“Buffy Revamped” at Wilton’s Music Hall – 13/01/23

Happy New Year! It’s not been a very exciting January (is it ever?) but I knew we had something fun lined up for last night as we had Nathan’s Christmas present to go to. It might have been a bit of a present for myself as well.  I wasn’t going to review it cause sometimes I like to go to the theatre without having homework to do afterwards….but the writer and sole performer Brendan Murphy asked us to share our thoughts on social media and who am I to refuse?

First off, the venue! It was my first time at Wilton’s and it’s an amazing venue. An old music hall, tucked away near the Tower of London, that’s been restored and reopened. It took us about an hour to get there from HP and we could have walked from Liverpool Street if it hadn’t been so dang cold but it was so we got the 42. I used to work in Wapping so I knew where we were but not exactly where we were going. Luckily a blue sign off Royal Mint Street and the large stream of people Our Age heading in the opposite direction gave me a pretty good clue that we were in the right place. The earlier show of “Buffy: Revamped” had just finished and from the look of the people leaving, we were most definitely target audience.

Nathan went to the bar while I nipped to the loo and I was impressed that, despite how crowded it was, he’d been served by the time I got back. I was only away for the length of “Stupid Girl” by Garbage, so that’s good going. The pre-show playlist was another indicator that this show was aimed at people who were young in the 90s….it was back-to-back 90s indie girl rock and we most definitely sang along as we took our seats on the balcony. Off the top of my head, I can remember Hole, Catatonia, Bikini Kill, Cardigans and No Doubt as well as the aforementioned Garbage. Perfect for a night of nostalgia.

Cause I’ll it right now – you could enjoy this show if you’ve never seen Buffy before but it’s not gonna hit home in the same way as it does for us devotees. But judging by some of the t-shirts on display (most notably “Kendra the Vampire Slayer”) we were not the only devotees there. Nathan had his own Buffy-themed t-shirt on, as well as the Spike-like leather coat that he’s worn pretty much constantly since the 90s. It was on theme but almost inadvertently.

So onto the show itself! It promised all seven seasons of Buffy in seventy minutes and somewhere along the line I’d got the impression that it meant every single episode would be covered but I was wrong. And sad to say that the musical episode (BEST. EPISODE. EVER) was skimmed over very quickly…but that was my only gripe. There was a lot packed into that seventy minutes – not just bits from the episodes but songs, slideshows and Anya’s relationship advice.

Brendan Murphy plays Spike as a narrator of sorts but he also plays every other character (except Oz, who was adorably portrayed by a  cuddly toy). Some impressions were more accurate than others – his Giles was spot on – but he certainly gets through a lot of them. I’m trying not to give any spoilers but I loved how he did The Master and his Drusilla impression pretty much broke Nathan. Riley got treated with the disdain he deserved and there were massive cheers for fan favourites like Faith and the Mayor. Wesley, sadly, was too boring to be included and there should have been way more Cordelia but it hits all the right notes.

I’m not a massive fan of “Spuffy” or soulified Spike in general but there’s no denying that Buffy viewers were on Spike’s side pretty much all the time, except for that yicky bit towards the end of Season 6. And it was no different with the audience last night – however evil Spike was, he certainly had the crowd onside. The aforementioned “yicky bit” was addressed and Murphy did a hilarious job of portraying Spike’s confusion at Buffy’s rejection of him through the medium of a classic late 90s pop ballad. He had, apparently, a few questions that he needed to know.

There was a lot of music in the show and, like the pre-show playlist, it was pretty much spot on. It was my teenage years in a nutshell and towards the end there was a big joyous singalong as we recapped the story so far.

So much I could say but won’t because it might spoil the best gags. But I’ll say it’s a great night out for anyone who loves Buffy but still has some burning questions over some of the plot holes. I mean who hasn’t occasionally hollered at the telly: “Hey Joyce, what a lovely new piece of artwork you have…tell me why you thought that was a good idea again?” The material is handled affectionately but not overly reverently which is pretty much spot on for a show that didn’t take itself too seriously. The bit on the Bronze was perfect and something I’ve often pondered about myself. There were gags not just about Buffy but also about other bits of 90s culture  – and more Disney references than you’d expect – so jam-packed with little treats for those of us who remember the last millennium.

Last night was the final performance at Wilton’s but it’s going on tour now  – for tickets and more information, click here. No disclaimer needed as I actually paid for this one – I know, right?? – but opinions, as ever, remain honest and my own.

 

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Ice Rink Canary Wharf – 17/12/22

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you’ll know that we always try to have a Nice Family Day Out just before Christmas. I have choir gigs throughout late November and early December so as soon as those are done, it’s family bonding time. Yesterday wasn’t the smoothest but don’t worry! In true “influencer” style I’ll miss out the bad bits and make it look like we pulled off the plan immaculately.

And it was a complex plan. Even though the streets of HP have been like an ice rink these last few days, Eva had expressed a wish to go to an actual ice rink. There weren’t many rinks with Saturday availability at short notice, which is how we ended up in Canary Wharf.

Canary Wharf is a strange place. It’s like people imagine the City to be except the City is full of old buildings alongside the shiny new ones. Canary Wharf is pretty much all shiny. I’ve been there once to go to a corporate away day but have never really wandered about to take in the views. But with the new Elizabeth Line connections, it seems much more manageable to get there. It was a train strike day so we first had to establish whether there were any trains running on the Chingford branch (yes, two an hour till 6pm) and on the Elizabeth Line (yes on the Liverpool Street to Abbey Wood bit, which is what we needed). After a nightmare journey to church on Friday night I was apprehensive but the plan worked fine. We got off at Bethnal Green and walked to Whitechapel:

Which seems to be a completely different station to the one I went to last time I did that change. Impressive tho:

Also, didn’t this used to be the tiger-stripe pub?

The Elizabeth Line worked perfectly and we arrived at Canary Wharf just 45 minutes after leaving Highams Park. Time for a quick coffee before the ice skating. I’ve been wfh for two weeks so Pret has been sending me “U OK Hun?” e-mails saying how much they miss me. Don’t worry Pret – I am still hitting that coffee subscription as hard as I possibly can under the circumstances.

We had been told to arrive 25 minutes before the skating session so that we could sort skates etc. We did that but it’s worth noting that there are no toilets inside the skating pavilion. So if you have a child that decides they need the loo after they’re buckled in….well, they just have to get unbuckled. And if you’re a cruel mother who can’t be bothered to get their shoes back then they will have to tiptoe round the pavements in their socks.

It was only the kids and Nathan skating while I watched. There were lots of good reasons (and no, I’m not pregnant) but the defining one was that we had to pay an adult rate for Reuben so wouldn’t have been able to get a family ticket. But it saved faffing around with lockers to keep the bags in (lockers were available but for a non-refundable £1 coin). Under 12s needed an adult skating with them so one of us needed to go on but Nathan is clearly the more balanced of the two of us so seemed like he was the better choice.

So how did the 1 adult-2 kid combo get on on thin blades on ice? Variable. Nathan held Eva’s hand and she eventually made it to the centre of the rink. Roo mainly stuck to the side but seemed to be enjoying himself. I hung out on the viewing platform and tried to get a decent picture while other people’s teenagers hung out right in front of me. So these photos are not exactly ‘grammable but, as you’ll guess from the first paragraph, I am not actually an influencer.

Although Family Fun was high on the agenda, there were more agenda items to get through and those items involved visiting some shops. There were a few likely shops in Canary Wharf but the majority were higher-end retailers that weren’t quite what we were aiming for. So we planned to get the Elizabeth Line back to Tottenham Court Road. First though, a stop at Five Guys in Jubilee Place and a wander through this enchanted little forest:

Finding the Elizabeth Line was harder than I thought it would be. It seems to be a whole different station to the one where you get the Jubilee line and, weirdly, the Jubilee Line entrance was the one closest to Jubilee Place. So we went into the station and down a couple of escalators before admitting to ourselves that we would have to go back up and out before we found what we were looking for. At one point  we decided to just take the Jubilee Line to Waterloo and then get the Northern Line.

But it was, don’t forget, a train strike day and the Westbound services were more than a little sporadic. There were no indications on the board of when the next train might be but, just as we decided to leave and find the Elizabeth Line, a train arrived, However, it was rammed so back to Plan B it was – climbing up a non-functioning escalator, back through a shopping centre and onto the ‘Liz line all the way to Tottenham Court Road in just a few minutes.

I can’t possibly say why TCR was my destination of choice but we deployed the usual family tactic of splitting into two teams so we could buy presents for each other. Reuben and I had a plan for Nathan and Eva’s gifts so we headed straight to <redacted> and were so efficient that we could bumble around Foyles for a bit before returning to the meeting point. We also wandered around St Giles HighStreet, which has been largely regenerated and is full of interesting street art like this giant dog:

And this tunnel made of lights and pipes:

The meeting point was Outernet, another relatively new landmark but one that Nathan and I briefly visited a few weeks back.

When we went before it was mainly just the Aquarium reel but yesterday there were a few variants. Both kids enjoyed the Christmas songs that accompanied these giant monsters:

Reuben tells me they’re from a video game called the Fall Guys but when I was there with Eva, she just loved the fact that they were singing the same song as she did with her drama group last week – “Merry Xmas Everybody”

This bit was very impressive but hurt my brain because it genuinely looked like we were standing under a tall, pointed roof:

We swapped teams and again I made good time so we again spent some time hanging around St Giles High Street and going to Caffe Nero for a brownie. Eva reckons their brownie is the best of all the chain coffee shops. Sorry Pret!

Eva liked the giant dog and lights and pipes just as much as Roo did:

And also this light-and-pipe sculpture in the middle:

 

Presents bought, it would have been nice to go for another coffee but we could never forget that there would be no trains home after 6. So, for the third time that day the ‘Liz line was calling. And at least we found it first attempt this time….

 

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“Mother Goose” at Hackney Empire – 04/12/22

Photos by Manuel Harlan and Mark Senior.

Although my kids are well versed in family theatre shows, I’m not sure how often they’ve been to proper full-length pantomimes. I know Reuben saw one in Winchester but Eva had to be taken out halfway through because the giant was “too dary”. We’ve been to the summer panto at Chickenshed and they were even in my work panto but a traditional panto like the one at Hackney Empire? I’m not sure.

It was time to right that wrong and take Eva to her first full-on “It’s behind you!” panto. Hackney Empire’s production is famous as one of London’s best so I thought it would be an excellent starting point. Plus it’s just down the road from church and we had a meeting all afternoon so the 5:30 show was nicely timed. It meant that we had to miss some sporting event or other but that was not an issue for either of us.

I was slightly concerned that she might find it as terrifying as the Winchester one – large productions can be something of a sensory overload and it was only last year that she had a bit of a breakdown at the Prince of Egypt. And it’s only now that I re-read my review of that show that I realise both productions had an actor in common – Clive Rowe.

Photos by Manuel Harlan and Mark Senior.

Which is funny cause I was planning to mention my Clive Rowe connection in this review. I sang for a few years with Walthamstow Acoustic Massive and Clive was the patron and often guest singer. So we have shared a stage on quite a few occasions but luckily he didn’t haul me up on stage this time. Because Clive in this show is somewhat different to the mild-mannered man I saw at WAM rehearsals. Justin, however, was not so lucky.

Who’s Justin? You may well ask. We will get to that.

Anyway, I shouldn’t have been too concerned about Eva because she handled it all fine. The show starts with smoke and loud bangs and although she wasn’t mad keen on the smoke, she didn’t freak out too much about the bangs like she might have done a few years back. We are making progress. The initial plot was set out – a fairy and a demon queen have a wager over whether the demon queen can corrupt the pure soul of Mother Goose. I thought this felt familiar and spent a while trawling through romcoms of the 90s and Shakespeare plays before realising that this is essentially the plot of the Book of Job.

That sets up the story, all of which takes place in Hackneywood or the dark realm of Dalston. Having spent a fair amount of time in Dalston, I am not disagreeing on that. I did want to point out that there’s no “Dalston Underground” as it only has Overground stations but this is a world where, instead of jumping on the 38 to get between the two, they use a goose-powered hot air balloon. So a bit of poetic licence is allowed I think.

Mother Goose is goodly but poor and her sons (one hapless, one handsome) try to persuade her to be more hardnosed in business and stop giving away her beauty treatments for free. She’s in trouble with Squire Purchase, the local debt collector (played by Tony Marshall) and is only saved when her goose Priscilla starts producing golden eggs – a plot device driven in a somewhat convoluted way by the demon queen in an attempt to make Mother Goose fall in love with money and lose her soul. And – spoiler alert –  it sorta works.

Now, I may point out Macguffins and plot holes but it’s a bit pointless as that’s not really what panto is all about. The more ridiculous a plot device, the better. And if an actor occasionally breaks character and giggles when a bit of improv goes in an unexpected direction – well, that’s all part of the fun.

And believe me when I say that this is panto in its purest form so improv, audience participation, “blue material” and heckling are all very much encouraged. Which brings me to Justin.

Justin was undoubtedly the breakout star of the show. I believe he’s a priest in the East London area (well, I know more than that but let’s not dox him too much). He was pulled out of the audience by Mother Goose in her search for a new husband and every time she called out “Cooee”, he had to stand up and cry “I love Mother Goose”. Bless Justin, he was game.

Photos by Manuel Harlan and Mark Senior.

I also mentioned Priscilla the goose earlier, who was Eva’s absolute favourite. It’s lucky that heckling is encouraged because Eva was certainly vocal whenever there was a suggestion that anything bad might happen to this massive bird. Obviously, we all know that there will be a happy ending but Eva was emotionally involved as ever so the happy ending could not come soon enough.

Photos by Manuel Harlan and Mark Senior.

Priests and geese aside, the rest of the cast were great too. Clive Rowe seemed very comfortable in the Dame role, camping it up with his mahoosive bazookas and arched eyebrows. Rebecca Parker was deliciously evil as the demon queen and possesses a powerful singing voice as well as rocking a sparkly costume that resembled Columbia from Rocky Horror. Gemma Wardle as Fairy Fame also had a surprisingly strong voice for such a wee pixie-like thing. I also really enjoyed Jill Purchase (Holly Mallett)’s drumming. But the whole cast was superbly upbeat and sang and danced in perfect synch, even though some of them were probably younger than Eva. There was a lot of glitter and shiny material so the dance routines were a visual feast, alongside the wonderfully detailed backdrops.

Photos by Manuel Harlan and Mark Senior.

This is panto on a large scale and well-executed by a team who clearly know what they’re doing. Some of the references are very modern – the plot revolves around social media and there is a brief “Stranger Things” homage – but in some ways, it’s panto that’s remained unchanged for decades. It very much relies on groans and boos as much as laughs and cheers and the enthusiastic audience that we watched with did not disappoint. I mentioned “blue material” earlier because I remember doing local panto in my teens and seeing a newspaper clipping in the dressing room, with a list of do’s and don’ts for panto. One of them was “don’t use too much blue material”, which to my innocent brain, seemed to be a reference to cold-coloured scenery. The show today was aimed for at all ages so the material never did get too “blue” but again, my innocent brain might have just not understood all the gags. Safe to say, the script works at a number of levels.

Photos by Manuel Harlan and Mark Senior.

There are also some lengthy diversions – one of which featured the return of Justin – but again, that’s the nature of panto. The total runtime is 2.5 hours, including an interval, so while it’s suitable for all ages it might be hard for some of the very little ones to sit still. Eva wasn’t sitting still but that’s because she was over-excited/dancing to the songs/rocking on tip-up seats because she “can’t get enough of theatre seats”. Luckily I was seated on the aisle so halfway through the first half I swapped with her and put her on the end so that it was only me that she was bothering with her wriggling.

There is also a tribute to Hackney Empire’s 120th anniversary which may seem shoehorned in but was very sweet and – briefly – featured a Julie Andrews impersonator. I can’t believe I was the only one who whooped for that.

We’ve seen shows of all types and sizes this Christmas and this is undoubtedly the most traditional Christmas panto we’ve seen. It’s brash and saucy but also clever, energetic and very entertaining. And if you live in Waltham Forest or Hackney, it’s super convenient too! Well, as long as the trains are running, which they weren’t tonight (but we got an Uber back so nothing worth blogging about). It’s definitely worth a trip to see if you’re looking for something to make you laugh and boo in equal measure. Also, a quick shout out to the Britannia Fish Bar a few doors down, where we got a very quick and cheap post-show supper. Delicious!

 

“Mother Goose” runs until Dec 31st at Hackney Empire. For tickets and more info, click here. 

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

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“Jack!” at Chickenshed – 30/09/22

Copyright Chickenshed

I have a confession to make and some of you will have figured it out already. I know the blog is called “London With a Toddler” but I don’t actually possess a toddler any more. I mentioned a few posts back that I was training up an heir apparent but I still have the original toddler lurking around here somewhere and occasionally I like to take him to something that’s more on his current level than the CBeebies shows we used to take in together. And this was right on a teenager’s level – rap, video games and the occasional fart joke. But luckily there was a lengthy reference to The Who for oldies like me.

Let’s start at the beginning though, because I love a good tube chaos story and well…this was a doozie. As soon as we got onto the Victoria Line, there was an announcement to say that there were severe delays on the Piccadilly Line. I started racking my brains thinking of non-Piccadilly ways to Chickenshed but my North London geography is a bit sketchy, even in the bit of North London that I live in so I was coming up blank.

While I was doing all this brain-racking, I’d failed to notice that we’d been at Blackhorse Road for a suspiciously long time. Eventually the driver also picked up on this and announced that we were being held due to a “passenger alarm”. Turns out there were now also severe delays on the Victoria Line, if only our train. We got moving again but the alarm was pulled again at Tottenham Hale and we stopped there for just as long. By the time we got to Finsbury Park, we were feeling like we could handle anything the Picc line could throw at us. Plus, there was a giant dog. Winning.

Until Bounds Green, where we got turfed out and had to go and find a bus. Happily, the 299 goes from Bounds Green straight to Chickenshed. When I say straight, this is a loose interpretation which includes a “three sides of a square hail-and-ride” section but it was better than nothing. We got on the bus at 6:30 and at 6:59 exactly, we were busting through the doors just in time for the show to start. Phew!

The basic story of “Jack!” will be very familiar to you all. An impoverished family selling their most treasured possession to try and make ends meet. The twist is that the treasured possession is a games console and the family are poor because the father died and they lost his video games arcade on the pier. To get it back Jack must  – you guessed it – climb the levels of a video game called The Beanstalk. In this quest, he’s helped by his sister Littleun, his Dad’s old right-hand man Fred, two time-travelling Tech Supporters and a variety of Avatars. Everyone’s favourite avatar is surely the Samurai but I won’t spoiler it by telling you why.

Copyright Chickenshed

This is a full-on Chickenshed production, with a cast of 800 on rotation. Each individual cast is 200-strong and it really packs a punch when the stage is crammed full of glitter or monsters or neon-clad dancers. I particularly loved the way the UV light picked up on the orange and yellow eyeshadow  – it was a very cool effect. I have no idea how you co-ordinate so many people into doing anything vaguely together but Chickenshed make it look easy. The large-scale numbers are like a tableau – it’s not that everyone is doing the same thing at the same time but more creating a scene where there are lots of different things to look at. This allows the signers to blend in with the rest of the company and for cast members of all ages and abilities to take part. There are are some incredibly skilled dancers and singers but I love the fact that it’s not just the super-talented ones that get spotlit but there is a chance for everyone to shine. And yes, I am tearing up as I write this. It’s just such a lovely, inclusive place.

I mentioned signers a moment ago but wanted to highlight that the whole show has sign language interpretation throughout, including songs. I now know the BSL for “monster”, which I’m sure will come in useful at SwingTrain sometime. Each character has a signer shadowing their movements and facial expressions so nothing is lost by watching them. I got momentarily confused when someone who previously had a speaking role reappeared as a signer because her voice suddenly seemed to be coming from elsewhere but then, I do get easily confused.

Copyright Chickenshed

As a show it wasn’t as whimsical as some of the previous fairytale shows we’ve been to, or as thought-provoking as something like “How to Make a Better World“. But it was one of the most fun productions we’ve seen there, which just brilliantly demonstrates the Chickenshed versatility. Yes, they can make shows which are deeply moving and meaningful but they also make shows which are stuffed full of confetti, high-energy dance routines and pop culture references. Reuben particularly appreciated the nods to Star Wars and Sonic I think. And I enjoyed the aforementioned Who homage as well as a pastiche of Chris Tarrant, with just the right dramatic lighting.

There are some familiar ‘Shed faces in the cast but I think this is the first show I’ve seen with Hector Dogliani (Jack) in a lead role. His interpretation of lonely teen Jack was full of heart and provoked empathy from the start – a far cry from the selfish, dopey Jack we normally see in this story. He reminded me of a young Robert Pattinson and had a surprisingly deep, soulful voice. I’m not sure who we saw as Littleun but she was great too, with a sweet singing and a digestive system that knocked the bad guys right out. They were very believable as brother and sister and the family dynamic was lovely. No, I’m not crying again. But I was a little at the end.

Copyright Chickenshed

I should also say that the sets are incredible and really pull you into the video game world. I loved the Toy Story white fluffy clouds at the back which are almost out of sight but are such a nice touch. Reuben was straining to hear whether the noises at the beginning were Sonic’s rings or Mario’s coins but he concluded it was both at once. I have no idea whether he’s right or not. There was some prerecorded music I think but also a live band and I think all the singing was live as well. Just an incredible production all round.

So if you want a show that’s sharp enough for your teen but also colourful and engaging enough for your little ones, look no further. It’s not overtly Christmassy but it’s panto – what could be more Christmassy than that?

“Jack!” runs until 7th January. For tickets and more info, click here. 

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

Copyright Chickenshed

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“The Pixie and the Pudding” at Little Angel Studios – 27/11/22

Photo©EllieKurttz

It’s been a complex day. It started with taking the long way round to church because of engineering works and ended with Eva spilling her drink all over the tube and very nearly losing her beloved hat. In the middle, there was a fair amount of chaos as we tried to work out which family member was supposed to be in which post-church meeting and whether everyone had eaten something that could be classed as lunch. But there was also an enjoyable hour spent at Little Angel watching their Christmas show – The Pixie and the Pudding.

I think we saw a version of this show a few years back but I haven’t read that previous review so as to try and keep my thoughts straight. After such a chaotic afternoon, I’m amazed that I have any thoughts at all but here they are:

First off, it’s a Christmas show but it’s light-touch Christmas. It starts on Christmas Eve and ends on Christmas Day but two years pass in between. It’s a story about believing in magic, doing something for others and giving pigs tummy tickles so all good festive themes. I must admit to feeling a little guilty about the last one as the lunch substitute I’d grabbed on the way to the theatre was a very good and chunky sausage roll from Suprette.  Sorry Bella.

The basic plot is that an old farmer leaves a Christmas pudding on the shelf every year for a magical pixie who then grants the farm good luck for the year – milk flowing freely, eggs in abundance and award-winning vegetables. A year into the play, the old farmer retires and passes the farm to a new farmer who’s moved from the city and doesn’t believe in pixies. You can guess what happens next. Ah, the arrogance of youth. The new farmer brings with him a teenage daughter who eventually turns things round and yes, gives Bella those tummy tickles.

The Pixie and The Pudding taken on the 18th November 2022
Photo©EllieKurttz

The whole show is performed by two actors (Sam Dutton and Jazmine Wilkinson) who also control all the puppet animals. As well as the pig, there is a cow, a chicken, a rooster and an adorable sheepdog called Molly. Eva loved Molly and was, of course, distraught when Molly was made to live outside under the new regime. Eva is also in a bit of a know-it-all phase and loudly corrected a young child when he pointed at the rooster and said “hen!”. I apologise to everyone present. She also questioned whether female cows have horns but I googled and yes, they sometimes do. The farmyard setting is a crowd pleaser for young kids because all toddlers love barnyard animals, don’t they? And most are not as pedantic as my child. There were a few notable vocalisations from the crowd though, especially when the daughter revealed the Christmas pudding – a child in the front row cried out “It’s beautiful!” and they were not wrong.

What was also beautiful was the use of lighting to give different feels to the different seasons. I particularly liked the sunrise effect on the backdrop as the rooster was crowing. And Eva liked the discoball effect every time the pixie appeared. The use of music was also effective, with the positive “Summer on the farm” songs in the first half giving way to a more melancholy version as the farm declined and the new farmer accepted that his plan had been a failure. There are a lot of songs throughout the whole show, which were largely sung acapella by the two performers. They really did work hard.

The Pixie and The Pudding taken on the 18th November 2022
Photo©EllieKurttz

The show is advertised as being for ages 4-11 but, as you can probably tell, there were some younger children there who I think enjoyed it. It’s an hour long so a few of the very littlies got restless but I think that was mostly because they wanted to be up on the stage cuddling the animals. Mostly though, they paid rapt attention. I think the age recommendation is about right but it seemed to go down well with everyone from newborn next to us up to the near-secondary-aged one I brought with me.

So nothing too complicated or glitzy but a charming little story with the kind of magic that should carry the show into January. Definitely worth a visit to ward off the rainy-day blues.

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

“The Pixie and the Pudding” runs from18 November 2022 – 29 January 2023. For tickets and more information, click here

The Pixie and The Pudding taken on the 18th November 2022
Photo ©EllieKurttz

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A Week Off

We’ve just had a week off….unusual, I know but these things happen when you fail to use up your annual leave in a timely manner. So a rainy week in November it is. What to do?

Well, I started the week by taking a group of English Class students to see the Lord Mayor’s Parade. They are always fascinated by weird British stuff and it doesn’t get much more British than standing around in the cold for an hour watching people in robes processing around. But there were also Indian drummers, Chinese dancers and a giant inflatable pig. There was also a giant cricket bat so I’m quite glad I didn’t take Eva with me. She has a weird phobia of cricket bats ever since a close encounter with one during a PE lesson.

Incidentally, if you want to find somewhere to take a medium-sized group for lunch and/or coffee in the City on a Saturday, let me recommend Leon at Liverpool Street. I don’t recommend it for getting a quick lunch in between trains as I’ve been burnt before but for a leisurely post-parade coffee, it was fine and there was lots of space. Don’t bother even looking around Bank Junction – it’s pretty much all shut.

Monday saw us wandering, childfree, around Oxford Circus and Soho. We spent quite some time in my old haunt of H&M where I have hastily bought post-work “going out” clothes more than once. We were in search of something 80s-styled for my work Christmas party and it did not disappoint. There was too much choice if anything.

Oxford Circus has changed a little since My Day though. This diagonal crossing has probably been there years now but it still freaks me out a little to be walking across the middle of the circus. I feel like I’m about to rudely interrupted on my scroll by an angry 159. But it was all fine.

We also took in the giant teddy bears and sparkly lights of John Lewis, while popping in to use the facilities.

And also saw the Carnaby Street Christmas lights, which I usually enjoy but this year they seem a little….confused. Giant 60s-style balloons, paper chains and…err….jellyfish? There’s a lot going on here.

Then we had lunch at Busaba, which does Pad Thai for £11 on a weekday. I’ve clearly been working in the City too long because that genuinely seemed like a bargain to me. There was a bit of incense burning, which reminded me of Catholic school, but the food was lovely and we got to spy on people from our window seat. Oh, and the toilets were very shiny.

After lunch, we hung out in Denmark Street on the pretext of getting something for the kids for Christmas but really so that Nathan could lust after midlife-crisis guitars and I could blither on about buying an electro-acoustic ukulele.

If Oxford Circus has changed since My Day, it’s got nothing on Tottenham Court Road which has basically been bulldozed and rebuilt in the last few years. I spotted the new theatre and a mysterious building called Outernet when I was visiting Foyles with Eva a few weeks back. But now I had a bit of time of actually see what the mysterious building was. To be honest, I’m still not sure. But it has two rooms with massive video projections that you can walk through. Look, it’s just like being in an aquarium:

After all that exciting Central London action at the start of the week, we needed to slow down a bit so Tuesday was mainly spent sorting out our mortgage renewal and watching the Sound of Music. Then we met Bob for lunch at The Vincent in Hackney Downs on Wednesday, which was very hipster but very nice. And on Thursday we went to Hackney again for another lunch at Stone Cave in Dalston. This time I was lunching in the presence of someone who is very nearly a Real Live Toddler. I know that it’s unheard of for this toddler blog to feature actual toddlers but I have high hopes for the heir apparent.

I’m happy to report that he enjoyed his lunch and smeared baba ganoush into every conceivable crevice. I remember mezze being a winner when my own toddlers were toddlers and the combination of bread, halloumi and dips is a weaner’s delight. He also enjoyed the fish tank at the back of the restaurant:

I’m also happy to report that he is fully adorable and I can’t wait to borrow him for future adventures.

Friday was highly ambitious and I got to cuddle a baby that was even smaller than the heir apparent. We also got back in time for pick up, despite leaving London during school hours:

I’m impressed with us too.

So what else to do on the following Saturday but go to Hackney yet again? With Eva this time and the slope that no child can resist climbing:

Oh, and I also went to Leytonstone and got mildly lost. But I’d offloaded the kid onto Nathan by that point so don’t worry, she wasn’t hanging out with me when I was on a motorway bridge in the dark:

I found the tube eventually.

So, an exciting week and about as much fun as you can have when it’s raining every day and you need to be back for the school run.We know how to party.

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“Stick Man” at Leicester Square Theatre – 23/10/22

Stick Man – A previous cast. Photo Mark Senior

It’s been a busy weekend, one way or another, with Saturday’s shenanigans including an unplanned diversion to Seven Sisters. Just look at these lovely sunflowers:

So it was a tired mother and daughter that sat on the 38 from church to Shaftesbury Avenue. But we perked up wandering through Chinatown as there was just so much to look at. Eva was particularly taken with this display of “random Chinese snacks” as she put it. I think she was angling for some mochi. We’ve eaten a lot of mochi lately.

But lunch seemed a more sensible idea, so we swung by Burger King for a vegan whopper and a strawberry lemonade for the little lady. We used to frequent that branch after church in the comedy store and I remember it as being very busy and stressful. But actually, it was pretty calm our food arrived quickly. Maybe because of the guy with the megaphone outside telling people not to go into. I dunno.

Anyway, we were being surprisingly efficient so got to the Leicester Square Theatre with time to spare before the show started. Eva filled it by waxing lyrical about the armrests – they were apparently the “perfect solution” although I wasn’t 100% clear on what the problem was. Still, the seats were comfy and there was lots of legroom for the massive coats I was hauling around.

I was hoping the seats weren’t too comfy, given how little sleep I was operating on but I shouldn’t have worried. This show was lively enough to keep even the tiredest parent engaged. And the tiredest kid as well.

The “Stick Man” book follows the trusted Julia Donaldson formula of a main character going on a journey and meeting different characters along the way. Like “The Gruffalo”, there is an edge of danger in Stick Man’s journey as every section puts him in peril and takes him further away from the family tree. I’ll admit now that I have occasionally teared up over the ending of this book but I know for a fact that I’m not the only one. So how would all this peril translate itself to the stage?

Stick Man – A previous cast. Photo Mark Senior

The answer is with megaphones, upbeat songs and a 1950s aesthetic. The story was told by three performers – I believe we saw Aaron Douglas as the Stick Man, Lois Glenister as Stick Lady Love and Lucas Taylor as Actor-Musician. They alternate characters with dizzying speed and Lucas seemed to be playing a different instrument in every scene. The original text is scattered throughout the show but in between each “Stickman, beware!” is a bit of a elaboration, whether that’s “The Girl” showing off her hula-hooping skills or a grumpy swan expressing her dislike of freeform jazz by sticking her beak into a saxophone. At one point, the Stick Man breaks the fourth wall entirely to recap the story so far and to try and get the audience to agree that he’s pretty hard done by.

I do agree with you Stick Man, although living in a small tree with three kids doesn’t sound like much fun either.

There was also a call on the audience during the mid-way “beach” segment where we were all asked to play catch with an invisible beach ball. They asked for anyone who was good at catching to put their hands up so Eva, well aware of her lack of sporting prowess, put her hands straight down instead. Pity, she missed out on a good game of invisiballball.

As ever, Eva is not quite target demographic for these shows but mature content stresses her out so she’s more than happy to come to adaptations of Julia Donaldson with me. Looking at the littlies around us, it did seem well-aimed – the 55 minute run time held their attention and putting the lights up during the invisiballball game gave them all a bit of a break from having to sit and listen. The plot moved relatively quickly but lingered over banter-filled interactions and the occasional bit of toilet humour, all of which I think helped the preschoolers to stay focused.

Stick Man – A previous cast. Photo Mark Senior

And yes, Eva did enjoy it too. She was really impressed by the lighting during the snow scene – I heard a little gasp from her as the snowflakes seemed to swirl around us. And she’d completely forgotten the ending, which I don’t think I’m spoiling by saying it was Christmas-themed. She said to me afterwards that the ending was both “easily forgettable and surprising”. By which I think she meant, she hasn’t read the book for a while and only had a hazy memory of it. Suffice to say, it all worked out well and yes, I did feel a bit teary as Stick Man reunited with his family. I’ve said before how triggering family reunions are. Don’t judge me.

I mentioned the 1950s aesthetic earlier and it was pulled through in both the costumes and the music. Think neat blouses, prom-dress skirts and statement sunglasses.  But it was all in woodland shades of green and brown, to reflect the stick-theme. I realise I’ve explained it but really could just share a production image with you. This was a previous cast but you get the idea:

Stick Man – A previous cast. Photo Mark SeniorSo if it could keep the attention of a room full of preschoolers and a few very tired adults, it must be good, right? I think the familiar Julia Donaldson rhymes and the Christmassy ending would make this a comforting Christmas treat for little ones. And don’t we all need a bit of comfort in these uncertain times? It’s funny, lively and interactive. Oh, and there’s a dog in it which obviously gets points from Eva.

After the show, we wandered through Leicester Square towards a tiny Pret as I’m still maxing out that coffee subscription. We passed the Swiss Centre bells, which seem a tad out of tune nowadays. Maybe it’s just me but something wasn’t quite right. Eva agreed as she called them “annoying beyond wit”. So we turned back towards Chinatown and were mooching round the “random Chinese snacks” shop when Eva decided she needed the loo. I realised that a Pret coffee subscription is essentially a free pass to also use their toilets but, for once, there was not a Pret in sight. So we went to Foyles and used theirs, with Eva somehow getting two new books bought for her on the way out. I’m not sure how that happened but safe to say, we paid for that pee. Funnily enough, I’d first gone to that floor in Foyles on another Donaldson/Scheffler-themed trip out, when Roo and I met the Gruffalo eight whole years ago.

Post-Foyles, things went downhill as we found out the Elizabeth Line doesn’t run from Tottenham Court Road on a Sunday and so we had to get the Central Line back to Liverpool Street. Probably best for me to leave you mid-Chinatown. It may be chaotic but at least it’s not the Central Line.

 

“Stick Man” runs until 2nd January  – for tickets and more info, click here

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

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Festival of the Girl – 09/10/22

Festival of the Girl is something I’ve been meaning to check out for ages. The last two years have, by necessity, been online so Eva got the pack in the post and kinda dipped in and out of the activities but I was looking forward to taking her to experience it in 3D Technicolour real-life.

First tho, fox poo. My plan to leave church promptly was slightly scuppered by a local canid relieving itself on the doorstep to the garden and the local church kids trampling it right through the building, with me and a roll of blue paper in hot pursuit. This will become relevant later but also explains why we were running late and had to bolt our Five Guys lunch (one portion of large fries, shared…no drink for Eva as she was still clutching her pre-church can of Dash…all very economical).  I’d never been inside the Business Design Centre, despite working on Parkfield Street for nine months in 2002 and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t realise, for example, that it looks like a railway terminus inside:

Festival of the Girl wasn’t in this main bit but a cosier set of rooms off to the right, with a downstairs space and mezzanine. We’d missed half an hour and there was a lot to get through but we made it in time to catch the end of the light sabre Tai Chi demonstration:

We spotted a family from church watching the display and also a friend of ours working on the stall for the Girls Friendly Society. But before I could stop to talk, Eva scampered off upstairs. I followed, picking up her discarded things as I went – hat, coat, gift bag and yes, that can of Dash still. She wanted to go to the Activist workshop in the Greta Thunberg area so we got her a ticket for that and then used up a few minutes by visiting the dress-up careers area. Can you tell which occupation she’s dressed as here?

Yes, that’s right. An archaeologist, just like her evil auntie. Later she realised that she didn’t like skeletons so maybe this wasn’t the ideal career after all but she certainly looked the part. And yes, evil auntie – those are steel toecapped patent shoes.

Then it was time for her first workshop and, just in time, one of her classmates arrived to join her at the table. I was a bit confused about where they were meant to go but they found the right spot and got down to making some campaign posters. Eva’s said “Stop the Fox Hate”, which I took a bit personally after the fox poo incident earlier. I might have said some unkind things about our bushy-tailed friends.

After that workshop, we had a few minutes before the workshops in the book area. Eva filled it by playing some tunes on a tiny violin:

And contributing a few flourishes to this giant picture:

Then we went to the fairytale-writing workshop in the book area, with author Gina Blaxill. We sat on blankets on the floor and the workshop was a very interactive one, with the eventual story being a dramatic retelling of Goldilocks set in a cave. The setting was contributed by Eva and all the elements were chosen by dice-roll.

The only criticism I would have of the whole day is that the acoustics in the workshops weren’t ideal. The mic-ed up sound from the main stage downstairs was a bit overpowering and the speakers upstairs were struggling to make themselves heard. While the open-plan layout was great for being able to wander around and join in with everything, it might work better next year to have those sessions in separate breakout rooms. I could hear when I sat on the floor for fairytales but I sat a bit further back for the next workshop (Detective Stories with JT Williams) and I couldn’t hear at all. But then I’m far too old to sit on the floor for long.

Still, Eva got a lot out of both workshops and is full of writing ideas now. She also bought books by both authors and got them signed so she was happy. She has retired to bed tonight with her signed copy of one of the Lizzie and Belle Mysteries. And this is JT Williams in action:

By the time we’d done all of that, the afternoon was almost over and we’d barely even looked at all the activities downstairs. When we did go back down, she went to the coding table and showed off her Scratch skills. Of course, she could have done that at home but I wasn’t going to stop her when she seemed so happy. There was a whole carnival party, complete with conga, going on behind her but it didn’t break her focus. I ended up persuading her to leave before we got kicked out and, on the way out, we spotted this very confusing 3D picture:

Plus a cow and a lovely stained glass window. This venue keeps surprising me!

We went to grab a quick coffee at Pret, as I’ve bought the coffee subscription and am determined to max it out. Eva got a hot chocolate, to ensure that I was carrying two half-drunk drinks up the stairs of the bus for her – yes, the Dash was still with us. Both drinks eventually got spilt but fortunately not until we got home. I’m impressed too.

But, spilt drinks aside, it was a fun afternoon out and I’m hoping next year is just as good. We could easily have spent all day there and it was a bargain price too. If you want to sign up for their mailing list, have a look here for more info.

 

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Ash “Free All Angels” 21st Anniversary Show – 18/09/22

I’d like to begin by pointing out a massive administrative flaw with this whole show. The premise is that it’s 21 years since Ash released their third album – “Free All Angels”. However, I was at university when it was released and there is no way that it has been two whole decades since I was at university. I expect they actually mean 2 years or 5 at a push?

We’d left the kids in the care of my nephew who I remember (erroneously as it turned out) babysitting just before an Ash gig at Frog in December 2004. It seemed pretty nifty to me that he was babysitting our kids for an Ash gig when we’d babysat him before a different Ash gig but I seem to have got my years mixed up. We definitely say Ash in 2004, as this ever-so-grainy picture proves:

And we definitely drove back from Wales for it because that’s when we ran out of petrol just before Junction 13 and had to get towed to Reading (incidentally, the place where I bought “Free All Angels”). We were very pleased with ourselves for managing to get back in time for the gig, even if running out of petrol was a stupid thing to do. Anyway, the fact that the nephew himself is now at uni kinda debunks my theory that I only left a couple of years ago. Dang, the passage of time.

Anyway, let’s talk about “Free All Angels” for a moment. As I said, I bought it in Reading – specifically in the Virgin Megastore in Broad Street Mall, which I believe is now a Metro Bank. Ash were signing copies instore and I got one for me and one for Nathan, which meant we had two signed copies of the album when we married and combined our assets

.

I mainly remember how lovely Tim Wheeler’s smile was and how blue his eyes were as he signed my copy. It’s not a surprise that the album holds a special place in my heart (possibly less so in Nathan’s now I’ve said that bit). It also came at just the right time to be on heavy rotation. While I loved “1977”, it was an album I got amidst the flurry of wonderful Britpop music coming out at the same time and there was a lot to take in. “Nu-Clear Sounds” came out in 1998 when Nathan and I were busy partying every Saturday night and hanging out every day. We didn’t have much attention to pay to it. But “Free All Angels” came at a time when I was slacking off in the second year of uni and so wasn’t doing much work. I had also fallen out with my housemates so was hiding in my bedroom as much as possible to avoid them (Note: not you Juan….the ones in the second year). The music scene had been barren for a while and it was just before “White Blood Cells” and “Is This It?” came out later that summer. So a new album by Ash, with the ink still wet from the bank’s own signatures, got played on repeat a lot.

So as soon as I saw this tour advertised on Facebook, I booked tickets. It was just after Nathan’s birthday and it was relatively affordable. The questions of whether I was physically fit enough to go to an Ash gig or whether I’d survive work on the Monday morning didn’t really occur to me. As it happens, we now have a Bank Holiday Monday which is extremely well timed. And I survived but am *feeling it* this morning. Maybe it really HAS been 20 years since uni?

Also, I like gigs where they play straight through an album. It’s the third time we’ve been to one of these – the first was Suede doing “Suede” in 2011 and the second was SFA doing “Radiator” and “Fuzzy Logic” back-to-back in 2016. I don’t think I reviewed either of them here…Suede must have been pre-blog and I was so deadly tired after SFA, having been to a team Christmas lunch that same day and a magic show the night before, that I probably fell asleep drafting it. But I like the concept  – you know roughly how long the gig is going to go on for, even if they usually add some extra songs at the end, and you know pretty much what you’re going to hear. Of course, it has to be the right album. Much as I love blur, I probably wouldn’t pay to hear them play through “13”. But any of the previous four albums? Yes!

I should probably get on to the gig itself. I might have gone overboard on the context there but yknow, gigs are a rare occurence for us nowadays. And you can tell because there were New Ways that baffled me a bit.

The first thing that had changed since we last went to a gig was that we didn’t get paper tickets or even pdfs….the tickets had to be shown from within the SeeTickets app. Luckily I realised that before the day itself otherwise that would have been a faff on the door. The second change was that the Kentish Town Forum – which was sponsored by HMV last time I went there – is now sponsored by O2. Which meant that Nathan, as an O2 customer, could download a “Priority” app and get free cloakroom access. Result!

The third thing was that – as soon as we walked in – we had a minute’s silence to remember the Queen. I think that might have been unique to last night but it was respectfully held and felt pretty surreal to see the whole arena descend into silence.

After that, we went to the bar and watched the support, The Gulps. I’m gonna admit that I may have pre-judged them as they looked like arrogant hipsters when I googled. The music was alright but I don’t think they will ever be my new favourite band. The lead singer had a bit of Mick Jagger complex, except at the end where he inexplicably changed into Johnny Rotten to croon “No future for you” as they walked off. I get that rock n roll has always been anti-monarchist but it felt a bit like it missed the mark with the crowd who had, after all, just stood quietly to honour the Queen. It was the first of two such “seize the moment” moments and neither quite hit home in the way that I think they were intended. I’m not hugely royalist but I suspect most of the crowd were feeling similarly to me – not overly bothered one way or the other and certainly not about to join in with the anti-monarchist statements from the stage. We were all a bit too middle-aged to stage a coup, quite frankly. And we just wanted to see Ash.

Lucky that they turned up not long after then! All four of them. Yes, four of them.  I had wondered whether Charlotte would be there but the sight of three mics gave me hope. The crowd definitely appreciated that – towards the end, Tim introduced the band and the cheer for Charlotte went on way longer than the cheer for anyone else. I’m not sure how the rest of the band felt about that but the “Free All Angels” songs definitely wouldn’t have sounded the same without her harmonies. I think I sing her part more than I sing Tim’s when I’m listening to that album….it just hits my ear more naturally. Not that she’s just a vocalist – in fact, I noticed how she moved away from the mic every time she stopped singing and only returned for the next chorus. It was almost like she was making the point that she was brought into the band primarily as a guitarist and vocals were just a bonus extra.

Those with a good knowledge of the album – or the ability to use Wikipedia – will have guessed already that they started with “Walking Barefoot”. On the album, this is a slightly slow burner as the drums don’t kick in until the “why don’t we just quit?” at the end of the first chorus. But people had started to bounce about at the start anyway  so hype levels only built once the whole band was at maximum noise levels.

The hype continued over the next two songs, which were the big singles of the album – “Shining Light” and “Burn Baby Burn”. I really liked what they did with the lighting so that “Shining Light” was played under a white beam but it turned to a fiery red-orange for “Burn Baby Burn”. Everyone went wild for both songs but it calmed a bit for “Kandy” (blue and pink lights). I think this was the song where Tim made a split second change between different guitars so that had his flying V for the solo. It was impressively quick. The lights changed to an appropriate cherry red for an appropriately riotous “Cherry Bomb” and we were almost halfway through the album without even feeling it.

Well my feet were feeling it but, as discussed, I am getting on a bit.

The second half of the album is a bit more blurred for me than the first. I couldn’t sing “Nicole” or “Shark” to you if you asked but I could sing along with every song they played. The album fluctuates between high-energy songs and slower ones like “There’s a Star”. I knew it finished with “World Domination” but it was barely 10pm by the time they got to that point so it seemed obvious that they would pull a few more hits out of the bag. But what would they be?

I was super pleased with the first couple. They introduced “A Life Less Ordinary” as the first song they ever recorded with Charlotte but it was almost the theme tune of mine and Nathan’s first date in October 1997. So that was a little bit special and it’s an absolutely belting tune too.  The next one was “Wild Surf”, which is possibly my favourite Ash song ever. It’s just got such a nice melody and sounds a bit Beach Boys-like. I’m not saying that just of the “surf” in the title but that helps too. After the gig, I remembered how much I also loved the B-side, “Stormy Waters”, and how I haven’t heard it for years. It’s worth a listen if you’re not familiar with it.

I might have got the order wrong here but I think it was “Goldfinger” next, which was one of only three pre-Charlotte songs they played. Then a couple from the Nu-Clear Sounds era – I think they were “Orpheus” and “Projects” – followed by “Clones” from “Meltdown”. Us middle-aged folk were getting a little tired by this point but luckily, Tim had the perfect thing to liven us up  – a screaming contest to “Numbskull”! Each member of the band had a chance to show off their screaming skills…from Charlotte’s banshee howl to the resonance of Rick. I did wonder why Tim had very deliberately taken his earpiece out mid-song but that explains it. After that, it was just a boisterous rattle through “Kung Fu” – with Mark joining us in the audience – before the band left the stage or, in Mark’s case, left the moshpit.

Of course, we knew they were coming back cause the lights weren’t on and besides, they hadn’t played “Girl from Mars” yet. They hadn’t played the puking song yet  – and I had speculated to Nathan that they might – but Tim referenced it during the set, which was a nice touch.

What we weren’t expecting was a special guest. When they came back, they welcomed Steve Ludwin onto the stage, who had written the “Shining Light” b-side “Warmer than Fire”. For a crowd who were expecting the big hits to finish the night off with, this was a slight change of pace and there was a bemused feeling hanging in the air. Still, the man who apparently injects snake venom as healthcare put on an energetic show, lending his grungey vocals to a song which normally sounds quite sweet and straightforward. For me, his vocal didn’t quite blend with the tunefulness of Charlotte’s but it certainly made things interesting. He finished with a similar flourish to the guy from the Gulps – singing the verse from “The Queen is Dead” about Charles dressing in his mother’s bridal veil. Morrissey has been a bit problematic of late, so isn’t quite the darling of a North London middle-aged indie crowd that he would have been 20 years ago. And again, mocking the royal family on the eve of the Queen’s funeral didn’t quite land with the audience as he’d perhaps hoped it would.

But then Ash played “Girl from Mars” and everything was all alright again. I wondered what else they’d pull out for the final song – would it be “Oh Yeah”? “Jesus Says”? “Angel Interceptor”? Tim explained that their sound tech had had a “cool idea” and that the last song would be….”Burn Baby Burn” again. I wasn’t totally sure why it was a cool idea but Nathan explained to me that it’s the song that Ash usually finish their sets with so it did kinda make sense. I’ve seen Ash as many times as Nathan has so I really ought to have known that but it just didn’t click.

After the reprise, they gathered together to bow and left the stage to a storm of applause. Us old people dragged our aching limbs through the lovely Art Deco foyer and out into the night, which was  – like us – far from young.

We wanted to get some food afterwards and there was a bit of a queue at the kebab shop so we wandered a bit further down Kentish Town Road in search of other options. As we passed the tube, there was a queue to get in so we thought we had plenty of time to go get a McDonalds and then catch the tube. We probably should have checked what time the last train went as, once we returned with food, there was a sign that the last southbound train had gone already. The station guy told us we actually had two minutes, so we ran down the escalator and managed to jump on just in time. So, make a note of that all of you – Kentish Town McDonalds opens late but the last tube goes at 23:30. Still, we got food, we got the train and Nathan even bumped into a 2000AD friend while we were doing it so it all worked out well.

And there we end…it’s been a mammoth post so apologies to those of you who have trawled through in search of three elusive words. So I’ll end with them again just in case you missed them in the haze:

Charlotte was there.

Thank you Ash for an awesome gig….see you again for the 30th anniversary!

 

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Escape Rooms, Art Shops and the Elizabeth Line – 10/09/22

Yesterday was Nathan’s birthday so we decided to go for one of those Nice Family Days Out you hear so much about. Nathan was clearly in a celebratory mood, as his neck-to-ankle black suggests. It might be that he was dressing out of respect for the Queen, which would explain wearing all black apart from a pair of corgi socks. Or maybe he’d just had his birthday orchestrated by that Summer character.

Anyway, we were off to an escape room in Aldgate. It seemed like an ideal family bonding experience and the room we chose was for 10+, with medium difficulty. Of course, even medium difficulty would prove difficult without coffee so we stopped at Costa next to Aldgate East on the way. We also passed this very cheerful piano in Devonshire Square:

Bolstered on caffeine and sugar, we were in peak mental condition to firstly find the AIM escape room and then escape from it. I feel like the area around Leman Street has been a bit more developed than it was when I used to walk past there but if you spot these horses, you’re pretty much there.

I won’t be sharing any spoilers but we did the Spy Heroes adventure and…..we failed. Sorry folks, we faffed around too much and accidentally destroyed the world. Mea culpa. The medium difficulty is pretty tricky for two kids and two middle-aged brainfogged people but the Gamesmaster was on the other end of a walkie-talkie and he helped us as much as he could. It helps to keep an open mind about what you think certain household appliances *might* look like. It was fun although stressful at times and requiring skills I’m not great at, like reflexes and visual reasoning. Previous experience in intel will not help but experience in AV and computer gaming definitely will. We were near the end when we ran out of time so we didn’t do badly but neither did we ace it.

Nor did I ace the next stage of the day, which was getting from Aldgate to High Street Kensington. Now I’ve been beating myself up quite a bit about this because my reputation as a tube-maestro is in serious peril. But the Circle Line is confusing now it’s no longer even pretending to be a circle and Aldgate tube is confusing. I’ve just found this blog post, which agrees on how confusing it is, and illuminates why and where I went wrong.

When we went into the station, the sign to the left said “High Street Kensington” on it so naturally, we went that way. But when we got to the platform, which was shared by Circle Line and Met Line, there were only Met Line trains departing and the wait for those was either 1 minute or 15 minutes. So we jumped on the one that was waiting and I rapidly calculated what to do next. Nathan suggested that we go in the opposite direction around the Circle but I swear the sign for that direction did not list High Street Ken. And thanks to a picture on the aforementioned blog post, I’ve managed to discern that there is nothing listed past Gloucester Road….just an ambiguous arrow:

Copyright 150greatthingsabouttheunderground.wordpress.com

Bless you, Ian Jones!

Anyway, we probably should have taken our chances on the ambiguous arrow because even Gloucester Road is a heck of a lot closer to High St Ken than anywhere on the Met Line is. But my brain was very tired after cracking all those spy puzzles so we ended up sitting on the Met Line for a while, jumping off at Kings Cross so that we would have “options”, waiting 5 minutes for very crowded Hammersmith & City Line train and then changing again at Edgware Road to finally pick up the Circle Line.

But we got there. And our reward was a Five Guys burger:

The reason we’d come to Kensington was to meet our friend Chusty – she of the pink hair on the left. She was coming from South West London so it seemed somewhat of a mind point. Plus, she wanted to go to Cass Arts which was exciting for all the artists of the family.

As Eva excitedly told Bunny today, there were pencils of EVERY COLOUR there. She restrained herself to buying just two in the end – a gold one and a violet one – but she also found a hairband craft kit in the kids’ section downstairs.

There was also a massive drawing table downstairs, which kept them all occupied for a bit. We were lucky to emerge with only Eva’s things and a sketchbook for Roo – I’m sure they could have happily bought most of the shop.

After that, we went to sit on a bench in Holland Park, which is literally next door to the shop. We didn’t feel like walking far, so set up camp just next to the main path and let the kids run off and find stuff to do. Holland Park is amusingly quirky but we have explored it before and we had lots of catching up to do with Chusty. Plus, we were in prime position for drive-by dog pettings as there was a constant canine parade. We disappointed a labrador who was sniffing around for food and complimented a spaniel on the ball she’d brought over to show us. So many good boys and girls!

When we went to leave, creatures of another kind were gathering. I blame Hitchcock but flocks of birds creep me out slightly. What are they planning? And do they mean us harm?

By this time, it was 5PM and Nathan had to be getting home for his birthday curry. We said goodbye to Chusty and headed back north on the Circle Line to Paddington. It may not seem the most logical direction for us to be going but we had an opportunity to finally try out the Elizabeth Line and it seemed like an appropriate week to do that.

It did not disappoint! From the vertigo-inducing escalators to the Art Deco-style lighting, it was magnificient:

Surprisingly Eva, who largely dislikes the tube, was the most excited about all this. I think it’s just the novelty of it:

But once aboard she waxed lyrical about the purple seats and the movable armrests and all manner of excitement. She’s not wrong.

It’s very swift to get from Paddington to Liverpool Street – around 12 minutes I reckon. But I would say that there’s a fair trek through Liverpool Street once you get there. I think it was around 8 minutes from Elizabeth Line to London Overground Platform 6, which doesn’t sound long but can easily result in a missed train if you miscalculate. At this point I could mutter something about Leon at Liverpool Street for a few days ago but I’m trying to move on from that.

It is lovely though and we were all wowed by the lift which goes up alongside the escalator. That’s futuristicky right there.

And like every tube line, the walls were adorned with portraits of the line’s namesake. I most admit I found these disconcerting when I first saw them on Friday night, especially as one kept glitching, but you kinda get used to them.

So happy birthday Nathan, hello to the Elizabeth Line and farewell to Her Majesty. Big week!

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