she is.

First challenge on leaving the station was finding The Nines, where IndieTots is held. We only went wrong once before finding this promising-looking doorway:

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And from there, we just followed the signs:

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And the street art:

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When we got in, the kids were drawn to the craft table straight away. The disco was in the back room, but first there were flags to be made. Eva’s was especially blingy.

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Once they’d finished their crafts, I persuaded Roo to come for a dance. He liked the inflatable guitars and microphones, although I think his approach was a little too “punkrock” for the gentle indie soundtrack. Here he is, recreating the “London Calling” cover:

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He also enjoyed catching bubbles with his microphone and doing some crazy dance moves with NimbleBecky.

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Eva was unsure about it all at first, and then her best friend in the world turned up. Suddenly, life was a lot better and they had a little boogie together to The Beatles and Squeeze.

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I should probably tell you at this point that I got very little in the way of usable photos. The light was fairly dim and those children just keep moving, so most of the shots I took were a little like this:

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Or this. More punkrock, I believe:

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Roo’s mad dancing takes a lot of energy, so it was good that there was pile of beanbags for him to rest on:

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It was a tad surreal, dancing on a Sunday morning but it was fun. There was the café space in the front, for crafts, coffee and sausage rolls and we did spend a lot of time there, trying to get the kids to stop making things and come for a dance. So, I didn’t get as much partying time as I would have liked but that’s what happens when you involve children in any sort of plan. They scupper it. BunnyMummy said that last time there had been music piped to the craft area too so you could tell what was happening in the disco, even if your child was busy making two versions of Nick Fury:

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It could also have done with being a touch longer, for those same reasons..but as it happened, I had a choir rehearsal to get to so it’s probably just as well I didn’t settle in too much.  Besides, Eva was hitting the wall. Towards the end, she lay down on the floor and refused to move in what we can only assume was a tribute to the “Just” video:

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Time to haul her home. On the way back, I got to see those changes at St James Street in more detail. The fabulous TfL upgrades include this amazing integrated Oyster-reader and  departure board:

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The outside stairs have also been blocked off, funnelling everyone through the ticket gates…a technique that is working oh-so-well at Walthamstow Central. And then there’s the revised timetable:

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I have high hopes for the TfL takeover but it seems to be having an issue or two, even a couple of days in. Watch this space for more updates…and in the meantime, book your tickets for the next Nimble event. It’s Britpop themed! 28th June, 11-12:30. Get ready to dance round the room to the sound of your corduroy flares…

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Lordship Lane Recreation Ground – LWAT is 400!


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As you might have noticed, it’s been a bit of a full-on half term, both in blogging terms and actually getting-out-of-the-house-and-doing-stuff terms. Funnily enough, they always seem to go together. So when I was contemplating how to mark the 400th post this weekend, my brain just began a slow shutdown. Every idea I had seemed like too much effort – a day in W4? Oh but, that’s miles away. A trip down the A400? Well, we covered a lot of that road on the 200th post. Riding the four rail lines that are just about to be handed over to TfL tomorrow? That sounds tiring. And we spend a lot of time on one of them anyway. In the end, I decided to just go somewhere we were planning to go anyway and somehow shoehorn a 4-ish theme into it.

In superhero parlance, the Thor Hundreth post would be Loki.

(Get it? I’m so proud of myself…and I have definitely spent too much time with Reuben lately)

As it happened, we did start our journey on one of those lines that tomorrow magically appear on the tube map. So, here’s Highams Park station on its very last day under Abellio Greater Anglia. End of an era etc.

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I neglected to take one in Chingford because I was busy running for a bus that wasn’t leaving for another ten minutes. Our clue should have been when we barged past the driver of that bus, who was happily ambling along.  Which bus, you ask? Why the most appropriate bus for a 4-based celebration – the 444. From E4. Four fours. Nice. Obviously, the 400 bus would have been even more appropriate, but it doesn’t exist. Also, we did that bus thing last year. Besides, this bus went somewhere I really wanted to go, albeit in a long and winding way. No wonder it didn’t seem overly popular:

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Well, we were keen travellers even if no-one else was. Eva pressed her nose to the glass and told me all the exciting things she could see out of the window. Like a car. And a tree. And Chingford. Lots and lots of bits of Chingford.

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You see, like so many 3-digit buses, the 444 likes to take its time and wander around a bit. It’s not a particularly efficient way of getting about if you start from Chingford station….but if you’re going to get a bus just for the sake of it, you should do it properly. There may have been mutters of dissention from Nathan when we’d been travelling for half an hour and a sign suggested that we were three quarters of a mile from home. But luckily, he and Roo were sitting miles away from me and Eva so I couldn’t hear him moaning.

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It took a while, but we eventually left Chingford behind for an exciting game of Twister with the North Circular. I always find the idea of a London bus on a dual carriageway bizarre, but this is life in Zone 4. We ducked and dived around the road, went alongside it and I think onto it for a short while. The view from the window varied from leafy greenness to industrial scrapyards. And inside the bus, the view was mostly of Eva’s sparkly new shoes:

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See, I told you they were impractical. Gotta dig the hand-me-down pirate socks though.

We were coming into Tottenham, which always has an odd kinda feel to it. I don’t think it’s ever been in the news for anything very positive, and it seems like a place that gentrification has passed by. Which naturally means it’s home to the actual hipsters – the struggling musicians and artists who really do live there before it’s cool. Give it a few years and it’ll be Hackney Part 2.

There were more dissenting noises from the boys at the front regarding the length of this bus journey, so I helpfully bluetoothed Nathan a screenshot of the route map. I was relieved that it was Nathan I sent it to, as his phone wasn’t named so it could have been anyone on the bus with an XPeria. It’s not the most embarrassing photo to send to someone by mistake though, and actually it verges on useful.

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What doesn’t verge on useful, however, is the stop that we were getting off at being mysteriously missing from the IRL  bus route. If anyone else is attempting to get to Lordship Lane Recreation Ground on the 444, be aware…the “Lordship Lane” stop just doesn’t exist. Get off at Granville Road and walk. That’s what Eva told me to do and gosh, I regret not listening to her.

For yes, Lordship Lane Recreation Ground was where we were headed. It doesn’t sound overly exciting but it’s got some remarkable features. The main draw for us was the Model Traffic Area – dating from the 30s, this was a section of the park laid out like a little town for kids to ride their bikes and scooters around. It’s still there, revamped with shiny new signs and it’s huge. In fact, the whole park is pretty vast:

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You can kinda forget that you’re in urban North London when all you can see in front of you is green. And they have bridges that made Roo want to play Pooh Sticks:

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(Yes, I know that’s Eva…Roo didn’t stay still long enough)

It is a very pretty water feature:

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Let’s not talk about the slightly funky smell. Or the tantrum Eva had over some wild flowers she wanted to pick. Let’s move straight on to the Model Traffic Area:

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From the photos, it’s hard to tell that it’s anything but an actual road system. But it’s all for play – faithfully recreated roundabouts, one-way systems and cycle lanes….all for kids to roam free on. Brilliant.

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Reuben doesn’t really have a pair of wheels at the moment, since his faithful Scooty broke. His bike is a little small for him but we decided to take it with us anyway, as he’d definitely want to join in any mini-road fun that was going on. And he managed a lot of bike riding, despite not having touched it in years. He’s getting a big boy bike for his birthday, by the way…in case anyone’s feeling sorry for him.

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There were also three play areas, in and around the road system. This was the smallest:

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Then there was a much bigger playground just next to it, with more climbing frames, a seesaw and swings:

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And a model train! Just in case there wasn’t enough for your transport-mad child already:

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There was also a good range of accessible play equipment – an ability whirl and a accessible swing, for starters. The ability whirl didn’t move very fast though…almost like it didn’t really have the ability to whirl.

Eva watched a bigger girl hanging on to this thing, and twirling through the air:

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She gave it a go but I’m not sure her arm muscles are quite up to it. Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t let go of her.

The third play area was a charming little natural one, just outside the back of the playground. It had a little tree-stump maze, where you had to step on the ducks and avoid the crows and geese:

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It also had natural stepping stones, much like the ones we found at the back of Warwick Services. Only these had probably been risk assessed and stuff:

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Much to my amusement, we also found a woman dressed just like Nathan. I tend to be able to spot Nathan from a distance, thanks to his unusual Australian hat, which he inherited from Bang. But they’re clearly not so unusual in Australia and it was an Australian woman that was wearing an almost identical one, together with a green t-shirt and black trousers. I managed not to grab the wrong person but I’ll be honest, it was a close call.

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It was getting late by now, and the cafe was shutting at 5 so I wrangled the three of them in there in order to get some sugar and caffeine before we headed home. Eva sulked about having to stop scooting about and then sulked again about the lack of blue ice pops. But she was impressed by the cafe’s large range of “That’s Not My” books. There was even one in Spanish!

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See the face on that? A child cruelly forced to eat the wrong colour ice pop. We’re going to send her to gratitude school I think. And also Mr Freeze school because she made a total hash of that one.

Meanwhile, I relaxed with a fruit tea and a brownie in the serene surroundings of the Lordship Hub and tried to ignore all of this^^

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Nathan had a cappucino and he and Roo read a Lego annual that someone had helpfully filled in the answers to. There were toys and crayons and games on hand as well:

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And it was generally a pleasant place to spend half an hour, even with a girl in a not-so-pleasant mood. They take card for transactions over a pound, which is an added bonus:

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On our way out, there was just time for one more play area and this was the adventure playground. I assume it was designed for bigger kids, as they were hanging around all over it and it wasn’t the best-maintained bit of the park. There were a few panels missing and nails sticking out which made it unideal for adventurous kids. Roo liked the rope swing though:

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And, once again, Eva didn’t want to leave it:

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She loves those wobbly bridges, even though Mummy is a bit phobic about them. We did eventually peel her away, squealing about the injustice of it all, and we found the charmingly-named 123 bus to take us back to Walthamstow. Getting on the last bus home, the driver told Nathan he shouldn’t have a bike on board, which was a bit random given it was the fourth bus of the day and Roo’s bike really isn’t much bigger than Nathan is. If anyone could shed any light on the TfL regs re a small child’s bike, that would be super helpful.

For that reason, and a few others, I think we’d probably drive if we went there again. It’s a lovely place to practise cycling and it’ll be super-useful once he has his new bike…but if we can’t take a bike on the bus, driving seems sensible. Obviously “sensible” doesn’t come into the reasoning behind an LWAT anniversary post, so we took a meandering bus route instead.

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Another reason to return is that we didn’t even check out the paddling pool – the kids clocked it as we went past but we didn’t have their swimming things and it wasn’t quite hot enough. Lordship Rec, you deserve more of our time than we gave you. And on that point I’ll….

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ArcelorMittal Orbit – 28/05/15

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Sometimes you catch a glimpse of yourself and wonder “What has happened to me? Where did it all go wrong?”. That’s how I felt on the London Overground this morning, partway through a mother-son bonding day with Roo. Travelling through Hackney, wearing glasses that had no glass in them and shoes with no socks….was I becoming….a hipster? Lyrics came back to haunt me as we stopped at Homerton “20-20 vision just a pair of empty frames/Loafers with no socks/I love my life as a digger”. Is this what a year in East London does to you? I’d even just been for a coffee at a rad hipster hang out.

But fear not. The empty frames were all for a good cause. Specifically, getting into the Orbit for almost nothing by dressing as “Where’s Wally?”. You have never seen anything less hipster than this:

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To be fair, I didn’t look much like Wally either but it was enough to get me in. Reuben looked much more convincing, being a small boy and all, and his dedication to the cause was impressive. Here he is, starting the day by being Wally in Tesco:

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And at the play area in Westfield:

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And in front of the Olympic Stadium:

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Where’s Wally? All over East London, it seems.

If you haven’t gathered by now, the ArcelorMittal Orbit are running a week of “Where’s Wally?” themed events that allow you in for a mere pound if you make the effort to dress up. That’s a total bargain, especially if you’ve been wanting to go up the Orbit for a while. True, I had to buy the t-shirt for Roo but he needs more clothes that fit and it was quite a cool one. The rest of the outfits were improvised – lenses punched out of surplus 3D glasses, Eva’s old strawberry hat co-opted against her wishes..the result was an oddly fruit-themed version of Wally but they could see we’d tried and it was for the astonishing price of £2 that we ascended…this…

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Anyone remember that fear of heights I have? Well, nothing has changed. But, having Wallyed up I was determined to also man up and not show my fear as we ascended in the lift. As we went through the barriers, a cheery Wally greeted us and showed us where to go for the climb and another cheery Wally accompanied us up to the top platform. From there, there were views for miles over London, as well as some freaky mirrors that didn’t help too much with my generally-unsettled feeling. But here’s the obligatory panoramic shot:

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There were opening viewing platforms on this level, but Roo complained they were too windy so we only went out for the briefest of moments before going to the next level down, where the activities were. As we went, I got a quick look at the top of the stadium:

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Downstairs it was all quiet but I’d seen a large group on its way up and guessed it wouldn’t stay like that. The activities were being hosted by the rather wonderful Discover Centre and first up was an interactive story-telling session, all about Wally’s adventures. The “story builder” encouraged the kids to gather round and grab Wally’s walking stick, which would send them spinning off to the Time of the Dinosaurs (Roo’s suggestion) and the Land of the Fairies (not Roo’s suggestion).

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Reuben thought it was all super-fun and was still talking about it over lunch later. After the storytelling, we went on a scavenger hunt around the room to find little Wally characters, then Roo wrote a postcode about his Wally adventure. Surreal as he is, his was quite normal compared to one I found on the wall:

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If you wrote that, please explain yourself. No really, please do.

It was almost time to go back down but gosh darn, what a long way down it was:

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We decided to take the steps, and take in the view at the same time. There’s about 300 of them and Roo wanted to jump down each one. He made it about halfway before complaining that his “legs were like dominoes”.

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I’m not sure what that means…maybe about to collapse? Mine certainly were. It was a bit of a terrifying descent, but we had the recorded “Sounds of London” to cheer us along and the cage was reassuringly protective:

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Finally, we got to the bottom and I was in dire need of some lunch. Reuben found the ideal picnic spot and settled himself in:

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Only problem was that we didn’t have a picnic and I wasn’t up for eating the long grass as our picnic. We headed back towards Westfield but got distracted on the way by a fun, interactive wall thing:

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Each block swivels from black to white, so you can make patterns with it. Neat, huh?

Neat indeed but I really was hungry. We went to the Fast Food Court on the Lower Ground Floor of Westfield, which some might consider a hellish eating experience. I gave my boy free rein to chose which place we bought lunch from and was pleasantly surprised when he chose Harry Ramsdens over McDonalds:

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I was surprised again when his kids’ meal came with a free stick of rock. I don’t think he’ll like rock, but doesn’t it look pretty?:

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And yes, he still has the Wally glasses on. I think he kinda suits them.

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After lunch, there was one more treat to be had and that was a trip to the Lego store. I can hardly believe that it was me who got to take him and not Nathan, but even as the less OCD one I got a small thrill from the neatness of the pic and mix block section:

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Oh, the order! The loveliness! The potential for taking arty photos!

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Made all the more lovely by how improbable it was. I mean, this was Westfield in half term and barely a brick was out of place. Reuben didn’t fancy picking and mixing his blocks or even making his own minifigs. He was after a kit. And it would be a mean mummy who denied him the kit of his dreams just weeks before his birthday:

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Yup, I’m a mean Mummy. He got a double-decker couch from the Lego Movie and he will learn to appreciate it. To give him his dues, he didn’t complain at all about his relatively slim pickings. We’ve been working on gratitude lately.

So, a surprisingly nice day out in Stratford with my boy. The “Where’s Wally?” events run till 31st May, from 12 to 4 each day and it’s definitely worth it to dress up. Enjoy!

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Walthamstow Firsts – 27/05/15

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Another sunny day and this time we were staying local and hitting the streets of Walthamstow. Our aims were many but the big draw was the latest production by Slap Haddock – the charmingly insane people who brought “A Night at the Pictures” to Wood St Indoor Market last year. This year, they were putting on a show at the end of Walthamstow Market, celebrating the “Firsts” that had happened in Walthamstow, both now and in the past. To set the scene, they had a market stall, run by the Fyrst family, where you could write down your own “Walthamstow Firsts” and put them in the “Firsts Box”. Here’s Roo doing his:

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Obviously, he’s dressed as Spiderman. Who wouldn’t want to wear a nylon outfit and mask on top of your clothes on a boiling hot day? His “first” was that the Town Square was where he first saw Mummy singing with the Walthamstow Acoustic Massive. Which is true. And coincidentally, you can see me singing with WAM in the Town Square again on 5th June at 7:15PM, as part of BBC Music Day. I honestly didn’t prompt him to write that, but what a handy way to shoehorn that little plug into this post. Eva also wrote down something, though I suspect it was just her attempt at writing her own name. She’s a narcissist like that:

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And, in case you were wondering, here’s the Firsts box:

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I know you were wondering. You were just too shy to ask.

Talking of people who aren’t shy, Reuben was very keen to get involved in the show once he started. A fact about the first aeroplane flight was elegantly enacted by a confused lady in a chair and Reuben as one of two child-wings:

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His Spiderman shield, borrowed from Captain America, made an ideal wing accessory and he got right into the part, making the appropriate plane noises.  Eva was just watching, but she liked pretending to be a plane too:

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He later said “It was nice of them to let people who weren’t even in the show help with it”. And we were all involved – I got a policeman’s hat and my own line. I think Slap Haddock are keen on audience participation.

There was more to come, as we tried to create our very own first – a tiptoe race. Safety is very important to these theatre types, so all the kids were kitted out appropriately:

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The race was a draw, so we went to a re-run, this time in slow motion. Two girls won, which reduced Eva to tears as it wasn’t her. One of the lovely ladies gave her a medal as well and talked to her about one of her Walthamstow Firsts – watching “Frozen” for the first time at cousin Leo’s house. Possibly even before we moved to this neck of the woods. She perked up a little but was being typically EvaFragile. So, I decided to take her for some retail therapy. More on that in a moment.

Tearfulness aside, the kids enjoyed the show. It was a lot shorter than “Night at the Pictures” and I think that might be because it was in such a public space, which people tend to move through at speed. It was very interesting though, and I learnt some good facts. Roo, as ever, loved being the centre of attention and he certainly got a lot of attention, in his sweaty spidersuit. When one of the performers asked what his real name was, he said “Peter Parker”. Without even a pause. That boy is a comedy genius. Don’t get me started on his superhero-comedy-maths skills.

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So, the retail therapy. I’ve had better ideas. Eva needs new shoes, as you can tell from the fact she’s wearing wellies in the sunshine. As soon as I found out we were having a girl, I started dreaming of going shoe shopping with her but I think it’s safe to say that the reality did not live up to the dream. She melted down in Clarks, as nothing matched the vision she had in her head, gave me the silent treatment in Deichmann and by Shoe Express I was ready to give up. So, we went to BHS to buy Reuben a red and white stripy top (you’ll see why tomorrow) and there she spotted her perfect pair. They weren’t my perfect pair, being canvas, glittery and entirely impractical but I was broken by then. She got them. And ice cream. But I got a new handbag too, so all was right with the world.

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(If anyone is snarling about the gender stereotyping in the last paragraph, I would invite them to actually meet my children. More stereotyped kids do not exist. Spiderman and Belle, I tell you. Spiderman and Belle).

“Walthamstow Firsts” is on until 30th May, from 11 to 3 every day and it’s FREE! Go on down and support local arts and learn some local history…or just try and win a free medal…

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Peckham Rye Adventure Playground – 26/05/15

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Yesterday, it was sunny. Really sunny. The kind of day that leaves a vivid red mark on your shoulders with only a finger-shaped patch of white to show where you rubbed some of the kids’ sun cream off. I hurt. In case that wasn’t obvious.

It was the perfect day to spend lounging around on a picnic blanket with some imaginary friends, and that’s just what we did. At Peckham Rye Park, with Familia Maria and the C family. But let’s not get too far ahead. Let’s start at one of the many rips in the TfL space-time continuum. I’ve previously discovered a void at London Bridge and a time vortex at Liverpool Street but now I’d like to add the Black Hole of Highbury and Islington. Specifically, platforms 3-6, which don’t seem to be at all in evidence between platforms 1-2 and 7-8 on the Overground. Of course, if you dig around, you hear whispers of “deep level” and “Victoria Line” but if those are codenames for “rips in the TfL space-time continuum”, I don’t know what is. All I know is that one side of the coffee hut is Platform 2 and the other side is Platform 7. Spooky.

Speaking of coffee, I was well in need of one by the time we got to Peckham and where better to go than the Dish and the Spoon? It’s finally reopened, after months of flooding torment, and it’s great to see it back. My flat white was smooth as ever and I think I drank it in about two gulps….it had been a long journey with two very talkative children. Coffee was essential. Roo found an X-Man book and sat reading it while eating his chocolate and vanilla cake, and Eva asked for cherry cake but then refused to eat it because…she’s 3 and it’s food. I gratefully gave it a good home.

It’s fair to say that Roo was a *little* overexcited to see Thomas and C. It had been a while but they instantly rebonded over their love of running around in circles shouting loudly. It was time to go to the park. Eva would have been happy at the Dish for ages, playing with the toys in the corner, but three hyperactive 5-year-olds needed to stretch their legs a little. So, I ordered a very yummy bacon ciabatta with tomato relish for lunch and we headed off for a picnic in Peckham Rye Park.

We’d been to the park before with the Marias but I don’t think we had Roo with us and the Adventure Playground bit was on the big side for our then-toddler girls. Even now, I was slightly cautious about the “5 plus” guidelines but it seemed to be full of kids who were nowhere near 5, so we decided to give it a go. I guess you just have to be prepared for much bigger children to be running about and not expect them to have to move around your tiny preschooler. As it was, Eva managed all the climbing bits fine and didn’t cramp the older kids’ style much at all. And we got to sit and have a picnic. Hooray!

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It’s a nice big space, which helps when you have different ages playing together. There’s loads of open grass, huge wooden structures to climb up down and along…and more than one tyre swing, which again helps cut down on conflict. There’s also a small indoor area with a snooker table (over 7s only) and there’s an ice cream van parked just outside. What more could you need?

The older boys were pretty confident on everything, so just ran off for hours exploring the “woods” (a short path that cuts behind a bush then back out again) or hiding under the play frame. Eva needed more hand holding but she liked the little assault course, balancing on logs and chain bridges, and she managed to do most of that by herself. Which isn’t always easy in an Elsa dress. They all came back occasionally, for bites of food or swigs of water, but mainly entertained themselves and each other happily all afternoon.

Which, of course, caused problems when we wanted to leave. It’s a long journey back, so we started going at 3, to avoid the worst of the rush hour, but it was not a popular move. Reuben was particularly distraught, saying that he was having too much fun and that “this place is full of fun”. You can’t ask for a more ringing endorsement.

You might expect the journey back to be a bit fraught, but it wasn’t too bad. We opted for the quiet, slow bus all the way to Farringdon, then a quick hop on the tube to Liverpool Street. We were buggy-free, so could sit upstairs on the 63, where there was plenty of space, and they were both so tired that a long sit down and chill-out with some snacks did them good. By the time we got on the Met Line, they were still pretty zoned out:

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And this pile o’child at Liverpool Street is bordering on the pathetic:

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But the last train came with my secret weapon – doughnuts! Yes, they’d already had cake and ice cream but at 5PM on a crowded train, a doughnut can work wonders for the mood:

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The guy behind is clearly jealous that he doesn’t have one. So, a trip to the South-East with lots of fun and only a few meltdowns? I call that a success…!

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Geronimo Festival! – 24/05/15

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There are probably some LWAT adventures that you read and think “That sounds fun. I too may try to venture out to a small local park at some point. How very manageable” and others that make you wonder if I’ve actually lost my mind. This may be one of the latter. As adventures go, it was a little insane. But also insanely fun. So that’s OK. I’ll tell you about the meltdowns later.

We’ve been to The North a few times lately, most recently on mine and Roo’s Peter Pan trip to Manchester. That time, we took the train and came back the same day. This time, for Geronimo Fest in Tatton Park, we decided to make a full 24 hours of it. With a small amount of travelling time each side. If anyone thinks this sounds badly-planned, then let me direct you to mine and Nathan’s pre-kid holidays, commonly known as the “hit and miss holidays”. Since we’ve had kids, we do at least tend to find somewhere to stay the night and have never yet wound up on the steps of a French train station.

I’m off-track already. Which would precisely have summed up my thoughts half an hour into our epic journey. We’d set out at noon, changing our travel plans at the last minute, thanks to a status update from a Facebook friend saying the M1 was at a standstill. So, we decided to avoid it and take the M11, then the M25. Unfortunately, we also avoided any kind of petrol station on the way and the orange light on the dashboard was giving me a Sheldon-like anxiety. We’re pretty familiar with the M11 from our recent trip and knew there were no services on it. Turning onto the London Orbital, I was frantically googling petrol stations and found one near Waltham Abbey. We turned off and skimmed along the edge of Epping Forest, which bore a startling resemblence to the bit of forest near our house. I tried to ignore that inconvenient truth, as we’d been on the road for 30 minutes and I really didn’t want to imagine that we were no nearer Manchester than we had been when we started. Hang on, did that sign say Chingford? Let’s not take it and stay on the road to HappyDenialLand.

As it happened, we stayed in HappyDenialLand for a long time. All along the M25 as we queued in traffic to get round onto the M40. Traffic is always annoying, but even more so when you’re travelling in the distinctly UnManchesterLike direction of Due South. And the kids had finished all their snacks already. Still, we would be villified once we got onto the M40 and found it blissfully free of all that nasty Bank Holiday traffic snarling up the M1, wouldn’t we?

Yes! We were. In your face, M1. The pain had been all worth it and in another two hours of whinging no time at all, we were breaking for coffee at Warwick Services.

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I always find motorway services to be a bit lacking in fun spaces to run around in. The only one I’ve found with a play area is Leigh Delamere, and even that had the emphasis on the “area” rather than the “play”. Luckily, Warwick had a little green bit in front of the Days Inn and the sun was shining, so it was a good time for a tree-slalom.

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Then we walked around the back of the hotel, where we were almost certainly not meant to be, and found a load of tree stumps that were almost certainly not meant to be an obstacle course for small children. But again, we made our own fun. In London, you have to pay people to make “natural assault courses” in parks. In the Midlands, they’re just there. The kids blew dandelion fuzz and put daisies in their hair and a good break was had by all. Look how excited Eva was:

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Or insane. One of the two.

I sense you want me to move onto the point of this post, which was the NorthWest’s very first Geronimo festival. So I’ll fast-forward us up the rest of the M6, to Stockport for a night with some old friends, round an entirely incorrect bit of countryside, through the gates and up the driveways of the ginormous Tatton Park…and finally, here we are at Geronimo.

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Yes, that’s us with CBeebies legend and “mother’s favourite” Mr Bloom. He was one of the headlining acts, along with ICanKaty and Cook and Line. Those naughty pirates were on when we got there, so the kids rushed to see them while I signed in at the press tent. When I caught up with them, Roo was ferociously doing the “Swashbuckle Salute”, while Eva had her head buried in Nathan’s shoulder. Apparently pirates scare her. This was news to me but apparently I’ve mentioned it on here before. Must remember that for next time. But anyway, look how excited she was to find the “Frozen” bouncy castle in the VIP area:

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So, of course they needed to have a bounce before I jostled with the other mothers to see HisBloomness:

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I’d like to point out that my interest in Mr Bloom is purely to collect another CBeebies presenter, which is kind of an ongoing project of ours. I can’t speak for the other mothers. I was hoping to meet ICanKaty too, but at the time of her Meet and Greet we were at the other end of the field, getting thoroughly distracted by these daring fellows:

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That’s Danny Butler and his little brother Ashley, who have clearly carried over some kind of childhood-Monopoly-grudge into their careers. Danny, Ash may have stolen Park Lane off you but that’s no reason to sacrifice him under the wheels of your weird, seatless bike. Also, I’m getting the impression you’re not too bothered about becoming an uncle, given the positioning of your back tyre.

Sibling rivalries aside, it was an impressive show as they bunny-hopped onto the roof of their trailer. Reuben tried to recreate this stunt later:

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It didn’t go well.

It was very nearly lunchtime and we’d already dragged Reuben out of the Brio tent to go and eat before we’d been sucked into the extreme mountain-biking. There’s a lot to distract you at Geronimo. I’ve also skipped straight past Eva’s favourite moment of the day so let’s take a look at it now:

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Just how thrilled was Eva to have her photo taken with Queen Elsa? Very, very thrilled. I was thrilled too as that means we don’t have to go to Disneyland. Eva keeps asking to look at this photo and I love it too. Nathan was mostly excited to see a Punch and Judy booth that had last been spotted outside our local Tesco last Autumn. Small world.

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A quick break for lunch then, back in the VIP tent where I unpacked our picnic (see, there was some planning) and were given a free CD by Luke and Emma, from Cartoonito. I have to confess I wasn’t 100% sure who they were as we don’t watch much Cartoonito – as Reuben once pointed out at a LazyTown launch. Nothing against it, we’re just Beebies loyalists. So as they came to our table, Nathan was googling them to check who they were. Embarrassing. But we will definitely put the preschool pop CD on in the car. In fact, I almost suggested it on the way home before realising the kids were asleep and that would be a crazy thing to do.

All fed, we headed out for another explore. Eva was most keen to look at this giant, animatronic pig which terrified me:

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Meanwhile, Roo and Nathan were busy in the Sea Life/Legoland dome. Roo loves lego and his topic this term at school is “Under the Sea”, so it was the perfect tent for him. It was a little crowded in there – Sea Life and Legoland could really have done with a tent each. Still, they had fun making superheroes and I vandalised someone else’s Lego masterpiece to make my own. I don’t know what “SPR” stands for, but it was the work of a few seconds to turn it into a tribute to the Super Furry Animals:

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ICanKaty’s show had started on the main stage, so Eva asked to go down there. But halfway down the slope, she froze. Katy was talking about her CBeebies colleagues and had asked the crowd “Who likes Mr Tumble?”. I looked at Eva, stopped in her tracks, and she squeaked out “I don’t yike Mr Tumble”. It took a little persuasion to convince her that Justin wasn’t about to appear and befriend her but eventually she came down the hill to watch the show. And do some dancing! And the sun came out!

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Roo and Nathan came down to join us, and we all watched Junior Frood busting out some moves. It would later inspire Roo to laucnh his own street dance routine on the Baby Ballet stage. I won’t post the video here.

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But I will say that Eva enjoyed holding hands with the teddies of Baby Ballet, and they both liked doing some colouring. Eva also really liked getting a flag to go with her windmill:

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Time was moving on, but there was so much we hadn’t seen yet. Next stop was the Motobike arena, where both kids were fitted with helmets before going for a scoot on some balance bikes. Reuben had a brief meltdown about the lack of pedals, till we explained that they were meant to be like that. I think the bike might have been a tad low for him and those long legs he’s just grown.

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Then he tried to recreate the extreme biking stunts he’d seen earlier. As I said, it didn’t go well.

So, what next? Roo was keen to go on the helter skelter so while he and Nathan queued, Eva and I hung out in the open-air lounge, complete with piano:

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And some Shetland ponies, obviously. The helter skelter queue was quite long, but by the time we’d seen the ponies and played on the piano, the boys were almost at the front. I’d expected Roo to freak out at the top and refuse to go down, but I have clearly underestimated my lad:

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Our last stop of the day was the Circus Zone. Roo and I had visited earlier, while Eva and Nathan were ensconced in the Pimms bus, and I had stunned Roo with my complete lack of diablo skills. So when we returned, we watched the actual professionals instead:

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It’s OK, she did actually have a head. She’s just really bendy. The red light in there made it tricky to get any decent shots, but the acrobats were pretty awesome and we all loved the cheery Mexican juggler. Nathan wasn’t sure about the mime artists, but Nathan is never sure about mime. It was a total bonus, having a whole circus act as part of the festival. Don’t need to visit the one in Chingford now either. See, this is a total money saving venture.

Then we went back to the Circus Skills area, where Nathan picked up some plate-spinning tips:

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Then he picked up that plate. A few times. We were all getting tired and it had been a big old day. So we stopped back at the press tent to pick up our goody bags, which the kids were super-happy with. Eva’s been playing with her LaLaLoopsy dolls and craft kit all day. We piled some sticky, happy, knackered kids back into the car and headed for London.

And the way home? Let’s skim over that. There may have been an ill-timed Intention to Wee notice that saw Eva squatting on her potty on a grass verge in Sutton Coldfield. There may have been a Nandos in that same Sutton Coldfield, opposite the ASK restaurant where Nathan and I had had a romantic but morning-sicknessy dinner date 6 and a half years before. There may have been a fault with the frozen yoghurt machine, which led to all kinds of heartbreak. There was definitely a lot of driving. And the kids definitely fell asleep super-late, just as “Yellow Submarine” came on. And Nathan and I definitely sang along to it anyway.

An epic trip out then – 24 hours in the North, peppered with exciting celebrities and fun things to do. Geronimo feels smaller than LolliBop and less full-on, but there was still so much there that we didn’t have time to do it all. The Inflatable Village and the Adrenalin Zone were sadly neglected by us. We just ran out of time and energy. It was an insane thing to try and do in a weekend but I have no regrets. The kids loved it and so did we, even with the 12 hours of driving. We’ll definitely do it again next year!

 

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May Half Term Preview

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I had a crazy revelation today.  I’ve been feeling like I’m losing my mind because how could it be nearly half term already when I swear it was just Easter? Is it time speeding up as I age towards an inevitable decline?  Have the weeks become days and the days become hours?

No. It’s just been a really short half term. Tomorrow it’ll have been a month since Roo started back at school after Easter. And thanks to bank holidays, school trips, election days and stomach bugs he’s actually been at school for just 19 days.One of which was Sports Day. So I’m not going mad, and it’s amazing I’ve got any work done at all, quite frankly.

So, if you feel like I feel I’ve got the antidote. Actually, I don’t have any antidotes. Maybe an anecdote, if you’re lucky. What I do have is some fun ideas for filling half term up so that before you know it, they’re back at school.

To start off, let’s try and answer an eternal question. Where’s Wally? Turns out he’s at the ArcelorMittal Orbit- that red squiggly thing in the Olympic Park which is no friend to people who don’t like spelling. They are running a special event all through half term – from 23rd-30th May –  in conjunction with the very wonderful Discover Centre. There will be games and activities every afternoon from 12 to 4 and if you dress as Wally you get in for just a pound! Beware though – there are strict “minimum costume requirements” of a red stripy t-shirt, Wally glasses, blue trousers and a hat. If you don’t already own those items, that could be a bit of a false economy…

For those of you who have actual toddlers about the place, I’ve heard great things about Planeta Ka down at the Unicorn Theatre in Southwark. It’s an interactive theatre show about some aliens landing and discovering a new world. It’s very touchy feely and suitable for 1-3s. Of course, if all your children are under 3 then things like half terms are probably not yet on your spaceship’s radar. But what the heck, let’s shoehorn it in there anyway. Slick this is not.

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Fun for all the family next, with a free street theatre show in Walthamstow. “Walthamstow Firsts” is an open air performance from Slap Haddock, the people who brought you the very silly but very enjoyable “Night at the Pictures“. Celebrating Walthamstow’s heritage as the birthplace of Andrex, they’ll be setting out their stall in the Town Square, along with the rest of Europe’s longest street market (fact, factfans!). And yes, that’s a literal stall. Catch them there between 27th and 30th May, 11-3.

I have given this next event a few plugs but never managed to actual turn up…until now! It’s the third outing of IndieTots in Peckham and I can’t wait to mooch around, gazing at my shoes and explaining to Reuben what an “arab strap” is. Join us!

And if none of this tickles your fancy, you know there’s the old reliables – the Science Museum, Horniman Museum and Natural History Museum are all running family activities over half term. Or just enjoy the inevitable rain guaranteed sunshine in our of London’s glorious parks. Bring waterproofs suncream….

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Geronimo is Coming!

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Just a quick reminder that the first ever Geronimo Festival is happening THIS WEEKEND at Tatton Park, Cheshire. Headlining are CBeebies’ Mr Bloom, Katy Ashworth and Cook and Line from “Swashbuckle”. We’ll be there on the Sunday, so if you see a Spiderman with a yellow cap on, dragging a sulky Elsa behind him…that’s us. Say hello.

There are still tickets available so book now! See you there.

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Wanstead Park – 01/05/15

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Did I mention that we are approaching the age of Maximum Whinge? Well, don’t worry if you missed it…there’ll be plenty later on in the post.

Our destination yesterday was Chalet Wood, Wanstead Park, to see the spectacular bluebell carpet before they all wilted. Our aims were 1) to get there and 2) to not cause any permanent damage. Despite the picture above, we achieved 2). She just about managed to tiptoe through the bluebells without trampling them. 1) was harder to achieve. Let’s blame SatNav.

It was a rare day in that Nathan was off work and Reuben was at school…so it was the three of us that were driving round the North Circular to Wanstead. Except that the three of us got in the wrong lane and ended up on the M11. Like I said, we’ll blame SatNav. The M11 does have a turn off before you hit Cambridge, but not that long before. It was certainly countryside that we found ourselves in, and I was making rapid mental adjustments that involved the Hainault Country Park or that park with the sandpit in Chigwell that someone once told me about. But the wrong turn or two only strengthened Nathan’s determination to Stick To The Plan.

Luckily, no more wrong turns presented themselves and we found our way not only back down the M11, but the A406, the A12 and some other other little roads that led to us to a rural-looking carpark. If it sounds like a long way, it really wasn’t. But it was a touch more scenic than Plan A.

And here was the carpark we found ourselves in:

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From there, you have four ways to go and there’s no obvious sign pointing towards the bluebell woods. One way, though, is clearly off limits:

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So, we took the middle option – a little track which didn’t quite have the reassuring look of the main path or the access road. But, despite Nathan’s misgivings, it went exactly where we wanted it to. The bluebell woods!

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Now, I may have mentioned a slight countryside phobia of mine before, and I’m sure that part of it is to do with watching the Ruth Rendell mysteries when I was younger. They were filmed around the Hampshire countryside, so whenever I think of the woods around Winchester, I imagine a corpse turning up in them. I’ve learnt to engage with nature by only visiting  bits of countryside with phone reception and a tube line  and this wood ticked both boxes. So, you’ll be pleased to know I didn’t even think about the Inspector Wexford mysteries in this bluebell wood. Nup, Broadchurch all the way. I was expecting FencePost Lee to turn up any second, chasing a young girl about.

Luckily, he didn’t.  Our own young girl had fun though, sticking mainly to the paths and looking at the pretty flowers. There are a few wigwams dotted about, which she really liked:

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It was 10ish by this point, and well time for coffee. So, we made our way to the open space beyond the wood, in search of the cafe. I googled it on the way (see! phone reception!) and saw that it was a kiosk, rather than a cafe. That didn’t bode well for people who’d spent all their cash on a Jumble Trail and an oven. Sure enough, it didn’t take card and so Nathan and I made do with a packet of M&Ms from my pocket between us. Eva, as ever, had her snack box with her. And we had a pretty view:

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And we found some goslings! Eva was happy with those:

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But what she wasn’t happy with was the lack of playground. I’d kinda assumed there would be one, but another quick google proved my assumption wrong. Eva seemed to think I’d promised to take her to somewhere called “Tunnel Park” but as I didn’t even know where that was, I very much doubt I’d promised it.

This logic did not sit well with whingey girl. There was whinging. Even a pretty fountain failed to distract her for long:

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So, we elicited some clues from her – it had a tunnel, it had a boat, she’d been there – and concluded it was likely to be Bisterne Avenue Park in Walthamstow. I showed her a photo of it on my phone and she stropped and said it wasn’t Tunnel Park. Nathan showed her the exact same photos and she perked up and said that was it. Gah, 3-year-olds.

We had nothing better to do with our day, so walked back to the car to attempt Tunnel Park. But there was one more strop to be had on the way. It involved this stick:

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Look how optimistic she is in this photo. Surely, someone is going to help her carry this giant stick back to the car. Someone in a parental vein, maybe?

Sorry duckling, no. Never collect anything bigger than yourself unless it’s a statue of David Tennant made out of chocolate. We made her leave the stick. The resulting scene was ugly.

Fortunately, a small miracle happened. We drove a few minutes to Bisterne Avenue and, for once, Mummy and Daddy had got it right. For this was Tunnel Park! She was immediately happy:

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And Nathan took the opportunity for a quick nap:

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Before spending some time perfecting his “Sherlock on Dartmoor” pose:

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Eva enjoyed a good play – there was a shark for her to jump on (she didn’t get the reference), a pirate ship, a zip wire to fall off and some nice natural play features.

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There’s also a wild bit at the back, just in case she hadn’t had enough nature for a day. She could have climbed all day but dagnam, we still hadn’t had coffee. Time to roll down the hill to Lot 107.

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We were pretty much reenacting the last day we had spent without Reuben – hanging out in Wood St, playing on the pirate ship then going to the cafe for coffee. It’s now going to be our “day without Reuben” cafe, and our “day without Reuben” park. Sorry Roo. Sucks to be at school.

Lot 107 is a lovely cafe. It was full of parents and children and has a kids’ menu, so you feel totally welcome, unlike another cafe in the Wood Street area I’m not going to mention. Eva insisted on a highchair and enjoyed a sausage sandwich with Ribena:

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There’s everything you need for toddler visits – a changing table, plastic plates and cutlery, lots of highchairs. And toys! After she’d picked the sausage out of her sandwich, we went into the garden at the back and she joined a small boy in playing with some cars. She chose one that she said was “our car” and it was actually pretty close:

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The outdoor space isn’t huge, but it has about four picnic tables in and will be lovely for summer. The staff were all super-friendly and it was definitely an easy dining experience. It pays to be child-friendly in this bit of Walthamstow, I think…

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(As an aside, I just went onto Twitter and saw that “Ruth Rendell dies” is trending. Oh good grief, I was talking about her just up there ^^. Is it just me, or is that weird??)

Anyway, spookiness aside it was a fun morning out. Then we went to Chingford, entirely pointlessly, so let’s skim over that. The bluebells will be wilting soon so get down there in the next few days if you want to see the spectacle of nature. Alternatively, if you have an ungrateful child you can just skip the woods and go straight to Tunnel Park…

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May Mayhem

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Yes, May is almost upon us, which means I have a very nearly 3-year-old. She’s been gearing up to be 3 for a long time, what with the constant questions and the whinge button stuck on, but this means I may actually not have a toddler anymore. The blogging implications are terrifying.

So I’m going to gloss over them and instead tell you about some fun things to do in May and June.

Starting with something on Roo’s birthday….there’s a theme here. The Union Chapel in Islington plays host to a silly six piece that goes by the name of “Mrs H and the Sing Along Band“. It’s a free family event, and promises “tomfoolery and theatrical delights”. I like tomfoolery. 14th June at 3pm.

Next up, the launch of a new community space this weekend in Walthamstow. Part of the “Blackhorse Village” redevelopment, Gnome House will be home to a cafe, a printmaking workshop and community rooms for hire. And they’re having a party to celebrate! Saturday 2nd May, 2pm-11pm. It gives you something to do while your pet geek is busy claiming their free comic books…I think my boys are hitting Forbidden Planet together. Nathan is so proud.

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For whimsical toddler fun, the live show of “Ben &Holly’s Little Kingdom” is heading back to London this May, hitting the Richmond Theatre on May 23rd-24th. It looks lovely, and is from the producers of “Peppa Pig’s Big Splash” so should be a hit with your small ones. The same weekend sees the first ever Geronimo Festival up north in Tatton Park, Cheshire. It’s full of CBeebies favourites, like ICanKaty, Mr Bloom and CBeebiesAlex. Get tickets now before they sell out!

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Also, the delightful Mrs McMoon is back on tour with her madcap biscuit-baking – she hits the artsdepot in North Finchley on 10th May and the Polka Theatre, Wimbledon on 16th and 17th May. I hear her friend Signor Baffo is also swinging by Brentford on 31st May. For more information on both productions, have a look here.

You also have a few more chances to go to a Big Fish Little Fish rave before they pack up the Fishmobile and head out to the festivals for the summer. There are three upcoming parties – Shapes in Hackney on May 10th, The Bedford in Balham on May 17th and Paperworks, SE1 on June 14th. You know where to book.

Meanwhile, if all this May is sounding too much for you and you can’t face the thought of 31 days of it, why not try “May in a Day” at Cecil Sharp House? Combining English and Brazilian folk traditions, there should be music, maypole dancing and merriment. And possibly an ox of some sort. I’m unclear on that point. It’s 9th May, from 2pm-5pm.

And don’t forget that LWAT favourite The Dish and the Spoon is back in action and open this Bank Holiday Monday as usual. Get on down there and try the triple layer chocolate and vanilla cake…it’s even gluten free. Yum.

Have a lovely bank holiday!

 

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