Today, we’ve been camping. Yes, I know it’s out of character for us because we’re not natural campers but also, it seems unlikely that I might be able to blog from a tent in the middle of a wood so I’ll let you in on a small secret….we’re not still there. We went camping for the afternoon, had a lovely time and have come home in time to watch “Good Omens” and go to bed. Honestly, it’s the best way to do it. We did camp for one night last year, at Suntrap, and it was more or less bearable but we got about 4 hours’ sleep and were grouching at each other for about a week afterwards. And that was taking the easy route of camping with several of Eva’s peers with other people organising everything for us.
So, when Bob and Not-Bob offered us the chance to come camping with them in Epping Forest, we didn’t quite jump at the chance but we did do a cautious kind of hop at the chance. And it was only on the fringes of the Forest, not right in the heart of it. I think. No-one quite seems to know, even the people who made this poster for the campsite:
But wherever it was, it wasn’t far from home. So we could easily hop in the car, visit for an afternoon and come home again. And that’s exactly what we did….it cost us £19 for a day’s access to the facilities for the four of us (including parking) and that applied from 9am till 8pm. We only got there at 1pm because we wanted to brunch at home first, just in case there was no coffee on site. Turns out that was a wise move. So we had around 6 hours of camping before dragging the kids away at 7 as the weather started to turn a little less than roasting. And what did we do in that time?
Well, there was a lot of tree climbing:
And Eva almost got absorbed in this particular bit of tree. It was quite sinister to see her disappearing like something out a Guillermo del Toro film:
And then Reuben fell right through all those thin little branches and scraped his legs all over so we had to limp back to the campsite and patch him up.
There was a water fight and some marshmallow toasting:
And a pretty good BBQ, where we cooked pork steaks, mango and lime chicken and around 48 sausages. For 7 of us.
The kids did lots of playing in the playground while we sat around drinking cider and non-alcoholic beer for Nathan. He was driving us home, so I got him the Pistonhead Flat Tire “Drinkers’ Edition” 4-pack and he said it wasn’t too bad. A day when I willing go and commune with nature and Nathan drinks non-alcoholic lager….stranger things have happened but it’s hard to think of any examples right now.
We also had a not-entirely successful trip to the camp shop, which only opens on demand this time of year. They had a few ice creams, so we pretty much cleared them out and the random boy who’d attached himself to Boby spent his money on some kind of blue sweet that he wasn’t supposed to have. Ah well. The shop and reception both only take cash so be prepared and no, there is no barista coffee available. The Hackneyites were most disappointed.
As a “getting away from it all” experience, it was pretty effective. No WiFi, no crowds and only patchy amounts of phone reception. Bits of the campsite look like they haven’t changed since the 70s but what do you really need apart from a bit of ground and some toielts? Especially if you’re not actually planning on staying the night. Happy camping!
So, we went to Portugal for a week. You’d think there’d be a lot to say – like my 5-post, 5000-word epic series on our Athens trip – but really we spent a lot of the time lazing around and eating so it would get pretty repetitive pretty quickly.
But here are the essentials. We flew with Ryanair, which was adequate but definitely not inspiring. We took off on time and landed pretty much on time both ways but we had to skimp on baggage and didn’t get so much as a seat pocket to put your book in on what was a seriously frill-free plane. The flights were quite straightforward though – the kids read their books all the way there, even though Eva had taken quite some persuasion to pack a book in the first place. Her suitcase was full of unicorns and, as I said, our baggage allowance was stingy at best.
Flying from Stansted was pretty good – we were playing a serious long game moving to Highams Park because that 29 minute drive to Stansted in the middle of the afternoon felt remarkably stress free. The airport itself is nothing spectacular but it had a Burger King with super quick service so that was all the kids really look for in an airport.
And the holiday itself? Pretty good too. We stayed at Monica Isabel Beach Club in Albufeira. It had some less than favourable google reviews but we’re not overly fussy on decor and things like that so it suited us fine. There was one day where we had no towels for four hours in the afternoon so I had to shiver dry after a chilly outdoor swim…but that was the only glitch. We dined three times a day in the restaurant, enjoying the all inclusive food and booze and Reuben in particular really embraced the ethos of “It is available to eat, therefore I shall eat it”, often squeezing in a hotdog meal between lunch and dinner.
We had one day away from the hotel, when the clouds were gloomy and so our usual swimming and sunbathing activities seemed off the table. There was a shuttle bus from the hotel to Albufeira Old Town but it never materialised so we walked the mile or so in the end, down a very steep hill that we might come to regret on the way back. Coming into the Old Town, there was an outdoor escalator down to the beach, which was a novelty for all of us, and by the beach was a 5D cinema. I thought it would be a bit too scary for Eva but she was the one who loved it the most. At 5Euro per person for 5 minutes, it was pricey but we really hadn’t spent any cash at all since we’d arrived so that was OK. Especially as Eva says it was the best part of the holiday for her.
We chose the Wild West Rollercoaster and it was..intense. You’re strapped into theme park-style seats and given 3D glasses so it really feels like you’re on a tiny cart, rattling through the mountains. The 5th Dimension element – a bit of water squirted in the face – was underwhelming but the overall effect was convincing, if nauseating.
The plan was to go for ice cream straight afterwards but three of us were feeling a bit sick so we wandered around the town for a while first. We visited an art gallery where all the paintings were made with coffee and a shop that sold gigantic versions of Eva’s unicorn Fantastia. I mean, almost as big as Eva. We did not purchase it. But eventually we felt well enough for a yummy ice cream from Sailor Ices on the main town square:
And after that we visited the famous cliff elevator, which really was just a lift on a beach. I mean, the views were cool but not overwhelming. It was free though, so can’t complain.
That’s pretty much all I need to blog about. Compared to the Calais trip, it all went very smoothly and successful trips don’t make the best blog posts. There was one glitch when we arrived in Faro and our transfer driver was not waiting for us as promised – if you ever book a transfer with Best Airport Transfers, always read the small print and realise that you have to check in at their desk before you get a driver. There will be no-one with a sign with your name on it.
Apart from that, a good holiday I thought. Which is why it’s taken a month to post about it…Happy half term!
Eva and I have been to a few Little Angel productions now and always enjoyed them – even the one we both cried happy tears through– but up till yesterday I’d never taken Roo, thinking that at nearly a decade old he might be too big for puppet shoes. But yesterday’s was a David Walliams story and Reuben is a big DW fan so I thought I’d take both. I was teaching English at church in Canonbury first, so it seemed like it would be all straightforward as we’d already be in the area. However, Eva got a party invite a few weeks ago and that was in North Chingford so that threw a bit of a spanner in the works.
That’s why I went to Islington to teach English with just my boy in tow, who wasn’t as keen on helping as my girl normally is. He liked the role play and the sweets tho. Then we went for lunch at our favourite Islington cafe – appropriately called “My Favourite Cafe” and, with an hour to kill before the show, headed to Astey’s Row playground to a runaround.
Alas! The playground is being redeveloped so we couldn’t go in. Any idea what these multi-coloured boulders might become?
In lieu of slides and stuff, we hung out in the rock garden where he climbed a few trees and clambered over some boulders. Then it was time to meet Eva and Nathan just outside the taxidermy shop and head to Little Angel.
Except Nathan didn’t fancy hanging around and went home to follow Eva’s instruction to recharge his social batteries (she read it off his t-shirt…she’s not that insightful). So it was just me and the kids wandering up Cross Street, which is surprisingly posh. It’s one of those streets that would appear in Time Out as a “hidden treasure”. So hidden that despite going to several meetings at Cross Street Baptist, I have never noticed the posh bit before. But it really is. I mean, it has whole shop dedicated to Farrow and Ball paint. I am not making this up.
It was just off this street that we found the wisteria-covered Dagmar Passage that led to Little Angel Theatre. It was a lot easier than finding it from the Upper Street side. Settling into our seats at the theatre, we spotted a celeb in the audience. I won’t invade his privacy by saying who it was, but it struck me that the last thing I’d watched him in had a very strikingly similar plot to “The Slightly Annoying Elephant”. In short, uninvited and demanding house guests.
But obviously, the house guest in question here was an elephant. A very large elephant. I think we’d all expected the elephant to be hand-puppet size but instead, the puppeteer was dwarfed by the size of it especially the very large blue bottom that made Eva howl with laughter every time she saw it.
The plot is fairly simple – a kid called Sam adopts an elephant at the zoo but the paperwork is doctored so that, in actual fact, he’s agreed to the elephant coming to live at his house. And all the elephant’s friends. The elephant is demanding and likes to bellow “silly booooy” at him as Sam gradually loses patience. There are a few songs worked into the show but essentially, it’s a physical comedy sketch between a boy and an elephant. And the kids loved it.
There were a few easy wins with my children – an extended toilet gag near the beginning, which always plays well – and towards the end there was a sharp change in direction when ten more elephants appeared, which kept the momentum up and delighted the audience with the sheer number of elephant heads that kept coming through the door. Eva’s favourite was the baby elephant, obviously.
It’s a bouncy, fast-paced show with a brightly coloured set and fun use of flashbacks as the stage transformed into a zoo and an aeroplane (how far was this zoo that the elephant had to get a plane back from it?) There’s no doubt that the elephant is more than just slightly annoying and it’s quite refreshing that the expected resolution – boy and elephant reconcile their differences – never comes. Everything just escalates and escalates again, with the chaos building to a elephantine crescendo. With extra crash.
So, the show is aimed at 3-8 year olds but my nearly 10-year-old enjoyed it just fine and so did other kids of a similar age in the audience. It’s 45 minutes so a 3-year-old would probably be fine to sit through it but any younger might get a little restless or a little terrified by the loud noises. It definitely hit the mark for a 7-year-old Eva though. If you have a similarly aged child who likes pachyderms and bottom jokes, then the show is on till 4th August – for tickets and more information, click here.
Disclaimer: I received press tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.
Yes, another year and another trip to Legoland. This time it was for Eva’s birthday, not Roo’s, but in every other way you’d think it’d be the same as the other years. Still, I think I have one or two new things to tell you about.
One thing that was definitely not new was our brunch stop at the Windsor Lad. It’s become a vital part of the Legoland prep and we were quite distraught when we got there and it seemed like cooked brunch might be off the menu as the gas wasn’t working. But not to worry – we started off with the breakfast bar and half a crumpet down, the hot food was ready to go. So we successfully loaded up on meat and carbs before we ventured into the park. Except Eva. Obviously.
We still haven’t cracked the drive from the pub to Legoland itself. We defied Google Maps and followed the brown signs but it felt like we were going on a giant diversion and Nathan and I both had a creeping sense of deja vu – didn’t we start doubting the brown signs last year? And the answer was yes, the brown signs do seem to take you on a delibrately convoluted route in order to avoid traffic going through the middle of Windsor. Fair enough if there was a Duchess in labour at the time who might need the roads clear but they can’t use that excuse every year.
Still, we were parked and at the turnstiles by about half ten. I’d bought tickets online – half by using Clubcard Boost, half by using a Kelloggs code – so we could walk right in without queuing for tickets. All was going to plan until we got to the lockers. The last minute panic where we’d raided Eva’s purse for £1 coins was all in vain as this year the lockers only took £2 coins. This seemed unreasonably steep and, from a practical angle, impossible as we didn’t have any £2 coins on us. So we took the hit and decided to carry a bulky rucksack full of swimwear and a bag of snacks round with us all day. Spoiler alert – the swimwear didn’t get used. The snacks did.
Eva was in charge of setting the itinerary as it was her birthday and she wanted to start in the same place as last year – the Star Wars dome. It hasn’t changed much, but there are some new Lego Movie 2 related displays in the shop, including the set for Apocalypseburg. We played with the Lego building boards for a bit and Roo tried to leave a LM2 spoiler but I swiftly removed a vital bit of it so that he couldn’t. I know the movie’s been out for months now but still, it’s not sporting.
As we walked past the Viking River Ride, we noticed it was only a 10 minute queue, which seemed pretty reasonable. It was totally against my better judgement to go on “You might get wet” ride so early in the day but I was outvoted by the family and actually, they were right. We stayed mainly dry for the whole ride.
Next was a visit to the Knights’ Kingdom. Both kids said that they were brave enough to go on the Dragon rollercoaster but I somehow doubted they were so, so suggested we started on the Dragon’s Apprentice and take it from there. It was our first long queue but happily there was a duplo bench halfway through and it was the same time as my choir’s radio program was on HSpark radio. So I listened to that and the kids played duplo and the time passed quickly enough. And no, they were not brave enough to go on the Dragon. The Apprentice was definitely terrifying enough for the pair of them – Reuben staggered off recalibrating his “Top 3 Most Terrifying Rides Ever” list.
After all that queuing, it was time to for a stretch out in the pirate playground and then we split into two groups – I took Roo to the Ninjago courtyard and Nathan took Eva shopping in Heartyake City. Now, I slightly misunderstood what the Ninjago ride was because it was classified as a purple – same as The Dragon – so I thought it was a terrifying rollercoaster that Roo wouldn’t enjoy. Friends from church yesterday told me that it was a walkthrough ninja-training ride that Roo would have loved but shhhh…our secret. We did everything in the courtyard but it was a touch lame – spinners that were just playground equipment that didn’t really spin, a reflex tester and a little climbing wall. Time to move on to the Kingdom of the Pharoahs.
And here we found something we’d never done before – Laser Raiders. Again, I had little idea what it was but it didn’t look too extreme so we joined a very dark queue inside the temple. There were screens showing the Lego Laser Raiders TV show, which Roo was enjoying, and an option for kids to sit in their own zone in front of the big screen while parents queued. Roo and I took this option and it worked reasonably well except that I panicked when I was in a part of the queue out of the view of the kids’ zone. I thought he might panic too and run away or something but of course I was wrong and he was still sitting in front of the screen when I came back round the corner. I forget he’s not a toddler any more. Still, it’s not a method I would risk with a younger child because the kids are, essentially, unsupervised for 20 minutes or so and they have to be mature enough to understand the passing of time and that you will re-emerge to pick them up when you get to the front of the queue. Object permanence is an important factor here.
The actual ride was good fun. You sit in a vintage car, shooting at mummies and snakes as you wind through the Indiana-Jones style temple. I beat Roo’s score as well, so was feeling well pleased with myself. But he found the PS4s in the room at the end of the ride and was building Lego worlds while despairing of my poor gaming skills…so I think it’s a draw.
We had a message from Team Dadeva at this point, saying that they were in the Bricksville playground and that Eva had bought a pug in a unicorn onesie. That, sadly, was true. Its label said “Pugsley” but when we met up with them again, Nathan had already re-christened it “Pug Ugly”. And it really is, whatever Eva might say to the contrary.
While we’d been separated, Eva and Nathan had also tackled my nemesis from last year. No, I’m not getting confused with Alton Towers. Different nemesis. I’m talking about the Fairytale Brook, Legoland’s Most Extreme Ride and the cause of my knee injury last year which crippled me for at least a month. Nathan said it was nice and soothing but really, what does he know?
We split up again after the playground and this time, I took Eva to the driving school that Roo had done last year while Roo and Nathan went to the brand new ride, the Haunted House Monster Party. They said it was awesome, with a room that does a 360 degree spin and some creepy monsters.
Driving School was….as you’d expect. The girl got stuck a lot and had to be pushed free by the staff. She and I later got stuck on the Coastguard ride too (boats that you pilot around a small course) because someone – let’s call him Reuben – bumped the back of our boat and wedged us in sideways. I wasn’t best pleased with him but at least we didn’t sink, which I thought was likely when I climbed in and realised the imbalance between mine and Eva’s relative weights. A bit of shifting over sorted us out and it was smooth sailing until the back barge. There was no really good way to get ourselves free either, so I just kinda had to bump us free while spectators shouted encouragement from the bank. Like I said, not best pleased with Child#1.
It was at that point that I realised we were all getting towards overtired. Plus it said 5PM on the clock, which was probably a good sign that we should start wrapping things up. We’ve ended on the submarine ride every time we’ve been there and the screens said it only had a 5-minute queue, so that seemed like a good place to finish up. 5 minutes was wildly optimistic but still, we were on the hill train back up to the exit well before 6. Then an extended browse around the Big Shop so that Eva could spend yet more of her birthday money and then it was definitely time to leave.
The journey home was….tricky. I did think, as I was preparing to chain myself to the gates of a supermarket car park in Ealing, “this’ll be good blogging material one day” but it’s been two days and it still feels a bit soon. I’m pretty sure Nathan isn’t ready to laugh about it yet.
It was all to do with dinner. The Harvester hack worked a charm, as always. The kids had a sandwich around midday but Nathan and I had some crisps and biscuits and didn’t need another meal until around park closing time at 6. But we weren’t likely to make it home without hanger, so we planned to stop for food en route. The first year, we’d gone back to the Harvester for dinner but the kids had been grubby and tired and there’s always a risk of disrupting someone’s diamond wedding anniversary meal in a Harvester. So last year we stopped at the Burger King in Heston services instead. No-one goes for a diamond wedding anniversary meal in Burger King in Heston services unless they’re some kind of loon. Or motorway obsessive. Hence us planning to do the same again this year.
But don’t ask how – we missed the car park at the services. We were following someone who went wrong, there was no way to turn round, nowhere to stop without causing a hazard and before we knew it, we were back on the M4. The kids were mercifully silent as we replanned but replanning was tricky with my phone being dead and Nathan’s being used to navigate. I did locate a McDonalds in Ealing Broadway that seemed to be not too far off the M4 and not too far to get back on the North Circular either and it was still open, which was the main criteria. Parking was kinda a secondary concern, as we were a bit busy taking the world’s sharpest left turn off a slip road and then weaving our way through Brentford and Ealing towards the dot on the map.
Parking quickly became a primary concern as we got closer and then past that dot. I saw a sign for Morrisons car park, which said it was open till 10 on a Monday. Result! We drove up the ramp and round a perilously tight bend which had a large Morrisons lorry sticking out into it but at least we were parked. Signs said it was £1.50 for an hour. Fine, I still had those pound coins that I didn’t use in the locker earlier. But the machines weren’t working. Result? Then neither were the lifts. Suspicions grew. We had to walk down the car ramp, edging along the tiny bit of pavement. Then I saw another sign which said that the gates to the car park would close an hour after the store did but the store was open till 10, right? Right?
Oh yes, bank holiday. We rushed round the corner and confirmed that yes, the store was closed but no indication as to whether it had been an hour or anywhere close to it yet. So I made a plan. We wouldn’t sit and eat in McDonalds – just grab food and run. By now, a raging migraine-in-waiting had put me off the idea of food altogether and Nathan was too stressed to eat so we ordered the kids’ meals and one portion of fries to share and then the kids and I went and positioned ourselves back in front of those gates. If anyone came to lock them, I would throw myself at their mercy and beg them to wait until Nathan had arrived back, Happy Meals in hand. Luckily, it didn’t come to that and he was back swiftly so he could walk back up the ramp, drive the car back down and we could throw kids and kids’ meals into the back before jumping in and getting the hell out of Ealing. I won’t mention the other diversion on the way home as Nathan definitely isn’t ready to laugh about that bit but we did eventually get back, get fed and get the kids to bed. Phew!
Occasionally I think that I may have spawned a tiny comic book nerd. Even more occasionally, I think that I may have spawned two tiny comic book nerds…and today was one of those days when I was mainly thinking the latter. We left the house with a masked-up Spiderman in tow and a Quidditch player aboard her brand new Nimbus 2000, cloak alternately flying in the wind and dragging in the mud. We were all exhausted after Eva’s birthday celebrations but we had a mission of a day ahead of us.
It’s Free Comic Book Day and for the last two years Nathan as braved Soho on his own with both kids because I was teaching English, in an unfortunate clash of schedules. Reuben would put air quotes around the “unfortunate” at this point.
But this year, I had no convenient excuse and I had a reason to head into town as we were meeting an old friend from across the seas for brunch at Bills in Brewer Street. If I was going to do FCBD I was going in prepared, and that meant sausages and coffee for me and a giant stack of pancakes for Nathan and our friend Leanne. Eva nibbled on a slice of toast (for £1.25 – she’s a cheap date) while Roo destroyed a kids’ breakfast. They’d put on the fanciest table, under a chandelier and with giant comfy green chairs. I could have stayed there a while longer, and moved on to the prosecco, but Nathan and the kids were keen to get their hands on the bounty of FCBD so we moved on.
Our first stop was Gosh in Berwick Street. It wasn’t planned that way but I’m starting to think that Nathan hadn’t planned this at all. We milled around the shop for a while before being brave enough to ask where the free comics were. And the answer involved joining a large queue some way outside the shop, stretching back as far as So High Soho. It began to dawn on me why a man with two onesie-d kids had called to us “prepare yourselves for a long queue” as he’d passed us on the way. So we joined that queue.
I’d made some miscalculations when leaving the house, like not checking the weather. Or thinking about whether we would be standing in the street for an hour. I thought it looked sunny out so I’d chance it with the Spring jacket and no cardigan. My logic was that I didn’t want to be carting an armful of winter coats round Forbidden Planet in the musty warmth of many men gathering in a small space. Sound logic! But it meant that I was chilly and the kids didn’t have coats either, so they were similarly chilly. It was sunny out, as I’d thought, but not warm and sporadically raining. I think there was a gale at some point. As I said, miscalculated.
So we had some oreos and played an alphabet game based on the Avengers version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, which Roo now knows off by heart. You see why I keep suspecting that he might be of the geeky persuasion? We also took the opportunity to get some action shots of Eva and Roo on the broomstick. Roo’s is more convincing than Eva’s because he can do proper jumping flying and her feet barely left the ground. Still, it killed a few minutes.
Eventually we got in, and Nathan and the kids went downstairs to the Room of Comic Wonder while Leanne and I hung around upstairs trying to warm up. Leanne noticed a guy perched on the edge of the table we were at, and pointed out that he was signing a stack of books. She asked me whether he was a writer. I was pretty sure that if he was, it would be someone I had never heard of…until I realised that the books he was signing were “Looshkin” novels and that probably made him Jamie Smart, of “The Phoenix”. I had a sudden flash back to Reuben waving his comic in my face a week or two back and excitedly telling me that Jamie Smart had a new strip coming soon. I HAD heard of him! My kids had heard of him! Eva has her own “Bunny vs Monkey” book. Now, that was pretty exciting. I had a quick chat to him, to make sure I was correct and as soon as the kids came back upstairs I told them who I had found and they were pretty excited too.
So we left with them clutching a brand new, signed book each as well as their freebies. Everyone’s a winner.
Having got all the comics they wanted, there was little point in going anywhere else but I didn’t think my opinion on this would be welcomed so we went to Forbidden Planet. There, I trailed around after Eva, picking her robes up so they didn’t get trodded on. She already was starting to resemble a Quidditch player on a particularly muddy day. Leanne, Eva and I browsed the toys while Reuben and Nathan broke away from us and emerged later on with “The Infinity Gauntlet”, which will be a present for Roo’s birthday. And when I say “The Infinity Gauntlet”, I mean the graphic novel and not the £1200 prop replica in the window. Though trust me, Roo wanted both.
Reuben also got papped and tweeted out by Forbidden Planet, which he was super chuffed about. Spidey!
After all that it was time for coffee and the kids to have lunch. We left Forbidden Planet in the face of a gale force wind, which snapped off bits of tree and threw them down Shaftesbury Avenue and into my face. The first likely coffee stop I could see was in the newish St Giles development so we ran across the road and found a Caffe Nero we could hole up in until the storm passed. Which was about 5 minutes later, because the weather was crazy today. But it was good to sit down on their fanciest sofa (oh yes, we were living it up today) and have some restorative coffee, hot chocolate, sandwiches and cake before trying one more shop.
As I said, we hadn’t really planned this well. Last year, there had been cosplayers at Orbital Comics so the kids were keen to go back there to see them. But I now realise the cosplayers were there early doors and the free comics – along with the crowds- had gone by the time we were having coffee (1ish I think). So next time, we should probably head there first…or maybe to Forbidden Planet to get the grab bags first to have something to read in the queue. But if we’d done that this time, we wouldn’t have met Jamie Smart. Oh, the dilemmas!
So Orbital was quiet and we had everything we needed by then anyway. The kids browsed the kids’ corner for a while, with Roo/Spidey perched on a toadstool but we were all feeling the need to move on. On the way out, Eva started to read an age-inappropriate comic about a dolphin but a canny staff member stopped her before she got to the disturbing bit. Teach me to read the cover properly first next time.
As we’d gone down Charing Cross Road, we had noticed a group of people gathering outside a sweet shop, with a guide telling people to go in and buy their Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. I smiled wryly as we went past, with Eva still in full Quidditch gear but thought nothing more of it. Then we passed them again on the way back up towards Denmark Street and this time the guide clocked the Small Seeker and yelled “That’s perfect for this tour! Everyone follow her!” And just like that, Eva was leading a Harry Potter tour through the West End. No sooner had we parted ways from them than we spotted the Silent Disco West End tour dancing down the other side of the street, led my by one-time cinema buddy Shaun in a spangly jacket. It was the strangest of times, it was the weirdest of times. I might have dreamt it all.
After all that excitement it was a bit of a comedown to trawl the music shops of Denmark Street looking for chromatic tuning pipes while telling the kids to just STOP TOUCHING the instruments, and even more of a comedown to go home via Liverpool Street because we needed to check the lost property for a certain boy’s mobile phone. But we ended the day in a pub in Walthamstow, celebrating a friend’s birthday and the kids happily read their new comics for the duration of at least two pints. Happy days.
Yeah, I know…this was ages ago. We’ve been to Portugal and back since then but the Portuguese blog post will probably take a bit more brain power than I have right now and I did mean to blog this little trip around town that Eva and I did at the start of the holidays.
We started in Islington. Obviously. We were taking students from the church English Class on a field trip and we had to scoop them up on our way. It was slightly nerve-wracking trying to ensure we got all of them on the 56 together and I stood poised at the bus stop like a woman who’d never caught a bus before…but we managed it. 25 or so of them got on in Islington and off at St Paul’s and they may even have been the same 25. As we passed the Museum of London, Eva wistfully remarked that she’d like to go there again soon but it wasn’t where we were heading. Our destination was the Tate Modern, somewhere I’d visited briefly, childlessly and with an impending migraine last August. Back then I hadn’t taken in a lot of the artwork. This time, wrangling a 6-year-old and several English students, would be much more successful….right?
What was successful was the walk from St Paul’s to the Tate over the Millenium Bridge. The students loved seeing the cathedral up close and posing for selfies on the bridge with all the London sights behind them. As a vantage point, it’s a rival for Waterloo Bridge – you can see glimpses of Parliament and the London Eye in one direction and Tower Bridge and the Tower of London in the other. Perfect for London newbies
We gathered a few more students at the Tate itself and went downstairs to establish our meeting point and for Eva and I to get our “Tate Visiting Teacher” stickers, which may have suggested we were taking more responsibility for the students than we actually were. In fact, Isa, our multi-talented intern, was in charge and I was just enjoying having a sticker to wear. We set a time to gather back at the meeting point, went up to Floor 2 as a group and then kinda lost people around the galleries, however much we tried to stick together. I’m glad they were fully-grown adults and not kids….and it did remind me why I never volunteer to help on school trips.
Before we’d left the house, Reuben was contemplating whether to come with us or not and had asked what kind of art there was in the Tate Modern – “Pointillism? Surrealism?”. While I was impressed by his art knowledge, I couldn’t actually answer his question. But yes, there was Pointillism in the Pop Art section. I think.
Eva quite liked that section and she enjoyed the Mondrian paintings, which she recognised from Bunny’s hallway. She also really yuved this ballerina statue:
She also liked the colourful abstract paintings, like this optical illusion:
There were plenty of bits she wasn’t so keen on, including a short film on Dimitri Tsafendas, the man who assassinated the South African Prime Minister in 1966. She sat through around ten minutes of it, but told me afterwards it was a bit scary. I think it might have been the pitch black room it was being screened in. By this point, we were almost at the assembly time so we made our way back downstairs to find at least some of the students. Like I say, I’d be rubbish at school trips.
However, I do have some skills in locating drinking places near the Thames and I successfully guided the group to the Anchor near Southwark Bridge for a very British pint and a spot of lunch on the roof garden under thunder-grey skies. Having got them all up there, I then left them to it which seems harsh but again, these are grown ups we’re talking about and they could have rescued themselves any time. Plus, Eva was getting whiney.
So we stopped in at Leon in London Bridge for our own spot of lunch, where Eva ignored the doughnut she’d asked for and stole all my lattice fries (she’d had her own sandwich while we were still at the Tate) and then we jumped on a bus back towards St Paul’s because Eva, having briefly glimpsed the Museum of London earlier, now had her heart set on going there.
I’ve no idea why. It hasn’t changed much since we went there at Christmas. But she wanted to see all the same things again and we did find one or two new things – like some giant dollhouses under the stairs and a pirate hat to try on. She also wanted to go to the Beasts of London show but it was late in the day and we hadn’t booked so I promised her we’d return another day for that one. She was fascinated by this antique museum piece tho, which only bears the smallest resemblance to what she sees on Nathan’s feet every day:
It’s safe to say the fashion mannequins at the end are among her favourite exhibits, along with the Georgian dresses and shoes. She’s verging on the superficial. But she seemed very happy when we left because when she decides she wants something, it’s sometimes easier to give it to her even if it’s a completely superfluous museum trip. Or an even more superfluous trip to the Barbican after that because the cafes at the Museum were crowded so we ended up with crisps and hipster cherryade from the Barbican cafe, eaten outside near the hazardous “stepping stones” that Reuben had terrified me with four years ago.
So that was our day out – three venues, a lot of walking, spontaneous snacking but a lot of fun for me and my girl. Right, now who wants to know about Portugal? Give me a few days on that….
Today is a bit of a trains, planes and automobiles day for Eva and I..but only because, as most normal people do, we decided to squeeze in a theatre trip before we leave for holiday. Nathan and Roo are coming for the holiday bit but opted out of early morning Big Cat shenaningans at Chickenshed in the form of “The Tigon and the Liger” – based on the book by Keilly Swift and performed by the team behind “Tales From the Shed“.
It was a kind of mixture between a typical “Tales From the Shed” performance and a more formal Chickenshed play like “Mr Stink” – it was downstairs in the Rayne Theatre and was more choreographed than a “Tales” performance but it had the relaxed informality of one. Tiny kids ran onto the stage and were embraced as part of the performance without the dancers missing a beat or ever dropping their smiles. The seating had been folded back and so we sat on pink fur on the ground and were encouraged to dance along, with the dance moves being taught at the start of the performance. As we walked in, there was already a jam going on, around the lyrics “we’re back where we belong” so there was no awkward waiting for the show to start, which can be tricky with the very littlest ones.
The show itself was fairly straightforward – two animals who don’t fit in leave their homes, eventually find each other and return to show the other animals that there’s nothing wrong with being different to society’s idea of normal. If you know anything about Chickenshed, you’ll recognise this theme running strongly throughout their work. The two creatures are a Tigon – product of a tiger father and lion mother – and a Liger – vice versa. They were portrayed three different ways in the show, with two actors in face paint taking up the main narrative bulk but with actors in full animal costumes appearing towards the end and puppets as well. There was shadow puppetry and mime and well as acting and narration. There were full-ensemble dance numbers, with the opening “Harmony” living up to its name as a standout piece. So, in short, a lot going on. The simple story stretched itself well into around a 45-minute show with no feeling of padding, just joyful music and dancing.
Eva’s favourite character was probably the bird with the red bottom who kept falling over, and who implored us not to break the fourth wall even though we were encouraged to do just that at the end. He wasn’t in the source text but added an extra layer of physical comedy which kids always adore, don’t they? She also really liked the dual character representing the sun and the moon – played by Chickenshed regular Sarah Connolly – because of her sparkly hat and lipstick. At the end we got to meet her, along with the rest of the cast, but Eva was a bit starstruck (sun/moonstruck?) and didn’t quite know what to say. She enjoyed playing with the drums and the shadow puppetry though:
Another great show from Chickenshed – not many shows combine the simple storytelling beloved of pre-schoolers with the dazzle and choreography of a company well used to each other’s work. As the closing song told the audience to be happy in their own skin – with video backdrop illustrating the point – Eva turned to me and said “Yes, I’m quite happy with my skin. It’s quite nice”. And that’s how Chickenshed always makes you feel – you should be happy with your own skin. It’s quite nice.
“The Tigon and the Liger” is on till Thursday 18th April, with performances at 9:15am, 11am and 1pm. For tickets and more information, click here.
Disclaimer: I received a free press ticket in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.
I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sounds Like Chaos‘ “Wow Everything is Amazing”. The promotional materials had asked a lot of questions about our relationship with technology but hadn’t answered many in terms of what this piece of theatre actually was. Was it a play? Spoken word? Performance art? Contemporary dance?
Well, a little of all of the above. Like Rebecca Bunch, it’s hard to summarize. But in one way, I can pigeonhole the genre of this piece – it was a dystopian drama and it shared many features with the great dystopian dramas we all know and love.
It opens in a church, 50 years into the future, but not a church as we know it. The unseen deity some of us currently worship had been replaced with something more tangible, yet still undefinable – the Godhead. Human in appearance, worshipped as a god and formed of mankind’s data, willingly shared. The worshippers hang on every word the Godhead says, clicking their fingers in appreciation, which subtly places it in a world where hand-clapping has become obsolete. It’s also a world where sex and race have no value judgements attached – everyone is described as either an XX or an XY and by the varying levels of melanin in their skin. Age, however, seems to still be a key discriminator, with the entire congregation described as being in their early teens and it’s hinted early on that a great misfortune befell the older generation.
It’s in this setting that the Godhead preaches his sermons. Anyone who’s watched the “Church Hunters” parody will understand that the modern church often skirts perilously close to being “a TED talk with a Bible verse” and so it is here – the Godhead spouts almost-profound messages about “the network” while the worshippers click away furiously. He’s flanked by a shiny-robed choir, who both chant and sing to reinforce the messages, and the Alpha Geeks, who effectively hold all the power in this universe.
It seems like everyone is blissfully happy – “Everything is Amazing” makes its appearance late on in a song not dissimilar in tone to the Lego Movie’s “Everything is Awesome” (which I totally class as a dystopian movie FYI). But there’s the hint about the misfortunes and tragedies of the past, the ones left “outside the Network” and eventually our Winston/Emmett character starts to break free and question it all.
I won’t tell you more of the plot than that for fear of spoilers. But it’s a very slick and effective show – the small space of the Staff Recreation Room works well as the chapel, with pew-like seats for the audience making you feel like you’re part of the action. The screens at the back project images of obsolete technologies as well as a giant Godhead preaching to his flock and the lighting makes it feel suitably high-tech and futuristic. The actor who played the Godhead is disconcertingly convincing as the cyber-deity, gliding in on a hoverboard and speaking with zen-like calm even when there appears to be a…glitch… …by contrast, the Winston/Emmett character, as I’ll call him, is all high emotion, bursting with the kind of curiousity that always gets you into trouble in these kinds of situtations. The ensemble work very well together,showing subtle shades of doubt as things start to unravel, and there are some high energy gospel-style dance numbers which showcase the talents of both the dancers and the choir. A special mention to our narrator character for those backflips. Amazing.
It’s only around an hour long so suitable for kids though probably older ones would get more from it in terms of understanding all the themes. I didn’t take either of mine as I went in the evening and they were both shattered and emotional form holiday club but I think both would have enjoyed it and Eva certainly would have been wowed by the sparkly dress and room-length train of The Sponsor. The show only has one more night to run at BAC – you can blame various members of my family including myself for this review being so late – but transfers to the Albany next week for three nights ( Tue 16 – Thu 18 April, 7.30pm). I would recommend trying to catch it before it moves on, even if it might make you feel a bit uneasy next time you reach for your smartphone…
Disclaimer: I received a free ticket in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. For tickets and more information, click here.
After spending time with Eva this morning, it was time for some mother-son bonding with Reuben this afternoon. Which initially seemed to consist of me clutching his pepperoni sandwich for half the length of the Jubilee Line while he read a David Walliams book and ignored me. But then we changed at Waterloo, he ate the sandwich, we did some make up and ribbon shopping and it was a proper day out for the both of us.
Our destination was Battersea Arts Centre, a place I’d last visited for a wedding in 2012 when Eva was a tiny baby. This is how Reuben looked on that visit:
And this is him today:
It’s not just Roo that’s changed tho – the BAC has had a massive overhaul after a devastating fire in 2015. It’s striking as you walk through the corridors how extensive the damage was and the BAC have made the decision to keep the charred walls as they were the morning after the fire, although the ceiling has been completely rebuilt. Again, here’s the hall in 2012:
And I’m far too lame to have got a decent comparison photo from today. I did take a pic of this nice bit of stained glass roof tho:
We had a bit of kerfuffle in the cafe on the way in and failed to get the fries we’d ordered, mostly through my own incompetence in moving tables but not taking our order spoon with us. So apologies to anyone sitting near us that Roo was snacking all the way through – he needs constant fuelling nowadays. He did enjoy an apple juice and a critique of the cafe artwork though:
I wasn’t sure what to expect of this production from the BAC Beatbox Academy. I’d looked on the website for an age recommendation and hadn’t found one, so made an educkated guess that it would be Roo rather than Eva (she gets freaked out by anything slightly sinister). In a lot of ways, I think it was aimed at slightly older kids still – the early teens rather than the under 10s – based on some of the constant and the occasional F-bomb. Roo got a lot out of it, but I think he was slightly struggling to follow the plot as it was more of a loose interpretation of the Frankenstein story rather than an obvious narrative arc.
The show started with a bit of background from the Academy’s director and a demonstration of beatboxing by some of his current pupils. Then the lights dimmed and the six performers took their places sitting on amps, ready to guide us through a 21st century hip-hop version of the classic tale. It was hugely creative, and everything in the show was live using nothing but vocals from the six of them. It’s hard to believe that sometimes but the short piece of improv they did at the end proved their skills. The performers were Aminita (Aminita Francis), Glitch (Nadine Rose Johnson), Wiz-rd (Tyler Worthington), Native (Nathaniel Forder-Staple), ABH (ABH Beatbox) and
Grove (Beth Griffin) – all South Londoners who’d been through the academy and devised the show together.
Each performer had a different area of skill but of course there were overlaps. Aminita and Glitch were particularly prominent and talented vocalists when it came to singing rather than beatboxing, but a version of Pachbel’s canon in 5(?) part harmony showed that every member of the group had significant musical talents as well as beatboxing. Of course, their timing was incredible but their pitch was perfect as well and it surprised me just how musically complex beatboxing can be at times.
The story was split into chapters – each dealt with an episode in the Frankenstein story, from the initial idea of making a monster, through the execution (no pun intended), through to finally the “descent”. In each chapter, they pulled out themes and developed them into stand alone songs, some more directly relevant to the story than others. These young people have a lot to say – covering off social media, body image, violence and bullying – and they were passionate as well as skilled in their delivery. There were some moments of comedy and some moments of confrontation that bordered on uncomfortable – like when they shone an actual spotlight on members of the audience and decried them as “hideous” to drive home a point on beauty standards. It wasn’t always an easy watch but it was challenging and groundbreaking and that’s what theatre should be. As I said before, it wasn’t kids’ theatre as you’d imagine it but 10 pluses would definitely find it inspiring and interesting. Reuben said he enjoyed it, even if he wasn’t always sure what was happening and I told him that’s OK….you don’t always have to understand art to enjoy it.
photocredit Joyce Nicholls
The performance ended with a bit of audience participation as we learnt a few percussive noises ourselves, then a few rounds of beatbox battles and a bit of improv at the end. It was an impressive way to showcase all the performers’ skills but might have been ten minutes too long for Reuben. It might have been that we were both hungry. But don’t worry, a stop at Pizza Express on the way homre sorted out us both out. And that’s the kind of thing we can do without Eva. Hooray!
So a really interesting show, flawlessly executed and full of hard-hitting messages. It felt very real and authentic and at the same time, slick and professional. It’s on for another few days so please do catch it while you can.
Disclaimer: I recieved free press tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. For tickets and more information, click here.
Yknow, often Twitter feels unrewarding. Like shouting into a big room full of other people who are also shouting. Sometimes you get into massive fights with Radio X DJs and all their followers. And then sometimes, just sometimes, you get a retweet from the guy who did Zippy on Rainbow and ALL is right with the world. I don’t quite know if there’s a connection between Ronnie Le Drew and Big Up – the show we saw today – or whether it was just puppeteer-to-puppeteer solidarity but blimey, it made my day.
Unlike Eva’s mood when we got to Stratford this morning, which wouldn’t make anyone’s day. We found our way to Stratford Circus Arts Centre with only a few glitches – veer left round the Stratford Centre when coming out from the station – but she wasn’t being the most so-operative of theatregoers. Still, a pain au chocolat from the cafe perked her up a little just in time to go in, leaving Nathan and Roo finishing their coffee and their drawing respectively. Big Up was aimed at 3-6s so Roo had opted to hang out with Nathan at the Lego Store instead of going to the show. We’d swap the kids over later on, which is why we didn’t just leave the boys at home…but that’s another story.
Eva insisted we sat right at the back, in the corner and then she couldn’t see. That might give you an idea of the kind of contrary mood she was in. Plus the set – some closed flight cases – wasn’t filling her with optimism. But as soon as the first performer came on and opened up a flight case to reveal a glowing set of DJ decks, she was entranced.
Big Up is light on plot and largely wordless but it’s about sounds, lights, movement and the interplay between the performers and puppets. The puppets only appeared about halfway through, so it was mainly carried by the human performers but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It started with one man – the beatboxer, DJ and sound effects guy who I believe is known as Hobbit. He set the scene for the show by laying down some beats and was soon joined by the angel-voiced Dorcas Sebuyange, who opened up another box and sang as the room filled with multi-coloured lights….the first of many “Wow” moments in the show. Another box wheeled on by the seeming-roadie Clarke Joseph-Edwards contained something of a surprise package…the fourth performer, Iestyn Evans, the acrobat and puppeteer.
Credit and Copyright: Helen Murray
With the cast all assembled, the story unfolded. Each box that was opened added something new to the story and I was a little sad that Nathan wasn’t watching, because a lot of the show revolved around setting up PA equipment and that’s how he likes to spend his Sunday mornings. Plus the occasional Sunday afternoon, untangling those great bundles of jack leads that here provided something of a plot device but to your average AV techie are just a pain in the jackside. Of course, I’m just a musician at church, so my input is similar to Dorcas’ here – to point at the microphone when it isn’t working and to look annoyed until they bring me a new one or a new lead. If only my new mics were delivered by illuminated puppet-man as they were here tho! And also, if only I could sing like Dorcas can!
Credit and Copyright: Helen Murray
Eva was starting to get restless around the halfway point because – as discussed – she was just in that kind of chair-kicking mood. But she was delighted to see a baby introduced into the show, even if it was a baby robot puppet with a nappy made out of yet more jack leads. Eva does yuv a baby. There was a song that Reuben might well have appreciated about how babies do nothing but poo and cry and wee – one of the the few parts of the show where words were used rather than just sounds – and the baby magically grew before our eyes into first a toddler and then an adult in a long coat who joined the other adults and the audience for a final dance along. I think she figured out it was just Clarke in a robot head tho.
Credit and Copyright: Helen Murray
So at the end, we were all on our feet dancing and singing along and the girl who was reluctant to do anything was later heard to tell Reuben how much she yuvved it. It was a very clever show – perhaps aimed at a slightly younger child than my almost 7-year-old – but full of impressive beatboxing, deft physical comedy and real heart. At one point, that was a literal heart made out of foam blocks. Literal heart makes it sound like an internal organ but you know what I mean. A heart shape. One of Eva’s favourite moments. I would have liked to have heard slightly more of the singing but that’s because singing is more my thing than beatboxing…there is no deny Hobbit’s talents when it comes to laying down those beats. It was a captivating show, even for the smallest members of the audience and when it next comes to London I’d advise you to get tickets quickly before they sell out like they did this morning!
Disclaimer: I recieved press tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. For more information and tickets click here