LWAT’s Guide to Tabby McTat

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Listen up, Londoners…this is important stuff. I know this blog covers a wide variety of topics, from the trivial (politics) to the vital (sandpits) but this is one of the life-changing ones. I’m going to tell you where all the places in Tabby McTat are.

Of course, if you haven’t read this book every night for a solid month or so, you may not quite be feeling the urgent Need to Know that I did but I’m sure I can’t be the only person who was delighted to see a Donaldson/Scheffler book that seemed to be set in the real world rather than a fantasy one…and a recognisable one at that! Apparently this was not Axel Scheffler’s favourite book to illustrate, quite because of that whole photo-realistic thing, but I enjoyed it and it’s been quite the challenge to try and pin down where all the locations are meant to be. Obviously, there’s been some artistic licence taken and they’re often amalgamations of different places, but this is the coin that I’m going to throw into the old checked hat…

So, where else would you start but The Square?

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Here’s where the story opens, with McTat singing along with Fred. But which London square they in? My best guess is Golden Square, in Soho where I’ve spent many a tense lunchtime wrangling stir-crazy children. I’ll explain why.

First off, ignore the lions. They’re a red herring. Red Herring-Lions. Me and Google can’t find any London squares with lions except Trafalgar and it’s clearly not there. The square has to have a raised middle (cause there are steps going up to it) and be surrounded by office-type buildings. I present to you now, Golden Square:tabby14

Contender, hey? I swear when I looked at it yesterday the fence had those golden tips, like the ones in the book. Maybe they’ve Google-painted them overnight. But still, I think it’s on the money and it’s not far from where we met Axel Scheffler once, although that was years after the book came out.

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I had a sudden flash of inspiration when I realised that the publishers. Nosy Crow,  used to have offices on Vincent Square in Pimlico. Could that be The One?

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No, it’s clearly flatter and greener than the busker’s square but I include it because it seems to have a playground in it which I didn’t know about before. Top Pimlico tip, there!

Let’s move on, as McTat did. Prunella and Pat’s house clearly isn’t meant to be anywhere specific – it’s just a house, designed by people who really, really love cats. Even stray cats who rock up, trash the joint and knock up the lady cat. It’s also clearly in North London.

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Why?  Cause it just looks like it is. They seem like North London people. They’re probably both writers (who else still has a desk at home with pens on it?) and Pat probably bought it for a song in the 1970s. I would say it’s somewhere like Kentish Town or Tufnell Park, though that’s hardly “a stroll round the block” from Soho. But there has to be a fantasy element in there somewhere, right?

Next up, a familiar looking view as McTat goes for a stroll “all over town”. This one took me no time at all – I’m pretty sure the hill he watches the sunset from is Greenwich Park:

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The dome confused me for a bit as I assumed it was St Paul’s. It wasn’t until I pinned down the exact location – One Tree Hill – that I realised it was probably the top of the Naval College instead. Here, filched from Google Maps are some views from that spot:

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The first one just *looks* like the illustration and the second has a very similar skyline (Canary Wharf, pointy building, domey building). It was the angle he was looking at Canary Wharf from – South-Easterly – that made me sure it was Greenwich. And besides, Axel Scheffler lives in Blackheath…but more on that later.

The other scenes on that page I’ve failed to pin down. The market is pretty generic and doesn’t look much like a London market. The canal could well be the Regents Canal but it’s all gentrified now, so doesn’t look much like it did then. We went there in 2012 and though Roo said there was an  Octopus in there, I don’t remember many floating bottles. It was more floating bookshops.  I wish Google Maps had let me see under this bridge, as it might have been the one:

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 Now, onto the most obvious bit of all and the reason I knew this was set in London. The heart-rending reunion between cat and musician. Where else but the South Bank?

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But which bit exactly? It took a bit of virtual strolling, but I think I found it, just by Blackfriars Bridge:

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 Lampost? Tick. Top of St Paul’s? Just about? Building that’s mostly white with a different colour roof? Yup. We have a winner.

Which just leaves one mystery, and this is the one that I spent longest puzzling over. The park at the end.

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When I first saw it, I thought instantly of Brockwell Park:

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It’s all in the gradient, ysee..and Brockwell Park is a lot steeper than it looks in this picture. Trust me, I lost Reuben once as he shot down that hill on his scooter and I couldn’t keep up. Scary stuff. The gates are similar too.

Then I googled and read that someone on Mumsnet thought it was Victoria Park in Hackney. Well, I’m sorry Mumsnetter but I beg to differ. Victoria Park is dead flat  - it’s not like this at all. Then I found the Twitter account of the Blackheath Bugle Blog, which pointed out that Axel Scheffler was a neighbour of theirs and that he was probably inspired by one of their local parks. I puzzled for a while – Blackheath itself is flat again, even though it’s high up – but then I saw what they meant…

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It’s Greenwich Park again! Local to Blackheath, a park of startling altitude and a gate arrangement that matched the one on the picture (Narnia lamposts plus concrete ornamental things). It’s not perfect – there’s no bookshop, for one – but I think it’s probably as close as we’ll get.

Which concludes our guided tour of Tabby McTat’s London. How about we finish with a sing-song… all about how purrfectly happy we are.

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Easter Fun at The View – 28/03/16

view8   In the Great British Tradition, Easter weekend was largely a washout. As we were driving along Euston Rd in a hailstorm, an hour late for Easter Sunday service we never would have imagined that 24 hours later we’d be skipping around the forest in glorious Spring sunshine. Yet we were. I think you call this a “window of opportunity” and The View at Butler’s Retreat certainly picked their window well. After another stormy morning, the sun broke through just in time for their Easter activity afternoon. Hooray! view5 There were two Easter trails to complete – one inside and one outside. We were taking no chances on the weather, so went for the outside one while the sun was still shining. Note also the extreme weather proofing on that child. The kids had to find nine eggs, scattered around the grounds of The View and the hunting lodge, then rearrange the letters to make a word. This photo is of Eva finding the letter E, which I thought would make her happy but unfortunately Roo’s extreme competitiveness kinda ruined the moment for her (“I saw it first! It’s an E!”). That’s why she’s looking so very grumpy. We also spotted the Easter Bunny, out and about doing the trail: view6   Really though, it was an excuse to run about and shake off some cobwebs in the glorious expanse of space. The prize was kinda secondary. Though I’m proud to say I worked out the word from just three letters – CHC. Maybe I have a one-track mind… view3

Outdoor trail completed, we moved on to the indoor one..and this time we were finding chickens with questions around their necks, scattered through galleries that told the story of Epping Forest. The exhibitions looked really interesting but I didn’t have much time to stop, as Reuben was keen to find the chickens and claim his next prize. There was a tense moment when we couldn’t find number 9, but luckily we spotted it before he flung himself to the ground in  despair. Nathan and Eva had lost interest by that point and had gone to decorate eggs in the arts and crafts room.

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There was the option to roll your egg in the garden at hourly intervals but Nathan dropped it before they got that far. It was later discreetly disposed of behind Butler’s Retreat while we were having a much-needed coffee.

Before that though, Reuben needed a run. And happily, we’d found some equally energetic boys for him to run around with. Hooray for open spaces and the HP community!

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Roo also enjoyed climbing on the wooden animals in the garden, though he was less impressed when I threatened to leave him up there:

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Check out this blue sky, people! It was amazing. We sat out the back of the Larder, drinking coffee and eating cake with our neighbours and all was well in the world. Except that our collective children were head-to-toe in mud. It might have been a sunny afternoon, but there had been plenty of rain in the run up. And Reuben, he tells me, likes his puddles squidgy.

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If you need any proof of how wet it was underfoot, take a look at this previously dry patch of grass:

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That puddle has ducks on it. No word of a lie.

It was almost home time but Reuben had asked to visit the hollow tree – after all, what visit to the Forest would be complete without an argument over whose “house” the base of the tree was?

They did not disappoint.

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But that was but a small blip on a pretty perfect afternoon. I’ve been past The View many times and never thought to go in, but it’s a pretty decent sized visitor centre, with a gift shop and exhibition rooms. They run other seasonal activities too – I hear the Christmas one was good. More info here.

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Hackney to be Wiped Off Map Following Online Poll

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The residents of Hackney have taken a unanimous decision to anonymise themselves after an online poll branded maps “conformist, facist and obvious”. The poll, on Instagram, asked locals whether they agreed that Hackney would be a better place “if no one could ever find it”. Tens of residents replied with comments like “those who need to know, already know” and “stop the brandification of Hackney! Reclaim the purist ideal. No one had a Google Map of Eden, did they?”

Under the new regime, the area between Mare Street to the South and Clapton to the north will become a white space, reminiscent of Yoko Ono’s mid 60s work, and the tube map will simply have an absence of anything in the Zone 2 North East London area. Working on the basis that “no one knows where Hackney Wick is anyway”, up to five stations will cease to be… although they will continue to exist in actuality so that the hipsters can get to work. However, signs will be covered over and any references to the “H word” replaced with innovative street art.

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Says artist in charge, Diana Rossgeller, “We’ve been really inspired by Blitz chic. There was such simplicity in never knowing where you were that meant people were less obsessed with who they were. Identity is a 21st century construct, iterated through the falsitude of social media. Why are we all so hung up on being just the one person our whole lives? I wasn’t born with this name. I possibly won’t even be called this name tomorrow. That’s because I’ve ascended past the need for identifying myself as myself. Government ID cards? Bag of bollocks”

Diana works full time as an innovator and thought gardener and prefers to be referred to using the 13th reflexive person Finnish pronoun itselleni. Itselleni also fronts a band, “Tinky Winky and the Dipsomaniacs” who haven’t played a note since 2003. Instead, they create “corporate storyising experiences” (though not corporate in the sense of wearing a suit and actually turning up on time) They facilitate this experience by showering the audience with cards from the Neighbours Game and encouraging them to “forge their own odysseys”. Sometimes they’ll also screen an episode of Red Dwarf.

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Whether Operation Christopher will be a success remains to be seen. It certainly may confuse some of the area’s older residents, many of whom remember when it was all London Fields round here and the only coffee available was a non-ironic Gold Blend. Harry, who lived here in the last century before even 9/11 or The Strokes’ first album, expressed an element of infuriation with the latest plan, which will also see the numbers being removed from all buses as they go down Balls Pond Rd. “Bloody incomers and their trendy ideas. I’m confused enough by life as it is…how am I supposed to get the 55 to Bingo now? Immersive art projects? Bag of bollocks”

Follow the progress of Operation Christopher by using the hashtag #E8ReBirth or by following the scent of anti-hipster lynch mobs…

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Krazy Kidz Fun Forest – 19/03/16

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It’s strange for the LWAT family to have aSaturday afternoon with nothing planned and nowhere to be, but last Saturday was one of those afternoons. I called the kids over to the laptop and excitedly told them all the things we could do. I knew the Find Your London festival had loads to offer so we could do that! Something cultural and vaguely arty! Or there was a new soft play opened in the Costa in Chingford….”SOFTPLAYSOFTPLAYSOFTPLAY” they both said. So, that was decided. Happily, we could do a small bit of both as there was a Find Your London event taking place right pretty much opposite our house. We have a new piece of wall art emerging…

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Can you tell what it is yet? I’ll give you a clue…there are a lot of them in Eva’s room. And it’s not a princess.

Culture – done! Next stop, coffee. There are certain advantages to a soft play being inside a Costa. And also certain advantages in seating all the kids together on a separate table. It was almost like having a civilised cup of coffee. Almost.

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The soft play section is at the back, in a separate room but it seems fine to take coffee through with you. Which is good, because you often need a coffee at soft play. This one is pretty small, which means you can sit back and relax a bit because even delicate flowers like Eva and Bunny would struggle to get stuck on this and require help. Eva was wearing a giant princess dress, which slightly impeded her climbing but she still managed it all without any intervention.

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I wish I could say the same about Roo. Sadly though, he required a fair bit of intervention. The area was a bit young for him (something I hate to say but it’s probably true) and he was forever pushing the boundaries by climbing on the walls or trying to ride the baby-ring down the slide. So, I set him a project. Around the floor – and clinging to the hem of Eva’s dress – were velcro letters. That could entertain a literate boy for a bit! And it did…

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Good improvisation on the “A”s there. He wasn’t bored at all, I was just aware that he was close to squishing babies as he demonstrated his forward rolls and he was possibly a bad influence on some of the less stable toddlers who might decide to follow him onto the gingerbread roof.

For the nearly-4-year-olds though, it was a good size. A little slide that neither of them were too scared to go on, and a special little den with a disco floor:

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And then they went to the library over the road and read a book about “Best Friends”. Awwwww….

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So, a nice addition to the Chingford toddler scene but probably not one for the wilder older kids. More info here.

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Parks and Waterslides

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Last week, as I was writing a hard-hitting piece on my cuddly local MP, I made a promise on my Facebook page. I promised that, before long, I’d move on from the political agitation and serve up a more traditional slice of LWAT parks-and-waterslides kinda stuff. So, here it is. It actually follows directly on from my chat with IDS –  after he terminated our conversation, Eva and I walked off purposefully. Problem was, we had nowhere that we were walking to.

So I stopped, a little way out of sight and asked Eva where she wanted to go. It was a beautiful sunny day so we agreed a park could be a good destination. I checked Google Maps and we weren’t far from Pimp Hall Park, which was meant to be nice and somewhere I’d never been to before. True, it happened to be in the opposite direction to the one we’d walked off in so it meant we had to sneak back past IDS in a less assertive way than we’d walked off. When political agitation gets awkward, hey?

But it was worth it and also worth the slog up the hill in the searing, 8 degree heat. From the top, you get spectacular views over Chingford…true, it’s only Chingford but a view is a view:

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I think some of the play area has been redone lately, because it has that fake grass stuff that seems popular with playground makers recently. And little mounds and things to walk on:

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Don’t ask why Eva had her coat on backwards. She had it like that all the way through the IDS chat too…kudos to him for not mentioning it.

On the subject of top Tories, I thought I’d stumbled upon one of Cameron’s exes for a minute:

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I’m not really sure how to move on from that gag so I’ll tell you about Eva’s time on the swing tyre, where she befriended another nearly 4-year-old and they talked about princess movies. It’s a pity I have no idea who the other small girl is so we’re unlikely to take her up on her invitation to watch “Brave” at her house.

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And then there were roundabouts:

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and climbing frames:

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and then a call from the mouse man which saw us jumping on the 212 and heading home. So, where do the waterslides come into this? Well, that was the week afterwards when we finally made it to that most mystical part of the East End – the Leyton Leisure Lagoon.

Except it’s not called that anymore. It is now, rather boringly, called Leyton Leisure Centre. But it does have an exciting water-play area that’s perfect for toddlers plus. It also involves parents wandering around in swimwear through ankle-deep water so, weirdly, I didn’t take any photos of us there. Also, I don’t think you’re allowed phones in the pool. So, I’ve filched this image from www.isgplc.com in order to show you the excitingness of it all:

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So, there’s a main pool, a smaller pool and a teaching pool alongside the water play area. Which is good, because it can get a bit cold if you’re not immersed in the water. I’d brought along a real live toddler to test it out with, and a baby too so I’m pleased to report we had the full preschool range. Boby, who is now the toddler, thought the splash area was great fun and enjoyed going down all the slides with Bob. I think the thing she liked best, though, was sitting in the basin of the water trough which, Bob pointed out, she probably could have done at home. BabyR, who is a genuine baby, spent her time in the deeper water in her inflatable seat because of the whole getting cold thing. Eva, who’s scared of most things, was scared of aspects of this area, including the snake/dragon, the slides, the water falling from overheard….but she still seemed to enjoy herself. The red and yellow slides in the picture above and really not very high – maybe a foot off the ground  - so she was OK with them. The blue one was bigger and you splash down into a pool of water at the bottom so she wasn’t so sure. But I think Roo would enjoy it.

I’ve never really been to a pool like it, and it was a fun thing to do with even my scaredy-cat child. It could do with the air being a tad warmer but I imagine if it was busier like it would be on a weekend, then it’d feel warmer. The changing facilities were good, the lockers spacious and all pretty clean so I’d definitely recommend it. And just up the road is a huge Greggs for a warming pasty afterwards.

So, there you go – two genuine Places to Go With Toddlers and one of them is even in undisputed London territory. Don’t worry folks, I haven’t lost the thread just yet…

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Posted in Token attempts at exercise (leisure centres), Token attempts at fresh air (parks) | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No System is Perfect” – IDS Speaks on Benefit Deaths….

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Do you ever have bad days at work? Do you make mistakes? Well, we all do. No system is perfect and that’s exactly the expression Iain Duncan Smith used to describe his welfare system, which unfortunately makes the kinds of mistake that kill people on a regular basis. I’m lucky, as many people are, that my mistakes at work can be quite easily rectified with a credit note or a change of formula but even when it all goes wrong, nobody dies. A claim that IDS can’t make. Also, I apologise when I make mistakes and again, that is where we differ.

I fear I may have created a “bad day at work” for IDS when I accosted him outside a health clinic , to ask him about some of this stuff. I was fairly polite about it and waited for him to finish his sadface photoshoot before I invoked the rights of a constituent to contact their local MP. That’s all I wanted to do – it just so happens that my local MP is responsible for horrific human rights violations and it was those things that had prompted me to contact him. But where better to start than with the issue in hand – local authority funding? After all, he was there to protest about a GP’s clinic making cuts and didn’t it seem ironic to him that those cuts were probably a direct result of his vote to cut local authority funding by 24.6%  just a few weeks before (source theyworkforyou.com)?

It didn’t seem ironic. He’s not cutting local authority funding. “I’m not cutting local authority funding” he said.

That took me aback a bit, I must admit. I knew that local authorities were all being forced to face funding cuts and I was pretty sure IDS had never voted against his party on something like that. So, we tried to unpack this a little. A story had broken that morning  about my council, Waltham Forest, raising council tax for the first time in six years in order to offset the government cuts and to “help pay for the growing adults social care bill”. When I asked IDS about this, he was again in denial. He said that most local authorities were looking at a “stable budget” this year, that social care was protected and that the government was providing all funding needed. But I was still confused. In one breath, he said that social  care was not being cut  and there was “an extra pot of money going into social care” but in the next, said that councils were being allowed to raise taxes if they liked, “to bring some money into their social care at a local level…to get a better level of social care”. I might be having one of those maths-mistakes days, but if there’s extra central funding, why would councils need to generate their own extra funding as well? If the social care bill is rising and the government are not providing enough to cover that rise, surely it’s a cut in real terms? Our borough is getting ever more populous and so it’s inevitable that all sorts of costs will rise…”allowing” councils to raise council tax hardly seems an acceptable solution from the government, It sounds very much as if they’re washing their hands of local authorities.

And, of course, blaming them for their own failings. After all, everyone in business has to make these kinds of cuts all the time. According to IDS, that is. He’s a great believer in that Tory watchword, “efficiency”. If only people could be more efficient, they’d save money. Oodles of it. “I don’t believe services need to be cut” he said, in answer to a question about how a London Borough could save £58m “There are loads of ways, yknow”.

Loads of ways, people! Like efficiency, streamlining, rationalising and all those other words which are actually fairly meaningless when you’re staring down a budget that needs £58,000,000 taking out of it in order to provide the same services to a growing number of people. We’re used to a lack of maths skills from Gove – all schools are still expected to be above average, by the way – but it’s hard to calculate out an 8-figure budget hole. IDS claims that he’s successfully taken money out of his own department and it’s running more smoothly as a result but certainly, news reports from a year or so ago suggested it wasn’t all that smooth. Nevertheless, he thinks that “most businesses and companies have to do it all the time…that and considerably more”. So, if you’re a small business owner who’s saving £58m this year please get it touch and share your tips! There must be thousands of you out there.

We moved on. I took the efficiency topic as a springboard to discuss the Work Capability Assessments, which have been widely reported as costing more than they save. IDS rubbished these claims, saying that they were actually saving money – over a billion pounds. Well, I don’t know about you but I’m impressed. A billion pounds is a lot to be saving, even if it’s clearly at the expense of the sickest and most disabled of our society. But the report from the Independent gives the same figure as the savings in benefits payouts around – a billion, give or take – but offsets it against the £1.6bn cost of the assessments. Which was kinda my point in the first place – yes, the WCAs may cut your benefits spend by £1bn but your bottom  line will still be £600,000,000 short and you’ve ruined a whole lot of lives along the way.

If, like IDS, you’d like to dispute this, here‘s the source of that information. And a screen shot for the truly-lazy-but-argumentative:

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But it seems I was missing the point – his purpose in the WCAs was not to save money, it was to “ensure people know what condition they’re in and what services they have a right to”. Fabulous. People who are sick and/or disabled apparently are ignorant of the condition they’re in and need IDS’ help in figuring it out. So, we’re spending billions to essentially replace the holy trinity of diagnosis – Google, intuition and a decent GP. If you lose a leg, don’t bother working out for yourself what’s wrong just wait for the WCAheroes to swoop in and point at where it used to be.

But unfortunately, things don’t always go right. As IDS himself said “No system is absolutely perfect. Nothing you (emphasised) do in life is absolutely perfect” and he’s right there. I have my flaws. As discussed previously, though, my typos in a blog post don’t normally kill people. There are thousands of stories coming out about people who have died following benefit cuts and, in some cases, having the grace to die while the decision was being made so therefore saving the DWP an extra bit of admin. Now, that’s efficiency.

Even IDS himself admits that aspects of this are “absolutely appalling”. When I brought up the story of the woman who was being told her benefits were being cut on the day she died, he agreed that the case was one of those things that “went wrong” and said that he always apologises to people that suffer from those kind of things. Weirdly though, I couldn’t pin him down on whether he’d actually apologised to that particular family or not. It’s almost like he’s a politician.

At that point, I sensed our brief time together was drawing to a close. He suggested I was trying to create a row, which was never my intention. I only meant to fire off a barrage of abuse and it’s not my fault he argued back. I only hope that this week, as he went in to vote “aye” for yet more disability benefit cuts, he felt a strange twinge of conscience in his cold, cold heart. But I doubt it.

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Food Blogging, LWAT-style – Fruit Skewers

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One of the comments I often* get on the blog goes something like this: “Hey Kate, your kids seem to exist on a diet of Chicken McNuggets and Kinder Eggs. You should really get into food blogging, so that you can inspire other parents to reach those culinary heights too”. Well, readers you asked** and here it is – Fruit Skewers, LWAT-style.

We have school to blame for this. Reuben is doing Healthy Eating as his Topic, so spent half term preachily asking his cousins how much fat and sugar they’d had in their  breakfast. Now, he’s been told to make a recipe book, so naturally he wanted to try a recipe out – and what could be simpler than fruit skewers?

Err, a lot of things? Allow me to give you a few tips.

1) Buy the fruit from the supermarket just before you plan to do this. That’ll ensure the pears and the mango are so unripe that you’d need a screwdriver to get them onto the skewers.

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2) Don’t buy skewers. You can improv with stuff you have at home, right? School said dry spaghetti would work

3) Give the kids knives

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4) Make sure the fruit is all super-touched by the preschooler. It won’t get manhandled enough during the manufacturing process, so get her to really stick her fingers in it.

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5) No really, you can improv. Like when you find that the spaghetti keeps snapping and the straws are too bendy. Ta-da…spaghetti within a straw!

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6) Make sure the knives are blunt. That’s gonna be one messed up pear.

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7) Make sure the preschooler chops directly onto the table. That’s going to add to the flavour.

8) Take photos, so your phone can get sticky as well

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9) Marvel at how beautiful the finished product is

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10) At no point should you realise that the fruit would taste better about three food-preparation steps ago, and with no little bits of dry spaghetti stuck in it. That’s just loser talk.

Enjoy!!

 

 

 

*never

**you didn’t

Posted in What I suppose you'd call "tips"....? | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Bouncing Cats and Boom-Boom Pups – 27/02/16

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It’s been a varied weekend, musically speaking. Rock, hiphop, musical theatre, worship, AOR, experimental symphonies, mid-90s indie, Disney….I could go on. But instead I’ll just focus on yesterday, which saw us rocking at lunchtime and hip-hopping by teatime. First though, we started the day by dropping a TV off in this incredibly posh road in Highgate:

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By which, I mean dropping a TV off to a friend in Highgate, not just going to fancy neighbourhoods and fly tipping. I only mention it because I am a relentless collector of New Areas of London and while I’ve been to Highgate many times before, there was a place nearby that I don’t think I’ve visited ever before…or at least not since I was a child. Funnily enough, it came up in conversation the other day when I was discussing places that you cant really locate on a map because they don’t have a tube station. Crouch End was one, Stoke Newington another and this place…Muswell Hill. That’s one reason I was interested in driving through it – the other being that my mother was born there and it’s interesting  to see a bit of family history. Also, it was in a Madness song.

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And in some ways it looks like it hasn’t changed in fifty years…

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But there was no time to stop and explore. Why not? Because it was Rock o Clock.

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As our pastor wisely observed, Nathan was ready for this. He was born ready. We were at Rock School at church, which was being led by some Brazilian friends of ours. I’m never going to sound cool writing about this but I was, as Juno would say, rocking out on the bass guitar. And by the end I did, as the Beatles would say, have blisters on my fingers.

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But gone are the days when I could rock and roll all night and party every day…and it was time for a shift in musical direction. A hiphop direction.

It’s funny how life works – a few weeks back we’d never been to The Place in Euston. Now we were going for the second time in ten days, after our night of contemporary dance. Bob had won free tickets to a show called “Bouncing Cats and Boom Boom Pups” but then flitted off to the New Forest, which meant that we got them. I knew very little about it but assured Roo that it was probably the kind of show he could join in with (he was very anxious to know whether he could).

On the way, we saw a building which both kids found very exciting:

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It’s Eva Air! The world’s prettiest and sparkliest airline. Unfortunately they don’t fly if the pilot has been dressed in the wrong ballgown or if you’ve cut her aeroplane food in the wrong way.

We were very early for the show so went for a drink in the cafe downstairs. It’s pretty cheap and spacious so it’s handy if you ever need a quick eat in Euston and don’t want to pay station prices. We had juice and cookies:

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But not for long as we were on our way to…Animaland.

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As you can tell, it was pretty dark when we went into the performance space. Last time we went to The Place, I swear there were tiered seats filling up the whole room, but this time there was just a series of graffitied panels, in which we stood a little bemused, waiting for the hiphop magic to start.

Then our hosts, Maxwell Golden and Mr Dane appeared and kicked off things with a high energy freestyle jam about the random objects kids had in their pockets. Roo was holding aloft a used tissue, so I quickly rifled through my bag and found a Happy Meal freebie book for him to wave instead. Other kids were holding shoes and even one sock in the air, and Maxwell seamlessly wove them all into his rap. Then he taught us all to beatbox – “Bouncing Cat -sss, Boom Boom Pup tsh”. It’s good to acquire a new skill and I look forward to integrate some beatboxing into the next Rock School.

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From there, the space shifted and changed so that we could move around Animaland and meet the aforementioned Bouncing Cats and Boom Boom Pups. I won’t tell you too much more for fear of spoilers but it certainly was interactive. We were constantly moving, joining in, shouting and even having a full-on rave by the end. The graffiti panels set the scenes but changed every time we moved to another area. There were puppets, rap battles and some pretty bad puns. Reuben was exhausted by the end but full of bounce and happy. Eva had been carried around by her indulgent Daddy so she wasn’t too tired…but still tired enough to neeeeed a chocolate bunny on the way home.

I’m not sure where the Boom Boom train is headed next as that was their last show at The Place but have a looky here for some more info.

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A Birthday in Barking – 23/02/16

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I have a habit of going to slightly random places on my birthday. There was Bethnal Green in 2012 – not so random now but a bit out of the way when you consider we were living in South London at the time – followed by the Zoo in 2013. Then two years of unfun-quarantine-birthdays and so this year, a birthday jaunt was well overdue.

I met Bob over my glamorous birthday dinner at McDonalds, London Wall (“The Happy Meal makes it fancy” according to Reuben) and from there, we ditched the kids and made our way through some confusing backstreets and Victorian markets to Fenchurch Street station. Don’t worry, Nathan turned up some time between the Happy Meal and the station, to usher the kids away. And to buy a Happy Meal for himself, bizarrely.

From Fenchurch Street, trains to Barking go every three minutes or so and that’s where we were headed – for another relaxing spa session at the Abbey Spa, where I’d previously been with the HP mothers’ collective. I’d spent most of my birthday doing payroll, so I deserved a good soak in the jacuzzi. And Bob has a toddler, so she always deserves a soak in the jacuzzi.

Once again, I will not be posting any pictures of me in swimwear. You’ll have to make do with the birthday card Bob got me, which was pretty accurate:

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Last time I’d been it was an exclusive hire, which meant it was just people I knew. This time, it was a public and mixed session, which had a slightly different feel to it..but could also be entertaining when men started trying to out-macho each other by doing martial arts in the sauna.

I felt almost an old hand at this spa thing this time round. I knew which steam room was the hottest – the vapour room -and it was there that we started, sweating out all the McImpurities we’d just consumed. It takes a little while to acclimatise in there but the shorter you are, the easier it is. Heat rises yknow…physics, right there. So what feels unbearable when you walk in is actually bearable when you’re sitting down.

Still, it was pretty toasty and we well appreciated a cool down and relax in the jacuzzi afterwards. We spent ages in there, enjoying the bubbles and reminiscing about some of the dodgier swimming pools we’d been to. Then we went into the salt inhalation room, where I was amazed to discover that Bob didn’t remember this “Friends” moment. Surely everyone of our generation knows every episode of “Friends” off by heart?

Then , jacuzzi, sauna, jacuzzi, relaxation room. It’s a hard life hanging out at the spa. We had the relaxation room all to ourselves and it was lovely to just lie down and not have to deal with piles of laundry or washing up or any of the other things that appear in my peripheral vision when I’m trying to relax at home. Like the “Magic Trick” Eva is currently performing with four chairs and her duvet. I’m trying not to look.

So, it was a very relaxing and calming two hours and perfect for an end-of-birthday treat. Back in the real world, everything seemed a bit harsh and loud compared to the surreal serenity of the spa but we retreated the The Chequers in Walthamstow for a comforting post-spa cider. I could get used to this lifestyle…in fact, I’m going back in a week or so with the HP Ladies. Bring it on!

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Rave-A-Roo – 19/02/16

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image credit: Simon Jacobs

Three days of school and it already feels like half term was an age ago. But it did happen, the kids did disappear for most it and I managed to squeeze just one Day of Fun with them. Our destination was the Rave-A-Roo launch party at the Ministry of Sound. We were hoping to see our friends Big Fish Little Fish in their takeover slot but I got a little confused about where the main room was and so we missed it. Boo! Instead, we amused ourselves in the bar area, with neon clay modelling and an inflatable thing that blow out jets of air so you could make a ball hover.  Ooh, magic-y.

I was solo with both kids so didn’t manage to get much in the way of photos. My hands were kinda busy grabbing onto marauding children. But look at the quality photography I did manage when we eventually found the main room:

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In case you can’t tell (and you probably can’t), this was Go!Go! Go! of Nick Jr fame. Their glittery costumes and wild moves wowed the kids and we all had a bit of a boogie, all the while careful to obey the Ministry signs that told us not to dance on the speakers. Sadly, I think my speaker-dancing days are long gone. I might have done that on my 25th birthday,  but my 35th was much more about sitting around and drinking tea. Still, this was rock n roll, right? Going to a superclub in the middle of the afternoon with some kids and an inflatable flamingo or two? Plus, Reuben was excited to see the word “Roo” pretty much everywhere he looked. Rave on!

The kids were keen to find the soft play area and we headed back through the bar to the “Baby Box”, where there was a giant ball pit-slash-bouncy castle. They could entertain themselves quite happily in there and Roo barely even stepped on any smaller children. He did almost fall on one while scaling the wall, but that’s the risk you take with extreme-toddler-rave-sports.

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It was pretty hard to peel them away but the party was finishing soon so, like hardcore clubbers, they were dragged out into the unforgiving daylight, clutching their glowsticks and complaining that they could keep going all day if they wanted to. I sensed that they still had energy to run off, so we swapped the glamorous surrounds of the Ministry of Sound for a scrubby park behind the Elephant roundabout:

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Like the nearby roundabout, it had a huge and inexplicable silver feature in it, which Reuben obviously wanted to climb:

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While Eva was busy saying “Giddy up, Fishy!”

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And they both enjoyed a snuggle on the climbing frame, though all of us were unsure about why there were random items of clothing draped around it. Sometimes it’s better not to ask. Especially in Elephant & Castle.

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Oh, and there was a nice wooden assault course bit too:

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After that, Roo needed the loo and it started to rain and it all went a bit downhill but let’s leave it there…an afternoon of raving and playing. Pity they had to go back to school. Well, kinda…

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