Journal Entries

Sol: NaJoPoMo 12th: a toddler's Guide to... Holland Park

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.

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Latest reply: Nov 12, 2012

A toddler's Guide to... Richmond Park


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:

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Latest reply: Nov 11, 2012

Sol: NaJoPoMo 10th: A toddler's Guide to... the Tate Modern

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.

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Latest reply: Nov 10, 2012

Sol: NaJoPoMo 9th: a toddler's Guide to... the National Army Museum

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.

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Latest reply: Nov 9, 2012

Sol: NaJoPoMo 8th: a toddler's Guide to... the Imperial War Museum

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.

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Latest reply: Nov 8, 2012

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