Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Clipping Great Tour

The MBNA Thames Clipper

Travelling under Tower Bridge - no road closure required
Last week Mumsnet Hackney revisited her sea legs to attend the unveiling of the new addition to the fleet of Clippers that currently service commuters and tourists alike, up and down London’s iconic divider, the River Thames. Bearing in mind the recent drop in temperatures, I was bracing myself to have to frantically root through my wardrobe to locate the crumpled North Face jacket, lurking beneath a mound of other ‘unseasonal’ clothing. However, it was with relief the forecast, for once, accurately predicted a gloriously sunny morning which as it turns out was perfect for a jaunt down the 

It is undoubtedly a good sign when the event you attend supplies such deliciously noteworthy canap├ęs they could possible secure a blog post in their own right - miniature eggs florentine, hash browns and salmon and cream cheese piped onto miniature cucumber platters which had me virtually stalking the unsuspecting waiting staff of County Hall. But enough about the food and onto some history: the MBNA Thames Clippers are now in their 15th year of travelling the Thames along various routes between Putney and Canary Wharf. They initially began with one Clipper transporting around 21,000 passengers a year, which has now expanded to 13 vessels transporting 3.5 million passengers a year. On a personal note, prior to becoming a London resident, I had previously travelled on the Clipper from the Tate Britain down to the Tate Modern on a sightseeing trip and, even then, thought it was a rather glamorous mode of transport.

These fountains were borrowed from the Bellagio (not really)
The ‘launch’ commenced with the event organisers transforming a small section of the Thames into the lake of the Bellagio, Las Vegas i.e. a choreographed mini fountain show and, after a brief presentation, announced that even though we were attending an unveiling today, there was going to be another imminently as they had received the go ahead to build yet another Clipper to add to their obviously quite fertile fleet. 

We were then escorted onto the shiny Aurora Clipper for a cruise down to Canary Wharf for a journey that included, rather excitingly at one point, a short burst of travelling at high speed. So why would this experience be of use to Mumsnetters? I made it my mission to assess the Clipper's suitability for families. So for starters, children under 5 travel free and you can use your Oyster card. To view the commuter and tourist route timetables please click here. The Clipper is easily accessible with a buggy. If I had brought my 2 young sons I would have been wary about ensuring there was no way they could ’escape’ out of the indoor seating area on deck but to do this they would have had to open a heavy door which put my mind at ease. The baby change facilities are found in the disabled toilet out on deck, whereas the main toilets which are roomy single cubicles are inside. There is a coffee and snack bar onboard too should any refuelling be required. I came away not only coveting anyone who has this experience as their daily commute but also mentally adding it to my list of trips I will be making with my boys in tow, I cannot wait. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Mumsnet Hackney goes to Lollibop!

I consider myself a bit a festival addict. Any opportunity to loiter in a field, usually whilst being rained on, to listen to music and drink cider has always had an odd appeal. It was with some melancholy that I hung up my festival hat as, despite festivals becoming more and more family friendly, since having children I just didn’t have the energy to attempt it with kids in tow. So I’m sure you can imagine my rapture at receiving an invite to Lollibop, a festival designed to introduce your little ones to the festival experience, where the cider becomes apple juice and rock stars are the cast of Cbeebies. 

Cited as 'the UK’s biggest ever festival for kids. It’s designed to delight mini festival goers, providing the best summers day out for under 10s and their families. LolliBop is the perfect place to introduce your little ones to all the thrills of a festival vibe but without the hassle of long car journeys and camping’ according to the website. On previous years at has taken place at London’s Hyde Park and the Olympic Park, however this year the venue was Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.

We attended Lollibop on Friday 15th August and arrived early to ensure we didn't miss Swashbuckle’s Cook and Line, on at the Lollapalladium (where most of the Cbeebies acts were playing) at 10.10am. Unfortunately we showed a member of staff directing traffic into the car park, our ‘guest parking’ pass who insisted that we had taken a wrong turn and couldn’t go back and therefore we had to drive out of the site and come back in again and go in the staff car park. Slightly bemused we headed out via the exit which had the sad misfortune of being controlled by traffic lights as it led out onto some roadworks and after a round trip of an hour due to considerably more traffic and huge queues we arrived back at the entrance. I later found out that actually we could have parked in the VIP area which we drove past on our way out and not in the roughly mown corn field that we ended up in, which was impossible to negotiate with our buggy. So after an exhausting expedition carrying children, buggy and buggy board we finally arrived. We headed straight to join the queue into the Lollapalladium where after standing there for 15 minutes desperately trying to entertain my 2 and 3 year old sons, I was told the show was full. So we wandered to the Lollibop live stage where we saw CBBC’s Sam and Mark. My children aren’t quite at the CBBC age yet so it didn’t hold their attention long so we defected once again to try and queue for Postman Pat however, once again were told the show was full. 

 This was not a great start. However, I decided to look on the bright side as there was an array of rather fantastic looking food stalls and by this point is was nearly lunch time. The choice of food available was rather polarised, the choice either being gourmet or chips with no real middle ground, which I found quite surprising but they did all seem to do mini sizes for the kids. We then walked around the site which was vast. Bizarrely the seating area with chunky plastic picnic benches was miles from the food stalls.

We then decided to make use of our press pass and visited the VIP area where predictably things vastly improved. Mr Bloom was doing a meet and greet and the boys had a great time in the play area that had a sandpit, a giant Jenga and Connect 4. However, possibly the best moment was visiting the meet and greet tent, where my youngest son, on seeing Andy Day, immediately ran up to him for a hug. 

We decided if we had any hope of seeing any of the Cbeebies shows we had to make sure we were organised and so commenced queuing for Chris and Pui's mini roadshow. Queuing time was 35 minutes, however we were not disappointed. The show was fantastic! The highlight for me was when Chris pointed out to the audience that they could talk to him because that day he wasn't a video. 

So over all did I feel the experience was 'the perfect place to introduce your little ones to all the thrills of a festival vibe but without the hassle of long car journeys and camping'? Quite honestly whilst the quality of the shows was excellent, due to  the early misdirection by the festival car park staff most of our day was spent in the car and then queuing for the shows. I also nearly fainted when using a festival cash point where the withdrawal charge was a whopping £2.75. However, with my new found car park knowledge I certainly would go again as undoubtedly there was a buzzing festival atmosphere and the boys loved the things they did see, not to mention seeing my children’s first ever experience of being starstruck.

Please note Mumsnet Hackney received a family ticket free of charge courtesy of Lollibop.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

This week Mumsnet Hackney went back to school..

It was with great intrigue that I received the opportunity to attend an event organised by Intel and Argos, titled 'Old school vs new – can technology really deliver better results and what's in store for the future of the classroom?’ The aim of this occasion was to conduct an interactive experiment where those attending would sit through two lessons; one taught in the old fashioned way without any kind of technology and the second with all the latest gadgets readily available’. Why? To find out if technology aids or diminishes the further education of our next generation. It was also assured that it would be 'a fascinating, thought-provoking exercise that will produce real results’ which was one bold promise, especially as even on my better days, I am a technical buffoon who can only be trusted to competently operate a biro. 

So along I went to the hanging baskets of Pimlico to the Ofsted rated outstanding Pimlico Academy, where I took my seat in class, at a table equipped with paper and luckily for me, a biro. The lesson I was about to receive was English Literature and the text was Macbeth: a play which due to a curriculum malfunction I ended up studying for 3 solid years at school. I smiled to myself at the thought of breezing through this class. Of course I was setting myself up for a fall as, I don’t mind saying, academically I have always been average, apart from PE where I languished happily last for any team selections. Reading through an outline of the play, I was stunned at how much I’d forgotten. Stupidity established, I soldiered on. The format of the lesson, taught by an Educational Psychologist by the name of Ben, was, bearing in mind technology for me only came into play at University, much the same as my frame of reference of my own experience of school. When the teacher wasn't talking there was pin drop silence. Immediately I had flashbacks, where the fear of saying something stupid far outweighed the potential educational gain, and I was overwhelmed with the sinking reminder of how much I loathed school. 

The purpose of this lesson was to examine two versions of the play, an old edition (the first folio printed several years after Shakespeare’s death) and a modern ‘Arden’ edition, which undoubtedly was the same one I set fire to shortly after completing my English GCSE. I’m joking of course, but I do recall considering it. Whilst comparing the difference in stage directions was very interesting I struggled to keep my focus, especially in this enticingly unfamiliar class room with various rules and slogans emblazoned on every wall. The class then ended with an assignment where we had to write out our own stage directions which I failed to complete in the allotted time. When asked to feedback about the experience the main point I made was that had I been able to type then I would have easily finished. It would have still been wrong no doubt but at least it would have been completely wrong. 

What does an English lesson studying Shakespeare, this time Romeo and Juilet’s balcony scene, look like with every technical gadget at your fingertips? Firstly your pen and paper are upgraded to a laptop and headphones. Instead of reading a written summary of the play we watched an animated version courtesy of the great resource that is YouTube, beamed in via a projector. We then viewed various film interpretations of said scene, including Baz Luhrman’s modernised version and the most recent film by Carlos Carlei, who was rather more traditional in his choice of settings and costumes. The assignment this time involved us using the internet and social media to find our own version of the scene and then type up our observations about the staging, bearing in mind the original summary we had seen and the subjectivity of the directors choice of staging. Everyone in the room immediately opened up a file at the touch of a button and started typing, except me. I bumbled around until the on hand tech person took pity on me whilst I unnecessarily announced that I used a Mac not Windows. I was finally away and found the assignment enjoyable and actually finished it. 

I didn’t think there would be anything particularly ground breaking about this experience but actually I came away quite bitter about the fact this method of teaching wasn’t around when I was at school. Everything about the lesson was so much better. It reminded me of those occasions at school where you spent half the lesson watching the teacher attempting to get the video working only for said video and television, which was always on a trolley to be wheeled out of the room and replaced with the clunky black and white affair borrowed from the staff room. However, it wasn’t just about the slick functionality of everything. I felt so much more engaged in what I was learning and able to make far better observations not to mention the lesson flew by and I took no interest in the class room decor. However, most importantly, how did I fair when my assignments were marked? I was surprised how much they spoke for themselves - I received a rather embarrassing C- in my first lesson which then elevated to a B- for the second, a trend consistently demonstrated by every other participant.

At the end of the experience I collared the teacher. I wanted assurances that this was the future, that all schools would be fully equipped with the skills, resources to teach this way. The response was, somewhat predictably, that this wholly depends on the funds available and the motivation of the head teacher. However, if this is the future then I assure you, our kids will be bright.