2 Weeks Ago
At the risk of using these journals as a sort of clippings folder for recipes, I've had a first go at making kulich today, the Russian panacotta-esque bread they make for Easter. It being Orthodox Easter tomorrow, of course. Yes, that is a month after British Easter. Luckily Russians don't go in much for chocolate eggs.
Anyway, I am making the kulich so that the menfolk could go and get them blessed when they go and do alterboy duty this afternoon, this being another Russian tradition. The blessing of the kulich, I mean, not the alterboy bit. Never volunteer is what I say (ha!).
Unfortunately all the recipes I found use dried yeast, rather than fast action yeast, which is all I have time for (note to self, next year, start yesterday). So I am busking a bit.
This rarely works.
750g plain flour
Rub the butter intothe flour.
Add I forget how much sugar and the fast action yeast and a pinch of salt.
Separate 5 eggs. Beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. Add to the yolks the rum (I used brandy) which you soaked the raisins I forgot to mention earlier in. Supposedly 100g raisins with 50ml rum, except I think I had more rum (brandy) which is probably a mistake. See below. Add a taspoon of vanilla essence. Add the yols mixture and the whites to the flour and fold in.
That was probably the mistake as you are also supposed to add 350ml of warm milk, but I only got to about half that before the mixture was way to wet and I had to add quite a lot more flour to make the dough firm enough to knead. It's also possible the recipe doesn't need quite that much milk. Or fewer eggs. Or less rum (brandy). But probably next time add more of the milk first.
Knead for ten mins, in the usual manner, let rise for 2 hours in a warm place.
What do people do for warm places without airing cupboards? I had to turn the oven on a bit since the sun wasn;t shining. That can;t be right.
Knock back, add the raisins, add to the custom made kulich pans I don't have, leave to rise again, oven 160-170 degrees celcius for 30-35 mins.
Or at least that's what I will do when the oven warms up.
Kristos voscress, people (now you say 'vieistinu voscress').
Dec 24, 2012
On Xmas Tunez
Dec 18, 2012
Today I had my Last Lesson of the term. I am not much of a one for going down the pub with the students, so I invited themk to bring in some food, took along some classic items of British cuisine, and prepared an British Christmas Music Extravaganza.
I am a bit Christmas musiced out now.
But what do you think I played them?
The criteria is this: I wanted to give them an overview of what a British person would recognize as typical Christmas music, both traditional carols and the pop and rock songs. I also wanted to amuse and entertain them. But I also wanted to reflect my own taste a bit too. But at the same time I also had to consider that the students are intermediate level - neither very strong nor very weak.
So? Any guesses?
Sol: NaJoPoMo 27th: Throwing in the towel
Nov 27, 2012
I am knocking this on the head. I could keep posting one liners until the 30th, but that's not really the point.
I was hoping the Comet would be back after a few days but she seems to have gone on strike a bit. I think she needs a new deadline. I like playing chicken with deadlines, and I usually win. Until I don't.
Anyway, the good thing about NaJoPoMo and the like is that it gets me writing, and it gets me thinking of things to write. The bad thing is that I don't have time to write the good ideas up properly, so I either do a bit of a rush job or start posting funny anecdotes. Which is cool, but a bit monotonous after a while.
So, how to combine the enforced writing of November with a bit more time for reflection?
I shall commit the Comet to a column in the Post I think. I'm sure Dmitri will be thrilled. In some ways I'd like it to be a proper uni project for the Guide, but the posts would have to be more informative and a tad less anecdotal for that I think, and I don;t think I have the energy to cover the whole of London properly like that. I may try to write one or two things for the Guide along those lines though. A toddler's Guide to museum going, something like that.
Other Guide entries I need to write (it helps to publicly declare this):
Urban fantasy as a genre of writing.
How to celebrate with food Russian style.
How to make borscht and schee.
VDNKh - my favourite place in Moscow
How to collect Soviet medals (with B)
Should I aim for one a month? That's six months writing there already. One a month isn't too extreme.
I also had an idea for a novel - mainly for the whole NaNoWriMo thing I have promised myself to do sometime. I don't write fiction much so that would satisfy the other decision I made this month, which is that I could do with trying to write better rather than just trying to write something, anything at all. Trying new ways of writing would work towards that. Also, it would give me a reading project too, because I even worked out what research I need to do.
Upon mature reflection…
…what with all that and another writing project I want to commit to on t’blog, that’s too much. Time to reach for the SMART targets, as my work would say. No idea what that stands for, but the point is that it’s no good students saying they will read a newspaper everyday if that’s too much for them, timewise, concentrationwise, dauntwise abilitywise, or whatever.
So what can I actually manage? Well, if, in 2013 I get all those Guide entries written, that’s one every two months, that will about double my output for the last ten years, so there, that’s a target I should be proud to aim for. I think I’ll add one more – something deadly serious, for the stretching myself quota.
Dmitri will be thrilled to hear that I am going to write a *bi*-weekly column, and I’ll do the blog thing in the down week. That’s better.
Still not sure where the fiction will come in, but that’s a long shot anyway.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 26th: Statistics.
Nov 26, 2012
So Daughter has just woken up with a raging temperature and in the same 30 minutes, Son's cough has got the better of him and he has thrown up.
All over his Papa, which makes that 100% record. Papa 100 litres of sick, Mama zero. Result.
Sol: NaBloPoMo 25th: 2 minutes...
Nov 25, 2012
... to midnight.
This isn't going well, is it?
Sol: More hatred for computers.
Nov 25, 2012
This was supposed to be a post about borscht, but the computer ate it.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 23rd: Been out.
Nov 23, 2012
Ate veggie food.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 22nd: on Thanksgiving
Nov 22, 2012
Today I am thankful for the fact that the lengthy mandatory training session I had to undergo did not include any roleplaying.
And there were only five million PowerPoint slides, only a third of which mentioned government legislation.
But there was also coffee.
Plus I will get paid for it.
And later the computer system graciously allowed me to teach without incident too.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 21st: Plov
Nov 21, 2012
Today I made Plov, also known as, I think, Pilaff. It's an Uzbek dish I came across many a time in Russia as street food. Huge metal saucepan full of a sticky lamb n rice dish. Really nice. The last time I attempted it myself, however, it was inedible.
This time I decided to pretend it is a sort of risotto, and this worked so well that if I can do it again with a few tweaks perhaps, I shall write a Guide entry. Unless there is one already. Hang on. Nope. Good.
But that means making a note of what I did, so, what the heck, let's do the show right here.
So, I had two packets of lamb steaks which must have been about 1kg. The first thing to do is make a nice lamb stock, and also cook the meat. So I boiled the lamb, cut up into chunks, with one onion, a couple of celery sticks, some carrots, half a swede and some garlic. Probably should have browned the meat first, but hey ho.
Whilst that was cooking I fried an onion and a lot of garlic - although next time I'll do more. Added about a teaspoon of peppercorns, a generous spoon of cumin seeds and the same of coriander seeds, all crushed in the obligatory pestle and mortar. This was really the right amount of spice. A nice cuminy taste without being overpowering, which is the first time that's happened to me for cumin ever, so really, note the amount again. A generous spoonful.
Five grated carrots later, and more oil (this is quite an oily dish) and a good ten to fifteen minutes cooking and what I did was fish the lamb chunks out of the stock and add them. Then I poured in two cups of rice (that's actual mugs - how do other people measure rice I wonder?), got it nice and greasy and poured in quite a bit of the stock. Which should still be hot. Think risotto, remember?
It's important at this point to not believe the recipes which say it will be all over ten minutes after that without further input. In fact I'd used up all the rather large saucepan of stick, plus quite a bit of extra hot water, much stirring and a lot of extra time before it was ready. Basmati rice, though. Didn't go to mush. Very gratifying.
Most people would have added salt before now. I don't when I'm cooking for the kids. Not that they would eat it, the philistines. B, on the other hand, did, which is not a forgone conclusion with anything I cook (he has an unreasoning prejudice against British food), and so did the MiL. So I think we can say that was a win. Particularly as it was definitely better than my MiL's plov, and somewhat less greasy too.
There was a lot left over though. Possibly half the quantity would be sufficient. Or I could make harcho soup with the stock as well or something.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 20th: There are days when...
Nov 20, 2012
... I really hate technology. The less said about my lesson and how it was torpedoed by the computer system this evening the better.
And am less than pleased with certain childish habits. Such as not sleeping in the middle of the night.
To tonight I am mostly reading Christmas food porn magazines and going to bed early. Or at least at a reasonable hour.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 19th: Books books books books
Nov 19, 2012
My parents are useless at presents. So I just tell them what I want.
Last Christmas, for example, I forgot to tell them and they got me a reed scent diffuser. A sort of cross between an air freshener and, well, no it is just a glorified air freshener.
What I have asked for on my birthday for the last few years is an amazon voucher. The nice thing about this rather than money is that I have to spend it on books and they always send more than they would have spent. At least I hope the scent diffuser didn't cost that much, I really really do.
Anyway, I ordered my books last week. Sometimes I save it up and dribble it out in one or two books at a time, but this time I blew it all in one go.
There are a lot of novels with aggressive looking women holding swords and glaring at a warewolf/ vampire/ harmless looking man winging their way my way as we speak.
Let's hope not too many of them get here before November 30th or all NaJoPoMo bets are off.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 18th: Formula One
Nov 18, 2012
So here I am watching the Formula One USA race. On the BBC highlights show, ie not live.
Now the problem with not live is that you have to be very careful not to find out the results before hand.
Which is fine, except that the reason why you are not watching F1 live today is because the BBC underhandedly sold off the full live rights to Sky last year. Only a couple of years after the pinched them back off ITV.
So you would think that they would be a little sensitive to the fact that not all of us have chosen to fork out for a Sky connection we don't have, and the F1 package on top of that and not ANNOUNCE THE RESULTS A FEW MINUTES BEFORE THE PROGRAMME STARTS WHEN UNSUSPECTING VIEWERS COULD BE EXPECTED TO BE TURNING ON THEIR TVS.
Right, I'm glad I got that off my chest.
The good news is, from the results, it's probably still worth watching.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 17th: Interlude
Nov 17, 2012
The Comet is ill - just a cold really - so she is taking a few days off her busy writing schedule to recover.
In the meantime there is me.
We made Christmas puddings today. Via the h2g2 recipe. I usually use Mrs Beaton's but I thought I would branch out.
The Comet had a lot of fun trying to transfer all the dry ingredients back out of the mixing bowl and onto the scales while I was hunting for the stout. Which I never found, so we had to use orange juice instead. The mess, however, was nothing to when she later fell of the chair while we were making banana bread (lots and lots of banana bread, but that's another post in another place), pulling half the flour/ sugar mixture on top of her. Do not cook with children if you are not willing to have the kitchen covered in flour is my, expert, advice.
Anyway, I microwaved the puddings.
I am sorry, I have spent years of my life watching Christmas puddings boil for the seven hours they need to boil for and microwaving them takes ten minutes and produces a fine tasting moist dessert. I should know - Dad has always zapped his in this way, but I still probably wouldn't have broken down and gone for it if I hadn't already had to admit defeat and go for the modern technology option last year after seven hours of boiling had not actually produced a firm-looking pudding.
There is such a thing as too much brandy.
Nov 17, 2012
Today you went to your uncle’s funeral.
No, it’s all right. He was old – a good 80 years. And he had cancer, and it hadn’t been pleasant these last few months so, all in all, something of a blessed relief.
Plus, you won’t pretend you knew him that well. He was considerably older than your Dad and they didn’t grow up together. And for years your family and Uncle’s did tag team Granny visiting so as not to overwhelm her, the point of which was, you didn’t meet.
You’d only seen him a few times since you moved back to the UK. He sent money and cards for your birthday, and your kids birthdays. The money was always more than you really thought was necessary. The cards were always funny, bawdy, crude or all three and always made you snigger. You rarely said thank you properly. Your main way of showing your appreciation was to put rather more effort into his Christmas presents than those for most of your other relatives. You doubt he realised this. Last year you found mugs which definitely beat Uncle at his own game. You were touched to be served tea in them when you went to see him for what turned out to be the last time. It’s a shame Christmas is coming up because Uncle tended to send Dad small, gloriously odd gadgetty presents, which were one of those little highlights of the season that you look forward to.
But those scant memories are not why you are feeling a bit depressed this evening.
Uncle was the sort of man who you were happy to think existed in the world. You didn’t know he has been expelled from public school for writing satirical verses about his teachers, but it didn’t surprise you. You didn’t know he was thrown out of the army on the grounds of mental instability for, among other things, painting his uniform in the white leather polish reserved for the belt. That surprised you. You didn’t know he wrote poetry, but you read some of it at the wake. It wasn’t boring. It wasn’t banal. That didn’t surprise you. Neither did some of the contributions to his running club’s newspaper. The one about working out some world record holder’s feat in units of tortoise, based on his observation of his own tortoise was your personal favourite. You knew how involved he was in various clubs in his home town, but it didn’t surprise you how warmly regarded he was by the members.
He was a lovely man, he made an impression on the world, so much so that even your son remembers him and he only met him, what, three times.
So actually, it's not alright, not alright at all really.
Place won't be the same without him.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 15th: a toddler's Guide to... using the London Underground
Nov 15, 2012
No, really don't.
Mama is still scarred after what was probably her only attempt to take my Superlative Big Brother on the tube. Dragging the pushchair up and down five million steps. Entrusting it to the escalators. Walking round and round the tunnels following the signs for the lift to the next level and then round and round the tunnels following the signs for the level after that. Coping with the insane British habit of standing right in front of the doors inside and out, refusing to budge for anyone getting on or off. The delays. The other delays. The cost.
Take the bus.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 14th: a toddler's Guide to... Hyde Park
Nov 14, 2012
Hyde Park is big. It’s not as big as Richmond Park or, y’know, space, but it is nevertheless big and particularly big for the purposes of this Guide as Mama says I should include Kensington Gardens. She says no-one really knows where one stops and the other begins anyway, certainly not her. I concur.
Mostly our walks in Hyde Park begin in the middle of the sourthern side, hoping for a sight of horses as we cross the dedicated horse track. Sometimes we get to see the horseguards exercising their nags or, on really exciting days, practising for some big ceremonial outing. There were a lot of these this last Jubilee year, so there were a lot of opportunities for this to happen. Fabulous stuff.
We then either go left, towards the Albert Memorial, straight on towards the Diana Memorial Fountain and the Serpentine lake, or left and up a bit towards the Sepentine Art Gallery and thence on to the Round Pond.
The Albert Memorial route is the one we do if we are in a hurry. Straight along the bottom edge of the park and out via the ice cream kiosk to the bus home at the end. It is an excellent route for toddlers, having broad, well-paved pathways and a total lack of water features. I like climbing the steps to the Albert Memorial, and even Papa likes hanging out here. Built by Queen Victoria to honour her late husband, it displays all the taste and subtlety of which the Victorian age is known for, which is to say none at all, and the fact that Albert is covered from head to foot on gold leaf and very gaudy makes Papa feel right at home. It is really the only bit of public art in London he approves of.
The Diana Memorial Fountain option is something we have only really started doing this summer. Mama freely admits to being wrong about the Fountain, which she came across in its early stages, back when she didn’t have kids and it spent six months cordoned off for not working properly. At that time she considered it insufficiently fountain-like and totally unimpressive. It is, after all, more of a low lying circular cannalette than anything else, and there is very little spurting water involved at all.
Clearly she hadn’t been there on a nice summer day. The thing is, now they have fixed whatever problems it had, it has become a bit of a hangout. People sit on the edge of the channel, wade round and round the waters, picnic on the surrounding grass. There are a lot of kids, most of them having fun, but it’s not all families, which is rather nice. And while noting shoots up in the air, up close, as you wander round, it is interestingly textured, with different flow patterns and, in places, very loud and oddly musical. Mama says we can build her one of these when she goes any day. Not sure where, but I’m sure we will figure it out.
The Serpentine is pretty tedious to walk all the way round (Mama thinks) and best avoided altogether with two water obsessed children. Mama is particularly adamant about this after she had to fish my Incredible Big Brother’s scooter out of the water not once but twice on one trip. So we depart after hanging over a decently fenced section admiring the ducklings and goslings and signets as soon as possible for the playground back up near the Horseguard barracks. It has a coffee dispensing kiosk right outside, so everyone is happy.
But the way we most often go is to Round Pond via the Serpentine Gallery. Even through the Gallery sometimes, an occurrence which happens more if we are with my Incredible Big Brother’s friend and his artist father. Mama enjoys being in an art gallery with someone who knows what they are seeing, but since her default positions on art, especially rooms with large screens showing rather incomprehensible films about a music box, involve being polite and describing it as ‘nice’ or indulging her snark and being funny about it, she does find that rather stressful too.
Anyway, from the gallery it is but a short gallop to the Round Pond, which is indeed very round, completely open and much beloved of my Incredible Big Brother because there are many geese and swans and ducks here. Until recently, when Mama decided he is becoming rather too large and intimidating, my Incredible Big Brother would herd any water birds which had the temerity to set webbed foot on land back into what he considers to be their only natural habitat. But I have been taking notes and soon it will be my turn to harass the birdlife of London parks unmercifully. Also, squirrels.
It’s a good thing both of us are photogenic because the tourists who have got lost on their way from Kensington Palace to the Diana Fountain love this kind of behaviour and take lots of pictures of a line of grown swans waddling in front of a determined small boy (or girl).
Anyway, if we have made really good time, we sometimes bear right and go to the Diana Memorial Playground, although Mama is not a huge fan. It is, in fact, in many ways an excellent playground, with a huge sand pit, some really good slides, swings and climbing frames, and all divided up into different ‘rooms’ separated by grassy banks or really big bushes. It’s this that is the problem really. Thing is, Mama likes to be able to keep half an eye on my Incredible Big Brother whilst following me around wherever my whimsy takes me. Or at least, she likes to be able to keep an eye on the exit, particularly when my Incredible Big Brother was smaller and didn’t understand instructions like ‘stay in this playground at all times’. This is pretty much impossible with the Diana Playground, and so Mama is forced to chose between being the ultimate helicopter Mama or the momentarily panic of not being able to find one of her children when she makes sporadic checks to ensure he hasn’t recruited the other under fives in a plot to take over the world or something.
Which is why she is almost always forced to fortify herself at the refreshments booth outside. I recommend the ice cream. Mama likes the coffee.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 13th: a toddler's Guide to... Battersea Park
Nov 13, 2012
Battersea Park is a riverside park in the South West of London, just across a bridge from such attractions as Chelsea, Kings Road, the Royal Hospital and the National Army Museum.
It is an excellent place to while away time with a toddler, or a toddler and her Tremendous Big Brother because there are so many different sections to explore – it’s not a large heath-like affair full of grass like many of the other open spaces in the area. Not that I mind that. One footpath is much like another to me, and as long as there are blades of grass to examine, dog poo to pick up, leaves to throw around, sticks to collect, ducks to feed and dogs to greet I am really not that bothered. But the sense of exploration Battersea Park provides seems to make Mama happy, so that’s good enough for me.
One of Mama’s favourite areas is the Tea Garden, where there is a small kiosk that serves coffee. Mama often tries to arrange it so that should we be alone, I am asleep when we get here and she can relax in whatever sunshine is available in peace. Or at least as much peace is afforded by the dog walkers, who also like to restore their nerves with refreshment here, meaning that there is actually quite a lot of bouncy animals snuffling, barking and occasionally fighting. I usually only wake up, however, if they come and investigate what we have brought as our picnic lunch, which is unfortunately rather more often than Mama would like. The problem is that Battersea Park is near Battersea Dogs (and Cats) home, and so in addition to the quite startling numbers of dog owners and professional dog sitters who use the park, there are also hordes of former strays being exercised.
Not that this bothers me or my Tremendous Big Brother one little bit. He is animal obsessed at the best of times, but dogs are his absolute favourite and generally it is absolutely impossible for him to walk past a pooch without saying hello. I am much the same, although less prone to running madly towards them with my arms out shrieking my happiness as my Tremendous Big Brother was at my age, for which Mama is duly thankful. Still, she is torn between being grateful that Battersea Park provides us with an opportunity to indulge our passion and irritation at the sheer inconvenience of having to stop every five yards to stroke some mutt. Not to mention that she suspects that every encounter increases the likelihood that she will have to let us get a dog at some point in the future.
[Hey!! Tremendous Big Brother!!! Mama said we can get a dog!!!! Yes!!!!!]
Anyway, the Tea Garden. The reason why Mama likes this bit of the park so much is that it reminds her powerfully of parks in Moscow. Lots of sculptures made of metal strips painted in bright colours, including the gazebos over the tea garden tables. The whole section is overlooked by the Peace Pagoda, which is a Buddhist temple inexplicably plumped in the middle of the riverside walk. There are also fountains, quite spectacular ones, with timed and ever changing displays of water fireworks. Mama is less keen on this bit, particularly after my Tremendous Big Brother fell in once. This is the reason why she tends to go here only when I am sleeping these days.
Another bit she likes is the walled English garden, which has been overhauled recently by what appears to be a community gardening project. Mama has a secret yen for a walked garden, and this is a lovely secluded spot to take a sleeping baby if you are not as coffee obsessed as Mama. It is a bit overrun by pigeons, because people eat their lunch here and someone has hung bird feeders in the trees, but I don’t mind that on little bit. I like chasing pigeons. In fact, the only reason why we don’t spend more time here is that there is a sunken pond in the middle, which Mama doesn’t really fancy fishing me out of.
So when I wake up, we mostly head out for a walk around the big lake, which sounds even more fraught with peril, except that most of it is decently fenced off. There is a café at one end which Mama rather likes, run by genuine Italians. The prices are a bit silly, but the coffee is excellent and they also do pistachio ice cream as well as rather more reasonably priced children’s food, which doesn’t just consist of chips with more chips. You can take it outside to sit by the lake, although beware of the pigeons, who will swoop on your food the moment you leave it alone for a second. Mama knows from bitter experience. I, of course, like the pigeons. Chasing them, at least.
At the other end of the lake, Mama has fond memories of spending very happy summer afternoons in the tropical plants enclosure with my Tremendous Big Brother (before he could walk). There’s nothing quite like picnicking under a palm tree. Especially when the man who plays the saxophone all afternoon for, apparently, the sheer hell of it is in residence. Nowadays we mostly go there to feed the ducks, who are gratifyingly excited to see us, as are the swans, the coots, the moorhens, the parrots and, on occasion, the herons and the rats.
There is also a playground nearby which has different zones for different age groups, something which Mama is coming to appreciate more and more, and next door is the only one o’clock club Mama has ever got round to going to. It’s pretty cool as long as you go with friends and don’t mind your children getting covered in other people’s snot and coming down with a cold the following week. The adventure playground at the back also looks interesting, but Mama has already been chased out of there once on the grounds that my Tremendous Big Brother is too small.
Too small? He’s huge! And tremendous.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 12th: a toddler's Guide to... Holland Park
Nov 12, 2012
Holland Park is the land surrounding the former residence of Charles Fox, 18th Century politician and expert in living it large, a fact that endears the place to Mama from the get go, although it had many other interesting owners. The house itself is now in ruins, and what’s left is the backdrop for outdoor opera every summer, which Mama really must go to one day. There is a youth hostel round the back as well which Mama has also never visited but which she secretly thinks must be an impossibly romantic little getaway spot. She is probably wrong about this but it would be cruel to disillusion her.
The Park is just down the road at the other end of Kensington High Street from Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. It’s not really on the tourist trail but Mama knows it well as she used to live round the corner (this was a lot less glamorous than the address makes it sound), and she still takes my Awesome Big Brother and me there on occasion.
The park consists of a large playing field, which I never get to run around on because it is constantly occupied by people playing football, and some formal gardens where Mama used to spend whole weekends with only a book and the people having their personal trainer shout at them as they run up and down the steps or do push ups on the flowerbed walls for entertainment. This is a concept I just don’t grasp – Mama allowed to sit down? Surely not. Next you will be telling me she used to have lie ins. There are some very nice benches there though.
There is also a Japanese garden, complete with bamboo garden toys and coy carp, which used to have their own personal guard to make sure that nobody pinched the fish. My Awesome Big Brother would spend the entire weekend on his tummy watching them if Mama let him, and she can usually only tempt him away by promising to let him chase the peacocks. Yes, there are peacocks. How cool is that? They mostly stick their tails up mockingly at my Awesome Big Brother from behind a fence or sit on top of walls shrieking insults at him, which shows a certain surprising streak of intelligence. I think they’re fab and can only be tempted away with promises of… well, actually Mama mostly just picks me up and carries me off when it’s time to move on.
Anyway, up the back and past a grassy area which is so ludicrously full of people in the summer that it is actually impossible to pick your way between the picnic blankets without trampling all over them (so we rarely try to avoid it, my Awesome Big Brother and I), there are woods. Mama, ever the pseudo nature lover, would spend more time rambling in amongst trees if we hadn’t used up most of it on the fish and the peacocks. Somewhere in the woods there is a big children’s playground, which we will probably go to more often now Mama has discovered it is there.
She and my Awesome Big Brother used to go to the toddler’s sand pit playground next to the playing field quite a bit too. It’s a wonderfully fraught place where all the Mamas try to keep track of which little tea leaf has walked of with their sand toys this time and usually fail, resulting in a lot of freebee buckets and spades, which just adds to the confusion. However, I spurn sand utterly so we usually go and get ice cream in the café instead. By now, everybody will be utterly unsurprised to find that Mama considers the place expensive, and also by the fact that this apparently does not deter her from going there (*cough* coffee *cough*). But the ice cream is very nice and conveniently in pots, which means me and my Awesome Big Brother are less likely to get covered in it. Always a bonus, that.
Anyway, worth a visit, but beware it is a locals’ park and absolutely rammed full of families on the posher end of the spectrum whenever the sun shines.
A toddler's Guide to... Richmond Park
Nov 11, 2012
Richmond Park is a large expanse of land on the outskirts of London whose main purpose is to shelter large numbers of deer, and after he had spent an afternoon wading through the deer spores and also a large number of rabbit droppings Papa named the place the Poo Park. This label has stuck in our family, probably because later visits have just served to confirm the widespread and plentiful nature of, well, nature’s bounty. Mama now only remembers it isn’t actually called that when other people look at us strangely when my Fantastic Big Brother starts talking about it at the top of his voice.
There’s quite a lot to talk about because it’s huge. Mama parks in a different (FREE! Mama would like me to say that again because having a free car park at an attraction in London is almost unheard of. Having a car park is too really, but anyway, FREE!) car park each time and we strike out across unkempt grass, through spinneys and up and down hills, skirting the bracken, playing hide and seek in the rhododendrons and always avoiding the huge lake in the middle. My Fantastic Big Brother would want to chase the ducks and I would try to fling myself into the very accessible water, and Mama cannot be doing with either of these things. Basically, Mama really likes being able to almost pretend she is in the countryside, if the country side was full of people, edged by a constant stream of cars and had low flying planes screaming overhead on their way towards Heathrow every two minutes.
However, I find the ground a bit heavy going if truth is to be told, so my favourite bit is the Isabella Plantation, which is an enclosed, managed woodland area somewhere in the middle of the park. It’s not so much that the paths are any smoother as that Mama is forced to go very slowly because, oh wonder of marvels, there are streams, and so much of my Fantastic Big Brother and my attention is given over to attempting to dip various body parts in the water. This doesn’t make for a very restful visit for Mama, which is a shame, she thinks, as the wood itself is very pretty, with great splashes of colour in spring from flowering bushes in particular.
My Fantastic Big Brother really likes the deer and so far we have never had a visit which didn’t include tripping across a herd of them. They are remarkably tame and therefore surrounded at all times by people with serious looking cameras or, in the case of my Fantastic Big Brother, a large stick he is holding to his forehead in an attempt to simulate antlers. The exception to this is the autumn when the park rings to the loud grunting roars of the rutting bucks, and everybody stays the heck away from all of them.
Mama, what does ‘rutting’ mean?
There are refreshments here, the odd café or hot drinks caravan, but this is picnic central really. We even came here for my first birthday and brought many rugs, home made quiche, buckets of salads and Pimms. The Pimms looked nice. It had lots of fruit in it. But Mama said I was too young. Too young? I was one that day I tell you. Anyway, Mama has been known to drag us out here purely for the pleasure of eating in the open air, but I don’t mind. If she and Papa are sitting down, I am not having to hike and also they always take care to park themselves next to some tree trunks to climb on or near one of the multitude of wigwam-like dens that have been built repeatedly throughout the park. Mama is a little puzzled by these dens. She wonders if they are for the deer or for the humans, but either way is grateful for the distraction.
Another toddler-friendly area is the playground, but Mama has stumbled across this once and only by accident, so I am not sure if we will be revisiting it. This is a shame as it has the sort of slide that Mama thinks has been condemned elsewhere for being too high and too fast, and also something called a roundabout, which Mama says is now extinct because they are quite easy to fall off of, especially when you are playing the leap on and off them at speed game, or get your limbs trapped underneath, especially when you are lying on your tummy playing touch the fast moving ground, neither of which activities Mama knows anything about at all. On the other hand, Mama was a bit dismayed to find that the large sandpit also has a water feature. She managed to keep me out of it, because I am extremely distrustful of sand, nasty gritty shifty stuff, but was forced to concede that there was no way that My Fantastic Big Brother was going to get out dry, and so it proved. The Poo Park was treated to the sight of my Fantastic Big Brother in his pants for the rest of the afternoon.
I don’t know why Mama didn’t just remove his trousers when he first headed towards the wet stuff. Neither does she I expect.
Anyway, some photos here: http://solnushka.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/on-richmond-park/
Sol: NaJoPoMo 10th: A toddler's Guide to... the Tate Modern
Nov 10, 2012
Mama approves of the Tate Modern art gallery for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it’s in an abandoned power station. A rather ugly abandoned power station although people like to pretend otherwise. This amuses her, although not as much as the fact that the nearby Festival Hall and National Theatre look like multi-story car parks. Very run down multi story car parks these days.
Secondly, the paintings and such make about as much sense to me as the exhibits in all the other museums and art galleries which Mama takes me to, which is to say, not much, but in the Tate Modern I am not alone in my lack of understanding. I can, nevertheless, get quite excited about some of the larger, brighter, splashier pictures, and if they are having a performance art session, as they were in the turbine gallery when I was there last, I will join in with enthusiasm. People wandering about almost indistinguishable from the little knots of punters in amongst them? Who occasionally start to do things in concert like walk, jog and finally run up and down the hall? Or chant? Bring it on. I will get underfeet chasing my football and Mama will assume that is perfectly ok. It’s not like she had any idea what was actually going on.
Mama also enjoys the exhibits in a cheerful sort of what the heck spirit. Last time she was thrilled to take park in a survey conducted on behalf of something like the Centre for Physic Research conducted by actual mediums, telepaths and other experts into the realm of supernatural goings on. She has no idea what this has to do with Art, except that she half expects to be in a gallery one day and see herself on film, her delighted smile as she is questioned minutely on her philosophy and honesty expressing a profound something or other about something.
Thirdly, the Tate Modern is a bit of a walk to get to, at least from where Mama is coming from. This is excellent because like my Wonderful Big Brother before me, I need to burn of a lot of energy before I can be expected to behave with any kind of decorum. Mama never has quite managed to tire my Wonderful Big Brother out sufficiently to actually reach that point, but it doesn’t stop her trying the same tactic with me, so she considers a twenty minute ramble along the South Bank the perfect prelude to solemn attention to cultural artifacts. Particularly as there are often toddler-friendly distractions on the way.
Anyway, the walk there and the prospect of one on the way back mean that Mama feels better about the fact the she will be strapping me as securely as possible into the pushchair once we get to the gallery for most of the visit because the one downside of the Tate Modern is that it shares with the V&A the unfortunate habit of dotting sculptures well within toddler grasp throughout the gallery. Mama is particularly afraid that the installations which are separated from the public by a flimsy piece of string will be rearranged by small enthusiastic hands and while she suspects that no-one but the artist will notice, she doesn’t really want to find this out for sure.
The coffee outlets are nothing special, but Mama can deal with this given how much fun the rest of the place is.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 9th: a toddler's Guide to... the National Army Museum
Nov 9, 2012
Mama is, secretly, not a big fan of museums. She doesn’t find things in and of themselves very interesting, and in museums there is a lot of looking at things. Frequently, those things sit stolidly in cases, with little numbers next to them for you to find on a bare list of items, and this sort of thing makes Mama want to poke her eyes out with the corner of the complementary map. Museums, in Mama’s opinion, live or die on how many things you actually get to play with there are and the quality of the captioning, although she also likes a good scavenger trail.
The National Army Museum is, therefore, one of Mama’s very favourite museums, and here’s why. There are an awful lot of things in the museum, but many of them have a little placard next to them telling the story of the person who owned them, or who owned something like them. Sometimes in their own words, even. Mama finds this absolutely fascinating. She also thinks it is rather clever – buried in the descriptions there is quite a lot of information about whatever nasty little war the display is telling you about and it’s much more memorable than the usual boards full of dry exposition.
Mama says. I wouldn’t know. I can’t read. And to be honest, neither can Mama these days, given that what we are doing when I am there is mostly rambling randomly around the rooms looking for buttons to press, and what she was doing when my Superdooper Big Brother was my age was much the same. Except when we get to the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse, which frightens me. Mama always has to carry me past it, shrieking. My Superdooper Big Brother, of course, thinks that’s the best thing in the place, or did until they opened up the WarHorse exhibition, which has many pictures, films and large sculptures of horses in it. My Superdooper big brother has been to that one once, but still comments enthusiastically about it whenever we go past on the bus.
So these days the fact that this is still one of Mama’s favourite museums ever really has nothing to do with the museum part. It’s not even to do with the coffee shop, although Mama highly recommends that too. It was always decent value, and now they have revamped it and are starting to provide more hot food as well. But they only have three toddler seats, which Mama thinks is very strange given that NAM is Chelsea toddler central these days.
Why? It’s because of their Kid’s Zone. This used to be a large room off the shop area which had various toys and activities and a pretty impressive soft play climbing frame running round three of the walls. It was free to get into and while you had to collect a ticket from the front desk, it didn’t get sold out that often and you could go and get one for the next session if you hadn’t had enough of playing with the rocking horses, sliding down the slides or building towers out of the large soft cubes. It was fab, although possibly the scale of the climbing frame was a little daunting for all but the most confident of preschoolers. In the last year, though, they have relocated it and revamped it, and now you have to pay the princely sum of £2.50 per session, which is not a problem, and can book in advance, which kind of is as Mama rather gathers that you have to get in there at least a week in advance of having a hope of finding a slot. At least you can do it online. Anyway, is all new and much cosier than the last one, and while it still has an extensive soft play climbing frame, it is now much more achievable for the under fives. I certainly thought it was GREAT when Mama scored a ticket for us, and was perfectly able to ignore Mama’s wistful looks at the door to the exhibition spaces for the entire hour we were there.
Highly highly recommended.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 8th: a toddler's Guide to... the Imperial War Museum
Nov 8, 2012
So Remembrance Day is coming up soon. Mama tells me. She’s bought poppies. She got given a lot of them so either the nice elderly gentlemen doing the selling took pity on her as I tried to eat one and my Glorious Big Brother lost his twice in two minutes or she was generous with the donation. Anyway, it occurred to Mama that she probably ought to explain to us what the little red flowers are for, and half way through that, she discovered that she had never actually talked to my Glorious Big Brother about war more generally either. He’s not usually much interested in the activities of human animals.
That was a fun conversation to have going down the escalator in ASDA. Mama doesn’t think. Particularly when he said, with the slightest hint of anxiety in his voice, ‘I don’t want to do that, Mama.’ Mama reassured him, of course, but it is also true that conscription is still in force for 18 year old males in Russia. You can get sent to the border with Finland and spend your time wishing something would happen, or you can get sent to Chechnya where you really hope it doesn’t. Anyway, Mama made a mental note to remind my Glorious Big Brother of the advantages of a university education when the time comes and moved briskly on.
None of this has much to do with the Imperial War Museum, except that it does highlight how much of the point a toddler can miss when you take them around. As far as my Glorious Big Brother is concerned, Mama suspects that on the one occasion she and he visited, he thought it was a space with some large transportation devices, most of which he wasn’t allowed to climb on, interspersed with some excellently twisty corridors he could disappear round, giving Mama a heart attack each time as she does not know the museum well and every time he went out of sight she imagined him lost in the maze forever. Plus, how could my Glorious Big Brother be expected to concentrate on anything like the point of the place when there were hordes of school party teenagers everywhere all of whom thought he and his boundless enthusiasm and chattiness were absolutely charming? The Imperial War Museum being *the* school trip venue for all year nine and above students. You really haven’t seen anything until you have seen 15 year old boys struggling not to coo over a toddler. Mama says.
Anyway, highlights included the plane interior which my Glorious Big Brother could play hide and seek with the teenagers in until their teachers noticed and called them to order. Mama also found the exhibition of Victoria and George crosses interesting, because of the focus on the people behind the medals. There is also an experience of the blitz… er… experience which Mama thinks should be quite exciting given that they wouldn’t let my Glorious Big Brother in because of his youthful age, but to be honest, she doesn’t remember much more about it because she really did keep losing my Glorious Big Brother and this sort of thing does not leave her with much analytical capacity.
Mama’s memories of the café are also clouded by the battle she lost with my Glorious Big Brother over the edibility of what she considered to be the excellent parsnip soup, and it‘s probable that at the time she was pregnant with me so she wasn’t drinking coffee either.
This may have had some bearing on how frazzled she felt too.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 7th: A toddler’s Guide to… the London Transport Museum
Nov 7, 2012
Mama thinks the London Transport museum is probably the best museum for pre-schoolers in London. She is quite annoyed that she found this out scant months before my Splendid Big Brother became a schooler, but the reason for that is that it costs actual money to get into. Still, for the price you get unlimited visits for one year, which Mama feels is a legitimate way to both reward Londoners while also fleecing the tourists and so we did, eventually go. And boy did we have fun.
The premise of the museum is simple. Stick a load of transportation devices old and new in a large room, let the kids climb all over quite a lot of them, have a model tran circling about and also make it so they can drive the tube. Plus, especially for my Splendid Big Brother, they also have talking horses! We nearly didn’t get any further than that, which would have been a shame as it is quite near the start. No wonder that on the day we all first went, the primary school groups were out in force. Which was great for my Splendid Big Brother, because he just tagged along with them and their storytelling in old train coaches experience. With a will. First with his hands up to answer the questions*, nearly got himself volunteered as an actor in the play, until the teachers realised he wasn’t one of theirs. Later visits have shown that in the holidays they have activities for all comers. You’ve got to be careful though – they do them on the floor and if you are sprinting round a corner escaping from Mama you can come a right cropper as you trip over a huddle of five year olds doing some colouring in.
Anyway, I also enjoyed heaving myself up and down the stairs of old buses, climbing on and off the seats on the trains and hiding behind the wheels of practically everything. I also liked the play area that the museum has near their café and all in all this is really a place that knows its target audience and goes all out to please them.
Mama is bugging me to talk about the eatieries. There are two. A temporary affair down by the play area, which sells your basic coffee and cakes selection, and a sort of bijou restaurant affair near the exit which is nice and has attentive staff but which has the smallest portion of chips known to man. Or, in this case, toddler. It’s probably best to venture out into Covent Garden Market and find some food there, especially as you can also sit down and watch the buskers and street entertainers doing the thing.
Well, you can if you are Mama and my Splendid Big Brother. If you are me, all you will want to do is chase the pigeons.
*This is something that would surprise his current teachers. He usually doesn’t bother with the hands up bit. Mama is told.
Sol: NaJoPoMo 6th: A toddler’s Guide to… the Natural History Museum
Nov 6, 2012
A22083068<BR /><BR /><LINK HREF="http://www.nhm.ac.uk/">http://www.nhm.ac.uk/</LINK><BR /><BR />This museum is my Brilliant Big Brother’s choice. He is very very keen on animals. And dinosaurs. So regular visits here are a bit of an inevitability.<BR /><BR />The problem with this, from Mama’s point of view, is that my Brilliant Big Brother is actually interested in the exhibits. He wants to stop and look at them and discuss them.<BR /><BR />I, however, am not. I want to run around and find something random to fixate on, like a rope barrier (oooooh) or a leaflet holder (aaaaaah). This means that Mama is constantly either having to coral me in the pushchair, which is difficult as the big people have not yet made pushchair straps I can’t get out of, or drag my Brilliant Big Brother away from a stuffed swan, plaster of paris crocodile or fossilised triceratops, which is also difficult because acquiescing gracefully to Mama’s unreasonable demands is not one of my Brilliant Big Brother’s skills.<BR /><BR />Still, we usually manage to spend a certain amount of time in the exceptionally crowded bird hall, where Mama cannot restrain herself and insists on setting my Brilliant Big Brother questions designed to better his understanding of how animals work. ‘Which birds,’ she is wont to ask, ‘eat meat? How do you know?’ This is sometimes successful, sometimes not, and sometimes my Brilliant Big Brother silences her by keeping up a running commentary of random factoids about the lives and loves of the feathered exhibits therein. Which isn’t that surprising given her tepid interest and my Brilliant Big Brother’s close attention to nature programmes*.<BR /><BR />The mammal room is also popular. As is the fish corridor. And the bug exhibition. And… well, let’s just say that all the bits with animals are equally as thrilling to my Brilliant Big Brother, and equally as packed with other nature obsessed children equally as unfriendly to toddler expeditions as each other.<BR /><BR />Except the dinosaur exhibition, which is even more so. In fact, Mama recommends that the Natural History Museum should be avoided at all costs during school holidays and especially in half term, when everybody within easy reach of London decides to visit in the same week. Not only are there lengthy queues to get into the Museum, but the entire entrance hall is given over to the hour long line of people waiting to go and see the animatronic T-rex, with only the huge, iconic brontosaurus skeleton to entertain them.<BR /><BR />This, these days, can be very entertaining, mind. They’ve rigged it up so that you can light it up different colours and even make it roar. But only if you pay an extortionate sum of money, which Mama, well, Mama doesn’t. About the only thing in favour of a half term visit is that there will be many many desperate parents, and so the roar gets played quite often. Still, this does not compensate you, in Mama’s opinion for the wait, which is swiftly followed by the news that the lift to the walkway you have to use in order to reach model dino heaven is out of order and no, you cannot just abandon the pushchair at the entrance and come back for it later. <BR /><BR />The T-rex, mind you, is almost worth it in Mama’s opinion and TOTALLY wirth it in my Brilliant Big Brother’s, which is why we all keep coming back and back. I am less convinced, being much of the opinion of my Brilliant Big Brother on his first visit (< wobbly voice > “Teef, Mama, TEEF!”< /wobbly voice ><SMILEY TYPE='winkeye' H2G2='Smiley#winkeye'/>, but I am generally overruled.<BR /><BR />There s also a whole other bunch of galleries about the earth, the environment and, I dunno, plants and such, but we only go there when my Brilliant Big Brother thinks they might have hidden a few more animals in them. Although the rocks room is an unexpected hit. To Mama one bit of quartz looks very much like another, but Granny the geologist is proud that her Grandson can spend hours and hours and hours in there getting Mama to read the captions (“Quartz. Quartz with iron. Quartz with copper. Quartz. Quartz. Quartz with gold. Oooh. Quartz.”) and I am happy because it is really quiet up there and Mama let’s me play hide and seek round the quartz cases.<BR /><BR />Anyway, on to the coffee, or not because Mama never stops for refreshments here. The cafes are too open plan and busy for someone with two children who will probably run off in different directions with that much stimulation just as she has taken her first sip. There’s a restaurant, but that is particularly expensive and even a balloon per child cannot compensate for that. The best option on rainy days is the basement, where there is an extensive lunch room for school parties and other picnicers. On better days, there is a nice bit of grass outside and it even has its own snack kiosk.<BR /><BR />*Mama basically thinks that nature in its entirety goes ‘they have sex and then something eats the really cute baby’. Which is especially true if you watch David Attenborough’s Planet series, except that there it is done to ominous music. Nature missing a trick there. Anyway, Mama finds this both boring and traumatic. My Brilliant Big Brother does not.<BR />
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