Category Archives: Family fun

A trip to the beach

The boy, all of sudden, has decided that he wants to go to the beach. And since this is an island, a beach isn’t too far away. But it could take an hour and a half or even longer if the traffic is bad. And all the nearest beaches are pebble beaches. Which suck.


Yesterday, I had a meeting at City Hall (nearest tube London Bridge) and then decided I wanted to head on over to the RSA to do some work (nearest tube Embankment). There’s not really a super-duper easy way to get from one to the other. But there is a boat. And since I’d overshot the cut-through from the south bank to London Bridge station and the boat was pulling up and it was a beautiful day. So, even though it was the more expensive option and I’m not clear if it was the faster option, I took the boat.

And out on the back deck of the boat (is that the stern?), it was gorgeous. Beautiful views of London, Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast and the Houses of Parliament as I reached my stop (port? landing?). Oh, and I also saw a beach. On the Thames. I guess somebody from Southwark or maybe the mayor’s office has dumped a bunch of sand on the muddy banks of the Thames and opened the hitherto shut gates down to the river.

Thames, beachside

So, looks like the trip to the beach might be a little more handy and convenient. I feel the slight guilt of the slacker parent, but being a slacker parent – it doesn’t last long. Not sure how I’m gonna keep the boy out of that filthy ol’ river, though.

The kids are bored Here's something you may not have thought of

It’s a bank holiday and you don’t know what to do to entertain the critters.  I’m in that position today.  How can I burn off the extra energy of a young boy?  I’m sure we’ll head on down to Wisley or Richmond Park or maybe Wimbledon Park.  Old haunts.

But what else could we do today?  I happened to stumble across this attraction in my Flickr photostream.  I picked up this brochure ages ago in the North East of England.


Seriously fun. Who doesn’t want to take their kids to a mining adventure land called Killhope. The name alone conjures up such joyous associations as silicosis and cave-ins.

And what do you get to do at Killhope? Well, play with lead. Which is great, especially if you’re worried about your kids having some annoying extra IQ points or are concerned about potential excessive fecundity. Who wants grandchildren anyway?

Playing with lead

The giant baby eating bird

Yesterday at the play ground the boy, whose language skillz are not yet mad, was telling me about a bird.  A big bird. With big wings. And flying.  And then he was telling me about a baby that was sleeping.  And he seemed to be quite upset.

Did the bird wake up the baby? No, he said.

Did the bird scare the baby? He considered this a moment. No.

Did the bird fly over the baby? No.

The bird ate the baby in its mouth.

And the boy flapped his wings and said the bird had a very big mouth and opened his mouth wide and said that it was eating the baby.

Oh…right.  When we got home, I showed him some stock images like this.

A positive ID.  That was the dastardly bird in question.

Know your place at the gardens

As a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, I receive a monthly magazine called The Garden.  It’s full of horticultural wisdom and a fantastic letters page.  A couple of years ago, there was a strongly worded letter condemning the ‘free for all’ that botanical gardens have become.  Instead of places for quiet contemplation and the seeking of horticultural knowledge, they have become some kind of shrub and flower theme parks where the unknowledgeable gain entry and children run around in the grassy areas.

Heaven forfend!

I’ve been going to Wisley for years, but we started to go more when we had our son.  As a baby, he was always happiest when being wheeled around outdoors, and it was something we could all enjoy.  As he got older, Wisley has been a great place for him to toddle around, and now, yes, he does like to run on the paths and peer over the bridges to look at the gaping koi.

Like the curmudgeonly letter writer, I too cannot abide children running amok in the herbaceous borders or plucking leaves and flowers.  But her tone suggested that their very presence was an anathema.  I was so offended that I wrote back to The Garden, explaining that I didn’t think that children’s behaviour at Wisley was generally a problem and that I hoped to have  many happy visits to Wisley with my son – helping him to learn about horticulture and the great cultivated outdoors.  Not only that, but I suggested that it would be a great idea if Wisley could introduce a designated play area for children and demonstrate how tough, sympathetic planting could be introduced to playgrounds.  Too often, municipal play areas are barren hardscapes with little injection of the natural world.

Wisley playground

Fantastic climbing frames

Wisley playground

Binoculars at the viewing station

Wisley playground

Den building and blocks

My letter was never published.  But there is now a play area at Wisley.  And it’s fabulous.  No swings or slides, but there are climbing frames and brilliant use of logs and stumps – some carved fantastically with snakes and owls and the Green Man.  There’s a tunnel covered with pine logs, like some kind of insect habitat, and there are frames which children can cover with dead branches and palm leaves from the glass house and other leavings of pruning maintenance.  The planting, isn’t up to scratch yet – but it’s early days – and there are olives and eucalyptus and tough herbaceous perennials which are currently fenced off to protect them from being trod on by tiny feet.

Of course, that doesn’t address the issue of inappropriate behaviour by garden visitors.  I take a very firm line on touching the plants or stepping in the borders.  Sadly not something that every garden visitor is as scrupulous about. I saw a woman in her 50s walking around with an allium seed head yesterday. And garden visitors in England are notorious for filching seed or taking surreptitious cuttings.  I have even heard that there is occasionally some scrumping in the orchards.  And yes, I have seen children out of order in the gardens.  More could be done to help parents (and others) enforce appropriate behaviour of garden visitors large and small.  But surely play areas will help little visitors burn off the energy which might be otherwise be spent on smushing the hostas or picking the hydrangeas.

Adaptive uses

We got some new toys in the post today.  A cannon, a treasure chest, a jolly roger flag. And some pirate figures.

Look at this poor buccaneer. The privateering life has been a bit hard on him.

Pirate toy

He’s missing an eye, a hand and a leg.  But yet…

Peg leg

…Cap’n is still enjoying some success with the ladies.

Not a castle

I was planning a short break this week. It turned out to be a lot shorter than I expected, given that we managed only one night away.  But it was pretty good anyway, even if the castle that we saw was NOT a castle.  Since we only had a couple of days we decided to head down to the New Forest, which isn’t that far away from our neck of London. Or would have been only a short drive I hadn’t had to navigate through one of the worst thunderstorms I’ve seen in England and if Simon hadn’t confused the M4 with the M3 – but what’s a digit between friends?

They boy is now excited by fighting and knights and bows and arrows and such like, so I thought I’d hunt around for a castle to visit and Hurst Castle sounded picturesque and promising.  Not accessible by car, you can walk along a narrow shingle spit from the mainland or take a ferry from the tiny hamlet of Keyhaven.  We didn’t arrive in the New Forest in time to go to the castle on our first day, but we arrived at the ferry port bright and early the next day.  As we approached the castle, a long, low-slung thing hulking just above the water line (or so it appeared from a distance), I said to Simon “I’m not sure this is castle, I think that’s a Fort.”

Our ferry pilot was a very posh chap indeed, who dropped various tidbits of local history in our ears and waved generally in the direction of the castle and said “That’s the bit built by Henry VIII.”  But to be honest, I couldn’t see which bit he was referring to.  And then he pointed to the ferry ahead of us and said “The caretaker’s only just arrived, you might have to wait outside for a bit.”

To the lighthouse

My goodness.  I’m not sure I’ve EVER been early to any attraction – at least not with my late-rising husband in tow.  But we were happy enough to wander on the outside of Hurst Castle with its beautiful lighthouse next door and beautiful views of the Isle of Wight. We spent a long time chucking rocks into the sea. And then we paid our money and went inside.

Not a castle

I’m really really not sure why this was ever called a castle.  According to the Wikipedia entry on castles:

Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble.

But no lord or noble ever lived there, well…with the exception of the imprisoned Charles I, who was there for only a brief time.  The original fortification was commissioned by Henry VIII who feared invasion after he removed England’s faithful from the Church of Rome.   But the invasion never came.  The ‘castle’ was then expanded substantially during the Victorian era when apparently they had little else to do but build two vast wings of brick and stone and feared invasion from the French.  And it was occupied again in WWII as part of the coastal defenses, but never fired a shot in anger.

But castle or no castle, the boy had a fabulous time climbing up onto the parapets and touching the canon and seeing the WWII era guns.  And he loved the boat ride out to the fort.

I have to say that the display of the ‘castle’ was a little disappointing. The curators hadn’t really constructed a narrative time line through the exhibits. It would have been better if we’d been guided through the history of the castle by starting with the Henrician elements (yes, apparently Henrician is a legit adjective) – then through the Victorian era and on to the WWII bits. But instead we saw a hodge podge of exhibits explaining about the preservation of the shingle spit. (It’s a natural feature, but building of sea walls further west prevents further deposition of material so it’s always being washed away). We only found the original fortification by chance when we were about to leave and it’s probably the coolest part. But it was still a fantastic half-day out if you didn’t count the heart stopping moments when the boy was running across the roof tops and skipping up and down the steep stairs.
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

The betrayal of Scooby

Lego Scooby Gang

When I was child, I enjoyed childish things.  Like Scooby Doo and The Monkeys.  I loved Scooby, it introduced me to the concept of mysteries and crime fiction, something I love to this day.  I liked Velma’s irrepressible nature and her insistence on the rational.  There are no ghosts.  There must be something behind all this.  A man in a mask.  And through hard work and improbable traps, you can get to the bottom of it.  Oh, and we would have got away with it, too if it weren’t for you meddling kids.  Meddling kids and their triumph over conniving adults.

But when I became a woman, I put away childish things.  Until my own child became big enough to demand television.  And it was to my great delight that Scooby Doo is played endlessly on certain satellite channels and my even greater delight that my son loves to watch Scooby, too.  The original Scooby shows are still fantastic and one of the few cartoons that I can sit through without becoming annoyed.  Sometimes I watch them.  And sometimes I just let them flow over me, as comforting as a cradle song, while I do something else. There’s something wonderfully nostalgic about watching episodes about a man in a mask with an impossibly contrived scheme to bootleg records. Yes, actual LPs which were copied laboriously in a secret, creepy cave studio and then smuggled across a river by a henchman in  ghost pterodactyl hang glider contraption.   Oh, the days before peer to peer file sharing. If  you wanted a copy of Dixie Chicken live, you’d have to make a shady deal with a man who talked pterodactyl – Veek! Veek!

But these kids channels don’t just show the original Scooby and the series that followed in the original format. They show new modern Scooby, where Fred no longer sports a cravat.  They show a bizarre and poorly drawn spin-off which features only Shaggy and Scooby living in the home of their rich uncle with a robot butler that’s forever getting them out of scrapes.  And they show Scooby movies with complicated plots and commissioned soundtracks. 

Yes, they show those originals and they also show – on occasion – the ones with Scrappy Doo.

It sends a shiver down my spine.

Yesterday, there was a Scooby marathon and after they’d run out of the original and the next series and the movies, they showed some Scrappy Doo episodes as well.  Like every Gen-Xer, I hate Scrappy.  Scrappy is evil.  Scrappy is symbol of all things rotten.  And so Scrappy cannot be shown.  My son did not understand, but the channel was changed.

But watching Scrappy again as an adult as I did on one occasion not too long ago, I realise it’s not Scrappy’s fault.  Scrappy’s introduction to the show coincided with a complete change in format.  Instead of mysteries, it was random running around with ‘real’ supernatural elements.  No more looking for clues.  No more solving puzzles using ‘logic’.  No more nuance of personality from Fred and Velma and Daphne.  It might as well have been a different show.  And we Gen-Xers, only being young’uns at the time, didn’t see that they were dumbing the show down in a misplaced effort to salvage the ratings – instead we blamed Scrappy – who from an adult perspective isn’t as annoying as I remember.  It’s the whole show that’s annoying.  It’s a betrayal of Scooby and a betrayal of us as the audience.  There was no mystery to engage with, we were only being served up dross in the form of Scooby snacks to consume passively.   It was perhaps the first time we were aware of the entertainment industry treating us like morons – and we could never forgive the messenger. The live action Scooby movie even played on this – casting Scrappy as the ultimate villain (sorry for the spoiler, but honestly the film is pretty wretched).

The boy is only 3, so he screamed and wailed when I insisted that no further Scrappy shows can be watched in my house.  So long as I pay for the roof which shelters the tv that I bought receiving the satellite signal that I subscribe to there will be no Scrappy.

(Photo credit: fallentomato )