Trip to Sealife

I’m not entirely sure what my brother-in-law does for a living, but his job seems to net him an incredible number of perks. Luckily for us, one of these included discounted tickets to Sealife – the aquarium on London’s South Bank. Mr Techno had work, but Tom and I headed there last Sunday to meet Mr Techno’s brother, his sister, her husband, and their daughter, who is the same age as Tom.

It was pretty epically busy, since we had forgotten that it was the last weekend of the Easter holidays. It did take away from the experience a bit, as we had to duck and weave round the crowds to see anything. Also, small toddlers, dark spaces and crowds are not a winning combo. Luckily we didn’t actually lose either of them, but Tom did make a few bids for freedom.

It isn’t the easiest place to take photos either, so apologies for the shockingly poor quality!

Sadly, we were all annoyed from the start by the insistence that you wait in line to have a picture taken before going in, which meant we had a really pointless five minute wait. With the group behind us complaining loudly the whole time.

Once we got into the aquarium proper though, things improved. We saw starfish, seahorses, lion fish, sea rays…and a whole bunch of other fish I can’t really name but which were pretty cool. Tom was especially enamored of the clownfish, despite never having seen Finding Nemo. I liked the various seadragons, which disguise themselves as leaves, seaweed, branches etc.

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We walked through the shark tunnel too, though that seemed to freak the toddlers out more than anything. Then there was a rainforest section, which included alligators, piranhas and terrapins.

By this point, the toddlers were a bit over the whole thing and wanted their lunch and naps. So we were pleased to see a sign saying we were ‘surfacing’ which we assumed meant we were near the end. Sadly…not so much. There weren’t really any fish left to see, but we had to walk through two further exhibits – one about the Thames which was mostly focused on the sewer system – and one with looped clips from Frozen Planet. Both of which seemed pretty pointless. And of course there was the obligatory gift shop.

Overall I have to say I wasn’t too impressed. With the discount we got and the toddlers being free, it was just about worth the money. Without the discount… I would have been pretty disappointed. The crowds didn’t help of course, nor the toddler crankiness at the end. But it felt like there was a lot of filler, especially towards the end. Plus the penguins were on holiday (due back in May) which was disappointing!

Fortunately, the food market on the South Bank filled the food requirements and we headed back to my in-laws house in Waterloo for toddler naps.

Family Visit to Epping Forest

It’s been a while since Mr Techno and I have both had a full day off at the same time. Which means we hadn’t been on a family day out since our visit to Winterville before Christmas. Fortunately, we both had Wednesday off, so it was time to address this terrible situation!

Our first thought was a visit to Brooks Farm in Leyton – we haven’t been yet and it is only a half-hour walk from our flat. But, just as we were about to leave, I checked the website for the opening times and found that it was closed due to staff sickness. So I guess we will have to save that for another day.

Instead, we piled into the car and headed for Epping Forest, which is a bit too far for us to walk. There are a number of visitor centres for the Forest – the one we headed to is our closest one, which is called the View. Not only is it the closest, but it is also right next to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, which I really wanted to look round.

There was a very fine drizzle when we arrived and parked the car, but we could see from the clouds that it was likely to get worse, so we decided to start our visit with a wander around part of the Forest. Being an ancient oak forest, Epping is perfect for little people – the trees are widely spaced and leave lots of room for exploring, without getting tripped up by undergrowth. We enjoyed a lovely, if rather muddy, walk through the trees. Tom handled the walking really well – he’s always been pretty confident outdoors but I’ve really noticed his balance and speed improving in the last two weeks. He did trip twice, but bearing in mind the uneven ground and the scattered leaves and sticks, that was pretty good going. He had a great time, especially when Mr Techno and I took his hands and swung him between us, which led to lots of giggling.

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We came to the end of our short loop, and the rain was getting heavier, so we headed for the Hunting Lodge. Before we went in, we had to admire the view and make friends with the wooden deer statues outside.

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A staff member from the View came over to let us into the Lodge and told us a bit about its history. It was actually built for Henry VIII – in his later years, Henry was too fat to easily ride, so he had a number of lodges built in his game parks. The gamekeepers would drive deer to the clear area in front of the Lodge, and Henry and his nobles would shoot at them with crossbows – all the bloodletting with none of the risk or exercise involved! However, the original Lodge was fairly basic. It was done up for Elizabeth I, which is probably how it got its name. The Lodge was then used as a farmhouse until the 19th Century, which likely helped it survive in a fairly unaltered state. A Victorian extension was built, but was torn down later so that the building could be more easily presented as a Tudor Lodge (I’m not going to get into it here, but for reasons relating to good conservation philosophy, that was a choice I don’t totally agree with).

The Lodge has been very much ‘dressed’ to highlight its Tudor origins, so is a fun visit for kids. The first room we went into had a mocked-up Tudor feast laid out, complete with rather creepy figure of a Tudor beggar.

Upstairs, there was a dress-up room on the first floor. The clothes were on the large side for our little man, but he was interested in poking the ‘tapestries’.

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On the second floor, as well as an incredible view, there was a table display about how traditional timber framed buildings were built, along with a dendrochronology activity (that’s tree ring dating, for those who don’t speak archaeologist). The part of me that works in building conservation was very pleased with this part, as well as the handout we were given that explained how to ‘read’ the building, pointing out taper burns, carpenters’ marks, and apotropaic marks (to ward off evil). When Mr Techno mentioned to the staff member that I work for the SPAB, he pointed out that the Lodge also has links with William Morris, our founder, who was apparently inspired by the Tudor tapestries that used to hang in the Lodge when he was a child growing up in nearby Woodford.

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After thoroughly exploring the Lodge, we headed back over to the View, which had a lovely little display about the various seasons in the forest, including sound effects. Tom was very keen to press the buttons and hear the birdsong.

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By this time we were all getting hungry for our lunch. Options were fairly limited – there was a pricey coffee shop or a Brewer’s Fayre attached to the Premier Inn (which has somehow landed planning permission to be right next to the View). Needing somewhere kid-friendly, we headed to the Brewer’s Fayre to join a host of other families also in need of sustenance.

Despite the less than stellar weather, we had a lovely day out. I definitely intend to spend a lot more time in Epping Forest as it gets warmer – the View maybe our closest visitor centre but there are places to get into the Forest much closer to us. And as Tom starts sleeping less, we will have more time to explore! We’ll be back to the Hunting Lodge too when he is old enough to appreciate it.

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Wander Mum

A New Park and a Winter Picnic

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Brr, it has been chilly the last few days. It’s taking me much longer than usual to get Tom and myself dressed in the mornings – we’re both wandering around wearing enough layers to be cosy in the arctic!

We’ve been trying not to let the cold scare us off going out. Mostly pretty successfully. We’ve walked to and from nursery every day that Tom goes, he and Mr Techno have started their weekly nature club, and Tom and I spent a great weekend wandering around the Marshes and Springfield Park.

Wednesday is my day off, and Mr Techno had to work, meaning family day has had to be postponed until Sunday. Irritatingly, the parcels that were supposed to be delivered earlier in the week hadn’t turned up, so we had to make a trip to the sorting office, a half hour walk away. As Tom has taken to napping late into the afternoons, it had to be a morning trip, which wasn’t going to leave us much time to get there and back before Tom wanted lunch.

I was determined not to give up our outdoor playtime, so had a good look on Google maps and spotted a little park close to the sorting office; one we had never been to before. And so a plan was hatched – we’d pick up the parcels, have a play in the park, then have a winter’s picnic before heading home for Tom’s nap.

The park turned out to be pretty small, with not much open space. But that didn’t matter at all as it had a huge play area. My one complaint about our local park is that even the toddler equipment doesn’t have easy to climb steps, so Tom needs help using it. No such issues here – there were perfect Tom-sized structures.

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After a good play, we settled down on a bench to enjoy a sandwich and grape lunch.

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By this point we were both pretty cold, despite our layers and the winter sun. So it was time to walk home for cuddles and naps.

I’m glad we made the effort to fit in some outdoor play and discovered a new park into the bargain!



Life Unexpected

Outdoors in East London with a Toddler: Springfield Park

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Springfield Park is one of my favourite parks. Partly because it always seems to be sunny there (although I may be getting cause and effect the wrong way round) and partly because the walk there from our flat either takes us over the Marshes or along the river. So getting there is almost as lovely as the park itself.

The park really is beautiful. It has both cultivated gardens and open green spaces. There’s a kids play area, tennis courts, fountains, and a cricket pitch. Best of all, there are stunning views out over the river and the marshes beyond.

That stunning view does come at a cost – the park is very hilly, which can be an issue with the buggy. But it is worth it, not just for the view but for the lovely park cafe. There’s not loads of indoor tables, but a huge outdoor seating area. And since it’s always sunny there, who needs to be indoors? Plus they do yummy hot chocolate. And a range of light meal options, many of which are veggie friendly.

Tom and I met a friend there on Saturday and I remembered all over again why I love it so much. Hurray for our local green spaces!

Life Unexpected

Weekend with the In-Laws

Mr Techno grew up in Suffolk, in a lovely rural area near the coast. It’s where we spent Christmas this year. His family are very close – he has an older sister and younger brother – and all try to see each other regularly. Sadly, Me Techno’s schedule means that we rarely have days off at the same time, which can make it difficult for us to get up to see them as often as we’d like. We are doing better than usual at the moment though: not only did we spend a good amount of time there over Christmas, we also managed to visit again last weekend.

The main purpose of our visit was so that Mr Techno could accompany his dad on the local shoot, which my father-in-law runs. Mr Techno was taught to shoot as a child, and now always tries to have one weekend a year where he can go out. They shoot pheasants and partridge, which are then turned into pies for us all to fill our freezers with. I know some people will have issues with the idea of killing for sport (I do not agree with fox hunting, for example), but in terms of ethically sourced meat, shooting game birds scores pretty highly in my book. You don’t get much higher animal welfare than a bird who has been raised completely free in the Suffolk countryside.

They headed off on Saturday morning, well wrapped up against the cold and with a huge hamper of lunch prepared by my mother-in-law. Meanwhile, we women (and Tom) were left to amuse ourselves.

One of the things I love about visiting my in-laws is that they understand the need for people to have their own space. Although they are all very close, there is no expectation that everyone must join in with every activity, and people are always welcome to go off and do their own thing. This makes family time much more manageable and enjoyable! So on Friday evening, my mother-in-law and I agreed that we would have a relaxed morning, doing our own thing, and then head to Snape Maltings for a walk and a look round the shops in the afternoon.

Having arrived relatively late the evening before, Tom and I had a bit of a lie-in, not getting up until 7.45. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, then got Tom togged up in his coats and wellies, and headed out into the garden. I was just planning a gentle explore of the lawn, maybe some swinging, but Tom had grander ideas and headed for the gate. So we went on a mini-walk down the farm track, across the road and down a footpath, accompanied some of the way by my mother-in-law and the dogs, who had caught up with us on their way to the village shop. Tom took a couple of tumbles and got a bit muddy, so we turned back to find him some lunch, whilst my mother-in-law continued on with her walk.

After lunch and Tom’s nap, we all piled into the car (dogs included) and drove to Snape Maltings, which is a collection of shops, galleries and a concert hall housed in buildings that were once used to malt barley for brewing.There is also access to a range of walks along the River Alde, which, because of it’s tidal nature, attracts lots of wildlife and birds. Raised walkways have been built around the estuary to allow people to walk without getting wet or stuck in the mud!

It began chucking it down with rain almost the moment we parked the car. Luckily we were all well prepared with hats and waterproofs, and snuggled Tom up in the buggy under the rain cover. The rain didn’t last long and eased off as we headed out along the river. The area has a stark kind of beauty at this time of year, with the bare trees making incredibly sculptural shapes against the flat land. I grew up in the Surrey Hills, and always feel the lack of slopes when I’m in Suffolk, but I can’t deny that it has its own attractions.

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After a lovely, though slightly muddy, walk, we headed back to the Maltings for a quick look around the shops. By now the light was fading, so it was time to head back home and get Tom’s dinner. We arrived home at the same time as the men, who were both very pleased with their performance. A lovely looking pheasant pie is now sitting in our freezer.

We were heading home after lunch on Sunday, but still managed to get out in the morning for a wander around the farm grounds (the fields are let out to local farmers, but the family still own the old farm buildings, keep chickens and grow vegetables and fruit on the remaining land). Tom very much enjoyed having both his parents with him to explore, although he did need a helping hand on some of the more uneven bits of ground.

All in all, a lovely weekend with plenty of opportunties to explore the Suffolk countryside. Plus plenty of good food, family time and good wine (for the adults).

Life Unexpected