I have been trying to write this post for weeks but returning to the land of books, a certain little man turning one and a jaunty trip to Brighton last week somewhat scuppered me. During my maternity leave, Zee and I ventured far and wide in this great capital of ours, and so, because my memory is shot to pieces these days, I want to record some of our adventures by buggy, tube and foot, for posterity and in case it’s helpful to other London mums and visitors. My goodness that’s a long sentence. I can’t be bothered to break it down.
So in no particular order:
It’s expensive but such a lovely and fun thing to do with your baby. Getting ready for lessons in changing rooms not designed for mums and babies is stressful, being in the water takes the stress away as long as you don’t think too much about the getting dressed again part. Tip – take a bottle, toy, biscuit, anything you can to distract him/her when changing afterwards. See http://www.waterbabies.co.uk for more info.
Sing and Sign
A real highlight. Before Zee’s arrival, some friends told us about sign language for babies and how some of their friends had given it a go with great success. So I signed up and from Sept-Dec, every Wednesday morning we enjoyed an hour of Singing and Signing, made some new friends and loved it. The songs are ridiculously catchy (I hear them in my dreams) and when Zee mastered the ‘No’ sign it was just brilliant. Because he does the No sign at me with the biggest grin on his face and then carries on doing exactly as he shouldn’t. But we’ll get there. http://www.singandsign.com
Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green
There is a Game Boy in the Museum of Childhood. A Game Boy! In a museum! It’s unnerving that a toy my brother and I spent hours glued to in our childhood is now deemed a relic, but anyway, I digress. This is a great place to come and while away a Friday afternoon; wandering around the exhibits and then at 2pm there is an excellent Sing and Story time. Exuberant staff act out Rod Campbell’s classic Dear Zoo with the aid of props and puppets. Afterwards Zee was fascinated by the mirrors and lights display, spending ages grinning at His Friend In The Mirror before I whisked him off to the spacious café for snacks and coffee. My maternity leave could also be renamed ‘The Quest for the Perfect Cup of Coffee’. I’m still looking. http://www.museumofchildhood.org.uk
Baby Interactive Play, Greenwich
This is a great class in gorgeous Greenwich, so it’s annoying we only managed to make it to one class in the last four months. And not even because it’s at 10am on a Monday morning, and I am not a morning person, but because of holidays, long weekends and one attempt to get there where I managed to get to Borough tube, before realising I’d left the nappy bag at home, cue turning around and going home. The teacher, Sue, is very welcoming and has loads of ideas for baby’s playtime, plus a very fun bubble-blowing machine and a giant parachute. See http://www.babyinteractiveplay.co.uk for more info. There is also a very baby-friendly Jamie’s Italian nearby for that all important coffee afterwards, and of course the Maritime museum, which is still on our To Do list. I chose cappuccino over culture on our one and only Greenwich trip, oh yes.
Wiggly Jigglers, Shoreditch
Yes, yes, I chose this class because I liked the name but it’s a good class too. A bit far for us to go regularly but the one class we went to was full of friendly people and good ideas. This is where I learnt about using general household items for baby play; corkscrews, plugs, dishwasher tablets no – no, wait. Those are the things he wants to play with and can’t, but jam jar lids, plastic containers, wooden corks,foil trays etc are MUCH more fun than regular toys, it seems, and good distractions at High Chair in the Kitchen when I’m busy with the blender. See http://www.richmix.org.uk for more info.
I cannot say the name of this place out loud without sniggering, I just can’t. Which I know at the age of 28/33 is pretty shameful, but come on. Anyway, this is an excellent spot to while away a few hours. It has a large cafe, impressive gardens with urban wildlife (their term not mine. There’s a llama! A llama in Forest Hill!) an aquarium and of course exhibits, which we didn’t even manage to get round on our first visit. Lovely views over London, hence missing the exhibit. I sound like a cultural hand grenade. Must rectify this. http://www.horniman.ac.uk/
Speaking of views over London, wow wow wow WOW, as Kylie once sang. Ooooooh it’s simply brilliant, I could have stayed up there for DAYS. Zee was not bothered in the slightest but that’s fine because it just means we’ll have to go up there again when he’s older. And of course it’s right next to Borough Market, which is fantastic for browsing around and I imagine even more fantastic if you wander around it with a glass of prosecco in hand. Which I didn’t when I went with Zee, because it was just the two of us and one glass these days and I’m positively tiddly. More’s the pity.
If you grew up on Mary Poppins*, as I did, it is impossible to see St Paul’s, the positively majestic St Paul’s, without the refrain of Feeeeeeeeeeeeeed the birds, TUPPENCE a baaaag, going round and round like an earworm. I liked to bundle Zee up in the buggy and go walking around there, to gaze at the cathedral and wander around the shops, and who knew there was such a large Topshop and H&M very nearby? Which I discovered during my last week of maternity leave and this is A Good Thing for my bank balance.
*Of course Mary Poppins’ sister, Mary Poppouts was less popular as a nanny due to constantly leaving the kids by themselves. (Thank you @TiernanDouieb via Twitter.)
Big Scream – cinema sessions for mums and babies aka GENIUS!
One particularly rainy day I took it upon myself to venture up to Notting Hill and wander down Portobello Road (now I have another earworm, do you know which song I mean Bedknobs & Broomsticks fans? Can anyone else hear David Tomlinson – aka Mr Banks! – singing Portobellllo Road, Portobellllllo Road, lalalala can’t remember the rest . . .?). Anyway, off we went to the Big Scream showing of the veritable cheese-fest About Time at the Electric Cinema, which was such a nice way to spend a few hours, as I wrote about here. A friend took her baby to Django Unchained, and even though he was asleep she still felt compelled to cover his eyes and ears. http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/
We spent a few very happy afternoons here; once or twice, after his swimming lesson, Zee was fast asleep and I was able to leisurely stroll around the exhibitions. I would admire the Turner paintings and Monet and tilt my head to one side and nod appreciatively at these magnificent canvasses as if I really appreciate Art, when in fact I don’t have a clue about it but know when something looks pretty. There I go, cultural hand grenade-ing again. One time we went and Zee was in his element crawling around the wide open floors, shrieking in delight as his godmother went after him and I pretended not to have a clue who they were.
Royal Festival Hall
The cafe here is another great place for babies who are crawling and want to roam about a bit whilst you have a coffee and take in the views. Zee enjoyed standing in front of the giant glass windows and beaming at passers-by as I beamed proudly at him. As he gets older we’ll take him to some of the brilliant events they have here, unfortunately this year he was too little for the Imagine Festival but their schedule is always packed and there’s lots of child-friendly fun.
Eat Play Love
A lovely cafe in Battersea, it’s ‘Open to all, but with a focus on being a welcoming place for families with young children.’ This is so nice because I lost count of the numbers of cafes or restaurants I’ve wandered past, simply because I couldn’t face trying to negotiate them with the buggy. Another place to while away a few hours, obviously drinking coffee with friends whilst Zee maximised the soft play. http://www.eatplaylove.org.uk
Soft Play at The (excellently named) Salmon Centre, Bermondsey
This is a free session of soft play and the range of toys and activities on offer blew Zee’s mind. At least, I think they did from the way he crawled about happily, making himself practically giddy as he tried to work out where to roam to or what to play with next. There’s a singing session for all the children at the end and if I remember rightly, he slept pretty well that night too. Result!
So I realise this post is very London centric, but they do say to write about what you know. And we know London, and now know it even better. But no longer just for its wonderful night life and bars and restaurants and theatres etc etc, but for where you can go to find a toy cat with its own theme song that will have your baby beside themselves with glee. Ah, how things have changed. And how we love it.