London has two faces for people who live here; the London for the child-less and London for the parents. I loved child-less London, it suited my care-free, plan-free, spur of the moment living before children, yet I have seen very few ‘sights’ in the 10 years I’ve lived here. Most annoyingly, these were either free or heavily discounted for the student but with so many Pound a Pint nights and Sam Smiths pubs to hunt out, I never found the time to see anything. Heck, I didn’t know there was quite so many wooded areas in breathing distance from my home until my son turned up and showed me this whole new slower, more relaxed London.
When the playgroups go on their Summer hiatus we hit the big parks and obscure museums. The big ‘Bring Your Children Here’ museums are reserved solely for weekday morning on term time and even then it pushes my levels of serenity to the limits. We once went to the Science Museum on a rainy bank holiday. Big mistake. After waiting 45 minutes for a lift to take our pram down to the Kids Area in the basement, we were faced with a riot of screaming children charging around a wall of prams and pissed off parents. We spent all of 5 minutes in there before waiting a further 45 minutes for the lift to lead us to our escape, swearing never to grace a big museum ever again.
So every time I have a full day off with just my son, we make a point of going out into London for the day to make the most of this wonderful, child-friendly city. And we always take the sling.
Last week we did the Bloomsbury Crawl:
Starting at The Cartoon Museum at 10.30am when it first opens, this small museum is easily missed placed a street back from the mammoth British Museum, but is very much worth a visit. The museum is two rooms over two floors, with carefully curated exhibitions downstairs that change on a regular basis and a well laid out permanent collection of British comics and cartoons upstairs.
At the moment there is a Ralph Steadman exhibition downstairs, which was a brilliant collection and biography of his work. The overview showcased some of his political work alongside the more recognisable partnership with Hunter S Thompson and gonzo journalism. There was a small room to one side which contained all his children’s illustrations, including copies of the pictures books in which they appeared. Great for getting small people to stop charging around the displays for five minutes and sit and read.
Personal enjoyment to one side, on each floor were tables, pens and paper presumably for having a go at creating your own cartoon. Or for stopping the charge of a toddler for a few minutes.
The boy enjoyed it immensely and the whole visit kept him occupied for at least 45 minutes. The shop alone is worth a gander, wonderfully stocked with graphic novels, great picture books and prints and the usual mugs, coasters, pens etc. Plus the staff were really friendly and welcoming for having small person stampede through at lightening speed. They have a kids room upstairs where they put on events for older kids but let me use the room anyway for my son to draw and burn off some creative steam. I overheard them talking as we were rounding up to leave, that they watched my son have a great time in there. The Cartoon Museum is a lovely little place well worth a trip if that’s your thing.
On the walk from there, you cannot really avoid the British Museum and nor should you. Neither could the boy avoid trying to inflict damage on a antique penny farthing chained to the outside of a shop en route.
My son learned to walk in the British Museum so it was always hold a place dear in my heart. A day of watching his slow unsteady steps alone turn into a full on charge towards anything shiny or cat-shaped is imprinted in my memory forever. The Egyptian section has never been so enthralling. This day, however, we went straight downstairs to check out the kids learning zone. I’d not been there before during my many visits but it had been recommended as a place to go as long as it wasn’t a weekend or school holiday.
They were making Roman and Pompeii era jewellery on the day we visited. It was a little above his age – a woman working there told me so. Sod that, my son wants to stick jewels on a snake, he will blooming stick jewels on a snake. We found someone who was willing to humour us.
The boy had a great time sticking and cutting. We saw nothing of the museum itself bar getting stuck in a Japanese tour group by the Easter Island head. A little scary but we were amused by someone taking photos of the group taking photos of the Easter Island head.
We exited out of a quiet door to the rear of the building and walked straight up Malet Street past the wonderful architecture of Bloomsbury and through to Gordon Square Garden, which is a lovely resting point around all the lunching office workers. Mostly to remind yourself that you are no longer a lunching office worker and have no office to return to and can continue to enjoy a gloriously sunny afternoon in London.
We stayed on Gordon Street until we reached Euston Road and the penultimate stop on our Crawl; The Wellcome Collection. This is a great little place that has temporary installations which are free to visit and a great shop to nosy around. We’ve been to most of them over the past couple of years and I really wanted to see Souzou: Japanese Outsider Art. My son, however, was mostly scared by the opening exhibits for some unknown reason, maybe he could interpret some other meaning in the art like dogs being able to hear a high level of noise to humans. Whatever, he was mostly unimpressed until we reached the Poo-Poo Lion.
It was not a Lion made of faeces but in fact a pair of clay lions. In fact all the clay objects were referred to as poo-poo by my son and he proceeded to charge around the small gallery exclaiming so in the projected voice which he inherited from me. Having my toddler tell me I am too loud on a daily basis is a real mirror to how far I do project my voice unknowingly. He warmed to the exhibition at the end but had more fun reading all the expensive kids books in the shop at the end. Go for it son, it’s the nearest you’re going to get to owning a £15 pop-up book before you get pocket money.
Our last stop was the Friends House Cafe. We love this place. It is fair to say this is another place my son has grown up in. They have a little play area for kids although some strange people insist on holding lunch-meetings there and look perplexed when they are faced with a germ-ridden Iggle-Piggle riding on an elephant over a road. It does cheap food, lovely coffee, vegan ice cream and the staff are very friendly. There is even a well-priced bookshop there so if you’ve resisted the gift shops throughout the day, there is always that to splurge on a momento.
All this was over and done by 2pm, leaving my son to fall asleep in the sling and for me to have a potter around Angel having had a day well spent.