Thursday, 29 July 2010

Dinosaurs and diggers

Quick, measure your child, and if they are under 90cm hurry to Milton Keynes before they have a growth spurt, because those under that magic number get in free to Gulliver's dinosaur and eco farm park. Unfortunately HackneyChild is 95cm it seems, and no amount of slouching could get us in for free.

Gulliver's World, bless it, would probably be the first to admit that it is no EuroDisney, or even Alton Towers. But I love slightly eccentric British "theme parks", having magical memories of visiting Black Gang Chine as a five year old.  Gullivers (which also has a main park, which we didn't go to) is definitely of that ilk. There's something a bit homemade about it, a bit amateur, which is not to discredit it at all.

For example the staff were charming but hadn't quite got the hang of the "have a good day" schtick. One ride attendant confided in me, as I idled around in the drizzle with HackneyBaby waiting for Hackney_bloke and HackneyChild to come off a boat ride, that his partner had left him the night before, taking their child with her. "Enjoy your day with us," he added, sadly.

HackneyChild was in heaven as there were so many of his favourite things in one place - diggers, tractors, dinosaurs. He was particularly attracted to a motheaten cat that was part of a singing farmyard scene. I liked the way you were given a seed on entry which you could then plant in a potting shed, the fact that there was no queue for anything even during the summer holidays (although it was raining in the morning), and the way the dinosaurs peered over the foliage in the background of the farm.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Oh, for heaven's sake.

Having been a features editor myself I realise that magazines commission this stuff just to annoy people and get letters (Is the British middle class an endangered species?) But I'll bite anyway. I would have done this on the article itself but it doesn't seem to have commenting available.

"Their three-bed house needs work...They own one 10-year-old car. 'We don't talk about money. We just know we haven't got much.'... The family summer holiday is one week in France.. 'I would like to have a decent holiday.'"

Oh please. One week in France? My heart bleeds. In what universe is that not a decent holiday? What do you want, three weeks in the Maldives? I would be irked even if it had said: "The family summer holiday is one week in Cornwall/ Kent/ Norfolk", as it's not only possible but easy to have a lovely family holiday there, but France?

Anyway, Hackney gets a shout-out as an increasingly middle class area, which is true: "The neat, middle-class enclaves of Edinburgh or Leeds, with their almost wholly middle-class streets and playgrounds, offer a different life from scruffier, more socially mixed but increasingly gentrified Hackney or Lambeth."

Disclaimer: I am myself almost certainly middle class, although it's hard to tell these days, but I would consider a week in France to be a top holiday, considering I am currently getting very excited about a possible off-season week at Butlins.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

A Deepness in the Sky - review

A Deepness in the SkyA Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me forever to read but that's because I had a baby in the middle. Last time I had a baby I was reading the same author's A Fire Upon The Deep so I thought it appropriate to follow up with the prequel. I preferred the first book which I found kind of hallucinatory but that was probably due to lack of sleep. This one was brilliant too, but the first was more ground breaking in its view of the universe I thought. I read a review that complained that the aliens in Deepness were too un-alien, but I think that is the point - you do find out in the end why that might be, that the book is basically filtered through another point of view and not everything the Spiders do is to be taken literally.

I found the depiction of ordinary (and not so ordinary) people living under a dictatorship, and how they come to terms with that, to be very interesting, and I enjoyed the portrayal of the ultra-market-led Qeng Ho and Pham Nuwen, although I'm not sure I would enjoy living in a society so driven by market forces.There are many moments of genuine horror here as well, and they slap you in the face unexpectedly - such as what happens to Qiwi's mother and how Qiwi finds out. All in all, great book, easier to read than Fire I think (or possibly I have an easier baby this time). I hope Vernor Vinge is writing more novels, and I would like to read his short stories now.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, 19 July 2010

Telling off other people's kids

At Clissold Park's LolliBop on Sunday, which was generally enjoyed by the whole Hackney family I was watching HackneyChild bounce on the inflatable farm with half an eye and looking at a chair with the other eye and a half, wondering if I would be allowed to sit down on it. Suddenly there was a wail from the inflatable and a mum started shouting at a child: "HOW DARE YOU??? HOW DARE YOU HIT/PUSH ANOTHER CHILD LIKE THAT?? YOU ARE A HORRIBLE CHILD!!".

From my chair coveting position I couldn't see who she was shouting at but I assumed her own child, probably quite an old one, had hit another. Even with that caveat it sounded a bit over the top but parents do get harassed and who knows what the little darling had been up to previously that day. But shifting positions nosily, I saw her carry off a weeping toddler while the child she had shouted at (aged three or four?), clearly not her own, looked kind of traumatised and stood there for the rest of the bounce session not bouncing and looking worried.

Now I didn't see what he did, but I still wondered what my reaction would have been. It's always a dilemma, telling off other people's kids, especially when their parents are right there but perhaps didn't see what their little one just did. I felt sorry for the hitting child. Then again, maybe he won't do it again and I do think we must all have the right to "tell off" children if they behave unacceptably in public, especially if it is impacting on us or our children. I guess there is a line somewhere. What do you think?

Friday, 16 July 2010

Questions children ask

After the "what is die?" debacle, I realised I am not prepared for such questions. So I was pleased to find in the library yesterday a book by Miriam Stoppard, Questions Children Ask and How to Answer Them. It gives different approaches depending on the age of the child, which I like. I am also impressed with the range of questions and the truthfulness yet simplicity of the suggested answers, especially the section on sex. I think it is really important to answer children's questions truthfully, but on the other hand you don't want to worry them.

I have Miriam Stoppard's Complete Baby and Childcare Book  and generally find her to be pretty sensible. It seems, as I suspected, I was completely wrong to say dying was "not being here anymore" as children think the person will come back. The suggested answer for two to four year olds is "'dead' means a person or animal stops breathing and their body doesn't work anymore. Usually people and animals only die when they have grown very old."

Now I just have to wait for him to mention it again. Probably this won't happen now, but at least I am prepared!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Call yourself a writer? Meme response

Way back in the mists of time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the stars were in different constellations, Freelance Unbound tagged me in a journalism meme. It's only taken me slightly less than a year to get round to doing it.

Which words do you use too much in your writing?  
"Lovely", in my blog/ social networking writing - although it's not a word that crops up much when writing about youth policy or social work. "Young people" - but I can't help that. 

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read? 
In raw copy, "launched a new". I hate that.

What’s your favourite piece of writing by you?
Being a hackette for hire, things I write don't tend to stay in my memory. I read past articles and think "Blimey, I knew a lot back then."  But in my first few weeks at uni I contributed a feature length interview with Liam from the Prodigy, arranged off my own bat, to the uni paper. Looking back it is embarassingly studenty and written by someone who doesn't know rave from ballet, but I was very proud of myself at the time. But perhaps my favourite is this Star Trek/ Harry Potter pastiche

What blog post do you wish you’d written? 
Much like my own work blogs are quite ephemeral to me so I read, enjoy, then forget. Perhaps Come Dine With Me In The Tardis.
Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?
Nothing has come back to bite me so far and while I'm sure there have been complaints (although I can't remember any - oh, I recall a company once complained about me saying they had gone bankrupt when in fact it was some fiddly near-bankruptcy thing) nothing has been so inaccurate that I have been sued or anything, so no, unless it was so traumatic I have erased it from my memory. Possibly spending the first half of my career writing about how to market to children (among other things) and the second half writing about the pernicious effects of marketing to children (among other things) wasn't the best idea, but hey.

How has your writing made a difference? 
Hopefully some things I have written have helped youth workers, social workers etc to do their job. Also I do think some of the articles I wrote as part of a general campaign to make writing about young people more positive, or at lease less negative, had an effect. People were always quoting our survey even when it was ancient.

Name three favourite words
Crystalline, champagne, chocolate

And three words you’re not so keen on
"Wherefore art thou", when used to mean "Where are you?" in a headline or standfirst. IT DOESN'T MEAN THAT.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?
I want to be Zoe Williams. She gets to write about TV and being a mum, and gets paid for it. Polly Toynbee is an inspiration in my less shallow moments. When I was younger I wanted to be Polly Vernon but she annoys me now. Who cares what she bought this week?

What’s your writing ambition?
To write a novel. It's about mysterious goings on in the cinema I used to work in. It will never happen.

Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about: 

Nothing of mine. You should read A Typical Essex Girl, she is great.

I can't tag anyone as it's much too late. ATEG, you should do it - the questions pertain just as much to general writing as journalism. Anyway, Yo! magazine counts as journalism.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Wardrobe fail

Obviously packing for a weekend away is no longer the relatively simple affair it was when I just had myself to pack for. Friday morning I was packing HackneyChild a case for his sleepover at my mum's, which had to include combinations for every kind of weather and emergency it might be possible to experience, ie short pyjamas, long pyjamas, Iggle Piggle, a headless Tango man (that was his request), shorts, trousers, t-shirts, a rain coat, and so on. Also I had to pack for HackneyBaby a case that would meet the requirements of a wedding and a hotel room and constant sicking and pooing, thus including sleeping bags, many different vests and outfits, etc.

Finally I had to pack for me something that would make me look vaguely presentable at three months post partum with a lot of weight to lose and amusing Dolly Parton style boobs, and that would also allow for breastfeeding. The resulting outfit was more summer picnic than wedding but I jazzed it up with a hat, shoes and a necklace.

And we were off - first to Essex to drop off HackneyChild (where, incidentally, HackneyBaby screamed so loud and long that I thought we might be going to A&E rather than a wedding, but then he stopped so goodness knows what that was about). Then to Cambridge to check into our hotel. A cooling shower later I was ready to don my outfit and hit the wedding - but wait! Here's the shoes, hat and necklace - but no clothes for me. In the rush they were sitting nicely in my wardrobe at home waiting to be packed last so they wouldn't get squished.

Cue a hot and sticky run around the shops of Cambridge, where the lady in Monsoon completely earned my undying gratitude by steering me straight to a dress that was both flattering and allowed breast feeding (although not very discreet b-feeding I have to say). So thanks to her I was able to not attend the beautiful wedding in grubby shorts and a T-shirt with holes in it. I know they say no-one is looking at you, everyone is looking at the bride, but I think I would have stood out a bit.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Celeb spotting

In the playground that HackneyChild calls the "digger playground" the other day, I heard a familiar voice. It wasn't a mum I vaguely knew through singing or drop in or whatever though, as is so often the case, but lovely Cerrie from CBeebies with her daughter.

Immediately I was torn. I wanted to go with my usual instinct when confronted by a celebrity, treat them like anyone else (ie ignore them) to show how cool I am/ not invade their space (a technique I also used to use on boys I fancied, to limited success surprisingly). But then again if I was standing right next to any other mum in the playground I would definitely say something to them, and had already conversed with random mums about the age of our children, the best kind of scooter to buy, the relative ease of second children (not) and so on. So I was filled with confusion.

Instead I addressed a remark to the little girl to the effect that she looked like she wanted to chase the pigeons. Clearly this was a faux pas as Cerrie immediately looked horrified and backed away from the now flying pigeons. So consumed with embarassment I retreated back into ignore mode. I shall assume this as default if confronted with a celeb in a playground again. Unless it's Hugh Laurie of course.

HackneyChild by the way showed no sign of recognition, and I wasn't going to encourage him. It must be a nightmare for the poor woman in playgrounds  - she must know that every mum there knows exactly who she is and probably half the kids as well. It's like David Tennant trying to hang out at a Doctor Who convention unnoticed.

Lies we tell our children

HackneyChild, who I am currently trying to prise away from Milkshake to eat his porridge, has just told me that the TV turns off by itself after Thomas. I can only assume this is some magic Hackney_bloke has previously worked with the remote control. I shall follow in his footsteps.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Body Works

There's an interactive exhibition at Hackney Museum (under the library on Reading Lane) called Body Works, which we have been spending some time perusing, usually after toy library on Tuesdays. The museum is fun and educational with a bus (no 38 of course) to play on, a replica boat like one dug up in Hackney with reed baskets full of fish and fruit to trade, bricks to build tower blocks and demolish them and much more. Body Works is a temporary exhibition but it's even better than the general museum. There's a heart tent, a sensory walk for bare feet, a skeleton to rearrange, and a cabinet of curiosity -basically loads of drawers with things in like instruments, feathery boas, masks and the like. You can draw pictures, look in mirrors and press buttons to get sounds. And there is a chair made of stuffed animal toys.

I am impressed by the implied trust in children and their parents which lets them rampage round this hands-on exhibition, touching, feeling, listening, taking stuff out of drawers and putting them back in. It is looking a bit worn now, mainly the bit where you put your hands in to feel different textures as children seem confused about where their hands go, but it is still great. 

It was a shame though that the nursery class we saw there today weren't getting as much out of it as they could have. There were about 12 four year olds (I'm guessing) and three adults, and while the kids were having a whale of a time screaming, charging round the exhibits, and generally causing havoc, I don't know if any of them even knew it was an exhibition about the body. The adults were no making any attempt to engage them with the exhibits, one of them was just sitting in a chair watching and the others were limited to "Stop running! Put your shoes on!". It's a real shame as there is so much learning to be done there, in a fun way.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Conversation on walking through a churchyard today

"Don't climb on that [tomb], HackneyChild."
"It's disrespectful."
"Because that's where people go when they die."[realise immediately have opened can of worms].
"What is die?"
[oh dear.] "It's, er, when someone isn't here anymore. [lame.] Like great grandad, he was here and now he isn't."
"Where has he gone?"
[can of worms part two.]. "Er, I don't know."
"Maybe the supermarket."
"Er, yes. Maybe."

Later I tried again with a feeble explanation involving flowers, but he didn't seem that bothered, thankfully. I don't know if a supermarket based afterlife would be heaven or hell. Maybe it depends if it was Waitrose or Tesco.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Ah ooh, paddling pools of Hackney

That title is supposed to be sung to the tune of Werewolves of London, by the way.

For the last week we have been enjoying the sultry weather by visiting different paddling pools,so here is a highly scientific review of them all.

Victoria Park paddling pool 

Vicky Park boasts the most exciting paddling pool so far, with different levels and cascading water. It's located in the adventure playground near Queen's Gate. I don't know what the opening times are but I imagine the same as the park itself. I have been there 11am on a weekday and it was open then.

GOOD - Afore mentioned different levels and cascading water make it exciting; it's pretty big so doesn't seem crowded even on a hot Sunday (today); room for picnics around the sides; different "rock pools" have various depths for various ages and abilities; the pool is in a playground so there are swings and slides for when the kids get bored of water

NOT SO GOOD  - Not much shade on the pool although shade around about. The different levels can cause slipping and falling, and the design means you can't stand in one place, say with a baby, and watch your toddler, as they keep disappearing from view. The playgournd includes massive slides any self respecting child will demand to go on, but you have to be seven. Not easy to find. No nearby cafe, although there is an ice cream van.

ALL IN ALL: A brilliant pool but best to have one on one adult/ toddler

London Fields

London Fields paddling pool is located next to the Lido and tennis courts at the park end furthest from Broadway Market. It is closed on Mondays and Thursdays and opens at 11am, purportedly, although I have had to wait til 12 before. It's a normal kind of squarish pool with some trees around it.

GOOD - Well, good for us as it's a mere five minutes away but that doesn't really translate for any reader. It is fenced and gated making it difficult for toddlers to abscond. There is shade around the pool and usually a bit of the pool is shaded. The Lido cafe (Hoxton Beach cafe) serves among other things Lebanese meze, sausage toasties, lollies and the best coffee I have ever tasted, although that only happened once - usually it's just normal coffee. There's a friendly atmosphere with kids sharing toys (sometimes under sufferance).

NOT SO GOOD - It is relatively small so can get crowded at weekends and on Fridays for some reason, also after 3pm when the big kids arrive from school. The opening hours are erratic.

ALL IN ALL: This is our default option. I like it as you see the same people there all the time so it feels friendly.

Clissold Park

Clissold Park paddling pool is located next to the deer park on the Church Street end of the park. At the moment Clissold Park is undergoing a lot of regeneration work but the paddling pool doesn't seem to be affected.

GOOD - It's a large pool, the size of a swimming pool, with a slope at one end like a beach (no sand). Plenty of green around the pool for sitting. There's a playground nearby with a sandpit. Clissold Park cafe is lovely but currently being renovated, however there is a temporary cafe which serves a really good range of food including a children's menu by the playground and an icecream van. Tehe pool was not at all crowded when we went on a weekday. I don't know the times but it seemed open when we got to the park at 10.30am. It might not have been though - we went to the playground first.

BAD - The cafe is not cheap, but what in London is?

ALL IN ALL - It's a bus journey for us so I wouldn't go there especially for the pool, but the pool/ playground/ cafe combo is quite winning.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

There's a party going on right here

Or ten doors down anyway, at the launch of Get Posted, the exhibition I wrote about previously. There is free alcohol, as I had hoped, although I'm limited to one glass sadly. We took HackneyBaby in a carrier, and HackneyChild, and had our pictures taken for Hackney Today, so look out for us...
HackneyBaby started screaming and Hackney_bloke got told off for flicking through a book on the Post Office counter - it's not a book, it's art -  so they went home while HackneyChild and I perused the vintage shop a few doors down. Hackney Child says his favourite thing in the exhibition was the "birdy in a jar" and I liked the writing desk and the melting typewriter, if that is what it is doing.
I brushed my hair as a concession to going out but felt a bit wrong in my maternity T-shirt (still!) and three day old trousers with assorted stains from sandpit, lunch and baby sick, when surrounded by arty types in vintage clothing and things in their hair. Said arty types are now spilling all over the road. Hackney_bloke has moved the car.
Lovely though it was to have a free drink I'm not convinced that handing out free booze to the denizens of Wilton Way and randonm passers by is a great idea. I predict a riot.