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 https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rainham-hall/

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: http://www.frinton.org/tourism/frinton-beach.php#tideinformation

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..

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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: http://www.kidzania.com/the-concept.php

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.

Space Safari

After a fairly relaxed half-term holiday, I decided a day out would be in order. A little looking around online unearthed a great surprise: a live planetarium show for under 7s at the Peter Harrison Planetarium at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Brilliant.

Having grown up in South Florida near a planetarium and NASA, I remember the sense of wonder the Planetarium shows gave me as a child. This show, called Space Safari, is hosted by a real-life Astronomer called Tom and his animated friend Ted, a bear. I wasn’t expecting that we would have the privilege of an Astronomer, to be honest, as so many childrens’ offerings seem to be a little dumbed down. So this is especially good. Really, especially, intelligently good.

space safariThe Safari takes young children on a journey through our solar system looking for a “great big bear,” which we eventually learn is the constellation Orion. My nearly three-year old was a little frightened at first, but quickly removed fingers from eyelids after deeming the show “not scary.” It was a kind and gentle introduction to outer space, a little sing-songey (not enough to drive you bonkers). There’s plenty to see in the beautifully illuminated planetarium space with amazing footage of the ground on the Moon and Mars, solar atmospheres, and much else that science has found and ferried back to Earth for us. Plenty to learn for the older children of the 0-7 set and beautiful, natural visuals and a story to include and entrance the younger ones.

We had a look around the Observatory grounds and then shuffled back down the hill, through Greenwich Park, and spent the afternoon in the Royal Maritime Museum where we looked around, sat nice and quietly for the Chinese New Year storyteller, and saw some “old things.” All for free.

A quick 40-minute train and DLR journey (a bargain at around £5 round trip on a Saturday from our pad in East London–zones 3 and 4) and tickets to the show are very reasonable at £6.50 for adults and £4.50 for children 3+. A complete day out (including snacks and lollies) for about £20. Not bad.

The Space Safari runs on weekends and Tuesdays in term-time (Spring 2015). Booking online is probably essential. And do leave early as you must arrive 10 minutes before showtime and the Observatory is, of course, up a nice hill. The pre-schooler, the toddler and I walked / ran / hopped (no buggy) from the Cutty Sark DLR station to the Observatory in 15 minutes.

Double 10 Delights

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In the Caribbean, we celebrate something called Double 10, so named for the 10th of October. As with many Caribbean cultural inheritances, it corresponds sometimes to its ancestor, in this case the Chinese Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn festival. The common denominator is lots of good food, family and friends.

It looks like the universe is conspiring to get us down to London Chinatown this weekend as six of Chinatown’s restaurants are participating in London’s Restaurant Festival this month. Y.U.M.

Georgia Lindsay’s Family Garden and ‘Bub Tub’ Competition

Calm and reassuring, the figure of a circle makes us think of a great big hug, and Georgia Lindsay, a finalist in  the 2014 Grand Designs Garden Design competition, created a garden full of them. We met the London-based designer during a family day out to the Grand Designs show last Spring and instantly knew we had to help her show it off!

Action man

A gorgeous metal swing seat designed by Steve Myburgh (Myburgh Designs) provides comfortable and playful respite from all the action in the garden. Artificial turf is used throughout. This can be cut in shapes to help form the lids for the tugs and circular play spaces.

The colours and shapes of this wonderfully child friendly space made my children beam, a response Georgia was clearly aiming for:

“The circles were very deliberate. Soft curves seem much friendlier and child orientated than angular lines.” I also was taken with the boldness of simple colours and shapes that were. . .well, appealing.

Georgia-Lindsay A penchant for clean lines were traded in for a family garden resplendent with circles in order to create a family friendly and appropriate design.

“I am actually known for doing very clean lined contemporary gardens but for this Family Garden I made a deliberate decision to smooth out all the edges.”

The garden upholds the circular theme, from the choice of a single proliferating bloom–a daisy–to the circular-seats of the beautiful steel swing and Georgia’s signature ‘Bub Tub’ kiddie seats to the holes dug as an interchangeable sandpit or paddling pool or trampline recess, or even a fire pit for some grown-up fun!

The seating area is inviting, comfortable, and purposeful. The softly circular theme is maintained whilst remembering that children DO go to bed (after helping to put the toys away, of course) and then the adults do not want to be sat in the middle of a landscaped toy shop. To that end, she has oh-so-cleverly devised turfed fitting lids for the play pits.

seating zone

Georgia’s “Bub Tubs”: One of the attractions of the chairs is that they can easily transform back into a storage bucket once the kids have grown out of them. They also stack easily when the cushion is taken out and look fabulous in all the beautiful rainbow colours they come in. People also love that they can store toys in the little compartment under the cushion, a little bit less clutter is always a bonus with kids!

So how did she dream up this amazing landscape? “The brief of the competition this year was introducing colour to your garden,” she tells us. “It would have been too predictable using colourful plants to fulfil this brief so I purposely didn’t use any flowers with colour and chose the white daisies and green grass as a neutral palette.”

Atop this neutral palette are the play spaces and sitting spaces: a beautiful wrought metal swing seat hovers over a dug-out circle, giving the feeling of depth. The gentle steps up and down were designed to make the terrain easily navigable for little ones.  She is a mum of two toddlers, ages 2 years and 9 months and 11months, so the well-imagined and safely realised space is a true labour of love: “The garden was really a tribute to them,” she says, and “completely designed for that age group, hence the curved lines and easy heights to navigate.”

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Kevin McCloud, of the Grand Designs Show, called the garden “innovative and practical.”

Since the show this Spring, Georgia has been overwhelmed with interest in her design and for the “Bub Tub” she designed for the garden. “The reusable quality of them really has appealed to people. As we parents all know we go through kids’ paraphernalia so quickly as they grow out of things so fast.”

Innovative yet practical. And we really like that.

Creating Your Own Garden

daisiesGeorgia’s design was purpose-built as a small show space, but you can use some of her great ideas in your own garden, large or small.

Do consider the shapes of the things in your garden–choose furniture, flower beds, and blooms with rounded edges instead of sharp, angular ones. Georgia recommends sunflowers for rapid and impressive growth.

And back to the theme of purposeful–why not incorporate edible, weed-controlling blooms? “Strawberries are another great one, not only do you get the thrill of picking the juicy fruit but also the added pleasure of putting them to bed in a little nest of straw. All veggies give great satisfaction, I don’t think anyone could ever tire of the thrill of pulling a carrot from the ground and the condensed carroty smell which fills the air.”

 

Play Along and Win a Pair of Bub Tubs

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These amazing little chairs are soft, stackable, and have toy storage underneath! Perfect for toddlers and pre-schoolers, for indoor or outdoor use.

This garden is so chock full of playfulness, irresistibly so. Mumsnet Local and Wanstead’s neighbourhood pub, The Duke, would love for you to play along, so here’s your big chance.

We’d love to hear your suggestions for simple, affordable child-friendly home gardens. The winner will receive a pair of Georgia’s signature Bub Tubs, pictured here. These are valued at £45 each. If you’d like to get up close and personal with the Bub Tubs, they’ll be at The Duke in Wanstead from Friday, July 25th until the competition closes.

Entries will be accepted from Friday, July 25th until Midnight on Sunday August 3rd. The winner will be chosen by Georgia Lindsay herself.

If you’re having trouble thinking of ideas, our friend at Mumsnet Suffolk and Norfolk has some great ones on her blog.

When you’re ready, post your idea to the Talk thread on Mumsnet Local – Redbridge. You must post your entry by midnight on Sunday August 3rd, 2014.

Good luck and have a wonderful, playful summer!

  • Find your Mumsnet Local web site here–register by updating your Mumsnet account and receive a customised monthly newsletter with all the latest happenings in your area.

duke wanstead

Head over to The Duke on Thursday 31st July & Friday 1st August at 10am when they will be hosting their Little Duke’s kids club.