Monstrous Fest – 29/07/18

It’s been one of those days when everything happens at once. A couple of temp LWATers are on our sofa now, having endured a 4 hour coach journey and an end-of-holiday-club service at church with approx 10,000 over excited kids. But before all that was Monstrous Fest – a family festival at Printworks in Surrey Quays this morning.

I haven’t been to Surrey Quays much since I worked there in 2006 and it’s changed a lot since then. For one, the Evening Standard printworks were still a printworks back then and now they’re a giant, warehouse type venue which this morning was packed with merriment:

Much as I try to fight my children’s gender stereotyping, it seeps out every so often…such as when Eva looked at the site map and declared that she wanted to go straight to Princess Land. Reuben, meanwhile, was going to the Beast Assault Course with Nathan. Guess this is a fight I’m losing.

There was a bit of a queue to pose in the princess carriage so I checked with her whether she wanted to do any of the activities instead of just queueing for princesses but she was resolute – “I just want to meet princesses till there are none yeft to meet”. So that’s what we did. Ariel first:


And Aurora and Prince Philip:

Round about this point, we also watched the Princess show, where Aurora sang “Once Upon a Dream” and Tinkerbell showed the crowd how to dance like a fairy. As you can imagine, Eva took it all very seriously.

Roo and Nathan had enjoyed the inflatable obstacle course so much that when we met up with them again he wanted to go on another one straight away. This one was called the Beast Race Track and it took up the whole of the first floor. For some reason, all four of us decided to go on it together although I’ll be honest – I cheated quite a bit and went round the giant handbags instead of over them. Nathan, though, made a good effort on it and even Eva managed the whole thing without freaking out. Right up until she had to go on the last slide, when she clung to me and said it was too scary. Wheeeee!

When we got downstairs, the princesses had changed shift so there were a whole clutch of new ones to meet. Yes, Eva was serious about not wanting to do anything else. While Roo and Nathan went off to do the Chelsea Football Challenge, Eva and I watched a different version of the Princess Show and met Belle:


And Moana:

We’d definitely made the most of Princess Land. It had the added advantage that it was next to the Robot area, so we got to see the giant robot in action twice while waiting for the princesses. Roo was gutted to have missed it but not so gutted to have missed the princesses.

Not straying too far from her favoured spot, Eva sat down for a bit at the craft tables to make a 3D picture of a unicorn:

The unicorn had “super glittery eyes” and so did Eva by the end of her craft session.

It was pretty much time to go and collect the Temp LWATers and then on to church. We’d had a great time at Monstrous even if we hadn’t explored the Hello Kitty area or the Arcade Alley (you can guess which kid wanted to do what). It had a cool festival vibe, even though it was undercover – something we were very grateful for, considering it was tipping it down outside. There was more than enough to do to fill a full day’s session, although I’m not sure how it would have worked as the site needed to be vacated between 1.30pm and 2.30pm to allow for the changeover between morning and afternoon sessions. We would have been in the outdoor area during this time, which would have been fine on pretty much any other day in the last six weeks…

But still, an excellent time was had by all – Reuben said it was “really good” and Eva said “Great, except I was scared by the actual monster”. How much more endorsement do you need?

Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

7 Places to Cool Off In London

This weather is getting beyond a joke, isn’t it? It’s been going on for agggeees and we’re really not set up to cope with it in London. Luckily though, there are a few places you can go with or without the kids to cool down a bit.

Disclaimer: Most of these I’ve been to fairly recently or have local intel on but as with all water play during a drought it could be switched off/closed at any time. Please don’t blame me and/or throw stuff. Unless they’re cool, wet sponges.

Here’s a Google Map I made especially for the occasion but there’s a little more info underneath. Why 7? Cause LWAT just turned 7 years old. Happy Birthday!

Ruislip Lido

You know about this one because I literally just reviewed it in the last post. Sandy beach, play areas, giant pirate ship, splash area but no swimming in the lake.

Kings Cross fountains

A favourite if you ever need somewhere to play just before you catch the Eurostar or attend a railway-themed theatre show. My kids played there in February 2017 (don’t ask why) and a bit more thoroughly in the summer of 2013 Check social media before you go to make sure they’re on but they usually are.

Olympic Park Tumbling Bay

More fountains are to be found just outside the stadium but word on the street is that they aren’t currently switched on. But apparently the water play in the Tumbling Bay playground is still fine – check out our trip there in 2015.

Myatt’s Fields

Another one where there seems to have been patchy water play service of late but that’s because of faulty equipment rather than water saving. You should be OK to go there, but have a look at their Facebook page first to check.

London Fields Lido

This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine as I’ve been going before work without the kids and dammit, I’ve enjoyed it. I went this morning and I might even go again tomorrow. Indeed, as I left the pool at 9:15 it was starting to fill up with children but I think the early morning slot is an adult only zone. A (slightly) heated 50m outdoor pool, it’s absolute bliss on a hot day. I haven’t blogged about it but I did take Eva to the paddling pool next door sometime around 2014..

Highbury Pool

I took the kids to this one! I didn’t blog about it either cause there wasn’t much to say – a pretty small main pool and a very warm training pool but it’s in Highbury Fields, which is a lovely picnic spot so you could make a summery day out a few yards from the Victoria Line.

Serpentine Lido

And this one I haven’t even swum in but a Walthamstowian recently gave it a glowing review on a local Facebook group: “Warm, and your lido ticket also covers private green space/sandpit/climbing frame/paddling pool/cafe with no queues”. I did go there once, to make Auntie Savage swim in the Serpentine wearing a wedding-themed cycling helmet. Hen do Lolz. One for this summer’s to-do list I think…

Posted in What I suppose you'd call "tips"....? | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LWAT is 600! Ruislip Lido – 20/07/18

Wow, it’s been quite a day. First day of the school holidays, dog-tired after a late night at Chickenshed and some sneaky end of term drinks with the Year 1 Mums…and a 600th post Adventure on the agenda that really didn’t seem like it was going to happen.

For the 600th post, my vision was to visit Zone 6. If it had been the 6th anniversary last week that would have been much neater but as it was we’ve slipped out by a year and it was the 7th anniversary last week. I’ll come up with a way to mark that some other time. I scoured the zones map of London for a while, seeing what kind of delights Zone 6 might conjure up. Epping was a frontrunner until I realised there wasn’t much to actually *do* in Epping. The ironic thing is that my children came up with a brand new and very irritating game today, which was coincidentally called “epping” and just consisted of making little “epp epp” noises at each other till one of them snapped. I know.

Next thought was to just post about the night we spent in Zone 6 a few weeks back, camping at Suntrap. But I came to realise I wasn’t ready to talk about that yet. Yes, camping. Yes, I’ve changed.

So when I spotted Ruislip Lido on the map, over to the leftish, it seemed like the perfect plan. It had long been on my list of places to visit. A lido seems a great place to hang out in this heatwave and it linked in with two of my previous Summer Holiday projects – it finally bagged Hillingdon for us in the great London Boroughs Project of 2015 and it certainly ticked a box in the “Spend some time on the Met Line” item of 2014’s Bucket and Spade List. Sometimes I feel like I just do these projects for my own amusement. Scrap that, I definitely do.

But it didn’t seem likely at all. End of term lethargy, a mild hangover after those sneaky drinks and generally bad tempers all round meant that no-one wanted to get dressed and no-one was likely to be making West London sandcastles this afternoon. So we decided to start small. Coffee and milkshakes at Ziggys to get us going, along with a pain au chocolat in Snail Park and then we’d see if we could board a train.

Caffeine, sugar and social interaction worked wonders and by 11am we were on our way. And what a very long way it was. First change was at Walthamstow where we ducked out to Costa to buy a sandwich I would later regret and to have a post coffee pee. Next change was a long one at Kings Cross and after that we settled down for the likely 40 minutes or so we’d be spending on the Metropolitan Line. Roo had got his weekly Phoenix comic through the door just as we were leaving and it seemed like the perfect time to crack it out. Eva had Book 17 of Magic Animal Friends, which we’d managed to find in our library. (it seems fairly similar to books 1-16) so we had relative peace from Kings Cross to around Wembley Park.

I amused myself by watching us overtake first a Jubilee Line train and then a Chiltern Railway one (though the Chiltern fought hard). That’ll teach you puny trains for stopping at Neasden. Once the kids had finished reading, they started to get restless and the “epping” game began again. Ruislip tube could not come soon enough.

By this point, the kids were not convinced of the value of this adventure:

They remained unconvinced as we crammed on to the very crowded H13 bus to get us to the Lido. It was only when they glimpsed the holiday-in-Hillingdon vibe of the sand and the sea that they started to come round to the idea. First though, they wanted a play on the outdoor gym.

Everything properly exciting – the sand, the beach playground and the cafe – seemed to be on the opposite side of the lake to where the bus drops off so we had to walk around the side but happily, there was a planets walk to do as went. We had done something similar on the Isle of Wight a few years ago and it’s a good way to get kids running to the next sign, especially when it starts with the Sun and the planets which are more clustered together, as this one did. Of course, Wilfully Obscure Boy was replacing all the actual planet names with ones from Star Wars and then telling Eva she’d read them wrong but hey, that’s to be expected isn’t it?

Talking of things which are to be expected, let’s not dwell on the insane plan of trying them to sit down on the sand and eat their sandwiches before doing any more playing and/or getting their hands covered in sand. I surprise myself with my incompetence sometimes. The Chipotle Bean Wrap I’d got as payment for the loo trip was a bit of a disappointment too as it contained some stuff I’d been sick during pregnancy and now couldn’t really stomach. I think I just got dazzled by the chipotle sauce and forgot to read on. The wrap had a semolina kinda coating to it too, which in the circumstances tasted uncomfortably like sand. A total washout.

But let’s move on. I realise I’ve hit 900 words without actually blogging about the place we went to so here’s some lovely photos of the shiny new beach playground:

And the kids burying themselves in the sand once they’d finally finished those darn sandwiches:

Now, you might have made the same assumption as me that one of the principal draws of a lido was the chance to swim in the lake. However, I’d been pre-warned by a West London friend that swimming was prohibited and paddling wasn’t advised due to the poor water quality. So I had prepped myself and the kids for what might have otherwise been a massive disappointment. Luckily, there is a splash park right next to the beach so it’s still a good place to cool down after a spot of sunbathing:

I’m totally craving a lake swim now though. I’ve been going to London Fields lido of a morning lately but it’s not quite the same as a wild swim, however wild Hackney might be. But blue-sky thinking about today – I was solo with both kids so couldn’t have gone past ankle depth anyway, as Eva still is nowhere near swimming and gets very wussy in cold water. So wild swimming will have to wait for another time.

Next, we had a play in the other playground which had older and crankier equipment but still perfectly serviceable:

I almost forgot the most important thing about Ruislip Lido, which was that this scene from “The Young Ones” was filmed there. And I am talking about the 1960s Cliff Richard musical, not the 80s TV show. I was channelling my inner Carole Gray as I strolled around being mobbed by kids. I didn’t quite have the statement frock but prom dress shapes are quite impractical for the beach anyway. If you’re a fan of both the lido and the film, someone has put together a side-by-side location comparison here. Gotta love YouTube sometimes.

The sky was darkening and my stomach was rumbling after that half a wrap earlier. It took some persuasion to get the kids into the cafe but I promised them a slushie and/or an ice cream while I had a quick panini. Eva is still not be trusted with a double ice cream as she’s the world’s slowest eater and it had all melted by the time she made any progress. I had to move the Phoenix pretty quickly after this shot:

I was still convinced it was about to chuck it down, so we had the briefest of plays on the sand digger before I made them leave. Obviously they both wanted it at the same time but after some maneuvering, they managed to both have it at the same time:

Because of the thunder and lightning forecast, we decided not to explore the woodland this time but there’s a huge area of forest around the lake as well as the continuation of the planets walk (we’d got from the Sun to Saturn by the time we reached the beach, or Alderaan to Bespin if you believe Roo). There’s also a miniature railway but that doesn’t start its summer holiday schedule till next Monday so wasn’t running today. There’s definitely things we’d like to do if we went back and I’m sure we will go back. It really feels like a mini-holiday but inside the M25. Some practical stuff – there are toilets and changing rooms right by the beach, although the loos are of a metal, seatless variety and the doors are almost impossible to close let alone lock. The cafe takes card although I’m not sure about the smaller ice cream hut as you walk past the outdoor gym bit. There’s a proper pub-restaurant at the entrance as well if you’re feeling flush.

Getting back was reasonably smooth with one small glitch – the board at Ruislip said there was a Met Line train coming but it looked like a Piccadilly Line train and certainly talked like one once we’d boarded. After some deliberation we hopped off at Rayners Lane and got an actual Met Line back to Liverpool Street (didn’t fancy Kings Cross in rush hour…Liverpool Street as home turf seemed somehow more manageable). I briefly contemplated just staying on the Piccadilly Line til Green Park or Finsbury Park but I’m close enough to 40 as it is  – I definitely would have been past that milestone by the time we changed for the Vic Line.

As we got back to Highams Park it had just started to rain, which totally justified dragging all three of our coats around all day. You gotta take comfort in the small things…

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mr Stink at Chickenshed – 19/07/18

Copyright of Chickenshed


I’ll get straight to the point – you’re wanting to know whether Roo and I managed a flawless journey to Chickenshed this time, aren’t you? Well…we aced it. Thank you for the applause. Not jumping off the 299 when it goes in the wrong direction worked out well and in fact deposited us right outside the theatre. In fact, we had time to chill out in the Chickenshed garden before the show:


“Mr Stink” is an adaptation of the David Walliams novel and it’s the second of his works to be staged at Chickenshed, the first being “The Midnight Gang” last summer. David Walliams is a big fan of Chickenshed, calling them “probably the most important theatre company in the world” and says he feels proud to be associated with them. Which is how we at LWAT feel as well! Always proud to be associated with Chickenshed. And I’m going to skip forward to the interval and reveal that we got to meet Mr Walliams himself. Roo was so thrilled he couldn’t pull a normal face:

But let’s get back to the start. The set of “Mr Stink” is an ambitious one – a two storey house, with a bedroom set built on top of the kitchen set and a staircase connecting the two. The play starts with the spotlight on 12-year-old Chloe (Lucy-Mae Beacock) telling us the story of Mr Stink, who stank. And so it begins…”Mr Stink stank”.

At heart, this is a buddy movie – an unlikely friendship developing between two lonely souls who have nothing in common on the surface but connect with each other. There’s a lot of heart in this story and it’s an assured performance from 16-year-old Beacock, with an incredibly pure singing voice that hits some very delicate and wistful high notes. When I found out she’d played Matilda, I wasn’t surprised – she has that mixture of youthful appearance but keen intelligence that both characters share.

The rest of the family are more caricatured, with Belinda McGuirk playing politically ambitious and houseproud Mother, Ashley Driver as the downtrodden and long suffering Father and perfect daughter Annabelle twirling round the stage with infinite amounts of grace, played by Courtney Dayes. The mismatch between the different characters provides most of the comedy, from Father’s former career as a rock guitarist to Annabelle performing ballet as she’d doing the washing up.

And Mr Stink himself? Well, the combination of wild beard and public school accent made me instantly think of my brother-in-law Clive but I understand not everyone will make that same association. Played by Bradley Davis, Mr Stink is an affable soul who gets increasingly demanding throughout the play but remains likeable if slightly repugnant to the prissier members of the Crooooomb family. One highlight of the first half is a scene set in Starbucks, where he manages to send all the cappuccino-sipping customers fleeing and leave the barista with a peg on his nose. As you can imagine, Roo found this hilarious.

As Chloe moves Mr Stink  and his dog into the family shed, tensions grow between her and the rest of the family with his very presence threatening Mother’s election campaign (I was surprised that her rosette was red and yellow rather than blue but I suspect that was deliberate in order to avoid making any kind of political statement). The dynamics build to a climax at the end of the first half, where Chloe’s secret is revealed midway through a breakfast interview with The Times.

A quick note for the ensemble, dressed in cheerful coloured woollens (they must have been sweltering!). Always on cue and upbeat, they brought a real energy to the show and provided some of the most memorable musical numbers. I was wowed by the effortless gymnastics during the sweet shop number, Chloe being swept up by some of the male dancers and twirled on their shoulders. It was the kind of visual spectacle that Chickenshed excel at, albeit on a smaller scale than productions like “Rapunzel” or “Stig of the Dump“.

The sun was still up as we left the theatre for the interval, so Roo had a kick around with some kids in the garden, scoring a goal just before we went back in. A goal AND meeting David Walliams – it’s like the dream interval for a 9-year-old.

The second half sees the acting debut of Jeremy Vine who appears on a giant screen as Mr Stink and Mrs Crumb take part in a show called “Politics Today”. It was very well done, with characters leaving the stage and then appearing on the screen a few seconds later. That segment features a fine piece of physical comedy from Mrs Crumb – I won’t spoiler it – as well as some kid-pleasing toilet humour. The rest of the second half digs deeper into Mr Stink’s backstory and sees the Crumb family reach breaking point before reconciling. As you can imagine, it hits a lot of emotional notes and does it very well. The action shifts from poignancy to flamboyant dance routines in a blink of an eye.

I won’t give away any more of the plot as I’d recommend you just go and see for yourself. It’s a visual and musical treat, which kids and parents can enjoy together. It was perfect for the 9-year-old but I think younger kids would enjoy it too, as long as they can concentrate for the 2 hours (including interval). The plot moves along at a steady pace so there’s rarely an opportunity to get bored and the songs are super-catchy (Stinky winky winky!). It’s a great show to kick off the summer holidays – light hearted but with an emotional punch and a strong moral that stay with you just like Mr Stink’s stench stayed lingered in the Crumb’s kitchen. More information and tickets are available here.

Disclaimer: I recieved free tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. 

Mr Stink in rehearsal, Copyright of Chickenshed

Posted in Reviewing the Situation | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Summer Holiday preview 2018

I don’t know why the school holidays always catch me by surprise but, once again, they have. The kids finish this week and I’m not allowed to hand them back over till September. If you’re in a similar position, you may be looking for some things to fill those long weeks and I might be able to help you out. Of course, if it’s this glorious then you can probably hang out in the park for a full month and a bit but just in case, here are a few rainy day things to plan in.

We’ve talked about the Institute of Imagination before but this summer they’re teaming up with my old employer the Wellcome Collection to run a series of free workshops on how our brains work. You can book either for a morning or afternoon session over three days 25th-27th July but it’s explained better here. Knowing Wellcome, it’ll be medically frank but very educational and interactive.

More interactiveness over at the Horniman Museum, who are still running their Rainbow exhibition, exploring how colour shapes our world and why some colours “taste” better than others. They also have a host of other things going on, including crazy golf in the gardens, so it’s probably worth planning to hang out for the full day if you’re heading down there.

We still haven’t been to the refurbished Postal Museum but there’s loads going on there over the summer as well – craft workshops and storytelling plus the sorting office play area and the mail train. I will review it one day, honest.  A bit more familiar to us is the Discover Centre in Stratford and they have a packed summer programme, including screenings of films of Donaldson/Scheffler books. If you’re a Newham resident they often have deals going for locals, so worth signing up to their mailing list. Nearby is the Olympic Park, which is always fun to hang out, and the new IQL (International Quarter London) has some activities planned. Their Lego City Workshop seems to be sold out, which is a pity but again it’s probably good to keep an eye on the website in case they run more sessions.

Of course, we always recommend a bit of kids’ theatre on this blog and one of our favourite places to go is Chickenshed. This summer they’re staging Mr Stink by David Walliams, starring Jeremy Vine. It opens this week, 18th July, and is running til 6th August (booking and details here). Chickenshed are also hosting a instrument making workshop in Hyde Park on 4th August, which sounds like lots of fun – have a look here for more info.

We seem to have segued neatly into sunny-day things to do which, for once feels like we’re not tempting fate. So let’s talk about some super fun festivals coming to London this summer. First on the calendar is Monstrous Festival, which takes place on 29th July at the Printworks, Surrey Quays, and features activities for all ages of child – I reckon Reuben will love Arcade Alley, with 1000 video games, and The Beast – a giant inflatable obstacle course (pictured below). Eva is probably going to be more interested in the Prince and Princess Unicorn Land, obvs.



Later on in the summer, and with a folksier vibe, is Wild Child Festival in Dulwich (17-19th August). Here you’ll find storytelling in the woods,  theatre and ballet shows and more unicorns. Eva’s gonna have the best time this summer. Tickets for Wild Child have to be bought in advance, as they’re not sold on the door, but they include everything like crafts and face painting and all the performances. It should be super fun.

Two more things to tell you about and you probably know about them already – Udderbelly Festival at the South Bank Centre featuring such shows as “Morgan & West’s Utterly Spiffing Spectacular Magic Show For Kids (and Childish Grown-ups)!” – and London Theatre Kids Week, where kids go free with the purchase of any adult ticket. More information here.

Phew! Is that enough to keep you busy? Don’t worry if it isn’t…more tips and ideas will be coming soon…


Posted in What I suppose you'd call "tips"....? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to London, Mr President!


You may have noticed there’s a special guest in town. Well, not actually *in* town or at least not more than briefly. He stopped off in Regents Park last night but hightailed it out before any of those very, very sad protesters turned up. He felt unwelcome, apparantly.

Which is a pity because so many of us came out to mark his trip! It’s hard to pin down exactly why we’re all compelled to come out on the streets against Trump when other despots visit London with minimal fuss. But it’s hard to ignore the motormouth tangerine Tweeting machine so we’re all more than familiar with his words and actions.

And there is plenty to protest about. Do you dislike sexism? Racism? Bullying? Homophobia? Islamophobia? Sexual harassment? Cruelty to children? Nepotism? Aggressive capitalism? Fascism? Plagarism? Reality TV? Pick one, pick any and tell me again why there’s no point in protesting. I don’t often get active in my activism but this time I felt I should. For all of the reasons above and more.

A weekday protest is a tricky one when you have a job and kids in school and stuff but I got round it by putting the kids into afterschool club and going down to the protests after work at 2. That gave me a solid 90 minutes or so and I was determined to use it wisely.

I’d seen on Facebook that the Commoners Choir were looking for extra singers to bolster their numbers and you know me, any excuse to sing. They were meeting at Regents Park tube at 2 but I got there a full half hour later than that, so totally missed them there. And there didn’t appear to be any kind of protest either. A few protesters, sure, wandering in various directions but no massed crowds.

I took a punt and turned down Great Portland Street. Still nothing. So I took a right towards Portland Place, hoping to find a friend even if if I didn’t find the choir. And I did find a friend! A WAM choir friend. So unexpected and lovely in the midst of the crowds. Because yes, I’d finally found the protest as well.

Reassuringly, it was huge. Stretching down all the way to Oxford Circus and (I was guessing) beyond with people queued up Portland Place towards the park. I’d started to worry that no one was gonna turn up.

Then I found the Commoners! For those of you who don’t know they’re a politically charged choir from Leeds, who sing about injustice, ignorance, prejudice and fascism. The perfect fit for a protest against someone like Trump. There was a little maneuvering to do before we were in a good position to sing, away from the loud music and brass bands, but once we were on Oxford Street we marched and sang “Citizens of the World” and “Get on Your Bus and Go Back Home”. Obviously I didn’t know the songs but they were pretty easy to pick up as we went along. I can only apologise to the proper choirsters if I was singing something completely different to what I was meant to be but hey, it was pretty noisy so I’m not sure anyone could hear all the detail.

I hadn’t taken the kids because I was worried that the atmosphere would turn ugly, especially in the light of England crashing out of the World Cup. But actually it would have been fine – the vibe was sunny and polite. Maybe we’ve taken the example of Gareth Southgate to heart as a nation and have decided to tackle tricky issues with a good spirit. All kinds of people were there – from kids in slings to older protesters, like camel lady here:

I couldn’t work out what it meant so I asked her and it was a representation of Donald Trump’s hair. You see – now it all makes sense. There were signs about Trump’s foreign policy, his harassment of women and the simple but eloquent “Trump Means Fart”.

So welcome to the UK Donald! Maybe next time you’ll be brave enough to come out and see us all.

Posted in Just wandering.... | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Stig of the Dump” at Chickenshed – 28/06/18


This is the third time we’ve been to an evening show at Chickenshed and, seeing as the last two posts started with a bit of what I loving call “tube geekery”, I see no reason to deviate this time. Cause we got the tube bit spot on! Roo and I were in Walthamstow for drama club, met Nathan on the platform to hand Eva over and then we got the Vic line to Finsbury Park, one stop down the Picc line to Arsenal and then an easy change to go back up the Picc line to Southgate. We’d nailed it for once!

Except then I screwed the bus bit up. I thought we were on the wrong bus but we weren’t – the 299 had alarmed me by taking a right turn off the road that Chickenshed is on but it would have come back round to the theatre if I hadn’t panicked and made us jump off. That resulted in a mile-ish power walk, which wasn’t my greatest idea given we were avoiding the tricky change at Finsbury Park because of my sore leg. Whoops.

Ah well, we got there on time and to get home we used the excellent Southgate Cars who texted us the car details just as we came out of the show. So another mission successfully completed by the Go-Glitchers.

I’ll talk about the show now. It was the adaptation of classic children’s novel “Stig of the Dump” by the Chickenshed Children’s and Youth Theatre groups, as part of the New Routes Festival. It was an 8pm start but only an hour long and on a midsummer night like this I don’t think a late night hurts my 9(!!) year old. The director introduced the piece by telling us it hadn’t really had a full run through yet, which provoked a nervous laugh around the auditorium, but it actually went pretty smoothly. There was the odd technical hitch where a microphone wasn’t turned on at the right time or a song where the timing went slightly out but as a choir leader and worship leader, I can safely say that PA issues and timing issues happen to us all.

In true Chickenshed style, it was a massive ensemble piece with around 100 children and young people performing. The cast was truly diverse and inclusive – one child was in a wheelchair and another was wearing headphones as I presume he had some sensory stuff going on. Some of these performers had buddies with them, who dressed the same and made sure they were in the right place at the right time. I’ve said it before but it’s so lovely to see performers who don’t fit the norm seamlessly woven into a large ensemble without fuss or making an issue of it.

There were a few different boys playing Barney, as well as a group of different people representing Stig, but it was suprisingly smooth and easy to follow. The Barneys all wore the same uniform and at times appeared together, which was very effective – one Barney was talking about his adventures with Stig, while the others were enacting them. The Stigs worked well together too, flowing and moving as one to invoke the primal essence of Stig rather than being pinned down to one physical form. There’s a touch of ambiguity over whether Stig is real or not but that’s straight from the book.

Another thing straight from the book is the episodic plot, which could be tricky in play form as there’s no one strong narrative. But the heart of it is the relationship between the two main characters and the leopards and jamjars that frame these interactions are largely incidental. As with all literature from the 50s and 60s, there are things which don’t translate to a modern North London audience – I swear I heard someone next to me tut when Barney proposed fox hunting – but you have to consider it in the context it was written in.

Some of my favourite bits were the set pieces, with the whole cast singing and dancing together. It’s an impressive wall of sound when 100 singers are all in unison and the opening number about “stacks of sticks” was a strong beginning to the show. The fancy dress party too was a welcome moment of outright comedy in among some of the more introspective scenes and Reuben laughed out loud when the hostess fainted, revealing her neon pink tights. There’s a great dance and then the cast come together to repeat the “Leopard Hunt” chant which builds to a crescendo and then freezes…it was all very effective. But there were some lovely quieter moments too, with floppy-haired Barney and his sister Lou sitting back to back reading newspapers. The contrast between the loud and the quiet really kept the show interesting.

So, a charming and short piece of theatre which was pretty well suited to Roo as he’d read the book in class. I think it’s recommended for 5+ and I think Eva might have enjoyed it too but I’m always cautious with her as she’s just a sensitive soul. It’s only running for another three performances but there’s plenty more going on in the New Routes Festival. Find out more here.

Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

Posted in Reviewing the Situation | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Legoland – 17/06/18


This was our second jaunt to Legoland and like the trip in 2016, I planted the seed early in Reuben’s brain about what he wanted to do for his birthday. Eva had a Star Wars-themed Perform party with her entire class invited and I wasn’t up for another party six weeks later. Legoland it was.

We were keen to see what had changed in the last two years and the first thing that had changed was that the Windsor Lad – our Harvester breakfast stop – now didn’t open till 9am so we had to sit in the car for a bit. Also, they’ve started selling Blue Cheese juice:

The bottomless breakfast worked wonders last time to fuel up for the day and it was a good call again this year. Eva had the £1.70 Breakfast Bar option so it didn’t matter too much that she only ate a tiny bit of Weetabix, some fruit and half a crumpet. Roo, on the other hand, had got the fuelling up memo and destroyed a cooked breakfast plus fruit and an extra crumpet. It meant we didn’t have to think about food again for quite a while, so we could concentrate on having fun once we got in.

A tip tho on how we got the tickets – I used Clubcard Boost to get one adult and one child ticket online and then a Kelloggs voucher BOGOF to get the other two tickets at the gate. I’m not sure if Clubcard Boost still works but there you go – £52 for the whole family to go to Legoland and £24 for a breakfast that kept us going all day.

Reuben had made it very clear where we were headed to first and it wasn’t “Heartyake City”, as Eva suggested. It was the Star Wars dome, which we didn’t even go into last time as it was before the kids really hit the Star Wars obsessional phase.

This year though, they knew EVERYTHING. Everything . The exhibition covered episodes 1-6, with a different section for each episode and the sequels well represented in the gift shop. Obviously Eva yuvved the Rey and Leia figures the best:

And all the kids had to have their photo taking battling Darth Vader. Nathan included:

Roo’s next target was the Lego Driving School but it was almost the opposite side of Legoland from where we were, so we stopped on the way to have a go on “Desert Chase” in Land of the Pharaohs, which looked a bit like a carousel to me but what do I know?

Eventually we made it to the driving school and Nathan and Roo joined a substantial queue to get in – not surprising as it’s one of the most popular attractions. Eva could have gone it as she’s just turned 6 but she preferred to go for a wander around “Heartyake City” instead.

She quite liked the idea of going on “Mia’s Riding Adventure” but took one look at the track it went on and changed her mind. I think she was too short for it anyway:

Now I don’t know whether it’s because Legoland is on a steep slope and we were at the bottom but I realised after separating from the boys that I had no reception on my phone and therefore no means to find them again unless I managed to connect to the Wifi. So we went old-school and just hung around the last place we’d seen them – the driving school queue – until they popped out near the front of it. Eva wasn’t too thrilled at the “standing around and waiting to see Reuben drive” part of the plan but hey, it wasn’t her birthday.  Roo really enjoyed his driving experience and look, we got an excellent view of the back of his head:

After we’d done so much queuing/standing around, we felt like the kids needed a stretch out and we were very close to Duplo Valley so they went for a play and a run around in the playground there while Nathan went to get us a refillable drink. I’m still not sure whether it was good value or not – we had four or five refills for £8.50, which is way cheaper than buying five drinks at £5 each but it did involve a lot of standing in kiosk queues, especially as the drinks machine in the kiosk near Chicken Joe’s wasn’t working. But still, sweet sweet caffeine for us adults and the kids had water bottles in their bags so they were fine.

Next stop was the Duplo Valley Airport, which was a short queue and we managed to get on all together with me and Eva choosing the red helicopter that she so badly wanted. I don’t think she was a professional pilot, despite her claims as she flew the helicopter pretty bumpily. Across the way, Nathan seemed to be having a similarly rough ride at the hands of Roo:

Then we decided to split up again. Reuben was hungry and so wanted to walk back up the hill to our locker and get his sandwich. Eva was desperate to get to the 2PM Lego Friends show back in Heartlake City. We agreed a time and meeting place and went our separate ways. I am about to make two major mistakes so please, read and learn.

The first was to do with the Fairytale Brook. We just about had time before the show, it was on the way and it was one of those rides that Eva wanted to do but Reuben didn’t. It all seemed to be working out until I made a ridiculous dyspraxic misjudgment getting into the boat. Eva was already in but I’d allowed her so much time that I had to rush my own boarding. I stepped into the wrong part, tried to climb to the front and slammed my knee and shin into the middle of the boat. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s five days on and I still can’t really walk on that leg. It’s no-one’s fault but mine but if you’re of a similar klutz level to me, watch out when stepping onto moving things.

The second mistake was that I didn’t give the boys the locker key. They made it all the way up the hill (the train wasn’t running) before they realised and phoned in the middle of a riotous show, while I was still in some degree of pain, asking me to come meet them by the lockers. It was a no from me. Eva was having way too much singing and dancing with the Lego Friends and learning the true value of friendship. She even met them after the show:

So Nathan and Roo were a touch hungry and grouchy by the time they’d made it down the hill to meet us. I fuelled the boy with some crisps and we set off back up the hill, with me limping a bit, to retrieve our sandwiches and water play stuff. A slushie from the very exciting 6-flavour-slushie dispenser got both kids energised again and I think I even persuaded them to pay for it themselves. I know, I’m winning. Apart from the leg thing.

Water play you say? Why yes, we were headed back towards Duplo Valley to splash around Drench Towers and Splash Safari. Like last year, it wasn’t the ideal weather for water play but the kids are British and hardy and they enjoyed it anyway.

We were running out of time and we still had two big rides we wanted to do – the Atlantis Submarine Voyage and the Viking River Ride. Atlantis had a big queue but it moved quickly and we had these fellas to look at on the way:

It was worth a queue – it’s such a cool little ride, with sharks swimming about beneath your capsule. We jumped straight out when it finished – well, I limped out – and ran – kinda – to the Viking ride, which we had just enough time to go on before park closing at 6.

Last time we went, Reuben had declared the river ride “awesome” and Eva was terrified. This time, she thought it was awesome too. We didn’t even get that wet – I think because they no longer have water guns that random people can use on you as you float by. Pity as I had full changes of clothes for us all and we barely got to use them.

And then we were done. Just time for Reuben to go back to the Star Wars shop and buy a ridiculously ostentatious lego set that I think was Poe Dameron’s X-Wing or something. He’d discovered a stash of cash in his wallet that had accumulated from various birthdays and Christmasses so technically he had saved up for this set but kinda inadvertently. He asked to put a photo of the finished item on Facebook, which I agreed to on the basis that it was more tasteful than his initial request to put a photo of him holding all his money. It’s almost like we’re bringing the boy up in Essex.

It was hometime. Nathan and I hadn’t really had lunch after that epic breakfast so were starting to get hungry by 7PM. Last time, we’d returned to the Harvester for dinner but the kids were so knackered they weren’t really restaurant-worthy. Burger King at Heston services it was then! As seen in “Hot Fuzz”!

So we were all exhausted and a bit bruised but it was a fabulous day out and a great bargain considering what we’d paid. If you fancy the thrills and spills of “Yegoyand”, have a lookie here for more info. Just watch your step if you’re a bit clumsy tho…

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tale of Two Gigs


This week I’ve been out twice – I know, steady on – to two events that were in a way very different to each other but also kinda similar. The first was an outing with the friend best known as Auntie Savage to see her little brother performing stand up in Holloway. The second was my nephew performing “chamber folk” in Camden. We were terribly proud at both gigs.

So first off was “Paul Savage Finds All the Jokes in the Bible”. I knew it had played at Edinburgh so I was assuming it wasn’t written with a Christian audience in mind but then until the day before, when I found out the gig was at a church, I’d assumed it wasn’t being performed for a Christian audience this time either. How wrong I was.

The church was St Luke’s, near Caledonian Road and it was a fundraiser so most of the people in the room were from the congregation. Paul said he’d made some edits, which we thought meant he’d cut the ruder bits out. Oh, another assumption down the drain. When I tell you that there was a sex doll joke before we’d even got through the first chapter of Genesis, you’ll get what I mean.

Now, I’m pretty hard to offend but I never know how to read my fellow Christians en masse. We were sitting right at the back so it was hard to gauge how the crowd were taking it. There was a lot of laughter and no one walked out so I think we call that a win. I expect to see that quoted on the posters for the next run, along with the “infinite stars for dead Jesus”.

So what kind of jokes are there in the Bible? Plenty, as it turned out. Soldiers having wet dreams, Samson cracking one-liners as he destroyed an army with a donkey bone and, of course, a hefty amount of circumcision. Come here Ishmael, you little b’stard, Daddy’s got something to tell you.

God was reimagined as some kind of Mafioso, spitting out curses on anyone who insulted his family and Jesus apparently spent three years setting up his “on this rock” pun by deliberately misnaming Simon Peter and just waiting for that perfect set up line. Hey, who isn’t guilty of that?

There was some audience participation too – a husband got up to dramatically recite “Song of Solomon” to his wife and the whole audience got to rain down blessings and curses on Paul. Being a Christian audience, the curses were very tame, unlike one he recieved form a sweet old Scottish Granny. Want to know what she said? You’ll have to buy a ticket to the show. And you should cause it was very entertaining as long as you don’t take your Christianity too seriously. Maybe not one for the Westboro Baptist Christmas social.

And on to that chamber folk which I know you’re curious about. Well, it’s folk songs performed with a chamber orchestra and it’s a genre that Owen Ralph, that aforementioned nephew, may or may not have made up himself.

I’m fighting the urge to fill this post with hilarious anecdotes about Owen’s childhood peformances so bear with me if sometimes that urge wins. He was a cute little boy. And now he’s like an accomplished musician who arranged all his own music and played a plethora of instruments as well as leading all the songs. Like I said, I’m terribly proud.

I was also terribly late. Just like that trip to the Science Museum, the Victoria Line was against me and my alternative route – alighting at Hackney Downs and jumping on the Overground from Hackney Central – also fell over. So I was already late by the time I got to Camden Road and Cecil Sharp House is the other side of Camden and up a hill. Still, Nathan had got there early so was protecting our frail family reputation.

By the time I arrived, sweaty and befuddled, Owen was halfway through a solo although the orchestra were ready waiting for the next song – two violinists, a cellist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist, oboist, bassoonist, flautist and a conductor.  All the musicians seemed very skilled but my favourite was the cellist, who just seemed incredibly smiley throughout and played with both joy and passion. Orchestra musicians look so serious so often, which why I liked her so much.

Looking back at the set list, I missed quite a lot of the first half but I was there in time for one of the “hits” – the second single from Chamber Folk, “The False Young Man”. You can hear it on YouTube here but live the sound was much bigger. The track really showcases the wind instruments with the flute playing an instrumental that leaps off from an unexpected key change…unexpected to my untrained ear at least. He followed it up with a sweet song about a shepherd and his bride that seemed unusually cheerful for a folk song.

Next up was a Welsh tune – was that allowed in the English Folk Dance and Song Society? – that you’d expect to be quite slight given that Owen introduces it as something he first learnt on the recorder. But the way it was orchestrated made it lush and complex. I can’t judge his pronunciation of the lyrics but he assured us it wasn’t about cheese. This was followed by another Welsh tune – “Môn” – that was a lively village dance number that showed off some seriously impressive violining* and rounded off the first half nicely

(*yes it’s a word. I know because I just made it up. What, you wanted me to say “fiddling”?)

Obviously, my nieces and I then went and embarrassed Owen at the merchandise table with much in the way of high-pitched adoration because that’s what aunties/sisters do. I’m not even sorry.

And especially not sorry because he was rude about his family in the second half. Apparently the 1-minute album-opener “This Might Be” was written at Christmas when he was bored of our company. I mean, really. You can go off people you know.

Luckily there was someone new on stage to stand between Owen and his enraged female relatives. This was Rosie Hood, a folk singer who happens to be a friend of one of my imaginary friends. I have imaginary spies everywhere. Together they sang “Isabel”, one of the few songs that was a total original, albeit inspired by a much older folk song about a lady and a knight who turns out to be something of a scoundrel. Owen, with his mother’s love of a happy ending, had rewritten it to make it much jollier. It was nice to hear a bit of vocal contrast with Owen and Rosie has a lovely tone to her voice. It’s a pity they mainly alternated rather than harmonising but I guess I’m just something of a harmony junkie.

Then they did a song of Rosie’s, newly arranged to accommodate the orchestra. “A Furlong of Flight” was all about a monk who made his own wings and tried to fly. It worked really well with the orchestration even though it wasn’t originally written with them in mind. It also marked the first attempt to make the audience sing along with a chorus that has way too many words to remember in it. I would have been up for singing – I always am – but I probably need the words written down.

At some point , Owen donned sunglasses and started playing a banjo. Neither Nathan or I can remember exactly when that was  – possible”Katy Morey” – but it was very entertaining. Then a song accompanied only by concertina which I think was “Poverty Knocks” (sing along if you know it!) and that segued into “Erin’s Lovely Home”.

We were nearing the end of the gig but there was still time for the other hit – first single “The Sign of the Bonny Blue Bell”, which has been stuck in my head ever since. Will he be married on a Tuesday morning? This interfering auntie doubts it. But it’s a great tune and it’s the kind of thing that makes folk accessible to people like me who aren’t necessarily high on folk-tolerance.

The last song of the set was “The Eighteenth Day of June” but there was the most token attempt at going off stage before returning for an encore of “Roll On Silver Moon”. This was the one where we finally managed to get the hang of the chorus and sang along, albeit quietly so not to make more of a scene than we already had. It was a great note to end on even if the actual ending of the song left us hanging on for a musical resolution. Or that might have been the song before, I’m not sure…there were a few bits of musical trickery that caught the audience out and added a bit of intrigue. I love a false ending so much that a musician friend at church nicknamed me “Interrupted Cadance Milner”, which I think sounds really cool. So I did appreciate the bits which were occasionally discordant or not resolved like you’d expect. It keeps things interesting.

So my overall verdict? Well, of course I’m going to be gushingly positive. I thought it wonderful. But then I thought the same about his performance of “Yellow Submarine” in Fuengirola in 2005 and that was in an octave Ringo Starr could only dream about. I’m hardly an objective reviewer. But it was musically rich, the songs were uplifting and melodic and the supporting musicians all fantastic.

I’m ever so proud.

“Chamber Folk” is available to buy now through

Paul Savage is not currently touring “Paul Savage Finds All the Jokes in the Bible” as far as I know but see what he’s doing next at


Posted in Reviewing the Situation | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Athenian Merriment Part 4 – 03/06/18

Since I’ve been back in London I’ve worked three days and had three train crises. Almost made me miss Athens until I remembered the transport chaos we experienced on our third morning there. We’d had a small taster the day before, when we’d attempted to buy tickets at the tram terminus only to find a hole where the ticket machine should be. I’d found a functioning machine in the metro station and made a strategic error in not buying all the tickets we needed for the rest of the holiday then.

Because this morning our faithful ticket machine at Kalamaki had run out of paper. I’d read somewhere that you could recharge paper tickets so I tried using the ones we’d bought yesterday but that didn’t work. I also had some vague recollection that you could buy Ath.ena tickets from a kiosk but we didn’t see any kiosks that seemed to be selling any. Our best option was to walk 600m to the next tram stop  – Marina Alimos – and get one there. The next best option was to walk 600m to the next tram stop and fail to get one there, duck through the bushes and get spiked by a vicious plant. For reasons unknown we went with that plan and, staggering about in excruciating pain from spike in my back, we made a Plan C.

Plan C involved not passing out from the pain – win! – and throwing ourselves on the mercy of a Greek bus driver – win#2! We asked if we could pay in cash on the bus, he said we had to find a ticket machine, I explained there were no functioning ticket machines and he seemed unsurprised. So he let us fare dodge for a few stops to Parc Flisvos.

Yes, this is where we’d planned to go all along. It had just involved a bit more fuss than I’d anticipated. Parc Flisvos is a big park by the sea that promised all sorts of delights and we fancied checking it out. Most of the Google reviews were very flattering, although one gave us cause for concern. It was written in Greek and Google obviously had had a stab at translating it but I feel like the original author’s intentions may have been lost in translation:

“I do not know what coffee soap they put. I’m afraid of the sea and I suck in black, only to get them, and the guy in the air !!!! Generally unorganized. They could be much better.Hair baths filled with urine on the floor!”

Well, we had to see these hair baths for ourselves. First though, the playground.

The problem with sunshine holidays is that it gets a bit too hot to actually do anything for long and after 20 minutes or so in the playground, the kids were done. So we went to get a drink in the cafe and sat there for ages while the kids played with the toys in the play area. Well, we kinda sat there for ages because the service was a bit slow but it was all fine with us. There were toys and aircon.

Then we went to another playground, then found somewhere shady to have our sandwiches. The bouncy castles caught Reuben’s eye but in 30c heat I thought they might be a bit of a burn hazard as well as a burning-through-our-cash hazard. The toilets had a thin film of water across the floor all the way through (hair baths of urine?) and the giant battleship that I’d thought was a climbing frame because of this photo turned out to be a war memorial and not climbable at all. Overall, Flisvos was turning out to be something of a disappointment.

So we went for a wander along the marina, in search of what Google called “The Floating Museum Fairy” but that was MIA. Luckily though, a good alternative was just round the corner and although it wasn’t free entry as Google had said, it was only 9Euro for all of us and it was a real live battleship, not just a pretend one.

I think this probably saved the day as Eva liked the Admiral’s quarters and Reuben liked the big guns and I liked the cooling sea breeze and the lovely view. I think we’d all learnt a lesson about not trusting everything Google said but it worked out OK in the end.

And what of those tickets? Well, the Parc Flisvos station had the same ticket-machine-sized hole as the others but the Trocadero station – which was the closest one to the Averof – had a functioning machine and we could buy not just tickets home but also tickets for the airport bus the next day. Again, we couldn’t buy half price tickets from the machine and this time we did have to pay for Eva (the airport bus is chargeable for 6+) so the 24Euro we spent altogether was only the most nominal saving on the 39Euro it would have cost to get the airconditioned taxi with the friendly drivers and the chilled water and the lack of having to pound the streets looking for a machine. Oh and the not having to sit on a metre-wide strip of pavement next to a three lanes of traffic for 17 minutes before the bus arrived.

But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s not talk about the return trip to England at all in fact. Or our final evening meal out which was something of a disaster. Let’s say goodbye from the Kalamaki beach, which we hopped back to after our time on the Averof. I hope this somewhat self-indulgent 4-part series has been of some use to someone somewhere who’s planning a trip to Athens with kids. If not, thanks for joining us on the journey. It’ll be back to “rainy Hackney” BAU soon, I promise.

Posted in Creating precious childhood memories or something (days out) | Tagged , , | Leave a comment