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.

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.

 

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!