More Exciting Announcements!


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Firstly, it’s Nathan’s birthday. Reuben was in charge of cake design, in case you’re wondering.

Secondly, I have two other announcements that might just be more interesting to you. Anyone here like….


Of course you do! And your kids too, I’ll bet. Well, the annual CBeebies panto is coming round again – this year it’s “Peter Pan”, starring all your favourite Beebies presenters and Justin as well. It’s being filmed in Manchester on October 11th and you could be in the audience. I’ll let Beebies explain…

“Free tickets for CBeebies Peter Pan are released at midday today (September 10th 2014) through  and will be allocated via a ballot which is open for one week. The ballot will close at midday on September 17th. Performances will take place at 1pm and again at 4.30pm on Saturday, October 11th 2014, at The Lowry, Salford Quays.

Over that same weekend there will also be a host of different activities and a range of entertainment taking place outside The Lowry, all created by BBC Learning, to excite and inspire young audiences. No tickets are required for the events and the activities will run on Friday and Saturday (10th/11th October) from 10am – 6pm.  As CBeebies Peter Pan is performed on stage there will be live streaming on a big screen for those unable to get tickets. More details of the weekend activities will be released over the coming weeks.”

Well, I’m excited anyway! The ballot is only open for a week, so get onto it quickly!

And the last announcement? Remember that Octonauts Live is coming? Well, I have a chance to interview the director and writer, Richard Lewis. So, if you have any questions for him, send them to me at It’s going to be Octotastic!


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Beware of…

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Card clash! It’s coming, dontcha know…a week on Tuesday. Of course, if you’ve been using a contactless card on a bus you’ll already be familiar with the perils of card clash, but now the warnings are being rolled out over the tannoys where ominous voices warn you to enforce Oyster/Visa acardtheid. Because – and this is the real point – you will soon be able to use a contactless debit card to pay on the tube, DLR and London Overground as well as the bus. And the good thing is that the daily and weekly capping works (where a week = Monday-Sunday). That is GOOD NEWS people. No more queuing at the Oyster top-up machine while your train pulls away. You just pay by debit card and it’ll cap itself at the price of a daily travelcard if you make enough journeys. As you might guess, we often make enough journeys to do that.

There are some cons as well as the pros – you can’t combine Oyster and contactless, so if you’re aiming for a weekly cap, you need to remember which card you started on. Obviously it has to be the same debit card each time as well. There’s no monthly or annual cap, so it’s best to just buy a travelcard for those time periods. And the stickiest issue has to be to do with National Rail services (critical for the people of Near-Essex, like us). Apparently, contactless will be accepted on some NR services but it won’t be announced which ones until just before the date. Not overly helpful. But I’ll bring you more info as and when I get it.

Anyhoo, more info here.

While I’m here, a quick couple of shout outs. Firstly, for the Stow Festival this Saturday (13th September), featuring the Walthamstow Acoustic Massive…and me. Secondly, for the Evelina Children’s Hospital Fun Day at the Oval on the same day. You have no reason to be bored this weekend…

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The Bucket and Spade List Part 6 – Lunch in Leytonstone

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OK, I might have been a bit harsh on Leytonstone in that last post but it was raining and rain puts me in a grouchy mood. Still, going through somewhere on a bus is a bit of a cop-out and so I thought I should probably give it a proper explore. Or at least take Roo to McDonalds there while running some errands for work.

Don’t look so outraged. It’s not like he has McDonalds all the time – in fact, he only ate there for the first time this year. But I’ve created a McMonster and he now has something of a taste for Happy Meals…or at least the toy that comes with them. It was our last Mummy-and-Son day of the holiday and I’ve spent most of those Mummy-and-Son days dragging him round Soho so a treat was in order. More on that later though…

Join me, if you will, at the end of the W16 route outside Leytonstone tube station. Like me, you may be confused about where you are. It will look a little like the bus station you went through on the 257 but with a complete lack of High Street next to it. Still, it had an interesting bus-sculpture:

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..and some ladybirds on the floor. It entertained Roo for a few minutes but it wasn’t quite going to hit the Happy Meal spot. I eventually worked out that we needed to go into the tube and through a subway to get to Leytonstone High Road. The subway was happily decorated with mosaics of Leytonstone’s most filmic son, Alfred Hitchcock:

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Who, according to these pictures, had an unfortunate habit of groping Janet Leigh in the showers:

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No wonder she looks shocked. By the way, I am dedicating this picture to my A-Level English teacher Graeme Hodgson. It’s all in the circles you know…

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Anyway, once we’d got through the subway (possibly heading North-by-NorthWest) we arrived at another bus station which looked fairly similar to the first one. I was beginning to see where I’d got confused. But I was also beginning to see where we were going, past the big church and the Stone Gallery (is that a wee bit of gentrification going on there?) to the big McDonalds, which had…wait for this…a free soft play! Oh yeah, now you’re listening aren’t you? That over-processed food from the evil corporation doesn’t seem so bad once you sweeten it with a play area, does it? As discussed, I have few principles anyway. I save my moral crusading for Nestle, which conveniently lets me buy my boy some McNuggets and a Fruit Shoot. Granted, I’d ordered a hamburger but he seemed OK with the change in plan once he opened the box. He mainly likes the toys anyway.

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So, we ate and then he played. For a glorious 20 minutes or so, while I used the free wifi to send some work e-mails. But it was sunny outside and the park was beckoning. Along the way, we saw what looked like the poshest Tesco ever:

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And then we crossed by the green man roundabout, which I’ve recently heard described as”the beating heart of Leytonstone”. I’m not convinced on that, but it does make for fun road-crossing, when you wait for the green man at the Green Man (the fun mainly involves shouting “Green Man!” a lot. Your child being able to read road signs facilitates this fun). We also saw another mosaic, which I’m starting to think of as an E11 trademark:

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The park I had in mind was the Henry Reynolds Gardens, which promised two play areas – one for under 12s and one for under 7s. And indeed, it had those. Here’s the under-12s:

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And here’s the under 7s:

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Obviously, the under 7s was covered in teenagers, spending their last days of the summer holidays trying to make themselves sick on the roundabout. But that’s just park life.

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Anyway, Roo ran in and the first thing he was drawn to was not the brightly coloured metal but the altogether more natural play area:


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It was a kinda assault course, all carved out of tree trunks. There were lots of intricate details and even a snail, although we have enough of those in the playhouse at home.  There were rope bridges to climb over and things to balance on, and at the end you were rewarded with a good climbing tree which, unfortunately, was full of squealing girls. But, not to worry…there were still those two play areas to investigate, and a handy reminder of where you’d found yourself:

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Some of us have no idea how we found ourselves here, but that’s another matter…

A fairly nice park overall – small ish and with a few too many teens and pre-teens, but prettier than anything I’d expected to find in Leytonstone:

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(As discussed in my last post, the sunshine helps) Altogether, a more successful trip than I was anticipating – parks, greenery, street art and a Big Mac. Leytonstone = done.

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The Bucket and Spade List Part 5 – Clissold Park

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Yes, it’s the last week of the holidays and we’re not even halfway through the list. I’m OK with that. The list will go on. But we ticked off another item yesterday, with a trip to Clissold Park with Tammy and Jake. It rained all day.

Wow, that really sounds like the shortest post in the world…but no, you’re not that lucky. I am going to talk you through a rainy day in Clissold Park in the usual excessive amounts of detail and you’ll be surprised at the end to learn it was really quite pleasant. Well, you won’t be surprised now, will you?

Let’s start at Walthamstow Central. A glance at a local paper had led me to believe that a shiny new route had opened up between that station and the Queens Road station on the Overground. I couldn’t see any signs, so just started walking the long way round, confident that we’d find a way through. As soon as we turned up towards Hoe Street, Eva started pointing into the carpark and wailing “No, dat way! We go dat way!”. Like a fool, I ignored her because it turned out that the toddler was right. The correct route through did involve walking through the car park at Walthamstow Central and cutting through a residential street marked with laminated pieces of paper. Of course, I only found that out on the return trip because I was busy walking the long way round. I really am a fool.

We were getting the overground to Harringay Green Lanes and then a bus to the park from there. It may not seem like the quickest route, but the shiny new Overground has that magical step-free access that the creaky old Piccadilly Line stations can’t seem to muster…even the not-quite-so-creaky Victoria Line stations boast but a handful of step-free routes. They do a great line in raised platforms though, so if you can get down there with a buggy or wheelchair you are totally sorted. Anyway, ramps at Queens Road and Green Lanes ensured a smooth step-free route for he buggy, which Eva doesn’t necessarily use all the time, but Eva’s stuff does. And on a rainy day, there was a lot in the way of stuff – particularly extra layers and that hoodless raincoat.

It was pretty drizzly by the time we got there. First impressions were of a big, open park that was also a particularly damp park:

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It’s amazing trick of the camera – or possibly of the weather – that makes Stoke Newington look bleak and unappealing because of the drizzle, whereas a sunny Leytonstone today looked positively utopian. I expect floods of enraged tweets complaining that I’m bringing house prices down. Fear not though – in the cafe, inside the very classy Clissold House, the aspirational spirit of N16 was alive and well. Every table was full of Annabellas and Edwins, fresh from their overpriced singing group, sipping babycinos with their nannies. Even the plants looked a bit disdainful and superior, in their shiny silver buckets:

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This was not a place where you ordered the cheapest drink on the menu and ate your own sandwiches surreptiously under the table. So, naturally we didn’t. No no. Neither did Roo unsurreptiously fashion a crown out of his tortilla. Again, no. We hid out there as long as we could make a packed lunch cup of tea last and then went back out into the drizzle.

A few words of explanations while we’re here – as you approach Clissold House from the front, the cafe is up a slope and then some steps and it looks tiny. It’s actually three rooms’ worth of space, along with an atrium to park the buggy in, and if you go around the back you’ll find a step-free entrance where you can either take a lift up or park the buggy at the bottom and use these Von-Trappesque stairs:

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You may be tempted to sit on the bottom step and slowly shuffle upwards, singing about suns going to bed but repress that urge. The nannies will judge you.

I also noticed a “Quiet Room” behind the cafe, which I assume is more seating. Obviously we didn’t go in there. Equally obviously, I didn’t go in there and sing about suns going to bed. What a well repressed urge that was!

So, back into the rain and it really was a very light, misty kind of rain which totally justified shoving the kids outside for a run around the playground. They had coats. They didn’t wear them all the time, that’s true, but they had them. And besides, it was only an intermittent misty rain. Hardly rain at all. Just as well, seeing that the hardly-rain hardly stopped all day.

The playground then! A dangerous place, or so the gates would have you believe:

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Clearly one of the solicitor parents of Stoke Newington has threatened a lawsuit at some point, for a grazed Grazia or a scuffed Scylla. Remember kids – play safe. Or at least, take responsibility for your own actions.

Reuben didn’t read the sign:

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And Eva just can’t read:

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As for Jake? He was being a rogue train, careering around the playground knocking down innocent bystanders. I’d love to see the H&S paperwork for that.

Anyway, I’ll stop talking for a second while I eat a bourbon and instead show you some pictures of the large and well-landscaped playground:

2014-09-01 12.02.54From the top of the slide:

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And from the other direction (I think that’s a skate park):

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Pirate ship! Or improvised rain-shelter…

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And some quizzical-looking animals:

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Oh, and some mysterious messages in the sand:

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They played for an hour – in rainy times and less rainy times – but I wanted to have a bit more of an explore so me and the kids went to the animal enclosures, while Tammy and Jake played football on the somewhat soggy grass.

Now, we’ve tried spotting deer before but they’re always a bit reluctant to come near my noisy children. This day, though, the children stayed miraculously quiet and a stag appeared right in front of us to sharpen his antlers:

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And…doe! A deer! A female deer! If only she’d brought a drop of golden sun with her…

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We also saw a goat and some chickens and got told off by a parkkeeper for leaving a buggy in slightly the wrong place. Then we went to the butterfly dome, where we didn’t get told off for letting a couple of butterflies escape (only through the first set of curtains…and I don’t think anyone spotted that it was Eva that did it). We watched the Butterfly Whisperer lure them back into place with a net and left feeling only a touch guilty. It was a lovely little feature though – and the butterflies were huge:

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(Although you know that’s zoomed in, right?)

It was almost time to go and get some more food (I’d packed surreptious sandwiches for the kids but not for me) but first we had some wet-grass football to play, some ducks to hassle and an island to see:

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Recognise it? The kids did – it’s the island that Abney and Teal live on, in the CBeebies show of the same name. If you don’t believe me, I’d point you in the direction of the nearby Abney Park. QED. Reuben and Eva were mostly concerned with getting Bop to come out of his lake, and so stood hollering “Wake up Bop!” at him. It didn’t work, but I think we managed to convince them he was just under that little circle of bubbles.

But food was calling, and we chose to leave the pricey surrounds of Clissold Park and go for the slightly more bargainous N4 Eatery near Green Lanes station, where a tasty lasagne and chips – with four different types of salad – costs just £6. For a plate that is literally bigger than your head. Me and Tammy could have easily shared one between us. As it was, she got a doggy bag to take her leftover moussaka home in. There was just such a lot of it. They were also incredibly friendly, helpful with the kids and willing to swoop in with replacement straws and forks as and when they got dropped. I would definitely recommend it.

And what then but another runaround? This time, we went to the edge of Finsbury Park where Roo collected conkers and Jake collected imaginary medals for fastest-downhill-runner-ever. Needless to say, they were both flaking on the way home. We didn’t really do Finsbury Park justice and we’ll need to revisit – we just went there because it was right over the road (although that bit seemed to be private playing fields so we had to walk up the hill to get in). But I think we did Clissold Park quite thoroughly and it was a lovely trip out – even in the rain. Another bit of the Bucket and Spade List ticked off!

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The Bucket and Spade List Part 4 – Olympic Park Boat Tours

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I learnt a lot today. I learnt facts about the Olympic Park, I learnt how often people stop and stare at your toddler if she’s dressed as Spiderman and I learnt where to buy juice in Stratford. I also came home with two different types of sand in my shoe and the kinda tiredness that just won’t quit. That’s what a day out in the Olympic Park does for you.

We were there to try out the Olympic Park Boat Tour, courtesy of Lee and Stort Boats. It was not only an exciting and new thing to do, it also ticked an item off the Bucket and Spade List. But I’m  getting ahead of myself. Our Stratford adventure began with a train. Not to get there, you understand – that was a 2-bus, 1 Asda job. But a steam train that was handily parked outside the bus station, for photo opportunities:


Having befriended “Robert”, we looked for the pink signs that would light our way to the Olympic Park. I seem to remember it being well signposted from the Jubilee line, but from the bus station? Not so much. I found one, but then no guidance on whether to climb up the big flight of stairs or not. We decided we should, and found a lift that would take us up there and we were rewarded with another sign at the top. That took us through The Street at Westfield, and the Olympic Stadium was right in front of us. Of course, if you’re looking for the Tumbling Bay Playground, as we were, you need the opposite end of the park to where the stadium is. So, I followed the route we’d trodden before – all along Westfield Avenue and across the road by the Copperbox Arena. We would later discover that you can turn off Westfield Avenue much earlier, and the Olympic Avenue will take you to Tumbling Bay. I told you I learnt a lot. And now you’re benefitting from my wisdom, if you’re not utterly confused.

To add to your confusion, the boat tours went from nowhere near Tumbling Bay but we had a picnic date with Roo’s Godmother Auntie Savage, and Eva’s Godfather Uncle BSav, who were heading to the velodrome to do the kind of thing they call fun. So, we found some space near the playground but not near enough so that the kids would run off constantly during lunch.

Well, that was the plan.

They hadn’t even seen the sand-and-water play or the climbing frame yet, but a few wobbly things, some enticing pathways and some stepping stones were more than enough to distract them all the time we we picnicking:

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Not to mention that piece of random art that you can see just behind SpiderEva’s head. I said not to climb on it, but things were somewhat slacker on Auntie Savage’s watch and Eva disappeared inside it for a few minutes. When she emerged, we took the kids to the playground itself and they had a fine time getting their clothes wet and filling buckets full of that strangely coarse sand (we assume it’s from the construction of the stadium somehow). I had brought swimsuits for them but didn’t think it was warm enough for them to wear them…so they just water-played in their socks. Godparent watch again.

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It was time to go and find our boat, so we dried them off and headed down Olympic Avenue towards the London Aquatic Centre. On the way we passed a recreation of Hill Valley, from the “Back to the Future” films. I really hope it stays after they’ve finished the showings.

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The walk took us about half an hour because we walk verrrry slowly, but also because the Olympic Park is huge and we were traversing it. We had the wave-shaped Aquatic Centre in our sights the whole time, we just had to wiggle our way towards it. When we got there, we walked past the Centre and took the lift down to the waterside (where the main entrance of the Aquatic Centre is) and then turned right to find the accessible path down to the pontoon:

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Down at he end, there’s the “ticket boat” – a permanently moored boat which looks to have a little cafe aboard. You buy tickets there and then queue along the pontoon for the actual boat (there’s space to leave your buggy on the pontoon too). There wasn’t a huge queue and boarding was pretty swift. When we were settled in our seats, the skipper came around and offered lollipops to the kids, which was a nice touch. He later gave them to all the pensioners too, which was even nicer. Our guide for the tour was Gabrielle, who works in the AcelorMittal Orbit, and she explained that we’d be going up to the northern end of the park and then back down to the south.

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Reuben had hit a bit of a slump by this point, so he sat and ate snacks for most of the journey but Eva really enjoyed it. She peered out of the window, waving to people on the bank and pointing out ducks. Occasionally, she would sing “Row, row your boat” or “3 Little Ducks”…just to add to the ambience. But she was mostly still and quiet, so we could actually hear Gabrielle pointing out the sights. There was the Diamond Bridge, complete with snogging couple underneath, and the lock that remained from the original waterways. As we moved into the North Park, the concrete embankments gave way to reeds and wildlife (we saw a dragonfly…Reuben thought it was an actual dragon) and it was very peaceful – a sharp contrast to the busyness of the South Park, where the Mayor’s Liberty Festival and National Paralympic Day were going on. She told us about the future of the park – the media centre that was becoming a mini Silicon Valley, the athletes’ apartments which had been fitted with kitchens so that normal people could move in. I must admit to having been a bit cynical about the “Olympic Legacy” a few years back, but with so much of the park open to the public and useable, I’m beginning to think it was money well spent. I haven’t swum in the Aquatic Centre yet, but you can just rock up and do that…and apparently it’s only £3.75 to get in and you might even glimpse Tom Daley training in there.


We turned round, at which point Nathan took this lovely – and phone-endangering – shot. Doesn’t it all look lovely and mellow? We were heading back towards the South Park, which would not quite be so mellow, as Gabrielle told us about the new IKEA-sponsored village and the view you could get from the top of the Orbit. I’m quite tempted to go up there now, despite my crippling fear of heights. I want to see what a view from the East, over 20 miles of London looks like. They also have a hawk that’s named after Boris Johnson – that’s gotta be worth a look.

As we went back past the pontoon, Eva spotted her buggy and it was time for her to have a little meltdown. She’s quite attached to it, apparently. We went downstream just a little way before disembarking and reuniting screaming toddler with her precious mode of transport. It was a fun experience, and a good way to get a feel for the scale of the park – something you don’t get from just visiting isolated bits of it. Sadly, the tours are only running till tomorrow but hopefully they’ll be back next summer.

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While we were on that side of the park, I thought we might as well look around the Liberty Festival and discovered….a whole other playground! So, sadly, we didn’t give the festival much attention as the kids were too busy in the (much finer sand) sandpit and climbing the climbing-wall slide:

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There was some kind of theatre production going on at the same time, but it seemed to involve mime and we fear mime. Eva ducked under the fence to have a look, but she was mostly confused so backed away quickly. Me and Eva had a wander around the stalls and listened to the live music but Roo just wanted to play. His dream is to play all day, apparently, and he’s keen to “live the dream” ala the Lego Movie. So, they played till we they were exhausted and it seemed time to head home. Given the option of a portaloo or a gold-plated toilet, Nathan took the latter so we ducked into Westfield to use the facilities and the free wifi and find a cool drink that didn’t break the bank.

The first two bits went OK. The last, not so OK. The prices, the crowds, the tired children…it was ugly at best. So, we got out as quickly as possible. I left the three of them sitting on the big flight of steps while I visited the old, faithful Stratford Centre, where I scored a 1.5l  bottle of Copella for £1.50 from Sainsburys. Remember kids, there is life outside Westfield and its £5 smoothies. And then? Nothing but a long bus trip home with two sleepy children and one sleepy husband. A fitting end to a busy day.


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Aliens Love Underpants Live!

Harrison Spiers in ALIENS LOVE UNDERPANTS photo credit sjsphotopaint

c. SJS photo

The “Aliens Love Underpants” series really have everything in them that a 5-year-old boy could need – aliens, underpants….throw in some dinosaurs and pirates later on in the series and you’re sorted. So, when I heard the aliens and their undergarments were coming to the West End, I thought Reuben might just want to check it out. The timing was perfect – Eva was in nursery and he’d just endured yet another long and boring stretch of “Mummy’s office” time (the joys of being freelance during the summer holidays), so we nipped round the corner in Soho (as Jarvis would say) and joined a gaggle of other small children and their parents to witness some pantsy fun.

Now, if you’ve read the book you’ll understand that a little stretching is needed to make it into a 55-minute theatre production, and the play is quite different. Roo said afterwards that it was “this much” like the books. It helps if you have Reuben’s hand in front of you when you read that, to understand how much “this much” is..but it’s a fairly small amount. However, and this is the important bit, it doesn’t matter. He loved the play, even if it was different to the books. It stands up perfectly well on its own.

The play started with the four cast members cheerily hyping the kids up. Teasing them that there wasn’t going to be a show before having a Cliff Richard-esque “Let’s do the show right here!” moment and deciding to just throw it together. They ran off to change out of their “I <3 Underpants” t-shirts and an hour of rollicking fun began.

Mark Collier as Mr Stevens in ALIENS LOVE UNDERPANTS photo credit

c. SJS photo

The plot goes a little something like this – schoolboy Timmy wants to become a spaceman, a dream he shares with his teacher Mr Stevens (pictured above) but his classmates mock his ambition. Then some underpants go missing and it transpires that it’s the work of some underpant-loving aliens who abduct Timmy and take him to their planet to see their collection of famous pants. It’s not a complex plot, but it can take a little while to see where it’s going – during the classroom scene, Roo called out “We want to see aliens in underpants!’ The subtlety of theatre is lost on him. But it only took a few minutes for the aliens to appear, in their UV-painted UFO, and from then on he was happy.

Bonzo Alien in ALIENS LOVE UNDERPANTS photo credit sjsphoto paint

c. SJS photo

Woven into the plot were songs, a hoedown, footage of Apollo 11 and even Kylie’s hotpants. It was pacey and fun, with a lot of audience participation – a must when you have a room full of small children. I’d say it was pitched about right for Reuben’s age – I’m not sure whether Eva would have sat still all the way through, although she managed 45 minutes of Andy at LolliBop so may well have been OK. There were some younger toddlers there who seemed restless, so I’d say it’s probably more one for 3 and upwards – and definitely one for grown-ups, as long as they aren’t coy about pants. It was a mix of live action and puppetry, with the aliens being voiced by the actors, and the set changed constantly to represent anything from Timmy’s bedroom to the spaceship to “Pants R Us”. There were some clever touches with the lighting, like when the backdrop was stripped away to reveal a wall of star-like lights (see top picture). That was a lovely moment and provoked gasps from all sides.

So, it was funny, lively and made great use of the space. It was, as Reuben said, very different to the book but it retained the charm and the flavour of the books (and there was even a sneaky synposis of “Dinosaurs Love Underpants” in there.) It’s a musical, bloomer-full treat for any pant-lover. And make sure you join in with the singalong at the end…

c. SJS photo

c. SJS photo

Disclaimer: I received press tickets to see and review the show. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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The Bucket and Spade List Part 3 – Attempting Leytonstone

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You can tell by the title of this post that it’s not going to be an exciting one. I would love to report that I explored Leytonstone fully, and discovered a treasure trove of toddler-friendliness there. But it wasn’t like that. I’ll explain.

It was a rainy Bank Holiday, and apparently the coldest one in recorded history. The kids were bouncing off the walls and so we needed something to do. A bit of Facebook research led me to conclude that the Rabbit Hole might be the best place to hide out and wait for the storm to blow over. Me and Eva had been there before but the boys hadn’t, so it was worth a revisit. Plus, it was near Leytonstone, so I could totally tick off a list item on the trip (see here if you have no idea what I’m talking about).

The first bit of the plan was really good. Eva was asleep in the buggy, so Nathan and I sat and drank coffee while Reuben did crafts with the cafe owner Nicci. He produced this rather lovely version of himself (complete with dinosaur boots and rain trousers) and then went on to make palm trees and, of course, some dinos. We had some cake – chocolate brownies with cream for me and Nathan and carrot cake for Roo. When Eva woke up, she played in the teepee (“my ‘ouse!”) and the ball pool before starting a long and drawn-out tea party at one of the little tables. It continued to tip it down outside.

I played Snakes and Ladders with Roo. He won, through some hefty cheating. It was still raining. None of this was incentivising us to leave the warmth and comfort of the cafe to explore Leytonstone. Reuben had his pocket money to spend so we could have found a 99p store for him. There would have been some kind of point to it all but it just seemed a little unappealing. I’m not above visiting obscure parts of East London for funsies but bright sunshine tends to put me in more of an exploring mood. Eva wasn’t keen to leave either – an attempt to clear up her tea party met with screams of  “no, not tidy up time!”.

It was getting late though, and we’d been hiding out in the Rabbit Hole for over two hours. So we ventured out to find a bus, and ended up on the 257, which handily passed straight through Leytonstone. It was raining so hard by now that the bus was dripping on the inside but that still wasn’t inspiring me to get off it. Through fogged-up windows, I saw what we were missing and concluded it was….not much. But I was right in thinking there would be a 99p store:

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So, we stayed on till Walthamstow, went to the 99p store there instead and utterly failed to explore E11. I’m going back there for a choir rehearsal in a week or so and maybe then it’ll unveil its charms to me. Don’t sit too close to the edge of that chair though…

Posted in Just wandering.... | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

10 Ways that Recruitment is the Perfect Practice for Parenthood

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You may not know this about me but, immediately pre-Reuben, I used to be a recruitment consultant. It was fun for a while and – I realised while cooking dinner – just the perfect preparation for parenthood. I’ll explain:

1) Recruitment and parenthood are both hideously competitive. In recruitment, it’s colleagues selling each other out to get a good candidate…in parenthood, it’s neighbours selling each other out to get a good school place.

2) In both cases, the outcome of the competition depends on a third party who is prone to behave unpredictably and generally do the very last thing you want them to. Back then, we called them “candidates”. Now I call them “toddlers”

3) One of these jobs involves 5:30am starts, midnight finishes, weekend and Christmas work and an end to ever having a holiday to really call your own. Then there’s parenthood, which is remarkably similar.

4) After a few months in recruitment, you’ll be able to telephone interview one candidate while writing the CV of a different one entirely. This multi-tasking is good practice for working from home with a toddler on your knee asking for stories and the “Sarah & Duck” DVD on repeat.

5) You know how new mothers find themselves waiting till mid-afternoon before they find time to have lunch? Recruiters are used to that already. And eating with an audience. And the copious amounts of caffeine.

6) Headhunting is all about convincing someone to leave their job. Useful skills for getting a 3-year-old to leave the park.

7) You spend the whole day asking the same few questions over and over again. It used to be “What kind of role are you looking for?”. Now it’s “Have you put your shoes on?”

Not convinced? How about these similarities between life in a recruitment office and life with kids?:

8) Bodily functions are an acceptable topic of conversation.

9) The parties always involve dressing up.

10) You definitely need a drink by Friday night

So, are you a nervous young 20-something considering taking the plunge into parenthood? Take the plunge into recruiting first. Just don’t get used to the money…


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LolliBop 2014 Review!


This review might be coming a little too late to be of any use to anyone, but we’ve all had a bit of post-LolliBop fatigue. LolliBopped out indeed. Of course, the wild Saturday preceeding it didn’t help – Nathan and I had been boogying till the late evening at Disco 2000 and the kids were exhausted from dressing like pirates and eating lots of meat at Gravel’s house. All of that might explain the look of us in the photo above, when we arrived in the leafy surrounds of Hatfield House – a bit of a change from Stratford last year. Reuben briefly thought that he’d been conned and that LolliBop was just a big field of cut wheat, but he was reassured by the rainbow arch that led us to the giant inflatable teddy bear.

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He was even more reassured by the over-excitable noises coming from the main stage. Children everywhere were being incited to eat sports candy and get fit – yes, LazyTown were in the house and gosh, they had a lot of energy. I guess 8-year-old girls always do have a lot of energy. Eva and Roo did too and joined in all the songs and dances, waving their free Heart FM flags. I’m not entirely sure the Sportacus was the same one as we met last year but he certainly did a good Sportacus impression. With the last ding-a-ding-a-ding we skipped off to one of the Southbank tents, where there was instrument making and storytelling going on. Reuben chose the biggest tube possible and made a drum which  I wasn’t too keen on carrying around all day. He joined in the with the storytelling, tapping on his drum when requested, while Eva made a ribbon-decked shaker. Well, I made it under her instruction.

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While Reuben wasn’t looking, I decided to jettison his drum. Or maybe just leave it on the buggy. Last year, we never found the buggy park. This year, it was relatively easy. But the strange thing was, ours was the only buggy parked there. All day. Any time I looked over, there was our overladen, clapped out car-buggy under the orange gazebo all by its lonesome. I have no idea why no-one else chose to dump the buggy and let the toddlers roam free, but it certainly was handy as a lace to leave our non-valubles. And the gazebo came in very handy when it started to rain. Which it did, biblically, not long after we’d left the Southbank Tent. We were in the Nintendo area at the time, with Reuben stubbornly refusing to go until he’d had his turn in the one-child ballpit (it was part of a Nintendo challenge). There was some cover but the rain was coming at us horizontally, and Eva probably got the worst of it as her raincoat is sadly lacking a hood…it’s a bit of a design flaw. As soon as Roo had taken his turn, we ran back to the buggy to get the umbrellas, which successfully warded off the rain for the rest of the day, pretty much. You can thank us later.

Slightly soggy and more than a little hungry, what better time to join a queue? When I was planning the day, I’d imagined we’d spend most of the time in the LolliPalladium, which had a mid-day run of pure quality Beebies acts – from Postman Pat straight through to Andy Day. But it wasn’t to be. This year, the tent was cleared between each act, so there was no lingering in the dry and waiting for the next act. Instead, you had to join a queue around 30 minutes before the start of each show, to be guaranteed a seat.


Now, the whole system has generated some controversy and I can see why. Kids aren’t the best of queuing. But it’s a fairer way than letting the same people sit in the best seats for every show (and yes, the LolliPalladium had stadium seating this year, which was a big improvement). It might have been better to have a ticketing system, but really you just had to accept the queuing and be prepared for it. We had our picnic in the queue for Chris and Pui, which Nathan thought was a particularly British thing to do – what could be more British than eating a sausage roll, in a queue in the rain? Well, it was only a light drizzle by this point and we had umbrellas…no need to complain really.

And we got to see Chris and Pui! We’d seen their roadshow before, but there were some subtle differences this year. Pui donned her old Teletubby garb at one point, a gag that was totally lost on the kids, and there were some new songs and sketches. We sat at the side, which meant we couldn’t see one part of the show (Humpty Dumpty) but other than that we had a good view. Eva enjoyed singing “Old MacDonald” and Reuben liked the bit with the monkey. Just as I’d expect him to.

Post Chris and Pui, Reuben threw a small strop. I forget why now, but it was something to do with “wanting some fun”. Apparently, that fun was to be found in the Skylanders tent so he and Nathan went off to investigate that, while Eva and I went to the toddler girl-aimed Baby Annabel tent. I didn’t deliberately gender-stereotype my children, OK? They just came out like this. Anyway, it seemed that Eva had found her spiritual home:


They’d scored some free PomBears as well, by this point which made everything even better. So the boys played video games, while Eva changed her “bebbies”…until she screamed at another girl for touching “mine baby”. We went to find our menfolk, eat some free yoghurt and find some fresh distractions.

We’d hoped to see the Andy Day show at 1:55 but going there 15 minutes early was far too late, as the queue was snaking across the whole field. So, we decided to catch the 5 o’clock show and in the meantime, the Thomas area beckoned and with it another queue. For Eva and Nathan at least. Me and Roo ran off to play in the Little Tikes area and came back when they’d reached the front of the queue for the Thomas photo opportunity. That wasn’t planned, honest.

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There were other Thomas-themed activities to do as well – Reuben entered a prize draw by filling in an answer card. He didn’t bother to go and find out what the question was, just wrote “I’m very happy” in the “My answer is…” gap, and signed it Reuben. I don’t think he’ll win.

Having missed out on a play, we thought Eva should have ago in Little Tikes too, so we went back for a second round. There were 4-minute time allocations, which went quite quickly but meant there was never a queue…and sometimes that’s important. I suggested to Reuben that he spend less time fighting with other small boys over who got to be King of the Castle this time, which definitely helped to optimise the play-time.

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Time for somewhere without time limits – the ever popular Duplo tent. We spent about half an hour in there, in a bid to a) keep the kids entertained, b) have a sit down on a beanbag and c) avoid Justin’s set. Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad…The Duplo tent had a new feature this year, where you could put your Duplo models in front of a screen and it would bring them to life! Of course, it was all done with preset animations but the kids thought it was genuine magic. Roo spent ages in there, just watching the other kids’ models being animated, before running back to the tent and making more models. He seemed happy.

Then we denied him a £3.50 ice cream. He wasn’t happy. Justin was on stage and we were within earshot. We weren’t happy. Drastic action was needed.

Bollywood with a gay cabaret icon? Does that seem drastic enough? Oh yes.

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We’d previously encountered Boogaloo Stu in a seedy basement in Soho, playing rude party games. It may have been around 10 years ago. He may even have DJed at our charity clubnight “Dead Man’s Boots”, in a different seedy basement in Soho but where Stu went, decadence and high leg-kicking tended to follow. And here he was, playing Bollywood records for a kids’ dance class while wearing a knitted leotard, which was nicely co-ordinated with his trademark blue quiff. There was still some high leg-kicking but significantly less decadence. Although Reuben made a rocket out of cardboard, which is about as wild as we get nowadays.

Having had a nice dance and rocket-make (both under the same roof, conveniently) we sat down to kill some time before Andy and have some more food. It wasn’t long before Roo and Nathan were lured away by another distraction though – this time a wise-cracking robot by the name of Titan.

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He’s awesome. I particularly enjoyed his 4D rendition of “Cry Me a River”. With some robot antics, food and hula-hooping it was pretty much time to queue for Andy’s show. And by that I mean, half an hour before the show started. The copious amounts of free Haribo helped the queuing experience along and when Roo started to get bored, we did a dinosaur quiz. Because Reuben likes dinosaurs. And so does Andy…

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The Andy Day Live Show is – I suspect – cut down from a longer show, because it seemed a bit confused, narrative-wise. Andy was clearing out his old room but didn’t spend much time doing that, and spent a lot of time talking about how amazing mums are. I mean, that’s true but I think Reuben would have appreciated more dinosaurs. Eva fell asleep in her seat just before it started, but woke up by the giant cheer as Andy bounded onto the stage in his ever-so-cute T Rex t-shirt (“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your…oh”). We’re big Andy fans (and big fans of Andy’s Dad too) so he can’t do much wrong in our eyes, and it was amazing how much energy he still had at the end of the weekend. He encouraged all the kids to stand up and dance, then we had a “blow your cobwebs away” game, involving balloons. Then there was an inflatable T-Rex to wake up, and lots of audience participation, accompanied by the now-customary Reuben strop because he wasn’t invited on to the stage. Ah well. He managed to save his strop till the very end, and there was much cheering and roaring before that happened. And, actually he didn’t get that hung up on the lack of narrative. Apparently it’s not that important to a 5-year-old.

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Oh, and he made a cardboard hat earlier. Tres chic, non?

It was definitely time to go home. LolliBop as ever was a whirligig of fun and excitement, along with the inevitable crashes that happen when small children get over-excited. Eva said she had fun “dancing with Daddy” and Reuben managed to squeeze out a sleepy expression of happiness when we got home. It was definitely a fun day – true, we could have done with less queuing and a bit less rain but the queues were over soon and the sun came out and with any luck we’ve made one of those childhood memories that seem so important. We’ll be back next year.


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Disclaimer: I received press tickets to attend and review the event. All opinions remain honest and my own.


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

The Bucket and Spade List Part 2 – Nancy’s Pantry

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The Bucket and Spade List is going well. By that, I mean we’re a third of the way through August and we’ve done one a bit of the ten. But it’s a strong start.

Yesterday, the trail led us to Dalston, home of the ironic beard and the unconventional use of crockery. Hipsterville, in other words. We were greeted by a cyclist blatantly running a red on his fixie bike, but luckily that was the last slice of arseishness we’d see all day. The rest would all be cakes, crafts and sunshine.

Accompanying us on the Dalston Odyssey was Hackney-native Bob, with the tiddler Boby and our South-London dwelling friends V&O. Our destination was Nancy’s Pantry, #5 on the list. All I knew was that it was a toddler-friendly cafe. I didn’t realise it would be so huge. I mean, look at the size of it:

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So, we parked our buggies in the buggy park, took off the kids’ wellies so that they could “feel the grass underfoot” and ordered some coffee. The guy behind the counter looked a little harassed, as he was on his own so we had to pay and then come back a few minutes later. It wasn’t a huge problem though – we had nowhere to be, and there was plenty to entertain the kids. There was a play corner:

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Random sensory stuff on the walls:

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An OHP with shadow puppets:

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And a big arts and crafts area, with a long piece of paper stuck down for drawing on:

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There was also a private arts and crafts area, where older kids were taking classes and I think I spotted a party room. It really was quite big – the rents must be extortionate. Fortunately, the prices aren’t – they are pretty standard for Hackney (around £2 for a coffee, £2.50 for a cake). Also standard for Hackney apparently is serving a flat white in a tumbler:

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I don’t get it. But my friend Brenda informs me it’s a thing.

We sat happily for an hour or so but when Reuben started complaining that he was hungry, we needed to consider lunch. As Maria knows, we like to lunch early to beat the crowd but that plan wasn’t going to work today. Lunch started being served at 11:30 and by 11:30 exactly, there was already a queue to order. It took us about 20 minutes, during which time Roo and Eva were sitting patiently at the table (I didn’t tell them to…in fact, I told them to go off and play but they are as contrary as ever). Once we’d ordered, the food actually appeared very quickly and the staff were very apologetic about the wait. There’s an extensive kids’ menu, including the interesting sounding “Jenga plate” (chicken goujons and sweet potato fries arranged in a Jenga formation) but the kids went for a sausage sandwich each and a portion of fries to share, which they seemed to enjoy (Roo wanted sausage, beans and chips but I wasn’t about to go off menu…and he was fine once he had it). I had the cheese toasty, which came with a very yummy chutney.

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After lunch it had stopped raining and the kids were restless, so we went for a runaround in the outside play area. There isn’t much there – just some bouncy things and a climbing frame – but they spent a good ten minutes or so there before I got bored and wanted to talk to my friends.

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There were also some fountains there, which are like a magnet for toddler-naughtiness. Remarkably, she only went in up to the toes of her wellies:

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It wasn’t quite the day for water play – muggy yes but not exactly bright and sunshiney. So, we went back inside for a bit, to gather our things and move on to the next adventure. But before I move on too, a word for the toilets.

The disabled toilet = hotel-style luxury:

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The main toilets = ironic plumber chic:

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Only in Dalston.

Meanwhile, the chocolate muffins that Roo had had his eye on had disappeared (is it just me, or were there far too many “had”s in that sentence?) but I had a plan (oh look, there’s another one!). I had a voucher to spend at the Co-op after throwing a sandwich-related strop so we’d go there and get cakes.

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Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? With a flake?

Our cake-eating venue of choice was the Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens, right opposite the station. It’s another place I’ve had on my virtual to-do list for ages because I go past on the bus all the day but have never stopped for fear of being trapped by aspiring musicians trying to sell me wheatgerm smoothies in order to crowdsource their record deal. I believe that kind of thing happens all the time in Dalston. Besides, it looked really tiny through the door. but guess what – it wasn’t! There’s loads of space inside and it even has a little cafe (so I felt mildly guilty about bringing our own cake).  If you go right to the bottom of the garden, there’s a sandpit with toys and trikes to play on:

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There are deckchairs to sit on, but if you’re truly Hackney you’ll sit on the pallettes:

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Bob was. She’s been in Hackney way too long. Boby, meanwhile, was lying around and taking it all in. She particularly enjoyed looking at a dead honeysuckle branch. Easily pleased.

My kids, however, preferred to disappear into the bushes where there was a large dirtheap for them to play on. But they did spend some time in the sandpit too, fighting T-Rexes with another little boy in there. It’s a very chilled out place to spend an hour or so, and it feels very surreal when you step back onto the main road outside. There was a music class going on while we were there, and I believe they do some arts classes there too. It also has a toilet, which is going to become increasingly important in our lives over the next few weeks. And did i mention the most hipster scarecrow ever?:

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So, one item ticked off the list and children entertained for a day. Success!

More information here (official website)



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