Plaza Park – 19/04/14

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We like to be the first to try things out. We got into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as soon as it opened – albeit unintentionally - and I get annoyed if we’re late to the party on London-y, toddler-y things. So when I heard that a playground was reopening in Walthamstow’s Trendy Wood Street TM, I wanted to be there for the opening party.

2014-04-19 12.31.32So we were there. So were many other people – there was a steel band, a gospel choir and a magician. There was a cake stall and lots of local groups like the scouts and the police but all Reuben was interested in was the playground and he and Nathan headed in that direction. Although apparently he stopped to dance to “We wanna see Jesus lifted high” by the gospel choir, saying “I know this song from kids church!”. I was busy talking to some people who were putting together an art installation that’s going to be on in the indoor market. It involved them filming me talking about my favourite film – the one with the singing nun and the unruly youths. So I missed Reuben dancing and his discovery of a giant, seesaw affair which is powered by several children rushing from one side to another:

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In this picture, there aren’t several children – just one adult, so you don’t really get the full effect of it. But Reuben thought it was pretty cool. There were also wooden animals, several climbing frames and a lot of little doors cut into the fence, which were just perfect for losing a child through.

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Where was Eva? Well, this is becoming a recurring theme whenever we go to an exciting new East London park...

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Do take a moment to consider the full glory of those leggings though. X will be jealous that they haven’t yet made their way to her family.

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So, Eva slept, I listened to the gospel choir singing  80s classic “Jesus, We Celebrate Your Victory” and Reuben span himself until he felt so dizzy that he had to lie down:

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Then we spotted another play area on the other side. This was designed for bigger kids, with swings you could stand on, and a giant hamster ball. As Reuben said “It’s like a hamster ball but bigger. It’s for people!” People that like to trip over their own feet and fall over, as Reuben demonstrated.

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He was OK. Better than the teenager that ran full pelt into the metal gate anyway. I think everybody cringed at that. It even woke Eva up, who indicated that she wanted to play, but could be persuaded to stay in her buggy as long as the next stop was the cake stall:

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Mmm, cake-y. The cakes were from Aura Rosa, and they were awesome. I had a vanilla sponge with raspberry and meringue topping and Nathan had the swiss roll (above). The kids enjoyed their cupcakes too:

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It was time to run off some of that sugar, so we went back to the playground and Eva got a chance to try out the climbing frame:

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She kept sliding down that white bit, before we persuaded her to use the actual slide:

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And then it all went badly wrong. Roo was back on the spinny thing, and Eva wanted on. I should have been watching more carefully, but had just seen an exciting pregnancy announcement on Facebook, so looked up in time to see Eva faceplant on the wooden base.

There was blood. It was a bit nasty. She still has all her teeth, but she also has a fat lip. It was time to go home.

None of which is Plaza Park’s fault. It’s a great new addition to the Walthamstow play scene and on a handy bus route from our house. We’ll be back.


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Leyton Jubilee park – 14/04/14

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Leyton…the name just evokes images of glamour and rock n roll, doesn’t it? Well, the second bit is covered as the bassist from the band I like to call “The Maiden” comes from Leyton but the glamour? Prior to our visit on Monday, the only experience I had of Leyton was being stuck on the A12 on the way up to Norfolk once, when there had been an accident. It took us three hours to get from Leyton to Leytonstone, and our view was a concrete embankment and the glimpse of a giant Next. For entertainment we had only one kinder egg between five of us, which we made last for around two hours, playing quizzes and competitions for each bite or part of the toy. That was five and a half years ago and we haven’t been back since.

(What? You thought that was since we had kids? Nah…a kinder egg wouldn’t last two minutes around here nowadays…)

But now we were EastEnders we needed to explore the East End and I’d heard tales of an ancient pirate vessel marooned in a park in the aforementioned Leyton. OK, a brand new pirate vessel in the brand new Jubilee Park. It’s not the most obvious place to find, and is further off Lea Bridge Rd than google maps would have you believe, but if you’re on the 158 route it goes straight there.We aren’t, and our route was a bit roundabout. We got there in the end though:

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You might notice that Reuben has dressed for the occasion. Eva was too, albeit it in a more subtle way..and she had fallen asleep by the time we reached the park, leaving the pirate ship wide open for Roo:

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It’s a climbing frame in the shape of a ship rather than a climbable ship in the style of the Diana playground but it was lots of fun. There are no benches around it so I sat on the grass next to snoozy girl and Reuben went off adventuring, stopping only to drop off his sword and eyepatch when they got in his way.

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It’s a complex beast, with fences dividing the toddler-friendly bits from the bits with sheer drops. This frustrated Eva no end when she woke up – she could climb the steps and potter through the middle but then was faced with either a big step or a fence. It’s a good idea to keep toddlers safe, but try explaining that to the toddlers. Reuben was big enough to climb over the fences and so had the run of the whole thing but Eva was restricted to the very same part as two ten-year-olds were using to have a fight. It wasn’t the most violent of brawls (they spent a long time discussing whereabouts they should have the fight before starting) but tween fighting seems to follow us around – two weeks ago it was a full-on catfight in Lloyd park that resulted in the police being called out. This had no danger of turning that way, but wasn’t the best thing to be happening around Eva…so we decided to check out the other side of the park instead.

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The other area seemed more geared towards toddlers, but with an unusual feature – slides that toddlers couldn’t actually get on to. There was a little one that was just Eva’s side, but access was through a maze of balancing beams rather than steps:

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Even Roo couldn’t get onto it (but then he is a bit unco-ordinated). Other slides had scramble nets to get to them, or were built into hills with no steps cut in. There wasn’t much that a 2-year-old could access absolutely independently. Which is strange, because it’s a very nice and child-friendly natural play area:

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Eva’s favourite thing was a wooden recreation of the Stratford Rhubarb, which she spent ages peeking out of:

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Reuben, meanwhile, was doing his cardio work on the mini treadmill. Because he never normally physically exerts himself, obviously. Apart from being a constant whirlwind from dawn to dusk…

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And I managed to get Eva onto a slide, by pushing her up a scramble net far too big for her. She repaid me for this favour by sitting on the slide and refusing to slide down it, just wobbling precariously next to the top of the net.

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So, a bit of an odd strategy – five slides and no steps on any of them. Obviously some were aimed at older kids, but even then some kids just don’t like scramble nets (neither do I, as it happens…). Still, they played for a long time there, dipping in and out of the trenches, wobbling on the bridges and just running about. It was almost time to go home, but before we did I wanted to check out yet another play area, on the other side of the “showground”.

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Now, this really was aimed at older kids (it was an adventure trail for 8+) but seeing as it wasn’t busy, mine decided to give it a go too:

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The slope was quite steep, and I was happy about Eva going down it on her bottom before I noticed a smattering of broken glass about the place. After that, I encouraged her to stick to the gentle pursuit of gathering sticks:

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While Reuben went down the big slide again and again…still dressed as a pirate:

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And swung on the swing:

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Time was moving on and the kids had eaten lunch, but I hadn’t, and Kate gets cross when she’s hungry. i’d hoped there’d be a cafe in the park but there wasn’t even an ice cream van (Reuben did ask). So we headed off and tried to get the 158 back…but it was full of buggies, so we ended up on the 58 back to Walthamstow mall instead, where we went to Asda for lunch and ice cream with the pigeons. A very East London day out.

VERDICT: A welcome addition to the regenerated East London parkscape, but some of the equipment could be more accessible for the under 3s.

More details here (official site)


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London Without a Toddler – A Week in the 90s

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Warning:this MSP review may contain traces of pretension. Avoid if you have a pretension allergy or intolerance.

My phone tells me it’s 2014. I’m not sure I believe it…the evidence around me suggests that we are in 1998..or somewhere around there. Nathan’s on the scene so it’s definitely late 90s but my laptop gets the internet from a wire and my app of choice involves a blocky snake chasing bits of food. We are most definitely pre-millennial. Luckily it’s not just me -the rest of the country seems stuck in this time warp too, setting our VCRs for “mad fat diary”, listening to “parklife” and mourning Cobain afresh.
Take the club night we went to last week. I know what you’re thinking… Middle-aged parents have no business going clubbing. But this was a club specifically for middle-aged parents.. . It was local, it finished early and it almost exclusively played songs from the decade of “Trainspotting”, vintage trainers and “The Day We Caught the Train” I hesitate to tell you more in case it sells out even quicker next time but it’s named after a pulp song and if you can work it out, you can come. You can even bring your baby daddy, as long as you can get hold of a babysitter. They’re in hot demand among the ageing indie kids of the north-east.
Talking of stuff I didn’t take the baby daddy too, let’s get onto that manics review. It is 1998 after all, and teenage Kate and teenage Nathan have just gathered around the radio, along with a friend, to hear the brand new MSP single inspired by a war 62 years earlier and 1000 miles away.

The single was, in a word, disappointing. It didn’t stop us going to see them that autumn, aggressively dressed in the “old manics” uniform of feathers, leopard print and eyeliner. I’ll readily admit that I’m not a true “old” fan – I was 11 when “Generation Terrorists” came out – but after loving “Everything Must Go” I dug into their back catalogue and found I had more in common with the spray-painted messes than with my Ben Sherman-clad contemporaries. Nathan claims to be a proper old fan. Whatever.

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Back in what is apparently 2014, the divide between old and new still shows…and the pain caused by “This is My Truth” still rankles. I’m at Brixton with my Bro, who was never a militant glitter- wearer (it didn’t go with the beard) and it’s perhaps unfortunate that it’s me, not him, who is sitting next to the most stereotypical “Truth” fan I could imagine. I had a feeling we might annoy each other and I’ll save you the suspense… We did. He whooped and shook sensible-shirted shoulders for the hits of 1998, I refused to sing a word of those and saved my energy for dying in the summertime and staying beautiful.

And yes, we were sitting. We are getting old. And it had been a long day of hauling buggies up the steps of South London stations and negotiating massive hills…so I was mainly glad if a seat. But every other song made me want to bust out and dance. Note every other song…

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But to the gig itself! The support band were Scritti Polliti, who I’ve rarely had any interest in…and I’m still not sure I’m interested in them.  But they were a perfectly nice warm-up to the main event, which started in a Manics-like way with a video of a waif-like girl wandering around some abandoned coal mines. The Manics are Welsh, apparently. And they come from a mining village. You may see this theme repeating itself a few times.

And then they appeared! Well, I assume it was them. We were quite far away and James was wearing a very shiny suit so really, it could have been Shane Ritchie for all I knew.  There did seem to be a few too many of them, but even from a distance I was pretty confident that the spare guitarist wasn’t the one they used to have. That would have been a bit of a coup.There was also a keyboard player – is it all getting a bit much for James, playing all those bits himself?

He said nothing, but launched straight into the glorious opening riff of “Motorcycle Emptiness”. I suddenly wished I was downstairs with the moshers but I wasn’t so I seat-danced instead. The man next to me looked on blankly. If it had been the night after, things would have been so different as it looks like they started with That Song. But no, the consumerist gods were smiling on me, and I got to enjoy a few minutes of glorious generation terrorism before Truth Man next door got to wave his hands in the air to “You Stole the Sun From My Arse Heart”. Bro told me off for a) sulking and b) hollering the ruder version. It kinda set the tone for the evening – quality songs, alternated with weaker ones and Truth Man and I taking it in turns to punch the air. The sublime “No Surface, All Feeling” was followed by the OK “(It’s not Love) Just the End of War” and then James announced a new song “Europa Geht Durch Mich”, in which he was duetting with a “little box.” A little German box, in fact. Or rather a box containing the voice of German actress Nina Hoss. I’m a bit split on this new song – the English lyrics were so very naff that I couldn’t take the rest of the song seriously. And in a very MSP, overconfident way, they projected the words up on the screen so we could revel in the full beauty of Nicky Wire’s rhyming skills (“European Hopes/European Roads/European Dreams/European Screams”) and the complete lack of meaning contained within. It was a pity, but the riff wasn’t bad and the bits in German sounded a lot more profound than the rest of it.

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I sometimes wonder if this blog would sound more profound if it was written in German. Ich denke so, weil Deutsch die Sprache des Engels ist…und auch die Sprache der Marx. Wahrscheinlich ist das warum MSP lieb es so. Erste zeit, war die deutsches Teil so viel besser als den English. Ich habe dies Song gegen gehoert und es stimmt doch. Die Worte sind nicht so tief aber in der schoener Sprache von Deutschland haben mehr Bedeutung.

That’s quite enough of that. Next up was “Stay Beautiful”, where James invite the crowd to politely rebuke him during the pause…and they did. They also filled in the gaps when his guitar broke and he had to run off stage to get a different one. It didn’t detract from the loveliness of that most Manics-y of anthems. And “Everything Must Go” straight afterwards was equally lovely.  Next up was the title track from 2011′s “Rewind the Film”, an album we don’t even own. When it was announced, the band said “(If) this record has a relation in the Manics back catalogue, it’s probably the sedate coming of age that was “This is My Truth”". Ask me again why we didn’t buy it.

But we did buy “The Holy Bible” and listened to it a lot. So I was quite excited when Nicky asked if they should do a THB tour. “Yes” we (not Truth Man) roared. “But I’d have to remember all those bass lines” whined Wire. “And I’d have to remember all those words” bemoaned Bradfield. It seemed unlikely then that they would go on to play THREE “Holy Bible” songs during the evening, but that’s what happened. Not just the obvious ones either! They delivered straight away, with “Die in the Summertime”, which I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard them play before (I struggle to remember how many times I’ve seen them before, but I think four times – 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001. Tell me if I’m wrong). Pity it made the next song – “Your Love Alone is Not Enough” – sound even more MOR in comparison. I was relatively pleased to hear “Enola/Alone” next, but not as pleased as a guy in front of us who stood up and flung both hands in the air all the way through it. He really loved “Enola/Alone”. I’ve never seen such enthusiasm for an album track before. He clearly wasn’t that discerning though, as he loved the next track too…and it was that song from 1998. I hear it and I’m catapulted back to my Wednesday evening job in a convenience store, refilling the fags at the end of the night and wondering where it all went wrong (for them).

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It was over quickly, and the stage cleared to make way for JDB’s solo acoustic spot. He started with “This is Yesterday” (HB Track #2!) and segued into a gentle version of “From Despair to Where” before being rejoined by the keyboard player for “This Sullen Welsh Heart” (They’re Welsh?!). Then the rest of the band reappeared for another “Holy Bible” treat – this time “Archives of Pain” – and then the title track from the new album, “Futurology”, followed by “Masses Against the Classes”, which came out while I was at university and I remember being surprised that I actually liked it. But nothing could recapture the raw energy of that first album, as the band acknowledged by showing the video for “You Love Us” as they played it. Again, I felt like I should be dancing. Instead I just punched the air again and gazed at the monochrome gorgeousness of the young Nicky and Richey.

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Then “Tsunami”. Meh.

“Show Me the Wonder” Double Meh.

First live performance of “Let’s Go to War”….. I started thinking about my bed.

Then a double-header of “Motown Junk” and “Design for Life” finished things in style, with me and Truth Man finally finding some common ground on the song that obviously introduced both of us to the wonders of MSP…pity he never bothered to check out the early works, and pity I found the later works a pile of steaming tiger poo. We could have been friends.

So, the gig was – like the band – a mixed bag. There were times of wonder, times of despair and times of mediocrity, but I came out happy. I’ll be booking tickets to that “Holy Bible” tour….

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Mrs McMoon, Greenwich Theatre – 10/04/14

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It’s a sunny day and Reuben and I are on a mission. It will involve wizard trains, singing flowers and a pirate ship and we’re still planning on getting back in time for nursery at 1. That’s the kind of determination that sees us on a packed commuter train at 8.45. Stuck on Clapton marshes. Everyone was getting tetchy  but it couldn’t spoil our respective good moods. While the business people around us tutted and sighed, we looked over the prickly green fields, where it seems like London has finished forever, and speculated on why rail tracks are made of rocks. Anyone know?

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Eventually we made it into Liverpool St and skipped towards Bank to catch that most exciting of all trains…The wizard train. It’s a fair trek through Bank station to find it, and we passed several “way out” signs. Or at least it felt like a lot when Reuben read every one out loud and asked whether we were getting out that way. I pointed out that we hadn’t got on the train yet, which you generally do before trying to exit the tube system, but we’d walked far enough to feel like we didn’t need a train. Of course, with the wizard train it’s less about need and more about want…You could entertain a small child all day by riding round with no particular place to be. In fact that’s probably the best way to ride it. If you do have somewhere to be, it can feel meandering and infuriatingly slow. But we had just enough time, even with the delays, so we held on tight for the uphill ride, “wheeeeed” round corners, spotted boats and generally had a lovely time. We reached Cutty Sark with a little less time than was ideal but that would be fine as long as we didn’t have 120 steps to climb, followed by an oyster pad treasure hunt.
Kids, when the signs say “Escalator out of order, follow signs to lift” for goodness’ sake follow the signs to the lift. We didn’t think the stairs looked too high so started up them, along with a pair of similarly ambitious pensioners. That none of us had a heart attack on the way is a testament to both the personal training skills of Alice Becker and some True British Grit. To add insult to calf ache, we couldn’t touch out at the top and so had to follow the road round to the right, then go through the arcade to find the other end of the station. It was by the lift. Remember – follow the signs to the lift.

Our end destination was in sight and it was the Greenwich Theatre,  for a show called “Mrs McMoon”. It’s part of the Children’s Theatre Festival there and it’s playing til Sunday. After that it goes on tour, so you can catch it wherever you are. I didn’t quite know what to expect. Its description of a Scottish granny baking and talking gave me a kind of “Katie Morag” vibe and I thought it would be gentle, sweet and even a little quiet for Reuben. It was actually a lot more physical than that, with lots of participation from the assembled 3-5 year olds. Quiet it was not.

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The experience started in the foyer, where you’re handed a invitation to a tea party at Mrs McMoon’s and advised to bring plenty of silliness. Well, I hadn’t realised I needed to pack anything but luckily silliness is one thing we generally have with us anyway. We admired the giant bear (above) and then went through to the bar area, where there was colouring to Reuben drew a funny face which, as instructed, we later tweeted to Mrs McMoon herself.

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A few minutes later we were invited into to Mrs McMoon’s house, where we found the lady herself, snoring away in her polka dot chair, muttering to herself. The space was surprisingly intimate – just ten or so chairs around the edge, with a space in the middle for the kids to sit. There was nowhere to hide, as one mother found out when Mrs McMoon woke up and stumbled over to sit on her knee. This was a show where everyone would get involved, which kids, of course, adore. There was slapstick, there was improv and there was the great panto staple of “I’m leaving some biscuits here…call me if anyone goes near them.”  That in particular went down with some of the kids, who just relished the idea of telling tales. After Mrs McMoon’s cousin Gilbert fed some to his puppet pet Cyril, one girl stood up and told Mrs McMoon not just that someone had stolen the biscuits but precisely who it was and why. She has the makings of a good prefect. Incidentally, Gilbert bore an astonishing resemblance to Mrs McMoon herself, as did the other relatives that turned up. You have to worry about the size of the gene pool up there in rural Scotland.

Needless to say, those biscuits got eaten a lot and every time, Mrs McMoon replaced them with a sprinkle of flour, an egg and a little song. And through some kind of stage management magic, they cooked before she could even finish her Highland Fling. The kids were astounded. Every time.

There were some brilliant moments, some staged (the singing flowers), some unintentional (the oven door falling open that bit too early). There was a great bit where a bit of banter with the parents led to the answer every one-woman-showster must dread. “What do you do?” she asked a Dad. “I’m an actor” he replied.

There are two ways you could go with this….Either get paranoid that he’s professionally critiquing your every move and avoid eye contact from then on….Or just pick on him all the more. Guess who ended up with a handful of jelly? Of course I spent a few moments wondering whether he was someone I recognised and concluded probably not…But someone turned up later who I assumed was his mother and she did look very familiar. I try not to celeb-spot too much on this blog, especially when celebs are off duty, but if anyone knows who she was, do send me a PM. I’m dying of curiosity.

But back to the show – it was a lot of fun. Reuben jumped up and said random things every so often (“I know your name from Happy Families” was quoted on Twitter) but Mrs McMoon coped well with it all, as well as the girl at the front who – having told tales on cousin Gilbert – begged her not to open the door again, because she just couldn’t be responsible for the biscuits again, with all these naughty relatives wandering around. Actress Katie Grace Cooper handled the tricky preschool crowd with aplomb, changing characters with head-spinning frequency and never going out of character even through technical glitches. I expected it to be a gentle cuddle of a show, but it was a big, mad, comfy bearhug with eggs and flour tossed around with gay abandon. At the end, just when I was thinking I actually did fancy a cuppa, her assistant appeared with a tray of teas for the adults, while Mrs McMoon distributed home-made biscuits and balloons among the kids. It was a great way to end a great show that we both could have happily sat through for far more than 45 minutes.

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But it was time to get back on the wizard train, with a quick stop to look at the Cutty Sark itself. Roo insisted it was a pirate ship and I couldn’t be bothered to argue.  We jumped onto the front of the train, pretended to drive and then Reuben hit a slump and wanted to play the CBeebies app all the way back to Bank. I was enjoying driving the train though…

How to top it all off before dumping him at nursery and heading off to work for the afternoon? Well, a chorizo wrap and some Burger King fries of course. Lunch of champions…

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Exciting News of Excitingness


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I have something to tell you, but it’s a secret. Come close. Closer….now, make me a promise. Not a word to Reuben. Because October is a long way off and we don’t want him to get all excited about something that’s happening then, when he has to wait half a year.

And he will be verrrrrry excited. I’m very excited.

(In case anyone is drawing their own conclusions, let me assure you that it’s not a baby. I might be growing a watermelon, but that’s in a very literal and possibly garden-destroying way)

No, it’s bigger than that. It is giant. Actually, it’s colossal. It’s the biggest squid in the ocean. Have I given it away yet?

Well, here it is…“The Octonauts and the Deep Sea Volcano Adventure” is coming to the stage! That’s right – there is an OCTONAUTS LIVE show on tour this autumn. It starts in Dartford, where I will be taking one very giddy boy, and then tours the country, even popping to another country on the way (well, Wales). You can find out all the details on the official website, but here are the tour dates announced so far:












DERBY Assembly Rooms

HULL New Theatre

TUNBRIDGE WELLS Assembly Hall Theatre

NEW BRIGHTON Floral Pavilion

CREWE Lyceum Theatre

WATFORD Colosseum

STEVENAGE Gordon Craig Theatre

LEICESTER De Montford Hall

SHREWSBURY Theatre Severn

I’m so thrilled that my little nephew will be able to go as well because he adores penguins, and I’m sure he’d love to see his favourite undersea adventurers live on stage. So, it’s a complete joy that the show is stopping at his university town! Don’t eat too many sweets in the interval now, will you? Tickets are starting to go on sale now.

Hatfield House

But there’s more. Yes, more excitement.  Because our favourite children’s festival, LolliBop, has announced its new venue! It’s not in London, but it’s nearby and it looks ace.  LolliBop’s new home is in the leafy environs of Hatfield house, Hertfordshire. It’s on the mainline from Kings Cross, it’s near the A1 and it means that there is space for more fun than ever! Early Bird tickets are now on sale, so get yours before they all sell out. And if you’re not sure whether it’s the kind of thing that will send your small child into a whirl of ecstasy, let me assure you that it will. If you don’t believe me, check out my reviews of LolliBops 2012 and 2013. And have a look at the official website for more details!

Right, I’m off for a lie-down after so much excitement. Get booking now if you don’t want to miss out!


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Easter Holidays 2014

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It’s the Easter holidays! This probably means more to you than it does to me..after all, Reuben has been off school pretty much since the last holiday (new school place coming soon…). But for those of you with actually schooled children, you may want to know how you can fill the next two weeks.

First off, exciting news from the Dish and the Spoon. They’re running a holiday club! On April 17th Becky of Nimble Arts will be hosting a half-day of craft, music and fun where you can drop your 3.5-6-year-old off for 3.5 hours! The session is £25 per child and it’s from 9:30-1:00, and includes lunch. Have a look here for more details. Talking of LWAT faves. there is another Big Fish Little Fish party in Brixton on April 12th but this time at Jamm on Brixton Rd (where Nathan and I once saw Mark Morriss of The Bluetones). The theme is “Dream a Little Dream” so bring your PJs! As with all BFLF events, it runs from 2-4:30

More South-East London excitement in Greenwich, with the Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival. It started last Tuesday and runs until Sat 19th April, with shows  for children of all ages. Reuben and I will be popping down on Thursday to review one of the shows, so more details to come soon.

if you live around Islington, I happen to know there’s an Easter Egg Hunt at Cross St Baptist Church on Good Friday. I may well be there with the kids so be warned – we are competitive, and Eva can sniff out chocolate like a bloodhound.

Of course, there’s a lot going on at the big museums too with daily kids’ activities at the Horniman, as well as their Easter Fair on the 18th and 19th April, complete with bunnies and a craft market. The William Morris Gallery is hosting a craft day for families on 10th April, with tile-making for the under 5s and the British Museum have a week dedicated to Vikings, with drop-in family fun in the Great Court. The Science Museum and Natural History Museum are always favourites over the holidays, but be aware they get super-busy so get there early to avoid queues and bring your own food (there are picnic areas in both)

In the very unlikely scenario that we get some spring-like weather, there is also some exciting new park action, with more bits of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park just opening, as well as the new pirate ship in Jubilee Park Leyton that we still haven’t got to. We’re hoping to go next week, but may involve some co-operation from the Great British Spring…

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But for rainy days at home, you might want to consider investing in a game or two. I’ve come across “Bunny Jump” from University Games, which sounds like fun – Reuben loves “Frogs Frenzy”, where he can hammer levers to his heart’s content, and Eva likes to say “rabbit” a lot so I suspect they’d both enjoy this fast-paced game, where you have to try and catch the bunny as he leaps from his burrow. Available on April 24th!

As with all the holiday posts, I’ll be updating this as I find out about more things going on, so if you’re running a child-friendly event in London this Easter, drop me a line and I’ll include it in the guide!


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Sensing Spaces – 02/04/14

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I’m a little late to the party on this one, and I hate being late to parties (unless it’s the kind of party that takes a while to get going….you don’t want to be making awkward conversation right at the start). I blame the move, but fact is this exhibition has been on since January and every toddler and his wife has been already. It closes on April 6th, so this post will almost certainly be irrelevant as soon as I’ve written it. But there are some pretty pictures and some tips on where not to buy a sandwich. That alone makes it worth a read, right?

<puts in space for the less-committed readers to exit page right>

The exhibition in question is “Sensing Spaces” at the Royal Academy, and it’s all about the feel of architectural spaces. I don’t understand art so I never quite know what does and doesn’t count as art. Apparently a load of plastic straws does. Either way, I’ve heard enthusiastic reports about the touchy-feely nature of it, which has scored quite a hit with toddlers and I felt the urge to take my own toddler and boy there to road test it.

Our day began somewhere fairly uninteresting, but let’s pick it up at the point where we’re leaving Green Park tube in the glorious spring sunshine:

2014-04-02 10.06.52PAINTFor anyone planning on doing the same thing with a buggy, don’t follow the signs to the Royal Academy as that involves steps. Instead, you can get the ramp out into the park itself, and follow the path up to the road without a single step from train to street. Getting off the Victoria Line is far easier than the Jubilee, and you don’t feel like you’ve completed a 100km Challenge by the time you hit daylight. The only problem here is getting across Piccadilly itself – it’s a crazily busy road that has traffic lights for the vehicles but no pedestrian crossings. So you pretty much have to just wait for the cars to have a red and run. Then wait patiently to cross tiny Berkeley St, which does have a red man. Curses on you, Westminster traffic planners.

But it was worth it for a wander down one of London’s best window-shopping streets – ridiculously expensive jewellery, piles of macaroons, wealthy people brunching – you can see it all on Piccadilly. And the Royal Academy is quite picturesque too:

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We were meeting Maria and Niamh there, and Maria remarked that it had a certain Kievian feel about it – all grand plazas and columns. But it’s OK – there were some authentically London-y pigeons about the place so you knew where you were. And so we went to buy our tickets. A word of warning  – I hadn’t really registered that you had to pay for this, but that’s probably because I don’t go to art exhibitions very often. It’s £14 for an adult (or more if you Gift Aid), which is on the steep side if you’re not expecting it. But under-12s are free, so mentally divide that ticket price between the total number of people you’re taking in with you. Was it worth it? Possibly not that much, but it was definitely a fun exhibition and very unusual. Plus, we’d been to the Lego event for free, so I didn’t mind paying. As a side note, the lift was out of order so we took the stairs but the staff did offer to take us round to the other lift. There are quite a few steps to get up to the exhibit space, and a cheeky boy hidden behind a pillar:

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I didn’t know quite how to explain to Reuben what we were going to, so I didn’t try. We just wandered through the dark room and the bright room, before he found the first prize of the day – the hidden stairs:

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“What stairs?” I hear you ask. Well, take a look at the legs of that giant table above – each one is a spiral staircase, which brings you out on top of the structure. You’re close to the gold-leafed ceiling and there are special peep holes to look through to see features of the architecture. Our favourite was a gold angel who appeared to be holding a duck:

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And here’s Reuben, staying still long enough for me to photograph him:

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That didn’t happen very often. At the back of the viewing platform, there are ramps going back down to the floor and Roo discovered these pretty quickly. By the time I’d gone up the stairs with ToddlaGirl Roo was missing….but I could hear him. A faint sound of “wheeeeee!” as he ran back down the ramps. So we followed and got back down, only to hear him running around the top again. I think he was overexcited. I called for him to stop, and finally pinned him down at the top, where we had enough time to look at the duck-angel, just about. As you’ll see a few times, this exhibition really treads a fine line between art and playground and I felt sorry for anyone who was trying to enjoy the aesthetics in quiet contemplation. Reuben rarely does quiet and he does contemplation even more rarely. But running down ramps is one thing he’s good at.

The next room tipped right over into the playground side. It was a plastic tunnel with plastic straws sticking out of it. I don’t get how it’s art. But then, I don’t get art. What is was was lots of fun – the three kids grabbed straws and played for 30 minutes or so in and around the tunnel. They twisted the straws, stuck them into the holes in the tunnel, waved them around and relaxed on the straw-seats:

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Eva pointed at them and said “bubble-wrap” (can you tell she’s moved house recently?) but they really were just made up of lots more straws, compressed into a honeycomb pattern like the tunnel itself. Surprisingly comfortable to sit on but bubble wrap would be more comfortable. I did some creating too, producing a quite lovely straw-necklace. I’m paranoid that Maris is going to steal my idea for her jewellery business, so do keep an eye on in case this appears:

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Meanwhile, Maria herself was ace-ing the straw weaving, taking tips from the man who was seemingly employed to make lanterns out of drinking straws all day. It wasn’t a patch on my beautiful necklace, but I was grudgingly impressed:

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And here’s the one that the man made for Reuben, purloined by Eva:

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Meanwhile, someone else had done my work for me by weaving “Kate” into the tunnel:

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The full sentence said “Andy 4 Kate” but seeing as Andy is either my brother-in-law or Eva’s godfather, let’s skim over those strange implications. I just enjoyed the fact that a fellow Kate had tagged the tunnel already.

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The next room was almost as enticing to our small people. A maze of logs with a stony sensory area at the end, it was custom-designed for losing track of your child. For once I was glad that Reuben was so noisy, as it helped me keep a track on where he was. I  was also glad that he was wearing a neon yellow t-shirt. His reason for racing ahead was apparently that he was being our tour guide but I seriously doubt his credentials. Still, he guided us to the place where you could jump on stones:

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Eva and Niamh’s favourite bit was a  little wooden feature where they could climb up some steps, disappear behind a panel and then re-emerge the other side. They loved doing that, running around in circles and giggling and would have done that all day if Reuben hadn’t ushered them on. He was taking his role of tour guide very seriously. Next stop was a film room, where a Japanese man was talking about void space. Niamh kept saying “dark” (it was quite dark), and Eva kept thinking her friend was talking about ducks, so said “duck! quack!” every time Niamh commented on the ambient lighting. The result was a lot of toddler giggling and a fairly swift exit from the film room, with the toddlers still saying “dark!” “duck!” “dark!” “duck!” between them. Ah, toddler humour…

We were all getting thirsty by this point, so went outside to visit the coffee stand in the courtyard. Things seemed a little confused there – we established they only took cash, but the person serving seemed to have to check before answering. Then they forgot Niamh’s cookie and there was general mayhem. Eventually we got what we ordered and perched on seats that were designed for artistic merit rather than comfort…even so, it was very pleasant out there, in the almost-sunshine.

Taking advantage of the near-warm conditions, we decided to go for a picnic in Green Park, stopping at M&S Simply Food on the way. This may have been a mistake. The “To Go” food was down a long and twisty staircase – not easy when you have a (now-sleeping) toddler in a buggy. Luckily Maria could watch her while me and Roo nipped down to get sandwiches, but my retail instincts tell me this is an unnatural layout. The tills also had a queuing barrier that made it almost impossible to navigate a buggy round, especially when another person with a buggy tried to get past. It was a bit embarrassing, especially as the cashier didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get my food through – we stalled for a long time on the “paying for a bag” bit of the process. It was a small space, packed with impatient Mayfair businessmen and a foolish place to attempt with children. So, I wouldn’t recommend it. A picnic in the park, followed by a play in St James’ however….just the ticket. And the exhibition was pretty ace too. You only have a few days left – go go go!

More details here (official site)

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

Greenwich and Charlton – 29/03/14

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Yesterday, I decided it was Family Time. We’ve had weeks of house-moving stress, packing, unpacking, trying to get things done with the kids under our feet and of course 10 days of chickenpox isolation thrown into the mix. Added all together, the last time we went out as a family (not including church) was our trip to the Imagine Festival. It had been a long time, and with Nathan leaving earlier and coming home later during the week, Eva had basically forgotten who he was and has taking to screeching every time he picks her up. It was time to bond over some spicy chicken and balloons.

The second part was sorted – we had R’s birthday in Charlton later in the afternoon, so there’d be balloons there (many of which suffered a terrible fate at the feet of Reuben….but let’s not dwell on that). The first part was more complex. My rough plan was that we’d take the A12 down to the South-East and stop somewhere along the way for lunch and a play. Jubilee Park in Leyton was my first thought – a new pirate ship has opened there, which has as yet been uninvestigated by my tiny pirates. But then I considered lunch, and the essence of peri-peri floated across my mind. It causes a weird state of mind – peripsychosis, if you will. Once you’ve started picking your sides, it’s hard to consider any other lunch options.

So where’s the nearest Nandos to Jubilee Park? Westfield. Well, that sounded like an added complication and would involve parking at Westfield on a Saturday. As I considered other options on Google Street View, it kept throwing me back to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, near – you guessed it – Westfield. And I really mean kept doing it. Sometimes I wasn’t anywhere near Stratford and yet still, the map would resolve itself and ta-da, I’d be back in the Olympic Park. One time, I swear I was looking at Ruislip. OK, that was a lie. But it was a bit spooky, how the map sent me back there again and again, as if there was no viable play-and-Nandos option near the A12 that didn’t involve parking tolls and ambiguous SatNav codes. It was beginning to look like a sign from Googd. Maybe it was time to revisit Westfield.

I’d been trying to do that for a while, but it seems like I have something of a Westfield curse. We wanted to go there over half term but then chicken pox struck. Scuppered! The time before, we’d planned to go to a Gruffalo event there in December but Eva was spectacularly sick everywhere the night before. Scuppered! (Although it did neatly coincide with my sicks thousandeth post on a certain forum. That was the only thing that was neat about that night). Maybe this time, I’d be lucky. Maybe this time they’d stay healthy. It was worth a try. So, as we stepped out of the door I made a snap decision. Set the SatNav for Westfield! What, the SatNav’s too old to recognise that postcode? OK, use a completely different one that apparently will work too (E15 2EE if anyone needs it). We would eat Nandos, and forsake the pirate ship for the joys of the Tumbling Bay playground.  All the odds were in my favour.

Of course the odds weren’t in my favour. This was trying to drive to Westfield on a Saturday, just like every other unimaginative person in East London was trying to do. As we sat in a queue to turn off, wasting the beautiful day on a slip road, I made another snap decision. Sod Stratford, we would head straight to Greenwich and find peri-joy there. I swung out, floored the accelerator and reset that SatNav for an SE3-postcode that I’d basically just made up. I knew there was a Nandos in the desolate Millenium Village, just off the A102 in the same complex where we’d once seen “The Darjeeling Limited”, one of Wes Anderson’s weaker films. I remembered the complex as being deserted and very easy to find. Turns out it was neither. But a few 3-point turns in front of angry Greenwichians later, and some circling to find a parking space and we were in the glorious surrounds of….B&Q!

Well, of course we went to B&Q. We’ve just moved into a new house and have painting to do. It was too good an opportunity to miss, even on a sunny day. And Reuben found the whole “bathroom in a shop” concept very funny indeed. But paint and polyfilla bought, we finally got our Nandos. In the sunshine. With a dual carriageway in the background, and mango frozen yoghurt. An odd kind of bliss:

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The kids were happier than they look in the photo, honest. They are really getting into  Nandos, especially the refillable frozen yoghurt. And I may have skimmed the top of theirs a little too. Don’t tell the big chicken. Once we we’d topped up our peri-o-meters, it was time to find somewhere to play so we drove up to where R’s party was going to be, and Google Maps (them again) told us to head for a park called Hornfair Park.

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It’s not just a park, it’s a multi-sports hub. Why is everything some kind of hub nowadays? I remember the days when nothing was a hub. Anyway, this park was home to Charlton Lido, which looked exciting, a tennis hub and a playground. Reuben was keen to find the last part, so skipped off through the ornamental gardens:

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Eva by this point was on Nathan’s shoulders, having asked to “doddle” and then having given up on doddling after a few minutes but refusing to go in the buggy. Hopefully this meant she was learning to trust Daddy again.

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It also meant that she could see the brightly-coloured playground equipment sticking out form behind the trees, as could Nathan and I. Reuben couldn’t because he’s a little too small and so was convinced we were just making this up. Cue much pouting and sighing about how we’d never find a playground, which couldn’t be countered with logic, no matter how often we told him that we could see it right there. Eventually he spotted it too and tried to break through the trees to get there, but was thwarted by a fence. We later discovered that this fence surrounded a paddling pool hub:

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It being March, the paddling pool hub wasn’t full yet but just beyond it was the playground hub. At this point my phone did something crazy and slipped into monochrome mode, making our playground trip into something out of a French film. Observe how the children are beautiful, yet full of ennui!

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Observe also, how this intrepid toddler keeps climbing over things that are clearly too big for her:

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But at least she was bonding with her Daddy again. Because Daddy is the best at rescuing small, stuck girls.

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Do you feel slightly melancholy after seeing these photos? Like you’re pondering the futility of life?

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You may climb, Reuben, but what is life without colour? Fear not, because the phone is about to inexplicably switch back into technicolour mode again. It may hurt your eyes:

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There we go, just in time to see Eva kneeing Nathan in the stomach, with his accompanying look of pain bonding joy. That same swing was used by Reuben for his pterosaur impression, complete with cawing and a song about how “I am the biggest flying thing ev—-errrrr—-but I am not a bird, I am a din-o-saur”. We have a lot of these kind of songs at the moment. but even pterosaurs have parties to go to, so we had to go…there were balloons to pop and houmous to eat with spoons.I’d like to come back to the paddling pool some day. And maybe Westfield on the way. Or maybe not…


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How to Decorate Kids’ Bedrooms

(In collaboration with Slap-up Media)

As some of you might have noticed, the LWAT family has been moving house. We’re settling in nicely (although resisting the urge to laugh when people ask if we’re all unpacked – I don’t think we ever entirely unpacked the last time we moved. And this time we have kids) and soon we’re going to be thinking about how to customise Reuben’s room with that Octonauts-riding-a-dinosaur mural he’s requested. For those of you with less specifically-minded kids, Bedstar has a few ideas on how to make your kids’ rooms a bit special. This post is provided by Olivia Prat.

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How time flies – your little ray of sunshine has now reached the age where he or she is old enough to sleep in his or her own full sized bed – this is great news for you as a parent and for their independence, but there’ll be plenty to sort out as well – including decorating your child’s bedroom.

If you’re on the lookout for a new bed for your child, it’s important to consider the practicalities, including the mattress itself. The comfort and support of a mattress isn’t just a factor for older audiences; you’ll want to make sure that your child sleeps through the night, so visit the bedstar page for guidance on what’s best for your toddler.

Next on the list is the look of your child’s bedroom, and you may want to start with the bed first to work as a centrepiece on which to base the rest of the room. Don’t forget, children can be fickle, so rather than plastering the room floor to ceiling in Manchester United paraphernalia, try a longer-lasting theme with a base set of colours in mind.

Outer space is a great place to start with this – limitless and open to imagination, the space theme can be appropriate for toddlers right through to teenagers, and will encourage them to be creative and learn more about the world around them. Alternatively, if your child is more ‘down to earth’, consider a nature theme, which will last through the ages and get them talking about plants and animals.

Think back to when you didn’t know the sex of your baby – everybody would tell you to buy yellow clothes, and there’s a reason why. Cheerful and neutral, yellow covers all bases in terms of ages and gender, so this is a reliable colour that won’t leave you reaching into your pocket to redecorate in another six months’ time.

Alternatively, you could try colour blocking – stripes are very on trend at the moment and are a good compromise for fussy children. Try not to go too garish; mix a bold colour with a more neutral tone like off-white to give a good balance of excitement and calm.

Ultimately, redecorating your child’s bedroom is all about balance – don’t overdo it on the bold colours, but don’t make it too dull either. A well-designed child’s bedroom will excite their imagination while maintaining a calm enough space to help them sleep at night. Happy decorating!

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Fun in the Forest – 18/03/14


Warning: this post may contain more countryside than you’ve ever experienced on this blog before. Get used to it. This, my friends, is life in Zone 4.

But don’t worry – it’s the kind of countryside I can handle. It’s a few minutes’ walk from a station (Chingford in this case) and it has a cafe that sells red velvet cake. It’s not quite “The Wicker Man” yet. But you’d be forgiven for having that creeping sense of dread when you leave Chingford behind and see miles of nothingness ahead. Is that an effigy of me fashioned from some kind of basket weaving material? No, it’s just a tree. I get confused, as does my urban-raised boy. “What’s in the forest?” he asked, as we left civilization…possibly for the last time. I replied that there may be a swing. “And a slide?” he chirped up. Probably not, no.  “Will there be dinosaurs?” Well yes, if you pretend there are. “I will find the dinosaurs and use a diplodocus as a slide!” Well, there probably won’t be any actual dinosaurs there. Or slides, and certainly not dinosaurs who function as slides. It’s just a forest. A pause and then….”I hope there’s a bench there.”

Remember my #1 parenting technique….keep their expectations low. I told him there may or may not be a bench…we’d have to see. That built up the suspense a little. But as we walked up the hill, using muscles we’d never encountered in Kennington, he muttered about how boring it was in the forest. Well, right now we’re not in the forest Reuben, we’re on a main road. But I get that you don’t have much experience with the wilderness, hence the confusion. My poor inner-city kids – proficient with an oyster card, but helpless in the face of an unmade path. And the buggy is even more helpless in the face of an unmade path, but we’ll get to that.


It really was a few short minutes to the place where we were meeting other folks…but whiney 4-year-old minutes go on forever. Eventually we got to the top of the hill, where there was a huge “Fayre and Square” pub (I do have a weakness for cheapo pub grub!), next to Elizabeth I’s hunting lodge, built in 1543. A strange juxtaposition, and one I struggled to explain to Roo as he didn’t really get how long ago the Tudor period was. Not as long as the Jurassic Era, no. It’s all about the dinosaurs at the moment, in case you can’t tell. I blame that Andy guy.

We passed the pub and the hunting lodge and found Butler’s Retreat – a charming little cafe with a lovely cake selection. But we were here to embrace the great outdoors, not to eat cake so Roo put on his waterproof trousers, we met the group of parents we were looking for, and headed down towards the lake and the hollow tree. The knackered buggy protested slightly at the rocky path, but as usual I’d packed far too much to just put Eva in the sling. I think maybe we’ll drive next time – there is a car park just opposite Butler’s.

I was worried that Reuben would get bored quickly but no, he loved it. There were lots of other children there and together they turned the hollow tree into all manner of  shops and cafes. Eva was asleep, which seems to be a running theme this week, but that meant I could follow Roo round and rescue him when he got his wellies stuck in the mud. Or more accurately, I could ask other, more appropriately dressed, people to rescue him. I don’t even own wellies, despite just having lived through the wettest winter in the history of man or dinosaur. I did have some, but there were more hole than welly, and got chucked during the move. Luckily, others were more prepared, and they hauled him out. Several times over.


He enjoyed mud-paddling, and pond dipping….but mostly he loved the hollow tree. He ate his snack in there, and was disappointed that he’d had lunch at home so he couldn ‘t have lunch in there too:


Of course, once Eva woke up she wanted a piece of all of this action….tree climbing, mud-paddling…all of it. So, I stuck her in a tree and she seemed happy:


And then she went into the lake up to her knees, and got her wellies flooded with cold water. She was less happy. I think I need to get me some of those waders…to dry off, we went to find the tyre swing, which Reuben had a lot of fun with, both swinging on it himself and pushing the other boys. Whether the other boys had fun is up for debate.


At some point – I forget when – Reuben made one of his game-changing announcements, that saw us beat a hasty Butler’s Retreat back to the cafe. Luckily, it coincided with a huge rainstorm, which had passed by the time we were done with the business in hand (not a quick manoevure when a boy is in waterproof trousers). Stepping back out with our red velvet cake in hand, it was gloriously sunny again. Not warm. But sunny. And we had cake, which Roo insisted on eating in his tree…obviously.

We didn’t stay too much longer, with the wet-socked girl and the tired Mummy boy but we’ll go again. I can’t believe how quickly my little urbanites adapted to the wild and enjoyed themselves. Well, they have always been part-feral…

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