The Curious and the Thoughtful

Londoners are spoiled for choice for things to do with our primary school-aged children. Really, we are. Once in a while though, everyone gets into a rut. I do. But you’ve got to try and find a light and climb out.

Last Thursday, after a fairly family-focused few weeks (read: exhausted, burned out, could not see the cherubs in my children), I had the unexpected pleasure of a preview tour of the Adventures in Moominland exhibition now on at the Southbank Centre. Followed up by a slightly boozy lunch with a dear friend, it was a somewhat perfect midweek afternoon (but it’s not that kind of blog post) and just the light to get me out of my rut.

20161215_123902-1You’ll need to book in advance and the cost is between £13.50 and £16.50. The recommended age is 7+. You’ll understand why if you go. To walk through these rooms is like being a child on a movie set. You’ll be asked to move around, to look, to listen, to crouch, duck, and peek. You’ll want to touch everything, but you really should not. It looks like it’s been put there just for you to discover. And it has. Appreciate that it takes an army of people to guide the small groups through and tidy up after each of them, restoring each of the several rooms (I lost count) back to its pristine state. If your child likes to run about and doesn’t really care for listening, please skip this event. And if you cannot go for the session without reaching for your mobile phone, please spare the others on the tour. One of our tour members was typing on her mobile the entire way through and it was really, really distracting. Please be considerate of others when you go. Hopefully, someone in your group will be a Moomin enthusiast and you can watch a grown-up gush with excitement over finding a ruby in a suitcase. It’s marvellous.

Now to the important bit. It’s absolutely magical. Having dined on other magical fare in the last few years (Efteling, Disneyland Paris, the Alps) I didn’t expect to be wow-ed by a museum exhibition. But I was.

I’m a latecomer to the Moomin tribe, having discovered a few of the illustrated paperbacks at the library when my children were toddlers. We fell in love with the language (for who wouldn’t love to read words like ‘Tooticky’ and ‘Snorkmaiden’ with your toddler) and the lovely strangeness of the worlds depicted in Jansson’s stories. If you haven’t been to Moominland, wait no more! Get yourself to a library and introduce yourself.

As my toddlers became children (and I regained time and energy to read again) I picked up Tove Jansson’s Summer Book, which she wrote later in life. I fell in love with this little book, a portrait of grandmother and granddaughter castaways, coexisting somewhere off the coast of Finland. Perhaps its the lack of a mother in the book (she’s died recently, thus bringing the pair in the book together) which appeals to me so much. Apart from introducing me to life in the Scandinavian archipelago, a scattering group of rocky outcrops which are only habitable during certain times of the year (how exciting), my heart wanted to know deeply about this relationship between a grandmother and a granddaughter.

Reading of their adventures with the cats, the boats, the weird neighbours, just being bored, I wondered about my own relationship with my grandmothers, strange beings whom I didn’t know very well, but whom I admired and respected deeply. They were tricky ladies–one probably just far too exhausted from raising ten children of her own to bother too much with her childrens’ offspring, but nevertheless taught me important lessons about how to endure and live, about how to be quiet. But in a very good way. The other, who smiled mischievously, and who claimed both Indian (“East”/South Asian) and Arawak ancestry, always seemed a little too attached to an odd collection of things and ideas, including how dark we children should not be allowed to become or how beautiful our long hair was. I tried as an adult to put myself in both of their shoes, as women growing up in very male-dominated, colonial societies where markers of ethnicity mattered and when being a woman meant proper hard work. I wondered as I was reading The Summer Book about whether I’d ever get to have adventures with my own grandchild (I’m an old mother, I’ve recently been told). I hope so. We’d be stranded in the Caribbean archipelago, though.

Anyway, back to the story. Moomin. The magic of Moomin. Tove Jansson has given us so much in her stories, in her sharing of her life with us through them and her drawings. Worlds to explore, the space and silence in them to let our minds wander back to thoughts of our own lives, the memories we are making for our old age.

I’ll remember Tove Jansson’s glasses, the p772691bf529714fdb2fde80d120af800hoto of her swimming outside wearing a floral garland next to the actual floral garland: the very picture of thoughtful decadence, of living (I’ve found a copy of it on someone’s Pinterest page). But it’s the self-portrait in one of the rooms that’s stuck with me after last Thursday. Our tour guide described it as lovely. In its bold strokes of pencil, I saw the wearing of life on a face, tired yet robust and still full of fight. Because I’ve been feeling exactly that myself, I think I was equally relieved to find the one of her swimming and carefree.

Adventures in Moominland is there, at the Southbank Centre, until April 23rd, the world of Moominland, cast in beautiful, sensual imagery and in three-dimensions. After that, you can find it in the books.


Our new favourite place

. . .no, really.

I’ve been waiting for a place like Rainham Hall to open since I moved to Redbridge nearly 10 years ago. If you’re a fan of charming old houses, then you’ll love it as well. This National Trust property comprises a lovingly restored 19th century merchant’s home, shown with the family history, a three-acre garden that’s wonderful for an afternoon’s fun, a cafe and loads of local places to eat nearby. Friendly volunteers will be happy to show you around the house or the garden.

It’s really perfectly suited for a family visit with activities and sights for children and adults of all ages and stripes. Best of all, it’s just next to Redbridge, in Rainham, RM13.

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One of many new treasures made for the garden play area.

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Lots of space to run and play in the garden. Only guide dogs allowed.

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Rainham Hall and stable, home to the new cafe

Street parking is easily available on Sundays. Rainham rail station is just across the road.

For more information, visit

Late Summer beach fun

As a former resident of Miami Beach and, before that, a beautiful Caribbean island known for its lovely beaches, I readily admit haven’t taken to the British seaside so much. Well, except for the most amazing chips I had that time at Littlehampton beach. . .

girls at the beach

Yesterday, a beautiful sunny day broke the monotony of the past week’s steady diet of grey grey grey. And we were caught without a plan! Having been exploring the coasts of the Netherlands just last week (more on that later), we had a taste for some further seaside adventures. I broke out the National Trust guide book and decided that our late start would rule any of those out. My daughter suggested Frinton Beach, where she went by coach trip with her school in July. Great idea!

Frinton is a tidy little town; the beach is accessible by traversing some steep-ish steps. Bring lunch, snacks, and water as there are “no frills” here–no vendors, no snack huts–probably why the town and beach remain tidy. . . . Public toilets are free and some have a .20p charge.

The sand is fine and not very pebbly. The water temperature, according to my internal shivermonitor, was too cold for an actual swim, although that didn’t stop lots of other people from swimming. . . I sat on a blanket and watched my girls play in the sand and run back and forth into the shallow surf. A pretty relaxing way to spend an afternoon in all.

Where: Postcode CO13 in your Sat Nav, or straight down the A12 from Redbridge. Parking is very easy and free on the Esplanade, or on neighbouring roads.

When to visit: Early. The tide comes in very quickly from 2pm, so it’s best to make this a morning trip during the summer. Check here for the latest tidal information:

KidZania London

Indoor attractions are very useful in London, where our pursuits are often limited by the weather. One of the newest is KidZania, which sits high atop Westfield London in Shepherd’s Bush. Purpose-built to house the multi-storey educational-“real world” conceptual- theme park (really, one struggles to describe it aptly), the activities inside are based on role-play concepts and designed to help children understand our society while having fun.

Kids acquire real-life skills, learn about working, having a career and are introduced to the fundamentals of financial literacy. Kids also learn social skills, mutual co-operation and respect..


Photo courtesy of KidZania London’s Facebook page

We were invited to visit and review KidZania in its opening weeks this summer. Our team of 3.5 year old “Agent L” and 5 year old “Agent M,” accompanied by responsible adult (me). Tickets cost £28 for children aged 4-14; £16.50 for anyone 16yrs +; £10 for 0-3s. The targeted age range is 4-14 years old for the main activities.

So what is it, exactly?

To be honest, we’re still figuring this out. My children had a great time and seemed to learn a lot about exchanging money and working, adding to what we do at home: chores, talking about the cost of items and services, comparing things. We had such a lesson in the Gift Shop at KidZania, in fact, totalling up the price of the armfuls of toys they had chosen, and after we decided that we’d rather spend that money on doing some other things later on, they cheerfully put the merchandise back. I got a reluctant grin from the KidZania shopkeeper after that. KidZania does what we hope we’re doing at home–preparing our children for the “real world,” but maybe in a more fun, practical way.

Still confused? Here’s what KidZania say they are about:

The “real world” gives KidZania much of its look and concept: British Airways, Innocent, Big Yellow Storage, Renault, and Cadbury are some of the brands that populate the space with child-size versions of what they offer, surely testimony to the financial investment necessary to create a play space like this. And there are now 20 KidZanias, the latest in Manila, with plans for the North American market soon, so each one is localised with local brands and businesses. So it’s an impressivley large and complex operation. Not everything seems branded, though. And, I hope, some of the yet unopened storefronts will represent independent retailers, or family businesses. Being at KidZania feels like being on a movie set with a real road and three vehicles which move at a maximum speed of 4 mph, surrounded by children who have every appearance of feeling free to be themselves. As an adult in this mini-London, I did feel as if big corporate had taken over the charm of our High Streets and wished for at least a little throwback to the London of recent memory. Am I dreaming?

When we first entered this kinder-wonderland, Agent M made “super-wow” noises. She was ready to climb the wall, jump on the fire engine, and just go for it. Somehow, I convinced her to have a look around, so we went shopping instead, spending 15 Kidzos on a bead bracelet. Not good. Agent M’s approach would have kept our wallet healthier. For an even more studied approach, we suggest reading up on the concept ahead of time and definitely stopping in at the Job Centre (oh yes) for suggestions on how to navigate KidZania. Or even taking a few minutes to read the brochure you’re given at the entrance.

Some activities pay a salary (Fashion Studio); whilst others charge a fee (Fire Station trainee programme); some (Science Laboratory) are free. You can establish a bank account once you have 100 Kidzos in your pocket. And please do remember to wear trousers with a pocket, or else you might find yourself buying a lanyard (with your pounds Sterling) in the gift shop. You can go to University, where a fee is charged, but your subsequent salaries for work are higher.

Some of our favourites were the Theatre (the Magic Show was wonderfully entertaining), the Supermarket, and the 0-3s soft play, “RightZKeepers Residence.” Oh, and the loo. Not kidding. It’s sponsored with WaterAid (great idea, and wish they could extend the charitable sector representation) and the male and female loos are joined up by the sink area, so you can keep track of your children, no matter what gender, without anyone looking at you oddly. Also nice to see is the staff members singing and dancing to the KidZania theme song.

Practical Stuff

It really does seem as if it takes more than one visit to see every nook and cranny of this mini-city, but considering the price you’ll want to optimise your first visit by reading up on KidZania. Remember you’ll need to budget for parking: £6.50 all day during the weekdays at Westfield London during the summer or by Tube to Shepherd’s Bush. You’re also meant to arrive 30 minutes before your booked appointment time because there may be a queue. From Redbridge, we booked an 11am visit on a weekday, got on the road by 9:15am and arrived and were parked by 10:40am.

You can let them roam if they are aged 8+. Everyone receives an electronic bracelet upon check-in, so you can find your free-roaming child by tapping your bracelet on one of the digital kiosks (near the stairwells). There are many, many staff members in addition to parents roaming about, so a lot of adult supervision is present.

The food offerings are quite good (we had coffee, the mini chicken burgers, sweet potato fries, Thai green curry and chocolates later, after the Magic Show from the shop window right next to the Theatre) and not horribly priced, and since you’ll be spending four hours there, you’ll get hungry at some point. Some people brought snacks in on their own and we heard from another parent that there are good goodies in the Parents’ Zone!

If you are visiting with a younger child (0-3 years) and an older child on your own, we have some suggestions: All ages can participate in watching shows at the Theatre, making bubbles in the Science Laboratory, and shopping in the Supermarket. If your older child is happy to be on his or her own, then there are role-play activities in the soft-play areas on the Mezzanine level. We spoke with a few of the KidZania activity guides and some other parents about it and this seems already to be an ongoing concern. We hope so, as most of the mums and dads we know always take younger children on outings. “Agent L” is at the 3.5 year mark, confident yet a little shy. She found the attractions on the main floor a little overwhelming, especially the fire attraction (a fire is “put out” every 30 minutes by children participating in the Fire Station activity). A buggy park with lockers will store your kit — £5 for the larger / £3 for the smaller locked space.

We visited KidZania London on Tuesday, July 28th, 2015.

Micro-Scooter Love

She may never ride the bicycle again. . .

We were super excited to review the Maxi Micro-Scooter this month, and my older daughter (age 4, a fairly tall age 4) was just the girl for the job! The specs say it’s for children weighing up to 50kg, so it looks to last around here for several years. She was given an Ozbozz for Christmas last year and she used it a little, but I saw nothing like what I’ve seen in the past few days. The girl is zooming away, using the brake to slow down and stop, and doing tricks! The Maxi Micro-Scooter is stable under her feet and quick. We’ve had it for two weeks and we’ve been around the neighbourhood and in the parks with it. It’s easy to transport in the car boot and very light, so I don’t mind carrying it if I have to. My niece (8 years old) and nephew (9 years old) in the USA both have Micro-Scooters and they love them as well. They were really excited to find out how we liked it. Evidently, it’s THE scooter to have, even on the other side of the Pond. And I do see why.

Compared with the other scooters we’ve had in the house, the Micro-Scooters are clearly better designed for action (and looks). Both of my girls had a Little Tikes 2-in1 as their first scooter, which was good in that they could sit on it or stand, but it was stiff plastic. At £29.99, it was a good value, but I do think they would have had more use out of the Mini Micro-Scooter, had they had it instead. The Little Tikes scooter doesn’t turn at all really, so it’s only good for going in straight lines, but at least it was sturdy underfeet. We also have the Ozbozz “My First Scooter” which is VERY heavy (and so I never like to carry it), not to mention unstable. My daughter fell many times in the early days–even with all four wheels on! Luckily, she is not the type of child to give up. It appears to ride roughly over city pavement. You can hear the wheels banging and knocking over every bump. Not good.

The Maxi Micro-Scooter glides along. . .  quickly! Even at speed or down hill, my four-year old is able to control it. Our three-year old who got the Mini Micro-Scooter for her birthday last month is also happily scooting along.

Maxi Micro-Scooters are priced from £99.95. If you want a fancier model or accessories, you’ll pay up to £123.95. Micro-Scooter offers free delivery on the product and spare parts are easy to come by. These scooters also offer excellent resale value on eBay, so it’s definitely worth buying it new and getting several years’ use out of it.

We met up with some of our Mumsnet friends who also got Micro-Scooters to review at Tumbling Bay playground at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park over the Easter holidays. The kids had a ball. It was a cloudy day, so we had this amazing place mostly to ourselves. I think they had fun!

“A Bing Thing”

bing bunny dvdBing, the toddling, pre-schooler bunny on CBeebies is the star of a new DVD hitting the shelves on March 30th. We were invited along for a screening in Central London last weekend.

It’s a CBeebies show for toddler and pre-school aged children and their families. Episodes are narrated and seen from the point of view of Bing, the bunny who seems between three and four years old and Flop, an orange sock body who seems to be Bing’s grown up. He’s smaller than Bing, which reinforces the idea that the show is really about and for the child. The point of view in the animation often pans to “Bing height.” I wonder if the kids really notice these things. . .

But since we grown ups will be watching also, the writers have given us lovely moments to keep us entertained. Bing’s grown-up, Flop, is very, very patient. Something we grown ups can certainly learn from. And, I have to admit, he uses some good parenting methods.

red Balloon

Photo from the “Balloony” entry of Disney Wikia.

  I was happy to see a thoughtful nod to established childrens’ stories: “Bye-Bye” reminded me of the red balloon in the film versions of A.A. Milne’s Classic Winnie the Pooh stories. Bing plays joyfully with a balloon in his living room until it pops and he has to then, with the guidance of the loving Flop, deal with the end of the fun. While I won’t be setting up a bye-bye box in our home for broken toys, I’ll admit it might not be a bad idea if a child has trouble coping with broken toys or giving something up.

For the children, Bing is a mirror of their lives, replete with the fun and frustrations of the toddler years. He’s got a few friends and two bunny cousins, one a little older (“Coco,” my girls’ favourite character) and Charlie, a younger crawling baby. He’s also got friends the same age–an elephant (your child’s sensible and calm friend) and a panda (your child’s friend who marches to his own beat and doesn’t like trousers). This cast helps to illustrate an array of scenes of sibling or playmate interaction within an early years group. A lesson is learned and retold by Bing in each episode. It’s good social and emotional learning fun. And the Banana song is awesome.

My three year old daughter loved the episode with Brenda the blender and has been singing the banana song since yesterday. This morning, she reminded me that the banana went poo into the Brenda and chuckled. It was one of those moments when you realise that they really were paying attention and making sense of what they’re seeing. My four year old daughter’s favourite was, predictably, the one with Bing and his cousins playing blocks. . . Obsessed, she is with rainbows and putting blocks in orderly lines and towers, usually right where I need to walk.

Little Lovelies from

“Clip it” — Now that’s a slogan we need in this house! We are always looking for pretty and practical hair accessories and so we were really happy to be introduced to Liliputians.

hyde park headbandWe were sent a few styles to review and they’ve been worn out and about by my two very curly-locked little girls.

The Hyde Park headband joins a drawerful of plastic and fabric-covered headbands, but this one seems truly the most comfortable. No horrible poking feeling behind the ears, in the words of my four-year old. And it looks good. It sits and stays put. She’s worn it to school. . . and, quite unbelievably, she’s worn it all day!

The Marylebone flip clip is probably the favourite of the bunch. It’s a distinctive colour, nearly a duck egg blue but slightly greener, and unlike a plain metal slide, it’s gentle. Despite a generous bow, it doesn’t sort of tip over or move around. It stays put. I’ve clipped it onto locks of hair or a small French braid.

marylebone clipsThe Cotton Tail is a well-made scrunchie. No trailing hems and the fabric is a soft, satiny cotton. Easy to pin up ponytails. And easy to take out.

cotton tails

. . . and a Cottontail hair scrunchie.

The quality of Liliputians’ hair accessories is very good indeed. At prices of £1.99 – £2.99, these pieces are extremely good value for money, considering I paid £4.99 for six horrible metal hair slides from H&M recently.

liesl headband

Rockin’ the Hyde Park headband in an urban scene. Worn with ivory cotton and tulle skirt and fluffy Hello Kitty print hooded jumper. Groovy.

Covered in soft, well-finished and substantial fabrics and trims, these are well made and will, trust me, be well used.

Thanks to Lili from Liliputians for entrusting us with her lovely products for this review. Now go and have a browse in the online shop:!