Baby Broadway

Life with small children is all about the routine. You get up at the same time (early), provide three meals and two snacks to a fairly rigid timetable, and woe betide you if you’re late for nap time or bedtime. It’s book bag on Tuesday and Friday, running kit on Tuesday, choir practice on Wednesday, Toy Library on Thursday. Any breaks to the routine generally involve impromptu wake-up calls at 1am (3am, 5 am etc) because someone is teething or has a bad dream, or an unscheduled trip to A&E for a bumped head.

Which is why it was a bit surprising this Tuesday at 11.30am to find me in a local church, along with a lot of other parents and under-fives, singing along to hits from the shows performed out by bona fide West End artistes. I only found out about Baby Broadway last week when a friend shared a link on Facebook. To me it is quite simply an idea of genius. Parents/carers take their small children along to a concert of greatest hits from shows like Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat  and Grease. It is totally informal, with children able to crawl/run around to their heart’s content, and audience participation actively encouraged.

baby broadwayI was far more excited than I should have been to discover not only that this concept existed, but that there was actually a concert happening in Walthamstow this week. It cost £9 for me, and was free for Sophia – not the cheapest morning’s entertainment, but so worth it. I didn’t get to sit down for a single minute of the hour-long concert because Sophia was so excited to be in a new environment with lots of other babies that she certainly wasn’t going to waste a second sitting on mummy’s knee. She loved the music though, and I loved the chance to have a proper sing-song. My only regret was that it was in school time and so I couldn’t take Anna, because she would have absolutely adored it. It is fair to say that my husband does not share my passion for old-fashioned musicals, but I am gradually trying to indoctrinate Anna, with remarkable success. The programme for Tuesday has given me some ideas for new films to try as well – perfect for the still-long winter evenings.

The singers were amazingly talented, both at singing and relating to their pint-sized audience. There were tantrums and rice-cakes galore, none of which detracted from the fabulous singing. I went home on a total endorphin-high, belting out Somewhere Over the Rainbow somewhat louder than I probably should have been. I can’t wait for the next Walthamstow performance.

Fifteenth Day of Advent: Walthamstow

Eight years ago this week husband and I became homeowners and Walthamstowers. To say we’re lucky with where we live would be the understatement of the year. I assumed that I would have a choice – live outside London in a small town/village/suburb and enjoy a sense of community and neighbourliness, or live in London and do without. How wrong could I be. Walthamstow is in Zone 3, 22 minutes to the West End and 17 minutes to the City, but it is the strongest community I could have hoped for.

The day we moved in was as busy and stressful as moving days usually are. Finally at about half seven we realised we were starving hungry and had no food in the house. We popped out to buy a pizza. As we rounded the corner, we heard the sound of distant singing. We walked along, and it got louder and louder, until we came across a group of people, lanterns aloft, standing round the Christmas tree in a small square singing Christmas carols. There was free mince pies and mulled wine, which gave us enough energy to join in the singing before we went to grab a pizza in the friendly little neighbourhood Italian. There and then we knew we had made the right decision in moving to Walthamstow. The carol singing round the tree is an annual tradition, and in fact Anna and husband are there this evening as I type this, glass of wine next to me and sleeping baby upstairs.

Some of the community spirit is online – I have blogged before about the wonder that is Walthamstow Sell or Swap, but equally amazing is Walthamstow Parents where people share parenting highs and lows, get advice about schools admissions, sleep routines or breastfeeding, or seek support on coping with a fussy eater, parenting a child with special needs or managing toddler tantrums. Walthamstow Food and Drink Society is the go-to place for restuarant, or more likely these days, takeaway reviews, advice on recipes, or sharing allotment gluts!

From William Morris Gallery and Vestry House Museum, to the Wild Card Brewery and Mother’s Ruin Gin Palace, Epping Forest to Walthamstow Marshes, a fortnight long Art Trail to some original and unique neon, there’s always something to suit your mood here.walthamstow

But it is the people who live in this amazing place which really make it so special. Back in September, Anna and I held a cake sale to raise money for Syrian refugees. Saturday was spent in the kitchen baking as much as we could, on Sunday she set up shop in the front garden and our neighbours flocked to support the fundraising effort. I ended up frenetically baking muffins which were selling as fast as I could make them. In two hours we raised over two hundred pounds thanks to the amazing generosity of our community. When someone posts on a Facebook group that they know of a mother-to-be who doesn’t have any money to buy things for her baby, or an elderly neighbour who doesn’t have warm clothes for the winter, or someone’s parent who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and needs a wheelchair the response is always instant and overwhelming.

Walthamstow made the national news a week or two ago because our local MP, Stella Creasy, voted in favour of the military action in Syria, and many of her constituents were very unhappy with that decision. There was a bit of nastiness on social media, but the main protest took the form of a peaceful candlelit vigil to which many people took their children, and with which local religious leaders from a number of faith backgrounds were involved. Walthamstowers were motivated by deep concern at what the air strikes might mean for innocent civilian Syrians. Stella Creasy took the time to write a long and detailed letter, hold several public meetings and engage extensively on social media to explain why she felt compelled to vote as she did. On balance I am not convinced that the military action is a good idea, but I do respect the thought Stella clearly put into her decision and then the effort she made to explain it. I also respect the many people who protested peacefully and entered into intelligent and informed debate on the subject, online and in person. Although it was an issue which divided Walthamstow, I felt it is more evidence that this is a community where people care, and engage, think and debate, which is one I am proud and happy to be part of.

Plus, there are a lot of cafes which serve really excellent cake!

 

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner…

This is a month of anniversaries for me. Today is my 5th wedding anniversary, and 16th anniversary of getting together with my husband. As always when I think about my relationship I thank my lucky stars that I have the enormous good fortune to be married to my best friend and favourite person.

This month also marks another very significant event; my 10th anniversary as a Londoner.pearly king and queen Annoyingly, as I am very much someone who remembers and marks special dates, I can’t recall the exact date I moved to London, but I do know it was October 2005. My love affair with London is of nearly as long standing as my love affair with my husband. Six days after getting together, at the beginning of our first term at university, we took the Oxford Tube to London for a day trip. Husband is a Londoner born and bred, and is passionate and hugely knowledgable about his city, so he was thrilled to have the opportunity to show me round the tourist sites, and I think my excitement and enthusiasm for them probably cemented our fledgling relationship.

We were poor students, so I don’t think we actually went in anywhere, or nowhere you had to pay, but we walked our legs off through Westminster and Soho, Piccadilly and St James, the City and the West End. We took a Routemaster bus, and got the Tube to Angel (just because I liked the name), and had a Pizza Hut all-you-can-eat buffet for lunch, before arriving back in Oxford exhausted and exhilarated in the early hours of the morning. During that day I fell irrevocably in love twice, with the boy and with the city. And clearly constance and fidelity are virtues of mine, because sixteen years later I still feel the same for them both.

I squatted a fair bit with my eternally patient in-laws, but it took another six years before we had our own London address – a tiny two-bedroom flat in a converted Victorian terrace in Clapham. One of the most vivid memories of my life is the night we moved in. A friend of ours had taken pity on our pathetic non-driving selves and hired a van to help us move our stuff down from Birmingham. We were renting furnished flats in those days, so ‘stuff’ mainly consisted of very many boxes of books. Inevitably the loading and the drive down took longer than we’d anticipated, and it was already dark when we arrived in Clapham. We parked the van illegally, and I was left with it to charm any passing traffic wardens while the boys carried the boxes in. Slightly stereotypical  division of roles, but there you go. I sat in the front of this van, gazing at the tall, thin Victorian houses with their brightly lit windows and unknown lives within, and thrilled head to foot at the sense of excitement and anticipation and possibility that London always conveys, and which I was finally a part of.

We were only in Clapham two years before putting down our abiding Walthamstow roots, but I know the memory of that October evening will be with me my whole life.

One of the things I love most about London is that I feel confident describing myself as a Londoner, even though I wasn’t born here. The concept of the world in one city has become something of a cliche, but it is that way for a reason. This city of 270 nationalities and more than 300 languages can celebrate diversity whilst achieving coherence. I can be a Scouser, and a Northerner and a Londoner without a flicker of contradiction.

The last ten years has seen me with three different London addresses, two different London-based jobs and a complete career change, a London wedding and two London babies. I have learnt never to stand on an escalator when I could walk, or walk when I could run. I have learnt that 4 minutes is an utterly unacceptable time to wait for a Tube train. I have learnt the spot to stand in to guarantee a seat on stations I use frequently, and that you don’t make eye contact with people on public transport. I have learnt that Londoners aren’t as unfriendly as Northerners think they are, unless you break any of the rules I just mentioned. And I know that, although Liverpool is my home town, and Oxford will always have a special place in my heart, that although I might bemoan London’s pollution and over-crowding and expense, this city and I were made for each other and I can’t see that ever changing.

Walthamstow to a Tea

I’ve posted before about how much I love where I live. But one of the things I love most about it is that it is constantly evolving and never fails to surprise, and delight, me. Take Sunday just gone, for example.

We’d had a quiet day at home, getting lots of boring but useful jobs done. Anna had decided that cleaning would be fun, so never one to avoid an opportunity to exploit my child, I armed her with a duster and a bottle of polish and let her get on with it. One entire bottle of polish later (thankfully some kind of organic, almond oil based none-child-killing polish) and the house definitely smelt cleaner at least. The wooden floors do have a few lethally slippery patches where polish was accidentally split, but hey. Husband meanwhile had the distinctly less fragrant task of unblocking the outside drain.

At about 4.30pm I remembered I needed to go out to buy milk for breakfast. Husband suggested we all go and get some fresh  (and non-almond scented) air, and perhaps an ice-cream cone. We popped Sophia in the sling, Anna grabbed her sandals, and off we went. Ten minute later we were all licking delicious cones of Gelupo gelato, which one of our local shops has started selling. And I say ‘all’ advisedly. We didn’t buy a cone for our seven-month old, but strapped to my chest in her sling, the proximity of it proved to be too much for her, and she lunged at it, licking determinedly. I know refined sugar isn’t really a good idea for babies under one. Or, I guess, for anyone really. But I didn’t have the heart not to let enjoy a couple of licks. Second-child syndrome, I suppose. I was all about the organic spinach with Anna at the same age.

We strolled through Walthamstow village, past the beautiful Vestry House museum and the old almshouses. And then it all got exciting. There is a restored Tudor house in the heart of Walthamstow village called, imaginatively enough, the Ancient House. It’s a lovely building, and I was very excited when I saw that the gate was open, and there was a sign pointing into the courtyard advertising a yard sale. We went in, just out of curiosity to see inside. In this case, curiosity was amply rewarded. tea setsWe ended up with a gorgeous vintage French tea-set, some pretty Victorian glass bottles, a Victorian tea-cup and saucer and coffee cup and saucer, a Victorian serving tureen and a delightful little forget-me-not pattered cup and saucer for Anna, because she fell in love with it. All for £17. Yes, you read that right. £17! The lady who was selling had a business hiring out vintage china for weddings, and making tea-cup candles, but she has had to move out of her workshop unexpectedly and needed to get rid of stock fast. Very sad for her, but I have to admit we were thrilled to benefit and give a good home to some of her lovely things.

So there you go. Only in Walthamstow do you pop out for a pint of milk and come back with a perfect sixteen-piece vintage tea service!

To Have and to Hold Book Launch!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Generally I hope this isn’t true because, firstly, I am a writer so words are very much my business, and secondly, as regular readers of this blog will have spotted, I’m not great with pictures. I haven’t quite adjusted to the 21st century – my phone does take photos, but I’ve not yet worked them out how to get them off my phone, and I haven’t remembered to take my camera to a social occasion since about 2008. Plus I’d need to reload the software that lets me transfer photos from camera to computer onto my new laptop, and that just seems frankly unmanageable. So, as I say, in general I really hope words are worth more than images.

Today, though, I am having a volte face. Yesterday was the publication of my second novel, To Have and to Hold, and last night I held a launch party for it, at the local cafe where much of it was written. I could try to write a lengthy blog post about how lovely it was, how kind and supportive my friends and neighbours were, what a great atmosphere it was. However, so far today I have had to take the cat to the vets, make fairy cakes for the school summer fete tomorrow, sort out books and bric a brac to donate for the fete, go shopping as we’d run entirely our of milk (Anna’s breakfast was a banana and a chocolate muffin), and I still have to sort out children’s books Anna does and doesn’t like for the Family Literacy class at school this afternoon, write the blog, eat my lunch and get to school for said Literacy class all in the next hour! So I’m hoping that these lovely photos (taken by people other than me!) will convey something of last night’s atmosphere.

to have and to hold book launch 2

Come and join in!

book launch 3

Lovely flowers from my lovely editor, Francesca

to have and to hold book launch 4

Child’s blackboard purloined for self-advertisement

to have and to hold book launch 6

The awkward bit where I have to speak instead of write.

to have and to hold book launch 5

Signing

to have and to hold Book launch 1

More gorgeous flowers – these from my agent.

Ready to be bought!

Ready to be bought!

to have and to hold book launch 9

It’s not accidental that the fizz matches the book cover!

to have and to hold book launch 8

Beautiful congratulations flowers from my parents

to have and to hold book launch 10

It’s happening here!