Athenian Merriment Part 1 – 31/05/18

Today it’s a drizzly grey day in North East London and the kids are playing X-Box and arguing with each other. It seems hard to believe that a day ago they were arguing with each other in the far more picturesque surroundings of the Athenian coastline. But it happened. And here’s how….

There was an early start. No, *really* early. Take that time you’re thinking of and subtract at least two hours from it. We’d all gone to bed early the night before but there was still a certain blurriness about the kids as we tipped them out of bed and straight into the car, wrapped in blankets (they’d gone to bed in their travelling clothes, for ease of transition). In fact, there was a blurriness about everything given that there was fog everywhere. As we drove to Luton, it felt eerie but it hadn’t yet occured to us that the eerieness may lead to delays. Oh how naive we were.

There’s not much to do at Luton before security, I’ll be honest. We’d already had a long wait on an airport bus as it tried to get through the traffic gridlock into the airport itself and we were reaching the hungry and irritable stage of early morning travel. So we went through security, almost without incident. I mean, Roo and I both got searched but we had nothing to hide. It was all fine. Not terrifying at all. And we went for a breakfast at The Smithfield, which did a lovely fry up for me and Nathan and pancakes with bacon for Roo. Eva ate almost nothing, but that’s a recurring theme of the holiday I’m not going to dwell on too much so from now on whenever I mention food, just assume she’s not really partaking.

Our flight was still on time at this point so we had to bolt the food a little and rush to our gate. Everything was moving smoothly so we had final toilet trips, bought some bottles of water, boarded and….waited. And waited a bit more. Fog apparently. Wizz Air couldn’t have mentioned this while we were still eating our expensive breakfasts could they? I’m not sure how long we were sitting on the runway at Luton for but it was somewhere in the region of 1.5 hrs. Long enough, as Reuben pointed out, to have watched a whole movie. Luckily he had a book he was reading so I could have a fitful nap while we were waiting. But I woke up every time he asked when we were leaving and the answer was still that I didn’t know. Across the aisle, Eva was drawing ponies and Nathan was having a sneaky 40 winks too. Well, maybe not 40. Maybe 28 or so.

We did eventually take off and neither of the kids freaked out, which was lucky as it was Eva’s first ever flight and Reuben’s first one since Germany in 2011. A combination of books, Top Trumps and notebooks kept them relatively quiet for the 3.5 hrs we were in the air although I had to skimp on the snacks, given we were travelling hand luggage only. There was enough space for some lollipops for take-off and a cereal bar each and apart from that they just had to cope.

When we landed – an hour and a half late – our transfer driver was waiting for us. I’d booked the transfer in a panic the week earlier because our Plan A (catching the Airport bus) had been scuppered by a bus strike. As lovely as it was for the Athenians to make us feel at home by recreating London tube strike chaos, it wasn’t the most helpful. Still, after a long journey we were grateful to be able to just sit in an air conditioned car and not have to worry about where we were going. We used Welcome Airport Transfers and they were honestly amazing – we had an e-mail with our named driver and his contact details, they provided age-appropriate car seats and even gave us a cold bottle of water each when we got in the car. Honestly flawless. Not too expensive either.

As soon as we got to our hotel we needed to eat. Our body clocks had totally given up by that point but it was around 3:30 Greek time and a very long time since that hasty breakfast. We found the vast Peñarrubia Lounge right by the seafront, which was a sort of nightclub-cafe-restaurant and they provided us with chicken nuggets and chips for the kids, a burger for Nathan and a rocket salad with goats’ cheese and strawberries in it for me.  Yeah, I wasn’t sure about the strawberries at first either. But it worked. And it was just what I needed in the heat after so many hours cooped up.

Sleep was beckoning but before we succumbed, we wanted to try out the local beach – Kalamaki Beach. It wasn’t the most beautiful – you had to duck through a broken fence to get there and there was a bit of broken glass mixed in with the shingle. But the water was clean and it was so very close to our hotel.  We had a quick swim but quite frankly, we all needed to be asleep by about 6PM. So this is where I’ll leave Part One. Join us again for a post about actually doing stuff instead of just playing Top Trumps on a budget airline. It does get more interesting, honest…

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Wild Child Festival Preview

So, the kids have broken up for May half term already (don’t ask) but I’m already thinking past this next two weeks (no really, don’t ask) and onto the summer. One thing we’re very excited about is the Wild Child Festival, who we’re working in partnership with (along with Mothers & Shakers). The festival runs for three days, from Friday 17th-Sunday 19th August and is taking place in Dulwich, not far from our old South London stomping ground. It’s suitable for kids from 0-11 so should be something fun for everyone.

There are 11 different zones to enjoy – I think Eva will be particularly taken with the Unicorn Meadow in the Play House but there are circus zones, music zones, the “Imagination Lab” and a special area for the 0-3s (how do I not have one of those anymore?). Guests include El Baldiniho Magic, Circus Dreams and Seedlings Wellbeing. For more information, have a look at the website or follow Wild Child on Twitter and Facebook.

Disclaimer: LWAT is working as an ambassador for Wild Child Festival in exchange for review tickets and a fee. All opinions remain honest and my own

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Sunny Saturday in Soho

LWAT is a blog about fun things to do with your children in London but let’s face it, quite often it seems to be a blog about trying to do fun things but ending up having a massive public meltdown. Sometimes it’s the kids melting down, sometimes the parents…often both. And so it was last Saturday. The temperature was in the high 20s so the meltdowns were quite literal and it’s a nice follow-on to my post about a Sunday in Stokey which also featured a public argument with Eva. Consistency is the cornerstone of my brand. Just a pity it’s consistently tempestuous.

It didn’t start off badly. Mainly cause I wasn’t with the kids. I skipped off to Islington to do SwingTrain and explain to the church English Class about why Enid Blyton’s attitudes are a bit “of their time”. Then I sat on the 38 for a long time to go and join the kids and Nathan.

What were they up to? Why, getting some Free Comic Books of course! Every May Bank Holiday the publishers of comic books print up a whole load of special editions and then give them away for no money. It’s a legit thing, according to the two comic book geeks in my life. Eva was just in it for the photo opportunities:

They got a good haul – 2000AD, Star Wars Adventures, DC Superhero Girls and some other stuff. Look, comics aren’t my thing OK? Although I knew enough to identify a Dr Strange cosplayer crossing Charing Cross Road outside McDonalds. But comics weren’t particularly on my mind – food was and I had no plan in my mind about where I was going to get any. Until I saw a delightful little hatch on Greek Street, which promised “Pleasant Lady” Chinese pancakes. You can never be sure whether this is some kind of weird Soho euphemism but I’m pleased to report it was a genuine pancake and very tasty too. They only take card, not cash and they’ve been open for a week but it was delicious and they do veggie, pork and chicken options all freshly cooked in front of you.

Strolling up Greek Street in the sun with a hot pancake in one hand and a cold Coke in the other, I wondered what it would take to break my good mood. I suspected the answer would start with an “E” and end in a “va” and I was correct. I must apologise to everyone in Soho Square that witnessed the horrors of a very pretty, butterfly-faced girl having a loud difference of opinions with her parents and being bodily hauled out. She might be pretty but the scene certainly wasn’t.

In the midst of all this, the most surreal thing happened. I recognised someone I didn’t exactly know. A ranty guy I’d encountered on an escalator at Liverpool Street a few days earlier, shouting at random people about the Fatherland. And here he was in Soho Square, shouting at random people about the Fatherland. Just what you need when wrangling an extremely irate 6-year-old out through the gates.

A quick trip to Foyles to use the loos and we were on a long, hot walk to calm down a bit. I was hoping Coram’s Fields would salvage the day and yknow, it kinda did. There were some further scenes, with the other kid this time, but there was sludgy water play in the sand pit and there was a buffer zone of fun before we had to face the tube home. This last photo kinda sums the whole day up:

Kids, hey?

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Sunday in Stokey – 22/04/18

Last Sunday was a busy old day. It started at 5am when I got up to go for a Dawn Chorus around Highams Park Lake.

I know. I mean I know, but I don’t really understand either. I can only say there was an element of peer pressure involved.

It was very pretty out there but very, very early. And a bit too full of nature. Sunshiney tho:

At the end of the walk, we stopped at the BRAND NEW CAFE Humphrey’s, which at that point wasn’t even officially opened yet. So no coffee but we got to use the loos, which is a much needed improvement up by the lake. It had its opening day on Thursday so we’re looking forward to going there when the ice cream freezer is full and the coffee machine is switched on. I drove home, got some coffee there instead and was at church by 9:30 to practise for worship.

After such an early start, I needed a decent lunch. So it was lucky that we had a lunch date booked in with an old friend at Cafe Zee in Stoke Newington. It was unlucky that Eva was in a particularly Eva kind of mood. We’d chosen Turkish food because of how much she yuvs “hayoomi” and “turkish sausage” but unfortunately they didn’t serve turkish sausage as a side and the hayoomi was, for whatever reason, not to her liking. Usual tensions. Not to the detriment of Cafe Zee, which seemed otherwise lovely and served a very tasty burger to Nathan and a very passable vegan moussaka to me (tasty but would have been better with some meat in it). There was a children’s cafe next door but we didn’t tell the kids it even existed so they would stay at the table.

The cafe also had some very imperious toilet graffiti. I’m prepared to follow two of these pieces of advice but not the third. I’ll let you work out which ones:

 

After all that food, the kids needed some fresh air. It was a sunny day and Clissold Park was bound to be overcrowded and hideous so we went for a walk around nearby Abney Park instead. It’s a fascinating curiosity – graves made wonky by mature trees growing through them and a chapel in the middle that has recently been restored and is now open for events. And a lion that looks like it’s eyeing Reuben up for its next meal:

It was shady and interesting but my kids are clearly lacking imagination and kept asking where the slides were. It was off to overcrowded and hideous Clissold Park then. It’s not the park itself – which is actually one of my favourites in London – but the sheer number of Stokey mothers who descend on it on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

We’ll skim over that whole bit. Look, Abney Park is nice, isn’t it?:

And I am more convinced than ever that Abney and Teal is set in Clissold Park now. This can’t be a coincidence.

But a quick teachable moment before I leave you. I am no longer the expert on buggy-travel that I used to be but I know this – never stop at the bottom of an escalator with a buggy. Especially when it’s turned sideways so it acts as a barrier to everyone coming down it towards you. There was a collision at Seven Sisters, which Eva escaped relatively unscathed but I banged heads with the buggy-wrangler and had a pleasantly dizzy feeling afterwards. But that could have been the 5am start….

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Sobell Centre Better Extreme and Finsbury Park – 11/04/18

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Yes, that title is a bit of a mouthful. As befits a very busy day. If I fall asleep midway through the post then …well, you’ll probably notice no difference in the coherence of my writing. It’ll probably improve if anything.

So today was the day we decided to leave Waltham Forest for only the second time in a week or so. The original plan was a bike ride to Walthamstow but the unfriendly weather made us rethink and it was this combination of circumstances that made us jump on the Victoria line to Finsbury Park, along with Roo’s friend C and his Mum M. Roo and I had been to Finsbury Park with them once before – around this time last year – but I never got round to blogging it because of undoubtedly sound reasons at the time. Some of the photos I use in this post might be from that trip rather than this one but I won’t tell you which is which. Therein lies the mystery.

Our actual destination was the new trampoline park at the Sobell Centre, which church friends had recommended. Reuben always enjoys a trip to the Better Extreme park at the Feel Good Centre but this one looked bigger and better and quite frankly, we needed a change of scene. We got there in time for the 10am session, which is inexplicably much cheaper than the rest of the day and then we went upstairs to inexplicably go back downstairs again. Like most experiences with Better Leisure, there were confusing elements.

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I’ll talk you through it. The lockers for the trampoline park are downstairs as you go in, just past the reception gates and the coffee corner. If you’re trampolining, travelling light is pretty essential so we put everything barring phones and water bottles in there. Then we went up the stairs to the registration/assembly point where you collect any socks you’ve ordered (the kids and I brought our own from previous trampolining trips) and then they direct you off down a corridor to the Briefing Room, which is where you watch the safety video. Then you come back through the assembly point and down a slope into the trampoline park itself. It all makes sense when you’re there. More or less.

But let’s go back to the Briefing Room for a moment. Because that’s where it all started to unravel for Eva.

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This has happened before – Nathan took the pair of them to the Feel Good Centre, Eva watched the safety video and totally freaked out and wouldn’t go on the trampolines at all until five minutes before the end. Then, predictably, she loved it and didn’t want to leave. Next time we went it was for a birthday party and she bounced through the whole thing, no questions asked. On the tube on the way in, she was enthusing to C about how “super fun” it all was so I didn’t think we’d have a problem.

How wrong could I be? She watched the briefing and flatly refused to participate at all. She literally sat on the side for pretty much the whole session, not responding to any of my threats, bribes and cajolements. The girl’s feet did not touch a trampoline the whole time we were there, despite spending ages that morning trying to find a matching pair of trampolining socks in which to encase them. At around 45 minutes in, she agreed to try out the foam pit by the pugle stick fighting area but no sooner had she climbed in than we were told it wasn’t for playing in, only for the pugle fighters and we had to go to the big foam pit. She got to that one and freaked out again by the idea that she might need to touch a trampoline to get into it.

A few minutes after that, I realised that there was a section for smaller kids on the upper level and she agreed to go there “to see what the babies were doing”. It meant leaving Roo but he was fine and having a grand time, so we climbed up there and she did actually spend a minute or two in the foam pit there before the session ended. Totally worth the time, money and effort to get her there.

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Let’s focus on Roo’s experience instead then, as he was much more gratifying. He enjoyed the trampolines – vast numbers of them – and the long walls to bounce off. He went to the top of this slide:

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But decided it against it at the last minute and just settled for plunging into the foam pit instead.  He and C enjoyed doing the pugle fighting:

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And they spent some time on the dodgeball court. But he says his favourite thing was the one I found most terrifying – the sweeper, which kids had to either duck under or jump over. He nailed the ducking under:

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But the jumping over was tricky and he only managed it in a leap-frog kinda style. He thought was “awesome” though. I kept thinking he was going to get whacked in the head and it’s a justifiable fear.

So Roo and C had a great time. M and I did some bouncing on the trampolines of our own and some relaxing in the foam pits. M even had to get rescued by the official foam pit rescue pole:

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It’s worth saying that I had to pay as a supervising adult, which is different to how it was last time we went to the Feel Good Centre. M chose to pay so she could come and join in but as C is older than 7, she didn’t have to. I needed to as I was taking in an under 7 but wouldn’t have had to if it was only Roo I was taking. Oh, the irony of paying to supervise a child who did nothing riskier than sitting. Lucky I’m not bitter.

I think this photo rather sums up the experience:

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And this one shows you the state of the boy after an hour’s exertion:

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This is while we were recovering in the cafe with slush puppies for the kids and coffee for the adults which is somehow better than the coffee at the Feel Good Centre. Not sure how as it seems to be the same machine and the same brand but maybe they’ve picked the right soya milk?

After all that leisure centre air, we needed to get outside and Finsbury Park was beckoning. We picked up some food and also some pepperamis at the Tesco Metro and walked up to the climbing rocks in the park, where the kids perched on the top of the pile and ate their sandwiches. It wasn’t exactly picnic weather but we’re hardy.

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It was around this time that we fell victim to a form of distraction theft. One by one, the children came up to us and performed a “silly dance” while one of the others snuck behind us and stole something from our bags. Subtle they are not. Luckily, they only got away with the pepperamis and their own coats. Later, Eva was to drop the pepperami in the mud and still try to eat it. Pretty much all of Eva went in the mud:

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It’s been a very muddy holidays so far.

We moved on to the playground at the top of the hill. In fact, there were two or three playgrounds at the top of the hill. Enough to keep the kids entertained for another hour or two while M sneaked to the cafe to get tea for us both. We’d already spent money on the kids at Sobell so didn’t fancy another full on cafe trip. We went there last time though and it was very pleasant:

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It also has toilets on the outside, though the mens’ were out of order yesterday and the women’s could have been cleaner. Eva yuvved them though because they had sparkly tiles and pink toilet doors. She’s easily pleased.

She was also pleased with this photo of herself, which she made me take:

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The playground is quite big,with a couple of roundabouts, some nicely challenging climbing frames and a scenic view over the lake:

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Of course, as with every park it would have been nicer if the weather had actually resembled Spring rather than a kind of drizzly January. But it was a grand trip out and we made it back to HP before the kids started fighting. Just about anyway.

More info on the Better Extreme park herefp20

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The North for a Day – 30-31/03/18

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It’s taken me a while to write about this trip because I still feel a bit exhausted and trust me, you will too by the time you’ve read it. If you make it to the end.

So the first thing we did this Easter holidays was to go to the North and come straight back again. Like you do. There were many good reasons for doing it that way but essentially, we were attending a special party for CousinZ in Southport on Easter Saturday and needed to be in our church on Easter Sunday for Eva’s special dance. Hence the madcap 24-hour dash to the North and back.

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Now, I’m not recommending you do exactly what we did but I will recommend our lunch stop – a Nandos not far off the M6, with unlimited free parking and a soft play upstairs. I think it’s this one.  The promise of spicy chicken and refillable frozen yoghurt kept Nathan and the kids motivated throughout the M1 bank holiday traffic even though when we got there, the frozen yoghurt machine was broken as ever so we had to spring for mango ice cream for them. But still, it was the perfect stop off point and the kids had a much-needed runabout at the soft play, which was pretty cheap to get in to and accepted card at the coffee bar. What else do you need?

The next section of the journey was hardgoing, I’ll admit that. I took over the driving from Nathan at Keele and there was a lot of clutch work in the next 50 miles or so to Preston. Then we got to the turn off, the hotel was 6 minutes’ drive away and …well, it didn’t go well. We ended up back on the M55, heading towards Blackpool for 7 miles before turning around, driving the 7 miles back, missing the small road that turns off to the hotel, having to go right round two roundabouts and darn near get back on the M55. That’s what happens when I’m driving and Nathan’s navigating. The opposite to the ideal combination.

What a hotel though! Totally worth the wait. We’d booked the Preston Marriott  for a bargain price on hotels.com and I was justifiably paranoid that it was going to be worth the price we paid. But it was worth way more. It looks fancy, the beds were comfy and they cater to children – as we walked in there was a table with Easter crafts and mini egg cakes on it, which we entirely failed to pick up but the thought was lovely.

The best thing though – and the reason we’d chosen it – was the spa. The jacuzzi was out of order but the swimming pool was warm and lovely and there was a steam room and sauna, which I enjoyed. Nathan tried one of them for a few minutes before complaining that it was hot and steamy. I don’t think he quite gets the idea. The changing rooms were clean and had lots of fancy touches, like PIN-operated lockers and a swimsuit drier. Totally impressed Eva, and me too to be honest. After a long car journey, it was heavenly.

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We hadn’t quite planned how to feed the kids dinner but they’d had a Nandos for late lunch, right? So that’s dinner enough. That justifies opening a tub of Pringles and letting them loose. They supplemented the Pringles with some Bunny Bites and McCoys too and I believe maybe even a chocolate chip pancake. If that’s not a balanced dinner, I don’t know what is. We were all sharing one room, two beds, so they got into PJs, climbed onto their bed and watched Room 101 with us until waypastbedo’clock, at which point Nathan and I hid in the bathroom for ten minutes and came out to find them both asleep. Score!

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I was still hungry so we rooted around for a room service menu. Of course it was scarily expensive but £22 would get us a pizza and two beers, which seemed reasonable by hotel standards. So we ordered that and honestly, it was amazing. Really messy pizza so I’m glad we decided to eat at the table rather than on the bed. It tasted soooo good though.

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The next morning started early. REAL early. 5:39 if my hazy memory serves. I knew it was a risk of us all sharing a room but managed to persuade the kids to stay on their bed – with me hugging them both – until 6AM, when I switched on the light, served up brioche from a Tesco bag and put “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl” on the laptop. Nathan slept through all these things.

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We all wanted another swim before we headed off to Southport but the pool didn’t let kids in till 9 and Roo was bouncing off the walls by 8:30 so I took him for a romp around the grounds, where he managed to get inexplicably muddy in a matter of minutes. It was drizzling and I was supping my warm cup of hotel tea. “This is a very Britishy day, isn’t he?” he said and I had to agree.

We met Nathan and Eva at the pool shortly after 9 – Eva still in PJs and onesie – and had enough time for another quick swim before drying off, packing up and checking out. Cause lovely as the staff at Preston Marriott were, they hadn’t managed to convince me that £39 was a good price for a family breakfast. Especially not after that pricey pizza.

I had another destination in mind and that was the Harvester at Buckshaw Link. We’ve pulled the unlimited breakfast trick before and it fuelled us for an entire day at Legoland so I reckoned it would be just the job. And I was right! £24 for the 4 of us and we could eat at our leisure. Harvester has no truck with hanger – you can eat as soon as you get there and so it’s ideal for kids and, quite frankly, for me too. There’s a breakfast bar of cereals, fruit and yogurts plus tea and coffee and various bready things to stick through the automated toaster machine. while you’re waiting for your bottomless cooked breakfast.

I’m not saying it’s a sophisticated option but it’s tasty food- especially the sausages – served quickly and with a lot of friendly Northern charm. It was exactly what we needed at that moment. Roo had a bespoke cooked breakfast – bacon, sausage, beans, hash browns and scrambled egg – while Eva just had the toast and cereals option, which cost a princely £1.79. Definitely a trick we’ll pull again. We didn’t need another meal till 8PM and 100 miles away.

Of course, nothing goes entirely smoothly in the LWAT family and there was an edgy moment just before we left. I was in the loo upstairs and heard the sound of a distressed child outside. One of mine, to be exact. I ran out of the cubicle leaving – unbeknownst to me – my handbag and cardi on the back of the door and rushed to find my traumatised boy. Turns out he was back downstairs with Nathan already, freaking out about a tooth that was ever so close to coming out, with all the blood and carnage that sometimes requires. I had a panic as I was now handbagless but a lovely lady brought it down to me and so we left the Harvester with all our possessions and bodily parts more or less intact.

(If you’re worried about the tooth, don’t be. He later sold it to his Grandpa for a quid so did pretty well out of the deal).

From there it was quite a pleasant country drive to Southport. We went to the party, Roo lost the tooth (unconnected to the amount of sugar he consumed at the party….so he tells me) and then it was back in the car for the long drive home. Thankfully the kids slept for an hour or so, which meant I could nap too as I was a *little* tired from the 5:30 start. We were all awake in time for the Watford Gap services, which I always assumed were at the end of the Metropolitan Line and it wasn’t till we were coming back from Scotland that I found out the truth.

By this point, the children were a bit over this whole adventure:

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But the McDonalds at the services had table service! What a wondrous world we live in! You order on the touchscreen and then you and the knackered children can just sit and wait for the food to arrive. Ideal.

We eventually got home at 10:20PM. It had been a long, long trip but considering what an insane idea this was, it went off relatively well. Yes, it cost us a fortune and looking back at the photos it seems that all we did was eat. A lot.  But it was worth doing. Just don’t ask what kind of moods we were all in on the Sunday morning…

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Epping Forest – 07/04/18

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This post might be a bit of a rehash of a well-worn local fave but, after our epic trip up north for Easter weekend, I’ve resigned myself to the fact the rest of the holidays will probably be largely Waltham Forest based. Did I blog about the Northern trip yet? No? I think it makes me too tired just thinking about it.

So yesterday we went for a forest walk. Well, I went for half a forest walk and then abandoned the family leaving them to get home on their own, but I’ll come to that. We were with around 35 other adults – students and teachers from our church English class – so they weren’t totally alone. I’ll stop justifying now.

Some time into the walk, Eva started complaining that her yegs hurt and she wanted to stop. Of course, this was on the bit between Chingford station and Butler’s Retreat, so not actually any way into the walk as such. But it set the tone.

When we got to Butler’s, the kids went straight for a play on the wooden stags:

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And then we went into the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge, which I don’t think we’ve ever done before. I didn’t think there was anything much inside it but I don’t know why I thought that – there’s lots to look at.  The tables on the ground floor are covered in replica Tudor food (Eva wasn’t too keen on the pigs’ head) and the next floor up has a dressing up section:

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There are some lovely views from the top floor, which wowed the inner-city-dwelling students. They didn’t believe London could be so leafy. I made sure to maintain the balance by pointing out the pub car park out of the other window.

There’s also a table with colouring in stuff:

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But none of this was what we were there for. Not sitting down in the warmth. No! Fresh air and mud and bracing stuff!

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And there was plenty of mud. I’d made some poor decisions re footwear and so had muddy water leaking into my boots. The kids were rainproofed from the head downwards but that didn’t stop them getting mud splattered, due to their love of “squelchies”. Eva went into one “squelchy” that sunk her to the knees and she had to be rescued by Ahmed from the Advanced Class, leaving her boots behind her in the puddle. Don’t worry, we didn’t leave them there.

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But it was almost time to leave the kids behind as I had a date with a SwingTrain promo video. We got as far as Connaught Water, which is really only about ten minutes away from Butler’s if you don’t get stuck in the mud too many times. The walk was continuing round the lake and someone had mentioned an ice cream van so there was a  double meltdown brewing when they realised we didn’t have any cash on us. All in all it was a good time to leave Nathan in charge and head back to the station on my own.

Except that is definitely one of those things that is easier said than done. My first thought was to head to the car park and follow Rangers Rood all the way but the lack of pavement made me rethink that plan. I would have to try and pick my way through the forest on my own.

You can see that this was Out of My Comfort Zone:
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Luckily, though, we were really VERY close to where we’d started and after a few minutes I could see the top of the hunting lodge to guide me back to civilisation. I was running out of time though, so had to break into a bit of a jog as I got back onto Station Rd. I flopped onto the train, red-faced, sweaty and mud-stained. Perfect look for starring in a SwingTrain video!

I got to Bishopsgate Institute, still in a state of chaos and was slightly alarmed to find everyone else there was dressed for swing dress, in glamorous vintage dresses and full make up. I’d brought gym gear.

It all worked out fine in the end, but if you happen to watch an ad for SwingTrain and there’s a crazy lady in hastily applied eyeliner and gym kit with a twig in her hair and Epping Forest mud streaked down her face…well, that’s me. But I’m gonna pretend it’s not.

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Mystery in Frankenstein’s Lab at the Science Museum – 28/03/18

Image supplied by the Science Museum

Image supplied by the Science Museum

Last night we escaped from Frankenstein’s lab and I can tell you nothing about it. It’s a mystery and you need to figure it out yourselves. Also I may now be on the run from the law. Well maybe I’ll tell you a bit later.  If you’re good.

“Good” wasn’t the word that sprang to mind when I got to Walthamstow Central and realised the Victoria line wasn’t working. Some other words sprang to mind in fact. Bad words. Having just got off the Liverpool Street train I wasn’t super keen to wait 15 minutes to get back on it so instead I crossed the car park and wandered down this very ominous looking passageway, which said “Pedestrians –>” in the kind of way that Papa Lazarou might put up a sign saying “Wives –>”.

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I wasn’t optimistic about ever making it to Walthamstow Queens Road but I shouldn’t have doubted the oh so reliable GOBLIN line. I was in Upper Holloway in no time. Why Upper Holloway? No idea. Maybe cause it’s so scenic:

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I made a spontaneous decision to catch the 43 down the road to Holloway Road,  which might finally point me in the right direction for South Kensington.  I was a touch late to meet Nathan but we were well in time for the main event of the evening – “Mystery in Frankenstein’s Lab” at the Science Museum.

We assembled near the Pattern Pod, at the far west end of the museum  (I might have got that wrong. It’s the blue bit anyway). There were met 8 strangers who would be our accomplices in the grisliest of deeds.

Once we were upstairs outside the inflatable room, we were greeted by a lady who explained to us what was happening – Dr Frankenstein was missing and we needed to complete his life’s work.  Like the good upstanding citizens we are, we refused to have anything to do with it. There was no grave robbing,  no no.

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What there was a mystery to solve and the way to solve them was through loads of science-based puzzles and experiments which gradually unlocked the secrets of the lab. We had 45 minutes to find all the….elements….the doctor required and we had to work together to make decisions and finish the experiment.

I’m glad to say we succeeded, although a few lives were lost along the way. It came right down to the last few minutes but intently staring at a table paid off and we figured it out just in time.

That’s as much as I’m going to tell you. I’ve probably told you too much already. What I will tell you is that it was tremendous fun and a real workout for the brain.  The brain in your head, not the one in the jar. We totally bonded with those strangers, even though we can never speak of it again.  It would make a great work outing as long as no one in your team is too squeamish.

Afterwards we had the option of going to Power Up, which would have been fab but we had a gig to go to.  Yes, get us and our crazy social lives. The gig was in Islington which is not overly  close to South Kensington but ironically is on the 43 route that I’d been on earlier. As we raced across London, we got a notification that the band weren’t on till 9.10. Phew!

The band were Five Grand Stereo,  an unashamedly retro 6 piece, who wear their love of David Bowie on their tweedy sleeves.  It was Nathan’s first time at a FGS gig and he was quite appreciative.  There was some toe tapping.  He didn’t strip to his undies like the groupie at the front but I think he was tempted.
I should probably say that we know the lead singer of this band from HP. In case you’re under the mistaken impression that we just hang out at cool gigs all the time. It’s more like one of us might go to a cool gig once a year.  Rock n roll. I should also say that their debut album is out now.

So that was an interesting night. I would have liked to hang out at the Science Museum more – they were running a “Lates” session and the museum was full of adults with beers ambling around.  Very different ambiance to the daytime school holiday vibe.  But yknow, we have to maximise that babysitter time and if we can fit in an escape room AND a gig then why not?

For more information on the Mystery in Frankenstein’s Lab,  have a look here.  The experience is suitable for age 12+ but during Lates, it’s over 18s only.

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Easter Holiday Preview

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Yes, I know it’s snowing. But my calendar tells me it’s Easter soon and with Easter comes a shedload of school holiday that seems to come hot on the heels of that last load of holiday the kids had.

So, what to do? Well in October half term we had a cracking time at the V&A’s theatre workshop, run by Chickenshed K&C. So it’s good to hear they’re doing something similar this holidays, even if it’s on a day the kids are already booked in to a holiday club elsewhere. It’s called  the “Museum of Mischief” and is aimed at 5-11 year olds. More information here.

Talking about holiday clubs, the Institute of Imagination is running a 3-day camp for 6-12 year olds. Or rather two 3-day camps – one 3rd -5th April and the other 10th-12th April. The kids learn about e-textiles and wearable technology and even get to make their own wearable technologies. It sounds awesome and once again I’m jealous that I no longer live on the road that the iOi is on. If you do, have a look here for more info.

Another one for those of you with older kids – the Science Museum is holding a Frankenstein Festival to celebrate 200 years since the book came out. Promising “immersive theatrical events, hands-on activities and experimental storytelling”, it’s a mix of all-age events, adult-only events and some theatre pieces that are aimed for the 12+ audiences. So something for everyone and it runs from 3rd April to 8th April.  Plus Power Up is back, which we’ve thoroughly enjoyed before.  Yes, let’s roll out that Reuben-concentration-face once again:

Credit Benjamin Ealovega, Science Museum

Credit Benjamin Ealovega, Science Museum

Let’s not forget the littlies though, as even though I don’t have any any more (sob!) I’m sure some of you do. So I’ve found this exhibition at the Horniman, which looks simply lovely for anyone who likes rainbows. So every small child ever, basically. There’s also the new play area at the Postal Museum, which we still haven’t been to but I’ve heard great reports. Gosh darn, this working 5 days a week thing is terribly overrated. I don’t get to hang around museums nearly as much as I used to. Don’t forget the Discover Centre in Stratford, another favourite haunt of ours, which has a Donaldson/Scheffler exhibition on at the moment. Well worth a visit as you can hang out all day especially now there’s a bigger and better cafe.

So that’s the Easter hols sewn up. But let’s look ahead a bit now as I’ve just heard about something VERY exciting that’s coming to London in the summer holidays. It’s called the Monstrous Festival and it takes place on 29th July at the Printworks in Surrey Quays. There are seven different worlds for kids to explore, including “Princes, Princesses and Unicorns”, an under 4s area and football training from Chelsea FC. I’ll have more details soon, but for now have a look here

 

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Museum of Childhood – 10/03/18

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Today we went to the countryside. Well, Bethnal Green. Even by my somewhat loose definitions of countryside, I think Zone 2 of East London is stretching it a bit. But Eva, AKA She Who Must Not Be Argued With, is taking this to extremes I’d never even imagine and it was her that said “This whole place looks like the countryside. It’s full of grass and open space”. We were admittedly in a park at the time – Bethnal Green Gardens – but  with police vans and double deckers overtaking each other on Cambridge Heath Road it wasn’t exactly the pastoral idyll she was describing.

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Then it started to rain. So we left the countryside and went to the Museum of Childhood, which was a favourite haunt of ours from backadays when Reuben was small and Eva was probably barely a dot. I even went there on my birthday once. I hadn’t been there for ages though and Eva hasn’t been there since Thursday, when we went with her school. In what is rapidly becoming a recurring pattern, we had to revisit to see all the bits she’d missed. This is also how we ended up at the Science Museum during the Easter holidays, although it was Reuben that had been on a school trip that time and had distinguished himself by getting into the newsletter as the child who cried when it was time to leave. Hence the need for a return visit that I didn’t even blog about cause yknow, how many times have we been to the Science Museum? Enough for now, I think.

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So we were retreading Eva’s steps from two days ago and she was keen to girlsplain all the things she’d found that I already knew about. Like the rocking horses, which she said were “scary but cool”:

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And the Punch and Judy show next to the indoor sandpit:

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We might not have been for ages but it hadn’t changed much. The sensory area was still the cool place to hang out:

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And kids were still fighting over who got to drive the wooden car, though I think it may have changed from a police car to an ambulance in the last five years or so.

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Of course, the most fun game at the Museum of Childhood is spotting the toys that you yourself played with, back in the 1980s. No quicker way to make yourself feel aged than to see your favourite Sylvanian Families behind glass as a museum piece. There were clearly some more contemporary exhibits though, such as the Harry Potter lego that Eva’s friend Lucas had taken a shine to on the school trip. And these X-Men figures where Nightcrawler seems to be doing some kind of jazz hands:

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Seeing as we’d committed to hang out for the afternoon, I decided to co-opt H’sMama and H into coming with us. They’d not been before, so Eva took great pride in showing H everything. She was very taken with the She-Ra toys and everyone loved the therapeutic thrill of the table with the magnets and the iron filings:

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Both girls enjoyed playing with the dollhouses on the top floor as well:

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Dollhouses were something of a theme at the museum – Eva had told me that she ate her lunch inside a giant dollhouse, which seemed unlikely but I think she meant that she’d gone down the stairs behind the dollhouse display in the front lobby. She also said that the dolls were a bit scary, which I’d agree with but most dolls are, aren’t they? Certainly the dollhouse village where “it is always night” didn’t stop me feeling that way about dolls.

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At one point, we popped out for some fresh air and ended up in the garden of the nearby Gallery Cafe. It’s a vegetarian/vegan cafe but it did a very acceptable cupcake and the outside area was perfect for the girls to have a runaround. Not that it was ideal picnic weather but it wasn’t snowing, so things are looking up.

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I definitely needed a giant coffee and a hit of sugar and it revitalised us enough to go back to the museum until we got kicked out at 5:30 by a man ringing a bell. Seems like the Museum of Childhood is still enough of a draw to entertain kids for the afternoon even when they’re no longer toddlers who can just run up and down the stairs for hours. The temporary space was closed when we went so I’m sure we’ll revisit when the new exhibition opens.

More information here (official website)

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