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 Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

Mama thinks that a trip to the Moscow Kremlin with small children is more of an endurance tourism experience than an actually enjoyable outing for the whole family, although she concedes that other people might find it more interesting than she does after the number of visits she has paid to it over the years.

Certainly it seems to surprise people. There are trees inside, and flowers, and most of the buildings are built in a distinctly classical mould as well as being quite colourful. And the main focus of a trip there is a square surrounded by a number of cathedrals, used by Russia’s Tsars for, variously, coronations, weddings, their tombs and personal worship. A bright yellow neo-classical building inside the Moscow Kremlin But to start with, there will be a massive queue to buy tickets although it might have helped a bit if Mama and Papa hadn’t turned up just before the ticket offices had a (scheduled) twenty-minute ‘technical break’ around lunchtime.

It’s good, then, that there is the whole of Alexandrovskii Sad, the park running along one side of the Kremlin wall, to hang out in while you wait. There are plenty of benches to sit on, trees and the flowerbeds for the kids to play hide and seek round, and you can even venture along to the fountain area in summer if you don’t mind your smalls getting thoroughly soaked while they dance around in the spray from the one with the horses with every other Russian under the age of fifteen.

Mama does a bit, although it is worth pointing out that Moscow in the summer can be blisteringly hot, so sometimes this is a bit of a godsend.

More soberly, you can have a look at the tomb of the unknown soldier and the eternal flame, commemorating those who fell in World War Two, called, in Russia, the Great Patriotic War, which gives you an idea of just how big a deal this is.

With 27 million dead, there is a lot of commemorating to do and so if you are still waiting for your tickets on the hour, this is where the Russian equivalent of the changing the guard takes place, every hour. Miss this and there is a good chance you might see instead a wedding party coming to lay flowers. Basically, Mama’s advice is to take mobiles and wander off while someone else stands in the queue. There’s plenty to keep the youngsters occupied with. A guard outside the Moscow Kremlin Except the problem is that all this waiting around made me well well overdue for my nap, but all the excitement meant I refused to even contemplate it once we get inside. I therefore had a truly epic meltdown on the main square inside the Kremlin, the one flanked by the four cathedrals.

Tourists were taking photos and everything, I was that impressively cross.

Which led to Mama and Papa getting told off by a plain clothes secret serviceman. Lying on the ground, screaming and drumming your heels brings the whole of the Russian Federation into disrepute. Apparently. A cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin Trying to tour the cathedrals with two five-and-unders will also make Mama appreciate the value of the National Trust’s strategies for dealing with restless children. It’s amazing how much more attractive the idea of playing ‘hunt the small stuffed animals the curators have placed in blindingly obvious hiding places round the historical monument’ becomes when the alternative is listening to Papa tell the story of the boy-Tsar who committed suicide by throwing himself off the Kremlin walls. Look! Here is his tomb!

Cue another incipient meltdown. Mama retreated briskly from any attempt to admire the icons and plied me with sweets before we got more than a hard stare from one of the attendants.

Of course, Papa will eventually get told off again anyway for bringing the whole of the Russian Federation into disrepute by sitting on the grass with two untidy looking children next to the toilets in full view of the official presidential offices while waiting for Mama to have a wee.

Mama, mark you, felt that the toilets in the Kremlin brought the whole of the Russian Federation into disrepute. Someone at some point decided to install the latest in toilet technology, consisting of eight stalls of supposedly automatic self-cleaning cubicles. Look no hands! You don’t even have to flush the loo yourself.

Unfortunately, Mama reported that given the amount of piss swilling around on the floor and the number of attendants needed to manually override the automated mechanism allowing the next punter in, this wonderful system doesn’t work very well.

And there is another big queue.

Naturally there also isn’t a hint of a baby changing area, so it is probably a good thing that the secret serviceman arrived to chide Papa after I had brought the whole of the Russian Federation into disrepute by mooning the government while having my nappy changed outside.

My Super Big Brother and I did like the formal gardens, where you can get one of Moscow’s excellent ice creams (but no other kind of refreshment) and wander around looking for insects on the trees and admiring the view of the Moscow River and the presidential helicopter pad.

The helicopter pad inside the Moscow Kremlin

Mama says she used to work in one of the buildings in the background of this picture, but Mama says that about a lot of buildings in Moscow, usually with a misty look in her eye. I am sceptical. She certainly doesn’t seem to do very much with her days apart from follow me around and wash clothes. What could she have been up to?

Oh! And wait until you try to cross the (empty) roads inside without using the somewhat arbitrarily situated zebra crossings. The whistle blast from one of the nearby guards is quite something.

Mama says it is totally worth hanging around and watching tourists jump out of their skin and look around wildly again and again and again. She says putting a sign up to explain what you are supposed to do would spoil everybody’s fun, and I have to say I agree.

We also quite enjoyed the large bell and huge cannon on display near the main square although it turns out you are not allowed to climb on them.

You can scramble over the ones by the entrance though, so we did quite a bit of that while Mama admired the huge building opposite, the only one that Mama says actually looks like it belongs in the control centre of the Former Soviet Union. Mama says that actually what it is mostly for is watching ballet. She says it’s quite good. Ballet! Like Angelina Ballerina does! The dresses! The twirls! The Soviet Union must have been a fun place to live. Oh! Mama has just spat some of her coffee out. Hang on. She appears to be choking…The ballet building in the Moscow Kremlin However, on balance, the Moscow Kremlin is one of the least toddler friendly places on the planet. Mama says. She does not recommend it for (those with) small children at all and she doesn’t think that going to see the bits we missed (you have to pay extra), the Armoury, where they keep the crown jewels and such, would improve matters either, although I think she may be wrong about this. It sounds exceedingly shiny. The Moscow Kremlin from the river

More information

The official website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about James Bond in the Cold War.

Address: Moscow, Russia 103073

Opening: 10am (ticket offices open at 9.30) to 5pm. The Moscow Kremlin is closed on Thursdays and public holidays. Entrance to the Armoury is via timed slots at 10am, 12 noon, 2.30pm and 4.30pm.

Price: 500 rubles for adults (about £5) and free for children under 16. The Armoury is extra: 700 roubles (£7) for adults.

By metro: The closest metro is Bibliateka Imani Lenina/Alexandrovskii Sad/ Arbatskaya/ Borovitskaya (basically the same station).

By other means: Metro! Metro! Metro! Metro!

Packing my Suitcase
MummyTravels

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?

The Nikulin Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard, Moscow

Russians take their circus very seriously. If you watch the Russia’s Got Talent (which is actually called Fifteen Minutes of Fame, and once had someone called Mikhail Gorbachov as a judge. I could care less but Mama thought this was hysterical, so I assume he must have been a particularly dishy celebrity or something back in Mama’s day) you will very soon notice that by far the largest category of performers are doing some kind of circus act. Mama thinks they are very good too, but then Mama’s idea of amateur circus is people throwing wobbly juggling balls about and, generally, missing. University does sound fun.

Whatever the reason, Moscow has not one but two large permanent circus buildings and we went to the Old Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard, also known as the Nikulin Circus after one of its most famous clowns/ directors when we were in town this past summer.

A lot of what we saw was the sort of modern take on acrobatics popularised by the Cirque du Soleil. Mama tells me. Trapeze artists who swing upside down low over the audience; people dangling from long swatches of material; people wrapping themselves up in long swatches of material and then unwinding with a flourish; people wrapping themselves up in long swatches of material and unwinding themselves with a flourish while swinging upside down low over the audience; people wrapping other people up and down in long swatches of material while they all swing upside down low over the audience with their legs at an impossible angle. That sort of thing. Also, large men tossing a couple of tiny girls from one metal bar to another and a couple of lads performing tricks at the top of ladders. Very exciting, especially when one of them fell off. If it doesn’t go wrong occasionally, Mama says, you don’t know how difficult it is. Having seen the spill, I suspect that it was all very difficult indeed.

Lads on ladders

Mama also thinks the high wire act, half of which was done without a net or wires was pretty thrilling, especially as the performance area is well-designed to be both spacious and intimate and even from the cheap seats you get a really good view of the slight twitch of concern that crosses the burly walker’s face as he slides across the wire carrying five of his family and somebody wobbles.

I missed that bit. I was asleep. I also missed the set up, done in the interval, which was almost as much fun as the act itself (apparently). A couple of men swarming easily up and down ropes to secure the fastenings and bouncing casually up and down on the wire itself to test its strength. Splendid. Mama says. She was quite pleased to be stuck under a snoring child while the others queued for the toilet.

Not that my falling asleep was a reflection on my enjoyment – I was jet lagged and put off the snooze as long as I could. Mama was initially a bit dubious about taking me to a show. She does not have good memories of taking my Glorious Big Brother to places where he needed to sit down quietly for extended periods of time before he was about three. However, since both Papa and Babushka were also going she reasoned that the adults could work in shifts to walk me up and down the corridor while the rest of our party were enjoying the turns. This turned out to be unnecessary. Despite the fact that the show was very very long, while I was awake I was entirely rapt. As were the others. None of us noticed the time until we were out at the end.

Nikulin Circus performers

Mama even enjoyed the clowns, which is not a sentence she thought she’d be typing ever. They made considerable reference to the traditional clowning elements of mime, pratfalls, squirting the audience with water, much business with unicycles and very big shoes, but much updated and very slick. Mama actually cried with laughter during the mass clapalong section, choreographed by the head clown, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

That said, it’s worth mentioning that a circus in Russia is not the place to go if you have serious scruples about performing animals. Mama generally doesn’t, to be honest. It would be a mistake to think that all circus animals are mistreated simply by virtue of being in a circus, especially in one of the foremost professional performance spaces in Russia.

And generally they stick to the sorts of trainable animals that work for their keep all over the world.

So the bird act was fun, but similar to the ones we’ve seen in high minded conservation projects in the UK, although generally the trainers there are not dressed as pirates; the bareback riders were impressive but slight compared to their extremely sturdy shire-esque mounts; Mama is reasonably sure it’s easier to get dogs to jump over things, even other dogs, than sing; the horses going through dressage moves without actually being in physical contact with their trainer were beautiful, but we watched the same thing in Hyde Park just this week, albeit without the music and the shiny harnesses; and surely elephants carrying people is not that much of an issue even if they are wearing very little apart from sequins. The people, that is. Well, there might have been sequins involved with the elephants too.

Admittedly, an elephant standing on a ball, a genuinely awesome moment, is a bit out of the ordinary, but Mama is prepared to extend the trainers a bit of trust regarding that trick although that might be because secretly, Mama was thrilled to bits with the steampunk Jules Verne theme to the finale, even if the costume changes fro the dancers got a bit dizzying after a while.

An elephant on a ball

However, when Mama walked into the spacious (and very Soviet) reception area (all gleaming marble floors and fancy chandeliers overlaying what would otherwise be a very functional sort of layout) she was quite shocked to see the tiger waiting quietly have its photo taken with the kids. Also, the bear, the elephant, the leopard, the kangaroo, the toucan and the monkeys. Mama has been spending a lot of time in the UK recently, but even so she thinks that she would never be perfectly comfortable with this part. She consoles herself with the thought that the circus’s schedule is not demanding even in the high season, but, of course, your mileage may vary. Mama thinks that if you are going to boycott the circus over the animal issue, then this should be your reason why.

An elephant on display

Depending on your decision, by and large the Nikulin Circus is one of the places to take the under tens in Moscow. And the over tens. You don’t even have to spend a fortune. The performers do project the best bits towards the 3000 rouble punters at the ‘front’. But because it is, after all, a circus and so the performance space is in the round and since all the artists, human and animal, spend quite a bit of the time racing, swinging or flying around the circle, Mama does not plan to be spending any more money next time we go. Look out for ticket selling kiosks all around town for the better deals.

And believe me, if I have anything to say about it, we will be going again.

More Information

The Nikulin Circus’ website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about making your own juggling balls.

Address: 13, Tsvetnoy Boulevard, Moscow, Russia, 127051

Performance times: 7pm Thursday to Sunday, with additional 11am and 2.30 pm performances at weekends.

Price: From 400 roubles (£7) to 3000 roubles (£52.50). Children under six are free if they sit on your lap.

By Metro: Tsvetnoy Boulevard/ Цветной бульвар

By other means: Just get the Metro. It’s fab.

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.

Osterley Park and House, London

Osterley Park and House is a country house estate on the edge of London belonging to the National Trust, which Mama finally persuaded Papa to join last year.

The problem with the National Trust, from Papa’s point of view, is the Russian Revolution, who sounds very nasty indeed. This is because the Russian Revolution stole Papa’s family estate and sent our relatives off to Archangel. Or shot them. I thought Archangel sounded like a nice place to live but Mama says no. Too chilly. And being shot certainly sounds like it might sting a bit. Either way, landed gentry being forced to give up their houses is a sore point, and Papa regarded the National Trust with a certain amount of distaste.

Mama, on the other hand, thinks that National Trust membership is the minimum requirement for a certain standard of living, and being dragged off to Richmond ‘The Poo’ Park once too often meant that Papa was also open to the idea of finding other places to go. With National Trust membership, for the princely sum of £100 odd quid a year per family you can get access to what turns out to be quite a large number of properties in the London area (and beyond). So as soon as the tickets were emailed, off we went to look at our first house.

Osterley Park

Osterley Park was Mama’s choice. Mama has a secret vice – the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer – and one of the actual historical characters who makes regular cameo appearances in such things is Lady Jersey, influential leader of fashion. Osterley Park was one of her houses.

Except that much to Mama’s disappointment, really it wasn’t. Oh, it belonged to her, but she didn’t seem to spend much time there. No, Osterley Park is really the house of her Grandparents, the banker Sir Francis Child and his wife, and it was never properly lived in again after they died. The perils of cutting your daughter off because you disapprove of her choice of husband, but at the same time leaving your vast wealth to your female grandchild, who can then choose to marry a man with extensive estates of his own that she prefers, never having spent much time at Osterley because of the aforementioned estrangement.

It’s a cautionary tale, Mama.

The House itself is a lovely building, a sort of classical take on the tower of London, but while the downstairs formal rooms are well kitted out with all the opulence you could wish for, the upstairs is more sparsely furnished. The National Trust has only recently taken back the task of slowly tarting the place up to something more like its former glory again. This is quite interesting, Mama thinks, as it gives an insight into what her £100 is doing apart from funding a national Victoria sponge mountain or tempting unsuspecting aristocrats into giving up their birthrights, and worth making Osterley Park somewhere to visit on a regular basis to see the changes. It seems to be slow going. You’ve got plenty of time. If you can’t, you can follow the progress of the Breakfast Room renovations, for example, via a blog.

Luxurious interior at Osterley Park

Of course, the bit we children liked best was the basement. My Outstanding Big Brother and I have never really taken to dressing up and so the box on the first floor left us a bit cold, and the other activity suggested to us – counting the ridiculously huge number of roses worked into the mouldings in each room – didn’t appeal to my numeracy-adverse fauna-obsessed flora-disinclined Outstanding Big Brother much either. The basement, on the other hand, has a narrow corridor to scamper wildly along without fear of knocking into something expensive and, as we arrived back at the beginning again fairly quickly, around it turned out. We also played hide and seek in the coal cellar.

The basement at Osterley Park

Mama liked the kitchens. Obviously someone at some point had a fascination with kitchen equipment and so the basement also houses some very snazzy but curiously unused looking cast iron oven ranges, which must have been the last word in domestic appliances 100 years ago or so. Mmmmmmmmm. Says Mama.

Outside there is everything to gladden two active children’s hearts. There is a lake with ducks my Outstanding Big Brother and I were not allowed to chase. There are farm animals and horses, which are all quite happy to come up and say hello or, in the case of the cows, follow my Outstanding Big Brother along the length of the fence, much to his delight. The parkland is heaving with dogwalkers, some of whom let us throw balls for their dogs. And in the more maintained gardens there is a natural play area with logs to climb on and jump off. Plus some nice plants and flowers. Mama says.

A cow at Osterley Park

There is also a café. Mama adds ‘of course’ because this is the National Trust, which I have decided must mean ‘house-napping with cake’. It is housed in an old stable block – you eat your lemon drizzle cake in a former horse stall. Mama is torn between feeling this is vaguely unsanitary and being thrilled to her bourgeois soul, which would also like to live in a barn conversion. Mainly she is thankful that one stall has toys and chalk boards in it so that she can sip her coffee in peace. But the best thing about the café was that outside I found another toddler whose scooter I could steal and who I could mug of his cheese puffs.

All in all Osterley Park is a stately home without too much state to distract the parents from letting kids run round the grounds but with a good back story. Apparently they also have quite a bit on at the weekend and in school holidays. Mama has bookmarked this piece of information. Watch this space.

More information

Osterley Park’s page on the National Trust website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about the regency romances of Georgette Heyer.

Address: Jersey Road, Isleworth, Middlesex, TW7 4RB (sat nav TW7 4RD).

Opening: Fully open 12 noon – 4pm from 1st March, although the house proper and the basement are open on different days. Until then, the park is open 8am – 6pm all week.

Price: Free to National Trust members. Monday and Tuesday are half price for non-members.

By train: Nearest station is Isleworth (1 ½ miles).

By underground: Osterley on the Piccadilly line is 1 mile.

By bus: The H28 and H91 stop within 1 mile.

By car: Parking is free for National Trust members, £4 otherwise.