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.

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..

kidzania

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

chinese-mid-autumn-festival-vocabulary-phrases3

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.

Allons Le Tour!

Cambridge / Londres

Stage 3 of this year’s Tour de France will speed through our streets on Monday, July 7th before whizzing off to France via air transport. We’d had a rather fanciful thought involving a tardis, though.  .  .

stage 3 tour

Full route details online at www.letour.fr

Beginning in Cambridge just after Noon, le Tour will arrive in Redbridge and Waltham Forest in the early afternoon, criss-crossing the boroughs on the way into Central London. The promotional caravan–get your free Tour gear–arrives in Epping New Road from approximately 1.05pm followed by the race at approximately 2.40pm. The route continues down Woodford New Road, through the Whipps Cross roundabout, and onto Lea Bridge Road into Leyton via Orient Way then on to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, through East London and into Westminster, where Stage 3 ends.

Best viewing points in the order that the race will reach them:

  • Epping New Road (Roadside, E4)
  • All Saints Church in Woodford Wells (Inmans Row, Woodford Green, Essex IG8 0NH) is opening its doors to the community for the duration of the event (café, toilet and TV screens) as well as family activities on the green.
  • Whipps Cross roundabout—large television screen to watch the race, Waltham Forest council-run activities
  • Lea Bridge Road (no facilities, roadside viewing)
  • Leyton Green
  • Baker’s Arms junction

If you’re watching from Epping New Road or Woodford New Road, be sure to check in at either of these spots:

  • Woodford Wells Club in Monkhams Lane (IG8 ONL) is welcoming the community to bring picnics, make full use of the club’s facilities and its newly refurbished club bar.
  • The Larder at Butler’s Retreat, 12 Rangers Road, Chingford, E4 7QH Click here for their menu.

Watching at Whipps Cross Roundabout or Lea Bridge Road?

Alfred-HitchcockWalk down to the friendly Sir Alfred Hitchcock Pub and Restaurant (147 Whipps Cross Road, E11 1NP). Full facilities are available and the manager is preparing a warm welcome for racegoers, including a BBQ! Unless, of course, it rains. . .  Do expect a lovely cream teas and the manager’s Tour specials–fish and chips, steak and ale pies. Full kids menu available.

And if sitting in the afternoon sun leaves you needing a little peace and quiet, take a break and visit Hollow Ponds Boating Lake, row a boat or sit in a shady spot. Just down from the Sir Alfred and opposite. Snacks and drinks available at the outposts, minimal facilities.

hollow-pond-boats

A bit further afield, the Duke pub in Wanstead is super family-friendly and is the perfect spot to head to for an early supper after a full day. Plenty for the kids to do there.

Le Tour’s official web site is www.letour.fr.

Plan ahead and make it a great day out!

Check out our Mumsnet Local partner sites whoa re also hosting Le Tour 2014:

Off to See Matisse’s Colourful Cut-Outs

matissethesnail1953

The Snail, 1953

The famous shapes of Matisse’s Cut-Outs are at the Tate Modern! This is the largest collection of them shown to date, in fact, with 120 or so of the Cut-Outs to enjoy.

The vibrant colours and shapes should really be engaging for children, so we’re thinking it’s definitely worth a visit. The folks at the Tate are expecting this and have prepared some material for the wee ones’ visits: read the The Tate Kids Blog here. Already, some enthusiastic young fans have sent in photos of their own Matisse-inspired creations to the blog.

We are learning to use scissors carefully around here, so the transition to home should be a good and useful one. Cutting, sticking, and positioning paper into sought-after shapes seems like something we could all get happily stuck into.

This will be my first trip to the Tate with children. I’m thinking of starting at St. Paul’s Cathedral and taking a walk across the Millenium Bridge on the way to the museum.  I’ve always liked that journey.

Matisse, the Cut-Outs runs from 17 April – 7 September 2014

Adult £18 (without donation £16.30)
Concession £16 (without donation £14.50)
Help Tate by including the voluntary donation to enable Gift Aid
Additional booking fee of £1.75 (£2 via telephone) per transaction applies
Under 12s go free (up to four per parent or guardian)