JellyBug Launch at the Rainforest Cafe

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Get ready to have your head filled with songs about baby lunar baboons playing bassoons and badgers. So many badgers. A new online channel for kids is launching. It’s called Jellybug and the videos are both psychedelic and insanely catchy. Badgers, badgers, badgers.

(Before anyone gets all smart-ass on me and tells me that the badger video is a copy of one by MrWeebl…well, it’s the same people behind both channels. So there. Try playing both versions at the same fun, for extra funz.)

We were lucky enough to go to the launch this morning, at the Rainforest Cafe. That’s one of those places I’ve been past a million times but never been into, for fear of having to buy my children All The Toys. But this morning we had so much fun to look forward to that I could usher them past the cuddly anacondas without spending anything. We only stopped to pose on the comedy animal barstools:

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And then we went to the lower floor, where all manner of Jellybug-related treats awaited. There was colouring:

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and, of course, food. Breakfast, which included some tasty, tasty bacon.

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Then it was time to view the cartoons. Of course, you can see them yourself at the youtube channel but to give you an idea, it was brightly-coloured, Japanese-style animation accompanied by super-hyped versions of children’s favourites, along with some originals. They reminded me a bit of the animations on those Wii Play games, where you have to speed-eat noodles and things like that. All huge eyes and sparkles. Reuben’s favourite was “Pop Goes the Weasel” because he liked the bit where the treacle-covered man exploded (“pop go the people”). Nathan enjoyed “Shrimp Glockenspiel“, a surreal look at musical marine biology. Eva was totally freaked out by this gorilla:

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She just did a little shudder just looking at the picture of him. We retreated to the loos for a minute so that I could reassure her that the gorilla couldn’t hurt her and she agreed to be in the same room as it again. She liked the videos and keeps demanding to watch them (if this post has a stop-and-start feel, that’s why) but she never quite reconciled herself to that gorilla.

Then, Reuben decided to get his face painted like Iron Man….because it’s all about superheroes now. Dinos are out. Obviously. The nice lady on the face painting stall didn’t have an Iron Man design, but she improvised something based on his t-shirt:

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See? The Iron Man row is just by his hand. The hand is holding a dinosaur but it’s a superhero dinosaur. Again, obviously.

After that, he was thrilled to be part of the magic show, alongside the  girl was who the  daughter of JellyBug’s Sarah and Jonti and the “voice of JellyBug”. Here they are, shrinking the magician’s socks:

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In case you’re wondering, Jonti (Picking) is also Mr Weebl, of youtube fame, and his partner is Sarah Darling of XFM fame. They’re the team behind the channel and enthusiastic about high-energy, high quality kids’ entertainment. Talking of which, there was just time to dance to “Let it Go” before we had to go and that brought a smile to Queen Eva’s face. She even forgot about the gorilla for a minute.

So, a grand morning out and a launch that we’re very excited to be a part of. Go and have a look at JellyBug now and tell me what you think!

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I’m Trying to Be the Best Mother I Can Right Now – A Mother’s Day Reflection

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It’s Mother’s Day soon. You’d be forgiven for not knowing if you haven’t switched on the TV or stepped inside a branch of Tesco lately. If you have stepped inside a branch of Tesco, you might have spotted that most inappropriate of Mother’s Day gifts – the Bambi necklace. If one of my children gives me that, I’d be horrified. It’s like sending someone a Valentine’s card with a picture of the Baroness from “Sound of Music” on it. How better to say “So long, farewell darling. I’m replacing you with Julie Andrews. Maybe you should have learnt how to giftwrap a villa”?

I digress. I often do when I’m thinking about Julie Andrews. Now, she was a good mother. Step-mother to seven is a rough gig at the best of times, and must be even harder during an Anschluss. Am I off again? Sorry. I meant to say the other reason you may not have noticed it was Mother’s Day is that it’s clashed with Comic Relief this year, so the kids have come home with handfuls of  arts and crafts that I can only suppose pertain to one or the other. For example, the matching red nose cards that Eva and Bunny brought back from nursery were probably for Comic Relief but the cupcakes they’d decorated were probably intended for Mother’s Day. You can guess which one made it back to the mothers in question. Roo gets a few more points – presenting me with not just a plant pot of daffodils but also stashing a homemade card under his bed that no child-respecting mother would have snuck a look at while it was still in his bookbag. It says lots of nice things about me in simile, comparing my softness to a cloud and my intelligence to a troodon’s. It concludes that I am the best mummy in the world.

That’s sweet, Roo but I’m really not. For one, I already read your card. For seconds…well, there’s a lot I could say but let’s not go there. What I can tell you is that I’m constantly trying to be the best mother I can be right now. That might not always be super-obvious but essentially, it involves figuring out what is not working and what we can do to make it better. And that’s as much as I think any of us can hope for – to make decisions that make things not worse.

Like me going back to work this week. Yes, my three-year maternity leave with Eva has come to an end (and sensibly, I’ve weaned the baby before starting back). I know I’ve been working through most of the last two years, but this feels different. Being self-employed, even when you have a regular job, is a different ballgame to having a Proper Job where you work for someone else. And I am joyfully embracing the end of freelancehood. No more working in the evenings, no more trying to get finance reports done with a tiny Elsa draping herself across my shoulders. Work is for the office and when I’m home I’m actually home. Well, except for a few freelance projects I’ve kept on. I wouldn’t like myself to get bored. The first evening of unemployment between jobs, I made 20 tiny cards and filled them with poems, crosswords and pictures before shoving them into an envelope of glitter and sweets that would later get opened by a suspicious postal service. That between-jobs gap lasted three days and I think Nathan at least was relieved when I started the new one. Who knew what crazy side project my unoccupied mind would come up with next?

From that you might have gleaned that I need work. I need something outside parenting to focus on. But it’s whatever works. When Eva was a year old, Proper Freelance was ideal – working on my laptop in my PJs of an evening, baby in a sling or on the boob, working on a word count rather than a hourly rate so that I could stop and tend to her whenever she did a giant poo. Another year on and Self Employed at a  couple of regular jobs had its attractions – the flexibility of freelance but other people to talk at and a never-ending supply of coffee. Now, Proper Employed again. And that’s the principle I base all my “parenting” on. Do whatever works for you, right now. I wish I’d had that freedom when Roo was a baby, but like any first time parent I was too scared of the health visitors and too intimidated by the “experts” to try anything like co-sleeping that might have snatched us a few precious hours’ sleep.

Because, ludicrous as it sounds, I was all about the future. Supernanny says that if I let Baby feed to sleep, he will be doing this forever. So I must keep both of us awake for feeds, for the sake of Future Kate and Future Reuben and Future Kate’s lack of rods for Future Kate’s own back.

But you know what? Screw Future Kate. I’ll sort things out when I become her. The path of “but if I do x, what becomes of y?” leads to madness. It’s OK to just do things for now and not worry too much about how they work out. You don’t know how you’ll feel in a year. You don’t know what your baby will be like in a year. There’s no point in moving close to a nice school pre-foetus when you might decide to uproot the entire family a week after your child has started Reception (for the record, I am not recommending this as a good life strategy). Parenthood is full of surprises and some things you just need to take as they come.

It’s hard though. Us, as a generation of parents, face pressures that no previous generation has. The explosion of social media in the last ten years has meant that those of us with kids at primary school have raised those kids in front of the world. There’s nothing that’ll rock your confidence like a dozen pieces of well-meaning advice every time you post something on Facebook. Share a photo of your latest sling? Someone will have an anecdote about how dangerous they are. Record your daughter’s latest utterance with the kind of phonetic analness that only a degree in Linguistics gives you? Someone will ask if you’ve seen an SLT about her inability to pronounce /g/. Take a spontaneous video of the kids playing? There will be someone who comments on the state of your house. Guaranteed. The “hide comment” button is useful here.

And it’s not just social media. The internet is so packed with information that new parents have no idea which opinions to listen to and which to discard. A favourite party trick during my first pregnancy was to Google anything I was just about to eat and find out all the reasons why I shouldn’t eat it whilst pregnant. It worked with literally anything, which you might naturally conclude would lead to pregnant women eating literally nothing. I hate to add yet another opinion to the mix but that sounds unhealthy to me.

All this virtual noise just drowns out your motherly instincts, doesn’t it? You end up so saturated with opinions on Gina Ford, Dr Seers, Dr Seuss and all the rest that you have no idea what you actually think any more. Well, try something and see if it works. If it doesn’t, try something else.

Which brings me back to working. I’m in for 4 school days now, which seems like a lot but actually Eva and I were driving each other crazy. The 24/7 closeness we had when she was a baby would be suffocating by now if I hadn’t gently put some distance between us. When she was tiny, she only wanted to be next to me in a sling or a bed. She needed nothing in the way of attention, just closeness and milk and I was happy to keep her physically close so that my mental energy could be spent on Roo. Nowadays, those old tricks don’t work and she wants the kind of attention that I can’t give her while trying to work from home. So, more childcare for her and cleaner work/life segregation for me is the way forward. Let’s see if this works. I think it will. She gets me in the evenings (which are quite long when I finish work at 2:30) and for a 3-day weekend. I get my break by being at work and the time we spend together is more focussed on what she wants to do. Except today when I went to the dentist and then lay on the sofa, barely able to talk from all the anaesthetics. But I think she kinda enjoyed it. The dental nurse admired her Elsa wig and gave her three stickers. Good times.

So, we’re doing what works for us right now. I need to work. Some  people don’t. Some people are excellent at being with their kids every day of the week and that’s totally right for them. But that’s something that, really, you need to do because you love doing it – not because a blog told you that  you couldn’t be an Attachment Parent if you don’t homeschool, not because you feel pressured into it by society and randoms on Mumsnet. I’d go as far as to say that you shouldn’t even let finance dictate to you what you do. You might feel like you want to work, but will be barely turning a profit. Ah, do it anyway. As long as you’re not actually losing money, why not? And I say that as someone who never makes much of a profit from working but never really expected to. But the profits I’ve made in Kate Sanity have been off the scale.

And that’s it. That’s the simple message I want to give to you this Mother’s Day. Try to be the best mother you can right now. If that means working full-time, part-time, from home or not at all or your partner staying home while you work…whatever particular combination is going to keep you sane, do it. That goes for every aspect of parenting – feeding, sleeping, dressing, housekeeping. Do what keeps you going. That makes you the best mother you can be right now.

Congrats.

(I’ll leave you with a picture of me doing some Earth-mothery biscuit making with the kids for Nathan for Valentine’s Day. Note the completely unimpressed expressions on their faces and take from that what you will)

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Oliver Jeffers at the Discover Centre – 28/02/15

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Now, Friday was a nice sunny day but Saturday not so much. It was cold, grey and drizzly and we needed an adventure. We’ve been East Londoners for almost a year now, but I still hadn’t got round to revisiting the marvellous Discover Centre, which we lasted visited with a tiny baby Eva in 2012. So, we jumped on a bit of the Central Line that I hadn’t sat on for hours last week (and there’s not much of the Central Line that fits that description) and arrived at Stratford, with its promise of hot dogs, trains and rhubarb. And that’s just on the walk from the station.

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The Discover Centre is currently hosting an exhibition on the “World of Oliver Jeffers”, who wrote such whimsical classics as “The Day the Crayons Quit”.  I’ll be honest – I had no idea what this exhibition might entail, but when we got there we were given a timed ticket for later in the afternoon So, we’d find out. Before then, there was plenty of time to explore the rest of the centre.  We were too wimpy for the outside bit (greyness! drizzle!) so the craft table seemed as good a place as any to start.

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It may have been almost three years since we last visited, but they still have the same activity on the craft table – spoon making. This is not a bad thing. For the modest price of 10p, Reuben made a “Lord Business” spoon, which you can see above. Bunny’s Daddy (BunnyDaddy) later found this vampire spoon:

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I lost Eva within a few minutes – she disappeared into the tunnel and I never saw her re-emerge. Luckily, Nathan had her trapped and was wrapping her up in a giant pink sheet that she’d found in the dressing up box. I think she wanted to be Elsa. As ever.  The sheet slowed her down quite a lot and I was able to keep up with her as she struggled up the steps to the slide (you try climbing stairs with your legs tied together).

Meanwhile, Reuben and Nathan were playing a complicated, life-size board game that was something to do with being in a forest:

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Then Eva and Bunny put on a puppet show:

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They couldn’t agree on whether the curtains should be closed or open, so it didn’t go too well. It was also lacking something in the narrative thread department. You can, however, see Eva’s sheet still wrapped around her legs and beyond.

What I love about the Discover Centre is that it’s all so stimulating. Why have a plain carpet when it can have flowers on it? Why have a wall without lights or sensory patches? The level of detail is astonishing and there’s probably loads we didn’t even notice. Even the toilets, with their child-size seats, are brightly coloured and covered in spots. I love it.

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Soon enough, it was time to go downstairs for Oliver Jeffers. The children gathered at the bottom of the stairs as a “Lost and Found Officer” explained that they were about to jump into the pages of…you might guess this…”Lost and Found” by Oliver Jeffers. They all jumped together and walked through the door..into a perfectly realised little bedroom. She started reading the story, and asked them to open the door to see whether there was a penguin there. There were plenty of delighted squeals when it turned out there was. Then they had half an hour to explore the “world” before the conclusion of the story. Reuben got to keep the penguin:

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For those who, like me, aren’t familiar with the book, it takes place over a number of locations including a beach and the South Pole.  And here they were, all recreated and full of things to play with. It was wonderful. Here we are in the boat:

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And here’s the kitchen, full of play food that the toddlers were allowed to rearrange (I was worried for a second):

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And the beach huts, complete with a tray full of brightly coloured (plastic) ice creams:

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It really did feel like we were in the book, and everywhere had so many lovely details. The sea had ducks swimming in it, and the oars of the boat had hooks on the end to catch them with. The pet shop had cuddly rabbits in it. The bedroom had a wardrobe full of red and white stripy tops. so that the kids could dress up just like the protaganist. And then BunnyDaddy noticed a tiny mousehole, which had its own scene set up inside:

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Nathan found another one by the beach:

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So cute! After a while, the story resumed and Roo perched on the bed to listen. Then they had a few more minutes’ runaround in the magical world but Nathan, BunnyDaddy and I were in desperate need of coffee, so we extracted them and went upstairs to the cafe.

 And this is where the Discover Centre falls down a bit. I’d promised Eva cake but there was none, only a few cookies (and the woman behind me in the queue also wanted cookies). So I bought a couple of those and we went sharesies on some M&Ms. I’m not going to push the point too much, but for such an ace venue it’s a disappointing selection. I know it was late in the day and they’d been busy but I just think they’d stand to make a killing on the cafe if there was a bit more choice. It has lots of seating, a lovely range of books and toys and not-bad coffee. But the people have spoken. The small people. And they want cake.

That aside, it was a great day out and I’m very glad we opted for that over BunnyDaddy’s forest idea. Drizzly, I tell you…

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Grow Wild at Lloyd Park – 27/02/15

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I haven’t blogged much lately. I’m sorry. There’s no good reason, just the normal busyness, with a small smattering of bodily fluids. Nothing hugely bloggable though. Except maybe a long trip on the Central Line and a singalonga…but I’ll do that another day. So, this afternoon when I found myself in a delightful natural play area in Lloyd Park, I decided to share it with you.

Grow Wild is tucked away behind the Lloyd Park playground and every Friday it opens up to the under 5s of E17. And some others who have snuck over the postcode boundary. There’s natural water play, swings, slides…everything a small girl needs. And mud. They thoughtfully provide wellies for all those who, like me, didn’t really consider that. But I also should have packed a spare coat, hoodie and trousers for Eva too as all those got wet as well…I managed the trousers but she was a bit underdressed on the way home. Lucky it was a warm day. For February, anyway.

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Here’s Eva and her BFF Bunny making soup with muddy water and sea creatures. They had a great time. They also enjoyed running up and down the giant walkways that ran overhead and led to a huge tube slide, made from a real tube. I wasn’t quite brave enough to try that but I did cross the wobbly bridge a few times, which by rights I should have been way too scared to do. However, I didn’t notice it was wobbly until I was standing on it – I just thought it was another walkway – so it was a little late. The wobbly bridge led Eva and TerrifiedMummy to the “treehouse” on the other side, which she and Bunny ran around once before heading back over the wobbly bridge. My legs were also wobbly by that point. Now all I needed was to meet a snake or some other kind of phobia-inducing creature.

Oh look, there’s a snake. Excuse me while I hyperventilate.

Height- and serpent-phobias aside, it was a lovely afternoon. Eva had so much fun climbing, playing and exploring that she was sad to leave but we had a hasty powerwalk home in order to get Roo from school.  The walk took us under then over the North Circular and allowed us a rare glimpse of a bit of Britpop memorabilia while we wandered along the river in the sun. A perfect little spring afternoon out. Except for the tantrums. I’ve forgotten about those already. Grow Wild is on from 1:30 every Friday afternoon so we’ll be back again soon.

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Big Fish Little Fish Balham – 08/02/15

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It’s been a long day, starting with a lovely brunch at H’sMamaAndDada’s house and culminating in a hands-in-the-air dance fest at Big Fish Little Fish. I’m almost unspeakably tired but I’m going to try and describe it for you. Forgive me if I tail off or start blithering about “Ey ey ba day ba wadladie day”. It’s been a long day. Did I say that already?

So, today was the day that my Jewish Mother matchmaking skills finally paid off. Introducing Chris of Buttoned Down Disco to Hannah and Natasha of BFLF is hands down (or hands up?) the best piece of matchmaking I’ve ever done, and the resulting marriage of BDD music with BFLF magic was something beautiful to behold. I can’t have been the only one looking forward to it, given that the queue stretched around the block from The Bedford when we got there at 2:10ish. We waited for about 10 minutes, which gave us time to eat our hastily-bought sandwiches. That was quite some feat, given I’m still missing a tooth or two, but gave us the fuel we needed for a couple of hours’ raving at the Enchanted Forest-themed party.

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By the time we got in, it was pretty much time to go to Roo’s free drama workshop, up at the top of the building. So we left Nathan and Eva dancing under Chris’ watchful gaze and went to join the ladies of the Stickybeak Theatre for some forest-based improv. Pickle the Pixie and Belle the Butterfly guided the kids through some cute animal impressions and drama games, which Reuben thoroughly enjoyed. Pretending to be a tiger made it into his top three moments of the weekend. Obviously, tigers don’t quite fit into the forest theme, but there was no telling the small boys that. Pickle and Belle tried to keep it on topic as much as possible, but if the group had been a bit more girl-heavy, there might have been more enthusiasm for fairies and less for wolves and tigers. Not that I’m gender stereotyping.

 

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After the workshop, we caught up with the rest of the family in the craft room. They tried out most of the activities over the course of the afternoon, making masks, hiding in the play tents and sorting the temporary tattoos into type (that was Reuben). Eva spent ages colouring in the giant forest wall, standing next to another small girl, who was also wearing a grey top, pink wings and furry boots. Isn’t it embarrassing when you go to a rave and someone else is wearing the same outfit as you? Roo was busy making playdough food for Nathan, who was required to try eating each one and then say “Argh, it’s made of playdough! You tricked me!” This was another one of Reuben’s top three moments. Incidentally, the other one was watching “Twirlywoos” yesterday.

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Then it was dancin’ time. Eva and I missed the parachute dance by seconds but stuck around to dance to “On a Ragga Tip” on the stage. The rave classics continued, with “Outta Space” and a version of the “Sesame Street” tune that used to wow ‘em at the early BDDs. We bumped into a friend of my old boss on the dancefloor, which was random but cool, and the kids had a great time throwing balloons and cannon glitter about. It all went a bit too quickly, and Chris wound up his set with “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” (Eva liked being sent soaring) and then the old Looney Toons theme to announce that it that was, in fact, all folks.

It was a great party and, I’m sure, the first of many BFLF-BDD collaborations. Reuben declared around 4 that he was “all danced out” and I know what he means. Goodnight!

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Twirlywoos Launch and Exclusive Interview with Anne Wood

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I told you exciting things were afoot this weekend. And now I’m back to report on the first part of it – the Twirlywoos Launch. It was so exciting that I lost a tooth. I wonder whether that’ll make it as a phrase.

We were in King’s Place, home of Mumsnet Blogfest and a lovely canalside room where kids can look at the boats. And joining us was Alex Winters, of the CBeebies house. That was a happy surprise for the kids, and an even happier one for me. We’ve been collecting CBeebies presenters, and Alex was the last of the classic line up (i.e. when Reuben was small) that we had to meet. We’ve previously met Sid, Andy and Cerrie so I’m very glad we have the full set now. Also, Alex was lovely. He introduced the show and the creators and explained that each episode featured a concept that children are interested in – whether that’s “up and down”, “full” or “wrapping” (sadly not “rapping”). The bird-like Twirlywoos come to our world and discover these concepts for themselves. There’s Great BigHoo, Toodlo, Chickedy and Chick and they all live in the Big Red Boat, with the adorable secret creature Peekaboo (the Twirlywoos never see him..but we do).

The episode we watched was about being full, and saw the Twirlywoos filling containers full of water and then filling themselves full of fruit tea. There’s a lot of silliness, some adorable slapstick and seamless interaction between the stop-motion characters and the live action of the real world. Eva was hiding behind my back and gradually crept round onto my lap as the brightly coloured action drew her in. Reuben was sitting right at the front and laughing out loud all the way through. I think they enjoyed. I just asked Reuben and he said “they’re really funny”. What was Eva’s opinion? “They look pretty, like me”. Quite.

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At the end of the screening, there was another surprise appearance – by the Twirlywoos themselves! Reuben would get to meet them later, but Eva decided she was shy again, so just hid behind my legs and wouldn’t go near them. There were lots of other fun activities to do that she enjoyed though, including making a balloon-twirlywoo that I’ve only just managed to removed from her tiny grasp (5 hours of carrying it around and it’s only lost two legs…it’s a record). Reuben enjoyed doing the Peekaboo treasure hunt and  they both liked the magic show.

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And we met Alex! Hooray! But the strangest thing happened – just as I started to talk to him, my tooth fell out. Well, not all of my tooth. Just a bit of it. Not entirely strange , given I’ve had toothache all week, but enough to distract me a bit from the lovely conversation Alex and I were having about dinosaurs. So, apologies if I seemed at all strange. There was a lot going on . That also meant I failed to get a picture of Roo with him. Bah!

Then it was time for my interview with Anne Wood, mastermind of not just this show but so many iconic Beebies shows, from “Rosie & Jim” to “Abney & Teal”. She was utterly lovely, and confirmed that yes, she did teach my mother-in-law when she was at school (my mother-in-law has long used this as her claim to fame). Then we settled into talking about the Twirlywoos. I’d wondered, as you might too, whether the four of them were meant to be a family and whether this was a recurring theme in Ragdoll shows. Anne’s answer was thoughtful – she saw it very much as an “enfolding programme”, in contrast to some of the more full-on kids shows and believes that if you have a  ”reassuring group” then children will project family roles onto them.  Apparently, the family groupings of “In the Night Garden” were entirely unintentional – when children see Upsy Daisy as a mother figure or Iggle Piggle as a father, it is just their way of making those characters fit into a familiar world.

We also discussed the animation – what I thought was CGI at the beginning was, in fact, very real, painstaking stop-frame animation that had been colour-graded to give it the bright blue of a 50s postcard. Take note of that, readers. Not CGI. As Anne said “the water was real, the sand was real, the boat sailed on it..everything was real”. You’ll be amazed when you see it. And it took a lot of hard work, so you should be. Especially tough was animating against a white background, with shadow and anything. It’s a slow process, with a 1min 45 shot taking three weeks to complete. No wonder it took four years to get from idea to screen.

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The lack of CGI gives the show a lovely retro feel, not a million miles away from “Morph”.  Anne and I discussed the show’s place alongside other vintage-tinged shows like “Abney & Teal”, which Anne describes as an “oasis of calm” away from the stresses of the rest of the world. “Twirlywoos” also owes something to “Dipdap” which was made by fellow Twirlywoo-creator Steve Roberts. It’s the simplicity of the action and the strength of the physical comedy that ties the shows together. Sweet, funny, charming….what’s not to like?

I couldn’t resist discussing that Titan of kids’ TV – “Teletubbies”. Did Anne feel that it changed the landscape of preschool telly? She modestly says that “it probably did”, as people often tell her so, but at the time it just felt like a natural progression from the earlier Ragdoll shows like “Tots TV” and “Brum” and she didn’t realise how huge it would be until the press started rolling in. Of course, not all that press was favourable, with accusations of “dumbing down” being hurled amid fears that a whole generation would grow up being unable to form a sentence. What those short-sighted journos failed to realise was that “Teletubbies” was, in Anne’s words, “deeply educational”. All that walking up and down hills that the teletubbies do eventually leads to the child being able to draw their own up-and-down lines – a precursor to writing. It’s all about engaging them with patterns that they then want to recreate.

Which leads us on to the current government’s policy of formalising education as early as possible. It’s a bugbear of mine, seeing as Roo’s curriculum seems to be getting ever more compressed (Similes at 5! Adverbial phrases at 10!) and Anne feels similarly, believing that reading- and writing-readiness can come from play and TV rather than making them sit at a desk from the age of two.  Ragdoll programmes are always educational, but “Twirlywoos” is more overt in its education, cementing concepts in children’s minds with practical examples. And it seems way more fun than teaching toddlers grammar….

It was a pleasure talking to Anne, and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy the new show just as much. It starts on CBeebies on 23rd February, which you’ll also realise is my birthday.  Make sure you watch it (and wish me a Happy Birthday too…why not?)

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Exciting Times Ahead

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Well, this is going to be a rocking weekend. We have not one but two parties to go to – first, the launch party for new CBeebies show “Twirlywoos” tomorrow, which I’ll be reporting back on tomorrow night. We might even get a chance to talk to CBeebies legend Anne Wood, creator of shows like “In the Night Garden” and “Telebtubbies”. I’m very excited. Then it’s Big Fish Little Fish in Balham on Sunday, featuring partystarter and dear friend Christian Laing. No wonder Eva’s excited. And there’s more… I hear tell of an exciting new children’s festival, coming to Tatton Park, Chester this May half term. It’s called:

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and acts include Mr Bloom and ICanKaty, both of CBeebies, plus the Adrenaline Zone, the Circus Zone, the Groovy Junk Zone and the Boogie Zone! If it’s anything like LilliBop, it will be a grand day out in the North. I know it’s a little off my patch, but I’ve ventured above the M4 a couple of times lately and I know a few of you live up there.

It’s on Saturday 23 May – Monday 25 May and Early Bird tickets are on sale now at http://www.tattonpark.org.uk/. It’s free for under 2s and tickets for everyone else start at £16pp. We may even give tickets away here one day, if you’re very lucky. Watch this space…

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Full of Beans, Highbury – 31/01/15

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See, I told you we’d get past Walthamstow one day. Granted, not very far past Walthamstow – in fact, just ten minutes down the Victoria Line – but it counts. We have friends in Highbury, who have nativised to the extent that they have four different types of milk in their fridge. I’d heard of a play cafe called Full of Beans, near Arsenal tube, and it seemed like the perfect place to have a child-friendly brunch that adults might enjoy too.

As a dual purpose cafe, it works quite well. The front section is the buggy park and serving area, with three tables to eat at, and then the back is the soft play area, with a load more tables. We picked the front, as the back was already packed out at 10:20 and Reuben at least is old enough to play on his own for a bit. As ever, we ended up kinda alternating who watched the kids and who got to sit and enjoy a coffee with friends, but both managed to have some relatively civilised socialising time.

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As you can imagine, it was pretty busy. Apparently we’re not the only parents in need of caffeine on a Saturday morning. Because of that, service was a little slow – our friends’ coffees took about half an hour to come and then lacked a spoon. I asked for ketchup to go with my bacon toast and it never appeared….it was pretty tasty without ketchup but it felt like something was missing. Roo had the bacon toast too, in a child-size portion, and Nathan had a bacon and avocado sandwich which he seemed to enjoy. Eva wanted a croissant but they didn’t have any plain ones, so she had a pain au chocolat. The wonder of brunch – replacing lunch with something chocolatey. Works for her, that’s for sure.

Logistical issues aside, it was a lovely cafe. The coffee was good, the soft play was bright and clean, there were toys and dressing up clothes in between the two areas, which meant we could see Eva as she sat and played in the middle. The tabs came in the form of Ladybird books, which was a charming touch (and enabled us to learn a lot about lifeboat stations of the British Isles). Best of all, the tables had chalkboard tops and pots of chalk, which delighted toddlers and adults alike. The set up was really as perfect as you could ask for…the staffing just seemed a bit sparse. And I feared for the glass in the door every time it slammed (there was a notice up but no-one seemed to read it as they came in…weirdly, most people were quieter on the way out).

Later, we wandered through the Richard-Curtis-prettiness of Highbury Fields. That’s a place that needs some more exploring when it’s not pouring with freezing cold rain. There was a cafe, a seating area with lots of outdoor toys (think Cozy Coupes and the like) and a playground as well. I didn’t get pictures. It was really. really cold. The villagey centre of Highbury was pretty too, with expensive-looking delis and greengrocers all around. Definitely one to revisit in summer…

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February Fun Things

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Yes, that’s alliterative. Kinda. If you say it like a 5-year-old. So there.

It’s almost the end of January! Whoop! January is a miserable, long, dark month, when no-one has any money. February, meanwhile, is a bit lighter and has my birthday in it, which is a cause for national celebration. And moreover, I’ve found some super-fun things to do so that you can celebrate as well. Woohoo!

First off, an extremely exciting collaboration is about to happen and I’m like the puppetmaster. The puppetmaster of toddler rave. Yes, it’s Big Fish Little Fish news and the collaborator is none other than my good friend and notable partystarter Christian Laing, of Buttoned Down Disco. We spent many happy nights dancing at Buttoned Down when we were younger, and many unhappy nights being beaten at Monopoly by Chris. It’s happening at The Bedford Arms, Balham on Sunday 8th Feb, and I am very, very excited. If you’re a fellow East Londoner, you can also catch the BFLF crew at Stratford Circus the day before. It’s a full on BFLF Weekender!

If that’s not enough toddler-dancing, then there’s another exciting party two weeks later. Taking things in a wistful indie direction rather than hands-in-the-air electropop, Nimble Arts present their very first Indiepop Tots event. Expect Belle & Sebastian, motown and bands too obscure for even us to own (and we have that blue album by Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci). It’s in Peckham on 22nd February and hosted by the lovely Becky, famous for her cello renditions of birdsong at The Dish and The Spoon. I’ll tell you this though – when the DJ puts on an entire Arab Strap album, you know it’s time to leave. I speak from experience.

Of course, the staple of February’s toddler-schedule is the Southbank Centre’s Imagine Festival. It’s going to be strange living more than a mile away from it this year, but I’d still like to pop down to visit the Pirate School (we went last year and it was one of the last things we ever did….before chickenpox confined us to home for the rest of our Kenningtonlives) and maybe even take in some children’s opera. One of the highlights this year is “Charlie and Lola’s Best Bestest Play” and I’m very pleased to say my old friend Nikki, at Mumsnet Lambeth, is running a competition to win tickets. Click here to enter!

The Imagine Festival has an “Alice in Wonderland” theme this year (flamingo croquet ahoy!) and that brings me neatly onto the last event I have in mind – a family fun day at the Rabbit Hole. Thanks to your support, it is still open and trading and it would be awesome to give it as much love as possible. It’s on the 8th Feb and should be a day of Wonderland games and silliness. Come on down!

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Walthamstow Wanders Part 2

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We’ve been wandering around Walthamstow again. There’s still a lot to discover in this corner of the world, and it’s getting ever more toddler-friendly as more hipster parents move in from Stoke Newington. Yes, you can now buy overpriced organic veg on Chingford Road. I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s a good thing.

But it does mean that when a new cafe opens, a smart owner will embrace the childsome culture. I heard about Indulgence, on Hoe St, from the Walthamstow Parents Facebook group, with dozens of people praising the friendliness and the cake. So when Eva and I found ourselves on Hoe St, in desperate need of cake, it seemed like a logical place to go. We were killing a bit of time and I’d planned to take her to the children’s section of the library for some books and a runaround, but she’d inconveniently fallen asleep the moment we got there. So I went for a walk, to the WAM office and she woke up, extremely grumpy. Hence needing the cake.

It really was lovely. There was nothing that was too much effort for the ladies working there. They brought out a tray of freshly baked muffins for StroppyPants to choose from, and offered to warm one up for her. It’s bright, friendly and the tea selection is good. They have an outdoor space, which I think will be lovely in summer, and they do have loos, even though it’s not immediately obvious where they are. The only negative is that they don’t take card at the moment, but there is a free cash machine in the shop opposite, so it’s not too much effort. A few doors down, there’s also a super-cute-looking kids’ clothes store called “Kaboom” – it seems to share a unit with a Chinese medicine shop, so it’s not immediately obvious where it is. Just kinda go round the corner into Greenleaf Rd and you’ll see it. I didn’t go in, in case I spent money I didn’t have, but there were some lovely t-shirts in the window.

That was Wednesday. Yesterday saw us hanging around Wood St for a couple of hours. Yes – me, Nathan and our one child Eva. Very civilised. We wandered through the Indoor Market, with Eva admiring a yellow vintage dress, and were only slightly put off by two gentlemen arguing over whether to have the door open or closed. Then we went in search of a park I’d heard much about but never been to – the Pirate Ship of Bisterne Avenue.

Not that I remembered it was Bisterne Avenue. Or in fact where it was at all. I first led everyone past Tumble in the Jungle to a likely-looking patch of green on Google Maps but that turned out to be a cricket pitch. Next, we walked back towards Forest Rd but that put us on the wrong side of a railway line. A bit of googling led us back to Wood Street station and up Fyfield Rd till we found the mythical park. And it did indeed have a pirate ship in:

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It’s all been freshly refurbished, and as well as the pirate ship there were ping pong tables and a play tunnel:

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And a zipwire! Sadly our one child was too little to go on it on her own, and holding her on is back-breaking work for a mother. There was also a random hammock:

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It was a great little park but we were cold, so it was time for a coffee at Lot 107, another WP-recommended cafe. Again, it was very friendly, warm and serves good coffee. I wish I could report back on the cake but two of the three cakes were eaten by Eva, leaving me and Nathan half a shortbread each. Hardly seems fair, does it? Still, the shortbread was nice.

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Lot 107 do an afternoon tea on a Thursday, with kids’ activities so I may take Roo one day (ah yes, I do have more than one child…I’d forgotten). And on that note, we needed to leave the cafe to pick Reuben up from his friend’s party at Tumble in the Jungle. I can’t say I can really report on Tumble, given I only dropped him off and picked him up again…think I’ll save that for another day. There will be more Walthamstow adventures.

And for the rest of you who don’t live in East 17? Don’t worry – there are more exotic trips planned. Starting with Highbury next week. Who knows – we may even venture to West London one day…

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