London Loves

London has been in the news way too much recently, for all the wrong reasons. So I wanted to make a space where we celebrate the London we know- not the one that’s full of tragedy and police tape. Every … Continue reading

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The Confidence to Sing

 

Around 2004, I went on a 6-week course in an arts centre in Islington called “Confidence to Sing”. I revisited that same arts centre last year as it happens…in those BeforeTimes when we could wander about and take in arts shows as we wished. Anyway, Nathan mocked me a little for going on this course because confidence in singing has never really been an issue for me – he said it should be called “Opportunity to Sing”.

Anyway, it turns out that in 2020 I lack both the confidence and the opportunity to sing. Not that I’m not confident about singing to the internet because, heck, I’ve had to do a looot of that lately. What I’m not confident about is getting my choir back together and singing again. And that’s not my fault – the guidelines have been crafted in a way that have consumed hours and hours of choir leaders’ time poring over them trying to work out whether we’re officially Allowed to Sing.

And that isn’t what any of us want! We don’t want to find a loophole, to have to reimagine ourselves as a protest or a frisbee team in order to be able to gather and sing. We want to be told that yes, we can go ahead. We are choirs, a legitimate segment of culture that shouldn’t have to shoehorn itself into “education” or “exercise” in order to sneak by.

If it’s not safe to sing together, that’s fine too. We spent months waiting patiently for the results of the research and during those months, we adapted and ran choirs on Zoom or Facebook Live, even though remote singing is far from ideal. We shed members at every turn and we grimaced and carried on. Then at the start of July, professional singers were allowed to sing again and we amateurs again just had to deal with it and keep going. And then on 14th August, a thrill ran around the amateur choir community as we were finally told that singing probably wasn’t going to bring in the apocalypse after all. The new guidelines were ambigous and there were some implicaiton that we could still only sing in groups of 6 but clarification was on its way. On 21st August, the OneVoice Campaign published an interview with Barbara Eifler, CEO of Making Music, and she finally gave us all that certainty we needed. We didn’t need to limit numbers, we just needed to risk assess and plan and clean and we could then we could finally get our choirs back together.

So that’s what we started doing. Risk assessing, planning and cleaning. And, well you probably know the latest. Exactly one month after amateurs were given the greenlight, it flipped hard to amber. We’re back to a state of confusion with mismatched guidelines and the number 6 hanging over our heads as if the Devil himself had put it there. Our clarified Performing Arts guidelines still stand, we’re told, but then the guidelines for the hire of community facilities specifically name choirs as a group that might not be able to stop ourselves mingling. We’re in a world where choirsters can’t be trusted to distance but toddlers can. What kind of madness is this?

We have done our share of waiting and we shouldn’t now be forced to hide away, singing quietly in case someone catches us out. We want to have the confidence that we are doing the right thing. Some of the bigger choirs came out straight after the “Rule of 6” statement and confidently stated that they were exempt, for various reasons. But the exemptions list came out and, where sports teams and exercise classes sat, choirs did not. So while I’d love to have that confidence, it doesn’t feel like it’s a confidence that’s well placed right at the moment.

But we did have a sing! After all that risk assessing and planning, we had something in the diary for 13th Sept. So, we were distanced, limited and outdoors but we sang for an hour or so the day before the rules changed and it was glorious. Just wish I knew when we’d be free to do it again…

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I’m Calling Time on Parental Guilt

 

Every parent knows about parental guilt. It’s handed out in the postnatal ward, along with the Bounty pack. It consumes you when they’re a newborn, hits your last nerve during the toddler-antics phase and reaches previously undiscovered depths as they start school and you’re thrown into this new world of phonics and homework.

Well, I decided earlier on this year that I was done with it. Because of this year, pretty much. As a working mother, I obviously carried the Standard Issue Anthology of Working Mother Guilt (the SIAOWMG) around with me, which contained  dates of every Sports Day I’d ever missed and Google Map print outs of every time those bleddy trains didn’t work and I was late to pick up. It was a pretty weighty object to tuck under my arm every day but it was the price of having a job and I just kinda accepted it, only occasionally wondering why the Anthology of Working Father Guilt looked a lot more manageable.

But this year has changed everything. For once, there have been no Sports Days (Hooray!). And for another, I’ve had to do that same job with my children here the whole time. Aside for three short days at drama camp, Eva has been home all day, every day since the middle of March. Roo had a couple of weeks in school before the end of Year 6 but, other than that, has largely been present too. Right at the start of lockdown I made a conscious choice not to replace my SIAOWMG with a homeschooling version of the same and we just rolled with the complete lack of learning that Eva was doing. I don’t think anyone believed that I wasn’t even attempting to homeschool but I really wasn’t. I was attempting to take on a new project at work, train a new starter and keep the family fed with no home deliveries and no food in the shops. That seemed to be plenty of challenges without taking on schooling as well.

So, with a lack of new guilt and the old standard guilt moving largely into the N/A column, I feel a lot freer. After all, how can I possibly ever feel guilty again about not spending enough time with my kids? We have been together constantly. Everything I used to do without them, I now do with them, or at least with them in the house. Not just work but leading worship for church, running a choir, facilitating a home group session, taking part in an exercise class or even listening to a preach….it has all been avec les enfants.

And some of it has been fun. Other bits less so. But there’s no denying that we parents of 2020 have been tasked with something that no other generation of parents has been asked to do – to provide the complete and all-encompassing care package for our children, with no option to hand them over to a teacher, babysitter, grandparent or even a fellow parent for a few minutes while we go to the loo. For weeks on end, we didn’t even have the option to leave the house for more than an hour or use a playground or sit on a bench or interact with other humans outside our household. Months down the line, we forget how strict those first weeks were and how well we did to not be in a constant state of wailing bansheehood. Or maybe you were in that state. It would be totally understandable.

That’s why I think we should throw off parental guilt for good. We have paid a parenting price this year which puts our accounts firmly into credit for years to come. We have played more games of Qwirkle and Carcasonne than you ever would in ten years’ worth of rainy caravan holidays. We have bent our own house rules and allowed the horrors of child-led painting into our workspaces while we’ve watched aghast, unable to move off our conference calls. In other words, we have done a shedload of parenting.

Of course, this might all be Big Talk. I say that I don’t feel guilty about the sheer number of screen hours that have facilitated these months of indoors time. And I largely don’t. But then I saw someone share an article on how screen time causes depression in kids and the familiar sinking feeling hit my stomach. Only for a moment, though, as I dismissed it by reminding myself that Eva’s screen hours have made her into some kind of whizzkid coder and she can now type faster than she can handwrite (as long as you’re not too fussy on spelling). Reuben swears his video gaming has helped his co-ordination and ability to sense danger in the real world, which comes in handy when he’s crossing the road. In 2020, screens have become a necessity in lieu of real life and that’s how it has to be for now. So there’s no point feeling guilty, is there?

 

 

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A Harwich Holiday

It’s been a year of Plan Bs, hasn’t it? And none more so than in the holiday arena. Our trip to Italy at Easter was cancelled, so we took a very cautious approach to the back-up plan….low-key, localish and isolated. Cheap enough to be able to cancel if needed and close enough to get back in a hurry. Three nights at the Essex seaside.

Not that it felt very local to get to. Google’s helpful suggestion of avoiding the M25 ended up with us avoiding the A120 as well and joining hundreds of other cars in a traffic jam around the narrow roads of rural Essex. At one point we slowed just outside a gardenful of adorable dogs, only to come to a complete halt a few metres down the road and out of sight of them. A little later, a cross man in crocs came out of the gates of his substantial property to stand by Eva’s window and glare at us. That was awkward. Eventually tho, we left CrossCrocMan behind and were on a straight, flat road all the way to Harwich.

I think we must have been to Harwich twice before, as we’ve definintely had two nausea-filled North Sea cruises. The first was in December 1999, when we went to Hamburg with friends and got stranded there for three days because of high winds. We had an excellent time. The second time was a year or so later when Nathan and I cruised over that rocky sea to Denmark and back, being sick all the way. We did not get stranded and we did not have an excellent time.

Either way, I didn’t remember Harwich itself. It was just the gateway to seasickness. But we found a holiday let at a snip of a price and some extensive googling suggested there was something of a beach there. The chief complaint in the Google reviews was that there were “too many dogs”. That would not be a problem for us.

The googling was correct – there was a beach. We headed straight down there as soon as we’d unpacked…the kids needed a bit of a stretch after two and a half hours in the car. We were just going to wander down to Dovercourt Beach and have a look and definitely not get wet… You can imagine how well that went.

So with sopping wet kids, we decided it was time to go and find dinner and they would probably dry off on the way, right? It was sunnyish and I was rightish. We got chips and battered sausages from the Fish House and went back to the apartment to eat, promising more beachiness the next day.

Except we slightly miscalculated. City rookies that we are, we’d forgotten to check the tide times and so our plan of going shopping in the morning, home for lunch and then to the beach had one or two flaws. We’d also forgotten to check the weather, with was sunny but with a yellow warning of wind. By the time we were beach-ready, the beach was far from ready for us. In fact it had disappeared. The wind was somewhat bracing and the waves, which were up to the sea wall, were described by Eva as tsunamis. This might have been a slight exaggeration but we weren’t fully confident of having a swim that day. So we walked the length of the seafront and found a park just next to the leisure centre where we could wait until high tide had been and gone.

It was still a Bit Blowy. But Eva liked it because she said it made her hair look good. Depends which direction you’re facing really.

While we were in the park, the coastguard turned up, which is another ominous sign. The blue flag was changed to red and I wandered back to the seafront to watch the “tsunamis” crashing against and over the sea wall. It really was quite impressive but we weren’t about to defy the red flag and make more work for those nice coastguards.

So we went to the Rainbow Cafe instead. It was possibly too windy to even have coffee as we were seated outside, Covid-securely, and had to hang on to the paper cups in case they flew away. But the kids and Nathan had very nice cake on very nice, solid china and that was happily stable on the table.

By the time I’d persuaded Eva to let me finish her cheesecake, high tide had passed and the beach was starting to re-emerge. There was still no swimming – the red flag was still up – but we could go onto the shingle and dig a big hole.

Nathan was wearing his facemask on the beach at this point, not because of Covid fears but because the wind was whipping up what little sand there was and throwing it directly at his face. Yes, it was that personal. And then he drew my name in Elvish on the sand, which looked kinda personal in the wrong sort of way.

We’d been out in these high winds for three hours by this point, so it was time to go home and prepare dinner and put some cream on the sandburn. I don’t know if anyone has ever successfully and easily cooked dinner in someone else’s oven but this certainly wasn’t going on the leaderboard as a win. Let’s skip straight to the post-dinner stroll on the beach, where the tide was at its lowest and gloppy sand pockets had opened up between the breakers.

We had a fine old time, wandering around the paddling in the little pools of seawater. We spotted a few dogs as well – not our first spottings because, as the reviews said, there was a bit of a canine abundance at Dovercourt. We’d met a very friendly black spaniel earlier and her owner had let us have a stroke. Now the sunset seashore session was spotted with adorable dogs playing fetch and scampering through the water. Much like Eva was doing.

The next morning, the winds had died down and the sea was much calmer. We’d checked the tide times so managed to get to the beach in the morning when the sea wasn’t too far out or lapping at the sea wall. It wasn’t super warm but Roo and I managed two good length swims in the shallows and even Nathan and Eva put their toes in. We also dig another deep hole, getting down to some previously-unexposed steps, down which Eva tipped a bucket of water to make a somewhat sludgey waterfall. There was a bit of a castle to go with the moat too and a pile of sand. Of course, as soon as we moved off the beach, this pile of sand was pooped on by a white bull terrier called Star. Such is the way of the doggyfneria.

As we sat eating chocolate brownies on the promenade, we met another friendly dog called Stanley, who was a rescue dog. His owner again let the kids have a cuddle and, as you can guess, that made them extremely happy. It might just be that they’re finely attuned to the prescence of dogs, having missed them so badly during lockdown, but there really were a LOT of dogs around the beach. There was even a labradoodle staying in the flat above ours at the holiday let, which caused the kids much joy when they bumped into her in the hallway.

The tide was coming in again so we headed towards Cliff Park to enjoy a bit more of the sunshine before going home for lunch. There was a pirate ship in there, and a bouncy swing thing that seemed to be the Number One attraction among the kids. I quite wanted to go for a walk up to see the other lighthouses but Reuben’s sore feet insisted on taking us home instead.

Dinner that night was, once more, courtesy of the Fish House. It isn’t quite true that life is too short to waste time cooking but this holiday was certainly too short for that. Besides, they did an awesome battered sausage. Then after dinner, Eva wand I went for another sunset scamper on the beach and met yet another friendly pup who was very keen to show us lovely yellow frisbee.

And that was it! A night’s sleep and then a drive home that was quicker than the outbound trip by at least an hour. Turns out Harwich really isn’t very far away at all. It was a modest and short holiday, especially compared to what we’d originally planned at Easter, but it gave us a bit of a break and a change of scene. The beach wasn’t crowded, so it was very easy to socially distance – except from dogs – and having a private apartment lent itself well to social distancing as well. I’m not sure we’d choose it over Italy any other year but for a 2020 getaway without fear of quarantine, it absolutely did the job.

 

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Legoland – 08/08/20

Well, this is a bit different to the life we’ve been leading for the last few months. A day out at a theme park you say? That’s not in Chingford? How very extreme. I’ll admit I was a little nervous when reading TripAdvisor reviews about what a Covid deathtrap the whole thing was but we figured we could always cut it short if it didn’t safe. It was like we’d be losing any actual money because we’d paid for our tickets using Clubcard vouchers (there’s been something of an uptick in the Tesco spend since all of us starting being home for every meal).

As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad as long as we were sensible and other people in the queues were too. But more on that later.

We’ve been misdirecting the kids about this all week. They knew we were going somewhere on Saturday but I didn’t want to drop the LL bomb in there just in case something went wrong at the last minute. The local lockdowns (yeah, the *other* LL bomb) have been so swift and severe that it wasn’t until we were actually past the M25 that I felt confident of being able to go. Besides, it’s fun to tell the kids that we’re taking them to an orphanage or the Museum of Accountancy. Only issue is now that Nathan is desperate to visit the Museum of Accountancy IRL, even though I made it up on the spot. It’s The Wall of Calculators that is the big draw for him, I think. Or maybe The Well of Excel.

Anyway, they figured it out. I made a joke about an elven archer a few days back that apparently was a big giveaway, as was the minifig t-shirt I left out for Roo this morning. By the time we got to our usual Harvester, they definitely knew.

Of course, our usual Harvester is a bit different in these Covid times – none of the constant grazing from the breakfast bar and making your own toast just for the fun of it. Instead, your server takes you to the buffet and you point out what you want, which does take away the gluttony somewhat. Still, with a full English and the Southern Fried Chicken that Roo didn’t want, I was still pretty gluttonous. Nathan compensated for the lack of hand-toasted crumpets by going for the “add steak” option for the first time. Roo order the chicken, bacon and waffles but swapped his chicken for my scrambled egg, prompting much in the way of debate about which came first. Eva was the only one who properly ordered from the breakfast and she ended up with an unholy mixture of weetabix, strawberries, yoghurt, maple syrup and chips. The last two went really well together apparently.

Stoked and stuffed, we headed to Legoland itself vowing to ignore the brown signs and follow Google Maps’ much more direct route. Except we missed a turning and ended up going a third route that was neither of those options. I’ll report back when we finally get this figured out.

So, we got to Legoland. I realise that was a lot of preamble. We parked in a socially distanced way and donned our masks to go through the gates as it was moderately crowded. Not that we came within a metre of any strangers but it was the kind of situation where we could have. Everyone is temperature checked on entry, using an exciting at-the-forehead kind of gun and we passed that test, despite three of us having the meat sweats from breakfast. We were in! I didn’t dare to believe it but it was finally happening…an exciting day out after so many dreary Saturdays at home. We celebrated with a photo in front of a TARDIS.

It takes a bit of getting used to when and where to wear the masks but I think we had it figured out by the end. Any indoor queues were masks-on and any queues that were too tightly snaked to be able to socially distance from the people in the next row over. Reuben, at just-turned-11 was very good about wearing his mask when he needed to, even though I swear he thinks the age limit is made up specifically to troll him. Ninjago – our first ride – was an indoor/outdoor queue so, although we had them on the whole time, there was probably a bit where we didn’t need to. That was also the bit we were stuck in for the longest time as we encountered the first of many ride-cleaning delays. I’m not complaining that they’re cleaning the rides, obviously. Luckily, the outside bit had the Ninjago movie playing on screens, to keep the kids distracted.  The queue was also fairly distanced, with people largely sticking to the markers on the ground and not pushing in to the gaps…that would be our experience for much of the day, although it was notably easier on the newer rides where the queuing system had obviously been designed to give queuers a bit more space (not with Covid in mind, just with…yknow…basic human dignity in mind)

I’d downloaded the Legoland app for this visit and it gave us a good, if not perfect, indication of how long the queues were going to be. The Ninjago queue was actually a bit shorter than the app had said, so that was a winner to start with. And the ride was very fun too  – you sit in a carriage and move around different 4D scenes of various beasties attacking you. Only your ninja skills can defeat them! Sadly I don’t have any ninja skills but Reuben and Nathan did pretty well.

The next ride we wanted to go on was the Haunted House Monster Party, near the back of the park. It gave us a bit of a chance to stretch our legs before another queue. And this one truly was as it said on the box – 60 minutes, almost to the second. Eva lost her nerve halfway through queuing and thought it was too scary but we told her she’d enjoy it once we were in there. Spoiler: she didn’t. Whoops.

We passed the queue time by playing a round of “Lord of the Rings Alphabet Battle”, in which Gandalf emerged as the ultimate victor. I’m watching “Return of the King” as I type this tho and he’s not much of a warrior. In that final battle, all he does is swish his hair around. On a related note, Reuben was keen to flag up how un-Hobbit-friendly Legoland was. The height restrictions would prohibit many of the smaller folk from going on the rides and every ride insisted on shoes, which are not a hobbity wardrobe staple. So something to bear in mind if you’re taking a small, hairy friend with you.

Anyway, back to the ride. We went into the Monster party room, where a Vampyre directed us to have a boogie before letting us into the dining hall. But there was another ride cleaning delay, which broke the atmosphere somewhat. But eventually, we took our seats at the table for a disorientating ride where the whole room seemed to rotate around us. Eva was pretty terrified by this point and kept shouting “Stop the ride! Get me off!” but it was over in a flash. Which is just as well because I had my arm round her and her heart rate was getting a bit alarming.

Time to cool down and calm down. Did I mention it was 30C yesterday? We’d packed a 2L bottle of water but were all craving something a bit colder and more interesting. Last time we’d gone for the refillable cup option, it had been pretty frustrating as each refill involved a 30 minute queue at a food stall for a tiny bottle’s worth of refill. But this year, we’d spotted new Coke machines around the park, which dispense all manner of exciting drinks if you bring the right cup along. It was a princely £12 and Nathan had to queue for the cup, which doesn’t come pre-filled. So he bought a couple of bottles of Coke at the same time just to stave off that mad thirst while we regrouped and prepared to join yet another queue just to refill. In the end, I took the kids to the playground at Duplo Valley while Nathan went to get the refill. It was half one by this point and nominally lunchtime but the combination of the heat and the big breakfast had stopped any of us being particularly hungry. Reuben made a token attempt on half a buttered roll I’d packed but even he wasn’t feeling it.

While we’re on the subject of Duplo Valley, be prepared for disappointment if you want to use the Splash Safari and Drench Towers (and who wouldn’t when it’s 30c??) Slots have to be prebooked and are only released online two days beforehand. I was out with the kids on Thurs and by the time I got home, all the slots were fully booked. So there was no opportunity to cool down, even if you stand right next to the splash area and hope for a bit of water spray.

We weren’t really up for another mega-queue at this point and we were right next to the Duplo Airport so that seemed like an easy next ride. The helicopters have had a makeover of late – Eva specifically wanted a gold and pink one, whereas a couple of years back she’d chosen red – but Eva’s piloting skills have not evolved accordingly. It was a bumpy ride. Still, Nathan grabbed the opportunity to get on his aviator shades. Wonder if Graham Coxon would think he was looking really ace?

It was actually quite nice and breezy up there, which was good because Roo and I had a sweaty walk ahead of us. We were heading up the hill for the Viking River Splash and I could only hope there would be some sweet, sweet water splash on this ride. Especially as the estimated queue time was 80 minutes.

Now this is a prime example of a queuing system that makes distancing tricky and I think it is one of the older rides. The end of the queue extended up the hill but once under cover, the rows are close together and standing on the floor markers only separates you from the people in front and behind you, not from those to your side. Even tho there was no explicit instruction, I kept my mask on for the whole queue and took it off for the ride (no masks on water rides as getting them wet renders them useless). I know that mask wearing doesn’t necessarily protect me but it felt like the responsible thing to do in a queue that wasn’t ideal in terms of spacing and being semi-indoors. Plus, I saw a kid in the next row put his mouth on the wooden hand rail. Yeesh. I’m not OCD about hand sanitizer but I definitely whipped out the gel before I took my mask off.

If you’re wondering where Nathan and Eva were at this point, they’d gone on the Fairytale Brook, which is one of Eva’s favourite rides and my least favourite, ever since I gave myself a month-long knee injury on it in 2018. We weren’t up for any post-Legoland hospital visits this year. Of any kind.

After that, Nathan texted to say they were waiting for the Aero Nomad ride. We could see their ride from our ride and Reuben thought he could spot them on the top. So he stood up in the boat and waved, before I shrieked at him to “Stay seated at all times!” I know I wanted to cool down but I wasn’t up for a full on capsize, which was quite possible with only two of us in the boat (one perk of distancing). Don’t worry tho, he sat straight down again and we didn’t go over. I didn’t even get splashed, which was something of a disappointment. But the queue had only been 45 minutes, not the 80 intended so that was a plus.

We were crazy-thirsty again by the time we came off tho, so we went back down the hill with Reuben shielding his eyes as we went past the Spider Spinner. We were planning on heading Nathan and Eva off as they came off Aero Nomad but as we passed, they were only just going on. Some complicated sign language got us the refill cup, tho we almost got a ride with them without queuing which makes perfect sense from a distancing POV (as it was one family per balloon) but I would have felt awfully guilty if we had. So instead, Roo and I went to Heartlake City to experiment with Sprite flavours – this fill up was strawberry, grape and vanilla. Tasted a bit artificial if I’m honest but Roo enjoyed it.

That was around our fourth refill I think and we had calcuated that we needed five to get our money’s worth. It’s not made entirely clear how the cups work but I think there must be some kind of chip in the bottom that allows you to operate the machines for the day. It objects to repeated refills in a short space of time so when we only got a shot of Cherry Coke because the syrup had run out it didn’t then let us have another refill for a few minutes. I guess this is meant to deter people doing what we did and buying one cup for four people. Around 3PM the queues were massive as everyone was clearly starting to run out of water and the machines would let you top up water bottles free of charge…by around 5PM, however, we had the run of them. As long as we didn’t down a cup of Coke in three minutes or less.

All of this refilling and chugging was to have edgy effects as we were queuing for Laser Raiders. You can guess what the tension was but it wasn’t helped by the inexplicable lack of staff at the first gate. Again, we were queued fairly tightly and indoors, so masks were on and this didn’t help with communicating with your kids in a delicate situation. Plus the kids’ area was shut off but in a way that was so ineffective I didn’t even notice i.e. there was a kid-sized gap in the barrier where they’d usually go in. Other kids were already there, watching the movie, and so ours joined them. There was an announcement about not entering the kids’ area but the first time I wilfully misheard it as *adults* not entering the Kids’ Zone and only clocked on the second time round. I was Sprite-high, OK? I can’t be expected to be in full control of all my faculties. But the net result was again trying to summon our kids back out of the area and instruct them on how to get to us, all with masks on and trying not to raise voices. Tricky. But also New Normal. Why the spacious Kids’ Zone is closed off to aid distancing is another question.

Eventually, a staff member returned and let us through to the next stage of the queue, which was a long yellow tent-tunnel. The Situation was getting quite urgent by now but we had no real option to duck and run back as there were no staff nearby to get us through the gate and back out. There were some in the distance, deep cleaning the ride and that seemed to take forever. The ride itself was fun enough – a bit low tech compared to the Ninjago ride – but the tension of impending disaster meant I couldn’t relax and enjoy it.

The next stop after that was, quite natural, the loos in Heartlake City. Again, wearing a mask inside the toilet building made it difficult to talk to Eva through the cubicle door so if you have a child that sometimes need chivvying along, you’re probably best off sharing a cubicle.

By now, we were coming in to land and, with very sore feet, not much ambition to do anything else. Eva wanted to go the Heartlake Mall, where she scored a new puppy, who is much cuter than Pugsley from last year. He’s been through many name changes already, but meet the Artist Currently Known As Toffee:

We also got ice lollies in the shop because the queue was much shorter than at any of the food stalls. Result! Reuben’s only desire at this point was to try and win something by throwing something…he ended up with a blue meercat thing after spending a fiver on Hook-a-Duck. Not my recommendation, gotta be honest.

The only thing left was that Eva wanted to go to the Pirate Playground. So we did that for ten minutes or so before the playground closed at 6…and pretty much had the place to ourselves, making it easy enough to follow the social distancing guidelines.

Then just a trudge back up the hill and back to the car before stopping at Heston services on the way home for a Burger King, successfully this time (we don’t need to recap last year’s disaster). Again, it was slightly weird wearing a mask inside the servces and in the loos, but we were well used to it by then. We had managed to go all day without eating, apart from the ice lollies and the buttered rolls (the kids had sat down for a few minutes at 4PM to eat them). We didn’t even crack open the bountiful piles of crisps, popcorn and biscuits I’d packed. It was just Too Darn Hot.

So, Legoland in Covid times. Probably a mad idea but the reality wasn’t too scary. We didn’t make physical contact with any other humans and, although there were times when the distance was uncomfortable by 2020 standards, it was normally outside and most people were masked. Plus, the rides were being cleaned constantly and there was hand sanitizer everywhere, I’m going to be more careful than usual these next couple of weeks, just in case I’ve picked anything up tho. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for anyone high-risk or with high levels of anxiety about infection but it felt safe, for the most part and a well-deserved treat for kids who’ve been inside for months on end.

Hopefully by next summer, it’ll just be a bit more…normal…

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Kitchener Park – 05/08/20

You know when you visit somewhere in your dreams and then, years later, try to find it in real life? Well, that’s what I thought Kitchener Park was like. Somewhere I dreamt up years ago that doesn’t exist. Certainly, Google Maps didn’t have any sign of a large park with a zip wire that sat on the edge of the North Circular but still, I was sure it was there. We’d been there once, six years ago. It was the first weekend after we’d moved to Highams Park and we remembered the park from househunting in Walthamstow. Why so many years elapsed between then and now I don’t know, but it felt like the right time to revisit. After all, we had spent a lot of time within a mile radius of the house these last few months, so why not take that mile to the south for once?

Maybe it’s because a walk over the North Circular isn’t everyone’s idea of a nice stroll. You can get some great pics on a Good Sky Day like yesterday tho:

Plus, it turns out I was right – the park was exactly where I had left it. We walked down Wadham Road, over the footbridge and the entrance was a small gate right next to the steps down:

There was a large field, which had a couple of dogs running about in it…this makes it an official Doggyfneria in the family venacular and dogspotting is one of our favourite hobbies. Then next to that was an equallhy large park. Sadly the zip wire was out of use but there was a climbing wall, with spider web climbing frame:

 

Roo didn’t go on it because he doesn’t like spiders but I’m sure other kids would like it.

There were also those roundabout swings and giant net swings…more than enough to keep a bigger kid happy. It would have been better if the zip wire had been in operation but still, I’m pretty pleased with our find. It was also very sparsely populated for such a gloriously sunny day…and if These Times, sparsely populated is good.

So, basically don’t go telling everyone about it….OK?

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Covid-Safe Swimming – 04/08/20

 

Just how safe is Covid-safe swimming? Probably very. How easy is Covid-safe swimming? Err, not very.

Let’s start at the start, which is round about April-ish. Roo and I were walking to the corner shop for our only possible outing and discussing what we’d do when this was all over. He said he wanted to have a walk with our spaniel friend and go for a swim. Well, it isn’t all over but still, we managed to do both those things today.

The walk was extensive and lovely. The forest in the sunshine with a puppy…what more could you want?

The swimming was more challenging. We’d decided on Chingford Leisure Centre as it was likely to be quieter than the Feel Good Centre. Both are run by Better Leisure, so the booking process would be the same whichever one we chose. So, around 6PM last night the kids were having dinner and I decided to try and book. I finally managed it three minutes before midnight. The first issue was the website:

Which was awfully keen on booking me swimming slots in Cornwall or Swindon but not so keen on booking anything in the vicinity of London.

So I downloaded the app, which freaked out about me using an e-mail address that was linked to Reuben’s swimming lessons because swimming lessons are currently suspended. On the advice of some people on Facebook, I logged out of that account and used the “Non Member Request Booking”  function to set up a new account, using the choir e-mail address. That didn’t work but also didn’t let me try again with the same e-mail address. So I dug out an old Yahoo! account and the same happened. My eventual success came through Nathan’s e-mail address and an entirely different interface to the one I’d been using before. All I had to do was get back out of bed and walk two floors down to where my card was. Result!

Roo decided to bike over, with me scuttling along behind. We’ve tried various routes there from Highams Park and he was keen to show me a new one he’d worked out when he’d been out for a ride. It involved a busy main road and, at one point, I spotted a cycle path on the pavement and encouraged him to use it. It wasn’t clear from this angle that it went almost immediately into the road itself and then dissolved entirely around the pedestrian crossing.

He handled it very well but I aged several years watching him do it and was relieved to find him waiting for me at the hedgehogs at the end of Ropers Avenue. From there on, it was a simple path through the forest but avoiding the giant hill and still coming out on the playing fields behind the pool.

We were 20 mins early, because I always think it’s further than it actually is. Swimming slots are very precise – you have a ten minute window to get into the building and you can’t enter it before. So, for our 14:00-14:10 slot it was definitely excessive to get to the field by 13:30. I considered stopping for a sitdown but someone else nabbed the bench first and you can’t exactly ask them to scooch up in this environment.  But we locked the bike up because last time we’d biked to Chingford there hadn’t been anywhere near the centre itself (Spoiler: there are bike racks just next to the fronr door. I am clearly blind). Then we hung around outside the front doors until 13:55 when we were allowed to go in.

More or less….there was some furore about me using Nathan’s e-mail address because of Track and Trace but once I explained the six hours I’d spent trying every e-mail address that I owned, they let us through.

There’s no denying that it’s a different experience to normal swimming. Entry at Chingford is poolside so there’s nowhere to change or shower beforehand. We did use the loos in the reception area, wiping everything with baby wipes as we went. But we’d come “pool ready” with swimmers under our clothes, as requested, so walked through and left our bags by the window next to the teaching pool. It’s definitely best to be as minimal as possible – I didn’t take my handbag, just a rucksack for my towel – and don’t forget to pack underwear for the journey home. How many of us have made that mistake before?

Once we were properly pool ready, it was fairly straightforward although we went the wrong way around the teaching pool to start with and got told off. Our session was “adult and child” and we were one of three small clusters of people. It feels very exclusive but also you have to be on best behaviour because the lifeguards will whistle for any sign of wrongdoing. Backstroke is frowned upon, as is Butterfly, and there was a rope across the pool where the red line is so the scope for swimming was quite limited.

Still, it was a swim! And that’s something we haven’t for the last five months (and one day). It wasn’t perfect but it was nice to do something that wasn’t just wandering around. And after months of screen-lethargy, I actually feel exhausted in a healthy way. Just a pity about the 6 hour screen battle last night to actually get the thing booked!

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Epping Forest – 19/07/20

It’s finally happened – we’ve left Highams Park. After four solid months of only travelling by foot (or bike in Roo’s case), the four of us got into the car together and went all the way to North Chingford. I know! Steady on! We even left the borough briefly as our original destination was the car park by Connaught Water, which involved driving past the “Welcome to Essex” sign. Luckily (?) it was full, so we reversed out and found a space at the car park opposite Butler’s Retreat, safely back inside LBWF.

We were meeting some church friends for a socially-distanced picnic and there were various aims to the day, including bird of prey spotting and something to do with fruit (redacted for spoilers). But most of the entertainment for the kids came from an old favourite – the hollow tree:

Eva’s speciality was, as ever, getting herself up the tree but not down again…so she had to be rescued by Nathan a few times and coaxed down a very helpful big brother (not her own big brother, natch…Reuben was all for leaving her up there)

A few things have changed around Butlers’ Retreat in these-a-days and one of them, unfortunately, is the lack of toilets. Butlers itself is takeaway only, The View is closed and the pub/hotel next door is due to reopen on 30th July but I doubt they’ll want a load of muddy forest kids using the facilities. I tried to persuade Eva to use a bucket I found in the car but she was very dismissive of my creative genius so she just had to hold it for the foreseeable. As did her ageing mother.

That was one of the reasons that we decided to go for a walk to the nearest pub – the Warren Wood in Buckhurst Hill. It looked to be about 15 mins away, even if it did involve crossing back into Essex once more. We reasoned that we could use the loos, have a drink and then, inevitably, use the loos again. And it turned out to be quite a picturesque walk:

I mean, those are the kind of wide open vistas you’d find in a Western, right? And happily, Nathan already has the hat for that, or at least he did until it was stolen by a small child (in the interests of social distancing, I had to assist the small child in the stealing of the hat).

So the walk bit was nice but the pub, alas, was not to be. They had a sizable outdoor area – it was a kind of yard on the main road so “beer garden” might have been a stretch – but, as we got closer, the “NO CHILDREN” signs in bed red letters made it clear that we weren’t gonna welcome. Luckily, tho there was a garage next door which supplied us with cold drinks and ice lollies at a fraction of the price of a pub round so we sat under a tree in the forest and had them there. It all worked out well.

It was, as you can tell from the pictures and the ice lollies, a pretty perfect day to be in the forest. Sunny enough that I got slightly burnt but not too hot for the kids to be able to run around and play and generally do the kind of kid stuff they haven’t really been able to do for the last few months.

Obviously, lockdown is not over yet and we can’t have the sort of picnic where you sit close to your friends and share loads of food….but this felt the closest to normal life we’ve had for a while. If only there had been a toilet….

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A Grim Old Time for Community Choirs (A Reblog)

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A reblog from my choir blog: harmonye4.wordpress.com

This lockdown has brought challenges for so many people in so many ways. Slowly, restrictions are lifting and life is showing glimpses of normality. And this week, choir leaders everywhere allowed themselves a small smile as the government announced the return of outdoor gigs from 11th July.

Yet it’s 11th July and we are not performing. It was meant to be Highams Park Day today, which is always the finale to our summer season but there was no Highams Park Day and no summer season. We’ve known that would be the case for some time but always held on to the hope that something would be possible later on in the summer.

The announcement this week has all but scuppered that hope. While gigs are back, singing is limited to small groups of professionals. You can read the original text here. I went from a place of optimism on Thursday afternoon to a slough of despair on Thursday evening as all the implications sunk in. The line between amateurs and professionals is nonsensical from an infection point of view – we all have to breathe out when we sing, however much voice control we have – and it leaves amateur choirs stranded without the support and momentum of the professionals behind them. I understand that we need to get the Arts Industry moving, but keen amateurs support the pros. We’ve sung with a professional soprano at the Highams Park Proms every year since we started and choirs all over the country lend their free support to professional singers all the time in normal times. And how are the next generation of professionals going to learn their trade without school choirs to sing in?

Amateur choirs are about so much more than performing. It’s a community and a support network. When we first came up with the idea of starting a choir, I was working in a job where I was isolated all day and choir was a blessed lifeline. Others came to us because they had small children and were looking to try and restart their social life. More recently we’ve had people who have just retired or who are just recovering from long illnesses….all coming together to sing because that’s what has connected humans since the dawn of time.

I’ve always loved to sing. I’ve never been more than an adequate singer myself but the joy of having a choir to sing for me is that they cover up my patchy notes and realise my maddest musical visions. I’ve sung to myself a lot during lockdown but there isn’t the joy you get when you harmonise with other people. I am extremely bored of the sound of my own voice, it’s fair to say.

I know the research so far into the dangers of singing and Covid. I know the case studies. I’ve read it all. So please don’t respond with a pile of links me to plough through. I am fully aware of what we know so far, even though we actually know very little. But in a world where you can go to the pub and sing there but not sing sober in a controlled outside environment….well, it’s hard not to be a little downbeat. The months of silence about singing, followed by this one announcement has proved that community choirs are not high on the restart agenda and we shouldn’t expect to be.

It’s a grim old time alright.

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More Food Blogging…Still Not Going Well

You can tell that lockdown fever is really starting to get to me when I agree to activities that Eva’s organised. True, we’re not that locked down any more but a quick look through my Google location history for last week suggested that I spent 97% of my time at home, which is still enough to drive me crazy. Just because we can go out now doesn’t mean there is much to go out and do, with all the normal summer events cancelled and so many places still shut up.

So I asked Eva what she wanted to do this weekend, hoping that it might involve coffee and socialising. She disappeared upstairs for a bit and re-emerged, clutching a copy of “Sparkle World” magazine, open at a recipe for “Rainbow Pizza”. Now, you might think that “Rainbow Pizza” is a euphemism akin to Lister’s “Jackson Pollock” but no, it’s more of a recipe for making your parents spend a fortune on fruit that is then mangled into rainbow shapes on pastry.

I’ve done food blogging once before and it too involved fruit that was very, very touched by human hands. But Eva’s twice as old now as she was then so maybe this time, we’d win. So, first step was a trip to Tesco with both kids, which I’d not attempted since lockdown began. But the queuing time was only a few minutes and the one-way system has disappeared so it was a bit less daunting a prospect than it had been previously. At some point, Reuben also disappeared and it was in the queue that I found him after raising a slightly unnecessary alarm. He stuck with us through a few minutes of fruit-buying before sacking us off to buy himself pic n mix and wander home.

Eva and I then bought a basketful of fruit, which was heavier than I could ever have imagined. 5 bananas, a large mango, a bag of clementines, a punnet of strawberries, a punnet of blackberries, a packet of grapes and a bag of kiwis. Luckily, I had this colour-coded shopping list to keep me on track with what we needed.

The shortcrust pastry was the hardest thing to find but it eventually turned up in the fridge section, right opposite the Greek-style yoghurt. I had a sneaking suspicion that Eva wouldn’t like the Greek-style yoghurt so we bought some extra-thick double cream as a Plan B as well.

The next challenge was lugging it all home, via a visit to Liz at Ziggys because she doesn’t like me going to Tesco without saying hello.

Once we got home, we unrolled the pastry which turned out to be *too* cold because it was brittle and snapped off a lot. So I had to stick it all together with a rolling pin, which also made it stick to the chopping board. It was like a bad technical on Bake Off.

The Eva cut out a tiny rainbow shape, which she insisted would play host to seven different coloured stripes of fruit. I cut out so more shapes, re-rolled and cut out a much bigger rainbow. The shapes all baked for 10 minutes, in which time I cut up all the fruit into different bowls, mainly so I could take this picture:

So pretty!

I also tested Eva’s Greek yoghurt tolerance by asking her to taste a little bit before we slathered it all over the fruit. Turns out I was right. Initiaite Plan B.

Once the shapes were out, Eva spread the cream on them and positioned the fruit and from there on in, it went fairly smoothly. Even my big rainbow wasn’t quite big enough tho:

That single blackberry is clinging to the side for dear life and the grapes (and MORE GRAPES) and notable by their absence.

I liked some of her other designs tho, like this one which reminded me of sushi:

When we came to eat them, I think we were all glad we’d gone with the cream and not the yoghurt. There’s not a lot of sweetness in shortcrust pastry and the sharp edge of the yoghurt wouldn’t have helped. I think kids’ magazine always have to provide healthy ingredients though, don’t they?

What did help was a generous sprinkling of vanilla sugar, which transformed it from lumps of bland pastry and cream to something quite delicious. Top LWAT Food Blogging tip – always add sugar.

I know, I should do this as a career….

 

 

 

 

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Life in Greyscale

I’ve had this post in mind for a while but I didn’t want to muddle my clumsy colour metaphor with any of the important discussions going on around race…but thoughts don’t always stay peacefully in my mind without being written down so here it is – the clumsy metaphor about my lockdown experience.

When you watch black and white films, it’s easy to believe that the actors were less real because they’re in greyscale. Everything seems less believable and not just because of the wobbliness of the sets. It’s because we are not designed to view life in shades of grey and it only feels real when we can see the colours around us. It’s why recolourised photos can be shocking sometimes – because images we’re used to seeing in black and white suddenly come to life.

But these last three months, I feel like I’ve been living life in greyscale. Nothing seems quite real and while we’re moving through the days and months, it’s a far cry from the feeling of actually living life. I look back at some of the moments in the recent past that feel like living life in technicolour and they’re all to do with being with other people. The finale of ChoirFest was one such Technicolour moment – the culmination of months of work,  300 singers joyfully throwing their hands in the air and bringing so many people together in the love of singing.

There won’t be any moments like that for a long time.

And that feels hard to handle. There won’t be any of those moments where you swim in the sea under a hot Greek sun and look around, never wanting the day to end. None of those moments where you mingle happily with friends and strangers on a dance floor, united by a song you all know from the 90s. We’ll be living life as separate units for the foreseeable future and even as things resume some appearance of normality, it’s hard to imagine a life that will be fully normal this year. Or maybe even next.

There are times where life feels like the bottom left corner of the four selfies above. Like little flashes of colour – not living life to its fullmost but days when I’ve been for a socially distanced walk with a friend or bought a coffee or seen a dog…I can almost feel like my real self. But there are still none of those intense, frame-this-forever moments on the horizon.

We’re not in the depths of despair. We’re not struggling to survive, like so many are. We are pretty lucky. But we are living life in greyscale and every social interaction we have is faint shadow of what we used to know. No hugging friends, no squishing up so that one more person can join us for coffee, no spontaneity and no adventuring…for now, at least. We’re taking a cautious approach to the guidelines and there’s probably more life we could squeeze out of the current restrictions but the social media police are always watching and it’s safer to not push the boundaries.  Besides, I know why we’re doing what we’re doing so I understand it can’t be anything different. But I don’t need to be happy about it.

Once again, this is a slightly pointless post but, in the absence of my usual romping around London, you’re being treated to a romp around my brain instead. Lucky you. I’ve never been the most introspective blogger but this pandemic has made introspective bloggers of us all. Hopefully it won’t be forever….

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