Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, London

Hyde Park is big. It’s not as big as Richmond ‘the Poo’ Park or, y’know, space, but it is nevertheless big and particularly big for the purposes of this guide as Mama says I should include Kensington Gardens as well. No-one, she insists, really knows where one stops and the other begins anyway, certainly not her. So, Hyde Park (with Kensington Gardens) is very big indeed, a fact which is important for Londoners, most of whom do not have gardens to call their own. At the slightest hint of sun they will therefore head for a park en masse, and since the capital would probably give space a run for its money, it’s good that there is still room to move about in this very central open space despite the very large numbers of people who frequent it, lounging around on the grass; picnicking; playing football; contorting themselves into odd shapes while someone shouts at them; riding bikes; scooting on scooters; rolling on rollerblades; walking on tightropes; walking their dogs; or just wandering aimlessly about. Like us.

Hyde Park/ Kensington Gardens

Mostly our walks begin in the middle of the southern side, hoping for a sight of horses as we cross the sand-covered riding track, which runs right round the park and harks back to its days as the place for the great, the good and the beautiful to display themselves on horseback and in carriages to all and gossips. Horses happen quite often, actually. There are a couple of stables dotted around and, of course, the Horseguard Barracks right next door. We see the mounted soldiers exercising their nags, trotting back from changing the guard or, on really exciting days, practising for some big ceremonial outing. Clearly being in the army must be GREAT! I am thinking of joining, although I don’t see any girls up there. Probably they only bother with the very special occasions. But what with this, the casual trotters and dressage squares on both the north and south sides where you can hang around watching horses dance, all in all, Hyde Park (with Kensington Gardens) is a pretty good hunting ground for small equestrian-obsessed children. Like me!

The Albert Memorial run is the one we do if we are in a hurry. Mama says it was built by a Queen to remember her husband. He must have been very nice because it certainly is a very big sort of statue. I am going to be a Queen when I grow up. I thought about being a Princess because, dresses! Also, pink! Then I realised Kings get to ride more horses. But Queens are clearly the most important, so that’s the best job. The Memorial displays all the restrained taste and subtlety of which the Victorian age is known for (says Mama), and the fact that Albert is covered from head to foot in gold leaf and makes Papa, the Russian, feel right at home.  Public art that stands still for too long in Russia always gets covered by gold leaf. As a result, the Albert Memorial is the only bit of statuary in London Papa approves of.

Gold leaf covered Albert Memorial from behind

Behind the statue is the Flower Walk. It is an excellent route for toddlers, having broad, well-paved pathways, fences to prevent the plant life from getting carried away and savaging us, and a total absence of water features as long as you avoid the giant dog bowl at the bottom end. Also, everybody feeds the squirrels, and often they let us help. Those little guys are really friendly! They’ll come right up and take the nuts out of your hands! It’s a bit confusing because I thought the ‘do not’ on the signs means that it’s not allowed, but I must have been wrong. This language learning business is very hard.

Kensington Gardens

Then there is the Diana Memorial Fountain option. Mama says Diana was a Princess, but that can’t be true because there isn’t any pink. Mama first came across it in its early stages, back when she didn’t have kids and it spent six months cordoned off for not working properly. She was not impressed, and not just because of it being mostly white. Now we are all big fans (except of the colour). Of course, it remains more of a low lying circular cannalette than anything else, and certainly not, in the absence of your actual spurting water, a fountain. But they have fixed whatever the plumbing problems were, and it has become a pretty cool hangout on a nice sunny day. People sit on the wide stone edging, wade round and round the waters, or just picnic on the surrounding grass. There are a lot of kids, most of them wet, but it’s not all families and that is rather nice too. Best of all, up close the stream is interestingly textured with different flow patterns and in places even loud and oddly musical. Mama says that if you absolutely have to have open water for children to fall into in every park in Britain, and it appears to Mama that you do, this is the one she can tolerate, even if it does mean bringing along a spare set of clothes.

She thinks the nearby Serpentine lake, however, is best avoided with two water obsessed offspring. Mama is particularly adamant about this after she had to fish my Incredible Big Brother’s scooter out of the water not once but twice on one particularly tedious trip all the way round. So we generally depart the waterside briskly after hanging over a decently fenced off section admiring the ducklings and goslings and signets, pausing only to see if anyone is braving the waters in the special pool-like area. Mama tells me that you have to be a member of some club to actually get in the water. I think this is just an excuse and plan on testing the theory as soon as I can escape and fling myself in. In the meantime, we usually end up at the playground back up near the east end of the lake, down by the Horseguard baracks. It has a coffee dispensing kiosk right outside, so everyone is happy, at least in the summer months.

At one time, when Mama had all the time in the world and no school runs to do, we used to go up to the Round Pond via one of the Serpentine Gallery buildings. Even through the Gallery sometimes. Everybody likes rooms with large screens showing rather incomprehensible films about a music box.

Back in his dissolute youth, the Round Pond was much beloved of my Incredible Big Brother, who would spend many happy hours herding any water birds which had the temerity to set webbed foot on land back into what he considers to be their only permissible habitat. The tourists who had got lost on their way from Kensington Palace to the Diana Memorial Fountain loved this kind of behaviour and took whole memory sticks full of pictures of a line of grown swans waddling, cowed, in front of a determined small boy. Nowadays, it’s mostly me trying to tree a squirrel they like to film. If anyone reading this has found themselves being shown pictures of extravagantly photogenic children harassing wildlife in Hyde Park (or Kensington Gardens) from a returnee from the Sceptred Isles, Hi from me and my Incredible Big Brother.

If we are up in this North West sort of area now, we would probably be going to the Diana Memorial Playground. In many ways it is an excellent playground, although, again, where is the pink? Don’t they know princess stuff must be smothered in pink? Ditto, frills? Instead there’s a huge sandpit, some really good slides, swings and climbing frames, and best of all a gigantic pirate ship, all divided up into different areas separated by high grassy banks or really big bushes. Of course, Mama likes to be able to keep half an eye on my Incredible Big Brother whilst following me around wherever my whimsy takes me and this is pretty much impossible with the Diana Memorial Playground. Mama is therefore forced to choose between being the helicopter Mama she likes to pretend she isn’t or the momentarily panic of not being able to find one of her children because he is sitting under a bush recruiting the other under tens in a plot to take over the world. Or finding bugs. Whichever you think is more likely. Either way, it’s stressful, and she is almost always forced to fortify herself at the large refreshments booth outside afterwards. I recommend the ice cream. Mama likes the coffee.

Recently we have discovered the Italian gardens, which surprisingly has nothing whatsoever to do with any member of a royal family. As far as Mama knows. They do have square ponds and real fountains with shooty water though. Also, some really big stone cups. This must be where the giants hang. They should take their rubbish with them. I like to scoot round and round and throw leaves in the water, which Mama suspects pleases the people who have to keep the place tidy not at all, so we always end up having a bit of an argument about that. Mama probably feels they have enough to do trying to shift the giant leftovers but I say this is not my problem.

Apparently, there is a famous statue of a small unruly boy around here somewhere. We haven’t found it yet but I think it is unfair. Why are they putting up monuments to my Incredible Big Brother and not me, I would like to know?

Anyway, Hyde Park (with Kensington Gardens). Mama has never actually taken a trip here simply to go to the park, although it is a great park, huge, lots to do, busy but not hopelessly crowded. But it’s near to quite a few of the places your big people might insist on taking you to in London, so if that has all become too much, you can restore yourself by running around and shouting to your hearts content here. If you don’t happen to have a first class park within easy reach, you could easily spend a day here just because. And if it is your local park, lucky old you.

More Information

The Hyde Park website.

The Kensington Gardens website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Diana, Princess of Wales, and the power of myth.

Address: Hyde Park’s postcode is W2 2UH.

Opening: 5am to midnight.

Price: Free.

By tube: Bayswater (District Line), Lancaster Gate (Central Line), Marble Arch (Central Line), Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line), Knightsbridge (Piccadilly Line), High Street Kensington (Circle and District Lines).

By bus: North London: 6, 7, 10, 16, 52, 73, 82, 390, 414. South London: 2, 36, 137, 436. West London: 9, 10, 14, 19, 22, 52, 74, 148, 414. East London: 8, 15, 30, 38, 274.

By car: Actually, Pay and Display parking is available on West Carriage Drive and in car parks at either end of Serpentine Bridge. It’s not ruinously expensive either. But places are limited, and there’s maximum four hours stay Monday-Saturday. You still have to pay on Sundays, but there is no maximum stay.

The Natural History Museum, London

The Natural History Museum is my Brilliant Big Brother’s choice. He is very very keen on animals. And dinosaurs. So regular visits here are a bit of an inevitability.

The Natural History Museum from the outside
Dino world, here we come!

The problem with this, from Mama’s point of view, is that my Brilliant Big Brother is actually interested in the exhibits. He wants to stop, and look at them, and discuss them. I, however, am not. I want to run around and find something random to fixate on, like a rope barrier (oooooh) or a leaflet holder (aaaaaah).  FIRE EXTINGUISHERS! IT DOESN’T GET BETTER THAN FIRE EXTINGUISHERS!!!

This means that Mama is constantly either having to coral me in the pushchair or drag my Brilliant Big Brother away from a stuffed swan, plaster of Paris crocodile or fossilised triceratops. Both of us end up feeling that Mama is an unreasonable old whatsit and are not afraid of making our opinions on this subject known.

Still, we usually manage to spend a certain amount of time in the usually exceptionally crowded bird hall, where Mama, the career teacher, simply cannot restrain herself and insists on setting my Brilliant Big Brother questions designed to better his understanding of how animals work. ‘Which birds,’ she is wont to ask, ‘eat meat? How do you know? Lookatthebeaklookatthebeak’ This is sometimes successful, sometimes not, and sometimes my Brilliant Big Brother silences her by keeping up a running commentary of random factoids about the lives and loves of the feathered exhibits himself.

Stuffed dodos in a display case
Dodos!

My Brilliant Big Brother, you see, pays close attention to nature programmes. Mama, on the other hand, thinks that nature in its entirety goes ‘they have sex and then something eats the really cute baby’ and that this is especially true if you watch David Attenborough’s Planet series. Except that in the programmes it is done to ominous music. Nature missing a trick there. Mama, basically, finds the animal world both boringly predictable and excruciatingly traumatic. My Brilliant Big Brother does not.  Therefore, in a fauna fact-off, my Brilliant Big Brother always wins.

A blue whale and other animals at the Natural History Museum
That’s not a *real* whale, you know.

It should come as no surprise then that the mammal room is also popular. My Brilliant Big Brother finds the elephants in various stages of evolution fascinating. Similarly the fish corridor. With added crocodiles! And the bit with the giant sloth (it’s GIANT!). And the bug exhibition. With your actual leaf cutter ants carrying your actual leaves. Although he also thinks the case explaining the difference between centipedes and millipedes (not as obvious as you might think, Mama says) pretty essential. And… well, let’s just say that all the bits with any kind of animal are equally as thrilling to my Brilliant Big Brother, and, unfortunately, equally as packed with other nature obsessed big children and so equally as unfriendly to wide-roaming toddlers as each other.

Giant prehistoric sloth at the Natural History Museum
GIANT SLOTH IS GIANT!

Except the dinosaur exhibition, which is even more so. In fact, Mama recommends that the Natural History Museum should be avoided at weekends*, during school holidays and especially in half term, when everybody with children within reach of London decides to visit in the space of one week. Not only are there lengthy queues to get into the place, but the entire entrance hall is given over to the hour-long line of people waiting to go and see the animatronic T-Rex, with only the admittedly impressive Gothic detailing and the huge, iconic diplodocus skeleton to entertain them.

Entrance hall and Diplodocus skeleton at the Natural History Museum
An unusually empty day at the Natural History Museum.

Actually it can be quite entertaining. They’ve rigged the massive plant eater so that you can light it up different colours and even make it roar. But only if you pay an extortionate sum of money, which Mama, well, Mama doesn’t. Of course, if you should make a half term visit there will be many many desperate parents, and so the roar gets played quite often anyway. Still, this does not compensate you, in Mama’s opinion, for the wait, especially when it is followed by the news that the lift to the walkway you have to use in order to reach model dino heaven is out of order and no, you cannot just abandon the pushchair here and come back for it later.

Gothic details at the Natural History Museum
Cool, eh?

Of course, the T-Rex is almost worth it in Mama’s opinion and TOTALLY worth it in my Brilliant Big Brother’s, which is why we all keep coming back and back. I am less convinced, being much of the opinion of my Brilliant Big Brother on his first visit (< wobbly voice > “Teef, Mama, TEEF!”< /wobbly voice>), but I am generally overruled.

The animatronic T-Rex at the Natural History Museum
Teeeef!

There’s also a whole other bunch of galleries about the earth, the environment and, I dunno, plants and such, but we only go there when my Brilliant Big Brother thinks they might have hidden a few more animals in them or when Mama is trying to make me fall asleep. Not even being in a real earthquake or making your own clouds really compensates for the lack of furry/scaly action. Although the rocks room is a hit. To Mama one bit of quartz looks very much like another, but she says Granny, the geologist, should be proud that her grandson can spend hours and hours and hours in there getting Mama to read the captions (“Quartz. Quartz with iron. Quartz with copper. Quartz quartz. Quartz with gold. Oooh. Quartz.”) and I am happy because it is really quiet up there and Mama let’s me play hide and seek round the quartz cases. Granny must really like quartz. I wonder what she does with it?

The quartz room at the Natural History Museum
Quartzquartzquartzquartzquartzquartzquartz!

And so to the coffee, or not because Mama rarely stops for refreshments inside. The cafes are too open plan and busy for someone with over-stimulated children who will probably run off in different directions just as she has taken her first sip of the warm brown drink she seems to like to much. If you must go, the one in the Darwin Centre is probably the quietest. There’s also a restaurant, but that is particularly expensive and even a balloon per child cannot make up for that. Says Mama. The best option on rainy days is the basement, where there is a vast lunch room for school parties and other picnickers. It even has a small coffee shop at one end! On better days, there is a nice bit of grass outside and it even has its own snack kiosk and, in summer, a carousel. In good weather there is also a stall selling ice-creams at the entrance to the nature garden, a small wildlife preserve of overgrown foliage, twisty pathways and water features, with which my Brilliant Big Brother and I like to end our visit to the museum. You aren’t supposed to picnic there though.

Stone monkey climbing the walls of the Natural History Museum
Awww. Cute, innit?

Anyway. The Natural History Museum is an essential on any list of places to visit in London for children of all ages. Mama will just have to continue sucking up the drawbacks and start bribing me with the promise of dinosaur toys, because we will be regulars here for some time to come.

*Except for the last half term before the summer holidays. Mama reckons people are saving it up. Go then, if you are trapped by school. Unlike me. Nyahnyahnyahnyahnya.

More Information

The Natural History Museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about dodos – an extinct bird.

Address: Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD

Opening: 10.00 – 18.00 every day.

Admission: Free

By Tube: South Kensington (District, Circle and Piccadilly lines). 

By Bus: The 360 stops on Exhibition Road. The 14, 49, 70, 74, 345, 414, 430 and C1 stop at South Kensington.  

By Car: *sigh*

Imperial Festival, Imperial College, London

On one level, you can see the Imperial Festival, when Imperial College London invites its alumni and the general public to come and see what research it has been doing lately, as just a series of fun activities for kids, albeit a LOT of activities, which are HUGE amounts of fun.

A scientist dips a hose funnelling dry ice fumes into washing up liquid
Fun! For everyone!

While we were there we stuck our hands into bowls of slimy snot; we had close up views of creepy crawlies such as a tarantula, some earthworms, a scorpion, and a giant millipede; we made water dance by rubbing the sides of a bowl; we crafted lollipop stick antibodies; we rode on a mechanical horse; we raced plastic tag boats powered by washing up liquid; we blow-painted pictures of our lungs; we set up dominoes and knocked them down to simulate a flu epidemic; we fished for good and bad bugs; we added to a chalk mural on the street; we used a xylophone to make slime dance; we extracted and admired our own DNA; we helped colour in a giant fresco; we fed computerised bacteria; we knitted arteries; we watched someone make bubbles out of frozen smoke.

And we certainly did not do all of the things on offer, but since they practically had to throw us out of the place about half an hour after the official ending of the event, that certainly wasn’t through lack of interest.

Children crafting lollipop antibodies
To the glitter glue table!

But the Imperial Festival is much more than that.

Swabbing the inside of your mouth to extract your own DNA
Budding scientists extract their own DNA

Magic, Mama thinks, is frustrating. The whole point of the tricks is that you don’t get to find out how it is done, and Mama hates this with a passion. Sense of wonderment? Bah. She says.

Science as done by the Imperial Festival, on the other hand, is great. This is because while the many many experiments, interactive demonstrations and straight explanations are, to Mama, pretty indistinguishable from magic at first glance, the whole point of them is to make the inexplicable, ‘splicable, and what is more there were actual researchers on hand she could quiz until she had total satisfaction. The activities were, in fact, well chosen to provide a gateway to the research and did indeed serve as excellent conversation starters for small people and big people alike.

Creepy crawlies in tanks
We spent hours looking at the bugs, and when I say we, I mean my Bestest Big Brother

Given the sheer variety of topics on offer, it would be virtually impossible for nothing to fire the imagination enough to inquire further.

My Bestest Big Brother got to ask people who actually know the answers questions about germs, a topic he has been plaguing Mama with recently. Meanwhile Mama found herself fascinated by the Bacterial Nanotechnology stand even if she did blot her copybook by asking what the point of spending fifteen years refining technology so that scientists could see the mechanisms by which bacteria propel themselves in ever clearer detail actually was. She did rather enjoy the fact that this showed signs of developing into a spirited discussion amongst the researchers manning the stall themselves though.

But the clear win for the Imperial Festival’s overall inspirational quality is that my Bestest Big Brother has been devising and conducting experiments or at least observations, frequently involving copious amounts of water (funny that), but sometimes designed to answer a question about animals, all week since.

In addition, while Mama did not do a headcount of girl researchers/ students vs boy researchers/ students, certainly any child attending this event would not for a moment get the impression that science and engineering are boys’ subjects.

Admittedly, you probably have to be a bit older than me to get the most out of it. I did not have a clue what was going on. But I still enjoyed it (once I’d had a nap). Water play, woohoo! Etc. Although I do not know why all the adults were smirking as I used my stick to push the boat across the bowl rather than whatever the heck they meant me to do. The thing moved! What more do you want?

Anyway. Basically, Mama fully intends to find out when next year’s Imperial Festival is on, and move heaven and earth to attend. She also plans to lobby Bestest Big Brother’s school about attending the pre-festival schools’ programme and sell it enthusiastically to anyone who has kids from about five upwards, and, in fact, anyone who doesn’t have kids too.

It ran into the lateish evening on the Friday, so adults should have a clear shot at the stalls without having to fight their way through a wall of small fascinated bodies. You could go on the tours round the labs and attend some talks too. Just don’t tell Mama, she’ll only be jealous.

A steampunkesque robot dragon
A GIANT RED ROBOT DRAGON!

If you need any more inducement, the food options were pretty good too, if a little dampened by showers and driving winds, with some extensively stocked stalls and a pop-up pub. While you are eating (or drinking) you can watch the belly dancers. Or listen to the band. Or the other band. Or the other other band. Or the choir. Or watch the street dancers. Or the dance theatre troupe. Plenty of uncomplicated entertainment. I bopped along. I cavorted. I got underfoot. I ate chips. Hours of fun.

Highly recommended. #ImpFest 2015 awaits. Go!

More Information

The Imperial Festival’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about what do scientists know anyway: systematic reviews and meta analysis.

Address: Imperial College, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, SW7 2AZ.

Opening: Friday 9th and Saturday 10th May 2014

Price: Free!

By tube: South Kensington (District, Circle and Piccadilly lines). There is a subway walk that runs directly from the station to the entrance to the campus.

By bus: The 360 stops right outside the campus. The 14, 49, 70, 74, 345, 414, 430 and C1 stop at South Kensington. The 9, 10, 52, 452 and 70 stop at the Royal Albert Hall (five minutes away). 

By car: Don’t bother. Mama says. Emphatically.

The Science Museum, London

We go to the Science Museum a lot. This is because Mama finds herself in South Kensington with me waiting around for my Fabulous Big Brother to be culturally and linguistically indoctrinated at his Russian school quite often. So when it’s raining she often takes me here on the grounds that some of the rooms are really big and there is plenty of space to run around. Of course, sometimes she takes me here when it is sunny too. This is because if you want to go to the Science Museum on a weekend, you can avoid some of the worst of the crowds by picking a time when everybody else will have gone to the park. Sadly there isn’t much you can do about the crush in the shorter school holidays, but luckily the children will probably still enjoy themselves. Mama says, resignedly.

Bicycles hanging over the entrance to the Science Museum
Welcome to the Science Museum, give us all your money now.

I really like the Space bit. It’s dark and mysterious with odd things dangling from the ceiling. One of the first things both my Fabulous Big Brother as a toddler and now I make a beeline for is the diorama on the left, mainly because it has that rarest of things, a step up specially so we of under average height can actually see it. Mama tells me it shows the launch of one of the first rockets EVAH but also that it is basically one big bomb. She is therefore a bit miffed that she cannot embellish our interest further with a nice improving story. Still, I also like the big revolving ball hanging, apparently, freely in thin air, where they project what Mama calls satellite images of different aspects of terrestrial life as seen from space. Mama is quite entranced by the one where everybody switches their lights on, one by one, all over the world. I just want to know how I can get it down and throw it around.

The moon landing vehicle at the Science Museum
Check out the big US flag!

Sometimes, usually when Papa is with us, we play hunt the Russian references. This is surprisingly difficult given that, Papa rants, the Russians did almost everything in space first. Except land on the moon, Papa! Interestingly, the moon landing apparatus happens to be one of the focal points of the whole room. What can you do? That big car is shiny shiny shiny!

The Science Museum display about Yuri Gagarin
The extensive first man in space display at the Science Museum.

We started spending less time in the room with all the cars, trains, boats and weaving looms after I learned to walk. Mama was told off once too often for letting me touch the machinery. This is a great shame as I love machinery, and the plinths are at a very inviting height for exploring toddlers. They have even added a bit of exciting challenge in the flimsy string barrier, a challenge I was more than happy to take up. I recommend sliding underneath. Or flinging yourself wildly over the top.

The Making the Modern World gallery at the Science Museum
That is NOT the first steam engine.

Nowadays  I make sure to rush Mama past it, partly because I know about the play area on the other side and partly because if I stand still for long enough, Mama will yet again tell me how although the centrally placed Rocket is the most famous early steam locomotive, it wasn’t the first. The first one is over there, shoved out of the way in a corner. Which is, in its way, also significant. But then this will cause her to segue into a rant about how, whilst she, the early modern specialist with time to spare as she waited to see if I would get to touch the early Ford before the guard rugby tackled me or not, has given considerable thought to why each of the items in the room is there, she does feel that there could be a little more focus in the room itself as to the importance of the items on display and their placement.

This is why Mama needs me and my Fabulous Big Brother around to entertain her in such places, I say. Also, when would she have the chance to read explanatory placarding these days anyway?

Sometimes Mama takes me upstairs, especially when the Museum has a temporary exhibition on. She may be sniffy about what the website calls the ‘objects rich’ galleries (hahahaha. Oh deary me. Mama says) but some of the Science Museum’s exhibits in passing are as whacky as anything you find in the Tate Modern and considerably more grounded in something inherently interesting. Mama thinks.

Her favourite of recent times was the anatomy of an orchestra they put on, which led to strains of the Planet Suite by Holst randomly echoing round the ground floor. Mama enjoyed very much the experience of going through different ‘rooms’ and sitting with different sections of the orchestra, listening to the music from each instrument’s point of view. There were also some interactive elements, but Mama couldn’t get the hang of conducting and so we went and sat in the bass section so Mama could relive her youth playing in the coolest section of the orchestra. Until the school party in the percussion section got their hands on the drums, symbols, more drums, more symbols and a few more drums and really let fly right in the middle of the war section, startling me something wicked. Oh how I cried and clung to Mama as she hastened out of there, her hands over my ears. Still, also an authentic experience, Mama says. The brass section in particular were invented to deafen the basses.

Also somewhere on the upper floors is a play area for older children called the Launch Pad  with all sorts of hands on activities with a vague connection to something scientific. Mama does not like this area. It is absolutely heaving with large bodies and she has no hope of keeping an eye on both me and my Fabulous Big Brother at the same time. Especially as I can’t reach anything and just want to run around getting underfoot. There are plenty of buttons to push and computer screens to stare at and stab elsewhere up there though, even if the point of the displays does rather escape me, and it is well worth having a stroll around.

But the highlight of the Science Museum from my point of view are the two interactive areas for the under tens. Mama is a bit trepidatious about the one called the Garden. This is a secret play area, secret because the signage in the museum is a bit coy and unless you know what the Garden is you would probably never go down to the basement there and find out. All that’s there apart from the Garden is the picnic area for schools, a small coffee shop, some lecture theatres and the domestic appliances exhibition, which is almost always deserted. This is a shame, Mama feels. Early models of washing machines she can get quite enthusiastic about without further prompting, especially as there are more buttons to push so you can watch them spinning around. And the coffee shop is usually uncroweded and serves, well, it serves coffee. What more do you want? Anyway. The Garden. Yes, well, the thing about the Garden is that somebody decided that a really extensive and engrossing water section would be a good idea and when she first took my Fabulous Big Brother there, all unsuspecting like, Mama ended up having to hold him under the hand dryer in the toilets for forty five minutes to get him dry again. Nowadays we don’t go there unless it’s a really sunny day or Mama has bought a spare set of clothes because I, too, love splashing about in water with no regard for my clothing whatsoever.

Water play at the Science Museum
Those orange overalls do not protect clothes as well as you might think.

There’s also a bit where the Science Museum has decided to teach us about the futility and repetitive nature of our future lives as working stiffs, where we load up a wheelbarrow with bean bags, haul them up in a pulley driven bucket, slide them down a shute, load up the wheelbarrow again, fill up the bucket, tip them down the shute, load up the wheelbarrow… Mama seems surprised by how popular this is, but she clearly doesn’t know how thrilling it is to organise your minions into a smoothly operating machine, all doing exactly what you say and keeping you well supplied with all the bean bags you can eat.

The rest of the Garden pales into insignificance beside these two bits of equipment, but then we have plenty of big lego at home. Mama enjoys hitting the sound making objects, so I usually indulge her a bit in that, and less energetic children might enjoy the den with the soft toys or the self service puppet theatre.

The Pattern Pod is another play area for younger visitors on the ground floor just beyond Mama’s favourite Modern World extravaganza. When it’s not too busy and you can get a decent go on all of the equipment it is GREAT but that’s really only happened once or twice. I really like trying to catch the projected fish in the projected fish pool on the floor which RIPPLES WHEN YOU JUMP ON IT (finally, says Mama, water play which does not involve any dampness!), and putting ‘seed’ tiles into slots to make different patterns grow on the walls. I will also spend hours putting different geometric shapes together to make aeroplanes. But the best bit is the dancing room. They play you music, you bop around and your picture appears on the wall overlayed with different psychedelic effects. Even Mama wanted to have a go at that but she’s too big – the image is just one big blur. My height is perfect, which is not a sentence you get to type about museums on a regular basis.

The Pattern Pod at the Science Museum
It could be 1960 all over again.

Mama’s only reservation about the Pattern Pod, aside from a big sulk about her size not being adequately catered for, is that there are two exits, and she maintains that her paranoia about not being able to keep both of us under full surveillance when it is busy and one of us leaving from the other one and getting lost is perfectly reasonable, even though we have never shown the least inclination to do such a thing so far. There is a place to park pushchairs in both the Garden and the Pattern Pod, so at least Mama is free to chase after us unencumbered should she need to, for which she is duly thankful.

There are, of course, cafés. The one in the basement is always surprisingly quiet, and so is definitely worth a visit if a fix of caffeine and cake is all your big people need. Mama’s other favourite is called the Energy Café. It’s in the first gallery, the one with all the early steam engines, the ones that weren’t used for locomotives. Mama loves that they have the biggest one working at weekends (and holidays?) so much that she sometimes pops in just for that. It’s something about the noise, she says, and the smell, all hot oil and metal. In the cafe, Mama recommends the generous salad plate, which I like a good nibble off too. And the coffee is ok. She says. You have to play hunt the child high chair a bit sometimes, but now that I am bigger and spurn high chairs, this is less of an issue. The restaurant at the back of the ground floor we haven’t been to. But it is very blue and luminous, which looks lovely.

The Science Museum is huge and has a huge variety of different exhibits which we have only really scratched the surface of, despite our many visits. The top floors have a lot more for the bigger kids, and when we have my Fabulous Big Brother with us again, I suspect we will be spending more and more time up there. There are also a lot of shows and 3D film experiences and so on and I can see from her longing looks at the posters that Mama is just itching for us to grow up a bit so she can go to all of them. As is it is, I highly recommend the Science Museum for really young kids for the play areas alone. But those are not the only reasons I like it, and I am always happy to go, to the extent of gesticulating wildly in its general direction if Mama tries to nip past it to go and look at dinosaurs.

For example.

More Information

The Science Museum’s  every daywebsite.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about the first manned space flight.

Address: Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD.

Opening: 10.00 – 18.00 every day.

Admission: Free

By Tube: South Kensington (District, Circle and Piccadilly lines). There is a subway walk that runs directly from the station to the museum entrance.

By Bus: The 360 stops right outside the museum. The 14, 49, 70, 74, 345, 414, 430 and C1 stop at South Kensington. The 9, 10, 52, 452 and 70 stop at the Royal Albert Hall (five minutes away). 

By Car: No. Nonononononono. NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

The success of the recent(ish) Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts can probably be summed up by my reaction to the first installation we came across.

I stopped short and breathed WOW! in an awed voice.

 A huge squareish wooden War of the Worlds alien dominating what in the normal run of things is a very classically proportioned room

Well, you would wouldn’t you? A huge square wooden War of the Worlds alien, dominating what in the normal run of things is a very classically proportioned room, complete with gold angel trimmings? It was impressive stuff, especially when it turned out you could scramble up and down twisty steps in the legs or run up and down a series of shallow ramps to get into the box on top and squint though slits at the punters below or the ceiling mouldings above.

We did that a lot. I do like a good staircase. My Wonderful Big Brother liked the ramps. Mama liked the spy holes. Something for everyone.

We also approved of the room with the tunnel of straws. Of course, manual dexterity is not really my Wonderful Big Brother’s thing, so he didn’t really get involved in the suggested activity of adding our own creations made from long coloured plastic tubes. And I would have preferred removing the fruit of the other visitors’ labour. But it was nice to be able to touch something so visually attractive and tactile, and nice to see the many many adults’ little faces all lit up as they all threw themselves enthusiastically into the crafting opportunity.

Adults adding brightly coloured straws to a plastic honeycomb tunnel

Next up was dashing around a stick-walled maze, interspersed with lots of little wooden wendyhouse type rooms for us to explore. At its heart was a pebble room, which made truly satisfying crunchy noises as we stomped around it. We spent quite a bit of time in there building cairns. Just like being at the beach! Without all the inconvenience of being boiled by the relentless sun, covered in eye-stinging sunscreen, getting sticky from ice cream, or having to deal with all that salty wet stuff. Mama definitely approved, and wonders why more playgrounds don’t replace the unpleasantly gritty sandpit with a nice pebble box instead.

A pile of pebbles at the Royal Academy

Not everything was to our taste. There was an exhibit which mostly involved standing still and looking up rather than whizzing around and touching stuff which we were less impressed by although the big people seemed entranced. And while Mama LOVED the dark rooms with the mysteriously lit thin sticks we all thought looked like fire, I found it positively frightening  refusing to let her into the second part altogether, and my Wonderful Big Brother lost interest when he realised he wasn’t allowed to fling himself into the middle of the flames.

Thin bamboo sticks twisted into flames and lit up in the dark

 

But overall it was by far the most interesting high art experience Mama has dragged us off to, and it’s a shame she can’t recommend it because it has now closed, and the various exhibits sold off.

There is a wider point Mama wants to make here though.

The reason we went to this exhibition in the first place was because the RA had made an effort to market it at parents and their children, going so far as to host a get together of Brit Mums bloggers in their cafe (with the opportunity to go round Sensing Spaces for free afterwards). The reason why we went back with my Wonderful Big Brother in tow and paid actual money to get in was because Mama was impressed on this visit by the staffs’ genuine commitment and enthusiasm for getting the kids in and letting them have at it, and damn the noise and sticky fingers. Even the doorman was jolly.

Admittedly, this sort of attitude did encourage all the many many kids who were subsequently taken along to Sensing Spaces to think of the exhibition as a playground, and so the whole experience was a tad confusing as we were all were alternately encouraged to get stuck in and then sharply pulled up when we did, nearly bowling over an elderly art patron or shattering a large mirror in the process. As a result, the air did rather ring with desperate cries of ‘Not quite THAT fast/ loud/ energetically, honeypie!’ as the exhibition did rather too good a job of stimulating us. Mama also wondered if the non-children-encumbered patrons were enjoying the chaos as much. But the atmosphere seemed pretty good humoured, and our enthusiasm certainly got a lot of amused glances. She is forced to conclude that perhaps everybody was secretly delighted by the opportunity to wreak a bit of havoc in an art gallery.

Long colourful straws inserted into a plastic honeycomb tunnel

Anyway. Mama thinks the Royal Academy might be worth keeping an eye on. It’s a wrench, of course, to part with a full £14 in a city where there is so much free stuff to enjoy, but certainly the next time they say their latest offering is child-friendly, then we should probably believe them. And if they say it often enough, there are membership options to consider. Just leave the pushchairs at home. There isn’t room in the cloakroom.

More Information

The Royal Academy of Arts’ website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the world’s most beautiful buildings.

Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD.

Opening: Sat to Thurs 10am -6pm, Fri 10am -10pm.

Price: This exhibition was £14 for adults, under 17s free.

By tube: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines) and Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines). 

By bus: Lots of buses!

By car: Just don’t.

The Tate Modern, London

The Tate Modern art gallery is housed in an abandoned power station on London’s South Bank. Appropriately for a modern art gallery, says Mama rudely, it is a rather ugly abandoned power station.

Not everybody agrees with her about this though.

The excellent thing about the Tate Modern is that it is a bit of a walk to get there from Waterloo Station, which is where Mama starts out. Like the preschooler version of my Amazing Big Brother before me, I need to burn off a lot of energy before I can be expected to behave with any kind of decorum. So Mama considers the twenty minute ramble along the South Bank the perfect prelude to solemn attention to cultural artifacts. She rarely managed to reach the appropriate point of exhaustion with my Amazing Big Brother, but it doesn’t stop her trying the same tactic with me.

It also means that Mama feels better about the fact the she will be strapping me as securely as possible into the pushchair once we get to the gallery because one of the downsides of the Tate Modern is that it shares with the V&A the unfortunate habit of dotting sculptures well within toddler grasp throughout the gallery. Mama is particularly afraid that some of the installations consisting of seemingly random stuff, separated from the public only by a flimsy piece of string, will be rearranged by small enthusiastic hands. While she darkly suspects that no-one but the artist would notice, she doesn’t really want to find this out for sure. She is particularly adamant about this now that a less determined Mama has become something of an internet sensation for having a toddler similarly enthusiastic about the hands on opportunities in the gallery. And the Telegraph newspaper has launched a debate about whether nasty sticky children like me should be allowed out in public as a result.

A collection of things stuck to paper

The paintings and such make about as much sense to me as the exhibits in all the other museums and art galleries which Mama takes me to, which is to say, not much, but in the Tate Modern I am not alone in my lack of understanding. I can, nevertheless, get quite excited about some of the larger, brighter, splashier pictures, and if they are having a performance art session, as they were in the Turbine Gallery when I was there first, I will join in with enthusiasm. People wandering about almost indistinguishable from the little knots of punters in amongst them? Who occasionally start to do things in concert like walk, jog and finally run up and down the hall? Or chant? Bring it on. I will get underfeet chasing my (very small) football and Mama will assume that is perfectly ok. It is, in fact, what the artist intended to happen. She hopes.

A child's drawing of their family

Mama also enjoys the exhibits in a cheerful sort of what the heck spirit. She was particularly thrilled to once take part in a survey conducted on behalf of the Centre for Physic Research conducted by your actual mediums, telepaths and other psychic experts. She has no idea what this had to do with art, except that she half expects that the whole thing was some kind of pre-installation and she will be in a gallery one day and see herself on film, her delighted smile as she is questioned minutely on her philosophy and honesty expressing a profound something or other about something else in the exhibition notes. She suspects they may have edited out my disinterested but determined attempts to escape the pushchair half way though.

Thumb prinnts turned into pictures of animals

My Amazing Big Brother also has something of a mixed reaction to the exhibits. When we were last there, he very much enjoyed a film in which a woman flung paper letters randomly around in a variety of very scenic locations. Mama thinks this is because a) it was TV, and TV is definitely my Amazing Big Brother’s preferred medium, b) because it perfectly expressed his baffled feelings about trying to learn to read and write, and c) it resembled some of the more obscure Soviet cartoons my Amazing Big Brother and I are being brought up on.

Paint splodges

On the other hand, he HATED the room filled with architectural prints. I know this because he said THIS IS VERY BORING at the top of his voice after a couple of minutes. Caught unawares, the attendant nodded heartily before being recalled to where he was. It’s nice to know one’s artistic sensibilities are shared.

The sun made out of painted pumpkin seeds

Mama eventually went on the attack with questions. How did the artist feel when they made these wild splodges of red on a wall-covering canvas? (My Amazing Big Brother: happy. Mama: very very angry. They agreed to differ. Suspiciously). What is that made of? (A particular obsession at the time, and which resulted in long discussions about the precise manufacturing process of plastic vs wood. Mama is easily distracted and my Amazing Big Brother is not above exploiting this). Why did this artist get someone to take a series of photos of him throwing his clothes off a roof? (Not one clue between the two of them). What shape is that? (Much tilting of heads sideways and doubtful expressions all round). Which sculpture do you like best? (The one that looks indistinguishable from a tree. Mama wonders why she bothers).

A child's chalk drawing of people

Still, Mama reckons that one floor per visit is probably plenty of culture for everybody for one day. In good weather you can then let off steam by running around outside, where there is plenty of room and a van selling coffee, but there is a play area inside the Tate Modern itself too for those less clement days. We spent what Mama considered to be a surprising amount of time in it considering that it consists of a rather tame slide, which, Mama, for your information also makes noises, a small wendy house, with KNOBBLY BITS on the outside and MIRRORS inside Mama, and a large artificial… apple, but then she wasn’t the one who had had to exercise extreme restraint in the face of massive tactile temptation for the last hour or so. Mama also recommends the huge Turbine Gallery in damp weather. You can sit and eat your sandwiches on the giant sized steps there and if there isn’t anything else going on, my Amazing Big Brother and I recommend rolling down the gentle incline from the main entrance to the main floor. You may find, like us, that a gaggle of art students mistake it for an exhibition and join in. It’s astonishing that no-one has offered us $10 million to come back.

A variety of things stick to paper

Even in the holidays the Tate Modern’s sheer size means that with the exception of the indoor cafes and the lifts it doesn’t get too busy. Never ever refuse to get on a lift at the Tate Modern just because it is going down when you want to go up is Mama’s advice. For some reason, despite the fact that there are six cubicles, you will stand there for 20 minutes waiting for the next one to stop at your floor.

Anyway. The Tate Modern isn’t a bad place to while away a damp few hours for adults and has a better than average chance of offering some art that kids might actually enjoy looking at. But not touching. No hands. NO HANDS. No, don’t lie down there. Eeek! Don’t step on that! Don’t… oh, ok, that’s a fire extinguisher. Says Mama.

More information

The Tate Modern’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about bluffing your way through an art gallery.

Address: Bankside, London SE1 9TG

Opening: Sun-Thurs 10-18.00, Fri-Sat 10-22.00.

Price: Admission is free.

By tube/ train: Waterloo station is a fifteen to twenty minute walk down the river Thames. Southwark (Jubilee line), Blackfriers (District and Circle lines), St Paul’s (Central line) and London Bridge (Overland) are nearer.

By bus: Routes 45, 63, 100, RV1, 381 and 344 stop nearby.

By boat: You can get a boat between the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain and vice versa should you so wish.

By car: Even the gallery website says this would be an unwise transportation choice.

 

Battersea Park, London

Battersea Park is a riverside park in the South West of London, just across a bridge from such attractions as Chelsea, Kings Road, the Royal Hospital and the National Army Museum. It is an excellent place to while away time with a toddler, or a toddler and her Tremendous Big Brother because there are so many different sections to explore – it’s not a large heath-like affair full of grass like many of the other open spaces in the area. Not that I mind that. One footpath is much like another to me, and as long as there are blades of grass to examine, dog poo to pick up, leaves to throw around, sticks to collect, ducks to feed and dogs to greet I am really not that bothered. But the sense of exploration Battersea Park provides seems to make Mama happy, so that’s good enough for me.

The bandstand at Battersea Park

One of Mama’s favourite areas is the Tea Garden, where there is a small kiosk that serves coffee. Mama often tries to arrange it so that should we be alone, I am asleep when we get here and she can relax in whatever sunshine is available in peace. Or at least as much peace is afforded by the numerous dog walkers who frequent the park and who also like to restore their nerves with refreshment here, meaning that there are quite a lot of bouncy animals snuffling, barking and occasionally fighting all around me. I usually only wake up, however, if they come and investigate what we have brought as our picnic lunch, which is unfortunately rather more often than Mama would like. The problem is that Battersea Park is near Battersea Dogs (and Cats) Home, and so in addition to the quite startling numbers of dog owners and professional dog sitters who use the park, there are also hordes of former strays being exercised.

View of Battersea Powerstation from Battersea Park

Not that this bothers me or my Tremendous Big Brother one little bit. Animal obsessed at the best of times, dogs are my Tremendous Big Brother’s absolute favourite and it is impossible for him to walk past a pooch without saying hello. I am much the same, although less prone to running madly towards them with my arms out shrieking my happiness as my Tremendous Big Brother was at my age, for which Mama is duly thankful. Mama’s blood pressure is also improved by the fact that my Tremendous Big Brother has learned to strike up a conversation with dog owners these days before diving in for the touch. Mama is particularly impressed by the social skill he displays in starting off such encounters with ‘What’s your dog’s name?’ rather than ‘Can I stroke your dog?’ (that’s his second question). He rarely listens to the answer but it is astonishing how many people will let him throw the ball as well as hug their pet if he pretends to take an interest in the animal as, like, an individual first.

Still, Mama is torn between being grateful that Battersea Park provides us with an opportunity to indulge our passion and practise our schmoozing skills, and irritation at the sheer inconvenience of having to stop every five yards to pet some mutt. Not to mention that she suspects that every encounter increases the likelihood that she will have to let us get a dog at some point in the future.

Mama is not a dog person.

But back to the Tea Garden. The reason why Mama likes this bit of the park so much is that it reminds her powerfully of parks in Moscow. 1950s design. It grows on you. Lots of sculptures made of metal strips painted in bright colours, including the gazebos over the tea garden tables. There are also fountains, quite spectacular ones, with timed and ever-changing displays of water fireworks. In the summer. We are even allowed to look at them close up when Mama is feeling particularly optimistic that I won’t fling myself into the water like my Tremendous Big Brother did once when he was little. The whole section is overlooked by the Peace Pagoda, which is a Buddhist temple inexplicably plumped in the middle of the riverside walk. Mama says. It certainly has very pointy roofs. The river walk itself is a bit boring – you can’t see the river from down at my eyeline, but the paths are nice and wide there so it is good for letting off a bit of running steam. Many people ride around on bikes in this area. You can hire them, Mama says. I think the ones where you lie down and pedal look like fun, but Mama says, when we are bigger. When we can pedal and she can lie, I think she muttered, but surely that is wrong?

Pavilions at the tea garden at Battersea Park

Another of Mama’s favourite places is the walled English garden, which has been overhauled recently by what appears to be a community gardening project. Mama has a secret yen for a walled garden of her own, and this is a lovely secluded spot to take a sleeping child if you are not as coffee obsessed as Mama. It is a bit overrun by pigeons, because people eat their lunch here and someone has hung bird feeders in the trees, but I don’t mind that one little bit. I like chasing pigeons. In fact, the only reason why we don’t spend more time here is that there is a sunken pond in the middle, which Mama doesn’t really fancy fishing me out of as I fail to skid to a stop in time while after a particularly rascally bird.

Mama is really against open water features in public parks.

So when I am awake, we mostly head out for a walk around the big lake, which might sound even more fraught with peril except that most of it is decently fenced off. There is a café at one end which Mama rather likes, run by genuine Italians. The prices are a bit silly, but the coffee is excellent and they also do pistachio ice cream as well as rather more reasonably priced children’s food which doesn’t just consist of chips with more chips on the side. You can even take it outside to sit by the lake, although beware of the pigeons, who will swoop on your food the moment you leave it alone for a second. Mama says, speaking from bitter experience. I, of course, like the pigeons. Chasing them, at least. You can hire boats here too in the high season, but we never have. Mama feels this would be tempting fate.

At the other end of the lake, Mama has fond memories of spending very happy summer afternoons in the tropical plants enclosure with my Tremendous Big Brother (before he could walk). There’s nothing quite like picnicking under a palm tree. Especially when the man who plays the saxophone all afternoon for, apparently, the sheer hell of it is in residence. Nowadays we mostly go there to feed the ducks, who are gratifyingly excited to see us, as are the swans, the coots, the moorhens, the parrots and, on occasion, the herons and the rats. Mama figures we are mostly static and wholly occupied and therefore less likely to plunge into the water, but nevertheless we usually do it last so she can head briskly for home if a quick change of a sodden child is needed.

Mama is really really against open water features in public parks. Also, a little paranoid.

There is also a playground nearby the playing fields and tennis courts which has different zones for different age groups. We start off in the toddler section, spend an inexplicably long time exploring the pirate ship and work our way round to the new enclosure with the really big slides and walkways. Mama really enjoys standing underneath those with her arms outstretched smiling brightly as I clamber around equipment five times too big for me. Especially when it is busy, which it invariably is at weekends when the sun is out. My Tremendous Big Brother also loves it. He always makes new friends. It is astonishing how quickly a group of five to tens can go cheerfully feral when given sufficient space and something to climb. Mama says. In good weather Mama finds lots of opportunities to spend money here too, which is nice for her. An ice cream van turns up, they lay on a Thomas the Tank Engine ride, and there is a large refreshment van. Which sells coffee. This is also the area they have the fun fair in the school holidays.

Anyway. Battersea Park is a really excellent place whether you want an interesting walk, a pleasant sit down, a game of football, or a long go on a swing and slide set. It is big enough to absorb quite a lot of people without feeling stupidly crowded, and! There is also a zoo in the middle.

But that is a post for another day.

The Festival Gardens at Battersea Park

More Information

The Friends of Battersea Park website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about teaching dogs basic commands.

Address: Battersea Park, Wandsworth, London, SW11 4NJ

Opening: Officially, 8am to dusk.

Price: The park is free to enter.

By train: Battersea Park Station and Queenstown Road Station are within 300m.

By bus: Routes 19, 44, 49, 137, 156, 239, 319, 344, 345, 452 all go by or near the park.

By car: There are a couple of smallish pay and display carparks within the park, and more on the roads round the park. The pay and display road parking is free on Sundays.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert, generally known as the V&A, presumably, Mama says, because the owners don’t want to have to keep explaining that Albert is not another name for David or something, is a design museum with somewhat the same remit as the British Museum. The difference is, whereas the Stuff in the British Museum is significant, the Stuff in the V&A is pretty. Plus, there are more dresses.

The V&A front enterance

Mama likes it a lot. However, the problem with it as a venue for the younger set is that many of their display cases start at adult waist height, which is no good to me, while at the same time they also have a habit of putting things like large 3000 year-old sculptures in the shape of a dragon just asking to be stroked on the floor at toddler height.

You are not supposed to stroke them.

Mama knows this because when my Wonderful Big Brother did, back when he was even younger than me, she saw, out of the corner of her eye, two museum personnel wince dramatically.

This recalled her to sanity; she’d been spending so little time in big people space that up until then she had half assumed that nobody would put a sculpture on the floor if they didn’t expect a bit of small person handling. She whisked my Wonderful Big Brother away but unfortunately she chose the sculpture gallery to retreat to. After he then tried to play hide and seek amongst the rather flimsy plinths holding busts and small figurines (again, too high up for a little ’un to really appreciate, so… you make your own fun), Mama left the building and didn’t return for quite some time. Especially after a head by Rodin had actually wobbled on its stand. Time stood still for Mama that day, I can tell you.

Funnily enough the very first thing I headed for the very first time she let me off the leash inside were the exciting columny things, which I then prceeded to dance excitedly around, just outside easy grabbing reach. I even targeted the same artist!

At least we have taste!!! Mama says, somewhat hysterically.

My Wonderful Big Brother has since matured, Mama has learned to keep a firm hand on my collar, and searching for interesting animal knick knacks has become a profitable pastime. The section devoted to the Indian subcontinent is particularly excellent for this. We also really like the writhing glass tentacles and colourful dangling planet sculpture in the front entrance hall. But Mama fears for the impressive Persian rug if our muddy feet should stray on it, and is not thrilled by the way we beg passers-by for coins to throw in the fountain just off the entrance foyer, so all in all she recommends basically that the whole of the ground floor is not one to linger on unless you are planning to visit the coffee shop. Mama sneaks in there quite often when I am asleep. The coffee, Mama thinks, is vastly over-priced and so are their scones, but on the other hand you can choose between drinking it in the outdoor courtyard surrounded by the rather splendid building facades or drinking it in the large rooms where the walls are amazingly beautiful old patterned tiles.

One of the beautiful buildings in the courtyard of the V&A

When I am awake Mama heads for the lifts. If you go up to the very top floor there are a series of rooms which Mama thinks must actually be a glorified store for surplus ceramics. All the decorative plates, figurines, pots and tiles you could possibly want from all areas and all eras and as the cases are floor to nearly ceiling I can actually see them! And it’s all behind glass! Mama invariably breathes a sigh of relief and lets me gallop up and down the aisles to my hearts content as there aren’t many people up here usually either. Just don’t go round the corner to the furniture gallery. It may look like a living room, but it isn’t because you aren’t allowed to sit on anything. Or fiddle with the interesting little lights spotlighting the chair-shaped art. Apparently.

Ceramics at the V&A

The middle couple of floors are much more touchy feely. There are telephones! I haven’t found Papa on the other end yet, which is odd because it’s usually him on the one at home, but some of the music they play while they are looking for him is fun. There are also drawers you can open and close and open and close and, look, more drawers to open and close and open and close. They have stuff in them, but that’s not the point, of course. Mama appreciates the drawers greatly. She can have a rare moment of actually looking at the exhibits while I am otherwise occupied and relatively static.

Drawers at the V&A

If you fancy a sit down, they show films on these levels too. Oddly they are not in colour and everyone walks around very quickly. Mama says they are films of everyday life from a place called ‘over 100 years ago’. She finds them quite fascinating. So do I – the women have princessy sort of dresses and there are loads of horses. I will move there when I am bigger. Mama says the laws of physics might have something to say about that, but I am half Russian and most laws do not apply to me so I do not foresee any problems there. You can also find areas specially for small people, and although clearly they can’t compare to the drawers, I do enjoy the building blocks, which gives Mama a sneaky chance to get stuck into the dressing up. Sometimes Mama also amuses herself by going on a hunt for the mythical music room. She hasn’t found it yet – presumably it is only in the building every second Thursday when the moon is in the final quarter or something.

Anyway. Overall, the V&A is not the most restful of venues for those toddler Mama’s out there due to the need for constant vigilance to ensure that no priceless bits of artwork are destroyed by small questing hands, but there is plenty to see and the refreshment area is superior.

More information

The Victoria and Albert Museum website.

Here’s what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about the Functions of Chairs in the 20th Century.

Address: Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL

Opening: 10am to 5.45pm daily, with opening to 10pm on Fridays.

Price: Admission is free.

By Tube: South Kensington is is about five minutes walk. Piccadilly, Circle and District lines.

By Bus: The C1, 14, 74, 414 routes stop right outside, as do tour buses.

By Car: Seriously?

SEA LIFE London Aquarium

It took Mama three years to get around to taking us to the London SEALIFE Aquarium the first time, which is odd given how fish-adoring my Incomparable Big Brother is. She says it is because the aquarium is something called ex-pen-sive. But there she was, practically about to give birth to me at any moment, feeling sorry for my Incomparable Big Brother, who was about to be thoroughly displaced a king of all he surveyed by a small smelly little sister. Mama thought. So off we went. Funnily enough I do not remember much about that visit. I have been since, though, and I can tell you that the London SEALIFE Aquarium is worth the money. And if you can visit often, the yearly membership is not as outrageous as you would expect from the one-off entrance fee. Mama says.

green_sea_turtle_rgb

Mama thinks the creators of this big fishy extravaganza have been very clever. Faced with a relatively small plot of land, they have dug down and built the place on the vertical. Admittedly this means that they milk the huge shark tank and the enormous giant turtle tank for all they are worth – you go up a level, round a corner and think you are going to look at something new, but actually it’s just the same old fish bowl from another angle. However, they are correct that this doesn’t really matter. My Incomparable Big Brother  and I are quite capable of spending the entire evening staring gormlessly at the two goldfish and four snails we have at home going round and round in only a few centimetres of water. We can be entranced by the rather larger, more exotic circles made by the diverse creatures in the London SEALIFE Aquarium again and again and again and for much much longer.

Well, my Incomparable Big Brother is. He really does like fish. And sharks. And turtles. And cats. And dogs. And mice. And snakes. And birds, and worms, and bees, and spiders, and pigs and cows and sheep and goats and zebras and tigers and elephants and… look, he pretty much likes any and all animals to a quite obsessional degree.

But calling the London SEALIFE Aquarium a two tank pony is a bit rude of Mama too, I reckon. There are plenty of other glass fish boxes with the smaller or, in the case of the piranhas, vicious exhibits in them leading up to and away from the showstoppers. Plus penguins! Penguins I tell you! And a small crocodile. And even a special tank you can lean over and absolutely not stroke some rays. Or, in the case of Mama, eye up the plaice that also occupy that space speculatively. Mama enjoys cooking fish.

I like taking things apart. Papa has taped down the lid of the aquarium at home because I was looking like I would be in there disassembling the really cool bubble making machine as soon as his back was turned. Or possibly the fish. So although I really enjoyed the tanks with the brightly coloured tropical fish, and the ones with the boiling masses of small turtles banging up against the glass, and naturally I relished the opportunity to stick my hand in the water and try to grab hold of a starfish in the actual handling tanks, I get quite restless and start looking for the plug was when all that is on offer is a large grey toothy predator lazing around in the middle distance.

It is for this reason that Mama recommends a sling or a pushchair for active toddlers. The London SEALIFE Aquarium is dark, full of twisty passages and lots of people and if you are in any doubt about your young’s ability to stick close and come when called, you really want them strapped in somewhere accessible. She says. Adult chest height is best I say, because the aquarium is one of those places which take insufficient account of the eyeline of people in pushchairs.

Mama also thinks it is genius that the aquarium plays really soothing music… really soothing… soothing… mmmmmmmzzzzzzzzzzzzz… all the way round. Even the most energetic of small people are reduced to a zombielike calm by the time they leave the place, for which Mamas and Papas should be duly thankful. Except that what it is really for is inducing a hypnotic state of extreme suggestibility in the big people, so that when the family pops up into the sunlight and the shop, every time the children, who shake off the spell much quicker than the adults when faced with brightly coloured tactile shiny STUFF, demand ‘I want…’ the parents ask ‘how high?’ Certainly works on Mama. My Incomparable Big Brother and I have scored bendy sharks, a snake and a pot of miscellaneous underwater creatures on our visits. Result!

The one major sacrifice the London SEALIFE Aquarium constructors have made to the finding the space in London problem is to not include a café. Or any other kind of food consumption area. They even discourage you from munching your sandwiches in front of the tanks. Now, they will let you in and out as many times as you want, and there are plenty of food outlets and a park nearby. But basically Mama recommends that you either feed up before you go in for a long afternoon, or arrive smartly after breakfast because the aquarium, while not quite suitable for a whole day’s adventuring, is certainly a long half day’s worth of outing, and you don’t want to schlep all the way back through the winding corridors, eat, and then trudge back again only to discover that there are just two more small tanks and the shop to go. Not that that has happened to Mama ever.

Should you be wanting to make a day of it, do not fear. The London Eye is just outside although it’s not an eye at all but a socking great wheel carrying people up and over the Thames with excellent views of the nearby gothic splendour of something called the Houses of Parliament and beyond. Who Parliament is and what she does and why she needs more than one house sounds interesting given the architecture she has chosen to live in but Mama says no, not really, more infuriating and don’t get her started. Either way you can get deals on tickets for both the Eye and the Aquarium. Not that we have. They are not that great deals. Mama says. Although she has been collecting cereal packets with a gleam in her eye lately so perhaps they are particularly easy to turn into pounds. I look forward to that day’s craft project.

But if you don’t have any badly cut out bits of cardboard with you or have just blown what is left of the ents budget on some Happy Meals and a plastic turtle, the river is right there and available to be sauntered along free of charge so generally that’s what we do. If you turn right as you go out you’ll be on the run up to the South Bank Centre, where there is a whole avenue of people in costumes standing on boxes who will dance if you throw small round bits of metal at them. Which someone (not us) always does. They joys of being in tourist land. If you go a bit further up you can watch people attempt to jump improbable concrete barriers on planks of wood with a few wheels attached. Why, my brother and I wonder. Mama says we’ll probably find out when we turn thirteen or so.

Anyway. Go to the London SEALIFE Aquarium. It’s great. Just don’t expect any good coffee, take lots of the folding paper Mama seems to like so much, and don’t let any toddlers stick their hands in with the bitey fish.

More Information

SEA LIFE London Aquarium’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about fish.

Address: County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB

Opening: Monday to Sunday 10:00 to 19:00 (slightly longer in the school holidays)

Price: Adults £25.20 Children over 3: £19.50 Family (2 adults/ 2 children) £85 (there’s a discount if you book online and if you go after 3pm and you get some perks with the family ticket). Mama highly recommends looking out for 2:4:1 offers at the supermarket.

By tube/ train: The nearest station is Waterloo, although Charing Cross and Westminster tube station are also within walking distance.

By bus: Loads of buses stop at Waterloo, and the Aquarium is on the sightseeing bus routes too.

By car: No.

The British Museum, London

The British Museum makes Papa and Babushka laugh a lot. They walk around, look at the frankly astonishing amount of stuff from a ridiculously large number of countries and snigger about how hoseistvenii the British are. Being hoseistvenii, translated from the Russian not particularly well by my Mama, is connected to the idea of being a home-maker, a sense of ownership and playing the host, and whenever Papa makes this comment, which he does whenever these sorts of places are mentioned, Mama always imagines the British Museum as a sort of national mantelpiece upon which all the items brought back by people who would nick anything not actively nailed down as a souvenir of their holidays are beautifully arranged as conversation pieces for dinner parties.

The Elgin Marbles

The British Museum always makes Mama feel slightly guilty, and not just because she comes from a nation of tea leaves. She thinks she ought to understand the significance of what she is seeing more. For example, she once took a whole course at university which she calls the appreciation of pots module and which everybody else calls ancient history, and briefly she actually knew the difference between black figures on a red background and red figures on a black background in the GrecoRoman displays. Unfortunately, somewhere in the last twenty years or so she has forgotten it all, and is now forced to fall back on appreciating the aesthetic beauty of the objects. This is not Mama’s skill. She really should take a tour or something, but probably not when I am about. I take a lot of looking after in museums. Luckily the GrecoRoman area is not busy.

Pots @ the British Museum

The mummies do not need a lot of understanding in order to be appreciated but Mama would like to recommend that people with aggressively ambulatory toddlers do not go and visit them because the huge press of visitors makes it less fun to chase the small person around. If you have a pushchair, you can use it to ram the little knots of tourists preventing you from keeping up with the small body wiggling its way though their legs, but if you do not then you will be forced to use your elbows. Something to consider when you are faced with the choice of putting the pushchair in the very accommodating cloakroom or not. Mama says. I just think it is one big game.

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In my opinion, we could quite happily avoid most rooms, because the huge space which now encloses the famous reading room is beyond fun for me to toddle around. There is a gutter! I can walk with one foot in the gutter and one foot out all the way round the edge of the massive, massive room, as long as I squeeze carefully behind the odd bust-bearing plinth. This gives Mama plenty of time to wonder why they still need a gutter when the whole thing is indoors.

A gutter

Mama likes the Oriental rooms, as most of the items are kept sensibly behind glass rather than on standing free and open for anyone (me) to touch. She was impressed,too, that most of the display cases came right down to the floor, giving me an excellent view, especially as they are also not obscured by a huge press of bodies. And as many of the ceramics are brightly-coloured and some of them are animal-shaped, the actual exhibits held my attention for all of five seconds, which is something of a record in a museum. Of course, I also had an excellent view of the fire extinguishers.

Ceramics @ the British Museum

But the clear highlight of our visits are the benches, which Mama not only lets me touch but also lets me pull myself on and slide off! Until we find ourselves on an upper floor and get to go down about five million steps to get back to the main hall. I really like going down steps even if it does take all afternoon. Mama, who is quite the connoisseur of staircases these days, likes it because it was sweeping and affords an excellent view of the people scurrying round the main hall with which to entertain herself during this long expedition.

The Great Hall @ The British Museum

Mama would like to recommend the eating arrangements. It seems as though the tables attached to the cafes in the main hall are open for all to picnic on, as long as the place isn’t too busy, and the main hall is a lovely place to hang out. Of course, Mama is generally compelled to supplement our packed lunch with a coffee, so she would like to add the caveat that you get a truly tiny cup for your three pounds. But hey, it’s all supporting the collections. If it isn’t raining there is always outside, where there is ample space for lounging around on walls, running around on a square of grass and a caravan selling coffee as well as ice cream.

A very small cup of coffee

Anyway, I recommend the British Museum to anyone who thinks their toddler would like to go on an indoor treasure hunt, where the terrain is vast and varied yet easy on the little legs. For older kids there are all sorts of trails and worksheets. And for the adults there is the satisfaction of being able to say that they briefly saw the Rosetta Stone as they trotted past it on their way to inspect another bench.

More Information

The British Museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about why we have museums.

Address: Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG.

Opening:  Daily 10.00 – 17.30, Fridays until 20.30.

Price: Admission is free.

Tube:  Tottenham Court Road (Northern and Central lines – 500m), Holborn (Piccadilly and Central lines – 500m), Russell Square (Piccadilly line – 800m), Goodge Street (Northern line – 800m).

Bus: Stops on New Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road, Gower Street or Southampton Row.

Parking: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.