02 MBNA Thames Clipper 1 - The Little Pip

And so the last days of August are slipping away. The light already seems more autumnal and everyone’s thoughts are surely turning now from the salad days of summer holidays to the first weeks of the new term. For many, this will be the last week of the holidays, so, bearing in mind budgets are tightening towards the end of the month, this is a something that will fill a day but the activities are all free.

I am re-capping some of the things we have enjoyed doing in a series for The Little Pip novelly entitled Things to do in the school holidays Sometimes I find even routine ideas can slip the mind, so I’ve been compiling a series of posts of ideas and things to do over the summer, or indeed, all the myriad half terms that will soon be on our radar.

MBNA Thames Clipper - The Little Pip

Take a boat trip with MBNA Thames Clippers

Forget about the tourist boats – beat the queues at the various wharfs and catch one of the MBNA Thames Clippers. We boarded at Blackfriars and sailed east to the 02, returning later in the day to Bankside for the Tate Modern. The boat we caught had a bar/cafe on board and plenty of interior seating, as well as some seats outside at the stern of the boat (rear) and all of the boats had a toilet on board.

MBNA Thames Clipper 2- The Little Pip

We were given a River Roamer ticket (£14.70 for an adult, under 5s travel free) which allowed us to get on and off as much as we liked between Vauxhall and Woolwich however you can also use your Oyster or contactless card to pay for a single fare too. We enjoyed the boat so much that we actually went the other way along the river as well during the evening after we’d collected Dad from work – we bought a picnic and ate it as we floated in the evening sun down the river to Putney.

The Little Pip | MBNA Thames Clippers Putney

Sky Studios and Nissan Innovation Station at the 02

After pretending we were on the boat David Beckham drove during the London 2012 opening ceremony, going along the river under Tower Bridge and passing Greenwich, we reached  almost the far end of the Eastern zone of the MBNA Thames Clippers and the 02, where we disembarked and spent a few hours exploring their free exhibits. I’d not really given the 02 much thought beyond it being a venue, but, if you’re looking for some interesting but free things to do, you could do worse than spending a couple of hours at the 02. If you head to Sky Studios when it opens at 11am and then head to the Nissan Innovation Station for 12pm you’d likely find them pretty empty. We were first into Sky Studios and had the pick of the experiences – and it wasn’t specially put on for bloggers.

I particularly liked the use of technology at both experiences – Sky and Nissan are both sponsors of the 02 so these are essentially experiential marketing techniques for them both, but don’t let that put you off if you’re looking for free but vaguely interesting/educational things to do with your kids this week. Sign up with your smart phone at Sky Studios and swipe the QR code at each activity and at Nissan, you register on the way in with a pass which you swipe to get things emailed directly to you. Both have a good sports focus which we particularly enjoyed in the Rio 2016 excitement – Pip rode a Sky bike, we played several famous golf holes, signed for the Liverpool team and even presented Sky News with a real camera and teleprompter.

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02 Sky Studios - The Little Pip 02 Sky Studios 1- The Little Pip 02 Sky Studios 2- The Little Pip

I love how funny I look in the photo above with Little Baby in a sling which is then covered in the Liverpool top. We both loved all of the green screen experiences, and I particularly loved that each experience had a member of staff to operate the camera and help you out.

At the Nissan Innovation Centre, we test drove an actual electric car (on rollers with a computer screen over the windscreen, Pip sat in the back and was very impressed), played Gran Turismo and Pip particularly enjoyed colouring a car which she then brought to life using a scanner on an iPad. The Nissan Innovation Centre is probably better if you have slightly older children, as there were a number of enticing sports/technology/body related things to try which looked fun, but Pip was too young and I couldn’t leave them!

02 Nissan Innovation- The Little Pip

02 Nissan 1- The Little Pip

We ate lunch at Ask Italian which was really nice as it was so child friendly. One of the staff even served my lasagne for me as I was nursing Little Baby and was struggling with one hand, and there were lovely clean easy to access baby facilities (although I’m not sure I want to remember my least finest moments of the day which included some interesting nappy changes and a suit which I had to throw away as I’d run out of nappy bags).

I’d forgotten that there is almost every chain restaurant known to London to be found in the 02, and during the day you really are spoilt for choice in a way that you couldn’t imagine if you’d only been there for an event. There is also a cinema, so you could pop along to the free exhibits in the morning, have lunch and then while away the afternoon in the cinema – totally perfect for a grey day.

We were guests of the 02 for the day

Nurturing Mums courses - The Little Pip

“Is this your first?” said everyone? “Ah, you’re experienced then” came the reply on hearing that I already had a daughter. “You know what you’re letting yourself in for”. Not really, I thought. In what other circumstances does doing something for the second time be deemed ‘experienced’, particularly when the first go was 4 years previous.

baby 2 | The Little Pip | Little Kin photography

While I do subscribe to the trust your instinct rationale of parenting to a certain degree, I am also of the opinion that a lot of parenting comes down to skills which can be learnt, and taught. Often obsessed with achieving the ‘perfect birth’ (whatever that is) I found a lot of parents I talk to hadn’t given much thought as to what comes after, and what the support network around them will be (not the physical help such as babysitting and meals, but a more intangible kind of safety net).

Whilst ante-natal classes can be a way of achieving this, they also do focus, to my mind, too heavily on the birth and breastfeeding. These are both obviously things that parents need to know about and be prepared for, but they definitely aren’t the only skills one needs, and, dare I say it, largely irrelevant after the first six months (as whatever your feeding choice, that’s roughly when weaning kicks in). That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for doing both, of course, just that once the birth has faded into the distant memory and feeding is established, there are still many things that would be useful to know.

Last time round, I cobbled together my learnings from various places. I did an introductory baby first aid course (mind you, I was also the work first aider at the time, so I felt quite confident back then) and went to several workshops on sleep, behaviour, nutrition and school choices which are offered as part of my Cityparents membership. I was always of the opinion that when I want to learn new skills for work, or this blog, or a hobby, I go on a course and read lots of books. My opinion on parenting was no different and had David Cameron’s parenting courses ever been on offer I would have gladly attended. Negotiating with a toddler requires totally different skills to negotiating with a primary school aged child and so I often attend a repeat of the same Cityparent workshops once Pip moves into the next age category.

The missing part however was that the classes and workshops I was attending were larger lectures, often based in the city and it didn’t give me any of the support network part which I also think is very important. I’ve written on Instagram this week how I do occasionally feel rather lonely in the park on my own, with Pip playing on her own (although I do actually think this has taught her an excellent ability to be self-sufficient) and that I can see the appeal to knowing a group of women with children the same age.

baby 2 | The Little Pip | Little Kin photography

Nurturing Mums – London postnatal courses

Which is where Nurturing Mums comes in. Set up by mothers in North London and now run by city lawyer turned small business owner Lucinda Hutton, Nurturing Mums courses are billed as a “postnatal course that is helpful, non-judgemental and sociable” covering topics such as sleep training, weaning, baby development and first aid.

The course I attended was a small but nicely formed group of local women, the rest of whom were first time mums. We met once a week for 5 weeks at 10am, accompanied by our babies, and discussed parenting on that week’s theme over a coffee and led by an expert in their specific field.

Helpful, non-judgemental and sociable – tap into expert advice without having to pay out large sums of money to see a specialist individually.

Although LB is my second baby, I was really glad I did the course. I found all the sessions really useful, supplementing and adding to my knowledge – after all, advice (and my need to know brain capacity) has moved on, and it is always helpful to get the opportunity to ask specific questions about your own specific baby from an expert. Despite having done it all once before, I still felt I had a lot of questions, particularly around weaning as we have just begun to do this on the earlier side this time round.

After my less than lovely experience with maternity leave last time round, I knew I needed a better strategy this time round and so I made sure I:

  • Looked after myself  – in addition to the Nurturing Mums course I also did post natal pilates, attended another local post natal course which Nurturing Mums partners with and made sure to get several massages from a post natal expert and also used every opportunity I could to continue getting my nails done and had a hair cut not long after LB was born.
  • Arranged things to help get out of the house every day. In addition to the Nurturing Mums course scheduled in my diary, I spread out my admin tasks across the week so there was always a reason to get out and achieve something, even if that something was as mundane as getting LB’s passport sorted out.
  • Ensured I had a support network of other parents with kids both Pip’s age and LB’s age too.

5 reasons to do a post natal course:

  • Non judgemental experts who welcome questions
  • For mum rather than the baby – coffee and adult conversation but also a safe place for baby to roll on a mat, meet other babies and no-one bats an eyelid at any kind of feeding/nappy changing that might be required
  • Date in the diary every week
  • Meet other like minded local mums going through a similar thing at the same time – the support network continues once the course has finished – 2 mums on my course have become close friends
  • Not just for first time mums – it’s amazing what you forget, and also nice to meet new friends going through the newborn phase

If you’re based in North London and either due to have a baby soon, or are already on maternity leave, have a look at the Nurturing Mums course options here.

I was invited to join one of the courses – all views are of course my own. Photos by Polly Geal.

Summer holiday ideas - cinema trip Swallows & Amazons- The Little Pip

During our first school holidays (and my first time looking after 2 children all day every day for 8 weeks until Pip starts school in September) I am re-capping in a series for The Little Pip novelly entitled Things to do in the school holidays Sometimes I find even routine ideas can slip the mind, so I’ve been compiling a series of posts of ideas and things to do over the summer, or indeed, all the myriad half terms that will soon be on our radar.

Relive your childhood and watch Swallows and Amazons

Swallows & Amazons | Studio Canal 2 An exciting parcel arrived for me one day from England. It contained Swallows and Amazons and was from my grandmother. I was 6, living in California for a bit and from the moment I started reading, a life long Arthur Ransome relationship was started.

I have been often asked how I came to write Swallows and Amazons. The answer is that it had its beginnings long, long ago when, as children, my brothers, my sisters and I spent most of our holidays on a farm at the south end of Coniston … We adored the place. Coming to it we used to run down to the lake, dip our hands in and wish, as if we had just seen the new moon. Going away from it we were half drowned in tears. While away from it, as children and as grown-ups, we dreamt about it… Swallows and Amazons grew out of those old memories. I could not help writing it. It almost wrote itself.” Arthur Ransome, 1958



Throughout my entire childhood, Arthur Ransome’s books were a constant back drop. Reading them, listening to my grandmother reading Pigeon Post to me on tape, playing games inspired by them, dressing up for Book Day competitions, and finally, back in England, learning to sail and spending time trekking round the Lake District looking for possible Wild Cat Islands and Swallowdales.

So it was with great excitement that I booked tickets for Pip and I to watch a special preview at the BFI, which also included a q&a with the director and script writer. I was absolutely desperate for Pip to enjoy the film and, at 4 and a bit, she is a little on the young side, but, I am pleased to report that it was a winning choice. We both loved the experience.

Swallows & Amazons | Studio Canal

Why to watch the film…

As an appealing family adventure film, I thought it was excellent. Ransome had a way of turning the ordinary into an adventure, and Philippa Lowthorpe has certainly captured this in a heart warming film. I actually really liked the upscaling of the robbery storyline into a spy story, although I doubt any spy of Ransome’s calibre would have been quite so careless as Rafe Spall’s Captain Flint appeared to be, and it added an element of danger such as would never have been so explicitly articulated by Ransome. As a mechanism for the film though, I thought it worked well if elements seemed slightly forced and super unrealistic. Spall did make a compelling Captain Flint though, if somewhat younger, far less rotund and much more attractive than his character ever read to me as a young child! Kelly Macdonald made a good Mother and I thought Seren Hawkes was an excellent Nancy.

Set in 1935 as opposed to the 1929 of the book, (Andrea Gibb says that they moved the date forward 6 years to be closer to WW2 and therefore make the spy line fit a little better – although I’m not sure that was really necessary) this is in some ways a period piece, which makes for a nice piece of wholesome escapism, albeit perhaps much more along the lines of the times Brexiters harker for than canny observations. I doubt any child watching it would have noticed but at times I felt there was a bit of jarring between the more modern children seeming more worldly than their 1935 characters should have been, yet also oddly incapable in ways that children of that age used to being in the countryside wouldn’t have been.

Pip, when asked which her favourite bit was says “all of it” (although I should note that whilst watching she found the spy climax scene a little scary) and thoroughly enjoyed the outing.

(& some notes for the adults – particularly any fans)

If, like me, you first read Swallows and Amazons as a child and love the novel so much, bear in mind that this is not a faithful representation of either the plot line or the essence of the book. Without spoiling anything of the plot that you wouldn’t get from watching the trailer, you can tell that the script writer, Andrea Gibb, only read the book for the first time when she was asked to write the screen play. She is unable to craft the childhood magic in the way that Ransome could, having experienced himself as a child his subject matter. That is not to say that it is a poor film per se, just that for me something substantial was missing – Ransome’s Walkers do not fall out with each other or berate each other for their failings. They are nuanced where Gibb’s Walkers are flat, albeit with reasonable acting particularly from the two youngest. (Don’t get me started on the changing of Tatty’s name – I suspect it is less about giggling potential as Gibb and Lowthorpe maintain and more about wanting to get it past strident American censorship). Her Blacketts fare better I thought, but for me the beauty of the book as a child were that the adults were far less present than they seem to be in the film. With only an hour and 40 minutes into which to condense the entire storyline there is obviously not much time to scene set but the vast majority of the book is unaccompanied, which is not reflected in the film.

If one of the things you like about the book is that things are always done properly, including all the sailing details, you will have to suspend this for the film and enjoy it first as a film and remember that your children probably won’t notice… Whilst I can sail both dinghies and bigger boats, I don’t personally know much about lug rigged sailing boats but even I probably wouldn’t think it wise to leave the dinghy at the end of a shingle spit with the sail still fully up.

Don’t let these details put you off though, I still thought it was a very enjoyable stand alone entertaining family film that I would recommend watching if you have children aged 5 upwards. I just wish they hadn’t named it after the book!

In cinemas from August 19 – look here for tickets

Images from Studio Canal.