Tag Archives: London

London calling

The unschooling diaries: week thirty-seven

I love our life in Devon, the sea swimming and beach exploring and cliff walking, but sometimes it is pretty awesome to switch our scenery around and hang out in the city.

The big smoke seems to be calling us a lot at the moment, and last week I had to make the trip up on my own with Arthur. It was a whistlestop visit, and I admit I was dreading it a little bit. But turning what could have been a chore into a bit of an adventure definitely helped.

He’s getting to be quite a seasoned little traveller, and insisted on picking up a magazine for the journey before we boarded the train. Not to read, you understand – but those little plastic toys are just so alluring…

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It was actually a really chilled out journey once we’d got comfy. We had a breakfast picnic, and Arthur was very happy to snuggle up with a movie whilst I caught up on some writing.

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When we got to town, we had a whole afternoon at our disposal before my appointment the next morning. I had in mind a very specific quest: to visit Kings Cross Pond before it closed forever. We missioned it across the city and set off into the forest of cranes and tower blocks – a highly unlikely setting for a natural swimming experience!

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But nestled between the building sites there was a little oasis of calm, and I relished the opportunity to have a dip – even if Arthur did decide it was a bit too cold.

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After our swim we set off to meet a friend – no particular mission this time, just a couple of hours to meander and soak up what the city had to offer. Arthur was drawn to the fountains in Granary Square, made particularly alluring by the sound installation that accompanied them. He stood completely mesmerised before creeping closer until his head was almost up against one of the speakers.

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Unexpected public art was definitely a theme of this trip, and Arthur especially liked the swing we came across in the middle of the street. I’m sure the grown-ups love it too, but there was something pleasingly incongruous about watching Arthur going about the very serious business of swinging whilst everyone continued on their way around him.

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I’m pretty sure Arthur decided that the whole city was a playground to be honest – from random swings to balancing along water features whilst he raced leaf boats over the little waterfalls.

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And then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, I realised that we were just around the corner from The Railway Children at the Kings Cross theatre and couldn’t resist some last-minute discount tickets.

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It was already past Arthur’s bedtime, and as soon as we sat down he curled up on my knee for a power nap. Fifteen minutes later though he was woken by the sounds of steam trains and singing and sat completely rapt as the story played out in front of him. It was his first proper theatre experience and he was quite blown away by it all – especially when a real-life steam train pulled onto the stage!

The next day was a bit less exciting as I had a meeting to attend, leaving Arthur playing patiently with his hot wheels cars and chatting away to his toy dog, Merlin who he had insisted on bringing with him in a special doggy sling.

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We did manage to fit in a visit to one of his favourite actual playgrounds – we very rarely visit them in Devon, so it always feels like a bit of a treat. He’s been to this one on trips up to London before, but not since he was much smaller. As soon as we arrived he set his sights on the biggest of the three slides on offer, and circumnavigated it several times, trying unsuccessfully to clamber up the ropes to get to it. Then, though, he watched as a boy not much older than him approached it from a whole other angle – and of course he had to follow.

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After all of this adventuring Arthur was well and truly knackered by the time we began our long journey home – we both were!

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It was well worth the effort though. I am already looking forward to the corners of the city we will discover on our next trip…

Possibly the best toddler museum in the world

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Other than our discovery of the playground at Coram’s Fields, the hands down highlight of last week’s trip to London for Arthur had to be the London Transport Museum. As a self-confessed transport geek I’ve always loved it myself – and it turns out that for a toddler it is pretty much heaven.

He’d already been overwhelmed with the excitement of being surrounded by buses and taxis and trains as we made our way around the city, and as soon as he saw the vehicles inside the museum he was off.

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He was particularly drawn to this vintage car, desperate to be allowed to climb up over the luggage and sit inside.

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Fortunately there was plenty else to distract him. He loved the scrolling lights inside one of the side exhibition spaces – they made him jump at first, but he was soon fascinated by the words and images all around him.

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He was very taken by the miniature tube trains too – I think he spent about ten minutes pressing the buttons so he could watch them travel along their little tracks and back again, roping in any passing kids he could to join in too.

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I think I was a bit more excited than him by the full size tube train simulation, but he was intrigued by the tunnel rushing by.

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He found it much easier to get hands on with the driving in the All Aboard area, bouncing between the riverboat, train and bus like a pro.

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Once he’d warmed up a bit he was ready to tackle his favourite ride of all: a full size London bus.

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We had a fantastic afternoon, the only downside of which was that he then spent the rest of the week trying to get into the driver’s seat of the buses we travelled on. We’ll be heading back for sure next time we’re in the city, and in the meantime there is a little wooden tube train on his train tracks to remind him of his trip to London Town.

 

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Letting off steam in Coram’s Fields

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Arthur was a little superstar during our trip to London last week. There was lots about it that I think he enjoyed: he loved hanging out with new people in unusual places, and was totally captivated by the huge array of vehicles. But there was also lots that was rather testing for a toddler. Sitting still, mainly – on buses and tubes whilst we crossed the capital and in restaurants and cafés whilst mummy talked too much. He just wanted to explore, to run around – ‘walk and play!’ was his increasingly frustrated refrain.

And on Friday we found the perfect place for him to do just that. After a stroll around the not terribly toddler friendly British Museum and a very long wait for lunch at Strada, my friend suggested we go to Coram’s Fields. It hadn’t really been on my radar when I lived in London. I mean, I knew it was there – but you can’t even go in unless you’ve got a kid, and it really is focused towards the needs of the city’s littlest residents. And Arthur absolutely loved it.

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He rode on the little spring-mounted animals first, crossing between the duck and the horsey several times. Then he saw the slide, making his way up the perfectly proportioned steps to show off the skills he’s learning in gymnastics – hanging off the bar and swinging himself onto the slide whilst I tried not to leap prematurely to his aid.

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He had a go at climbing up the rope ladder too, and very nearly managed that on his own.

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There were lots of little ‘baby houses’ for Arthur to explore, and he loved running between them without needing me to hold his hand every step of the way.

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It was wonderful to see his increasing confidence, even if deep inside there was a pang of something else as I realised my little baby boy is growing up before my eyes.

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It was definitely a much-needed pitstop – it’s always great to find new playgrounds, and this is one I’d heartily recommend if you find yourself in central London with an energetic toddler in tow!
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Word of the week: London

This week, Arthur and I have been hanging out in London. We were going to be up for the weekends anyway, with two family birthdays to celebrate, and as Leigh had a big exam this week and I had lots of friends to catch up with it made sense to stay in between. It was a little bit daunting – my parents were around last weekend, but after they headed back to Devon on Monday it was just me and the toddler. It turns out I needn’t have worried at all – we’ve had a brilliant week, and Arthur has taken everything in his stride.

We’ve traversed the city to touch base with some of my oldest and bestest friends, meeting new babies and hanging out with growing toddlers. Arthur has really impressed me by his ability to share and play nicely, and he’s enjoyed the journeys as much as anything – there have been lots of trains and tubes and buses and escalators to ride.

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Possibly his favourite place has been the London Transport Museum, where he marvelled excitedly at the wide range of vehicles to admire and play with – more on that to come!

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We’ve made the most of all the different cuisines available to us, managing to fit in Vietnamese, Spanish tapas, dim sum and Italian – and sushi on the South Bank before Arthur’s first cinema experience.

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There’s been other culture too – architecture and street art and busking. I’ve missed the vibrancy of London, the sense that there’s going to be something new and exciting to see every time you turn the corner.

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We haven’t entirely avoided the shopping, though I suspect on the whole I’ve enjoyed that more than Arthur. But he’s valiantly offered to carry my bags. And we did brave Hamleys, which wasn’t actually as bad as I feared.

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Arthur hasn’t got to play outside as much as he normally would, but we did have fun embracing autumn (and trees) in Hyde park, and found a brilliant play area yesterday where he could let off some steam.

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Although we’ve really enjoyed each other’s company, there’s no doubt Arthur’s missed his daddy too. He’s kept up with him through photos and hilariously surreal conversations on the iPad.

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It hasn’t been quite the same though, and Arthur was very excited when he got to see him in the flesh last night. We both were.

We’ve got one more day in London, and by tomorrow I think we’ll be more than ready to head home. There’s lots to love about the buzz of the big city, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing the sea.

 

The Reading Residence

 

A sense of place

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My editing process is undergoing something of an enforced hiatus at the moment. After a very difficult week last week Arthur and I are now in London, drawn by two family birthdays and some important new babies to meet!

I packed very optimistically, bringing everything I needed to pick up where I’d left off last Tuesday. But away from the structures and the solitude of our life in Brixham it seems unlikely that I’m actually going to get much done.

But that might not be altogether a bad thing…

I’m ahead of where I thought I’d be by now, my planned one chapter a day having galloped into two then three and sometimes even four as the story drew me back in. In fact I’ve only got two chapters to rework before I’m at the end of the novel – at which point I’m planning on one last sweep through (for now) to pick up anything I’ve missed and add in some bursts of narrative from a different perspective.

And in the meantime, whilst I’m traversing London to catch up with different friends and give Arthur a flavour of the capital, I’m going to open myself up to London’s spirit. I’m going to let its essence infuse my bones once again, remind myself of the multitude of tiny ways it differs from Devon. Because Grace’s story unfolds on these streets, streets which once were so achingly familiar to me but which seem so far away when I’m sitting at my desk staring at the sea.

I may not be able to do much work whilst I’m here, but when I’m finally able to sit back down at that desk next Monday morning I will hopefully be carrying with me those all-important details that will enhance my novel’s sense of place. And the fact that I get to immerse myself once more in London life whilst I’m gathering them is all part of the fun.

 

 

Writing Bubble

London leaves

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I love where I live, but as autumn encircles the UK I’ve felt a little envious of people further North. We’ve had hints of orange in our leaves, and they’re beginning to desert their branches for the ground, but all in all it’s a pretty poor show in comparison to the explosions of colour I’ve seen in photos from elsewhere.

I remember last year still being surrounded by green whilst rust coloured leaves fluttered across my Facebook feed, and we did get our turn eventually – fiery foliage hanging on long after other trees had turned to winter skeletons.

So I know that autumn will embrace Torbay eventually, but in the meantime I figured I should take advantage of our week in London to show Arthur what all the fuss is about.

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It was this tree that caught my eye first, defiantly resplendent in yellow, despite being flanked in green. Arthur ran smiling across the mottled grass, picking up leaves to examine more closely along the way.

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At one point he declared he wanted to climb a tree – I think he was inspired by the squirrels. I was impressed by his determination as he tried to work out how he could get purchase on the trunk, but actually in the end a hug seemed much more appropriate.

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We continued on across the park, entranced by the increasingly rich pallet of colours surrounding us.

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They are beautiful, those lovely London leaves. And an injection of colour was just what my autumn needed.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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Q is for queue

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As I was mulling over words to inspire my contribution for the letter ‘q’ I kept being transported back to a very particular place. To a queue I stood in for hours and hours on end on many, many Saturday nights. Well, afternoons really: we were waiting for Whirl-Y-Gig to open, a club I frequented in my teenage years which at the time was held in Shoreditch Town Hall. It kept the rather unusual hours of eight until midnight – handy for sneaking out as a sixteen year old, and a party which people were keen to extend by whichever means they could.

The queue started to form in the middle of the afternoon. Often when we made it there by four or five it would already be snaking down Old Street – people chatting, banging drums, excited about what the night would bring. On the night this photo was taken I’m pretty sure we’d arrived early and made it to the steps of the town hall itself. This was the most coveted spot, the place you’d find the most hardened regulars, where you could look down over the pavement as the queue and the anticipation began to build. I vaguely remember dancing to The Prodigy’s ‘Out Of Space’ as it blasted out of someone’s battered ghetto blaster.

Once we were inside it really was as if we’d been taken to another dimension. Colours and music and lights and rhythm, dancing at the front of the stage as if our lives depended on it. Everyone was so friendly, their hugs and smiles quickly replacing the grey hostility of the London streets we’d left behind.

The streets around Shoreditch Town Hall were very different then. There was The Blue Note in Hoxton Square, the Comedy Cafe and a couple of pubs on Curtain Road, but nothing like the teeming mass of bars and restaurants and wannabe hipsters you find there now. There are even hotdog stalls on Old Street on the weekends, peddling their questionable wares to drunken tourists. A long, long way from how it used to be.

We took less photos then of course. It took me ages to dig this one out, trawling through boxes of old prints, and even then the picture I found was clearer in my imagination than in reality. Not that it wasn’t fun: there’s something quite different about holding physical photographs in your hands rather than just scrolling through images on a screen. I’m still friends with the core group of people I hung out with twenty (!) years ago, and it was pretty awesome to see us as we were then – at parties and festivals, in gardens and parks, cooking and laughing and getting up to no good.

We’re scattered across the globe now, from London to LA to Osaka, but there’s a bond that was formed by adventures like standing in line for hours on a grimy street in East London that I don’t think will ever be broken.

Q is for queue.

 

Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODcast.