The Lego Movie

Lego station and The Lego Movie

What child does not love Lego? What parent does not remember their own experience of Lego?  So The Lego Movie was always going to arouse some interest – and the demands from children that they should be taken to see it. If once was not enough, or you didn’t see the Movie at the cinema (is this possible?) then the DVD is now out.

The gist of The Lego movie is this – an ordinary lego construction worker – you know like the ones in all your boxes of lego – is recruited to save the Lego universe from an evil tyrant. Why is he chosen – because he is believed to be the Special One. The tyrant, President Business,   wants to glue all the lego pieces into the right places – so they can’t be moved. Very clever – you know we’ve all been tempted after the car or plane has lost various bits and no longer looks like a model but a broken toy! Anyway I digress – if you are alive and living in Legoland clearly you do not want to be glued down and The Special One needs to save Lego World. At first the joke appears to be on Emmet – lowly construction worker – as the Special One is supposed to be a master builder and Emmet is clearly not blessed with many brains, or we assume ability to build his way out of trouble. Or is he? The thing about Lego today of course is it is all about following the instructions to build rather complex cities or fantasy worlds – so theoretically anyone can do it – even a construction worker. But the Master Builder needs to be creative too surely? These two ideas play off against each other throughout the film as we wonder whether he can possibly pull it off.  As I sat down to watch the film I admit I expected to be distracted by emails and just pretend to enjoy it. In fact though it’s very clever, witty and quite absorbing. In the end the joke is perhaps on us for assuming that they have made a mistake in choosing Emmet as the special one – our prejudices are the same as the most basic plastic Lego characters.  There’s plenty to think about, plenty of action and you will be overawed by the number of lego bricks they must have used and the work that must have gone into making the film.

Favourite moments for me were: when Emmett uses his head to attach a wheel to the vehicle to get away from the ( bad) cops; the fact that they can build a get away vehicle, that flies;the fact they can change the shape and type of vehicle they are in while it is moving – of course they can,  it’s Lego!

There are moments when it feels a bit like an advert to encourage kids to pester for more lego and a particular collection : ” this is Middle Zealand” followed by a list of all the characters that live there. But for the most part you are drawn into the action. And this reminder of Lego-you-can-buy and this-is-all-just-a story-boys-and-girls  provokes an ironic smile,  rather than irritation that the brand is being pushed down your throat. At the end it’s fair to say the children were delighted; they did not ask me to buy them any more Lego; and they still sing the theme tune : “Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team..”  There are worse things for an 8 and 10 year old to sing!

If you want a view that’s more down with the kids then this is what they thought in their own words and with their own typos:

“I thought that was very funny and cool! I liked the best style best and the evil guy. my favourite part is when bad cop says hi to his parents and then the evil guy glues them to the floor. Another favourite part is when everything collapses in the builders world and everyone has to be in chains. I like the idea of having a double sofa that Emmett invents and I hope in the future that you could actually buy it in a shop. I like it when it goes into real life with the dad and the son.

I like the song “everything is awesome,”.Lol! It’s very Catchy and has a great tune like any good song. This film I think is for all the family to enjoy and love! I would definitely rate this a 4 and a half star maybe even a 5! Great film!”

Amelie, aged 10

And from my son:

“I think that the lego movie is very funny when the pirate turns into a photocopier and the robots print their butts on the face or him and suddenly he turns back to normal again and knocks them out. Lol.  I liked how the man upstairs was the father how at the end the little sisters lego comes and says, “we-have-come-to-destroy-you” and when batman said its not like a huge boat is going to come and save us and a giant boat came out of nowhere to rescue them, haha. that lovely review was written by Alexander the person who is 8 and wants to be a footballer when he grows up.”

I was sent the DVD for review by Suppose.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Children become artists at the National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

We had a fantastic afternoon at the National Portrait Gallery over the Summer. It’s not somewhere I would have instantly thought of as being good for taking kids – more somewhere I hung out in my younger days whether I was looking for inspiration as  photography student or having lunch with a girlfriend in the rather cool downstairs cafe. However, these days they are extremely kid friendly and have lots of family activities scheduled, especially during school holidays. We went along for one of the timed sessions but didn’t get in as it was rather popular (top tip – be early if you want to do a specific activity and check out their website for times). But clever old NPG had a drop in session running at the same time so you could go into the gallery – find a painting or photograph that inspired you and turn it into a poster. All the art materials were provided and the slightly unsmiley security guards were actually fine with the children sitting on the floor and drawing.  It was a great way of getting them to really engage with what they were looking at (of course, being children they decided they didn’t like drawing people, which was a fantastic revelation in a portrait gallery , but the day was saved as they found some dogs to draw instead!). The children loved it and took it very seriously and despite rather being under everyone’s feet a lovely old gentleman made my day when he said “I wish my mother had brought me to something like this when I was a child.” It was so nice not to be made to feel that the children were actually rather a nuisance in a ” grown up place”  - and I have to admit lovely to feel as a parent maybe I was doing something right for a change!! Whoever, you were. Thank you.

There are lots more activities planned for half term – everything is free but some events require tickets which are handed out an hour before the session starts. Check out what’s on here. I for one will be back with my budding Picassos – and in the meantime I’ve already got tickets for the Virginia Woolf exhibition which is on for anther month.

 

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Openhouse London

London Openhouse 2014What a fantastic scheme Openhouse London is. More than 800 buildings and spaces of architectural interest are open to the public over one weekend each year – for free. They might be newly built or Victorian homes modernised by 21st century architects;  or Georgian townhouses furnished as they would have been 200 years ago. They could be church towers  or commercial buildings or construction sites like Crossrail. Some are often open to the public but use this weekend to allow people in without paying- others are private homes, normally not for the public gaze. It’s organised by boroughs so you can find places close to home – or go further afield. This year we stuck to places around W11 – from the interior workings of the organ at St John’s Church on Ladbroke Grove to private houses in Elgin Crescent, Leamington Road Villas and Westbourne Park Road. They were all inspiring. Can’t wait til next year!

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Day after the Carnival

Day after the Notting Hill Carnival 2014

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Silent Sunday

Tower of London

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Arts and crafts at Leighton House

Leighton House, Holland Park

Fabulous afternoon at Leighton House in Holland Park. It’s an extraordinary house with a Moorish partially tiled interior and a fountain – inside! But today it was their first annual Summer Fete with a range of children’s crafts on offer: lino-block printing , book making and woodcuts, paper mosaics and the chance to make simple Victorian toys from paper including windmills and thaumatropes. Course you know what a thaumatrope is:   circle of paper with a bird one side and a cage on the other and you spin it, now the bird is inside the cage! Easy to make when you know how and lots of fun. In fact the whole thing was lots of fun. Volunteers from the William Morris Society,  The Charles Dickens Society, Benjamin Franklin’s House in Westminster and the Ragged School Museum were among those running the crafts. Everything was free and you were even encouraged to bring your own picnic as there was no food or drink – or anything in fact – on sale. The whole day was totally devoid of pester power – it was brilliant. The only way to spend money was to go inside the house and we will definitely be back another day to do that (again) . I really hope they will repeat the day next year – keep a look out for it.  The Ragged School Museum in Tower Hamlets has free activities for the under 12s on Wednesdays and Thursdays for the rest of the Summer Holidays between 10 and 5pm so you haven’t missed out on your chance to find out more about Victorian crafts – and education. And all the other organisations mentioned have plenty going on so check them out. Nope wasn’t paid to write this, in fact, they didn’t even know I was there!

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Silent Sunday

Milan cathedral

No words.

This idea comes from Mocha Beanie Mummy. To see other Silent Sunday posts or add your own go to Cosmic Girlie

 

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Festival fashion 2014

When it comes to preparing for all kinds of weather,  regular festival-goers have it sorted. Headgear and footwear are the important things to get right – especially if you are camping in the mud all weekend and washing, let alone spending ages in front of the mirror is not an option.  Rather than carrying too much stuff around, veteran FGs choose an outfit that works in any weather. Most importantly they have a hat or some other form of head-covering to keep off either sun or rain while on their bottom halves they sport a combination which would be strange in any other setting – shorts and wellies. The idea being I guess, you can get your legs tanned while keeping your feet dry. Flower head-dresses and face-paints are always in. Last year – at Cornbury anyway – tails were the thing – yes furry tails dangling between your legs – they had little purpose (high fashion indeed) but I fear it will never catch on in Notting Hill. This year they were no longer selling like hot cakes – but these feather head-dresses were all the rage – they look fabulous but be warned they are not cheap so if you want it to last beyond the weekend you might want something else to protect your head if it rains!

Cornbury, Oxfordshire 2014

Festival gear Cornbury

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SILENT SUNDAY

Regent's Park

No words.

This idea comes from Mocha Beanie Mummy. To see other Silent Sunday posts or add your own go to Cosmic Girlie

 

 

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Best places to cool off in London

Summer in the city.

It can be glorious, if you know where to head to. Here are some of my favourite places:

Somerset House, W1. Free admission.

Fountains at Somerset House

Fantastic place to combine a visit to the water exhibition in the original cellars of Somerset House – very cool and afterwards enjoy running among the fountains in the courtyard. Families spend the day here and even bring towels and swimsuits and set up camp round the edges. There’s always an interesting exhibition on – at the moment Beryl Bainbridge’s paintings – fascinating insight into this writer’s life.

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park. Free admission

This is the fountain that is not a fountain, but more of a man-made stream. It’s beautiful to look at, but also meant to be enjoyed. Sit on the grass with your feet in the icy water – or walk along the bed of this circular granite waterway.  There’s been a great deal of sniping and criticism over the years about it being  too expensive to build – and too slippery and slimy for kids to run in. But I think it’s fantastic. Of course you need to be sensible – it’s never a good idea to run in water – water on surfaces can be slippery. But if you are supervising young kids properly – on a hot day there’s nowhere better to be. It is in a tourist hot-spot so can get crowded. But if it does seem too much you are right on the Serpentine, either sit and picnic under a tree nearby or there are always the rowing boats.

Serpentine Lido

Serpentine Lido –  family ticket £10 (includes up to four children)

This has a grassy children’s area and large paddling pool as well as a roped off area of the Serpentine itself with a jetty where you can swim with older children. You pay to get in and can use both facilities but you may not want to take a baby or toddler into the Serpentine itself – you are swimming in a lake – not a swimming pool!

Waterpark,  Kensington Memorial park,  W11

Kensington Memorial Park, St Mark’s Road, W11. Free admission

It doesn’t look that promising from the road, but walk to the far end and keep left and you will find two newly spruced up kids’ playgrounds for toddlers and older children – and a water park with rubberised flooring and all kinds of  fountains, water “canons”, tipping buckets and wheels and so on.  You need swimsuits and towels and bare feet. Be warned the water is freezing – it does have to be a very hot day – but children love it. And there is a cafe nearby selling ice-creams – or hot drinks if the kids do need warming up.

I hope these ideas will help you all keep the temperature down – and I will be updating this if I find any other cool places to hang out on a sweltering day. But do add other lidos, outdoor pools or fountains you’ve tried out. I’d love to broaden my horizons!

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Home tutoring – fair or foul?

Tutorfair

Paying for extra tuition to get your child into the best secondary school or university – or to improve their school grades – is a tricky one for me. I say this as someone who has reached the position very slowly over recent years,  that the only way to make education fair for everyone in this country is to abolish all private schools (this is despite my love and admiration for my many privately educated friends – and husband). This way everyone would simply go to their local school and all the money and middle-class pushiness would be fairly distributed to make all schools the best they can be. Not a commonly held position in the salons of Notting Hill I suspect.  And perhaps a subject for another day because this post is about tuition. But you see the similarity – does it create a fair level playing field if some children are tutored and others are not? Those with the money will do better – whether they are the brightest or not. Some then get the advantage of going to a “better” school – others will get better grades , and so better jobs or places at better universities.  They will earn more money and so on and so forth.

The conundrum of course for all “pinko” parents (my nickname from my very own public school boy husband) is whether to allow their personal principles to affect their children’s lives and particularly their education. It’s one that has wrong-footed many a Labour politician –  but thankfully I am a mere journalist, so will not be held to the same scrutiny by anyone but myself.

The thing is – and yes I do feel I need an excuse – my daughter has hearing problems – and as a result has got a little behind in maths. I admit it would not be her natural subject anyway (it’s certainly not mine) but because of this I have been asking friends about good local tutors for more than a year. Then a few months ago,  I was approached by Tutorfair who wanted to talk to me about a very different approach to tutoring.

I would not normally go via an agency – why pay a fee on top of what could already be £30 to £60 an hour? But with my pinko tendencies, I was immediately hooked by Tutorfair’s USP : for every student who pays – a child who can’t gets free tutoring.

Yes, really.  What a great idea. It’s the underlying principle of the agency and the scheme works through Tutorfair’s partnership with inner city schools. The class teachers pick out the students and the tutors from Tutorfair go in and give these pupils one to one teaching – for nothing.

It’s clear that all students benefit from one on one teaching – but this is about helping children who are struggling with a subject or school generally.  It’s about helping them learn, making their normal work seem easier and more managable and perhaps preventing them being turned off school all together.  Because I think sometimes, when children say ‘this is boring,’ they really mean, ‘it’s too hard and I can’t get my head round it.’

So it’s a great principle-  but doesn’t that mean it will cost more than a tutor from another agency? No, apparently not because the booking process is via their website so they say they can afford to take smaller commissions. OK then – but do they have the best tutors ? Well teachers and tutors are a caring lot and apparently the whole charity element attracts the most passionate and dedicated types who are hot on social responsibility. I have to say they have some impressive people on their books with a huge range of talents and experiences: from university students, who are still completing their degrees or masters, to former teachers, to those who have made professional tutoring a career and have decades of experience.

The website allows you to search by subject – science and languages as well as Maths and English – or for a particular purpose whether prep school entrance exams or A level tuition. Many of the tutors have a short video profile you can view to give you a better idea of what they’re like – though some of them do seem understandably self-conscious!

Tutorfair then offered me a free lesson and the pick of any tutor I wanted to put them to the test. I chose TomL : I liked his photo, he looked kind (yes, I know it’s not Plenty More Fish or Plenty of Fish or whatever) and I felt his educational background with a first in Maths from Oxford, along many other qualifications, would probably just about allow him to deal with Year 5 Maths and a slightly freaked out 10 year old! My only slight concern was that I still had to use their website to book – because it’s a key part of how they work. I’m naturally lazy about these things – odd for a blogger I know – and more used to shoving grubby notes in people’s hands at the end of a lesson – a bit more Steptoe and Son in approach.  But in fact it was very straight-forward and saves you having to double park and run to a cash machine – not that I would ever do that obviously. So no worries there.

Tom himself was, or should I say, is, gentle calm and patient – exactly what my daughter needs – and is not remotely intellectually intimidating – though clearly ridiculously clever. In fact,  we like him so much, he is now going to be Amelie’s permanent tutor. I did a quick check with her after the lesson – as the pupil/teacher dynamic is important as well as the tutor’s qualifications and experience – but I was already pretty sure he was just right for her and she agreed. And of course that means that another child somewhere will get a free lesson.

 

 

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Silent Sunday

Dog show

No words.

This idea comes from Mocha Beanie Mummy. To see other Silent Sunday posts or add your own go to Cosmic Girlie

 

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