Happily Ever After – 15/12/14

 

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It’s been a quiet week on the LWAT front, thanks to a little touch of stomach flu. But I’m all better and we have been adventuring again. Today’s destination – Theatro Technis, for the “Happily Ever After” show, a Christmassy fairytale fest.

I haven’t been to this theatre before – it’s close to Mornington Crescent but for the sake of sticking to the Victoria Line, we just walked up for King’s Cross. In some ways, this was a wise plan because by the time you’ve changed at King’s Cross, you might as well have walked to Camden anyway. Just to get out it involved three lifts and a mid-corridor breakdown when I wouldn’t let Eva pet a guide dog. But we triumphed and emerged at exactly the right exit, to find a swing:

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King’s Cross continues to be full of surprises.

Obviously, there were also ways in which this was not so wise. Like the way the plan meant walking up Pancras Rd, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t designed for pedestrians. We had something of a hairy crossing over a taxi lane and several other lanes of traffic. But then we spotted the very lovely and unexpected Old St Pancras Church:

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See….full of surprises. And then a park full of sculptures which reminded me of niknaks:

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And our eventful walk brought us to the theatre, which doesn’t look much like a theatre from the outside but a sign directs you to the box office and once inside, it’s a charming wee place. It was all decorated for Christmas and elves greeted us as we went in. Eva was a little shy with them and didn’t want to chat but when they started dancing in the foyer she grinned and then joined in. She can’t resist an opportunity to practise being a “balla-ina”.

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There was a little bit of space for buggy parking (I’ve learnt to fold the pink one now, but didn’t have to) but it seemed that most people there were slinging it anyway, with an exciting and unusual variety of slings. I had a sneaky look and at least one seemed to be a wrap conversion mei tai but I couldn’t work out which wrap. The lady wearing it was also breastfeeding so I hope she didn’t think that’s why I was staring…

We moved through to the theatre area and there were seats for the grown-ups and cushions on the floor for the kids. Eva moved between both areas, and occasionally stood up as well but it didn’t seem to be a massive problem. The cushions were level with the stage, so the kids could get really close to the action, which Eva liked but the scarier moments had her scurrying back to my lap!

The basic set up was a group of Santa’s elves who had a magical fairytale book. The plot device North Star made the stories come to life and so we had three plays-within-a-play – “The Elves and the Shoemaker”, “The Girl and the Winter Whirlwind” and “The Snow Queen”. The last one has obviously been popularized of late but it’s a different take on the tale – the Snow Queen is no cuddly Elsa. But we’ll get to that. First off, the “shoes one”, as Eva calls it…

There’s a unifying theme to all the stories and that’s to do with the strength of love and kindness. This first tale is a gentle and uplifting one  - there’s no baddie as such, and it’s about the elves doing something kind for the shoemaker and the shoemaker returning that favour. Eva mainly just liked the shoes – she is a bit of a shoe connoisseur. She also thought the elves were very funny and kept giggling as they rolled through the snow. I loved the shoemaker and his wife – I have no idea how old the actors were but they were very convincing as elderly people (and when you’re so close to the stage, you can see all the make up tricks). Eva also called out “It’s magic!” as the elves made the shoes dance with their glowy fingers. The finger glows were used a lot but they were pretty cool and really effective.

The next story concerned an eternal winter and a plucky girl who goes out into the cold to try and stop it. I’m suddenly seeing where CS Lewis got his inspiration from! Eva found it a “bit dary” but liked the animal puppets that helped Rose out after she fell asleep in the snow (If I remember rightly, the Sadlers’ Wells book reference this story when Veronica is struggling to get to her audition…you see, it permeates all my favourite childhood books). Father Frost’s palace was nicely done, and there was a lovely effect when he invokes the sunshine at the end of the story. There were bits which were on the dark side, but again love triumphed.

All of which set the scene for “The Snow Queen”. It had some similarities to the previous story, not least of which was the reappearance of the frozen palace (but you could hardly expect something different). The undertone was again quite dark, and the Snow Queen actually a little terrifying. I think Eva was on my lap for most of this one. Some people might struggle with the way that the Queen had no chance for redemption but toddlers won’t so don’t worry too much about that. They just want to see Gerde melting people’s hearts with her glowy red fingers. Again, love and kindness beat anger and bitterness…and all in time for the arrival of Santa!

It was a lot of plot to fit into 75 minutes – each tale requires a fresh bit of concentration and a lot of the kids were asking who someone was or what was happening. But that’s standard fare for kids’ shows, unless you have the obvious appeal of a big brand name character. I was wondering how Eva would take this more low-key show after Peppa Pig last week, but I think she enjoyed both in different ways. It was certainly gentler and more intimate than Peppa. There was a wistful kind of magic around the whole production and Eva often squealed with delight.

There were a few blips here and there – the odd line which felt like it was in the wrong order or a minor technical hitch – but generally it was very smoothly done and there was an amazing number of scene and costume changes for a small space and cast. Actually the cast was much bigger than I expected – I thought it would only be four actors like some of the other shows we’ve seen but I think I counted eleven. There were some beautiful costumes and make up effects, especially in the elves’ sparkly eyes, and the cast were lovely and enthusiastic. At the end, the kids were all invited onto the stage to meet the characters and give them a hug. Eva forgot that she was shy, telling Santa that she wanted a George toy for Christmas and hugging the Snow Queen. Then she played with the fake snow and the snowballs:

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The stage invasion at the end really did enhance the show, as all the kids loved interacting with the characters and set. Sadly we only had ten minutes as we had a lunch date with Auntie Claire and her dino friends so I had to drag Eva away a bit. But she had a lovely time and it was a great show. It was wintery, a bit Christmassy and tinged with elven magic. It wasn’t as brash as the last show we went to, but it was certainly charming and a perfect Christmas treat for preschoolers. Just be prepared to hug them a bit in the moments of mild peril…

Disclaimer: I received free press tickets for “Happily Ever After” in exchange for the review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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Q Pootle 5 – Q&A with Nick Butterworth

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At LWAT we’re always thrilled and surprised when someone exciting agrees to talk to us and this time it’s a true legend of preschool literature – Nick Butterworth. Speaking about his CBeebies series “Q Pootle 5“, here’s the exclusive Nick Butterworth/LWAT Q&A:

Thank you so much for talking to London With a Toddler. I tried pumping the 5-year-old for insightful questions but we drew a blank. I assume the answer to “What is Q Pootle 5’s real name?” is “Q Pootle 5”. Anyway, here goes…

 

It sounds like Q Pootle 5 was a long time in the making – how did it feel to finally see your creation onscreen?

It was brilliant – and it still feels great to see it out there. To know that the series has been seen by millions of people is amazing! It took quite a long time to produce, but as things gradually took shape, each stage along the way was very exciting.

You have some brilliant voice talent on the show. Was it a lot of fun recording with them?

Yes it was. Each of the actors brought something of themselves to their characters. It has meant that we have strong characters with subtlety and credibility. The voices were recorded ensemble, and we really got the benefit of some great chemistry between the characters, especially Q Pootle 5 and Oopsy. It also lead to a lot of unscripted fun and games going on in the recording booth. Ed Gaughan, who voices Q Pootle 5, also does stand-up comedy. And Joanna Page, who is Oopsy, has the most infectious giggle in the galaxy!

Who would be on your wish-list for a guest appearance?

I’m tempted to say Peppa Pig! But if we keep it human, probably Peter Kay. Maybe Jo Brand could play Planet Janet . . .

Is “Dave” a reference to “2001: A Space Odyssey?” – I’ve heard that all your friends called Dave think it’s based on them!

I came up with the idea of Planet Dave in 2001 when I was writing the second Q Pootle 5 book, Q Pootle 5 in Space. It wasn’t inspired by the 2001: A Space Odyssey film. It just amused me as the name for a (rather large) friend of Q Pootle 5 and Oopsy who comes to their aid when they’re in a tight spot.

It could be that, subconsciously, I used that name because I have several friends called Dave, so maybe they’re all right to believe they were responsible! In the last few years, the name has become ubiquitous. The ‘Dave’ TV channel (named that in 2007) has maybe had something to do with that.

What’s happening next on Q Pootle 5? How do you top a visit from Santa?

Ah, that would be telling . . !  But whatever Q Pootle 5 and his friends get up to, the same spirit that prevails on Okidoki will be there.

You said in the DVD extras that Okidoki looks a little like California – is that an area

that’s close to your heart?

It was more the terrain and climate that we had in mind, but I do like California. I first went there in 1968 when I travelled 7000 miles around America by Greyhound bus. I have great memories from that time and from several visits since.

Who’s your favourite creation so far?

Oh, you can’t ask that! It almost like asking which of someone’s children is their favourite!

I believe you’re an East Londoner originally. What would be your top tip for toddlers in East London?

Not really. I was born, to Lancashire parents, in North London (Kingsbury) and we moved to Romford when I was two. Since then I have lived in several places, including St Albans, Southampton, Mid Suffolk and North Essex.

Although it has been a long time since I have lived in London there are some fantastic things to do. My top tip for toddlers in East London would be to Visit the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford. It’s a great place for children. There are story sessions, wonderful walk-through installations (the current one is a fantastic celebration of Oliver Jeffers children’s books) as well as dramatic productions bringing books to life in a really inventive way. (Currently they have a production of my first Percy the Park Keeper story, One Snowy Night, which runs until Christmas Eve, I believe!)

Finally, Snapper Productions sounds like a bit of a family firm. How do you find working with your wife and son? How do you separate home life and work life?

Annette and I have been best friends and business partners for . . . ever! For us to work with Ben has been really satisfying. We get on very well – we have individual strengths and areas where our abilities overlap. We listen to each other and expect our opinions and input to be valued. It’s good to work with people you love and respect.

It’s true the line between work and home life can be rather blurred but that doesn’t seem to matter much as we really enjoy what we’re doing. On top of that, we have great friends and plenty of family who are not involved in our business. They’re the perfect antidote to the sort of ‘tunnel vision’ that results from focusing too much on work.

 

Credit: Nick Butterworth is the multi-million selling, award-winning author and illustrator of Q Pootle 5, the Percy The Park Keeper series, TigerAlbert Le Blanc and The Whisperer. Q Pootle 5 Christmas Special: Pootle All The Way will air on CBeebies at 16.45 on Thursday 18 December.

 

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Peppa Pig’s Big Splash

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Peppa Pig – loved by toddlers everywhere and now in the West End to splash you with her own brand of muddy fun. We visited Peppa on Friday, arriving at the Criterion Theatre with an overtired Eva just falling asleep in the buggy and an overtired mother pushing it (I’d been out drinking lemonade and dancing to Boney M till almost eleven the night before….who said my wild days were over?). It was raining and we were early so we’d ducked into St James’ Church on Piccadilly for a few minutes to listen to the end of a free piano recital and shelter from the rain. The latter bit we did very well, the former not so much as we happened to bump into an old Kennington friend and spent a lovely ten minutes gossiping rather than listening. The piano recital sounded lovely though, and they’re on three times a week – you should go.

Obviously such high culture was a good preparation for what was to come, so cheered up I strolled on, willing Eva to stay awake until we reached the theatre. When we got there, she was pretty much asleep but we were told you have to fold all buggies before going in so I had to turf her out into the drizzle. This could have gone badly wrong, but luckily she clocked what was going on (“Oh, dat’s Peppa Pig!) and perked up immediately. Not so luckily, our new buggy completely refused to fold down. I panicked for a minute, devising rapid plans to dump it at my office and come back but I was allowed to take it in unfolded as long as I carried it down the stairs. Not a huge problem given it’s pretty light (and weirdly, the same weight unfolded as it is folded) but when we got to the buggy park, we again were asked to fold it and again I couldn’t. If I’d realised we’d needed to fold I would have taken the old, green one which has an eccentric steer and a bit of a squeak but does definitely fold. They eventually agreed I could leave it as it was, given it took up less space than a travel system would folded, but it was all a bit of a faff. Top tip – if you’re going to see Peppa, take the lightest, foldiest buggy you can!

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Once we were seated though, all was calm and bright. Well, as calm as it can be when you’re in a theatre full of toddlers. Eva was delighted with her ingenious programme/sticker book that kept her entertained while we waited for curtain up and we were handily close to the loos – essential for a potty trainer on the go.

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But very soon the curtain was up and Peppa’s friend Daisy (a human!) was there to explain she was playing hide and seek with some other friends on the brightly coloured set. Danny Dog, Suzy Sheep, George and Pedro Pony all peeked out from behind bushes and castles to squeals of delight from the audience. I was beginning to see what Richard Lewis meant about creating noisy spaces in shows. The excitement built until finally Peppa herself popped out too. Cue much giggling and cheering, from the cast and the kids.

The characters were all puppets, operated by actors in black. While the actors were often quite discreet, using the set to hide behind, they did come out for the songs – I imagine to give the songs the kind of volume and energy you cant get from puppets! Interestingly though, when I asked Eva if there were any humans in it she said “only Daisy” so she can’t have noticed the puppeteers. Handy to know if you’re deeply concerned about your 2-year-old and the fourth wall.

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She does remember a lot about the show though, two days on – she talks constantly about seeing “Peppa at de theatre” and singing “Jingle Bells”. Because, oh yes, there was a Christmassy theme to this. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The main plot concerns a fair to raise money for the school roof which, once again, is leaking. Leaving aside the question of whether Madame Gazelle should sue Mr Bull for his negligence, it’s a pretty classic Peppa kinda storyline.  Peppa and her friends organise the fair and a muddy puddle jumping contest, where Daddy Pig strives to defend his champion status. At 90 mins, including an interval, it’s obviously going to be more padded out than your average episode but it didn’t lose Eva’s attention at any point. She was perfectly happy to watch the friends messing around, playing, singing and throwing a ball to each other without feeling the need to drive the action on.

There were some very creative moments of audience participation – the ball was on a long stick which went out over the stalls, and when George cried, real water sprayed out. There was also a good dollop of the kind of “he’s behind you!” moments you’d expect in this kind of show. It was very engaging for the kids and lots of fun. There were a few very young toddlers there who were a bit restless, but it’s risky taking a 1-year-old to any kind of theatre production. Eva’s 2 and a half now and I’d say it was perfect for her. She’s also a Peppa Pig obsessive, which helps.

And at the end, there was a special Christmas surprise! For the sake of some kind of secrecy I won’t tell you what it was, but it really topped things off in style. And it led nicely into the aforementioned “Jingle Bells” singalong, which Eva counts as her highlight. She was also very excited to meet the characters afterwards, although her face turned to terror any time a camera was nearby. Never work with children and piggies…

So, it was a full-on, full-colour toddler delight – not one for hungover parents (hence sticking to the lemonade the night before) but an absolute joy to watch for 2-year-olds.

Disclaimer: I received free press tickets for “Peppa Pig’s Big Splash” in exchange for the review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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A Scam Warning

OK, this is going to sound like one of those Snopesy things that circulate around Facebook every so often but honest to goodness, it isn’t. It happened to me this morning and I’ve screenshotted it all to prove it. It’s a clever scam and I damn near fell for it.

If you know me, you’d probably say that I was clever but mean. Nicht so! Turns out I am actually stupid but nice, which makes me an ideal target for this kind of scam. A few things that also make me ideal – I never properly synced my contacts on this phone, which means I often have messages from unknown numbers that are actually people I know (and should have in my contacts). I tend to just start conversations until I can figure out who it is. In the case of one person from church, it took me six months to get it. It’s kind of a game. But that would explain why my reaction might differ to someone with a well-sorted phone book.

The other factor is that I’m always multi-tasking. When I was dealing with the messages this morning, I was wrangling Eva and running a series of errands at the same time. I don’t have the spare mental space to be suspicious or to even think too much about who it is. I just answer and carry on. The third thing is that by nature, I’m a *fixer*. I see someone with a problem, I want to help them out. I see someone jobhunting, I offer to look at their CV. I see someone who needs time away from their kids, I offer to babysit. I’m not saying this to make myself out as some kind of saint, just so that you understand that fixing people’s problems really motivates me and leaving something unfixed bothers me a lot.

Also, I’m stupid. As mentioned above.

The first set of messages came last Wednesday, when I was busy watching “The Apprentice” on catch up. Who would get those hottubs?? Why was Daniel being so mean to lovely Felipe? Gosh, it was tense. So I didn’t really want to give any of my attention to my text messages, but this was the kind of message that demanded attention:

“Hi it’s Sarah. I had a fall this morning and broke my leg in 2 places. Can you do me a favour and text me back once you get this message? x”

Well, it’s not overly spammy is it? It sounds native English, plausible and – most importantly – appeals to my sense of needing to help. But who was it? My phone didn’t know the number but that wasn’t unusual. My first thought was my sister Sarah, who is prone to the kind of pursuits that break your legs but she’s not a texter at all. I don’t think I’ve ever had a text from her. A far more likely proposition was Sarah the Cheery Decorator, who might not have meant to text me for help but would definitely have my number in her phone. And she also spends a lot of time up a ladder. Worried that SarahtCD was lying in hospital awaiting a reply from a friend called Kate, I replied and the conversation went like this…

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I think I played that quite well – some concern, but also not taking any responsibility. I was surprised when Sarah B didn’t text back again, but her surname ruled out any Sarahs I actually know and so I thought it was just a wrong number and poor painkiller-addled Sarah B was just a bit embarrassed.

All normal until a few days later when I had another message thanking me for agreeing to help out tomorrow. Again, this sent me into a panic – what the heck did I agree to do? Who is depending on me tomorrow? Was I likely to agree to something and then forget about it? Well, yes…but no answer to this one either made me think that it was another wrong number. By now I was pretty sure that someone somewhere had got a new phone with a number similar to mine and had given the wrong number out to their entire friends list. Whoever this new phone owner was, she really was a saint. Always helping people!

(edit: as if to prove my point, I’ve done some googling and it seems the middle message really was from someone I knew and just hadn’t saved the number for. See, I told you this happens to me all the time!)

When I got another message this morning, I didn’t immediately connect it with the others. Because this time there was a difference – they used my name. Of course, looking at the messages all together you soon realise that I’d given them my first name. And stupidly, I was about to give them my full name. Like I said, I was really busy this morning. The first message simply said “Are you busy Kate?x”. I instantly assumed it was one of the interns at church – I don’t have all their numbers but they all have mine and they always need favours from me. So the next message “Can you do me a favour?” was hardly a surprise.

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Then I started to get suspicious. Money was involved. I might be nice, but I don’t give over money easily. And who the heck uses phonecards still? I played along for a bit:

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Our Emma? Which Emma? I frantically googled while in the queue at the post office and found that I wasn’t the only one to have been contacted by Sarah in hospital. But not before I’d given yet more away (and apologies to my friend Ruth – just plucked a name out of the air):

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Conclusion? It’s a scammity scammity scam. But it’s a clever one – they sound genuine, they subtly play on your conscience and they learn things about you. I generally want to assume the best about everyone but this has made me pretty suspicious of any unknown numbers. Sure, it was just phone credit that “Emma” was trying to scam but what would it be next? I’ve blocked the numbers but obviously they have a lot of different ones they use (07970941717 and 07971329371 are the two they used on me and I think 07980329562/07980175063/07773077125/07773077105 too). Beware folks!!

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Fireworks at Gunpowder Mills – 8/11/14

 

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You might notice that it’s taken me three weeks to write up this little fireworks-fest and in fact, I’ve started writing about Christmas already so was tempted to leave it. But it was a good day out and deserving of blogging…just, the end of the day leaves me shaking in horror still. You’ll see why. Or maybe I’ll gloss over it. I suspect I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

I’ll set the scene. We’d been in quarantine all week, with Eva’s sickly tummy. We’d missed the Walthamstow fireworks on Wednesday night, which had left Roo sobbing himself to sleep. By Saturday though, we’d had 72 hours clear and were in the mood for adventure. Or at least a venture outside the front door. I’d heard of a fireworks event at Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey which sounded promising – it opened at 2 and such was our enthusiasm that we were parked up outside at quarter to, waiting. I do love the outside world and I miss it when we’re in quarantine. The only saving grace of this week was that I’d had Sarah the Cheery Decorator and her dog to talk to, otherwise I might have lost it completely.

So, could we kill 5 hours in an old gunpowder factory? It certainly seemed possible, with a playground, galleries and theatre shows going on. We hit the playground first as I predicted it’d get dark soon and possibly even rain.

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I was right. Next step – meteorology.

The playground was a fairly simple wooden assault course, which reminded both me and Nathan of holidays in Devon. Roo loved the aerial runway and took quite some persuading to come inside. But I was cold and intrigued by the prospect of the Rocket Vault and the Mad Lab, which promised science and crafts. True enough, there was a free lantern-making session, with a very friendly lady on hand to help Reuben. Nathan also made one on Eva’s behalf:

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Such a look of concentration! There were also science experiments going on, with one of those weird liquids that turned into a solid when you touched it. Nathan and I spent far longer playing with it than the kids – it was pretty compulsive. Meanwhile, the kids were busy making their own snot:

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Then it was time for Professor Nitrate’s Science Show! One of the things I really liked about the day was that it included two free theatre shows  - one to explain the science behind explosions and the other to give the history of Guy Fawkes. And the science show did not disappoint, with kabooms aplenty. A few mentos in a Coke bottle here, a bit of rocket fuel there…it was lots of fun. We had the usual meltdowns about Reuben not being in the show, but he got over it quickly.

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We were planning to space the shows out a bit, but a kind Tudor lady told us that the later ones would get manically busy, so we went straight on to the Guy Fawkes show, missing only a few minutes at the start. Professor Nitrate made it there shortly before us, transforming into a 17th Century conspirator before our eyes. Roo was once again keen to get involved, and this time he did – on the stage, as part of a long fuse connected to some dynamite. The only time you’ll hear “Roo” and “long fuse” in the same sentence. There was a lot of audience participation, and the story was presented in an irreverent, Horrible-Histories kind of way that small boys love. Eva was a bit fidgety, but I think she wanted to be on stage too.

Meltdowns, rain and crowds of people were all imminent. It was 4:30, which is darn near tea time in toddler world so we went to the cafe and were pleasantly surprised by how much was on offer. I’d kind of just expected sandwiches, but there was a good range (mostly chips and stuff…but I never mind that) and a kids’ menu too. Roo was thrilled by the stick-of-dynamite order holder.

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Roo wolfed his hotdog down. Eva didn’t eat much. Maybe she still wasn’t feeling well? As we finished, the cafe filled with soggy people – evidently, the torrential rain had started. It seemed like the fairground might be a bit of a bust. Luckily,there was a whole building full of galleries to check out while we waited for the fireworks to start.

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As you’d expect, the galleries told the story of the mills and all the useful ways gunpowder helped the world. I was a little freaked by the armoury, which felt a bit American to me (kids with guns, anyone?) but the rest of the galleries were really interactive and fun. There was a simulation of a gun deck aboard ship, where kids had to throw cannonballs down tubes while being shouted at by an angry video sailor. There was a touchscreen computer game about working in the mills. There were lots of lever to pull and buttons to press, and some photo opportunities:

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And then? The horror. Turns out 72 hours wasn’t enough for Eva to fully recover from her little bout of sickness. I legged it to the toilet with me, missing both changing bag and husband and then had to do what I could with some toilet roll and antibac soap. You really don’t want the details. Suffice to say she didn’t go to the fireworks, but as we’d waited so long I wasn’t about to let my boys miss them. Eva and I went to sit in the car, in the dark, with a dying phone and the patter of rain on the roof. It was as pathetic as it sounds.  I watched the fireworks in the reflection of the car next to us.

Nathan and Roo did have some fun, buying sparklers and hearing the musket-salute which started the fireworks off. True, the boy turned into an overtired, whingey mess halfway through the display and asked to go home but I believe that’s standard issue for Bonfire Night. Both kids fell asleep on the drive home.

What to say? It would have been a great day, but Eva’s “issues” put a dampner on things. I don’t know if I can ever return. But you should go next year – it’s a great way to teach your kids about fireworks and then see the real thing. But just leave it a full week after stomach bugs…

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Christmas Preview Part 2 – Things to Do

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It’s the second part of my Christmas preview, out of…how many? Who knows? Depends how I feel really. Anyway, there’s a whole load of fun stuff you can do in London next month to really get into that Christmassy spirit.

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Let’s start with the free things – a wander through Central London to look at all the pretty lights. Eva and I walked from Green Park to Wardour Street the other day, and she was enchanted by the window displays in Waterstones, Fortnum&Mason and The Ritz. Then she threw a massive tantrum because she liked the look of the Chinese lanterns in Chinatown and didn’t fancy going to Mummy’s office, where there were no lanterns of any sort. But let’s skim over that.

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The lights on Regent St and Oxford St are the most famous ones, obviously, but they aren’t that exciting. Bond Street is pretty and I always love Covent Garden at Christmas. This year they have a Lego Santa! We need to go. And then there’s the Southbank, where the annual Christmas market is already up and running. Wonder if the wooden ties will be there this year?

People often ask me about Winter Wonderland with a toddler – well, we went there a few years back and it was pretty full on. This year, a better option looks to be Winterville in Victoria Park, Hackney which features a fairground and ice rink but also a roller disco and some very East London food options – craft beer and street food. Our friends Big Fish Little Fish are also holding a very special party there on the 23rd of December. I suspect Christmassy fancy dress will be mandatory. There’s also an ice rink and Christmas market at Canary Wharf if you fancy a skate among the skyscrapers.

Another nice idea is the Christmas Weekend at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on 13th and 14th December – there are fairytales after dark, a festive family run and Santa at the Orbit. Plus arts and crafts and Christmas choirs!

Further afield, there’s a brand new attraction opening today in Tunbridge Wells – Father Christmas Land, complete with tinsel train and Santa’s grotto. It may be a bit of a trek from London but it sounds like a lovely day out. I’ve also heard tell of some exciting Christmas events down in Hampshire, at Butser Ancient Farm including a Roman Christmas. Bob’s sister may be involved.

If this all sounds a bit exhausting, let me outline some more laidback options for you. Our old local, the Tea House Theatre, is running another season of Christmas films, this time chosen by the kids themselves. Vote for your favourites here! It’s also next to a brand new attraction – the Vauxhall Christmas Tree Maze. And for those days when you don’t even want to leave the house, there’s a whole festive programme on CBeebies with Christmas specials from our favourite shows – the Furchester Hotel has its own Santa (“Monster Monster”), Rebecca plays at being an elf in “Let’s Play”, the Dinopaws follow a star and there are special adventures from Sarah&Duck, the Octonauts and Q Pootle 5. Plus, of course, the CBeebies panto. It’s awesome.

Failing any of that, just go to Tesco. It has a Christmas tree, you can buy them a gingerbread snowman from Costa….what else does a toddler need?

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Happy Advent!

 

 

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Christmas Preview Part 1 – Children’s Theatre

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Can I start talking about Christmas yet? Is it Too Soon? Well it’ll be December next week, so you really should just get used to it. Besides, there is excitement in the toddler air. Peppa Pig is coming back to the West End – the cheeky little piggy will be appearing at the Criterion Theatre from 2nd December to 5th January. Eva was excited at the very sight of this photo:

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…although she raised concerns about the whereabouts of Peppa’s teddy (I follow her logic – George has his dinosaur so why does Peppa not have her toy? Worrying thoughts for a 2-year-old). I’ll be honest with you – showing her that photo was a bit of a mistake, as she then demanded to see all the other photos and what should have been productive blogging time was instead a running commentary along the lines of:

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“Oh, dat’s Peppa and dat’s Danny Dog and Peppa is laughing and she is wearing a red dress and George is laughing too and….”

See? You can imagine how excited she’ll be to actually go and see the stage show. If you have a similarly porcine-obsessed toddler, make sure you book quickly. The weekend shows especially are likely to sell out. More info here.

For older kids, there are a couple of shows that look great – for the 3+ market, try “Stick Man” at Leicester Square Theatre, running from 26th November to 4th January. It’s based on the book by Julia Donaldson about a stick man trying to get home to his family in time for Christm….sorry, I think I broke down a little there. Stick Man always makes me cry. But kids love it!

For more wistful Christmas fun that makes me cry, there’s a production of “The Snowman” at the Peacock Theatre. It’s a mixture of dance and music, with a live orchestra. At 1hr 50 (with an interval), it’s longer than most kids’ shows, so might be better for the 5+ market. Of course, if you have older kids and fancy something completely different, why not take in some axe-juggling lumberjacks from Quebec? Only at the Southbank Centre

I’ve also got wind of a company called Happily Ever After, who specialise in creating magical fairy tale shows for kids. This Christmas they’re doing a run at Theatro Technis in Camden (11th -21st Dec), with fairytales likes “The Elves and the Shoemaker” and “The Snow Queen”. It sounds lovely and as an added bonus, the kids get to meet the characters afterwards!

Lastly, one for the grown ups and specifically for the grown-ups who, like us, gather round the telly once a year to drink Baileys and sing about washing their hair with snow. It’s Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and it’s come to the West End in all its festive silliness, creepy Generals and all. It’ll be at the Dominion Theatre until the 8th of January. If that sounds like something you’d like, book now. If it sounds like something you’d hate, come and babysit for us so that we can go…

 

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Memorial Plunged!

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You may have noticed how, both here and the Facebook page, I’ve been going on for the last month about a “plunge” and some “plungers”. No, it’s not advice on what to do if someone puts a wet wipe down the toilet (but really Eva, please don’t). Instead it was the very first LWAT fundraiser – the Nick Collard and Peter Milner Memorial Plunge. You can read more about it here but short version is – cold water, Hampstead Heath, cancer and leukaemia research.

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So, we did it. We trekked across Hampstead Heath from Gospel Oak to the Ladies’ Pond, hauling Boby’s buggy over the muddy paths and assembled our team of supporters – our wonderful photographer Sharon, Catriona, Shirley and Sonja, as well as Boby and Not-Bob from a bit of a distance. We overcame last-minute obstacles (my swimming clothes were not pond-compliant, hasty replacements had to be found) and we managed to not quite freeze or lose all feeling in our limbs…but it was a close-run thing. The air outside was a balmy 14C, the water was a not-so-balmy 9C, we were only allowed a few minutes before the lifeguards called time on us blatant rookies.

BUT WE DID IT!

 

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And more to the point – YOU all did it. With your supportive comments, your offers of help and, most importantly, your donations. Want to hear the running total? Wait for it…

£860.63!

And there’s still time to give more, here at our fundraising page. We’re aiming to raise £1,000, which is a figure I plucked out of the air while talking to a journalist, but golly gosh we’re nearly there.

A journalist you say? Why yes, because we got into the Camden New Journal and there is more press on the horizon next week. Possibly featuring a picture of me in the shower.  And talking of pictures, here’s some more from the Plunge, including my favourite Bob-face ever:

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Aww, so scared…but she soon warmed up. In the metaphorical sense, obviously:

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And I look positively delirious. Which I was:

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Would I do it again? Yeah, totally. It was fun and it wasn’t even too cold, especially not once I’d had a lovely cup of Baileys and coffee (thanks to Catriona for bringing the thermos of coffee!). We met a lot of the regular winter swimmers there, which made us slightly shamefaced about having to be so heavily bribed to do this but they were all lovely. One lady said she’d seen us in the paper and pressed a fiver into our hands. Totally made it all worthwhile.

And so does the nearly £900 for Cancer Reasearch UK and Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. £450 each will buy:

CRUK:

  • £150 helps a Cancer Chat nurse to learn about the latest advances.
  • £300 buys a thermostat controlled water bath for accurate results

L&LR:

  • £50 funds a PhD student for one day on one of our vital research projects building on a network of expert blood cancer scientists for the future
  • £100 supports a research nurse for one day to help provide new treatments to blood cancer patients on one of our life-saving clinical trials
  • £300 pays for a blood cancer patient’s DNA to be screened providing a more accurate diagnosis and helping to guide treatments

So, it’s definitely worth it. And I’m going to plagarise myself for a moment. This is what I posted on Facebook just before we left:

“One last thought before I leave. .. people are saying I’m brave for doing this but honestly, it’s just a cold swim. It doesn’t take an inch of the bravery that friends of mine are showing right now as they actually deal with this cancer shizz. And that’s all the motivation I need. See you all on the other side.”

Damn straight. I make myself cry sometimes, honestly I do.

One last thing – the beautiful Hampstead ponds are under threat, thanks to a plan to build some frankly unneccessary dams. Have a look here and see what you can do to stop that happening. Thanks!

 

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Samsung S5 Teddy Bear Tea Party

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Something about this blogger event scared me and it wasn’t the twinkle-toed reindeer above. It was the idea of handling a brand new phone that someone might want back. I have a bit of a curse when it comes to phones, and the last 15 years have been littered with the broken corpses of Nokias, Samsungs and the occasional Blackberry. I have used a phone for a whole day before without losing or breaking it but I can’t say I’ve lasted an entire day with every phone I’ve ever owned.

I didn’t tell Samsung that when they lent me one for the S5 Build-a-Bear tea party. Would you? Really? Anyway, I handed it back intact at the end of the day, and even managed to take some rather nice photos along the way (which will make my scratched-up S4 camera pics look even worse by comparison, but never mind).

The venue for the party was the legendary Hamleys, and we got there early so that Roo could have a snoop around before we got down to the serious business of bear-building. He liked the cuddly animals section:

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He’s writing a booklet about elephants, dontcha know?

He was quite overexcited by the whole thing but the man with the bubble gun almost tipped him over the edge:

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Yeah, that’s not a good photo..but he wasn’t staying still for long. In the pre-Christmas Saturday crush of Hamleys, such a loose cannon was a worrying prospect. I mean, I know I occasionally threaten to leave him places but I didn’t actually want to lose him forever. So, we stepped outside to find the other bloggers and while we were there, we took in the Santa Claus and Peppa Pig windows. I almost wished Eva was with us. But then I remembered the pre-Christmas Saturday crush of Hamleys. It was better without a toddler. And the boy was excited enough for two kids:

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Bloggers assembled, we made our way up to the third floor and found our Build-a-Bear host, the ever-energetic Jen. She labelled the kids, explained the rules to them (no walking – only penguin waddling or crab shuffling) and hyped them all up. Roo got very into it, especially the penguin waddling (he would later try this trick again in Lillywhites – it wasn’t so funny then). Were they ready to build a bear? YEAH!

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(He was far more enthusiastic in real life, honestly)

First step was the most important – bear selection. There was everything from the classic teddy to Olaf the Snowman, which was a popular choice among the small girls. Roo dithered for a long time. Would it be Rainbow Bear?

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Or a ninja turtle?

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But then he spotted the superhero bears:

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And it was a lucky Batman bear that got to be Reuben’s special one. And I mean, really special. He put the “Star Wars” theme in it. There can’t be many of those…

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Bears chosen, they placed them on their heads and marched off, chanting “Stuff my bear! Stuff my bear!”:

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And then it was time for the pre-stuffing rituals. Every Build-a-Bear has a little heart put in it, and that heart needs to be kissed, squeezed, talked to etc before it goes in. Roo took it all very seriously:

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Then, while the bears were being stuffed Jen played some games with them all. She divided them into teams and each team had a reindeer to assemble a costume for. Reuben has clearly been hanging out with Eva a lot, because he got right into dressing the girl reindeer in sparkly pink things. They even had pants for her, and a sparkly chair:

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Then, Batbear just needed a little stitching and he was done:

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Reuben was keen to give him some accessories but I thought that might be overkill, so we just gave him a little flag and got him boxed up with his birth certificate and a few other treats we’d find later on:

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It was definitely time for food, and we were very lucky to have a Scrumptious Afternoon Tea at Scoff and Banter to go to. We went there by cab, which Roo thought was a massive novelty:

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Once we got there, he got Batbear out for cuddle and a drink of water:

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The food took a  little while to come, so we investigated what else was in the Bear Box. There was a snack pack containing water, fruit winders and a cereal bar. There were some teddy bear stickers. And some ribbons. Lots of ribbons:

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That was Eva’s gift sorted then. Meanwhile, Roo had acquired a delicious-looking strawberry milkshake (with real fruit!) and I had a pot of tea. All was well.

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But we were starting to get a little hungry, so welcomed the arrival of this baby:

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I love the ordering and logic of afternoon tea. You start at the bottom, with the sandwiches, work up through the scones and onto the sugar-overload of cake at the top. All with lashings of tea. I’m dribbling a bit just thinking about it. This tea included a kind of mini fondue (marshmallows and fruit on skewers with chocolate dipping sauce), cupcakes and mini trifles. I’m ashamed to say we couldn’t eat it all or even try every bit..but we gave it a good go. Roo consumed four finger sandwiches within the space of about a minute, then cupcakes and the triangle shaped chocolate cake. I paced myself a bit more, stopping to try out the macro features of the S5 camera:

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Look at all those mega-pixies! Aren’t they lovely? And the scones were pretty lovely too:

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I took a couple of those plus a pot of jam home for Nathan. I think he appreciated it. The cream was more of a challenge to pack:

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Ah, I so badly fell off the dairy wagon today, after a couple of days of hardcore cheeselessness. But what is a scone without cream, really? And the vanilla cream in the mini trifle was a little bit tasty too:

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(The dairy-free thing was just an emergency measure to shake this cold I’ve had for the last two weeks.  I’m always falling off that particular wagon)

I just about had space for a red velvet cupcake but there was so much I didn’t even have space to try. Next time, I did to slow down on the scones…

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A great day, captured in fine detail by the Samsung S5. It’ll pain me to go back to scratchy-cam after this. Talking of pain, Lillywhites after all this fun was a bit of a crazy move, even by my standards. But swimming hats needed to be bought, for next week we plunge. Don’t forget, you can sponsor us here! And if you fancy a Samsung S5 of your own, you can buy it here!

 

Disclaimer: Reuben and I enjoyed the Build-a-Bear experience and the afternoon tea courtesy of Samsung. All opinions remain honest and my own.

 

 

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Kidzmania – 02/11/14

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After I returned from Kidzmania last Sunday, I popped to Tesco where I bumped into a friend. She’d been to A&E…and still thought she’d had the better deal when I told her where I’d been. Kidzmania is well-named – it is entirely manic. But it’s not all bad, it’s just a busy softplay on a Sunday afternoon, which some would consider the 7th circle of Hell.

Before I go on though, let me tell you how I got there. It was Boby’s christening. We’d arrived in customary fashion. bursting through the doors a few minutes into the service (apparently, other churches start on time). Afterwards we’d adjourned to a trendy Hackney pub and we were starving. Even after church snacks and cake, we were still in need of some actual food. The prices were suitably trendy, but with a selection of bar snacks we reckoned we could get enough food without breaking the bank.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. After we’d paid for the bar snacks, the barman came over and told us that there’d been a mistake – our only options were the roasts, which came in at a hefty £17. So, we took a look at the whinging, chip-demanding kids and chose the option that offered the best value – the refund. And that’s how we came to dine at the Village Cafe, opposite Hackney Downs station.

Unlike other places in Hackney, the Village Cafe is neither pretentious nor overpriced. That same £17 bought us chicken nuggets and chips for Roo, a cheeseburger for Nathan and sausage and chips for us two ladies. It’s not gourmet, but it was filling and the cafe owner was super-friendly and even picked Eva up for a cuddle. Suitably fuelled, Nathan headed home to pack up his comics ahead of the decorator coming in the next day and I was left with the two kids in Hackney, who were whiney and in need of a runaround.

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Kidzmania it was then! We hopped on a probably unnecessary bus and wandered down a road which didn’t look like it would house a soft play…but there it was. It was crazily busy, and closing in an hour and a half for a party, but that was fine as the time slots are only an hour and a half anyway. Trust me, it was enough.

For Roo’s size, Kidzmania is perfect. Not so big that I ever lost sight of him for long, but challenging enough that he didn’t get bored. And there was a bouncy castle, which always goes down well. In fact, there were two bouncy castles, so there was one for Eva’s size. There was also a toddler area, with playhouses and a ball pool and that would have been just right for Eva if she hadn’t insisted on climbing up the big frame all by herself…and getting stuck.

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I often think that softplays ought to have emergency adult access hatches. There are few things more humiliating than having to squeeze your 33-year-old self plus massive handbag through the obstacles of a soft play frame to rescue your toddler from the middle of a rope bridge. So, I mainly just stuck to following her around the outside, encouraging her to edge her cautious way across. One time, I spotted Reuben helping her over some of the bigger blocks and down some steps. It was very sweet, but I was very glad when she came back in to land and decided to play in the ball pool instead.

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She was also wearing a giant dress, post-Christening. That probably didn’t help.

So, it was busy and noisy but which softplay isn’t? The food looked nice but, given how manic it was, I’m glad we’d already eaten. It’s fairly local so I’m sure we’ll go again…but I might try to keep Eva grounded to save my nerves…

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