Tate Exchange at Tate Modern

Tate Exchange at Tate Modern

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Tate Modern was one of my favourite places to go pre-Pea. Even after many visits over the years, there’s still so much in the permanent collections that I’ve never checked out. Although many London parents consider Tate Modern a great option for a day out with the kids my visits here with Pea have been hit and miss. I really wanted to fit in one final visit before our move to Dublin though, and especially wanted to time it with Tate Exchange. Tate Exchange is an annual themed programme in which partner artists and institutions take over Level 5 of the Blavatnik building to test out ideas and collaborate.

Our visit

We headed out on a cool morning in early February with Pea’s Dad able to join us too. Although Tate Exchange doesn’t start until midday, I wanted to get there as early as we could to get the full benefit of the Turbine Hall installation, Superflex’s One Two Three Swing! I’d popped in for this purpose a couple of times already with Pea but it was always so incredibly busy that we weren’t able to have a go on any of the wonderful swings. This time, we arrived soon after opening and there were already a lot of people but it wasn’t quite so manic and all three of us were able to have fun on the swings. To be fair, I don’t think Pea was actually that bothered about the swings. He was in his element crawling around on the rainbow coloured carpet though.

I’d hoped to have more time to take in some of the permanent collections and pay a final visit to my favourite, the Rothko room. But, by the time we’d exhausted the Turbine Hall and had a coffee at the level 1 Cafe, it was almost noon so we made our way from the Boiler house building to the Blavatnik Building. At this point, we first encountered the total frustration that is the lift system in Tate Modern. Each time the lift doors opened on our level the lift was already full and no one got out so it took us about 10 minutes of waiting to actually get to the 5th floor. It’s for this reason that I find Tate Modern much less baby and toddler-friendly than it really should be given the facilities there. There’s signage indicating that wheelchair and buggy users should be given priority access to the lifts but in practice this just doesn’t happen. In fairness, I’m not sure what else the gallery management could do here to discourage people from using the lifts unless they really need to but wasting so much time waiting for a lift to become available put all three of us in a bit of a grumpy mood.

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Okay, rant over. We made it to the 5th floor for Tate Exchange. The current theme is Production and when we visited it was a Plymouth College of Art takeover under the name Factory Settings, all about challenging the idea of work. As we arrived, we were provided with clocking in sheets – the idea was that you could work your way around the various workstations and clock in to each one as you did. Workstations included screen printing, a production line for manufacturing babies and a large wall for drawing on. At one workstation, one of the students talked to us about the health benefits of certain plants (for example snake plants are good for respiratory issues) and we got to take away some plant cuttings. Our favourite though was Stillness, a tea station. Pea had just fallen asleep and we stumbled across a quiet little spot where we were invited to sit down and relax while we were brought a cup of tea! When we finished up with Tate Exchange we handed over our timesheets and were given our ‘wages’ in brown envelopes in recognition of our shift on the factory floor.

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We decided to go up to the viewing level while Pea was still asleep – cue another farcically long wait to get into a lift. The view is undeniably stunning but by the time we got up there Pea woke up and needed feeding so it was a brief sightseeing mission before going back down to the ground floor level. By the time we fed him we were hungry ourselves and decided to call it a day at Tate and get some lunch over at the Southbank Centre food market. I never did get a final look at the Rothko’s.

Essential info

Tate Modern is at Bankside, London SE1. Open daily with free admission. There are lifts to all floors (but you’ll lose the will to live while waiting for them), accessible toilets, baby change facilities, cloakroom, lockers and the level 1 cafe has high chairs. Tate Exchange is on the 5th floor of the Blavatnik Building from Tuesdays to Sundays and open 12.00pm – 18.00.

 

Boozy soft play at Jam Circus

Boozy soft play at Jam Circus

What’s it all about?

Booze, booze, booze (with soft play).

Jam Circus is a very pleasant pub in Brockley. Once a week there’s soft play in the snug area of the pub.

Our visit

I took Pea here the Friday before Christmas and we arrived soon after the opening time because I’d assumed given the time of year that it could get chaotically busy. I’d arranged to meet a friend here and, on route, a spark of anxiety about the choice of venue ignited in me. As I’m now the owner of a mobile child I’ve had to accept that soft play is a thing that’s in my life and it’s not going away anytime soon.  Since I currently spend the majority of my time at home attempting to peel Pea of various items of furniture, soft play can be a sanity saver. My friend doesn’t have kids though and it just sort of seems cruel to me to subject a person to soft play unless strictly necessary.

There was really no need to worry about any of this as it wasn’t terribly busy when we got there. We stayed a good long while and I don’t think there was ever more than a couple of other adult/child visitors at any point. The soft play set up is basic – a pall pit, at least one ride on and a selection of those weird leathery cubes and arches and random shapes that are the staple items of soft play. All the equipment was clean and it kept Pea happily engaged for an hour or so while my friend and I had coffees and caught up. We took a break to have lunch then Pea had another go at the soft play before having a nice little nap in his pram. And then – wine!

All in all, this was a very pleasant afternoon and I only wish I’d checked this place out before as it’s unlikely I’ll get back again before the big move. Any pub, restaurant or cafe willing to provide a safe and entertaining nipper zone gets the thumbs up from me, but what was especially nice about this is that Jam Circus is exactly the sort of place I’d have wanted to go to pre-parenthood. I’d have skipped the soft play though.

Where? When? How much?

Jam Circus is at 330-334 Brockley Road, SE4. The soft play is every Friday between 11.00-4pm and is free.

Facilities

Accessible toilet with baby change, kids menu and high chairs. There’s a small step to get inside the pub and then a few steps up into the back where the soft play is. And of course, booze, literally on tap.

Fashion & Textiles Museum

Fashion & Textiles Museum

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The Fashion and Textiles Museum is one of those London museums I’ve meaning to visit for years but just never quite gotten my shit together to go. It’s not the first place that would spring to mind as a suitable destination for a 13-month-old but this was a pretty successful outing. Admittedly, that’s largely down to Pea napping for most of the time we were there.

 

What’s it all about?

Fashion. And textiles. It was founded in 2003 by zany haired fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. The museum doesn’t have a permanent display but rather a series of temporary exhibitions.

Our visit

I took Pea here following a Bach to Baby concert nearby. He was getting antsy in his pram while we were on route to the venue. Consequently, once I let him out he was like a captured animal being released back into the wild and spent the hour-long concert just sort of… rampaging aboutHe thoroughly exhausted himself and when the concert finished we were barely out the door before he’d fallen asleep. My plan had been to pop into the museum only if Pea was either napping or on the verge of so I seized my moment. Naturally, I went to the museum cafe and fuelled up on coffee first. It had already been a long morning.

The current exhibitions are Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Style of her Own, Wallace Sewell: 25 Year of British Textile Design and Harper’s Bazaar 150 – The First and Last Word in Fashion. I really enjoyed the Dahl-Wolfe retrospective. I loved seeing her Hollywood portraits and learning how she photographed movie stars in a much more natural and relaxed way than was typical of the time. There’s a small selection of photographs taken in Tennessee during the Depression and these are so tender and truthful and (to me, fairly unfamiliar with her body of work) unexpected.

Upstairs there’s a small selection of mannequins in exquisite Dior gowns, a reading area, a little section on fashion photography and the Harper’s Bazaar exhibition. There’s a bench directly in front of the Dior dresses – I could have sat there looking at those all afternoon. It wasn’t to be, as Pea woke up, and he was angry (actually, he was hangry) so I thought it best to just get out of there. Such is the tension of visiting a quiet place like this with a baby. On the one hand, the fewer people, the easier it is to push around a buggy and to make haste your escape should it come to that. On the other, more people equals greater background noise to dull the piercing screams of your child when the inevitable tantrum occurs.

Downstairs, we had a quick look at the Wallace Sewell exhibition (London underground moquettes! Right up my street) and checked out the gift shop before we got going.

While this is not a museum that caters directly to under 5s (no surprises there) it’s not a total disaster either, and there are a few reasons for this. One: it’s quite small and I’d estimate it would take no more than a couple of hours to get around the whole space, depending on the nature of the temporary exhibitions at the time. Two: there’s a reassuring absence of precious, delicate things within the pawing range of most babies/toddlers (but you’d probably want to keep walkers on a short leash around the pretty frocks). Three: it’s spacious enough to be able to get around with a buggy, but you do need staff assistance to operate the lift to the first floor. Four: there’s a nice cafe on site you can escape to if a time out is needed. There isn’t loads of space, but unless it’s rammed and you’re clocking a big, fuck-off, beast of a buggy it should be fine.

Where/When/How Much?

83 Bermondsey St, SE1. Admission is GBP9.90, under 12’s go free. Open Tuesday-Sunday.

Facilities

Baby change, accessible toilet, step-free access (ask a member of staff to operate the lift), free cloakroom, gift shop and cafe.

Birkbeck Babylab

Birkbeck Babylab

This has to be right up there among my absolute favourite things I have done with Pea in London. I’ll be sad not to be able to participate once we move and would love to find something similar in Dublin.

What’s it all about?

The Babylab at Birkbeck College, University of London is a research centre focused on studying the development and learning of babies. Studies have included topics such as facial recognition and language development. In addition, the Babysibs project aims to better understand why some children develop conditions such as autism. Studies are ongoing and parents can sign up their budding ‘baby scientists’ to participate. I first discovered the Babylab in around May 2016 through an ad in a free parenting magazine I picked up in the library. I’ve always had an interest in psychology and I thought this seemed like a great thing to get involved in. I went online and filled out a simple registration form. Once registered it’s then just a case of waiting until your child is the right age for one of the studies.

Our visit

To date we’ve participated in two separate studies. The first aimed to establish whether or not a babies sense of rhythm is influenced by the person carrying them. The second was a study on anticipation. Shortly after the initial registration I received an information pack in the post but it was then several months before I was contacted by email to participate in our first study.

When we arrived for the first time, we were greeted by the researcher Sinead. Pea, with his usual great timing, had soiled himself to the extent that a complete outfit change was required and I even needed to give his pram a going over with the wet wipes after. It felt like we were in the baby change room for an excessively long time. Sinead took this all completely in her stride and put us at ease when we finally emerged. We were shown into a waiting room furnished with loads of toys and Pea was able to play while Sinead explained the research to me.

The study involved Pea bashing on a little drum for one minute. Then he was strapped into a Baby Bjorn carrier and went for a little jog on the treadmill with Sinead. There was a screen showing cartoons directly in front of the treadmill, and one of Sinead’s colleagues also distracted him by blowing bubbles. He loved it! The second study was a simpler one which just involved Pea watching a series of videos while I held him on my lap. As the study was about anticipation, I wasn’t allowed to see what he was watching lest he look around at me for reassurance. In case you ever wondered, it is very difficult not to look when you can hear someone saying “Hey! Look here.” At the end of each study we even got a little baby t-shirt and ‘degree’ certificate for Pea. On both occasions the whole thing took only about an hour.

This really is a lovely thing to do with your baby and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to any London parents or parents to be (you can actually register before your baby is born). You get to contribute to research that will increase understanding of child development and the studies are enjoyable for the babies. The whole operation felt both well organised and relaxed. Indeed, it was so relaxed that on our second visit a friend of mine was able to tag along and had a great time observing the study and chatting to the researchers.

What I liked most about this experience was that on both occasions was the way the research staff interacted with Pea. They took some time to play with him and build a rapport before commencing the study. Not only that but they helped out by distracting him any time he threatened to kick off. After the second study, he sensed the imminent return to his buggy prison and commenced a loud, violent protest.  I was very grateful to the small army of bubble and rattle wielding women who managed to divert him long enough for me to strap him into the pram and subdue him with an apple biscotti baby biscuit. Jesus, those things are like crack for babies.

Where/When/How Much?

The Babylab is at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Henry Wellcome Building, Birkbeck College, Malet Street WC1E. Studies are ongoing and if called up for one you’ll likely be offered a choice of days and times to come in. There’s no cash incentive for taking part but travel expenses are reimbursed on the day.

Facilities

Step free access, baby change and toilet, waiting room with an impressive selection of toys to distract babies before and after. Older siblings can come along and, provided this is flagged up beforehand, a member of staff can supervise them in the waiting room while the baby scientist does her/his thing. Refreshments were offered both times and there are also numerous good options for sustenance in the immediate area (The Life Goddess on Store Street was lovely and quiet at 11.00am on a Friday). Indeed, the location is perfect for really making a day of this, with an embarrassment of options within walking distance such as The British Museum, Russell Square, The Foundling Museum and Coram’s Fields.

The Charles Dickens Museum

The Charles Dickens Museum

I’ve passed by the Charles Dickens Museum on route to other activities on many an occasion but I had assumed it wouldn’t be terribly baby friendly. According to Londonist the museum’s cafe and garden is one of the nicest in the city . I do love a garden cafe so really wanted to check it out. Then I discovered that with my National Art Pass I’d get free entry to the museum so decided to give it a go when next in the area. It turns out that my concerns about the baby friendliness of this museum were actually…. somewhat justified.

What’s it all about?

The Museum is actually one of Dickens’s former homes where he produced some of his most famous works. It has been restored to give an insight into the private world of the Dickens family (Dickens and his wife Catherine raised three of their ten children in this home). You can walk around the house to get a look at Dickens’s writing table and dressing room and see his wife’s engagement ring. There’s also a temporary exhibition space currently occupied by Ghost of an Idea: Unwrapping ‘A Christmas Carol’ which explores the inspiration behind the novel and its continued legacy.

Our visit

I really wanted to take Pea here in December to see the museum decorated in Victorian Christmas style. Transport disruptions and a double dose of the lurgy prevented that from happening so we made do with an early January visit instead. When we arrived, I was pleased to see the festive wreath still on the door and looked forward to having a look inside.

It was around midday when we got there and Pea was tired from our morning activity but I hoped I could have a casual walk around inside with him in his pram and he’d soon crash out. However, when I ordered my ticket I was informed that I couldn’t take the pram inside the main part of the museum. Time to initiate Plan B – go to cafe, push him back and forth for a few minutes till he dozes off and then consume coffee in the beautiful surroundings.

The key word that failed to register with me from the Londonist description of the cafe was ‘çosy’. That should have been a red flag right there. It is indeed quite small and also very quiet. Cosy, quiet spots don’t have quite the same allure when you’ve got to blunder in with a pram and a tantrum ready toddler. There were no free tables and the garden appeared out of bounds as it the entrance was blocked by a table and chairs. There were some free seats though so I thought I could chance asking to sit next to someone else and hoping Pea remained docile.

With impeccable timing, Pea waited until I had ordered and, crucially, paid for my coffee before launching into a full on ear shattering scream fest. I knew he was just tired and he’d be fine soon enough but in a confined space full of strangers unfamiliar with the range of his keening it was just awkward. People were looking. I got the coffee to go and we left.

A short walk outside eased Pea into an inconveniently long nap. I had lunch elsewhere and we returned for another crack at Charlie’s house just the two hours after getting our ticket. By this time there was really only about an hour to spare before heading home to avoid rush hour.

Carrying Pea around the house was tricky as he’s both heavy and strong-willed. If something catches his eye that he wants to get to it takes strength I just don’t have in abundance to hold him back. It was quiet when we visited so I did release him onto the floor for a few brief bursts to give my back a break and prevent a tantrum but even then he was only ever seconds from head butting a glass cabinet, eating some fake holly or yanking on the extravagant curtains with his drool sodden little paws. The no prams inside the house rule makes perfect sense by the way as it would have been a tight squeeze on an even moderately busy day. It all would have been fine if only we had our baby carrier but we lost it on a trip to Sydney last year and haven’t gotten around to replacing it.

For me, then, this was mildly stressful and tiring. It was difficult to take in very much in between toddler wrangling and I was sad not to get to at least have a walk around the garden. I peeked out the windows to get a glimpse from the house and it looks ever so pretty. Indeed, I may well make another attempt to check out the cafe and garden if I’m in the area in future. I did appreciate fitting in a visit while the house was still all tarted up for Christmas. The kitchen, scullery and washhouse invited a bit more interaction and I actually preferred these over the more formal rooms. Maybe because I wasn’t quite so tense about Pea breadking something expensive. A very brief nod to The Muppet Christmas Carol made me very nostalgic and want to immediately watch it with Pea even though he won’t have a clue what’s going on.

Overall this was not our most successful museum visit but that’s not really down to any issue with the museum itself. Museums with a crawling critter are a hit and miss affair. So it’s not quite baby friendly but it is certainly child friendly.  There’s lots on offer to engage slightly older children including dressing up opportunities, a family trail for ages 4-12 and a Victorian toy theatre. It’s well worth a visit during the Christmas period to see the house festooned with holly and red ribbons. If the museum curators ever decide to dedicate a special exhibition to the Muppet Christmas Carol I’ll be back in a heartbeat.

Where/When/How Much?

48 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX. Admissions is 9 for adults, under 6’s go free. Donations are encouraged and there’s a discreet donation box just inside the entrance. Open all year round. Closed on Mondays from January through to November. The gift shop, garden and cafe are free to enter.

Facilities

Small cafe serving hot drinks, simple hot meals and some very tasty looking cakes. High chairs were available. Cloakroom with space to park pushchairs and prams. Accessible toilet and baby change. There is lift access to four out of the five floors but you need to ask a member of staff to operate the lift. On our visit, I couldn’t identify any member of staff inside the main house so it’s probably best to ask about this when purchasing a ticket. The small gift shop sells a decent range of books, cards and toys. We purchased the Cosy Classics edition of Great Expectations which has already been enthusiastically chewed by Pea.

 

 

 

Bus King Theatre Christmas Show

Bus King Theatre Christmas Show

Sometimes when I suggest a family outing to my husband, I’m expecting to have to sell it. Not so with Bus King Theatre’s Christmas 2017 show, The Present Predicament. Puppets! On a restored Routemaster bus! Nothing more needed, he was on board (yes, I like the puns okay).

What’s it all about?

The Present Predicament tells the story of a put-upon man who doesn’t know what to get his wife for Christmas. His wife is pretty narky, so he’s a bit stressed about the whole thing. She doesn’t like much, but she does like hamsters. Unfortunately, the man (didn’t take note of his name, whoops) can’t afford to buy a hamster from a pet shop. In desperation, he turns to the next best thing – a London sewer rat. Yep. Naturally, he doesn’t just present his wife with a rat out of a sewer because that would be silly. He gives the rodent a makeover involving bleach and perfume and a blow dry and transforms the rat into Humphrey the Hamster. The hamster is a hit with the Missus and you’d think that would be the end of the dudes problems but you’d be wrong. I’ll leave it at that but what follows is a weird kind of love/hate dynamic between the man and Humphrey. There are some images from this show that will remain with me for a long, long time. One of which was a giant rat poo which had the older children in the audience shrieking with laughter. No pictures of the performance were allowed because the puppets were shy, apparently, but there are images up on the Bus King website now if you want to get a look at Humphrey. You won’t regret it.

Pea remained oddly focused for the majority of the performance, only getting mildly twitchy towards the end. If I’m honest, I’m glad that Pea is too young to really understand what was going on as I wouldn’t have fancied trying to explain to him that its best not to befriend a wild rat. His Dad and I however couldn’t help but be completely charmed and entertained by the deliciously macabre story (it didn’t end well for Humphrey). There was an additional workshop after the show but we didn’t book that as it seemed a little too advanced for Pea. The interior of the bus was has a lovely vintage feel and and was very cosy. Seating was carefully managed to ensure everyone got a decent view of all the action (“Children in front of children and grown ups in front of grown ups).

This was certainly one of our more memorable activities and I’d definitely consider booking another performance if it weren’t for the whole leaving London thing.

Where/When is it?

Spitalfields Market.  The Present Predicament has been and gone now but shows appear to be seasonally based so if you dig this kind of thing keep an eye on the website for future performances. We attended the performance on 23rd December.

Facilities

The lovely lady in charge will store your buggy on the top deck of the bus or chain it up outside for you (remember the rain cover). As it’s at Spitalfields market there are numerous options for a pre-show coffee or refreshment after. I don’t know if there’s baby change facilities at the market as, owing to Pea evacuating his bowels in spectacular fashion moments before we needed to leave the house that morning, we were not seeking them out on that particular day. Liverpool Street station is just a few minutes away and has a bum changing facilities.

Introducing

Introducing

I’m Lee, a working parent to one year old Pea. We are currently South London residents but a relocation to Dublin is in the planning. Adjusting to motherhood has not been a natural or easy process for me. A traumatic birth swiftly followed by a severe but (mercifully) swift episode of postnatal illness left me struggling to reconcile my old self with my new role as someone’s Mum.

For me, the road to recovery has very much about getting us both out of the house and engaged in interesting activities. In the early days I tried a bunch of the usual Mum and Baby offerings but mostly felt awkward and out of place at these. If like me you cannot recall the words to a single nursery rhyme, cannot sing to save your life and are so desperately uncoordinated that you can’t deal with simple baby signing many parent and baby activities will be a stressful and uncomfortable experience. Venturing beyond our local area and to the many museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres, concerts halls and other cultural institutions that London has to offer opened up a whole other world of activities Pea and I could do together that were stimulating for both of us.

I took him to places I’ve never been to in more than a decade of being a Londoner, like Wigmore Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, and the Old Vic. I took him to old favourites like Kew Gardens, Brockwell Park, the Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery, experiencing them differently with a baby in tow.  I got full benefit from both my National Art Pass and my Oyster card to visit areas of London I’ve never had a reason to go to before such as North Finchley, Deptford and Kingston. I’ve caught more films at the cinema than any previous year on account of parent and baby screenings. We’ve experienced some pretty surreal moments thanks to a baby opera (yeah, that’s a thing) and the questionable use of Tubular Bells during a space-themed baby class.

There were wonderful days were everything came together perfectly – smooth transport connections, conveniently located baby change facilities and the absolute serenity of a classically trained musician’s performance of Clair de Lune while Pea napped. We’ve had frustrating days of rail delays, dickheads on buses, explosive nappies and inadequate changing facilities and missing a performance I’d already paid for due to my poor sense of direction and a Google maps fail. Despite the sometimes shitty days, the upshot of all this was a renewed appreciation of my adopted city tinged with a sense of loss at the impending move.

Now that I’m back at work, our cultural adventures are limited to my one non-working day and weekends. The move is absolutely the right thing for us but departing hunting for similar opportunities in Dublin has offset some of the sadness at leaving. I’m pleased to have found some very promising options. So, all of this is a very long-winded way of introducing the focus of this blog. It’s a place to review and reflect on some of our last London activities before the move as well as documenting our Dublin discoveries. While this is first and foremost a record for my own benefit if it is at all helpful to anyone out there with a baby or toddler to entertain in London or Dublin then that is a bonus and questions on any of our activities are welcomed.