Friday, September 30, 2011

Saturday London Walk - City Walks with Kids, cards 1 and 2!

Walking |tour cards!

My latest purchase was a deck of cards called "City Walks with Kids".  I LOVE it!   Each card contains a small walk, designed with kid interest, kid attention, kid needs in mind.  One side contains the 'map' you need, the other side, a short comment on what to look at, what to see, where to eat, etc.  Perfect.

eros...or anteros?
For our first outing (while Steve and Alex were off at a Rugby game), Duncan and I chose Card #1: "Picadilly Circus."   We got off at the correct tube station, and nodded at the statue of Eros.  According to the National Conservation Centre, the statue is not a tribute to erotic love, but rather to philanthropic friendship (the sculpture apparently claimed that the statue was of Eros’ twin brother Anteros, the god of selfless philanthropic love. ... apparently, the two boys have slightly different wings... who knew?!)
But all the beauties of Eros paled in light of the wonders promised at Hamley's, London's largest (and self-proclaimed "Finest") toy store: it was 7 floors of wonder and delight.  Duncan explored them all!  

Duncan: #1 yoyo!


A store to match my hair!

It was a bit of a surprise to come across a large display of Yoyo's named after Duncan, proclaiming to be "#1 in the world".  He agreed!  :-)    After a full 1.5 hours of exploring, we escaped with minimal damage: magic plastic balloons (matching my hair!), a flying UFO, and a new backgammon board.   I can tell this is one store Duncan will be wanting to return to again and again.

Lights outside Selfridges
 We then wandered off to see the window displays at Selfridges Department store.  The windows are everything promised... it was not always clear to me what each window was asking me to buy:  they were less a display of particular products than an entire experience of the world.  and even the light sconces outside a pleasure to look at!  Paricularly as they are reminiscent of the dream sequence in Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast"... the very scene that was riffed in Kushner's "Angels in America"... you can see it on Youtube (with Dutch subtitles), if you click here , and go to about 2:15.... i LOVE this is the one where Harper and Prior meet up in a dream/hallucination).

Anyways, the store is a "purveyor of fine foods", and the chocolate display on the first floor was just too much for Duncan to bear!  He claimed it was torture to be made to wander the aisles with a mother who wanted to look, but not buy.  Pure torture!

Duncan in chinatown
Dragon on the wall in Chinatown
So, rather than having an ice cream sunday at Selfridge's, I dragged him over to china town (a few blocks away), where we found a buffet restaurant to eat in.  Though the card suggested just buying a small bun there and continuing, we were in need of greater nourishment (and rest for the feet), so stayed there a while.

crocodile at Rainforest cafe...
We did have a moment of regret a bit later, as we wandered past the Rainforest Cafe (also on the tour).... we had an excellent time wandering past the thousands of stuffed toys (and automated jungle animals) that were inside, but our bellies were still full of delicious chinese food:  not a bit of space left!  But... we have promised ourselves that we will eat there before the year is out!

British Museum - Taster tour of Africa

Again, i snuck off from the libary the other day to run through another of the British Museum's 40 minute 'eye opener' tours.  This time, the topic was Africa.   While I was hanging out in the room the tour was to take place in,  I wandered past a cabinet containing photos and objects from the Innu people.  I have been trying to work on a piece with my friend Ruth about the Isuma Productions film, "The Journals of Knud Rasmussen" (which deals with interactions between Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen, and the Inuit, set between 1912 and 1921).  After spending hours watching that film over and over, immersed in the feel of snow, fur and ice, and the sounds of throat singing and drums, it made me feel strangely both homesick and comforted to see the case with beautiful winter gear and drums and harpoons... and photos not only of people long dead, but also of contemporary life in the north.   You can find the film online for free (subtitled in English)... here is a little taste from youtube.  But...back to the main story!  :-) ....

I wandered from there over to the other wall, where a woman sat with a table of objects that could be held and touched.  The point was to let you get your hands on things that you might see in other places in the museum, so you could get the feel of things.  So, I got to touch a long roll of kente cloth.  I had seen images before, but it was great to get my hands on it, and to realize that it is made up of smaller woven strips, that are sewn together to make the larger cloth.  Up close, you could see clearly how much work would be involved in producing the cloth (and could also understand better why such cloth was worn only by kings, rulers, and the very very powerful/wealthy).

Having touched the cloth, it was all the more interesting to wander downstairs on the tour to see a piece of art called "Man's Cloth" by the artist El Anatsui.  It is made entirely from the metal rings from the necks of (liquor?) bottles, the metal beaten flat, and then woven into the 'cloth', which seems to be loosely draped.    You can see the influence of the kente cloth (and more tangible evidence of the source material) in the closeup.  So interesting to look at something so beautiful made from the carnage and detritus of capitalist consumerism.

We saw many beautiful pieces of pottery on the tour, much of it made by coiling (rather than on the wheel), and all of it making me want to head back to my Eden in the Shuswap, to sit with cousins and friends under Glen and Janet's porch, with my hands deep in the clay.  These pieces were often highly burnished, and I can see myself (and you, Tonia?) spending more summer hours trying that technique out a couple of pots!

And, speaking of Eden, I also got to get a closer look at "The Tree of Life", which is one of the most striking pieces I have seen in a while.  There is a great exploration of it on the British Museum's website here: You can see photos from the making of the tree, read about the artists, etc.

Basically, they asked people in Mozambique to trade in weapons for other things (sewing machines, tools, tractors, etc) took and disassembled the weapons, and used the metal from them to make the tree. Talk about beating swords into plowshares. It is just stunning.

Along side it, other artists have used weapons to make the animals around the tree:  there is a monkey climbing the trunk, a turtle, a lizard, a dragon fly, feathered bird of some sort....   really wild!  I loved it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sunday in Alexandra Park - blowing balloons

Sunday, Alex and Steve headed off for their first "away" game of rugby. A short drive away, another friend picked them up and off they went. Duncan and I also headed off with Jaimin and Aditi (one of Duncan's new friends from school) to explore Alexandra Palace and the Alexandra Park. You can see it here  Alexandra Palace is the site of original BBC broadcasting, so something of an icon.  The great part is that you have an excellent view from there of central London (the Shard, the Gherkin, etc).

We sat there at the top of the hill, sitting on picnic benches looking out over London, and playing with the Magic Plastic Balloons that we picked up at Hamley's the day before.  I love this stuff.... haven't been able to find it back home in Canada.  you squeeze this goo onto the pipe, then slowly blow it up.  The plastic is sort of solid, or hardens up somehow, leaving you with something totally interesting!
Aditi turned out to be the winner when it came to blowing the biggest balloons!   Duncan and Jaimin tried mashing all the smaller ones together to make a snowman of sorts.  Very impressive!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

British Museum - Mesopotamian Tour

Monday, with the kids settled into school, I finally headed off on what I am calling my official first day of sabbatical! I had hour before I was going to meet some folks for lunch, so I headed off to the British Museum (which is only minutes from Birkbeck), and wandered off on one of their "Eye Opener Tours".

This one, meeting in room 56, was on Ancient Iraq.  The topic was Mesopotamia (6000-1500BC), the cradle of civilization. First thing I learned (yes... i probably should have already known this) was that the word 'mesopotamia' meant 'the land between the waters' (the Tigris and Euphrates rivers). I was happy that the guide started us off with a map of the area, so we could get a bit of a geographical sense of the area we were going to explore. I was having flashbacks as she was talking to Alex's homework from last year (in French of course), as he was having to make lists of the different characteristics that made civilization possible (rains, good soil, etc). Also fun to see that civilization started up high in the mountains (where there were some fertile field areas), and down closer to the seas (where annual flooding left rich alluvial soils behind). It was quite fun for me tying this to his homework! :-)

Also fun that the first thing we looked at was pottery! Ah, sweet pottery.  The guide pointed out the differences between the styles and decorations of pottery practiced in the mountain areas, and down further by the waters.  We headed right from the decorating of pottery vessels, to pottery as a way of dealing with writing!   So though it is not clear where the practices of writing were 'invented', some of the first examples of writing were found in mesopotamia.  And so she pointed out one particularly important piece of writing captured on a square of clay: a list of beer rations for workers!   Just what every worker needs!  :-)

We also saw a number of items excavated from Royal Tombs... In this window, you can see (on the right hand side of the cabinet), a reconstruction of the jewellry adorning a woman found in the grave.  On the left of the cabinet, you can see the actual head of that woman with her jewelry (flattened by the weight of the dirt in the grave... bleech!). They also found (and reconstructed) amazing lyres and other musical instruments.
This piece, found in one of the royal graves, was pretty cool.  The guy who found it named it "Ram in a Thicket" (a reference to the story of abraham finding a ram in the thicket, enabling him to sacrifice it instead of his son isaac).  The guide pointed out that the piece itself actually is a goat and not a ram.  Further, that this period of time is pre-judaic, and that it is more like the ways that goat actually DO climb up to eat from trees.  :-)   truth is, no one really knows its significance (ie. part of a lamp? of a table? something of religious meaning?)  In any event, it is quite beautiful: white shell, gold leaf, lapis lazulli...

And of course... games!   (here you have the board game, the counters, and pieces AND the rules ... on the little square tablet at the top).  Games, music, jewelry, pottery.... everything a person could want (whether is 2000AD or 3000 BC... all the same!)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Last Day of Vacation and First Day of School

Here were are in September.... time to return to school!  Alex got his place in school a day after it started.  But Duncan was waiting for a place a bit longer: I was told to just keep him home the first week while the district sorted out places for new kids. So what else to do for fun but go to a movie.  Stalwarts that we are, we walked the 40 minutes to the theatre to see SpyKids in 4D!
but where IS everyone?!

Smell-o-rama is cool!

FOUR D you ask?  Yep... not only the groovy glasses, but an Odorama card, that we could sniff at various points in the film to more fully enjoy the experience (of pickles, bacon, babyfood, candy, on ordorous explosions of gas.... gah!)   The film was what it was: not King Lear, but that isn't what Duncan was wanting anyways.  Wierdly enough, the theatre was mighty empty.  We were the only people there until minutes before the film started.   I guess this is what a theatre looks like when you do a daytime matinee when the kids who are the target market for the film are already back in school.

But then, oh joy, a phonecall letting us know that a place was available at Queenswell Junior School.   Now Duncan, like Alex, is kitted out with a school uniform.  Because Duncan is still in the younger school, he doesn't require a jacket and tie:  still has to do black shoes, grey socks, trousers, school polo shirt (in yellow) and school jumper (translastion, v-neck sweater) in blue.  So here he is, dressed and ready to school, and being pinned in place by his dad for the shot (it was sprinkling a bit usual).  Here is a close up of his smiling fact, eating his breakfast as we are getting ready to walk the 15 minutes to school.

you are kidding, right?
 The first day, Duncan was a bit worried that he would hate the school.  But then we decided that the street sign was something of a harbinger of good tidings.... I mean, seriously...who DOESN'T want to go to a school that is at the end of "Sweets Way"?!   .... well... I suppose there is the cautionary tale of Hansel and Gretel, but aside from that....  :-) 

ready made applesauce


Sweets way it is!   We walked past not only the towering horsechestnut trees, their feast of conkers spread on the ground, but also crabapple trees, their red fruit already being mashed to applesauce on the ground, and even a fig tree!   everything you might need for a good figgy pudding! 

And maybe it is starting to get towards the time for nice warm puddings.  The gutters lining our streets this morning made it clear that, though not yet the middle of september, fall is on the way!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jazz in the Park

All week long, we had been noticing signs up around the neighbourhood announcing: "Jazz in the Park" (Sunday, 3-7).  The park in question was the Swan Lane Open Space just behind our place... so why not?!

tents for treats!

a first falafel
 Steve and Alex headed over to the park right after Alex's rugby practice.  Duncan and I wandered over with Kiwi after finishing up a shopping trip.  The stage was already set up, and though the band was not yet playing, the sound system was serenading us with jazz classics.  People were starting to gather, and tents were being set up:  Indian food; Falafels; Mr. Simm's Candy; liquor, etc!  Alex tried his first falafel, but is not a convert (indeed, wonders if we need to add chickpeas to the list of 'allergy alert' foods... which would suck!)  Duncan choose cotton candy instead.

hanging out on the hill

We were nicely set up in front of the stage, and just at the place where the ground begins to slope down.  I had a moment of longing for Glen and Janet's "Roots-and-Blues-Chairs" (those folding ones that you can carry on your back like a knapsack).  Indeed, I might have to invest in some.  We had a great location, but my butt really appreciated a good cushion!  :-)  Still.... it was great sitting there in the park, people kids and dogs milling around, super mellow energy, and great tunes!

Claudia Morris
 The singer was Claudia Morris, and she had a lovely group supporting her (piano, trumpet, sax, bass, guitar, drums).  She did a pile of classics from her new album... and I loved it that I knew the words to them all!   yea for the classics!  Casino Royal, Makin' Whoopie, Close Your Eyes, etc.  Here is a clip of her from youtube (from last year!) singing "So Nice", which she did for us.  Sweet!

the typical London sky...

The sky was the usual London mix of blue and grey.... but lucky for us, the worst of the grey held off til the end of the first set!  So... we hung out in the park for an hour or so, listening to lush tunes, then headed home after the end of the first set, (OK... heading home is a one minute walk... not a big deal) arriving at the front door just as the first rain drops began to fall.  Perfect timing!.... so rare! :-)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday night, and another piece of Theatre!

We all made it through this week!   Which is saying something (with both boys finally getting places in schools, and heading off for their first classes... i was worried it would never happen!)  And since it was Friday, I got us theatre tickets.  [or, as Steve would say, I got ME theatre tickets, and they came along for the ride! hahaha]

This time it was for a new play (winning an award for best new play last year|) called "Slave: A Question of Freedom".  It is based on the autobiography of  Mende Nazar, a 12 year old girl from the Nuba Mountains in the Sudan whose village was burned, who was sold into slavery in Khartoum, then given to a family in London, and who finally escaped after 7 or so years.  You can listen to an interview with her here., or see the trailer for the play.

I have gotta say... powerful piece of theatre... it did say not for under 9 years old.  Duncan is 10, so i figured it was doable.  But still... a tough show to watch.  ... all three of my men were outraged by the slavers in the show, and spent the whole intermission talking about strategies for hunting down and punishing the guilty!  :-)  Like I said, hard to watch, but it surely generated conversation!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Groovy Milkshake Cup

So this looks like one milkshake cup, right? Well... a cool milkshake cup with two straws in the top.


Nope. So.... First yout unscrew the lid and take it off.


Then you pull it apart and.....


Voila! TWO milkshake cups!
I have a different flavour of fruit smoothy on each side!    One was cherry and the other was blueberry.  A great combo if you mix them together.  And the great thing about it is, that, lets say you had only one cup that could support a milkshake, but you had two kids who wanted one, and they each wanted a different flavour.  In this case, you can put a different flavour on each side and give it back to them, and voila!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Our walk up the Strasbourg Cathedral Tower

We are home in London again, but there are still photos left on my camera of the Strasbourg trip that I am not ready to delete!  Here are a bunch from our climb up the tower stairs of the Cathedral.  I don't remember the exact number of stairs:  less than the eiffel tower, but still a bit of exercise..... at one point, the cathedral WAS the tallest building in the west, but... that was 500 years ago or so!  :-)   Still, the stairs were very narrow and winding.  Sometimes you would get areas where the windows were bigger and would let in the light, but often the windows were narrow, and it was a bit dark and spooky! We were glad that there was a hand rail on at least the one side, and stuck to it pretty well.  We also agreed that you might not want to have to do this walk everyday to get to work (we saw there were some offices at the top of the stairs!).... particularly with an undone shoelace (as you can see Duncan has)

It was fun seeing the view change as we got higher and higher.  We liked the view through this particular window, which looked right down to one of the restaurants that we had eatten lunch at earlier in the day.... it was also fun to get a closer look at the wild boar/pig sculpture just below (which seemed to be pointing to the restaurant.

I also loved getting a closer look at the flying buttresses on the outside, and looking at the stained glass from both outside and above. 

Yea! I made it to the top!
The view from the top was the reward for the walk.  It was high up, but not so high that you felt any vertigo looking down.  Plus, the Eiffel tower walk had been a tough one for me...too many years of sitting at a desk.  I was thrilled to arrive at the top having broken only a minor sweat!  Yea!!!!
Roof line from above
photostitching the view up top
I tried to use the Photosynth app on my IPad to 'stitch' a photo from the top.  you can see that I still need to learn how to do it right (it does feel a bit 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, but you can at least get a sense of the sky from up there.