The Art of the Brick – 24/09/14


What can be done with the humble Lego brick that has never been done before? That’s what you might wonder, as new exhibition “The Art of the Brick” rolls into town. But artist Nathan Sawaya has managed to create something that’s not only technically brilliant but also genuinely artistic. And me and Eva are here to give you a virtual tour.

The starting point is a film where Sawaya explains the thought process behind the exhibition. I’d just heard it from the man himself, as he explained that his love of Lego has started as a 5-year-old and stayed with him through a career in corporate law, until he decided to sculpt Lego for a living. It sounds fun but also painstaking and he described how one mistake, on a giant hand, took hours to unpick. The centrepiece of the exhibition  – the T-Rex – took a full summer of work.  I couldn’t wait to see what all that work had produced.


Moving on from the film, we wandered past reproductions of some of the most famous sculptures ever. David and Venus kept each other company in matching grey blocks, while another man just sat there and thought a lot. Eva was very excited about the whole thing:


Next, we found ourselves in a room full of art classics. The “Mona Lisa” was there, “The Girl With the Pearl Earring” and even a 3D-rendition of “The Scream”.  Eva’s favourite was the Klimt Kiss, which may be because she likes yellow so much but also because she liked the people “aving a duddle”.


There’s also a detail from the Sistene Chapel ceiling though Sawaya chose not to recreate the entire ceiling. That would have been quite something Then, there was “The Great Wave of Kanagawa”, which had quite stunning levels of detail:


Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and a Rembrandt self-portrait. At Eva’s behest, I took pictures of every piece, but I’m not going to show you all of them for fear of spoilers. You should really see them in the Lego-y flesh.


The next room had a more playful feel, with a giant pencil that was “perfect for writing on the ceiling”, an apple and a giraffe with tiger stripes. Obviously, Eva liked that last one the best. But she didn’t linger long, as she was drawn towards the impressive vertical model of the solar system that stretched from floor to ceiling. One of the photographers there got a picture of her gazing at it, so do keep an eye out for her cheeky face in your favourite publications.


After that, a swimming woman got a room to herself:


Before we emerged in a room with the most celebrated pieces “Yellow” and “Circle Torso, Triangle Torso, Square Torso” (you’ll recognise them from the posters). It was hard to get close to those,as  Nathan Sawaya was giving interviews in the middle, but Eva liked the red, yellow and blue face masks. The whole room was a collection of surrealist kind of art, showing that Lego really could translate to any kind of art form.


Which was only proven by the darkness and introspection of the next room. A parent mourns the loss of a child. An artist loses his hands. I found it a bit disturbing – probably more so for being rendered in such friendly, colourful bricks. We moved on to what I thought would be the prize of the collection for Eva – the T-Rex


No, she was terrified of it. Serves me right for not bringing Reuben but sadly, he was at school. He would have loved the exhibition though – I may try and take him later on in the run.


Given that Eva was so scared of the dinosaur, it was probably best that the next corridor was once more friendly, accessible art. A portrait of Jimi Hendrix, a multi-coloured peace all led nicely on to the brightly-coloured “Britain” section at the end. It may be Britain at its most clichéd (telephone box, Beatles, “Keep Calm” sign) but it’s nice that the show has been customised for London.


Then, there’s the interactive area.  Tables full of lego and a pit full of duplo that not only entertained Eva for a long time – it also got her into the background of two news pieces.  Meanwhile, I was working on my own artistic masterpiece:


I never said I was arty, OK?

So, to sum up it is a fab exhibition.  Fun but innovative at the same time, it manages to do something new without ever disappearing into pretentiousness. I’m no art connoisseur but it’s exactly the kind of exhibition I enjoy. We were in there for around an hour and a half, as there was plenty for Eva to look at too. She didn’t even try and break any of the sculptures, which was remarkable. It’s very suited to toddlers and parents will love it too. But I’ll warn you now, getting a ticket might be a tricky business….

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The Bucket and Spade List Part 9 – RAF Museum

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We are 75% of the way through this list. And summer’s not over yet, no no. Just because it was dark this morning and Roo’s back at school and I’ve just written a post about Christmas…none of that means I can’t carry on with this summer project. Especially when it lends itself to such a gloomy day as Saturday was.

We drove there and back because it’s just down the North Circular now but it seems pretty close to Colindale tube if you’re on public transport. It was signposted from the A406 – admittedly in a different way to that which Google suggested, but Nathan did an expert last-minute lane change so that was fine. And we got to drive past the Art Deco temple that is Hendon Central tube as well, which is a rare treat.

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Of course, given that we were driving, it was perhaps inevitable that both kids would fall asleep on the way. So it was a confused and grumpy Reuben that we tipped out into the car park at Hendon (car parking is £3 for 3 hours or £4 for 4..but museum entry is free). It was a grey and gloomy kind of day so I hurried ahead with Eva in the buggy and got all three of our bags checked, while Reuben and Nathan trailed behind. Then they didn’t appear. Then they still didn’t appear. Then they called to ask where we were. They were next to the big aeroplanes, apparently, but not the same big aeroplane we were next to. Turns out they’d wandered into the Battle of Britain Hall while we’d made what I thought was a sensible choice and headed for the main entrance. Eventually we were reunited and followed the signs to the exhibition halls, only to see a big flight of steps, so we turned around and found the lift. We got in it, only to get straight back out again the other side, in the exhibition hall. I’m sure there was an easier way, and I’m guessing the big flight of steps led to the balcony, for optimum plane-viewing….but I was a little confused. We did find this adorable dog on the way though:

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Aww! We went though the first room fairly quickly because both kids liked looking at the aeroplanes but there wasn’t much for them to do, and they are quite hands-y. So, we disappeared down a white tunnel into the next building:

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My main target was the Aeronautes Interactive Centre, but there was a lot for them to see on the way. Reuben asked lots of questions about the planes, which would have made Bang very proud:

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While my total girl-cliche liked the plane that was covered in crochet:

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And anything that came in “yeyyow”:

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They both liked the Chinook that you could go inside, complete with sound effects (we unleashed Eva from her buggy at this point) but then Reuben had a small meltdown about being clearly too small for the flight stimulator. It was time to find the interactive bit. Happily, we were just outside it. And what fun there was!

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There were wooden planes and helicopters to play on, a handglider, aeroplanes to sit in and steer and a lot of hands-on Science Museum-type things. One showed how fibre optic cables worked, with a number of small plastic rods you had to connect together and get the light shining through (Reuben had to be removed from that one so that Nathan could solve the puzzle in peace). Another one involved some jets of air and a beachball and some basketball hoops. Then there were wind machines, circuits to build and lots of other things. It’s the kind of thing that my nephews would enjoy, and they’re 9 and 11 (I think). At the same time, it was more than suitable for Eva. She occupied one seat in the helicopter and demanded that Reuben “come and sit ‘ere” so they could fly it together:

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But she also liked sitting in the big plane with her Daddy:

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If this all sounds exhausting, it was. Coffee beckoned. It was 3ish by now, and the cafe didn’t have a lot of cakes left so we got some blondies which were a lot underwhelming but perfectly eatable. I may also have found some mini muffins in the kids’ snack boxes. It’s not cool to BYO cake to cafes now, is it? Don’t do it just cause we did. I did buy Roo some apple juice and Eva a glass of milk:

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Feeling refreshed, the kids ran off to play again but our 3 hours of parking were starting to run out and we still had a whole other hall to see. It took some persuasion, but we eventually got them to move towards the exit and gift shop. It took more persuasion to get them to move through the gift shop without buying any sweets or toys. Along the way we saw a real plane you could sit in. The people in front of us took ages on their turn, and a queue had built up by the time Roo and Eva got in, so they didn’t have a long go. But long enough for a photo:

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Sad to say, we rushed the Battle of Britain Hall a bit. I would have liked to linger a bit more but the parking was running out, so we skimmed a bit. Nathan was totally freaked out by a mannequin in the Blitz scene that had a moving face projected onto it.Reuben just really, really wanted to go on this giant seaplane:

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I stayed at the bottom with the buggy while Nathan took both kids up the steps and round through the nose of the plane. Apparently there was some squeezing through a small door to get onto it, and then Roo ran through in about five seconds flat. But it was totally worth it.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from the RAF Museum – I had an inkling that there would be fun stuff to do, but I’d totally failed to find the details on their website. I was a little worried it would be very hands-off, but actually it was great for kids and there’s a chance they may have actually learnt something too.  I should know, as I seem to have the mentality of a 5-year-old. By which I mean I’m closing on this photo:

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Big Fish Little Fish Hackney – 21/09/14

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So in a blogging fail to add to all my other blogging fails, I went to BFLF today with a thoroughly uncharged phone. So did Nathan. Net result was a complete lack of photos of this East London pirate extravaganza. Which is a pity, because there were loads of moments that would have looked great on the blog, albeit through that soft-focus camera of mine. So apologies. I’ve improvised a little. What I can show you is the children sharing a seat on the way to church. Eva has her basic pirate outfit on here, but would later add her customary pirate coat. Roo is as piratey as he got all day. Nathan and I were wearing matching blue and white stripy tops, for which we were deservedly mocked at church but never let it be said that we passed up an opportunity for pirate fancy dress. Especially the same week as International Talk Like a Pirate Day – it’s practically heresea (see what I did there?)

We may not have taken functioning phones with us to BFLF but we did take half a ton of couscous from church lunch and other unwieldy things that you really don’t want with you while you’re raving. Luckily, BFLF always provides a buggy park so we could leave everything there and go in and party.

I didn’t really see much of Nathan. We had a loose arrangement to look after a child each and those children soon went in different directions because there was a lot of interesting things that needed investigating. Reuben settled at a table of playdough and Pixar toys while Eva ran off to play in the playtents. Neither of them seemed very interested in the dancefloor but they did like seeing the glitter cannon go off. Shortly afterwards, Eva joined a gaggle of small girls picking up the bits of glitter and throwing them in the air. Like this:


(Totally seamless, huh?)

While she was on the dancefloor, I thought we’d have a dance and we had fun jumping around to “Jump Around”. She also pointed out the projections on the walls (faithfully reproduced above) and said “Ooh…dat’s pretty”. She liked looking at them and she liked her glowband but eventually she wandered off again. She would later dive back onto the floor at the sound of “Pump Up the Jam”, which Nathan swears he’s taught her in late night Daddy-daughter-disco sessions.

Roo meanwhile was busy at the craft table, fashioning his own hookhand. This is him and Nathan working together:


Apologies to Nathan for the size of him here. It was a slip of the mouse, honestly. He hasn’t put on a lot of weight since the last trip out. They spent hours crafting, which kept Roo happy but sadly meant that the dancefloor largely missed out on Nathan’s mad moves. Eva and I spent a lot of time in the play areas, and the outside area, and a lot of charging around the place taking it all in. As long as they seemed happy, I was happy…but it would have been nice if they’d both been in more of a dancing mood.

Luckily, the parachute dance once again lured Roo onto the floor. To the sounds of “Raspberry Beret”, he jigged about under the ‘chute while the grown-ups wafted it above their heads. I assume Nathan had Eva during this bit, because I certainly didn’t. It was lovely to see him having so much fun with the other kids and a shame that our time was almost up. I don’t know what happened this afternoon but it just flew by. Admittedly, we were late but we still had two hours or so of raving with barely any strops from the kids (playtunnel pile-ups aside). In a wild moment, Roo threw his pirate hat on top of the parachute and it bounced around for ages before falling at the feet of a lady with a baby in a sling. Thinking it was a BFLF freebie, she picked it up and put it on the baby’s head before wandering off. I was a bit unsure about what to do – the British thing would be to just leave it, but Eva and Roo are both very attached to that hat so I shamefacedly asked for it back. The baby looked pretty cute in it though.

So, our time was up. Eva had a quick tattoo before we left and we picked up our free Happy Monkey smoothies and Alpha Bites to sweeten the journey home. Me and Nathan didn’t dance much, but all of us had a great time anyway and the venue was busy but not too packed, with a lovely atmosphere. The pirate theme totally worked and the kids all seemed to enjoy running around with their hookhands and hats. The great thing about BFLF is it changes every time and there are always a few surprises. It’s evolved so much from the first party and just keeps getting better. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next!



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Christmas is Coming!

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I know at least one person is going to rebuke me for even talking about Christmas, but there are Christmas chocolates on the shelves, the mornings are getting darker and -most excitingly – I’ve been asked to be an official blogger for Father Christmas World in Tunbridge Wells. It’s going to be a wintery fantasy land with its own theatre (the Adelfi), a tinsel train and  a friendly polar bear called Bing . There’s a giant igloo, a snow dome with real snow and, of course, a chance to meet Santa. I am so very excited about this and will be running a giveaway for tickets next month. But if you want to guarantee your place, tickets are on sale now. It’s a 3.5 hour Christmas experience and it should be amazing. More news soon!

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Hippopo Thames – 17/09/14

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It’s funny how much can change in 6 months.  We only left Vauxhall in March but the gentrification that pushed housing out of our price range has gathered pace.  Now, Vauxhall has its own Street Food Garden,  swanky new tower blocks and an art installation.  Even the horses at Vauxhall City Farm have a nice new stable.  It’s a funny kind of gentrification,  where a homeless hostel still nestles next to Waitrose and the toilets in the refitted Starbucks have to be locked to keep out undesirables. And the developments that are arriving seem aimed at people like us – Dirty Burger,  Nandos, street food- but people like us can’t afford to live there anymore.  With the American Embassy arriving,  Vauxhall will soon be the playground of the super – rich but they’re unlikely to want to play under the railway arches in what used to be a gay club or bondage shop.  And at heart,  it’s still a massive gyratory. Which,  if the gay clubs go,  will be the only gyrating that goes on round there.  I can’t imagine what it will be like in ten years but the next few seem to be full of empty apartments with a million pound price tag and confused hipsters sipping pho by the train line before boarding the train back to Walthamstow with all the other Hackney refugees.

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I might sound bitter.  I’m not, really but the area does seem to be going through a bit of an identity crisis right now.

Anyway,  that was a remarkably downbeat note to start a post about a nice day with. Let’s rewind. Back to the all new Starbucks. Where I’m having a cuppa and some cake with Bob, Boby and Tombles. Our mission today is to seek out the giant hippo in the Thames.  As you can probably guess from the photo,  we found it.

But first, there was some time to kill. So, at Eva’s request we went to Vauxhall City Farm so that she could coo at the bunnies, fear the chickens and attempt to feed the ponies. Here’s that swish new stable I mentioned earlier:

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Eva also liked the eco-house, where we chatted with a random person about donkey rides. Boby seemed pleased to see the animals but she’s a girl with a heck of a lot of city farms under her belt. She’s not easily impressed.

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Facebook friends of mine will notice that Eva is still, at this point, sporting the same topknot that she had at nursery the day before, albeit in a more dishevelled state. It’s about to come undone in a spectacular Cyndi-Lauper-esque power mullet:

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Toddler Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

With a mullet in place, it was time to head to Hackney-on-Thames aka the Vauxhall Street Food Garden. It was super-nice of Vauxhall to put on a whole market just to make Bob and Boby feel at home and I’m glad we could reciprocate by styling Eva in such a hipster way. It’s a long slither of land, just beside the railway tracks and I can’t remember what was there before, which suggests to me that it was nothing much. Now, they’ve packed in two bars, several food stalls and a whole bank of gazebos:

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There were burritos, curries, paella,  crepes and a BBQ as well as a Vietnamese stall and some others I’ve clearly forgotten. It wasn’t outrageously expensive either – mine and Eva’s BBQ food came to £6.50, which was a very tasty artisan sausage in a roll, with an extra sausage for the girl. It was a piece of art, too:

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Onion chutney, avocado salsa, some kinda fancy bread, sauce and salad all came as standard although Eva, the purist, just went for sausage plus ketchup:

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(In a roll I’d brought with me just in case I needed it…I swear I am turning into my mother)

Tombles had the bacon burger and said it was very tasty. Bob had the curry and it was pretty good. Boby looked like she would have given anything a go. The seating is plentiful and undercover, so we didn’t need to worry too much about those impending storm clouds, and we even got a free coffee at the bar! It’s a nice addition to the Vauxhall scene…just a pity that, as I said earlier, the multi-millionaires of aSt George’s Wharf might think they’re above it. But who could be above these classy toilets?:

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I’m guessing this has another life as a nightclub (hence the “only one per cubicle” signs). In some ways, Vauxhall doesn’t forget its roots:

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Ahem. Anyway, it was night on half one by this point, which is when we got access to the foreshore for hippo-viewing. If you’re not sure what I mean, it was a rare opportunity to climb down into the Thames at low tide and stand on a bit of shore that’s normally a bit of riverbank. Oh, and there was a hippo in the river. Obviously. I think it’s part of the “Totally Thames” festival.

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You can access the foreshore just past St George’s Pier, down a set of specially constructed metal steps. It’s not suitable for buggies, but Boby had it all worked out:

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Mummy-wearing FTW! As you can tell by Boby’s expression, the hippo itself isn’t that much to look at but it’s a cool thing to have, even if it’s largely facing the wrong way to take pictures of. The real prize is a scamper around the riverbed, getting a view of Battersea, Westminster and Pimlico that you never normally would. Of course, I completely failed to capture this view so instead, here’s Eva getting her shoes dirty:

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It’s definitely worth a look, for the two things combined – novelty artwork that looks like an oversized Kinder snack and access to a place you can’t normally go. And it’s freeeee!

As we went back up the steps, I also noticed that someone was trying to invite me to some kind of rendez-vous:
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We were in spyland, after all. Sadly I had other plans so had to decline but I’ll let you imagine the adventure I could have had. Me, the hippo, the double agents, the toddler….crazy fun. And so was our day in Vauxhall.

More details here (official site)

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The Bucket and Spade List Part 8 – Spitalfields City Farm

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I’m really tired today. Eva had me up during the night, I was working today and then looking after Roo and that’s the reason my brain is running so slowly that I can’t even mock hipsters properly. It’s taken ten minutes to come up with this opening joke, so you’d better appreciate it. OK, here goes…

Where do hipster ducks live?


I know. It’s not my best.  But it kinda introduces you to the whole concept of hipster animals, just in time to take a virtual trip to Spitalfields City Farm, as part of item 7. “Notch up some more city farms”. We’ve notched up one and this was it. Still, it was a pretty good one.

It’s signposted from the main road but you basically turn off by a very East London piece of graffiti:

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As with every trip to Spitalfields, you should ensure that your daughter is wearing appropriately edgy clothes:

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With the scratched camera, this actually looks like it was taken in the 80s, doesn’t it? The residents of E2 photoshop for hours to get this kind of look.

Anyway, let’s get back to the farm and we managed to steer Reuben away from the park next door with the promise of some animals. On first glance it looked pretty big- bigger than Hackney City Farm anyway.

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It’s also full of bits of shiny artwork, which are all made of of hundreds and hundreds of bottle tops:

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These pieces were the work of Robson Cezar, who is an East End regular and currently artist-in-residence at the farm. How many farms have their own artist? This is getting no less hipster. Anyway, Reuben liked the monkey:

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But we were here to see real animals and those they had in abundance too. There were pigs, a pony and donkeys called Bayleaf and Derek. I can’t help feeling that Bayleaf got the nicer name. Derek obviously felt that too, and skulked at the back of his pen, ignoring us. But Bayleaf came up for a stroke after a little coercion:

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And some yummy stinging nettles as well. Lucky Bayleaf.

Reuben was very impressed that the goats had their own climbing frame, although they didn’t seem to be maximising its potential:

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You might even say they were less impressed with Reuben than he was with them. Ah well, there’s always a cow to befriend..

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We thought we’d seen all the animals, so stopped off at the treehouse, which both kids managed to climb without any help. At the top, Reuben starting flinging off his shoes. You might wonder why, as we did. His answer was that there was a tiny soft play in the tree and you don’t wear shoes at soft play.

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That didn’t sound right. We scaled the tree too, just to investigate.

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He was right! A tiny soft play in a treehouse! There was a pile of these blocks and some stools to sit on. In this picture he still has his shoes on, but that didn’t last long. Nathan and I had a bottle of flat coke and a relax while the kids stacked the blocks and knocked them over. Then I went to the “Bug Hotel” to listen to the sounds of a beehive through some earphones. Or it could have been experimental jazz – never forget we’re in Shoreditch.

At the bottom of the tree, there were also some ride-on toys and a little table to sit and draw at. Sadly my phone battery died so I have only one more photo to show you and none of Reuben pulling Eva round on a little trailer.

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Technology, huh? The kids could have played for much longer but we had Bob’s birthday to get to and it appeared that we’d missed out a whole other side of the farm. It was called The Farmyard, and was home to the aforementioned hipster ducks, some rabbits, sheep and even a free-range cat. We tracked the cat down sitting inside a little cabin, enjoying the sunshine and the stroking of random strangers. He soon scarpered at the sight of a toddler though. And the toddler and her brother were settling in to stay, with a big pile of puzzles and books and some comfy cushions to sit on. There were plenty of things for us to look at too – from a whole snakeskin to some fly-vision glasses. If only we didn’t have somewhere to go and if only we could save time by skipping the playground in neighbouring Allen Gardens (we couldn’t. Our kids aren’t dumb). So, we left the farm after about an hour but really could have stayed longer. It was one of the best equipped city farms I’ve been to, in terms of things to do for kids. We didn’t even get a coffee…we’ll never make hipsters, will we?

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More information here (official website)






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The Bucket and Spade List Part 7 – Nando’s and Book Benches

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Sometimes change is for the best. You have to make your choices and move on. That’s what I kept telling myself as I stared at a Nando’s menu, willing myself to order something that wasn’t a chicken pitta. We were in the Middlesex Street branch, a hop and a scoot away from Liverpool Street, and the staff had kindly opened up the downstairs area to accommodate the 15 people who turned up to celebrate Nathan’s 35th birthday.  I knew that this Bucket & Spade List item was going to be a toughie ( 6. “Order something different at Nando’s”) but I hadn’t realise quite how attached I was to my usual. I haven’t even looked at a Nando’s menu in years, so confident am I in my choices, but it was time for change. Was it going to be the Butterfly Burger, serendipitously placed in the “Try Something New” section? Or the Prego Steak Roll? Some Fino Sides instead of peri-peri chips

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No, I went for the chicken wrap. That’s new for me, OK? Even if it’s not a massive departure from the chicken pitta. And it was nice enough – a hint of chilli jam in there – but it didn’t have enough chicken and all the pineapple got pushed to the bottom so that you had it eat it on its own. I think I’ll stick to the pitta in the future. Excuse the fuzziness of these photos, by the way – my phone camera has had some trauma of late and now makes everything look like it’s in an early 80s music video. Which is cool in its own way.

On the way home we stopped by Plaza Park in Wood Street, which still has highly escapable toddler boltholes around the playground despite local parents complaining. I like the playground though, with its innovative seesaw and bouncy swings. Today, Eva found a new feature, which pleased her. The fountains were on! Perfect for a fully clothed girl in wellies…in her opinion, anyway:

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“Oh no! Mine tights got soggy!” the toddler may well have said. I failed to be surprised. Meanwhile, Nathan was trying out this bench-futon:

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And Eva found a place to relax too:

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The subject of benches leads me smoothly onto the second part of this post, and that is our progress on item 9 – “Find some of those book benches” – which has been..minimal. To be fair, they aren’t in the most obvious places – I’ve spent a lot of the summer in Soho and there are none there. But we bagged a couple in Bloomsbury Square:

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This was at lunchtime on a weekday, so they both had office workers sitting on them and refusing to move so we didn’t get great photos. We did discover a new playground in the corner of the square though:

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It’s a mystifyingly rural theme for a park just off High Holborn but never mind. I also recognise that cow from another Bucket trip – I think it was Clissold Park. Anyway, it all looks shiny and new and Reuben had a lovely time playing there. I also have around 10,000 photos of the park because he wanted me to photograph him on every piece of equipment (climbing frame, roundabout, assault course) so do let me know if one photo just doesn’t cut it for you.

Despite the fun playtime, he was disappointed to not get on a bench so we headed to Red Lion Square and snared this Peter Pan number:

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(You aren’t meant to climb on the benches but I only found that out later)

A little while afterwards, we spotted this one outside Bank station:

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And that’s as far as we’ve got, really. I spotted a “Wind in the Willows” one from afar when going to Maria’s house on my most stressful transport day EVAH but I didn’t get a decent photo. They’re disappearing anytime now I think so not an amazing attempt but enough to tick that one off the list, which just leaves me with four to do by last week the end of September. Wish me luck…

Posted in Cake and the finest wines known to humanity (eating out) | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

More Exciting Announcements!


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Firstly, it’s Nathan’s birthday. Reuben was in charge of cake design, in case you’re wondering.

Secondly, I have two other announcements that might just be more interesting to you. Anyone here like….


Of course you do! And your kids too, I’ll bet. Well, the annual CBeebies panto is coming round again – this year it’s “Peter Pan”, starring all your favourite Beebies presenters and Justin as well. It’s being filmed in Manchester on October 11th and you could be in the audience. I’ll let Beebies explain…

“Free tickets for CBeebies Peter Pan are released at midday today (September 10th 2014) through  and will be allocated via a ballot which is open for one week. The ballot will close at midday on September 17th. Performances will take place at 1pm and again at 4.30pm on Saturday, October 11th 2014, at The Lowry, Salford Quays.

Over that same weekend there will also be a host of different activities and a range of entertainment taking place outside The Lowry, all created by BBC Learning, to excite and inspire young audiences. No tickets are required for the events and the activities will run on Friday and Saturday (10th/11th October) from 10am – 6pm.  As CBeebies Peter Pan is performed on stage there will be live streaming on a big screen for those unable to get tickets. More details of the weekend activities will be released over the coming weeks.”

Well, I’m excited anyway! The ballot is only open for a week, so get onto it quickly!

And the last announcement? Remember that Octonauts Live is coming? Well, I have a chance to interview the director and writer, Richard Lewis. So, if you have any questions for him, send them to me at It’s going to be Octotastic!


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Beware of…

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Card clash! It’s coming, dontcha know…a week on Tuesday. Of course, if you’ve been using a contactless card on a bus you’ll already be familiar with the perils of card clash, but now the warnings are being rolled out over the tannoys where ominous voices warn you to enforce Oyster/Visa acardtheid. Because – and this is the real point – you will soon be able to use a contactless debit card to pay on the tube, DLR and London Overground as well as the bus. And the good thing is that the daily and weekly capping works (where a week = Monday-Sunday). That is GOOD NEWS people. No more queuing at the Oyster top-up machine while your train pulls away. You just pay by debit card and it’ll cap itself at the price of a daily travelcard if you make enough journeys. As you might guess, we often make enough journeys to do that.

There are some cons as well as the pros – you can’t combine Oyster and contactless, so if you’re aiming for a weekly cap, you need to remember which card you started on. Obviously it has to be the same debit card each time as well. There’s no monthly or annual cap, so it’s best to just buy a travelcard for those time periods. And the stickiest issue has to be to do with National Rail services (critical for the people of Near-Essex, like us). Apparently, contactless will be accepted on some NR services but it won’t be announced which ones until just before the date. Not overly helpful. But I’ll bring you more info as and when I get it.

Anyhoo, more info here.

While I’m here, a quick couple of shout outs. Firstly, for the Stow Festival this Saturday (13th September), featuring the Walthamstow Acoustic Massive…and me. Secondly, for the Evelina Children’s Hospital Fun Day at the Oval on the same day. You have no reason to be bored this weekend…

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The Bucket and Spade List Part 6 – Lunch in Leytonstone

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OK, I might have been a bit harsh on Leytonstone in that last post but it was raining and rain puts me in a grouchy mood. Still, going through somewhere on a bus is a bit of a cop-out and so I thought I should probably give it a proper explore. Or at least take Roo to McDonalds there while running some errands for work.

Don’t look so outraged. It’s not like he has McDonalds all the time – in fact, he only ate there for the first time this year. But I’ve created a McMonster and he now has something of a taste for Happy Meals…or at least the toy that comes with them. It was our last Mummy-and-Son day of the holiday and I’ve spent most of those Mummy-and-Son days dragging him round Soho so a treat was in order. More on that later though…

Join me, if you will, at the end of the W16 route outside Leytonstone tube station. Like me, you may be confused about where you are. It will look a little like the bus station you went through on the 257 but with a complete lack of High Street next to it. Still, it had an interesting bus-sculpture:

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..and some ladybirds on the floor. It entertained Roo for a few minutes but it wasn’t quite going to hit the Happy Meal spot. I eventually worked out that we needed to go into the tube and through a subway to get to Leytonstone High Road. The subway was happily decorated with mosaics of Leytonstone’s most filmic son, Alfred Hitchcock:

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Who, according to these pictures, had an unfortunate habit of groping Janet Leigh in the showers:

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No wonder she looks shocked. By the way, I am dedicating this picture to my A-Level English teacher Graeme Hodgson. It’s all in the circles you know…

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Anyway, once we’d got through the subway (possibly heading North-by-NorthWest) we arrived at another bus station which looked fairly similar to the first one. I was beginning to see where I’d got confused. But I was also beginning to see where we were going, past the big church and the Stone Gallery (is that a wee bit of gentrification going on there?) to the big McDonalds, which had…wait for this…a free soft play! Oh yeah, now you’re listening aren’t you? That over-processed food from the evil corporation doesn’t seem so bad once you sweeten it with a play area, does it? As discussed, I have few principles anyway. I save my moral crusading for Nestle, which conveniently lets me buy my boy some McNuggets and a Fruit Shoot. Granted, I’d ordered a hamburger but he seemed OK with the change in plan once he opened the box. He mainly likes the toys anyway.

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So, we ate and then he played. For a glorious 20 minutes or so, while I used the free wifi to send some work e-mails. But it was sunny outside and the park was beckoning. Along the way, we saw what looked like the poshest Tesco ever:

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And then we crossed by the green man roundabout, which I’ve recently heard described as”the beating heart of Leytonstone”. I’m not convinced on that, but it does make for fun road-crossing, when you wait for the green man at the Green Man (the fun mainly involves shouting “Green Man!” a lot. Your child being able to read road signs facilitates this fun). We also saw another mosaic, which I’m starting to think of as an E11 trademark:

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The park I had in mind was the Henry Reynolds Gardens, which promised two play areas – one for under 12s and one for under 7s. And indeed, it had those. Here’s the under-12s:

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And here’s the under 7s:

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Obviously, the under 7s was covered in teenagers, spending their last days of the summer holidays trying to make themselves sick on the roundabout. But that’s just park life.

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Anyway, Roo ran in and the first thing he was drawn to was not the brightly coloured metal but the altogether more natural play area:


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It was a kinda assault course, all carved out of tree trunks. There were lots of intricate details and even a snail, although we have enough of those in the playhouse at home.  There were rope bridges to climb over and things to balance on, and at the end you were rewarded with a good climbing tree which, unfortunately, was full of squealing girls. But, not to worry…there were still those two play areas to investigate, and a handy reminder of where you’d found yourself:

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Some of us have no idea how we found ourselves here, but that’s another matter…

A fairly nice park overall – small ish and with a few too many teens and pre-teens, but prettier than anything I’d expected to find in Leytonstone:

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(As discussed in my last post, the sunshine helps) Altogether, a more successful trip than I was anticipating – parks, greenery, street art and a Big Mac. Leytonstone = done.

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