A Serious Post For Once

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This is a tough post to write.Firstly because it’s a sensitive topic that I know near to nothing about and I don’t want to stamp all over it with my half-baked opinions. Secondly because it’s so far out of the remit of this blog, which is generally more about sandpits and playgrounds….although it starts in a playground. Thirdly because it is just a tough subject and it hurts my heart a bit to think that I may need to deal with this in less than a decade as my small children turn into small teens. So, where to begin?

I guess in the playground, which was a leafy park in Chingford. The play equipment was a little old and well-worn but perfectly usable and nice enough except for one ugly feature – the graffiti everywhere. And I mean everywhere – there were entire essays written on the slides, which may be the only essays the writers have completed lately, given that the local teens seemed more interested in hanging out on the swings than going to school. Now, I’m not one to get hung up on graffiti itself- yeah, it’s annoying but it’s generally harmless. It’s just what teenagers do. Who can honestly say that they passed their teenage years without ever scratching “I <3 Damon Albarn” into a school desk (and then going back a week later and replacing it with “I <3 Alex James”)? I don’t know if I ever did that exact thing, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Teens just feel the need to express themselves on whatever surface is handy, don’t they?

And in this instance it was the slides. But it wasn’t the graffiti itself that shocked me – it was the content. Vile, graphic and targeted, it repeatedly made assertions about three girls – using their full names – and how they were “fat slags”, friendless and ugly. Not just once. Many, many different places around the park these same three names were abused and threatened. Why those girls? Who knows? Maybe they didn’t have the right hair cuts or the right accents. Maybe they refused to sleep with someone and he took his revenge with a permanant marker. Whatever the reason, these three girls are being horrifically bullied. They might not even know it yet – they might be happily oblivious to the bile being poured out against them – but they are being bullied.

This kind of graffiti is nothing new – benches in the 80s often boasted mottos like “Michelle Fowler is a total whore” – but there is a new and threatening element to it, thanks to social media. I’m a great fan of the internet and all the opportunities it gives me and my kids that we just wouldn’t have had twenty years ago. But it’s dangerous too. All I needed was these girls’ full names to find their Facebook profiles, Youtube channels and pictures. I’m quite adept at this kind of thing but if I hadn’t been, one piece of graffiti helpfully gave the Instagram and Snapchat handles for one of them.

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I’m aware I’m being a hypocrite here. Because of the blog, it’s easy to find pictures of my kids online and I haven’t yet figured out how we handle that transition once they have an opinion on that. But there are some key differences. The first is that I believe no-one has any malicious intent towards my kids right now.  I haven’t even pissed off any dangerous cults lately. The second is that yes, strange people can find pictures of my kids but what could they actually do with them? That’s a whole other debate, but fact remains that if any weirdo tried to contact my children via the internet they would have to come through me first.

Which leads me to my actual point (just felt the need to head off any potential hypocrisy accusations first). The girls involved are being bullied – we’ve established that. And the internet allows anyone who wants to join in on this bullying to find them and torment them in a far less public way. In other words, if you hate someone enough to write sexually explicit fiction about them on a slide, you definitely hate them enough to set up an anonymous account and cyber-bully them. That’s my suspicion and sure enough, when I did my own piece of cyber-stalking, I found that a girl’s Youtube channel bedecked with abusive comments from a user who seemed to do little else on Youtube. That’s just the public side – who knows what happens in PMs?

The consequences of this are mortally serious. I’ve been following the Izzy Dix campaign on Facebook, which seeks to close down the networking site ask.fm where users can comment on people’s profiles anonymously. With the need to use their own identity removed, bullies feel empowered to ramp up the abuse to the point where the victim takes their own life. That’s what happened to Izzy Dix, at the age of 14, and it’s becoming a more and more frequent occurrence. When I saw a piece of graffiti saying “E…. X should just kill herself” I felt sick. Because it can happen. A potent combination of teenage angst, hormones and relentless torment suddenly leaves few options. Few ways out.

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So – in the words of Reuben – I’ve got something to say. To the bullies first. When I read stories like Izzy’s, I’m always left wondering one thing. How did the bullies feel when they finally pushed their victim over the edge? You’d assume the initial feeling on hearing the news would be guilt, shame or crushing regret but thinking hard about it, I’m pretty sure the first reaction would be fear. An all-consuming, terrifying, selfish fear that someone will somehow find out that YOU did it. Thoughts of jail will flash through your mind, followed by the prospect of a loveless life worked in crappy jobs because everyone knows what you did. It may not happen. Many bullies still manage to come out on top and bully people their entire lives – that’s the best you can hope for, really. But think for a second what that black pit of fear might feel like.

Right now, you’re pretty sure it makes you look cool – maybe even some kind of hacker-type, with your threatening messages and your mysterious profile pictures. But even now, people are starting to be less impressed by you. You might have even persuaded someone to go on a date with you because you abuse the same person that they abuse. That won’t last. The older you get, the more pathetic it seems to get your kicks from tormenting others. A 30-year-old bully doesn’t impress girls. A 30-year-old woman bitching about other women will find herself devoid of any meaningful friendships. That’s quite something to look forward to.

And now to those three girls – or anyone who might be reading this and be in a similar position. It does end, eventually. Honest. When you’re 13 it feels like there is nothing in your future but more of the same but honestly, if I could do just one piece of time travel it would be to go back to 1994 and have a short, sweet chat with that younger version of myself. Because if I’d known then that I only had three years to endure before I met the love of my life, I think it would have been a breeze. School will end. You may never ever have to see these people again. You can block them on Facebook, you can delete accounts. You can live without the internet entirely. You can avoid the playgrounds where they scrawl things about you. You can let their words graze you, not cut you. Because – as discussed above – bullies  have nothing but lonely misery to look forward to. They tell you you’re fat – you’re not. They say you have no friends – I’m pretty sure that’s not true and even if it was, would you really want the kind of friends that they have? Nasty, shallow, backstabbing friends? You have talents, you have futures, you have hope. It’s nuts that a seemingly random number generator defines who gets to be in “in-crowd” in school and who doesn’t – it’s not always the best-looking people and it’s certainly not the cleverest. It’s just the people that life has arbitrarily assigned to be “popular”. It’s all as pointless and shallow as it sounds. And it somehow all matters less once you do your GCSEs.

So, that’s my ill thought-out, clumsy opinion. It probably won’t be read by anyone who needs to read it because it’s nothing to do with London or toddlers but if it makes one person feel better about themselves, it’s worth the 1500 words of drivel I’ve spouted. And now to put a call in to the graffiti-removal people….

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Posted in Rants | Tagged | 4 Comments

The Rabbit Hole – 18/06/14

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I’ve had my eye on the Rabbit Hole for a few weeks now.  A play cafe opening in East London. .. It needed to be investigated. It was a bit tricky organising people to go with me and the sunshine was most distracting but eventually I assembled a panel of mothers – almost alphabetically called F, G, J, K  and L to give it a go.

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Initial impressions were good. .. me and Eva were the first ones in there and so she thought she had the run of the place – a ball pool,  an enclosed baby area, a play kitchen – but it soon filled up and Eva had to do some of that sharing she’s so good at (particularly sought after among the toddlers was the giant teapot)
If I have one regret in life, it’s Eva’s outfit.  I mean, who wears an owl jumper and deer shorts to a rabbit cafe?  It wouldn’t have been so bad,  but she has a full rabbit-themed outfit that she wore just the day before (t shirt,  shorts and tights). But I’ve learnt.  Never again will I let her go “full rabbit” the day before visiting a place called “The Rabbit Hole”. Phew,  I’m glad I’ve got that out..

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Outfits aside, I had few regrets as I enjoyed my tensies (cappuccino and croissant, only part mangled by toddler) and Eva entertained herself.  More people arrived,  tensies slid into lunchtime and I was getting peckish again. Now,  they don’t have an extensive lunch menu at the moment but a) they are bringing out a new menu soon,  under the guidance of a Mexican chef (if I heard that right) and b) they were willing to go off – menu a bit to provide F with a cheese and tomato bagel. I had the nachos with salsa, guacamole and jalapeños,  which were nice,  and Eva had a croissant of her own.  She also had a baba juice – a very reasonably priced sippy cup of part juice,  part water.

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You can see there are still bits they’re working out, as with any new business but things are running relatively smoothly and there’s a lovely atmosphere.  The owner’s daughter was playing alongside the other toddlers and it was obvious that they had really thought about what children need.  The only improvement I would suggest is to get a kid seat for the toilet (Eva was keen to do a wee and so she perched. .. But given we’re not actually potty training yet, it’s a minor concern).

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It treads a delicate balance between cafe and play space – it’s easy to linger in there for three hours (as we did) but I was conscious that it’s a business and so we needed to buy a fair bit between us if we wanted to keep lingering. Which is obviously not a problem but I can see how people might take advantage of the lovely space and the welcoming attitude of the owners and neglect to actually buy anything.  So I’m telling you LWAT readers…. Don’t do that!  Support independent business by eating cake.  I’m happy to demonstrate this model for you if you’re unclear. ..(And I’m kinda lusting after one of those jam jars full of still lemonade that L had. ..)

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I’d hope it goes without saying that my heart remains with The Dish and the Spoon but with such different geographical areas I’m pretty sure it’s OK to like both.  The Rabbit Hole is slightly different from some of the other cafes we’ve been to in that it stocks clothes as well, so is kinda a shop/cafe/playspace which also hosts baby sensory classes and led craft sessions.  It’s in a bit of an odd area – not quite Stratford, not quite Forest Gate but I think it’ll work to their advantage because there isn’t a lot else around there to compete with. I was amused to see an adult shop called “Pirate Shop” – were they aiming for “Private Shop” or is it aimed at the niche mariner-fetishist who enjoys dressing in skimpy nurse outfits? That really is what you’d call a destination shop. Arrr.

And, just for Nathan I have to point out that the cafe is almost next door to the Cart and Houses pub, aka “The Birthplace of Iron Maiden”

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Now that’s really something for the dads…

VERDICT: A welcome addition to a bleak bit of East London. Be prepared to hang out for a while – toddlers are not easily extracted from the ball pool.

More details here (official site)

Posted in Cake and the finest wines known to humanity (eating out) | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

In The Night Garden Live

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I must admit I was a bit nervous about this…my Macca-Pacca-obsessed toddler performed an abrupt about-turn sometime in March and decided she no longer liked “Night Garden” and would only watch “Sarah and Duck”. When I say “sometime in March”, I mean the day before we moved house. She was keen to remove our only secret weapon (25min episodes on DVD) and instead demand hundreds of 5-minute episodes on our soon-to-disappear iPlayer. So I was a bit worried that she might not enjoy “In the Night Garden Live” and might get bored, along with her brother who dismissed the show as “baby stuff”.

I didn’t need to worry. As soon as we reached the end of Entertainment Avenue at the O2, she got very excited at the sight of the giant haa-hoos:

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“Yook! Haa-hoos!” she cried out, which was echoed by lots of other small voices all through the O2. Even babies who seemed too young to speak managed a kind of “aa-oo” when they saw these giant balloon-y friends just outside the showdome:

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Meanwhile, Nathan was more excited about the wall of Marshall amps:

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Incidentally, if you’re wondering how to find this bit of the O2 you may find – as we did – that there aren’t any signs at the main entrance. Don’t worry – turn right and pretty soon you’ll spot this fella:

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Who will guide you towards the showdome, along with his gardeny friends. Also, if you’re wondering, there are both toilets and buggy parking facilities inside the dome. Because these are important considerations when going anywhere with small kids.

So, let’s skip forward a bit and we’re seated right at the back (Reuben’s choice, but a good one given that it’s the only bit with back support. Eeee….I’m getting old). The stage is set, the dome is full of overexcited 2-year-olds and a disembodied Derek Jacobi issues frequent warnings that the show is about to start, all in character. I liked “Oh dear, somebody’s not in their seat. Who’s not in their seat?” and “5 minutes to go. Come on Upsy Daisy, finish your song”. It set the scene nicely and both kids were pretty excited.

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There was no flash photography allowed, so the photos are a little dark..although with an arena full of toddlers with glowy things, you’d think a camera flash would be the least of the cast’s worries.

Then…it began! The children cheered as they spotted Iggle Piggle peeping onto the stage and then  it all went dark for the usual introduction….”The night is black, And the stars are bright, And the sea is dark and deep…” and at this point, I have a shameful confession to make. I may have shed a little tear. It’s that bit where Iggle Piggle lies down to sleep and finds himself in a kind of paradise..I’ve always found it a bit poignant. Luckily I’m not the only person to have made such a logical leap. And my sister for one will always cry at reunions so it’s really not just me, is it?

Phew, OK. Glad we’ve got that out of the way. Night Garden never stays poignant for very long – before you know it, it’s full of brightly coloured characters stumbling around doing funny things. The live show is no different. Each character was introduced in turn and had their own  little segment – Iggle Piggle did his song, and encouraged the children to join in. I was most suprised when Roo jumped up and started doing the dance like it hadn’t been three years since he’d done it. Then it was Macca Pacca’s turn, then Upsy Daisy, then then the Pontipines and finally the Tombliboos. Throughout it all, the characters interacted, went on the ninky-nonk together and formed some kind of loose storyline around Iggle Piggle losing his blanket (I would say he’s particularly careless, but I’m forever retrieving Eva’s lost dollies from pavements and other places…) As you’d expect from Night Garden, the plot cohesion isn’t the main draw – it’s all about the reassuring familiarity of the toddlers’ favourite characters, all hugging and dancing and working together to find the blanket. As shows go, it was a very comforting experience. It’s much like the TV show – something about it makes you feel nostalgic for your own childhood, even though it was made in 2007. It’s the music and the BBC-accent narration that could both have come straight out of the 1970s. In a good way.

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But to get back to the live show – it was very well done. The stage management was slick and impressive. ITNG can’t be the easiest show to stage – the characters change size depending on the perspective and who they’re standing next to. They got around this by having a team of green-clad stage hands who operated puppets alongside full-size versions of the characters. So, Macca Pacca appeared first as an adult-size person, but then switched to a puppet when walking past Iggle Piggle (and they really nailed his walk as well). The bigger characters also turn up as puppets when they need to walk over bridges etc. It’s all very well done and the stage hands are pretty unobtrusive, allowing you to just focus on what the characters are doing.

Amazingly, Eva did focus most of the way through. She sat still, watching and occasionally commenting “Is Upsy Daisy!” or “Yook, birds!”. Roo got a bit lethargic halfway through – I don’t think the plot had enough dinosaurs in it for him. But a 5-year-old boy is so not the target audience for this show – he was just tagging along. What’s weirder is that Nathan and I both got a little sleepy too. It was warm and dark in there but I think it’s more to do with the strong bedtime associations ITNG has for all of us. It seemed bizarre to get outside and realise it was only lunchtime. The finale was, as you’d expect, all the characters dancing together by the carousel and Roo leapt up to do the dance too, just as he always did in front of the telly as a toddler. Awww, that took us back. He said he enjoyed it and Eva did too – it was certainly a little bit magical and she was enthralled by it. There was a chance to meet the characters afterwards, but there were long queues and so we skipped that and went back outside to the freshish air of the O2 arena. I hoped Eva would sleep after all those characters telling her it was time to go to bed but no…she wanted a run around instead. Look how tiny she seems compared to the O2:

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On the way out, we stopped at the Innovation Station, some kind of free Nissan-sponsored exhibition with lots of buttons to press. Reuben enjoyed driving a racing car on a PS3:

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Though he sadly seems to have inherited the family driving skills (fast but inaccurate). He also liked designing his own car on a touchscreen, doing the Nissan quiz and recording a short video clip for the video wall:

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..which I’m pretty sure they won’t use because it was just him talking about dinosaurs. There were also games to play, a photo booth and real cars to climb inside.

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Eva liked having her photo taken, but she wasn’t so sure about the rest. It seemed entirely devoid of Tombliboos and so didn’t live up to her expectations of the day.

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But it was pretty fun, and a good way to spend 45 minutes or so if you’re ever hanging around the O2. You can even try beating my stunning record on the reaction-time tester (30 in 60 seconds….I never said co-ordination was my strong point).

In the Night Garden Live is on at the O2 until 14th June and then it moves to Richmond. Book here! And yes, in case you were wondering she has started watching the DVDs again since we saw it live…

 

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Buy My EBook

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This is going to be one of those straight-to-the-point kinda posts. Cause it’s late and I’m tired and I have a whole “In the Night Garden Live” review to write. So I’m just going to tell you what I’m after and then go to bed. Maybe scheduling it for the morning first…

I’ve written an eBook. There’s dinosaurs in it, and pirates, and zone 3 and the DLR and all manner of exciting things. Buy it and I’ll love you forever, unless you’re a blood relative cause I’m already kinda obliged to love you forever and you don’t need double amounts of love. That’s just greedy.

In case you missed the subtler link, here it is again:

Buy My EBook!

Thank you and goodnight.

 

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“A Night at the Pictures” at Wood Street Indoor Market

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Walthamstow is full of surprises. There’s an evening disco for ageing indie kids, an Acoustic Massive that apparently accepts any old blogger and now there’s a haddock-slapping theatre company who want to entertain you in an old cinema. The show is “A Night at the Pictures”, the old cinema is the Wood Street Crown – now the Wood Street Indoor Market – and the theatre company is Slap Haddock, who I first met at the Plaza Park opening party.

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But first we were meeting Tammy and Jake for a play in the aforementioned Plaza Park. We did that for a few minutes before the unspringlike drizzle drove us inside the market to kill a few minutes. It’s a bit strange in there at the moment.  Developers have bought half of it and are turning it into flats, so there are few businesses left open on that side. I know property prices are booming in Walthamstow at the moment but this kind of development always strikes me as particularly short – sighted.  The reason Walthamstow is popular is because of its individuality. ..Take away all the little independent shops and drive up the rents and you may find that no one wants to live in “trendy Wood St” anymore. Unless they’re a viking who needs some chain mail from the viking shop. That’ll never go, right?

So, we explored the market while we could and found a couple of fellow Acoustic Massivers in the process of moving a shop, and the “Toy Shack”, which Tammy warned me sold “grown up mens’ toys”. Ooh-err. Thankfully, it turned out to be collectables and figurines and they had a stack of vintage annuals in the shop, which were for inspiration rather than sale. As well as selling toys, they also designed them and were in the process of designing some 2000AD toys. Nathan would be most impressed.

With all this wandering and socialising (and I’d really like to come back without the kids to look around the vintage clothes shops) it was almost time for the show to begin. We gathered at the front, where some ushers in vintage uniforms chatted to us and tried to blag snacks off the kids. It was a lot like the ushers I knew when I worked in the cinema. There was the cheeky one, the clueless one and the ones who were most concerned about the house rules (clean hands, no chewing gum on the seats, no entry to children who were part skeleton).

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And this being a theatre production , they naturally broke into song at the first opportunity (again, that was a lot like my own cinema experience):

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And with that, we were led inside to what used to be the Crown cinema and was reopening for one last film. We crammed into a tiny room to watch a “documentary” about the site and the Wood Street film studios (actually the actors through a window) and then the projector broke and so the “staff” had to improvise some entertainment. Again, this wasn’t far off reality….I had some ‘nam-types flashbacks to the third night that “Lord of the Rings” was out.

Of course, it was all part of the plan and we were led out of the room around the market to meet various stars of the silent era – a film noir detective on the trail of a missing dancer, a mad scientist, a starlet and a cowboy who specialised in death scenes. A lot of the film references were lost on the small kids (“I made men into apes and sent them to a planet”) but the adults appreciated them. There was a lot of banter with the audience and improvisation – one of the ushers performed potted versions of “Titanic” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” at the request of the crowd. One Daddy even got to play a cowboy himself, and I think he enjoyed it almost too much.

It was a great use of the space – the gap between units became a dark alley to follow the detective down, an office turned into a laboratory while we were looking the other way -  and the constant moving kept anyone from getting restless, even Reuben. There was always something new to engage with and the performance was very intimate at times…I’m thinking of the ending song, where I was pretty much standing under the accordionist’s armpit. It was charming, silly and funny and managed to convey some actual information as well as a lot of made-up stuff (I assume) in a fast-paced and interesting way. Reuben, Jake and Eva enjoyed it, chuckling at the cowboy’s antics and chasing the detective from place to place, although Roo was a bit freaked out by the mad scientist bit and suddenly burst into tears saying “I don’t want to change!”. I assure him that, seeing as he hadn’t drunk the potion, he should be OK.

We wandered back out into the daylight, clutching our free popcorn and went in search of lunch. We considered Cafe Bonito, which looked very cool (records on the wall, Spanish menu) but the kids were after chips and they didn’t do them. So, Moonlight Cafe it was then:

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For the princely sum of £7.80, me and the kids got sausages and chips and drinks which was a bit of a bargain. They even had a little garden, on the way to the toilets. Reuben was only there for a minute or so but managed to befriend an ant, which he carried inside and put on his chips to “see if he wanted to eat them”. We had a short and sharp discussion on the role of insects and food areas before Anty was returned to the wild:

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Then just one more play in Plaza Park. Mummy hit the wall, but Eva just conquered the wall:

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“A Night at the Pictures” is only on for one more day (3 performances) so get down to Wood Street and see it! It’s funny, it’s free and you might even learn something. Did I mention that the troupe put on a free show at a local retirement home? What lovely folk and you should definitely support them. More details here.

 

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Some More Random Parks…(Mostly in East London)

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I’ll admit we haven’t been up to much lately – I’m still recovering a bit from the epic LWAT 300 weekend, where we hit almost every E postcode in the matter of a few days. Just thinking about it makes me tired. So, this half term we’re taking things slowly and trying not to get wet shoes every day. If you’re venturing out, why not check out the Rainy Day Guide I wrote just before Eva was born. Gosh, that seems a long time ago now…

But let’s turn our mind to sunnier things because as recently as last week, I  was worrying about sun cream and bountiful water supplies rather than worrying about the bountiful water supplies stored in the turn-ups of my jeans. We’ve been to a whole load of new parks – a lot of them in our new East London hood – and I thought I’d do a round-up of them here, instead of giving each one its own post. Quite frankly, some of them we only visited for a few minutes because I was busy stressing about an invoice or something but we got a few pics.

Let’s start in North London, with Chestnuts Park, Haringey. I only went there briefly with T’s Mum and T but isn’t it nice? So colourful and spacious, with one of those wobbly swing things where four kids can swing at once. There was a cafe there too, and it’s not far from Green Lanes where you can buy authentic Turkish apple tea – one of my favourite things. Of course, I have my tech support monkey trained to visit Turkey every so often to bring apple tea back for me, so don’t tell him that I can get it in N16. It might take away his sense of purpose in life.

 

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Dipping (barely) south of the river, here’s a park that we’ve been to plenty of times but never mentioned. It’s Little Dorrit Park, just around the corner from Roo’s old childminder in Borough and it has a climbing frame in the shape of a train:

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The literary-minded among you might notice a Dickens reference in the park’s name. That’s not really surprising, given that Charles Dickens lived nearby…and in fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a road, pub or school that wasn’t named after him in some way.  It’s not a huge park, but it has a toddler climbing frame, a bigger frame, a roundabout and a little bit of green space for picnicking. It’s very handy in a not overly green bit of London. As a bonus, you have Subway  Borough Market on hand for picnic food.

And so to the East. Since I started writing this post, I’ve managed to add another random park to our repetoire – it’s Coronation Gardens, in Leyton. Conveniently located next to Leyton Orient’s stadium and, more pertinently, the walk-in medical centre contained within its walls. Perfect for those toddler emergencies. Look, here’s Reuben enjoying the maze at well-past-bedtime o’clock today:

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Don’t ask.

There was another maze in Chingford Memorial Park, which we visited for literally 15 minutes in between a giant work crisis and the school run:

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Still, it looked nice and we’ll go back soon. Unlike a lot of Waltham Forest parks, it also has toilets. Bonus!

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And then there’s the newly refurbished Vincent Rd park in Highams Park, which always excites Roo due to the “blue grass”.

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He means the astroturf stuff, rather than a group of country and western musicians…but I think you’d probably worked that one out. The blue grass is very pretty but does have a tendency to give you a static shock when you open the gate after standing on it. Be warned. The park has been fitted out in that wooden style that’s so popular at the moment, but has retained an older-style metal climbing labyrinth:

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There’s also some sensory boards, although the musical ones seem to have died already, and a collection of large white rocks that Reuben calls dinosaur eggs. And a climbing wall, randomly enough. The park’s right next to the stream and there is a hole in the fence for kids to climb through, so worth keeping an eye out.

We’ve also been back to Victoria Park, which has some new water-play features (and no, I wasn’t prepared). Last time we went it all still looked a bit under construction, so I thought I’d get some updated photos:

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And yes, it’s still full of ironic-hatted Dads. Of course it is – it’s Hackney.

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Finally, in case all of these parks seem a bit civilised for your liking, why not take a trip out to The Highams Park? There’s woodland, a massive lake with geese and ducks and a small playground:

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The main attraction for kids though is the forest in which you can completely lose yourself, even though it’s only ten minutes from the station. I say it’s an attraction for kids – I was, naturally, petrified and rapidly updating my Facebook status so that someone would know where we were and be able to find us…or at least recover the bodies. You might not fear the forest as much as I do but either way, pack sensible shoes.

Eva’s squealing so I’ll end there. There are still so many parks in London to visit so there may be more of these random round-ups. I’m sure you’re thrilled.

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Big Fish Little Fish in Hackney – 18/05/14

 

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Hands in the air! It’s our third trip to Big Fish Little Fish and this time it seems to have found a natural home in a warehouse in Hackney. Why such a good fit? Well the warehouse gave it that real illicit edge that made Nathan wonder if it was 2am rather than 2pm and whether we were, in fact, back in 1995. And as for Hackney – well, it’s full of hipster Dads, who love to throw ironic shapes with their ironic toddlers while wearing retro hats (you’re wondering whether it’s the Dads or the toddlers wearing the hats, aren’t you? I’ll let you guess…) So, it’s a great fit and I can’t believe they haven’t been there before.

It was a sweltering day, reminiscent of the first party in Brixton, but the bigger space made it a lot less sweaty than that day. There was a bit of outdoor space, for parking buggies and eating ice lollies from the Ice Kitchen (more on that later) but the main action was inside.  There was a dancefloor, of course, a craft table, a bar and two play areas – one for the crawlers and babes in arms, the other for the bigger kids. I’ll confess now that Eva breached the baby area, but there weren’t any babies in it at the time and she was very gentle. As gentle as a 2-year-old can be.

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Reuben made a beeline for the dancefloor, where he treated us to his very special moves, before dashing off to have a look at everything else. That boy isn’t often still. By the time i’d parked the buggy up and removed Eva and her giant “dancing dress”, he’d already bagged a smoothie and had a boogie. Eva was taking things more slowly:

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It’s all a bit hazy, but here’s what we did for the next two hours or so. There was hat-making:

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Pirate tattoos:

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A motion-capture skeleton that Roo liked to make shadow puppets in front of:

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And some chilling out with ice lollies. They were really good – Nathan and I had the blueberry, yoghurt and honey ones and the kids had strawberry and cream ones. Eva took hers back onto the dancefloor because she eats so very slowly. I think we can say this is living the toddler dream:

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Sadly, she hasn’t quite mastered the ice lolly eating technique yet and only ate from one side, which caused catastrophic and inevitable collapse. Followed by catastrophic and inevitable toddler collapse. I was tempted to scoop the fallen lolly up and eat it anyway, but you’ll be glad to know I thought better of it. Instead, I took it to the Lost Children’s point:

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And yes, I did use this as a threat to Roo – if you get lost, you’ll end up in the bin. Sometimes him being able to read is so useful. Other times, not so much.

Eva got over the lolly loss pretty quickly with a Daddy-dance to The Prodigy and a play in the play tents. By 4, Roo was starting to get tired and we considered making our way home but rumours of a parachute dance perked him up again. Rightly so, because the parachute dance was super-fun. Roo stood on the stage, throwing balloons onto the canopy while helpfully tall people wafted them around for him. And me and Eva danced below:

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There was also another reason to stay – Superstar DJ Tom Middleton had taken over the decks. Now, I’d enjoyed Felix Hot Chip’s set (and Reuben liked the song about a monkey with a miniature cymbal) but Tom Middleton’s was the undoubted highlight. It started with an “In the Night Garden” version of “My Name is..” that brought a smile of recognition to Eva’s face (for the Iggle Piggle, not the Slim Shady. Probably) and was just non-stop danceability from then on in. “On a Ragga Tip”, “The Clapping Song” and Buttoned Down Disco favourite “I Wish” by Skee-lo. Eva stood on the stage playing with a glow-band bracelet and twirling while I had a dance.

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Reuben and Nathan meanwhile were colouring in the mural at the back and going crazy for “Everything is Awesome” (Reuben said “I know that song! It’s my favourite!”) A little “woo-hoo”ing to Song 2 later and it was time to go, sadly.

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But before we do, I feel like I have to issue a stark warning. No matter how much you try and immerse your kids in the music of your youth, things can go wrong. Look what I found on the mural:

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Grim stuff, kids. Mind you, a famous stalwart of the 90s indie scene recently admitting to being a bit partial to 1D so it seems like their influence is seeping in everywhere…

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After such excitement, it was time for a bit of water play to cool down. It might have been 5PM but it was still blazing hot and we were right next to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park so why not go for a play? Well, maybe because it would result in a super-late bedtime and the kids were already tired? Pah, I scorn your logic. When it comes to choosing between the sensible thing and the fun thing, I do try and choose the sensible thing…but it doesn’t come naturally on a glorious summer’s evening when an awesome park lies just across the way. So, teatime water play it was. And it was totally worth it:

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Yes, we took her giant dancing dress off before unleashing her on the sand ‘n’water. See, I can do sensible.

Oh, and as an added bonus we found some lovely “wowers” on the way, and took some photos of Eva with them which I’m now going to gratuitously shoehorn in because she is just so darn cute:

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As Echo and the Bunnymen once said, nothing last forever and 6PM was definitely getting on time to find a random bus and get out of Stratford. We walked to the nearest stop, past eerily empty and half-finished apartments that featured yet more play areas:

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You can’t really see it because I was ushering Reuben past pretty quickly by that point. They also seemed to have the giant grass neighbours from the Southbank Festival of Neighbourhood last year.

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The getting home bit could have been smoother – the 97 to Chingford sailed by without stopping – but we’ll gloss over that and end in the sunshine of the shiny new Celebration Avenue. Hands continue to be in the air…

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Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

LWAT is 300 – An East London Epic

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This is the 300th post on London With a Toddler. Can you Adam it? To celebrate, we decided to roam East London in search of not dodgy cockney rhyming slang, as demonstrated in the last sentence, but paddling pools, pigs and Plaistow. Which is just as well, because we’ve been East Londoners for weeks now and haven’t heard so much of a hint of cockney rhyming slang. Maybe we’re just too close to Essex – I did hear someone in Tesco talking about Chas n Dave the other day…

But I’m digressing already, and there will be plenty of digessions later on. To celebrate, we decided to travel the length of the 300 route, stopping along the way to see what we could find. We mainly found three things:

1) The 300 is a slow bus

2) The 300 is a very irregular bus

3) The 300 is not the most efficient way to get from East Ham to Canning Town.

The bus journey was partly inspired by classic London mag “Smoke”, who used the early 2000s to ride a selection of different buses of the week – the more rambling and obscure the better. Given that “rambling” and “obscure” are adjectives often applied to this blog, it seemed only appropriate to find our own slow and overly complex bus. The 300 delivered.

But let’s start a the start which, for us, was Barking. I was keen for us to drive to the start line, as that involved a quick nip round the north circular instead of a complicated TfL tussle. But parking in East Ham seemed expensive and hard to come by…I suspect due to the presence of a large football stadium that confusingly seems to be closer to East Ham than West. So the decision was taken to use the cheaper parking in Barking and then hop on the tube. As it turned out, we parked not just for cheap but for free, as we missed the car park we were aiming for and instead found this spooky deserted retail park:

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If you too want to park there, it’s called Abbey Retail Park and seems free from restrictions….but also free from most kinds of retail. Very odd. I’ll save you the suspense and let you know that our car was still there at the end of the day. We wandered round Barking a bit more than we meant to (darn misleading signs), then wandered round the station more than we meant to (darn misleading signs) and finally got to East Ham, where we found a sign that was reassuringly unmisleading:

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I hope the drivers enjoy their tea. Anyway, onto the start of the 300 route and this meant the first park of the day – Plashet Park.

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It had slides, swings, toilets that smelt as if something had died and a lot of fun climbable things.  Nathan particularly enjoyed the exercise thingy, although he wouldn’t go much further than 45 degrees from the middle point. Spoilsport!

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The sand pit looked a little sorry for itself:

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It also had a somewhat unenthusiastic bit of water play:

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Still, the kids were pretty enthusiastic about getting wet. I was hoping to keep them dry till at least lunchtime, so I steered them away repeatedly. But some other kids just dived in, and that somehow awoke the rest of the wet play area, which spurted out random jets of water for the soaking of random children. It was almost time to get on the bus, but first Eva and Nathan had a little “Titanic” moment:

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And Reuben wanted to try it out too, with slightly less success:

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They weren’t keen to leave, but we had a lot of places to visit and there would be a lot of park-leaving along the way. Interestingly, Plashet Park is on the boundary of E6 and E7…it’s interesting for me, anyway. I think I’ve collected nearly all the E-postcodes this weekend. So, goodbye to Plashet Park and onto the bus stop.

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At this point, to avoid disappointment I should make one thing clear. Nathan point-blank refused to don a pair of tiny leather pants and a red cape for the occasion, so we had to limit ourselves to bellowing “This is East Ham!” instead. And gosh, what a lot of East Ham we saw. The 300 wended its very slow way round the residential streets of the area, past the East Ham Market Hall (“bags of shopping under one roof”) and Newham Town Hall:

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And a loooot of other bits of East Ham. We went round in circles, squares and triangles and probably rectangles and squares too. I’ve never been so glad to see the A13 and with it the promise of Beckton. That’s something I never thought I’d say. But it was lovely to see Beckton Asda again – home of affordable and bountiful school uniform – and the intriguing Beckton Alps, which I’ve heard are actually mounds of toxic sludge so we didn’t stop there. Next stop – Newham City Farm!

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Now, you’d imagine that all city farms are created equal but no – this is not on the same scale as Vauxhall City Farm at all. You could fit Vauxhall into one paddock of Newham. It was expansive, green and lovely. It’s free to get in, but donations are encouraged and I completely neglected to donate. I’m sorry. Have some free advertising instead. There was a small under 8s play area and big open areas for the sheep and horses:

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Then there was a duck filled river that Eva enjoyed looking at (she’s a big fan of ducks, especially ones that are sketchily animated)

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And a chicken that Reuben named the “dino-chicken” because it looked like a dinosaur:

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And, of course, a pig’s bottom:

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Which Reuben found hilarious, obviously. He also liked stroking the donkey, seeing the rabbits and….scaring the peacocks. I’m not proud of the last bit. I said something foolish about how you make peacocks show their feathers. We moved on rapidly.

We moved on to lunch. It was ridiculously hot, just like it always seems to be when we do these crazy anniversary missions, and I was flagging. We followed the signs to the farm cafe, which took us right out of the farm and into King George V Park.

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The cafe turned out to be a little hatch, which could sell us sausage and chips for £2.50 each if we waited 10 minutes. So, we took that option and the kids went for a play:

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There was a fort-like mound in the middle, which turned out to have a path winding up it, leading to a slide:

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And the world’s noisiest roundabout, which turned with the sound of screeching ball bearings:

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I went back to collect our food but it still wasn’t ready. I was getting tetchy. More playing. An “animal adventure” for Roo in the trenches of the park and some precarious climbing of the fort from Eva.

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And then – food! I’d been hungry since we got off the bus, but Maria tells me 11:15 is not lunch time, so we’d held off till a respectable 12:15 instead. The sausages and chips didn’t last long:

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(Except Eva’s, obviously. Toddlers can make a meal last for hours. But even she ate it all in the end)

At this point we were faced with a dilemma. We’d gone so far through the farm that we were halfway to Prince Regent Lane, where we could pick up the route again. Walking down one road would get us back on the route, but with a chunk skipped out. Could we live with that? Yeah, we could. Sorry to the dockside bit with the DLR stations on it – we were getting back on that bus and going straight to Plaistow Park:

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In the few short minutes between lunch and arriving at the park, the sun had gone in and the temperature had dropped considerably. Pity, as this was where we had some water play and ice cream scheduled. Still, we never let small climate fluctuations get in the way of a good plan…

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For a long time Reuben was the only one in the pool but slowly, the Plaistow natives joined in. I’m not entirely sure they knew what to do with a paddling pool. One girl went in fully clothed, which is pretty standard stuff, and she and Roo threw sticks for each other and played fetch. But then another boy – who was well old enough to know better – tried to go in with his shoes on.  Two other boys just dumped bucketfuls of sand in there. And someone else spat their chewing gum in. Then someone jumped in with a football, and that gave his mate a great idea – why not ride a bike around the perimeter? Imagine our hilarity then, when the bike rider stopped his aquatic antics to shout “My shoes are soaking wet!”

Well yes, you were riding a bike around a paddling pool. How could wet shoes possibly surprise you?

I try not to mock children, but I was almost wetting myself laughing at him, especially as he just kept shouting “my shoes are wet!” He eventually went home to dry his shoes, and Reuben went to the sand pit. Eva had been sleeping straight through all of this, but I nipped to Tesco to get a 4 pack of Cornettos and the very mention of ice-cream was enough to wake her up:

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Awww, sleepy ice cream face! She and Roo played together in the sand for a while before we had to move on again. There were more tears and arguments…but the end was near and we needed to press on.

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Back on the 300 then! Or not. We narrowly missed the bus and the sign said it would be a full 16  minutes before the next one. We were around a mile and half from Canning Town by this point, but tired and footsore and not up for a lot of walking. On the flip side, waiting at the bus stop would involve listening to a woman rant into her phone for 16 minutes…so we walked. At least until the bus caught up with us. Just for Maria, here’s a Ukranian restaurant we saw along the way:

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We were mere metres away from Canning Town by the time the bus caught up but it somehow felt right to end the journey on the 300 itself. Besides, there was an awkward-looking dual carriageway between us and the station. So we boarded it for the last time:

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And there we were – Canning Town, almost exactly 300 minutes since we had left East Ham (you have no idea how happy that made me). But our day wasn’t quite over – there was one more thing to do while we were in the area. It meant ducking into the tube at Canning Town and going one stop south to North Greenwich.

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I like to celebrate anniversaries in style, and nothing is more stylish than some white knuckles and a cold sweat. You might remember I’m a bit scared of heights so you can imagine what a treat it was to try out the new cable car back across the river. Somewhere across town, half a stadium full of people were wearing shirts that proclaimed “Fly Emirates” and we were about to do just that.

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There was a brief moment of panic as our car stopped just before take off but  apparently it was quite standard procedure to let someone on. At least we weren’t one of the cars stopped several hundred feet over the river. We eventually got going again, and a video screen of waving South Londoners bid us goodbye in a hopefully non-final kind of a way. Across the river, North London would be waiting to greet us (Eerie life symbolism alert!), although calling Docklands North London is a bit of a stretch of the imagination. First though, there was the climb:

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Pure terror. Notice how there are no photos of my face because if there were, it would be like a Munch painting. But I relaxed a little and took in the slightly skewed version of London that was laid out before us. Basically, everything was off to the west, and most of the scenery below us was industrial wasteland but we could make out Elephant & Castle, the City and the Olympic Park. In the other direction was the Thames Barrier, which I’d never seen before, and the stretches of the Thames that go out towards the sea. A good view, but terrifying, obviously.

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We came down to land next to the Excel and decided today was not the day to check out The Crystal, a new museum right next to the terminal. It looked interesting but we were unspeakably tired and still had one DLR and a tube to get back to Barking. So, let’s skip those, and the inevitable lost-wandering around Barking when both our phones had run out of battery and so we couldn’t access Google maps. Let’s just end with the historical Barking Abbey:

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And a bee collecting pollen, next to the car:

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Nature, history, transport, technology….I think you’ll agree this post had a bit of everything. Probably too much of everything, so I’ll stop there. Happy 300th anniversary, LWAT!

 

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Some News from the LWAT World

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It’s 6 o’clock and that means one thing….it’s the news. Granted, it won’t be 6 o’clock when you read this, because 6 o’clock is also shortly before bedtime and the sounds floating down from above suggest that there’s book-ripping trouble a-brewing in Reuben’s room.

But still. The news.

Let’s start with LolliBop. A whole raft of acts have been announced since I last did an update, so hold onto your festival hats (sadly, Nathan’s festival hat got lost several moves ago) Confirmed so far are:

Justin Fletcher (Saturday & Sunday)

Mister Maker (Friday only)

Mr Bloom

CBBC’s Big Friday Wind Up stars Sam & Mark

Lazytown Live

Andy Day’s Live Show (I know from my search engine terms that there are a lot of Andy fans out there…and his Dad is so lovely)

Thomas & Friends

Chris & Pui Mini Roadshow

Scooby-Doo! The Mystery of the Pyramid

Cook and Line from Swashbuckle (Fri & Sat)

Michaela Strachan’s Really Wild Adventures Show.

Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic present a Silent Disco!

Southbank Centre, including music, dancing, fashion shows, DJs, pirate school, den making and takeaway crafts

Skylanders Trap Team™

Postman Pat® Mini Show,

The Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre

Science Museum.

National Geographic Kids woodlands takeover

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Harry’s Wizard School

Bear Grylls

Beano events

Live cooking in the Lolli Kitchen

…and more to come. I know not everyone loves Justin (OK, I don’t love Justin) but word on the CBeebies street is he’s quite popular with preschoolers. And word on the mumsnet street is that Mr Bloom is quite popular with preschoolers’ mums.

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Meanwhile, there was a very special second birthday a few weeks back. No, not Eva’s (well, that too) but the Dish and the Spoon’s! A big Happy Birthday from LWAT and hope the birthday cake was suitably yummy. The Dish are also starting a children’s book exchange – if your kids have finished with their book, bring it to the Dish and you can change it for a different one! It’s a pilot scheme, so do show your support if you’re in the Nunhead/Dulwich kinda area.

(Oh, and Happy Birthday to Eva too…I guess)

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And onto news from Big Fish Little Fish..their last party before going on the festival trail is happening this Sunday in Hackney. We’ll be there, and so should you if there are still tickets left. Have a look at their website for more details.  And there’s more news from Crazy Chimps in Kennington – they’re starting a breakfast club, offering entry and breakfast for just £5 per adult and child pair. I’m actually getting liberally scattered with breakfast by Eva as I write this (see, it’s not 6 o’clock anymore…)

Lastly, here’s a very special offer from our Friend Maria at Maria Made It. I’ll let Maria herself explain it: “I’m offering a free sterling silver rope necklace, either 16″ or 18″ with any hand/fingerprint pendant ordered in May. (Order the charm through the website and use the contact me button to request the necklace in your choice of length, saving £10)” Go on readers….order now (and don’t forget to include a personal message to Maria telling her how lovely she is. Or how lovely I am. in fact, go with the second option).

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Extremes at the Horniman – 07/05/14

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Do you ever feel like the world is out to get you? Not in a gloomy “life sucks” kinda way but more like there’s a mischievous life-pixie out to confuse and disorientate you and generally just ikea it up a little. That’s what my morning felt like.

Join me, if you will, in the little concourse between platforms 1-2 and 3-4 at London Bridge. Since the renovations started at the station it’s all been a bit of a confusing mess. One time when I was there, I resorted to using National Rail Enquiries on my phone because there was no other way to find out what I needed to know. The main problem is that right at the start, you need to pick a platform. Are you 1-6 or 8-15? You don’t know? Check the screens. The screens don’t know? Ah, then you’ll need to guess.

I guessed. There was a train going to Forest Hill in ten minutes or so but neither the screens nor my amazing powers of clairvoyance were telling me where it might go from. So I picked my old faithful 1-6 …purveyors of trains to New Cross, Deptford, Lee and Greenwich. Surely Forest Hill would be in that kinda direction too?

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Well, I can’t say I wasn’t nervous. I hung around that little concourse waiting for the platform number to appear until I finally decided to give in and ask. Turns out my guess was wrong…It had been a bold roll of the SE London dice but like all gambles, it came with a risk…specifically the risk that you might have to charm your way back through the ticket barriers, get back outside, and then through another set of barriers in search of platform 7. Of course, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll have noticed a fatal flaw in these plans. There were two options – 1-6 or 8-15. I suspect that platform 7 was one of those rail-staff in jokes, like sending the work experience kid out for tartan paint.

So, gambling time again and this time I went with the other set of ticket barriers – the 8-15 side. And then onto…Where? There was still no platform number and I had less minutes left than there are jokes in Reuben’s repetoire. Time to ask again.  The next guard narrowed it down to two platforms for me, which was a step in the right direction but still not the ideal answer I was looking for, especially as the board had told that whichever platform it was, I’d have to be on the far end of it. I rolled another virtual dice (note to self:pack real dice next time) and started down platform 10, only to hear with seconds to spare that I was wrong again. 11 was the number I needed all along. After all that drama (note to self:need some actual drama in the blog at some point) you’d hope getting out at Forest Hill would be easy enough, wouldn’t you? But no, the life-pixie was at it again.

I’ll make this short and simple for you, to give you the benefit of my trial and error. Platform 1 has a step free exit. The Horniman is on the platform 1 side.  You can get there from platform 2 by using the lifts. You can skip out the confused signs, the aimless wandering and the 3 different trips in one lift. Skip all that, skip out the steep walk up Forest Mountain and go straight to the Horniman. If you like, you can keep in the bit where I sat at a street piano and calmed myself with a small burst of “Fur Elise”. That was fun.

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So we got there. And only ten minutes late for meeting Maria and Niamh, which I think they’d agree is good by our standards. The museum was eerily quiet, in contrast to the usual wall-to-wall toddler chaos. It might be because they’re refitting bits of it and the cafe was closed or maybe it was just a happy consequence of going there during term-time. Either way, it meant that for the first time we could go to the busy bees session in the garden pavilion. Normally getting hold of a few ticket involves queuing for half an hour with restless toddler in tow…hence not being very interested. This time, though, we were just handed tickets for the next session by a man in lilac trousers who I’d assume worked there. We killed a few minutes in the aquarium and then crossed the outdoor area to the garden pavilion.

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I wasn’t entirely sure what Busy Bees was, but it turned out to be a storytelling and singing session, partly curated by a monkey called Bob. The story was a whimsical little tale about the sky and the earth and I’ll be honest….I didn’t entirely follow the plot But Eva and Niamh enjoyed the puppets, the singing and the actions so I guessing plot cohesion isn’t a priority for them.

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At the end, there was a chance to handle some of the museum’s treasures, which had a loose link back to theme of the session (Earth–>gardens–>fruit and veg–>instruments made from gourds). Eva just liked the things that made noise, and getting a sticker. Then we saw a llama:

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It was lunchtime. With the cafe closed, we had to eat in the conservatory which is very pretty but does feel a little like a greenhouse in the sun. It was nice that it was so quiet though…avoiding the usual Horniman lunch scrum made for a altogether calmer experience. The options were a bit limited, but they still had sandwiches, kids lunch boxes, panini and a few hot items. Plus you can still pay by card, which is always my worry with pop up cafes. Eva’s fairly averse to anything with a nutrient in it at the moment, so she mainly ate crisps but she did bite her sandwich and spray Maria with juice from her orange so that’s a toddler’s RDA of vitamins, right?

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We were running out of time but I wanted to visit the new exhibition, “Extremes” so we did that. As you can probably guess, it’s about the extremes of life on earth – dry places, cold places, dark places. The last was presented in a somewhat creepy way (intentionally so), where you grope your way along a pitch black tunnel, feeling the outline of creatures on the wall. This being the taxidermy centre of South London, you never quite know whether the creatures are real or not (or whether they have been real at some point) so it was a bit disconcerting. But full marks for interactivity!

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The interactive exhibits continued, with Niamh’s favourite…a scale where you could measure how much water you had in your body by weighing yourself against 5l bottles of water
Conclusion was she didn’t have much because she’s quite small. I’m less small, apparently. I hate scales.

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So onto Eva’s favourite bit….a screen where you could photograph yourself against some Arctic tundras. I used the console bit to send the photo to Nathan at work, who very nearly deleted it as spam before realising that a spammer had somehow got hold of a picture of his little girl. I do love to confuse Nathan and it’s so easy to do! Why don’t you send Nathan a confusing e mail today? It’s easilyconfuxed@gmail.com (not to be confuxed with easilyconfused@ the same provider. I don’t know who owns that and we don’t want to confuse them)
I think I may have gone off on a tangent there which involved setting up an entirely new Gmail account so that people could confuse my husband. Time well spent but where were we? Did I mention the heat detector cameras yet?

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Or the  button pressing games? The breath measurer? The bizarrely intimate bit with the ostrich? I didn’t? Ah well, you’ll just have to go there and find out on your own. But let me tell you one last thing….Don’t trust this button.

2014-05-07 13.16.07PAINT

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