The London Coffee Festival



Coffee and motherhood go together like wine and Friday night; one could not comfortably exist without the other. So, when coffee is needed to get through the day, without waking from an accidental nap to find every surface of the living room covered in red pen, you quickly come to appreciate good coffee and what makes a great coffee shop.

So, an outing to the London Coffee Festival to celebrate all things coffee-related was a welcomed experience this weekend at the Truman Brewery. The trade show opened on Thursday evening and to the public yesterday. Today was the first full public day and it continues on into the weekend.

It is not just about the coffee, although finding new great coffee products was a clear high light, there was also a lot of tea, chocolate, talks and music with samples to keep you going. The queue stretched half way down Brick Lane before opening time; coffee appreciation is taken very seriously in London with both parents and the care-free alike. It was good to see so many little people in there, expressing their love of the babyccino or ‘hot milk’ for the rest of us.

LCF_PressImage_CoffeeFestival2013_Day4__LowRes-88Some of the highlights were the Volcano Coffee Works, who put a lot of care and thought into every stage of their coffee-making process, which clearly comes through with the taste. The Roasting Party were as good as their name, affable people passionate about their products. An intriguing concept was Grower’s Cup; great tea or coffee in a pouch that you add water to and pour. Pretty smart for being out and about while not wanting to compromise on your beverage quality.

Alpro were offering out vegan coffee and porridge, which was damn tasting and a good respite from the flurry of free espresso shots from the rest of the show. Vegan soft-drinks brand Fritz-Kola were also offering out samples of their drinks. High caffeine content and Mischmasch being pegged as a great hangover cure. Coming from Hamburg, it is probably a trustworthy claim. Mischmasch was damn tasty mix of cola, lemon and orange.

LCF_PressImage_DCS2409Tea was well represented there as well. Tea Pigs are always reliable on flavours but London Tea Company does some wonderful blends. Personally, I am addicted to their Vanilla Chai. Tea discovery of the day goes to Brew Tea Co who really nailed good old builders tea and had these great little Brew Cards to ensure no one gets your tea preference wrong again.

However, the nicest stall of the day and my favourite find was Jaz and Juls Drinking Chocolate. It can be a tricky thing finding great vegan drinking chocolate but this brand doesn’t put powdered milk into the blend and it was superb. It is organic, ethical and run by two lovely women who were really passionate and engaged about what they were doing; a total inspiration and making great hot chocolate too.

It would be amiss to not point out the sofas and chairs dotted by the stage made from reclaimed wood. The pallet sofa was surprisingly comfortable and looked damn good too.

There was plenty of beer, whiskey and coffee-related cocktail tasting going on too but being pregnant, I cannot really comment on these. Downstairs was the coffee-lifestyle room: designers, accessories, pop up cafe and furniture sellers who are synonymous with East London and knowing where to get your good coffee from. It’s not just about the drink anymore. London Coffee Festival was an intriguing day out with wonderful discoveries made. Expect some more to come on the wonderful Jaz and Juls Chocolate.

The London Coffee Festival continues throughout the weekend at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane.

Labor Day Review

labor day


If you were going to get kidnapped and held hostage in your own home over a sleepy bank holiday weekend it would be nice if the escaped convict did all those niggling odd jobs around the house, made your dinner at the end of the day and promise to run away to a better life rather than terrified you into submission. It would be nice but would probably need a high degree of suspension of disbelief for such sentimentality, as happens in Labor Day. Seen through the eyes of 13 year old Hank, perhaps in a soft-edged memory, he and his single-mother, Adele are kidnapped and then come to love their captor, Frank: one to escape the fear of loneliness and hurt, the other to escape the disappointment of an absent father-figure. With severe depression bordering on agoraphobia and a teenage outsider, Frank picks his vulnerable victims well.

The tension of violence is an undercurrent that builds with the montages and flashbacks of Frank’s story, which runs alongside that of the Labor Day weekend. The film opens with scenes of Hank being the ‘husband’ to his own mother, taking her a cup of tea in bed, running her a bath, doing the errands. This is a woman who wants to be loved, who has had love taken away and as much as the story wants to be about love but there is an uncomfortable feeling bubbling under the surface. This build up is done with great speed and subtly to move the action to emotional binds built through baking and basesball.

Then there is the food, which runs as a glaring, signposted metaphor throughout. Ghost has its potters wheel scene, Labor Day its peach pie scene; which is the nearest you are going to get to sex throughout the film. The peach pie was the pinnacle of food metaphors in Labor Day and the ensuing connotations about wholesome, American family life; the pie being Frank, salted on the outside, sweet and soft inside that no one can see; the family as a whole needing a roof, being assembled together. Before Frank, Adele and Hank lived off canned goods and frozen foods which were brought back to life with the fresh, tactile cooking when Frank entered their world.

Kate Winslet plays the very submissive female lead of Adele incredibly well, showing her quick escalation from an almost catatonic state into pure fear while trying to hide this from her son. Yet it was 13 year-old Hank, played by Gattlin Griffith, who took on the bulk of the film and moved the drama.

Labor Day is laced with sticky, sweet sentimentality as it was; it was beautifully shot and acted but a stride away from the usual Jason Reitman films and ensuing expectations. Adele and Hank were outsiders looking for their place in the world and found it with an ultimate outsider, Frank.  This film needs to be watched with suspending belief at how realistic reactions to the situation are and be led by voice of Hank and his memory of the pivotal moment in his life, making him the adult he became.

This was viewed at a special complimentary screening with thanks to Mumsnet and Paramount Pictures. 


Careful, the fun police are about.

There are many rules about what you can and cannot do in pregnancy. By rules, I of course mean advice given on the basis of VERY IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC STUDIES. It feels a lot like the fun police are about ensuring that anything risky or exciting is banned from a pregnant woman’s life. Hell just glue us to the sofa with a laptop in hand for 9 months to make sure we are nice and safe, googling the dangers of child-bearing and not making any actual decisions for ourselves.

Hang on, I had a glass of wine in the pub last night. Not allowed by the fun police and there were a fair few in the bar staring at the woman hiding a hot air balloon up her top, reading a book and enjoying a small house white while waiting for friends. I was on my own too. Several levels of  social boundaries broken and with a debate going on about whether drinking in pregnancy should be criminalised too. While I do not condone getting smashed out of my face while pregnant, I have found that the odd glass of wine has improved some of the more suffering points in pregnancy and made me a more bearable person to be around.

But this is notabout the ethics of alcohol use in pregnancy; this is about  common sense. We are given advice when pregnant about the risks posed by certain things and as adults able to raise whole other human beings, we are also given a degree of common sense – it would be hoped – to make a decision based on those risks, which apply to us as an individual during pregnancy. We’re talking about bigger pictures here. Making decisions based on our own personal willingness to take a calculated risk and what we need at that time.

This is brought up because while farting about on facebook earlier today I saw that a friend of mine had been refused sushi in Wasabi for the sole reason that she was pregnant. You can read about it here.

I am still pondering the logic of their decision and this quote below:

“We told her we strongly do not recommend her to buy raw fish – but she could buy something vegetarian,” he said. “It is not good for pregnant women.”

Raw fish may not be good for pregnant women although he doesn’t qualify as to how. Assuming it is because of the potential food poisoning it could cause then he might as well say that it is not good for any person not willing to risk food poisoning. Are they saying the food sold carries a reasonable risk of making us ill? Then maybe any Wasabi customers should be questioning their purchases.

Also, will this branch of Wasabi be handing out pregnancy tests at the door to ensure no unwitting woman accidentally eats their unsafe food? Since the only way to make a judgement about someone being ‘with-child’ is to see a visible bump. This really only happens in the third-trimester so for the first two-thirds of pregnancy a woman could be upsetting this man’s sensibilities about raw-fish eating. And what if that woman were not actually pregnant but just over weight? Or pregnant masquerading as over weight?

Are they going to now ban pregnant women also eating wasabi, as we are advised to avoid spicy food. Better slap me on the wrist for following up my glass of wine with a hot curry last night. Infractions that happened in both pregnancies to no detrimental effect. Oh and nasties can also be found in pre-cooked rice, better avoid that too. Again, maybe strap us to a sofa with a conveyor belt of pre-approved food and drink going past seems to be the only answer to stop us from the dangerous act of making up our own minds, like we have some ability to apply common sense and reason to any given situation. Maybe this was  a side-effect of baby brain that no one bothered to tell me about?

How to get your kids to eat their greens.

Is a question that I imagine has some manner of complex equation to figure out what food they will eat at any particular meal time. Something along the lines of:

colour + texture / nutritional value x effort taken to cook to the power of times eaten before = bollocks all chance of them eating it at any given time.

But there is one question at meal times that bugs me the most: “do you think he will eat it?”

“Well, no. Not now you have given him the idea he has some sort of choice in this.”

Personally, I have completely given up my child’s tastes and trying to accommodate them into a meal. Unless it is fish fingers, he changes his mind on a daily, if not hourly basis. What could be the favourite food of one day will get rejected with disdain the next. I am going for the hard-line approach of ‘here is your meal. Eat it, don’t eat it. There is nothing else and I will eat mine.’ His tuna was once fed to the cats because he called my bluff and failed.

At Christmas my parents were amazed that I was even bothering to put brussel sprouts in front of him. ‘He’ll never eat those’ they declared. ‘No idea if he will or will not but let’s not give him the idea they are not for eating, shall we?’ Yep he ate them. For almost a month we had him eating brussel sprouts in various forms but most often in the catch-all risotto. That child would eat anything in a risotto. Although present them to him now and he wouldn’t touch them covered in even the most tasty ketchup or even chocolate.

He went through a phase of only eating frozen peas and raw mushrooms. If they were cooked, he turned his nose up. This may have coincided with a bump to the head and playing doctor before eating said peas was the most fun he had all day with his toys. Whatever, he was getting greens.

Children will merrily eat crap off floors, playdoh, tissues and lick a bus window but when it comes to eating actual, cooked, healthy food it is a battle zone.  How to get your kids to eat greens? I haven’t got a clue but eating together has made for happier meal times even if half is left for tomorrow.

Things You Don’t Expect When You’re Expecting.

I spent my first pregnancy reveling in its blissful magic. I glowed and was amazed by everything that was happening. My husband and I followed the progress with online apps  religiously, setting dates in our diaries for the next progress stage video. Second time around this is definitely not the case. In my mind, pregnancy was a wonderful thing to be treasured and my son would hug and kiss my bump while telling his unborn sibling stories about his day. Here is what I did not expect.

1. To be simultaneously kicked from both the inside and outside.

There is a party in my womb between the hours of midnight and 4 and, like irritating neighbours having a garden rave, I am not going to get any sleep while it is going on. Second pregnancy is making me hyper-aware of the night time movements anyway. What I did not expect was that having a 3 year old in the bed due to a house guest would mean getting kicked from both sides for 8 hours solid, often at the same time. I am not sure which is more preferable, dislodging a heel from my eye socket at 2am or kicked in the bladder for an hour making me feel like I need a wee, when I do not for the whole night.

2. Climbing the Soft Play Mountain.

Six months into my first pregnancy I very proudly climbed a mountain in Spain. Sure it had steps and hand rails but  I did it, rather than get a bus to the top with all the old folks. Woe betide my husband when he tells people it was less of a mountain and more of a ‘rocky outcrop’. What I did not expect to be doing this time around was sliding my bump through a snaking ladder of soft play centre made to fit a 2-6 year old around and not a 30 year old pregnant woman. My son decided to take the steepest slide into the ball pool that even my husband said was a pain in the coccyx and ‘Mummy has to come too’. I could even see from the peak that my coffee was going cold and my magazine unread.

castle of santa barbara clowntown








3. Using my bump as a lever.

First time, I wished for a cattle prod to keep people at a half-metre radius from my bump. Second time the bump is instead used to lever my son into and onto various places as he is now too heavy to lift. The bath tub and various walls to walk on being most popular. It has a great second use pivoting him up into the air that I was not expecting.

4. To not give a crap about the ‘rules’.

Pregnant women are not allowed to do anything fun in the slightest. Rollercoasters, petting zoos, drinking, and gardening are apparently all risky and should be avoided. Caffeine is also outlawed in normal amounts. At your most tired, when you could do with a coffee drip you are advised to limit your intake. Yeah sod that. The best day of my pregnancy so far has been hopped up on at least 5 cups of tea and coffee plus copious amounts of cake. I managed to get the boy to a toddler party, charge around doing the shopping and still find energy to dance around my living room to some probably inappropriate music while teaching my son the lyrics. This is not a normal day. A normal 3 cup-limit day consists of me passing out on the boy’s bed whilst trying to encourage a nap while he climbs over me and destroys the flat for an hour before getting bored and throwing books at my head to wake me up.

I have also been having pretty much every negative side-effect possible of pregnancy. This all seemed to resolve itself when I resolved to have a glass of wine. The up side is that because I am only having a glass, I had better make it a really good glass.

5. To spend most of pregnancy in a semi-crouched position.

First pregnancy was spent in the sitting on the couch position, second pregnancy in the ‘clearing up toys’ position. I am sure I had 6 months of back problems last time around from sitting at work on a chair older than time itself. This time, in spite of spending most of my day collecting things off the floor from standing, not even a twinge. If you see me walking down the street looking like I am impersonating the missing link, you’ll know I got stuck in that position.

Toddler Sight-Seeing in London: The Rules.

Rule #1: Always check that your destination is actually open.

It was a dark and stormy night. Okay, it wasn’t but it was pissing it down in Covent Garden in the freezing cold and I found myself jammed in the Build-A-Bear workshop with two school trips because the London Transport Museum had closed for training that morning. I didn’t check before we left and so we were subject to the humiliation of the store staff trying to entertain 40-odd children and one toddler insistent on destroying any displays. I learned a tough lesson that day.

 Rule #2: Always have a back-up plan.

In the event that your destination sight to see is closed or more realistically, your toddler has scoured the whole place in under 30 minutes (sure, I am being optimistic here), then you need a plan to follow or risk ignoring rule number 3. Picking a place where there is a cluster of museums and galleries is a good idea so if you have stomped through one and not yet reached a coffee break, you can cover two or three destinations in a day.

Tate Modern on Speed

 Rule #3: Time spent sight-seeing should be greater than time spent traveling to the sights.

London has a wonderful transport network and the lure of all the different types of trains and buses can fill part of the day with total joy for your toddler. You don’t, however, want to spend 3 hours of your day traveling on said transport for less than an hour of wandering around. You will be bored or at best, entertained by some of the more colourful Londoners who grace the transport system outside of rush hour. Another way to avoid breaking Rule number three is-,

 Rule #4: Travel Light.

Nope, lighter than that. Lighter still. What are you doing putting your things in the pram? Never, ever take the pram. That is not traveling light; that is subjecting yourself to a day of the buggy-shuffle on the bus. If your child is old enough to walk, take the tube and wear them out. If your child will not manage this then take a sling. You will be thankful for this. There are many, many young families staying in London now and they are all on the bus network in the day. However ergo dynamic and designed for City living your pram may be, it is not designed to be dragged up and down the steps of London Underground. Or rather London Underground is not designed for your pram. Have you seen how few step-free access stickers there are on the tube map? Unless you want to go to Hammersmith, don’t bother.

Take a backpack, put in minimal nappies and fill the rest of the space with food. Lots and lots of food to entertain your child on the big-ass long journey you are about to undertake. Your phone will have a camera and anything else you might need, you will be able to buy when you are out.

The bus is your friend.

 Rule #5: Embrace the gift-shop.

When I was a child, we were never allowed to step foot into the gift-shop at the end of a museum visit for fear of our eyes lighting up at the plethora of tat. My mother made a grave mistake. The gift shop is often the best part of the visit; that or the place where they keep the headphones. We went on a cultural visit last week, spent 15 minutes charging around making loud echoes and 35 minutes sitting on the floor of the gift shop. The boy read the books, played with the beautifully designed toys and I checked the news on my phone. We were both happy. When he finally got bored, we upped and left in search of a place to eat our picnic.

Rule #6: Avoid the entry-fee unless you really have to.

There are some wonderful child-centred museums such as the London Transport Museum where I am willing to pay for the entry fee. Actually, that is the only one I can think of. There are many, many more museums, galleries, open houses, towers and the like that do not cost any money at all. In fact, these are probably of no interest to your child at all but they will still get something out of running around quiet, open corridors shouting at the tops of their voices. Smaller under-funded museums where you pay a nominal fee (I have a personal cap of £5), are also great because you get to visit something out of the normal tourist range and are usually very quiet. I’ve found staff in these smaller museums to be very welcoming and can go out of their way to make their specialist subject matter more engrossing for the toddler. When you want to go see the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy or other such event that genuinely interests you, go on your own. You will be wasting your money otherwise. I have been to some museums umpteen times and I cannot tell you the first thing about what is on display in there unless it has caught the eye of the boy.

 Rule #7: Never go on a rainy bank holiday or a weekend.

We made the catastrophic mistake one bank holiday to take a family trip to Exhibition Road because some website recommended it for a family-friendly day out. How foolish we were. We have learnt from our mistakes. We even took the pram. We spent 25 minutes waiting by the lift in the Science Museum to be taken to the basement floor where the Children’s Play Area is housed. Wonderful play area, I am sure but I will never step foot in there again unless I win enough lottery money to hire it out. It could be the most educational and child-friendly space in the world but when hundreds of snot-nosed children are charging around and there is a queue to even park the pram you know you have made a big mistake. We lasted 5 minutes on the floor we thought we wanted to be on and then a further half an hour queuing to return to the ground floor and left without even glancing at the gift-shop. Arriving at 10am on a week day is blissfully calm and by the time you have finished, the place is just starting to get busy and you are enjoying a nice cup of coffee elsewhere.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

 Rule #8: Avoid the big museums.

Even on a good day you will need to queue to get into the Natural History Museum and then queue again to see the t-rex. By all means, go have a look if you have not done so before but prepare for this with a lot of food. Have an escape strategy at the ready as well, including the location of the nearest place to sit down. If it is raining, this may be a tube ride away. Elsewhere in London I have seen wonderful views of the skyline from the top of a very quiet Monument, done free crafts with my son in various small museums, spent an hour watching him play with a model underground railway in the Museum of London. All of these experiences have been vastly more enjoyable than going to see the big stuff. That is not to say that we will not do the tourist circuit but just chose our times wisely. Still on my list of upcoming attractions are Westminster Abbey, which I have shamefully not been inside yet and the V&A.

 Rule #9: Chose a place that you will both enjoy or employ bribery.

I make a list of all the places I have yet to see in London and make my way through them once a week. Sometimes we return to a particular museum because the boy loves it so much and there is something new there for me, such as The Museum of Childhood being right next door to a vegan café that I want to try out. Sometimes we go to a museum relentless times because it fills my son with joy like the RAF museum in Colindale. We spend a vast amount of time on the Chinook Helicopter and in return I get to sit and drink a cuppa in peace in the picnic area. But really I try find things that we will both be happy with. I do get asked to not see any more picture museums (art galleries) but if we do, then I cut a deal that we can follow it up with a trip on the Clipper, or more realistically, a trip to visit his Dad at work. If we only went to places that he enjoyed then my patience would soon run out, this is a day out for both of us.

 Rule #10: Do not travel during rush hour.

Obvious, right? The amount of times I have found myself rammed on a bus with the boy at 4.30pm where the school rush crashes straight into rush hour at 5pm because nowhere takes less than an hour to get to, is ridiculous. I should really know better. And still it happens. Making sure you are safely ensconced indoors when rush hour hits is the key to a happy end to a happy day.

River Dance

Why I will never wear a Baby on Board! badge.

I have reached that point in pregnancy where I get offered a seat on the tube. Or rather, I glare down at the person sitting in the priority seat and rub my tummy until I get offered the seat. The spontaneous seat offering I am pretty sure is down to sheer politeness of someone who is unsure if I am just fat or actually pregnant and is erring on the side of caution. It has been discussed between pregnant friends that the offering of public transport seats has declined in the past few years. Contrary to urban myth, London is not land of the terminally rude and self-obsessed and if you need a seat, you will generally be given one. Although it is my experience that women tend to do so more than men. And well the tourists, they sit there and tut about how no one is offering the poor pregnant woman a seat, while they do exactly the same and go home to perpetrate the rude London myth.

Trying to work out the reason for the decline in seat offering over the past few years has come up with one solution: the bloody ‘Baby on Board badge’.

BOB badge

I may be a little unreasonable but I have full hatred of this little white pin. I am led to believe it is a London-centric thing and no one outside of the M25 feels the need to wear a sign saying ‘I AM PREGNANT’ in some passive aggressive way. Nope, they let the whole baby-bump alert passers-by to the whole carrying of a new human.

And why, you might ask, do I have such fervent dislike for a simple badge? Because it is rude. Plainly, simply rude. If you want a seat, actually if you need a seat, just ask for one. I am sure the nearest person will be filled with such shame for not lifting their head out of the Metro sooner that they are more than willing to stand so you can sit.

It is a badge that says ‘I deserve that seat more than you. I am more important than you. You must all notice my pregnancy and respect it.’ I often want to tell them that, like their friends on facebook and twitter, no one really cares that much that they are pregnant unless they are the co-creator of the new human or in some way related to it.

The more I notice these badges, the more I despair about people. Yes, babies are amazing and wonderful little things, we should celebrate life in its full but don’t expect the strangers during rush hour to really give two hoots. And this, I believe, is the problem for the non-badge wearing pregnant woman. I don’t especially expect a seat but if needed, I will ask. It is polite. I am guessing that these badges are now so prolific that unless you are wearing one, people will just assume you are fat. I think I would rather be presumed fat than rude.

I wonder if these badges create some manner of pregnancy force field around the wearer, making all other people in London keep an arms-length distance from the wearer so as to not accidentally bump into them. Goodness knows being pregnant makes you pretty much invisible to the rest of human-kind on the right day; people offering flyers, windows and Sky TV will go out of their way to offer someone, anyone else a flyer than offer a pregnant woman. If only the chuggers had the same sense. ‘Oh hello, yes I do have time to stop but no, my statutory maternity pay doesn’t quite stretch to my rent let alone a charitable donation. What is that you say? The price of a cup of coffee a day, you say? Well, if I could afford a cup of coffee a day then I would probably be awake enough to notice that I’ve not brushed my hair in 3 days and my son wiped orange snack dust over my clothes at some point last week.’

I wonder still if the magical badge gets you a seat on the drunk bus. On my due date last time around I went to see a band play at the Borderline in Soho, which meant an interesting ride home on the drunk bus. I genuinely did need to ask for a seat this time so that I didn’t fall into someone’s kebab due to my heavily swollen ankles from standing for 2 hours.  I was very much ready to drop but the drunks were oblivious. I could have probably worn a flashing neon sign with a klaxon to announce my need for a seat and it would not have made the blindest bit of difference.

I know that these badges work, you never see a badge wearing woman standing. I even suspect some of them might not even be pregnant; like a friend of mine who queue jumps at festivals by announcing she is pregnant and about to piss herself. No one can say no to a pregnant woman in need of the loo.