“Ten Pieces Presents…” Prom – 23/07/16

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We’ve got a couple of temporary LWATers with us this week. They’re young and full of energy and they’ve been tasked with looking after the kids while Nathan and I go to work. But first, I thought we’d show them some London culture – a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall along with a picnic and a stroll through Hyde Park. What could be more London than that?

Rain. Obviously.

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It was only a light drizzle so we still had a picnic in Hyde Park. But we found this little shelter near the Italian Gardens that Reuben described as “somewhere that looks like it might have a curse on it”. That’s a reassuring thought as you’re eating a chorizo wrap.

On the upside, there are toilets right next door. And they’re a bargain 20p per pee.

The kids needed a runaround before they had to sit still for the press conference and luckily we had a mile or so of park to walk through. We’d picked up the young people at Paddington and walked all the way through Bayswater and Hyde Park. It was a lovely walk, even with Eva complaining most of the way about her poor tired yegs. We spotted the Albert Memorial though, before she got too whiney, and the shiny goldness of it gave her the push she needed to stumble the last little bit.

As it happened, our first destination wasn’t the Albert Hall at all but rather the Beit Hall in Imperial College. There we dropped off the massive suitcases we’d lugged through the park and settled in for the “Ten Pieces” Children’s Press Conference. Audio was being recorded so I warned my kids not to say anything outrageous….though they couldn’t have lowered the tone much after a question related to toilets. I’ll get to that in a bit.

The press conference was hosted by BBC’s “School Report”, in collaboration with “Ten Pieces” and the panel consisted of Vikki Stone, Sasha Boult and Gabriel Prokofiev. Vikki is a classically trained musician and comedian, which is an unusual combination. Sasha is a 17-year-old professional cellist and Gabriel is the grandson of another Prokofiev…but more importantly is a composer and DJ. We were there to hear them talk about music and the Proms and field questions from the assembled children.

The first question was about how old the panel were when they decided to become musicians. Not surprisingly, they all knew from an early age that they wanted to be involved in music – Sasha thought she was around 5, Gabriel around 10. Then they answered questions about how much they practiced (a lot was the answer), their inspirations and dealing with criticism. They all admitted to having a touch of stage fright still but said that the adrenalin helped them to perform. Sasha talked about her top tips for playing in a youth orchestra – passion and hard work –  and there was a good-natured argument over whether being a musician was “a real job”. Vikki was asked if she ever stole anyone’s jokes (only her Dad’s, apparently) and they all discussed the other genres of music they’d like to be involved in if they weren’t making classical – jazz and funk came up a fair bit.

Then it was open season on the kids’ questions and the crucial question was asked – what if you need to pee during a performance? Well, apparently that’s another way of channelling adrenalin. At this point, it probably would have been OK for Reuben to ask a question but given the one he had prepared – “do you ever play in the nude?” – I’m quite glad he didn’t. Then we went for a quick group photo on the steps outside the RAH and retired to California Roadside Burger for a bit of refuelling.

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Then back to Kensington Gardens for a bit of a puppy runaround and we were ready for the Proms concert. Last time we were at the RAH, we were in the stalls. Today it was the Rausing Circle – a touch higher up.

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This was Prom #12 – “Sir Henry’s Magnificent Musical Inspirations!” and it was aimed at first time promgoers, which we all were. It was a series of short pieces, none longer than 7 minutes, from a range of different composers and eras. The format worked well in keeping the kids’ attention and was curated by no less a person than Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms. He’d been summoned by to the RAH by a magic flute, brought along by two “audience members” (Ellis George and Louis Walwyn). Other character that joined Sir Henry  on stage included the Queen of the Night (also connected with a magic flute), Henry V and a giant animatronic gnome.

The musical selection started with a buoyant “Fanfare for the Common Man”, a World War Two piece by Aaron Copland, before the Ten Pieces Children’s Choir joined the Royal Philharmonic to sing Elgar’s “We are the Music Makers”.  Then the story of the magic flute was explored a little more, with the overture from the opera of the same name. The aforementioned gnome made his entrance during “Gnomus” from Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” – a giant puppet, glumly stomping his way through the auditorium both delighting and terrifying the children as he did so. Kudos to the children of Fox Primary School for designing it.

Then we heard the poignant tale of Lili Boulanger who died at the age of 24 but composed “D’un matin de printemps” shortly before she did. Ellis George brought the young Lili to life, playing the part of the sickly composer trapped in her Parisian flat. The first half was then wrapped up with two Indian-inspired pieces – “The Faces of Brahma” by musicians from the North Lincolnshire Music Hub, and Ravi Shankar’s “Banjara” from his 2010 symphony. See what I mean by a varied programme?

The first half was an hour long, which was verging on pushing it for my kids after a long day. But some interval ice cream perked them up again and they were ready for the second half, complete with their notepads from the press conference in case they got bored and needed to doodle. They didn’t seem to though – the music, acting and bright lights kept them interested to the end, even though it was way past their bedtimes. Eva was particularly taken with the rainbow lighting effect during one of the pieces (I forget which).

The second half started off in a lively fashion, with Vivaldi’s “Gloria” before mellowing right out with a contemporary piece about rural Australia – “Island Songs- Song of Home” by Peter Sculthorpe, featuring Jess Gillam on solo saxophone. The mood  changed abruptly again, with a absolute classic piece of Proms-ing – the hornpipe, arranged by Sir Henry himself. The whole Hall was on its feet, bobbing up and down, clapping, climbing the rigging and saluting., If there was one definitive “I’m at the Proms” moment, it was probably that – and designed to be so.

In case the evening wasn’t cultured enough, it was time for a bit of Shakespeare. Ivanno Jeremiah walked out into the arena to deliver the famous pre-battle speech from Henry V. This led naturally into two rousing excerpts from William Walton’s Henry V suite – “Overture:The Globe” and “Charge and Battle”. I think Reuben enjoyed the battle-y one most.

The evening was almost drawing to a close but next up we had a brand new piece – “No Place Like” by Kerry Andrews, again featuring the Ten Pieces Children’s Choir. I didn’t find it quite as stirring as some of the more traditional pieces but it was very effective and made good use of the chorus of voices, blending wistful vocals with football chants. I guess it reminded me a lot of the “Express Symphony” we sing with WAM and some would say that singing through that eleventy billion times has filled my contemporary classical quota for the time being.

Throughout the show, soprano Kathryn Lewek had appeared on the screen as the Queen of the Night from “The Magic Flute”. She too had been summoned back from the past and was angry about people enjoying the music. Since that evening, Eva has repeatedly pointed out the irony of the Queen hating music so much and then turning up singing but that’s exactly what she did  - her aria in fact. It was a thrilling moment – the savagery of those high notes (a top, top F I believe) and the leaps between them. Of course, there was some kind of MacGuffin to send the Queen away again but don’t let that spoil a good bit of villainry. Lewek certainly didn’t, milking the Wicked Witch of the West image for all it’s worth.

But the happy ending came with a more positive piece- “Pines of Romes” by Respighi. The music designed to accompany a Roman army marching home was a fitting end to a musical odyssey, topped only by a reprise of the hornpipe. It finished off an exhilarating evening, which served as a fine introduction to the Proms for my kids and to London for one of the temp LWATers. It’s all recorded on IPlayer for the the next 27 days or so if you want to listen too. Thank you, Sir Henry!

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Summer Holidays Are Here!

 

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So, it’s four days into the holidays and already my kids have watched six Marvel movies. Nathan’s been in charge and apparently, “there’s a lot of MCU to get through”. If you’d like your children to be slightly more productive, here are some ideas of what you can get up to:

I’ve already blogged about the fab new show “The Midnight Gang” at Chickenshed but hurry if you want to see it – it’s only on till 6th August. More information and tickets here. For younger audience, “The Jumble Book” also looks fun and that’s on till 4th August. Another thing I’ll soon be reporting back on is the BBC Proms. Not the “Last Night” where we all sing patriotic songs and wave flags – that’s a whole other, Highams Park-related story – but rather the “Ten Pieces Presents…” events where bite-size classical pieces are performed in a family-friendly way. The performances are happening tomorrow (July 23rd)  so book quickly if you want to come too!

Coming up on 31st July is a Q Pootle 5-themed event at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. There’s an appearance from Q Pootle creator Nick Butterworth, a screening of an episode in the Planetarium and arts and crafts activities to take home. More details here. And in the “nepotism” section of this preview, why not check out Cecil Sharp House’s “Fun with Folk” – a three day holiday club for 6-8 year-olds? They’ll learn about folk music and hone their dancing and singing skills. There’s also a 4-day version for 9-12-year-olds, “Get Your Folk On!”

Summer in London wouldn’t be complete without something slightly surreal and the Royal Parks’ Giant Snail may well be this year’s. It’s moving around the different parks, bringing with it storytelling and creative activities. I probably haven’t explained it well, so have a look here.

There are also the usual array of community festivals. An interesting new addition is the Battersea Power Station’s “Power of Summer” Festival, which runs right from 22nd July to 1st Sept and includes things like a pop-up beach and “The Bureau of Silly Ideas”. There’s another beach at Canary Wharf, which is hosting beach volleyball, and the Olympic Park, which has a funfair as well as “sand” and “sea” at Beach East. The Royal Victoria Beach in Newham also looks well worth a visit.

Lastly, there are a couple of brand new openings I want to tell you about. The Postal Museum is reopening on 28th July with a new family area called “Sorted”. I feel like I’ve mentioned it before but it looks like it’s going to be awesome -interactive exhibits for older kids and a soft play area for littlies. More information here. And closer to(our) home is Centre17, a new theatre space in Walthamstow. I don’t know much about what’s going on there yet, but it looks like they’re hosting some drama workshops for kids over the summer so have a look here to find out more.

I’ll be reporting back on some of these things once I lure the kids out of their pyjamas and then the house. Have a good summer!

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“The Midnight Gang” at Chickenshed – 20/07/17

The Midnight Gang-Dress Rehearsal-18072017-DB-32The first thing Reuben said to me this morning was “It’s OK Mummy, I didn’t get up in the middle of the night and have an adventure”. If you’re wondering why he would even have that idea in his head, wonder no longer. It’s the fault of the Midnight Gang.

“The Midnight Gang” is a new production at the Chickenshed theatre. It’s an adaptation of the book by David Walliams and it’s running from 19th July – 6th August. Roo and I went to see it last night, which meant hopping on the tube from Walthamstow and changing onto the Piccadilly Line at Finsbury Park to get to Cockfosters. Don’t change at Finsbury Park if you’re changing direction – it’s a heck of a trek. We ended up getting a cab back but if we’d gone back on the tube, I think we would have gone all the way down to Arsenal on the Piccadilly Line, got the tube one stop back up the Piccadilly Line to Finsbury Park and then done the easy-peasy change from Piccadilly Line northbound to Victoria Line northbound. Don’t quote me on that but I reckon it’ll work.

Anyway, point being we made it to Cockfosters. Ever wondered what’s at the end of the Piccadilly Line? Here you go:

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There’s also some lovely art deco features in the station itself. Our other option to get to Chickenshed was Southgate tube, which is even more exciting as it looks like some kind of 1930s spaceship. But the walk was quicker from Cockfosters, so that’s what we went with.

Shall I move on to the show itself instead of all this tube geekery? Oh, go on then. It was in the main auditorium at Chickenshed (“Now that’s what I call a theatre” said Roo) and we were sitting behind the Mayor of Enfield. Exciting times! It was a 2 hour show, with 15 minute interval, and it’s recommended for ages 6+. I considered taking Eva, but she’s too young and I think it would have been a bit too emotional for her. A less sensitive and easily spooked 5-year-old would probably cope.

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The basic plot is that five children meet in the children’s ward, on the 44th floor of the Lord Funt Hospital.The terrifying Matron rules the ward with an iron fist but somehow the children manage to sneak out at midnight and have adventures around the hospital, making each other’s dreams come true through creative use of the freezer room,  bedsheets and a shedload of balloons. The kids are the main stars here, but they’re ably supported by a number of adult actors including Michael Bossisse who I think had a bit of a fan club in, given how loudly they laughed and cheered every time he appeared in drag as Tootsie. Yossi Goodlink was the one who really carried the show though – also in a dress – as the newcomer Tom. He acts as narrator, along with Ashley Driver as the Porter, and is the catalyst for the story too, arriving on the ward and following the Midnight Gang to see what they’re up to.

Kids in hospital is a difficult subject to draw comedy out of, but the story is kept light and there’s real heart in the banter between the patients. Joe Booth as George and Tamika Armstrong as Amber are full of energy as the leaders of the gang, Amber somehow walking to her wheelchair with two broken legs to go off on another adventure. Finn Walters as Robin is a cheerful support, cracking jokes even as he’s fumbling around blind (including the favourite of the man in front of us – “I play lots of instruments. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet…but I can blow my own trumpet”) and Chloe Stevenson sensitively plays the critically ill Sally, desperate to be a normal kid despite her (possibly terminal) disease.

See, it’s a bit heart rending in places, especially when they’re making Sally’s dream come true with a glimpse of the life she could have had if she wasn’t ill. I don’t think Eva would have coped very well with that bit. There’s also real poignancy as the Porter is telling a story from his own childhood and explaining, in part, why he’s never quite left his childhood dreams behind.

But then there’s high comedy too, as an old lady takes to the skies and the Midnight Gang have to pursue her in an ambulance. And there’s always Tootsie and her breakfast trolley if you need to break the tension (cue hysterical laughter from Team Bossisse). It was a good balance of  gentle, thoughtful moments and boisterous fun. Reuben certainly enjoyed it and he’s not one for too much in the way of contemplation. The set was impressive too, summoning up the atmosphere of a slightly crumbling hospital and concealing secret extra sets like the freezer room and the gift shop. The skyline view of Big Ben and the London Eye made me wonder whether it was based on St Thomas’, where both the kids were born.

During the interval, Roo and I nipped out to the very pleasant Chickenshed garden for an ice cream, as it was still light and warm. Doing that, however, meant that we entirely failed to notice David Walliams himself in the foyer, a crowd gathering around him. Bit of a missed opportunity! Still, we got to hear a few words from him at the end of the show when he joined the cast on stage (the starstruck look on Joe Booth’s face was brilliant) and he was full of praise for the production, as was everyone around us as we filed out. I think it’s safe to say that Chickenshed has a success on its hands – a show that’s emotionally challenging enough for the older child, but entertaining enough to send them out with a smile. I would definitely recommend it to those of you with children of 6 and up – it’s a beautiful piece of family theatre and at a very reasonable price. For tickets and more information, click here.

Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for my review. All opinions remain honest and my own. All images copyright of  Chickenshed

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Chickenshed’s “Dreams of Freedom” – 26/06/17

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It’s taken me a little while to write this review. I apologise. It was something to do with a catastrophic blog-tech-fail which removed the entire blog from the world wide web. But it’s back now – we can all stop panicking.

So, on Monday I took the kids to the Royal Albert Hall. It seems so surreal to say that now. Back then, it was still summer and taking them out late on a school night didn’t feel quite so irresponsible when it was too hot to sleep anyway. Besides, how often do you get to visit somewhere you’ve only ever seen on the telly?

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The occasion was Chickenshed’s extravaganza “Dreams of Freedom”, which featured 600 performers from schools around London. It was a show about freedom, obviously, but also hope, play, imagination and the absence of fear. A lot of the ideas in it came directly form the children involved and even some of the music was composed by young people. It was poignant watching such a show in Kensington, so close to the Grenfell Tower fire and it was fitting that the opening slide paid tribute to the victims of that disaster and those who were affected by it, “including some of the performers on stage tonight” (apologies if I’m paraphrasing). It went alongside a moving video from Amnesty International Ambassador Angelina Jolie, talking about the Rights of a Child. That’s the bit that stuck with Reuben, and he would later describe it as “very Labour-y”. We have trained him well.

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The performers came on dressed in t-shirts of bright rainbow colours, each one customised by the child themselves. It worked really effectively as they filled the floor space in blocks of different colour. There were several different segments, each introduced on the screen and live illustrated by Chris Ridell and the very talented 9-year-old Jude Holland – themes included “Freedom to come together”, “Freedom is ideas” and “Freedom from fear”. Some included songs from the choir, soloists or the whole ensemble – others were instrumentals, interpreted through mime and dance. There were anthemic moments – “Are you ready to hear us?”  - and more reflective moments but the whole thing was seamless. The kids enjoyed the first half, although Eva was scared by the “Monsters” section just before the interval.

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To reset her a bit, we nipped out and had a breath of fresh air and a look at the giant golden statue. I still couldn’t quite believe we were at the Royal Albert Hall. And that it was still light outside.

The second half started with “Freedom from Sadness” and moved on through themes of hope, dreams and being yourself. Both kids sang along to “Fear is not an option” and did the actions. There was also a very striking moment where the performers on the floor brought on their “dream bubbles” – giant canvasses covered in illustrations of what they dreamt of. But the most moving part was during the finale, when they all had tiny electric tealights, giving the illusion of a place filled with tiny stars. The audience joined in, with hundreds of mobile phone lights joining the wave of light. My phone, of course, ran out of battery at this point but not before I got a very blurry photo:

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I can’t imagine the planning and nightmare logistics that have gone into this show but it was so worth it. Chickenshed have much to be proud of and bringing 600 children, some with SENs or disabilities, together in such a life-affirming show must surely be the pinnacle of their achievements to date. It was melodic, dreamy, powerful and emotional. And definitely worth keeping the kids up late for.

 

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London Loves

London has been in the news way too much recently, for all the wrong reasons. So I wanted to make a space where we celebrate the London we know- not the one that’s full of tragedy and police tape. Every … Continue reading

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A Roasting Weekend in East London

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Ja ja, this theme is getting stretched now. It’s hot. You get it. But I haven’t yet bored you with what we did last weekend, so I’m going to do that right now before the thunder storm arrives.

Eva and I started Saturday at Tumble in the Jungle. It’s the fifth time she and her classmates have been there for a party but the conga, limbo and ketchup smiles never get old. It was also way cooler than I expected because yknow, a soft play on a boiling day wouldn’t be my first choice. As it happens, an indoor pool wouldn’t be my first choice either but the kids had lobbied hard for a return trip to Leyton Leisure Centre and so we jumped on the 230 and headed to “Pepper’s Ghost” for a spot of pre-swimming lunch (but don’t follow my example…you know the rules about swimming and lunch)

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Eva was impatient to swim, even though the pool didn’t open until 1 and we were still waiting for Nathan and Reuben to come and meet us. When she finally grasped this, she took up a sentry position by the window to watch out for them.

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And eventually I let her get changed and we just waited outside the pool  itself. It was 1:30, the session finished at 2:30 and things were a little tense. Once the boys arrived, there was some faffing as the pool was full but we got let in around 1:50, got changed in record time and enjoyed a blissful half hour of splashing around, getting sprayed with water cannons and going down the slides. It’s a great area for smaller ones and again, cooler than I thought it would be.

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Still, we hadn’t actually spent any time outside on this gloriously sunny day, so we popped down the road to Abbotts Park, stopping only to buy an ice cream at “Afters”. I had the Fruits of the Forest sorbet and it was awesome. The kids had mango sorbet but Eva only ate the sprinkles. She’s a fool of a girl.

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It’s not a park I’d even heard of before, but it was quite big. There’s an outdoor gym section, which also has a zipwire, then an area for littler kids sectioned off too. You can more or less see it here:

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And then some climbing frames that are a good in-between size too:

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We didn’t last long because it was a bit too hot for my pale British children (who now have better tans than I do) but the next day after church we were out in the roasting sun again, this time in Ridgeway Park, Chingford. Roo and I had been there before but this time the model railway was running. If you’ve never been on it before, you should. It’s only tiny but you can sit on it and go round the park at quite some speed:

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It’s open on Sundays during the summer and it’s £1 per person to ride. I believe you can also hire it for kids’ parties. More information here.

And now it’s 10:30pm, Reuben still isn’t asleep and it’s still not cooled down. I think I’m going to sit in the paddling pool before bed. Happy Midsummer!

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Cool Theatre Shows for Hot Days

 

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I’m melting. Roo and I walked/scooted to the Feel Good Centre in blistering heat and now my brain resembles nothing more than a pink sticky puddle BUT I have some cool things to tell you about, so I’m soldiering on.

We have three theatre-ish trips planned in the next week. Three! And I’m going to tell you about them in advance because you might just wanna go too. First off, there’s a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream in a Greek theatre in Walthamstow on Saturday 24th June. Who even knew there was a Greek theatre in Walthamstow? Details are here but I’m just trying to find out whether it’s kid-friendly before I rock up with mine (all tickets are on the door). Reuben has just done a version of MSND at school so he’s interested and Eva just likes fairies. And I may have mentioned before that MSND has a special place in my heart.

The next day we’re going to another local event and this time it’s in The Highams Park, although it’s hosted by Soho Theatre as part of their Picnic Parties in the Park season. There are games, storytelling and creative workshops – I believe this one has a Charleston swing dance class. I’m more than ready. Do we need that photo of Eva’s Charleston finger again? I believe so…

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And last off, and most excitingly, we’re visiting the Royal Albert Hall for the Chickenshed’s production. “Dreams of Freedom”. I know I’ve mentioned this before but it sounds truly epic – 600 children performing, a choir of 100 and live illustration from former children’s laureate Chris Ridell. It’s Monday 26 June at 7pm and you can find out more information here.

So, there’s a lot that’s exciting going on and two of these events are open air and one is even free! Whatcha waiting for?

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Child-Free and Care-Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Girls – 26/05/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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