Child-Free and Care-Free

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I started writing this on Friday night, sitting on the Victoria Line. It was to be a post about the fun of going out and having fun in London, without my kids. 24 hours later, something happened to make this feel wholly inappropriate. But let’s not stop going out and having fun just because some crazy people have some crazy ideas. Let’s continue life as normal. And so here’s the post I started writing that night….
It’s been a wild week.  I’m writing from a Victoria Line train at the rock n roll hour of 10:20pm cause I’ve been out. And I’m proud.
Not just today,  no no.  All week we’ve been partying as hard as two middle aged parents can when they’re temporarily let off the leash.  The kids are scaling castles and fighting dragons in Wales and we’ve been child free and care free.  Other than work,  obviously.
Let me tell you about Wednesday. I finished work at 2ish and was planning to do Open Air SwingTrain at 5:30. I’ll get on to that.  But first,  I had an afternoon to kill.  So on some vague impulse,  I went to the Barbican. And some vaguer impulse still caused me to wander around the Museum of London roundabout and under the Barbican tunnels before I managed to orientate myself.  The Barbican has that effect on me. While wandering around, I found this plaque, which I’m including as a shout out to all my Methodist readers (Hi Mum!). I can’t say my heart was strangely warmed by the traffic fumes in the tunnel but my lungs were.
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The reason I’d picked the Barbican was because I’d read in Time Out that there was a Sheila Rock exhibitions in the music library there. Cause reading about exhibitions and going to them is the kind of thing child free people do. Sheila Rock is a music photographer and there were some gorgeous shots of Debbie Harry in a catsuit, as well as bands like The Clash and The Cure. I’d never been to the music library before and I’m not sure I knew there was one but it’s there, on the second floor. I spent around ten minutes browsing the photos and listening to some of the bands at the listening point, but my attention had been snatched by the next exciting thing in my eyeline.
There were pianos! And you could just book one to play on for an hour! With a whole library’s worth of music to choose from. It was great fun. I booked in, sat down for 20 minutes to browse the NME and then had only the slightest amount of awkwardness kicking someone else off at 4PM. I was possibly too overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice of music to make a sensible choice, so I played my way through “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” and a book of English folks songs. I had my reasons. In case you’re wondering, these were electric pianos and you could borrow headphones so no-one had to put up with me screwing up the fiddly bits in “Rule Britannia” while they were trying to study.
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I also found the children’s library on the same floor and I had no idea that was there either. I didn’t linger because – see aforementioned childlessness – but it looked like a lovely place to hang out on a rainy day, with comfy seats to sit and read in. And it was shaping up to be a very rainy day, as I left the Barbican by a confusing and convoluted route that took me past the conservatory and down three floors’ worth of ramps outside. Next stop, Spitalfields Market for SwingTrain under the Sails.
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Now, I have no photos of me sweaty and chaotic, doing an exercise class in public in front of office workers but it happened. In fact, it’s happened twice now. The first time was a few weeks back, when I took the kids down after school and Eva finally got to show off her Charleston finger:
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There are more sessions coming up over the summer – the next one on 12th June at 5:30. It’s a free class that any passerby can join in with so if you’re curious about SwingTrain, it’s a good way to check out what it’s all about.

But back to last Wednesday, and Nathan arrived at Spitalfields to escort me home, stopping only for an icy fruit drink. We had more childlessness to enjoy and spontaneously decided to do something a bit spontaneous – pancakes and wine at La Boite, in the converted signal box in Highams Park. I’d been there before but 5PM on the last day of term with three kids in tow is a bit of a different vibe to 9PM with my husband. Am I allowed to say which one I prefer?

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Nathan took the recommendation of the menu and tried the cider, which came in a ceramic mug and looked for all the world like a cappuccino:
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Apparently it tasted like scrumpy though. At around 9:45 some other people brought a small child into the box and at that point, we moved on to the pub. Where we partied hard until we had to be kicked out at closing time. No, really. The last people in the whole pub. ROCK AND ROLL. And we didn’t even get to lay our last few tiles down:
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Yes, we know how to party hard. Pity we have the kids back again now…
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The Corbyn Kickabout – 26/05/17

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I wasn’t feeling awesome on Saturday morning. I’d cried a LOT at “The Girls” on Friday night, Bob and I had drunk a fair amount of wine and then I’d slept a patchy few hours before getting Nathan to drop me and the kids off at a soggy football pitch on the edge of Hackney Marshes. It was 9am. The sky was grey. I’ve been sprightlier.

But this was not about me. It’s about Jeremy Corbyn. Yes, my kids were playing football with the leader of the Labour Party. It felt ever so slightly like a surreal dream and I wasn’t convinced I’d actually woken up from my fitful sleep. But here we all were, and my children were ready:

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I’m glad they were full of energy. As you can tell, we were sheltering inside the Hackney Marshes Centre at this point because it was still drizzly outside, but as we were called up to start the football drills, the sun broke through and a few minutes later it looked like this:

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I’m not saying that Jeremy makes the sun shine. but that’s what the anecdotal evidence would suggest. A football coach was putting the kids through their paces, the grass was drying out and it was all going well.

Then it stopped going well. Eva didn’t have the ball she wanted. If you know Eva at all, you’ll understand why this turned into a bit of a disaster. For the next hour, she was intermittently sobbing on the sidelines while I tried to keep her away from the lens of the world’s press. Reuben, however, got stuck in and was busily listening to Corbyn’s team talk and honing his dribbling skills.

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I missed much of the football action because…Eva…but I do have this lovely picture, taken by Sulky herself:

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Weirdly, this was one of the better ones. Most of them featured grass.

I should mention at this point what a fine job my friend Dan was doing. Owner of three of his own kids, he still found time to humour mine and try to cheer her up when I’d pretty much given up on her. It was one of his kids that inspired her to stop sobbing and delve into photography instead. Meanwhile, the players were lining up to take penalties and you can guess who was in goal:

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The tabloids are divided on whether Jeremy has possesses footballing skills but I thought he was pretty good. He wasn’t cowering in the goal with his hands over his face like I would be in that situation. In case you’re wondering what the whole thing was about, he was was there to announce a policy whereby Premier League money would be fed into grassroots clubs. Hence getting down with the “talent of the future”. And also Reuben.

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Back to the penalty – Jezza caught it. But he let Roo take it again, a little closer this time. He still didn’t score, but it was a good ego boost for him. I know Corbyn has his haters but he seems like a nice man and he was really good with the kids. Not that you should base your political decisions on this, but I did like him.

And so did Eva! Look how she cheered up when she got a photo opportunity with the man himself:

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So, I’m not telling you to Vote Labour although I am. Just consider that this man looks like a Jedi, brings the sun out and stops children crying. Just saying.

 

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The Girls – 26/05/17

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Prepare to be emotionally ruined. I saw “The Girls” last night and sobbed and laughed all the way through it – sometimes both at the same time. It’s a wonderful show but oh, so heart-rending.

I’ll put some context to this before I begin. I went to see it with Bob and you may remember that Bob and I did a crazy, cold-water stunt some years back in aid of what was then called Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, now Bloodwise.  I won’t go in with the full heart-rending story behind that stunt but trust me, storylines involving father figures dying of blood cancer? Oof. It packs a punch.

So it was always going to be a tearful one and the stage show really wrings out the drama in a way that, I’m told, the film doesn’t. There are shifts from comedy to poignancy and back again as Annie and Clarkey try to carry on life as normal while dealing with his diagnosis, positive progress and decline into not-so-positive progress. There are still cakes to be baked, WI meetings to be attended and seedlings to plant and the action deftly spins between life-and-death and everyday for the duration of the first act. The naked calendar isn’t even mentioned until just before the interval, so there’s a real focus on establishing the characters and their complicated lives – lonely Ruth, who doesn’t want anyone to know about her problems, prissy incomer Marie, the effervescent Chris, ever clinging on to her former glory as a highly commended “Miss Yorkshire” and in the centre of it all, the relationship between Annie and Clarkey which seems so simple until cancer comes along. Joanna Riding and James Gaddas do a superb job of combining big emotions with Northern understatement and very British kind of groundless optimism – “everything will be alright”. Annie worries about who’ll reach the towels on the top shelf and help her sort out the duvet and whether it’s any point continuing to cook bacon joints for tea when it’s just her to eat them. Do you see why I was crying yet?

As strong as the main characters are, this is very much an ensemble piece. There are a substantial number of characters, with the ladies of the WI carrying the show, backed  by their husbands and stroppy teenage children. The husbands don’t get a huge amount of character development but the teenagers have their own interlaced storyline, with Chloe May Jackson modelling a great line in side-eye as feisty Jenny and Ben Hunter looking the spit of a young Jason Segel as the puppyish Danny. But it’s not all about the young folks – it’s the older women who are the stars here, way before they strip off.

It’s unusual to see a show with so many great parts for women in midlife and later, especially one which celebrates the female form in all its variety. One of my favourites was single mum and choir mistress Cora, who early on discards the Dickensian carol sheet to bust out a jazzy “Who Wants a Silent Night?”, complete with a dance routine that SwingTrain would be proud of. I was really pleased to meet Claire Machin, who played Cora, at the end as the cast were out collecting for Bloodwise. We took a selfie together and you can really see what  a state I was in after two full hours of crying:

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Oh my poor eyes. And my poor head this morning after Bob and I polished off a bottle and a half of Rose. Did you know you can buy a bottle at the beginning of a show, take plastic cups in with you and get the rest of the bottle, chilled, at the interval? I do now.

Anyway, back to the show itself and I know you want to know about the nudity. Yes, of course there was nudity. It’s kinda “The Girls” USP. But it’s all very tastefully done and you see, as retired headmistress Jessie says, “no front bottoms”. Talking of Jessie, I can’t believe I didn’t recognise Michele Dotrice. I watched “Some Mothers Do Ave Em” loads as a kid…how did I not recognise Betty? As Frank would say, whoopsie. In my defence, there was a lot going on onstage – the set that served as both village hall and hilly dale, the sunrises, sunsets and stars and yes, the nudity. With outlandishly sized novelty props, of course.

A quick word for the score – I’ve never been a Take That fan but that Gary Barlow can certainly crank out a tune. Opener “Yorkshire” is still stuck in my head today, although I feel a little teary every time I sing it. Other songs were less immediate but all fitted the characters well, with the aforementioned Jessie belting out a diatribe against age discrimination and Sophie-Louise Dann as Celia flaunting her assets in “So I’ve Had a Little Work Done”. The songs ranged from joyous to heartbreaking – often in the same few minutes – and there were some lovely arrangements. Look  here if you want to see what I mean. I believe there were even some Woodfordian Natural Voices in there towards the end.

I have a few nitpicks. One of the Miss Wilsons seemed to be way too young and beautiful for the role, which is disappointing in a show that casts women to their age in a realistic way. Also, there was no resolution to the Marie thread – one minute she was frothing about the calendar at the National Conference, next she was cheerfully joining in the finale. And lastly, there seemed to be only about six calendar girls – who posed for the other months? Is it just me who worries about these things?

But these are minor gripes. It was a beautiful production and if you want a show that rips your heart to bits and then kinda gums it back together with some female empowerment, then “The Girls” is for you. Just try not to sob too loudly.

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Hanging Out on the South Bank

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“I recognise this” said Eva as we climbed up the steps at the back of the Royal Festival Hall. “We’ve been here before”

Why yes, lady. Like 10,000 times. Admittedly less since we’ve not been within walking distance but as recently as the Easter holidays, when we went on the London Eye. And before that Feb half term, when we came down to the Imagine Festival. So yes, Eva we’ve been here before. But the Southbank Centre remains a great place to meet up with people. Our original plan was a picnic in St James Park but the weather’s been lousy all week and we were confident that it would remain lousy. That confidence was not misplaced.

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So a picnic at the Southbank Centre it was then instead. Which has a roof, toilets  and coffee on tap. It also had the “Alchemy” Festival on, which meant there were various pretty things to look at  - a big tent (Five Rivers: A Portrait of Partition), multi-coloured ceiling hangings and these pictures of crystals. Eva said she wanted them all because they looked so pretty. Reuben said he wanted them all because they would make him rich. Who knew I was raising a Tory??

We had lunch with our friends on some tables, looking out towards the river. The weather outside looked sunny and promising so we thought we’d move on down to the playground. Once my children had run up all the stairs to the 6th Floor and back down again, with me in tow. We spotted a new display being put up around the 5th floor – millions of butterflies along the window:
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You can guess what happened as soon as we’d cleared up our food, toileted and gathered all six kids and packed away. Yup, rain. It looked like a nature documentary where wildebeest suddenly start charging across the Savannah and David Attenborough solemnly wonders what’s spooked them. Is it wildebeest that charge? I have no idea. Nature’s not my thing. I once sold a pair of shoes to David Attenborough though. Where was I? Yes, people on the terrace suddenly charging for the doors. Which cued us in to the unclemency of the outside.

Weirdly though, it didn’t stop us. It wasn’t *serious* rain and so we waited for a bit of a break, then burst out into the fresh air and towards the riverside, stopping only to pose for a photo on the neon orange benches. It was tricky to get even four of the kids on the bench at the same time, but we tried:

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Down the slope there were myriad distractions, from the bubble man to the carousel. Roo was especially distractable, yelling out everything he saw along the way “Hot dogs! Candyfloss! Ice cream!”. The boy has a goldfish like attention span sometimes, I swear. But also, there’s just a lot to divert a child on that short walk.

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Which meant that yes, by the time we reached the playground, it was raining again. Apocalyptically, this time. But you want to know how to avoid your kids queuing for those two swings? Go when it’s raining. Sorted. Would have been even more sorted if we’d packed the waterproof trousers.

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We’d lost half our party when the rain started, so we caught up with them at the Slug and Lettuce, where the kids spent half an hour playing with sticker books that Bob had thoughtfully provided. And I got to enjoy what I thought was going to be a small glass of Rose:

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But these caged animals don’t stay still for long and by 3pm, we were back in the playground. I’d spotted something over yonder which I thought might be of interest, so we wandered over to take a look. The Udderbelly stage pops up on the Southbank this time every year and there’s often a garden bit to hang out in. In 2012, it was called the Magners’ Pasture and it was the very last place I blogged about before giving birth to Eva. I have to say it was more pleasant being there and not being 40+2 pregnant.

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So, what was there? Well, a fairyglade-like walkway to get there:

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And the kids highlight of the day, the Hilton Holipod. There are three rooms set up and you pose for a photo in each, which is recorded by 50 cameras and stitched together into a video. It’s easier to see than explain, so look here:

So good we did it twice, with Bob and Boby and without.

We also got a chocolate waffle to share because I am weak and Belgium gave us a taste for fine things.

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And Eva wanted to pose in front of the Liquor Store because her Perform song mentions a liquor store. That sounds odd. It’s a Wild West theme, OK? Makes total sense.

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On the way home, we found a load more of those orange benches, which the kids wanted to climb on and jump off. Roo’s favourite was this one, though it was mildly terrifying for us:

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make action GIFs like this at MakeaGif

So as ever, come on down to the South Bank. There’s always something to do and see and the good news is that the toddlers’ favourite pursuit – climbing the stairs of the RFH – still works for a nearly 8-year-old. And we didn’t even go in the singing lift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pack Your Bags…There’s So Much to Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Epping Forest Pub Walk – 01/05/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Though she later went for a Daddy-shelter instead:

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

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

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

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Do What You Can….But Vote

via GIPHY

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ashlyns Farm Shop -14/04/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information here (official website)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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