Our Chiswick Mum week: from Jam Tarts & Westminster, to Shrek’s Adventure & London Dungeon
It’s my usual round up of our weekend, lest I forget it’s the small moments that make up a family life well lived.
As I write I have a son asleep behind the sofa, and a cat asleep behind the television. Behind the sofa is where my nine-year-old son has one of his many dens, with carefully laid pillows and blankets and favourite toys. He fell asleep there tonight after dinner reading his old Horrid Henry books and I haven’t the heart to move him until I got to bed myself.
I don’t have any insight into what drew the cat to fall asleep behind the television, but I expect it has something to do with the warm bits of duck he ate from our dinner table. (The cat is usually the first one to get to the table when dinner is served.) I think he was heading for his usual spot on the window-sill, but felt too comfy to get any further than the TV which is conveniently positioned next to the radiator.
Me? I’m poised on the sofa, legs stretched out, MacBook balanced on my lap, a cheeky glass of post-Monday red by my side. I’m all set to write up our weekend but I’m slightly distracted by Dirty Dancing on TV which I found while idly surfing for something to have on in the background (something I rarely do.) As I type Patrick Swayze is saying ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ so you’ll forgive me for being a little distracted while I slip into a teenage reverie.
Half term fun
So although it was half term I was working for most of the week – boo – while Chiswick Daddy stayed at home to have fun with Chiswick Boy. It was lovely to come home in the evenings and hear all the adventures that they’d got up. Swimming at Brentford Fountain Leisure Centre, and building dens, and doing research projects on King Alfred!
Now Alfred famously burnt the griddle cakes, but thankfully Chiswick Boy and I didn’t burn the tarts we made. (Well actually one looks a bit singed in this picture.)
So, it was lovely to know Chiswick Boy and Chiswick Daddy were having a great time together. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt a teeny weeny (okay a mega lots) bit jealous of not being there. But what can you do? There are 15 weeks of school holidays over the year and you don’t need an A Level Maths to work out that even my super generous public sector 6 weeks of annual leave don’t cover that.
I’m just spoilt!
So on Friday (which is my usual day off) I got to spend some quality time with my guys, and we headed off to see my workplace en route to the South Bank on a gloriously sunny day. First step was the terribly important task of the Tying of the Shoelaces.
Buskers and sculpture and shingle oh my
One of the things I love about Chiswick Boy is that he always wants to give money to buskers (and he does this for homeless people too). The trumpet player outside Vauxhall plays a pretty mean tune.
Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is always amazing, and this is especially true when you’re walking a route you’ve done many times before alone.
I’d never noticed this piece of sculpture although I pass it twice a day.
I don’t work in this building, for the simple fact that if I did work there I wouldn’t be able to tell you. (Or is this a double bluff?). Yes, it’s the M15 building, instantly recognisable – although the luxury flats to the right have copied the colour scheme.
Victoria Gardens, nestled next to the Houses of Parliament, has a lovely play area for kids and we hung about there for a while before walking on to the South Bank.
I really love the South Bank. Pre-kids I went there at least a couple of times a week, for a glass of cold white wine in the Royal Festival Hall with friends, or a meander around the poetry library.
It’s also a great place to hang out with kids. One of the best bits is the grungy skateboard hangout under the Royal Festival Hall, with the amazing constantly changing graffiti and street art. We stood there for ages, watching the skaters whizz backwards and forwards, trying out stunts and often falling off, but getting right back on and persevering. A great lesson for kids in ‘getting back on the horse’ and that you can’t succeed at anything without failing many times first. Chiswick Boy took these photos:
Splashing out on Merlin passes – and Shrek’s Adventure
One of the main reasons we were on the South Bank was to pick up our family Merlin passes. We’re not Merlin ambassadors or reviewers or anything like that. We bought the passes in the sale and there were £109 each (and we got three, obviously.)
It’s a very large outlay, but Chiswick Boy is nine now and at the age where he’ll really get so much out of going to the theme parks.
We started off by going to Shrek’s Adventure (we had meant to go on the London Eye but it was a 50 minute wait, even with passes). Now I should say upfront that Chiswick Boy really loved Shrek’s Adventure. He thought it was magical and was completely engrossed. Which was great, because I was less than impressed to be honest. It all felt rather rushed, and there was a lot of queuing even with timed tickets.
If you have Merlin passes it’s definitely worth going to – why wouldn’t you with passes? – but if I’d bought full price tickets I’d have been disappointed. There’s a loose storyline and you go through different rooms in a group, and each room has a character, like Doris the grumpy transvestite barmaid (she’s my favourite character from the films!) or Sleeping Beauty. But I’d have liked to have seen more of the core characters from the film, and longer times in each of the areas.
At the end there’s a nice bit which has some tableaux from other Dreamworks films, and you can hang out and play and take photos. Here’s Chiswick Boy getting his Zen on in the Kung Fu Panda bit.
So basically – don’t let me put you off going, as Chiswick Boy did love it, and it’s all about the kids isn’t it? But it could be lots better.
The next day we were all set to go to the South Bank again for the London Dungeon (included in the Merlin passes) but the car broke down when Chiswick Daddy was nipping to the shops for milk and the Saturday Times. So while he was waiting for the break down people, Chiswick Boy and I headed off as we had timed tickets for noon.
Now I had massive reservations about taking Chiswick Boy to the London Dungeon. We’ve never been – always thought it would be too gruesome and violent. But as it was included in the passes, and had a couple of rides included, I thought I’d give it a go and that it might be more of a Horrible Histories vibe.
I will say that Chiswick Boy was really scared in places, but not to the extent that I was worried about him. The beginning queue had lots of torture weapons with signs describing their usage, but I managed to distract Chiswick Boy from using these. I objected to the word ‘slut’ being bandied about in this section, and I didn’t like the peep hole with a view of Nell Gwynn, (mistress of King Charles II), because there’s nothing salacious about Nell Gwynn. She’s a bone fide historical character and actress.
On the whole though I was pleasantly surprised by the London Dungeon. I hadn’t realised it was a historical tour through old London – so included bits about the plague and the Great Fire (both of which Chiswick Boy has studied at school). Yes, there were bits of torture chamber and gruesome facts. But the quality of the acting and the good humour kept it light in those places.
I don’t like the inclusion of Jack the Ripper – and this part made me feel uncomfortable. Although this section went completely over Chiswick Boy’s head luckily.
The boat ride at the beginning struck me at the edges of my comfort zone. Much of it is in pitch black, and jerky (fact about Chiswick Mum: I’m afraid of the dark) – but nothing leapt out menacingly (as far as I know – it was, after all, dark).
The final ride promised a sheer drop of 10 metres in the dark. I’ve no idea whether Chiswick Boy was tall enough to go on it or not, because I just couldn’t work up the nerve to go on it, and muttered ‘we’ll come back with Chiswick Daddy and go on it then’.
Chiswick Daddy is not fond of heights. So basically he can do the dark and I can do heights, and how we’re going to work out a ride with a ten metre sheer drop in the dark I don’t know. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. (Luckily we are both fine with bridges.)
A drink in the dungeon
A lovely touch in the London Dungeon is that when you go in you’re given a gold coin (okay, plastic) to exchange for a free drink at the end.
It means you can sit down and relax, still in themed surroundings, before heading out into the sunshine.
All in all the London Dungeon – unexpectedly – gets a big thumbs up from us.
So there was other stuff over the weekend too: glitter, and crafting, and washi tape, and films, and walking in the park, and more jam tart making.
But for now I shall leave it here and await the next weekend with anticipation.
What did you get up to over half term? Have you been to any of the South Bank attractions? What do you think?