Why everyone should enter the ballot for Wimbledon

Wimbledon is everything England should be when it’s at its absolute best.  It’s about summer and sport; champagne and strawberries; the green of carefully manicured lawns and the white of tennis players dressed for glory.  Even the line-judges look as if they are about to stroll off court to join a garden party.

This year my lovely friend Sonia and I were lucky enough to have tickets for centre court in the second week.  And my level of happiness was set to ‘historic’.

IMG_0119As soon as I stepped out of my front door, I was enveloped in a cloud of contentment.  By the time my train had reached its first stop I was already texting friends and posting photos of my journey on Twitter.  There was a point where I worried I may not actually make it to Wimbledon, but would burst with joy somewhere on the Southwestern Rail trainline.

I arrived about 4 minutes after the gates opened and the entire place was already thronging with people just as excited as I was.  Everyone was chatting , taking selfies, and drinking it all in.  In fact, the incredible friendliness of everyone, from the spectators to every single member of staff, suffused the entire event with good cheer.

Just to be able to sit on Centre Court was amazing (cue posing for multiple selfies, all of which I look terrible in), but to watch Serena Williams play, for me, that is a once in a lifetime experience.  She’s so powerful that it’s easy to overlook how nimble she is around the court and how diverse her game is.  She may not have won the tournament this year, but she won the match we saw, and she was awesome.

 

 

And it wasn’t just the tennis.  We max’d out on the whole Wimbledon experience.  We ate cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and cream, we drank champagne, and we had a cream tea.  And then, when it seemed like the day might be almost over, we blew the doors off it in the Wimbledon shop.  Everyone I know now has Wimbledon sweatbands, Wimbledon socks, a Wimbledon water bottle, a Wimbledon t-shirt, a Wimbledon pin-badge, a Wimbledon pencil-sharpener or some combination of all of the above.

 

Then we walked back to the train station in the warm evening air, chatting to a young woman who was working as a player escort (getting players to and from their matches).  True to every other member of staff we met, she was an absolute delight.  Not only did she tell us all the ins and outs behind the scenes and blow our minds with the sheer logistics of it, but she waited patiently as I stopped after every third step to take a photo.

Maybe some people who live in Wimbeldon are sick of it, but not the home-owner below, or shoe shop, or bar, or Farrow & Ball…

 

It was the Best. Day. Ever.

So thank you Sonia.  Thank you for organising the tickets and thank you for being there.  I am so lucky to have spent a day I will remember for the rest of my life with one of my best friends.  Big hugs to you.

PS  Writing this blog has reminded me of the brilliant joyful poem about tennis, love and Miss Joan Hunter Dunn by John Betjeman – if you’ve never read it, I recommend it!

 

Colour and joy in south east London

What better to do on a warm summer’s evening than roam around a Colour Palace?  Or The Colour Palace at Dulwich Picture Gallery in south east London, to be more precise.  Last week I was at the official opening of the new summer pavilion designed by Peckham-based architects Pricegore and artist Yinka Ilori, whose vibrant design fusing European and African influences won an open competition.

Bright and welcoming, the pavilion is a ten metre tall cube made of hand-painted lengths of wood.  Built on four huge red cylinders it seems to float above the ground, and its layers of colourful timber shimmer in the sun, perfectly complementing the more traditional architecture of this lovely gallery designed by Sir John Soane.

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The Colour Palace by architects Pricegore and artist Yinka Ilori

The gallery itself is small enough to feel intimate, big enough to host some really interesting exhibitions.  I was not expecting to enjoy Cutting Edge, the Gallery’s exhibition of linocut art, even though in her speech the Director, Jennifer Scott, had bigged it up as a movement to make the artistic process accessible to all, not just those who’d been to art school.  As it turned out, I loved it so much that by the end was wondering if any of the pieces might be small enough to slip under my jumper and sneak home with me.  (Just to note: obviously I would NEVER do this and nor should you!)

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The Cricket Match by Edith Lawrence c.1929

The exhibition is divided into themes, which include transport, speed and movement, industry, labour and sport and leisure.  Simple and beautiful, and each using only a limited colour-palette the prints seem to be able to capture both movement and stillness equally perfectly.  Like a slow game of cricket on a hot summer’s day, each piece sings with the spirit of the 1930s, and the exhibition reminds me of the optimism and exuberance of the old London Transport posters exhorting passengers to visit Kew Gardens by tram or take the tube to London Zoo.

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Sumi the crocodile, by Nahoko Kojima

The entrance to the gallery is dominated by a giant paper-cut crocodile, created specially for the exhibition by Japanese artist Nahoko Kojima.  This is not, as I imagined, some limp white thing sitting on a plinth, but a black and gold beast suspended from the ceiling that demands attention and was drawing quite a crowd when I was there.

If you have time after your visit, there’s a lovely café at the Gallery, or it is right in the middle of Dulwich village which is awash with good eateries.

This gallery is good to visit all year round, but the pavilion and printmaking exhibition are really worth a trip.  Also, the Gallery is running Pavilion Lates – totally free music, talks and more after hours.  Catch the pavilion and exhibition while you can – Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking is on until 8th September and the pavilion is open until 22nd September.

If you are the least bit persuaded, this is a helpful link to get there by public transport.

Dead good: loitering with intent in Kensal Green

I am sure there are many lovely things about Kensal Green, but my good friend Dev and I went with only one thing in mind: dead people.  We wanted to see as many of them as possible.

Not in a zombie horror movie sort of way, more in a ‘will you look at the elephant on that tombstone’ sort of way.  I know it’s not for everyone, but for the discerning tombstone tourist* Kensal Green Cemetery is pretty much the most fun you can have visiting dead people without it becoming illegal.

Built in the 1800s it was the first of the Magnificent Seven garden cemeteries built in a ring around London to alleviate overcrowding in parish burial grounds.  And its 72 acres are beautifully manicured and jam-packed with variety.  It claims to be not only one of England’s oldest and most beautiful public burial grounds, but also its most prestigious.

It doesn’t have the large architectural flourishes of Highgate, but there are just so many interesting monuments in such a variety of styles that I think it is actually my favourite of the magnificent seven.  But don’t take my word for it, look at the pics, or – even better – visit it yourself…

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‘Nothing fancy for me, thanks.  Just something simple…’

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TO HER: something fittingly modest…  The back reads:  To the memory of Madame Soyer
Died September 1st 1812
Aged 32 years
England gave her birth
Genius immortality

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Simple and stunning – the grave of Thea Canonero Altieri

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This is my absolute favourite – may we all hope to receive such a send off:  Major General the Hon. Sir William Casement KCB of the Bengal Council and member of the Supereme Council of India who after 47 years and six months of distinguished service partly in the field, partly as secretary government in the military department and finally as member of the Supreme Council, when about to returnm to his native country, crowned with well merited honors and distinctions, was swayed by a sense of duty to accede to the ??? instance of the Governor General in Council to defer his departure.  A step which exposed him to the attack of the fatal malady which terminated his valuable life at Cossipore on the 16th day of April 1844 in the 64th year of his ???.  In him the Government of India has to regret the loss of an able and upright adviser, the army of a steady friend, and the community at large of one of its most valued members.  His affliected widow records this tribute to his public merits.  Her own loss can only be ??? however imperfectly by those who knew his private worth.

If Kensal Green has lit your funeral pyre, don’t miss my blogs on Brompton Cemetery and Highgate and Nunhead.

* Thanks to Kelly Anne Mackay for giving me this phrase 😊 – you can read her own blog here.

Patio cleaning for a man who loves the smell of napalm in the morning

My poor husband works so hard and at the weekend all he wants to do is sit in the garden surrounded by lush greenery, listening to the tinkle of next-door’s fountain.  Sadly this is not his experience.  The gentle sounds of next door’s water feature are drowned out by the raucous shrieks of our unruly children.  The lawn looks like a stretch of unloved scrubland.  And the patio has been reclaimed by nature and is now coated in a thick layer of green slime.  It’s a cruel, cruel world where a man works hard all week only to come home to a slimy patio.

So last weekend I decided to address the whole rogue patio issue.  In his usual supportive way, my husband stood at the back door shouting helpful advice.  First piece of advice: coat the patio in bleach before hosing it down.  Of course he recommended bleach.  He loves the stuff.  Nothing makes him feel like a toilet has been properly cleaned like its pungent aroma burning his nasal passage every time he goes in the bathroom.

But, as we all know, bleach may well be excellent for patios, but it is terrible for clothes.  So I did what any right-thinking woman would: I took my trousers off and power-hosed the patio in my knickers.  This is despite watering it down so extensively I’m not even sure there was any bleach on the patio.  My daughter was baffled.  I mean, if a substance is so harmful you don’t want to get it on your clothes, surely messing about with the stuff in your underwear is the height of folly?  To be fair, I think a bigger concern was what the neighbours might think; but they’ve met me before, so power-hosing in my undies probably falls well within their expectations.

And now the patio is lovely.  It is an oasis of calm and joy.  My husband is happy and I am fully dressed again.  The only cloud in the sky (apart from the constant one that hangs over every British summer) is that now the patio is impeccable, my husband has noticed that the lawn isn’t meeting requirements.  Oh well, at least that’s a job I can do with my trousers on…

P.S. I would love to tell you that the lovely patio in the picture is mine, but sadly not.  It  is the patio my husband would like to have when we win the lottery.  It was designed by Belberdos Landscapes, who seem to do a lot of rather chic gardens.

Treasure Trails: how I spent an afternoon outdoors with my husband and children and nobody cried

I have found the holy grail of the school holidays: how to entertain a family of four for the afternoon for under £10.  And I am claiming bonus points for it being outdoors and involving some mild exercise. Please pass my crown, because I am now the queen of parenting!

I am talking about Treasure Trails – hours of family fun solving clues as you tour local points of interest and discover hidden gems – and all for the bargain price of £6.99.  You just pick your trail, download and print the PDF, and you’re off.  We chose the London South Bank trail, starting and ending at Waterloo Station.

We started by reading our mission – we were in the Secret Service trying to stop the nefarious President of Vulgaria activating an encrypted file.  The children read out each clue and led the hunt to find and solve it, whilst Mr B and I strolled behind them enjoying the scenery.

One of the joys of the trail, is that it guides you past all the iconic buildings and sights of the South Bank, as well as highlighting interesting vistas and lesser known points of interest – like the graffiti tunnel (worth a visit in its own right) and the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women (no longer a hospital, but still an amazing building). And because you’re following a trail of clues, you notice things that normally you might walk past.  Even though I’ve been to the South Bank a few times, I felt like I must have spent the whole time walking round with my eyes shut.

 

Just as we were flagging, we arrived at the South Bank Centre and took a two minute detour from the river bank to the Food Market on the other side of the building for lunch (open Fridays to Mondays in the summer – check for other times of year).  Predictably, our children chose burgers, but Mr B and I had a thorough browse before picking more exotic choices.  If you have the time, this is a great place to explore interesting and delicious street food from around the world, but sadly this is not a pastime our children enjoy. *rolls eyes*

 

Although the trail is just under 2 miles of easy walking, we spent the best part of four hours on it, taking into account stopping for lunch and a reviving cup of tea en route. This particular part of London is tourist heaven, with landmark buildings and amazing views at every point, not to mention street artists – we saw an acrobatic act, live music, people pretending to be statues, and everything in between.

And as a small bonus, once you have solved every clue, you have the de-activation code, which you can submit to Treasure Trails to be entered in a monthly prize draw to win £100.  I’m not holding my breath, but it’s nice to be in with a chance!  In the meantime, we all enjoyed it so much that we are already planning to do the Temple and Fleet Street trail.

 

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PS Due to building works, clue 14 on this trail is behind some hoardings.  Luckily a security guard saw us and helped us out.  I’m not giving anything away, but this is what you’re looking for if it’s still covered up when you do the trail…

 

 

Top tips

My daughters are 9 and 11, which is a great age to enjoy hunting for and solving the clues.  But we were all getting a bit tired towards the end, so I would say you probably wouldn’t want to do it with any children much younger.

If you fancy the South Bank trail (and I highly recommend it), then you need to plan the best time for you.  If you love pushing through crowds, clutching your child’s hand so they don’t get swept into a sea of tourists, then a Saturday afternoon in August is the perfect time.  But if, like me, you prefer something a little more relaxed, maybe plan to do this trail at a quieter time!

If anyone needs the loo en route, you can always nip into the South Bank Centre, where the facilities are lovely and clean.  They also have a pleasant cafe on site, and if the weather is warm enough, you can sit outside.

If the South Bank is not for you, there are over 1,200 trails across the country, so it should be easy to pick a trail reasonably close to you.  Each trail is about 2 miles of easy walking taking you on a circular route.

Once on any of the trails, it’s difficult to plan when and where to eat, as you never know where you’re going.  If you know you need to eat whilst you’re out, I would recommend taking the opportunity when you get it. It also doesn’t hurt to pack a couple of snacks and a bottle of water to keep you going.

 

When is a rub-down just a rub-down and when is it sexual harassment?

Last week my friend and I had a tennis lesson.  Although the courts are public, they are surrounded by a wall, so you can play as well or badly as you like and nobody but you and the coach will ever know how near (or far) from qualifying for Wimbledon you are.

There are no amenities.  There is no club house.  There is no club.  The protocol is that when your tennis lesson finishes, you depart.  But last week the person before us – a man probably in his late 60s – was somewhat reluctant to leave the court.  As we started our lesson he loitered a little picking up balls, and, once that was done, he sat on the bench beside the court and began to sip his water.  After a couple of minutes, I began to feel uncomfortable – the tennis lesson is for me to learn tennis, not for us to provide light entertainment to random strangers.  My friend and I began to mutter to each other that it was time for him to move on.

But he had no intention of leaving.  Instead he stood up, took his top off, pulled a flannel from his bag, and began to give himself a leisurely and ostentatious rub down.  And he was doing this barely two metres from the tennis net during our lesson.  It was like an elderly peacock preening.  And, just to be clear, he was not about to rush off to an important meeting that he wanted to look good for; he was about to get on his bicycle and cycle back to his house, less than five minutes away.  ‘Inappropriate’ is one of the kindest words I have to describe his behaviour.

As soon as he left we spoke to the tennis coach, who is a lovely man.  But he clearly felt unable to say anything, and suggested that if we were upset we should speak to Captain Inappropriate ourselves.  I’ve thought a lot about why we didn’t say anything at the time, and I think it’s multi-layered:

  1. We didn’t like the initial loitering, but it wasn’t a big enough deal to make a fuss. We didn’t realise that by not drawing a line at that point, we had opened the gate to much worse behaviour.
  2. When it happened, the sense of disbelief was palpable: am I really watching an elderly man strip off and rub himself down in front of me on a public tennis court? We were too non-plussed to say anything.
  3. It’s a very English thing not make a fuss, and women in particular are expected to suck up all sorts of inappropriate behaviour on a regular basis.
  4. Complaining is always a risky strategy, because you don’t know what support you’ll get. As it turned out (and this is not even a criticism of the tennis coach), if we had said anything, it is clear the coach wouldn’t have backed us up.

Obviously, this behaviour doesn’t make the man Harvey Weinstein, but it is on the same spectrum.  A spectrum that starts with rubbing yourself down on a tennis court, goes via opening your hotel room door for a meeting naked except for your dressing gown, and ends with coercing women into sex (or worse).

And isn’t this exactly how Harvey Weinstein and countless others have got and continue to get away with it?  The women on the receiving end feel disabled from saying anything for a variety of reasons, only some of which I’ve described above, and the men who might or should support them also feel unable to speak up or prevent it in future (remember: this man, and probably some of his friends, pay part of our tennis coach’s income).

I told the whole story to a male friend, and was shocked when he told me that if we wanted to say anything we shouldn’t make a scene.  After all, he reasoned, Captain Inappropriate might not know he was doing anything wrong.  Whaaaaat?  If I was 20 instead of 40-something, would he know then?  If he did it in front of my daughters (currently 9 and 11), would he know then?  (I recall being on the receiving end of similar behaviours when I was those ages, by the way, and still remember how threatening it feels.)  How inappropriate does his behaviour have to be, for me to make a fuss?  And should I suppress a full expression of how disturbed and angry it made me, because we don’t want to make the person whose behaviour was out of order feel bad about it?

I’m lucky to work in a sector where, if anything, the gender balance favours women and I am also sufficiently senior that I am rarely aware of any discrimination in a professional context.  I have also reached an age where random men on trains no longer hit on me (and yes, when I was younger that used to happen a lot).  But this incident has reminded me that society as a whole still has a significant distance to travel and we need everyone who can to call out bad behaviour and hold the perpetrators to account.  Until we do so, too many people will continue to consider it an acceptable norm.

I don’t know if I’ll see Captain Inappropriate again, but if I do, I’ll let you know how it goes…

 

What do others say?

I like what the University of Exeter has to say about ‘inappropriate behaviour’: The biggest challenge to ensuring an inclusive community isn’t the obviously illegal acts of discrimination. It’s the persistent, pervasive behaviours that fail to respect or value each other and our differences.

And the importance they place on calling it out: You may have decided not to challenge it because it’s uncomfortable, you didn’t want to stand out, you hoped someone else would have said something, or you might have thought there was no point saying anything because it wouldn’t make a difference.  And then it happens again, because no-one has challenged it (my bold).

They’ve also got some sensible advice on how to call it out without making ‘the scene’ my friend was worried about.

Dinosaur delight in south east London

It’s true I like dead people – some of my happiest days out have been spent in cemeteries – but I’ve never really been that interested in dead animals, or dinosaurs to be more specific.  So I really wasn’t expecting Dinosaurs in the Wild to be quite so much fun for adults and children alike.

If you like your entertainment to be immersive, then this is for you.  The central idea is that a company called Chronotex has invented time travel and are now taking tourists back 67 million years to their dinosaur research facility in Montana.  I loved the careful detail with which everything has been planned and executed, from the realistic laboratory set-up, to the fridges filled with samples, to the scientific notes casually left open on a desk.  In fact, it was so realistic, that my 9 year old decided to hold my hand for some of the more ‘wild’ bits of it.  In contrast, my eleven year old (no previous interest in dinosaurs) and her friend (a dinosaur officionado) were desperate to ditch the mums and tour around on their own.  And, given how well-managed it is, they were pretty much able to do so.

IMG_6648.JPGAs you move through the tour of the facility there is a mix of dinosaur models, animatronix and 3D films, which ensures you never get complacent about what you are seeing.  In each lab or zone there is a member of Chronotex’s team talking about their work, which includes everything from incubating dinosaur eggs to conducting dinosaur autopsies.  There are interactive parts (like putting on gloves and sifting through dinosaur poo) and the opportunity to ask questions and engage with the ‘scientists’ at every stage.  I have read elsewhere that the information they present is accurate and incorporates up-to-date information from recent scientific studies, which doesn’t surprise me given the level detail that is everywhere you look.

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This is how Chronotex have mastered time travel

There is so much to watch, listen to, read and do, that there’s no time to get bored and the tour guide keeps up the pace, moving you from one zone to the next.  If anything, we could have spent longer soaking it all up.

I also want to give a mention to how fantastic all the staff were.  It wasn’t just all the actors playing out their roles, but everyone from the man on the door to the lady in the cloakroom finding our coats, everyone was friendly, welcoming and helpful.

It is such a unique experience that the kids and I were talking about it for ages afterwards.  I thoroughly recommend it for children, adults, dinosaur lovers and cemetery geeks (me) alike!

Prices

I’ve got to be honest, it is quite expensive for something that only takes about an hour and a half (£26 for a child and £95 for a family of 2 children and 2 adults), but, although there is a shop at the end, there is no real push to sell you merchandise that so often bumps up the cost of taking children out. If there are any special offers, other than for groups and schools etc, I couldn’t find them.

Booking

Dinosaurs in the wild is on until 31st July, and tours run from 9.30am til 4.30pm Tuesday to Sunday.  You can book a date and time slot to suit on-line depending on availability.  Find out more

Getting there

Dinosaurs in the Wild is on Greenwich Peninsula, a ten minute walk from the O2 and North Greenwich underground on the Jubilee Line.  It is on a number of bus routes.  Find out more.

Cemeteries

If you’ve read all this, and still think you’d rather go to a cemetery, why not read my blog about Nunhead and Highgate Cemeteries, or my blog about Brompton.  Or follow my blog, because I’ve recently been to Kensal Green cemetery and I’ve got to tell you it was awesome!

7 top tips for running the London Marathon from a lady who knows

Julie Creffield, author of The Fat Girls’ Guide To Marathon Running, shares her top tips with runners for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

Taking on a marathon is a daunting task, particularly if – like most of those running for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust – it’s your first.  This year the marathon falls on the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s death, making it particularly poignant for all those running.  The Trust decided to add inspiration to all the perspiration by organising an evening with Julie Creffield, who writes popular blog toofattorun, recently published The Fat Girls’ Guide To Marathon Running, and is an all round good egg.   I was really chuffed to sneak a place at the evening, even though the furthest I normally run is to catch the train…

All the Trust’s marathoners said that running for a cause they really care about keeps them motivated whilst training, but Julie had some other practical advice to get them to the finish line.  I’m sharing some of her wisdom to help others, and if you get something out of it, please make a donation to the Trust or sponsor one of their runners.

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#Stephens Team meeting Julie Creffield (3rd from the right)

 

Julie’s top tips

  • Have a plan. Work out which will be your fast miles and where you expect to go more slowly; if people are coming to cheer for you, tell them in advance where to be; think about the sights and sounds that will motivate you, so you can count down to them as you run.
  • Let loved ones know that in the six weeks run up to the marathon, you are the Mo Farrah in your family. That means you need looking after – you don’t want to be humping shopping and get an injury at the last minute that means you have to pull out.
  • Don’t change anything on the day. Wear the kit you have practised in.  Eat and drink as you have been during your training.  Marathon day is not the time to find out that your expensive new trainers give you blisters!
  • Vaseline is your friend. It’s not glamorous, but every runner gets chafing, and often in the most unpleasant of places.  Avoid the worst of it by lubricating liberally!  You can also avoid it by re-dressing carefully after a toilet stop – lots of chafing happens because people rush to get dressed and don’t put their clothes back on properly.
  • Have an emergency plan. Statistically more people die playing monopoly than running a marathon, but its still worth planning for the unexpected.  Know what point you are happy to walk from and how you will get in touch with your loved ones if they, or you, are not in the place you expect at the end.
  • Make sure you have someone to travel home with. You’ve already been heroic and now your blood sugar will be low and you will be exhausted.  Now is the time to take it easy and let someone else take the strain of making sure you get home safely.
  • Remember the difference the money you raise will make. For Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust it means more support to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, helping them learn about different careers, and helping them get the qualifications, knowledge, skills and confidence they need to follow their dreams.

A massive thank you to Julie Creffield for giving up a precious evening to talk to #StephensTeam and for sharing her amazing expertise!  If you like what you’ve read, please show your appreciation by supporting the runners and donating to the Trust at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/25thanniversaryappeal or by texting the word SLCT25 to 70070 followed by either £50, £25, £10 or £5.

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Review: Indoors and educational – we love the Science Museum

You live in London, it’s the school holidays and it’s raining.  Every parent knows that this is a terrible combination.  Because unless you find something for the kids to do, your little angels will spend the entire day trying to (a) kill each other or (b) demolish your home.  In the worst case scenario, they may even do both.

science logoWhich is why I was particularly pleased with myself when I came up with the plan to take them to the Science Museum.  It is indoors, it is entertaining and it educational.  That is like the holy grail of parenting!  And the good news is that kids (or at least, my kids) even like all the boring train and tube travel it takes to get there.

The first thing to mention about the Science Museum is that it is completely free to enter, although there are some things you pay for such as the Wonderlab and Imax Cinema (more of which later).  There is a sign asking for donations, but the woman on the desk as we came in looked absolutely stunned when we made one, so I guess not that many people do, although it’s such a great resource that – if you’re not going to any of the paid exhibits – it seems only fair to make some sort of contribution.

On arrival, we hurried straight up to the Wonderlab on the third floor (I say hurried, but the lift was broken, so huffed and puffed would probably be more accurate).  This space is designed for young people to get real hands on experience of science, watch live experiments and listen to talks. Judging from the age ranges there, I would say it would appeal to kids from about 4 to 13 or 14.  We paid £28 for a family of four for the day (umlimited entry and exit), but if you think you’ll go more than once, it’s definitely worth getting an annual pass.

science julieAmongst other things we did in the Wonderlab, we explored the colour room (learning about the impact different coloured light has on how we perceive the colour of objects).  The girls raced each other for who could pull themselves up a rope the fastest using a pulley system.  We all had a go on the friction slides (verdict: astro-turf makes the slowest slide, and the wooden slide goes so fast it made mummy scream).  We watched dry ice whizzing over the surface of water as it dissolved, and we went to a talk about rockets.  The kids thought the talk was the highlight and I was amazed and to hear my 11-year-old talking to granny about Newton’s first and second law the next day, so I guess she genuinely learnt something.

After about two hours, it started to feel a bit relentless, so we dipped out and went for lunch.  The kids wanted to stay longer, and we could easily have gone back after lunch and there would have been plenty more to see and do.

For lunch we eschewed the pleasant looking, well-lit Energy Café which serves all the kinds of food you would expect (hot and cold dishes, pizza, salads and sandwiches) and instead went to the Deep Blue Diner.  Unfortunately this was not a good choice.  The main source of light in the diner was the light-up tables, which made me feel slightly headachy and snow-blind.  The service was slow, the portions were small, and none of us felt like the food was great.  Next time we will definitely go to the Energy Café instead.

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Under the Sea in 3D at the Imax Cinema

After lunch we went to the Imax Cinema.  This is where things start to get expensive, as a family ticket was £23.  We saw Under the Sea, a 3D movie about different sea creatures and the impact of the modern world on their environment.  I’ve never been to a 3D movie before, so I jumped a couple of times as eels darted out of the screen to eat their prey, and I had to resist the urge to put my hand out and try to touch some of the creatures as they floated serenely towards me.

After the movie we visited the Exploring Space gallery as the kids were all fired up about rockets following the talk earlier.  There are some amazing artefacts, including a re-entry capsule from one of the Apollo missions to the moon, but we were all definitely flagging at this point.

We stopped for a reviving cup of tea and slice of cake at the Energy Café, before heading back out into the rain and home on the tube.  I am not sure how, but we seemed to have passed an entire day at the Science Museum, we all enjoyed it and the children even learnt stuff.

The trip was such a success that I am sure we will go back (I wish we’d bought the annual pass to the Wonderlab!) and next time I will plan specific galleries to look at.  I’m really keen to see the Winton Gallery – not only to explore mathematics, but just to see the incredible space designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.  I’d also really like to see the exhibition Wounded about the medical and human impact of the First World War.  And if there’s time, I’d also like to squeeze in the Challenge of Materials, which includes a steel wedding dress (no irony intended).  In fact, next time, maybe I’ll take a friend instead of the children because it’s packed with stuff I want to see, and then I can be completely selfish and I won’t have to share my cake either.

science maths

The Winton Gallery – made for maths enthusiasts

A couple of practical notes

  • Travel: The Science Museum is on Exhibition Road (as are the Victoria and Albert Museum and Natural History Museum) and is a short walk from South Kensington Tube.
  • Prices: The museum is free to enter and you could easily lose yourself in the galleries for the day, but you do have to pay for the Wonderlab, Imax Cinema and certain exhibitions.  Check the website for details.
  • Eating: There are a series of different cafes, but there are also a couple of picnic areas where you can sit down and eat your own food if you fancy taking a packed lunch.
  • When to go: The museum is open daily (apart from 24th – 26th December) from 10am to 6pm.  We arrived at the Wonderlab at about 11am and walked straight in, but the website does warn that there may be a queue of up to 90 minutes at peak times.

3 lost skills of our parents that are ripe for revival

There are lots of things about parenting in the past that wouldn’t pass muster today: like handing out sweets that looked like cigarettes for children to ‘smoke’; or serving spam fritters with Smash like it was an actual meal rather than a dietary outrage.  But they also had some genuinely useful skills that are lost to modern parents.

So instead of worrying about whether my children have eaten all of their five-a-day, maybe I should give a little bit of time to re-learning some of the more useful things parents of the past could do.

The skills I’m thinking of reviving include:

  • Sewing – It’s so dull that after the first term of sewing name tags into my children’s clothes I bought a permanent marker pen. Same effect, but your index finger doesn’t end up red raw.  My mother, on the other hand, could create an entire capsule wardrobe from an off-cut of old fabric.  For my first school dance (because proms hadn’t been invented in those days), we went to a shop, chose a pattern, picked a fabric and my mum made my dress.  Not only that, but she actually seemed to enjoy it. Weird.
  • Fixing stuff – The only thing I’ve ever really tried to fix is my husband and, to be honest, I think the problem may be me, not him.  My parents, however, could fix nearly everything.  Broken toilet cistern?  Banging noise under the car bonnet?  Dangerous sounding hum when you turn the light on?  The older generation knows how to fix all that stuff.  And they pretty much wrote the manual on boring basics like bleeding the radiator and re-wiring a plug.  Although, in fairness, they can’t work the smart TV, so I feel like I might be winning that one…
  • Growing and cooking – Our parent’s generation grew up without the luxury of dial-a-pizza, or ready-made meals, and so had to do it all themselves.  As a result, my mum can somehow make a tasty meal out of whatever sad remains are lurking unloved at the bottom of the fridge.  Not only that, but when I was little, a lot of what she cooked was stuff she’d actually grown in our back garden.  I would starve to death if I couldn’t book my supermarket delivery online, but older people know how to grow what they need.  They will totally survive the apocalypse.

I know it sounds a bit Amish, but these are cool skills to have.  Our parents knew how to make the most of what they had without depleting our planet.  They didn’t need to sort their rubbish into different bins for recycling, because they weren’t throwing away plastic packaging every time they cooked supper.  The very same people who call you up to fix their internet connection, were busily protecting the world’s natural resources before anyone pointed out that we needed to.  Respect.

So if you put aside their propensity for feeding us sugary death-sweets and their worrying disregard for health and safety, our parents actually have some ninja survival skills.  I don’t need to be able to do everything they could do, but if I could just get the toilet to flush after my children have broken it, who knows what other dizzying heights I might achieve…