Inspired by 35,864 Marathon runners

London marathon home straight

After living in London for 20 years, last night I finally decided to go and watch the Marathon – live. It was a random decision after I flipped open a route map and realised the route went past my husband’s workplace – perhaps affording us good views (in the event we stood on the road in Wapping!) The clincher was that his cousin was running in it. And – despite by general lack of interest in almost all sports – now I’m so glad we went.

Marathon in WappingWapping is a good place to watch as it turns out – because you can see the runners heading off to Canary Wharf on one side of the road and then heading back on the other side. So you get two chances to see your relative or indeed Mo Farah – see him here – in the distance!?Mo Farah London Marathon

The runners on our side of the road who were 50 minutes or so behind him at this point clapped as he headed back past them.

I was asked by some athletes we were chatting to, whether watching it made me want to run next year. I laughed hysterically. I doubt I could run one mile, let alone 26. When I used to row, I celebrated when I sprained my ankle because, despite the pain,  it meant I was unable to do the running part of the fitness programme for a year. I’m one of those people whose feet fly out the back in little windmill movements when I pick up speed. And in today’s heat? I was praying no-one would have a heart attack. No – it was lovely to stand in the sun and watch, take some selfies  and tick it off as something we had experienced. But as for trying it myself – nothing could be further from my mind.

But then we headed across town to the finish line.

Marathon medal 2014First we saw cousin Penny who’d made such excellent time she was already cooling down or warming up and was wearing her rather impressive medal. Hmm. Maybe it would be quite a nice thing to do… No Jane,  you have more of a chance of winning the British Bakeoff than completing the course. Get a grip.

We say our goodbyes and head across to the finish line proper – except it’s shrouded in red netting.  marathon no viewingApparently  you can’t go and watch your friends and family cross the line or run the home straight unless you are lucky enough to get a charity seat. Or you are a VIP ( ie corporate type). I was kind of outraged about this – and the unnecessary measure of putting the netting up so you couldn’t even catch a glimpse,  let alone get close. Seemed against the spirit of democracy to me. In fact if I was Scottish the pettiness of it would be enough for me to vote for independence (which I generally think a rather sad and bad idea).

Anyway I was chatting to a few military types on the gate of one of these ticket only grandstands and they agreed it didn’t seem right. In fact they didn’t know that was the set up until they got there. And shhhh don’t tell anyone, but as it was late in the day and many had left already, they let the three children put their heads round and take a quick look at the home straight.

Marathon home straightAnd this was where it kicked in. Seeing these people on their last legs – some in their sixties and seventies – Chicken London Marathon some sweltering in their ridiculously sweaty animal costumes – some just not fit enough – some limping or walking – or holding hands in solidarity –  but all absolutely bloody determined to cross that finish line. And it was then ladies and gentlemen that I thought what an incredibly inspiring day, what inspiring people and yes if anyone had asked me and handed me a pair of trainers at that moment I would have put them on and pledged to start training at that very moment for next year.London Marathon holding hands

Luckily for me and the NHS noone did – but congratulations to every person who set off on the run today – even if you were taken ill and unable to complete it – the spirit was there. And each of you – whatever your reasons for running – is  an inspiration to the rest of us.

Post script.

One of the runners who completed the course collapsed and has since died.  Robert Berry was running for the National Osteoporosis Society which had helped his mother who has the condition.  He was 42 . His just giving page has raised £17,000 for the charity so far.  He was one of the 35,864 who so inspired us yesterday.


London marathon finish line








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Silent Sunday

St James 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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Is Frozen the best Disney film ever ?


Frozen, loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, The Snow Queen, is now the biggest grossing animated film of all time. Its global profits of more than 1.7 billion dollars now dwarf those of Toy Story. And as if that’s not enough, it’s also won two Oscars for best animation and best song and a BAFTA.

After five years hard work by its creators at Disney though, it has to be said it deserves its success. The story is of two sisters Anna and Elsa. They are princesses, naturally, in the kingdom of Arundelle and might expect to  lead a happy and privileged life. But Elsa has special powers – she can turn things – and people – to ice and snow.

As children, Elsa accidentally knocks Anna out with an ice blast and from then on she keeps her distance  in fear of hurting her again. Anna has no memory of the incident – her memory has been wiped by trolls  (now is not the time to find this unlikely – it’s a fairy story!) and cannot understand why Elsa avoids her.

As they get older though Elsa’s powers only increase – and she is told by her parents to stay in the castle and try to control her feelings so she cannot do any harm! Good advice to any teenager I would say.

But the King and Queen sadly die on a sea voyage and three years later Elsa comes of age and is expected to become Queen. At this point things really hot up – or should I say freeze over. I won’t spoil things,  but suffice to say it doesn’t go well and Elsa flees the kingdom and creates her own ice castle at the top of the mountains. The rest of the film follows Anna’s attempts to bring her sister back home – with the help of her too good to be true fiance and another potential love interest, Kristoff the ice seller and his reindeer Olaf.

Although Frozen is based on a fairy tale , the story has plenty of moral undertone : be a little bit wary about love at first sight being one theme of the film. Although, there should perhaps also be a warning – should you ever go mountain climbing, don’t do any of the things you see Anna and her friends doing!

We were lucky enough to be invited to a singalong screening of the film a few weeks ago and were perhaps among the very few there who were seeing the film for the first time. It meant the children weren’t quite ready to sing along – but such is the catchiness of the main Oscar-winning song,  by the end credits they were in full voice. And they have been singing along to the Youtube clips ever since.

Songs aside, we all really enjoyed the film and it was an added treat to meet the directors, Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck afterwards and hear firsthand what inspired them to make Frozen and what a painstaking art form animation is – even in the digital age.

This is definitely a Disney film that stands up to watching over and over again – but do watch out for the scarily catchy theme tune!

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Sibling rivalry

Big sister looking down crossly at little brother’s homework folder: “Do you get 10 out of 10 ALL the time?”

Little brother: “Actually it’s 12 out of 12.”

Half an hour later, revenge of sorts as big sister looks for inspiration in her English homework on comparatives.

“Is the comparative of important, more important?” she asks.

“That’s right,” I say.

“Good. What do you think of my sentence: Obama is more important than my brother.”



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This Moment

St Mary Abbot's Kensington

A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. It’s an idea I took from SJ Klemis a fellow blogger at , she found it on Life inspired by the Wee Man and it originally came from SouleMama

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Silent Sunday

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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Two more Notting Hill names close

Dispensary, Notting Hill

Two more independent shops, that have been in Notting Hill as long as I have, are closing. The Dispensary was there last weekend – I bought some beautiful vintage clothes there for £20/£30 a piece and some kids T-shirts for a tenner ( I’m NOT a Notting Hill mum remember or I would have been happily paying a few hundred a piece elsewhere!). This weekend the Dispensary  has gone – it  is no longer dispensing – skyward rents again – so it is relocating. I’ll let you know where.

Marilyn Moore is going in a week or so. The stores in Chiswick and other places will remain. Rents again are an issue. Soon Portobello will be just like every other high street – full of high street chains and coffee shops who can perhaps afford to make a loss on one store. But landlords – you do need some people left selling from your shopfloors. Some who add interest and colour, so there’s a reason to come here rather than Sutton or Surbiton. TIndependent shopkeepers are already in competition with the internet. They really don’t need you bashing them too.

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Nancy’s Pantry

Teapots Nancy's pantry DalstonSpent a great afternoon at a new kid’s cafe in Dalston a couple of weeks ago. No, you are right,  Dalston is not in West London. However, this is something completely different, so it was worth the trip across the capital. And it’s perfectly placed for the multitudes of hip young families who do live out East.

Having been to my fair share of family-friendly restaurants, I admit I was a little skeptical as to how different this could actually be. Different brand of colouring pencils perhaps? Staff with never-ending patience and wider than average smiles? But I was curious what more they might have on offer and I’m glad I was.

Nancy’s Pantry is a cafe that is designed round children  - rather than a cafe where they try to fit children in. It’s a big modern space with no steps, fake grass paths running between tables and the layout allows  one long activity benchNancy's pantry drawing table to run along the ends of each “eating” table – if you get me! So that your children are still next to you but can draw or play on their own table and also interact with other children.

At one end of the cafe, there is a small gated area for under twos to run around safely – sensibly placed away from the main door. But it is the other end of the restaurant where the fun really takes place. It is there you will find the children’s science lab! Yes. Really. It is a science lab. There’s a water table – not just for splashing each other, but for carrying out experiments like blowing your boat across the water and seeing what method makes it travel fastest. There are overhead projectors that children can use with natural objectsNancy's pantry overhead projector to make huge colourful pictures on the wall. There are microscopes, boxes of leaves, twigs and pebbles. And although you can drop in there’s also a proper timetable so you can see what kind of classes are on during the week.

It’s the brain-child of Gemma Timms and named after her five year old daughter. It’s Gemma and Nancyvery much a family affair with Gemma’s dad in charge in the kitchen and a friend from University, Alexis,  is in charge of the science workshops. Alexis is an artist rather than lab technician and Gemma is not from a catering background  - her career to date has been with the treasury. But like many new parents they despaired of finding places that were truly family friendly rather than just claiming to be – and also resented paying too much for a few fishfingers or chicken nuggets (her background with the treasury perhaps!).

The children’s food at Nancy’s is very nice and I have to say exceptionally good value –  (I know, I sound like an advert for Iceland or something – sorry!) While we were there my two both tried the home made mini fish pies – they told me they were delicious and I was amazed that they only cost £2 and came with a portion of vegetables.

Nancy's Pantry, Dalston SquareI stuck to the tea  ( white, green, black or herbal – I think there were 17 types on the menu) and cake –  which the kids also sampled and found equally delicious. The idea is that the adult fare should be good quality and interesting too – that neither adults norchildren should have to compromise on what they are eating  and that the children should be properly entertained and even learn something if you sign up to the classes. Focussing on science as well as art and music gives the place a real USP.

I think it’s a great concept and definitely worth checking out – wherever you live – if it was in West London I would definitely hang out there. And if it catches on in Dalston Square maybe it soon will be – perhaps named after Gemma’s baby son!

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Interactive Architecture – Exhibition at Royal Academy

Sensing spaces Royal Academy

If you are looking for somewhere to take the children this weekend, try the Sensing Spaces Exhibition at the Royal Academy. It’s a place where you are encouraged to touch and photograph and climb the exhibits – almost unheard of in an art gallery. You can climb this platform designed by Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen – enjoying Angel Royal Academythe structure itself and at the top look at the cherubs and gilded decorations fashioned in the 19th century to adorn the Academy.

Each room has an architectural exhibit designed by a different architect from around the world.  Pezo and Elrichshausen are from Chile and the structure ( four spiral stair cases enclosed by the pillars and a ramp as well as the viewing platform) was prefabricated there and shipped over in panels.

Sensing Spaces Straw tunnelThe most popular installation with children has to be a honey comb plastic tunnel which you are able to help decorate with your own mini sculpture or motif made from coloured straws. It’s designed by African architect, Diebedo Francis Kere, who often involves the community in his buildings whether involving them in what it is they need or actually carrying the building materials!

Sensing Spaces straw flowerMany people, including me, chose to make flowers or bunches of flowers ( perhaps because it was Valentine’s Day when I visited) and stick them in the accompanying cubes like futuristic flower troughs. People were plaiting, twisting, knotting, tying together. They were standing, leaning on walls, sitting cross legged, photographing their creations, tweeting them giving them to their friends. Some were chatting,  others silently focussed and exchanging compliments – but few people walked through this exhibit without getting involved.

Li Xiaodong takes you through a maze of narrow passages, walled with wood coppiced panels, with niches to hideaway along the route. You finally end up in a courtyard or Zen garden where the gallery floor is covered with pebbles and the space is doubled with a wall of mirrors. Again people of all ages wereLi Xiaodong Sensing Spaces Royal Academy enjoying this installation. Students were sitting in the hidden niches chatting, smaller children were running on the pebbles and there was not a single disapproving face among the staff as the public got up very close indeed with the exhibit!

Two adjoining rooms show the contrasting uses of form and light as one installation almost blocks all the light coming from the roof creating a dark though peaceful space where visitors walk under these suspended blocks. In the other room the blocks are arranged differently so that light pours in from the ceiling and benches down one side encourage people to stay awhile and sit and think Sensing spaces Grafton architectsor read. Noone went as far as getting out a picnic – but if they had it would not have seemed odd.

There’s a 15 minute film, which children might not want to sit through, but it’s well worth it if they can be persuaded – as a way of putting the architects into context.

You can spend hours here or walk through relatively quickly – again perfect for a family trip! Though I love to go to galleries and studied History of Art at school – making me positively Picasso-like in the depth of my knowledge and understanding of all art forms – this is not something I would have chosen to go to – simply because I would have imagined it would all be architectural drawings and rather dry. It just shows how very wrong you can be and it’s a real triumph for the curator Kate Goodwin and the Royal Academy’s determination to be more family friendly.

I went round the exhibition twice,  but somehow managed to miss two rooms off to the left from the Pezo von Ellrichshausen installation.  So it is worth checking your plan to make sure you have seen it all – but for me it’s a great excuse to go back with the children.

The exhibition runs until 6th April. What are you waiting for!



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Paris, eat your heart out

Family love Valentine's Day

Another year –  another sea of red: red paper hearts hanging in every shop window and jiggling around on Google (please!), red foil on food and sparkling wine, red faces when one partner has out-shopped the other – or worse when one partner has said they don’ t believe in Valentine’s Day,  just as the other partner pulls out an expensively wrapped gift!

My husband is in Paris  today – on business – yes,  I  am apparently expected to believe that.  As my beloved is working, I’ve spent the day having a huge amount of fun at the Royal Academy strawsRoyal Academy,  looking round  a really wonderful new architecture exhibition – with a bit of people watching thrown in. The exhibition is very hands on. Sensing Spaces is made up of installations rather than drawings and you are encouraged to touch them, photograph them  - even climb them.  As love was in the air, there was perhaps more photographing than there might have been of girls gazing up at the RA’s golden cherubs – or coloured straws bent into flowers or hearts. But the exhibition was equally full of those absorbed in architectural angles and light sources – rather than hearts and flowers.

I will come back to the wonders of the exhibition (and there are many) another day,  for as it is Valentine’s Day – yes that’s right, I said VALENTINE’S DAY this post must focus on the love of a fellow human being as much as a love of the arts.

Outside the RA on Piccadilly, the proportion of men and women clutching single red roses wrapped in cellophane was seriously high – was there a stall round the corner selling them off cheap? My other half always told me roses were far too expensive on Valentine’s Day – once I’d given him my hand in marriage and a couple of kids that is. Before that happened money was no object  - obvs! An older couple in the window seat of a café were drinking kir royale with their baguettes (more red) .The French patisserie was selling luscious strawberry and cream gateaux held in place by a chocolate casing – heart shaped naturellement.

Keeping with the French theme, I was amused to note that while we consider gay Pareee to be the place for luvvers – the French themselves all seemed to be in Piccadilly and Notting Hill –  braving the very stormy and passionate weather. And clutching single red roses.

A decade ago, one of my favourite Valentine’s Days was spent in Ghana. There they celebrate the day a little like Christmas in that you wish friends and family a Happy Valentine’s Day. People say it to you in the street, sons and daughters ring the local radio station to wish their parents a Happy Valentine’s and they give gifts to family members, not just lovers. Although it’s very strange when you are not used to it, it’s actually rather an improvement on encouraging people to BE ROMANTIC for 24 hours. In recent years we have often invited a single friend or two for dinner on Valentine’s – no, not to match-make – or gone out the night before or the night after. So this evening we will be celebrating with a family meal with our children – Ghanaian style.

Realising that my fantasy of a lovely family meal was going to be slightly dampened by the empty fridge, I popped into M and S on my way home. It was a heart-warming experience.  Never have I seen so many men putting together the ingredients for a romantic meal into a tiny wire basket – wise men they were too – for they were not buying steak, oysters, fresh asparagus or the ingredients to make their own perfect mille feuille or croissants for the morning. No. With self knowledge that had already been anticipated and catered for by M and S,  they had just a handful of items in their basket – delicious I’m sure – all in protective card with a lovely picture on the top of what these romantic dishes should look like when they come out of the oven: Crab gratin followed by Beef Wellington  and raspberry Pannacotta to round things off perhaps. Or Baked eggs and chorizo followed by Seabass with red chilli butter and then Tarte au Citron. Killing isn’t it for us girls who have been cooking since lunchtime – or got ready last night with all the pre-prepared dishes in clingfilm in the fridge ( OK, not me, as I’ve already made clear).

But these men knew their limits and they were spending considerable time agonizing between the options  - and they were making an effort – so this is honestly not a cricticism  or a man-hating, feminist dig. How could I even think of such a thing on a day when so much love is filling the air. And it has to be light years away from the time a successful man would send their PA out to buy a trinket for the wife (and allegedly sometimes another for the mistress!) So modern man really is being,  well – modern. Anyway as a modern woman I came home with four mini dressed crabs;  a duck – a whole one that needs to be cooked upside down and skewered and stuff; four choc choux buns reduced to 50p and,  for a splash of red,  some cherry liquer chocs –my absolute favourite. All for under £20. Bargain. I’ve had a fab Valentine’s already and I haven’t even laid eyes on the man of my dreams yet.

Paris – eat your heart out. xxx


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Teaching your mother to…. kiss

“Come here Mummy, you’re doing it all wrong”

Seven year old puts his arms round the back of my neck and drags my head towards him.

“I’ll show you how to kiss properly”

I shake with laughter as he presses his lips rather painfully against mine and holds me in a vice-like grip for the duration.

“There – that was 10 seconds – now we need a hug for 10 seconds.”

We hug, while he counts.

“Now pick a number between 10 and 15″


“You are just trying to hug me for a shorter time.”

“OK – 14?”



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Help find a donor for baby Margot

Team Margot,  Tabernacle

We can all help – and  here is how:

On Saturday we went along to the Tabernacle on Powis Square for what was supposed to be 10 minutes  - but turned into two hours. We normally go there for my daughter’s ballet lessons,  but through her ballet teacher and through school we had been told they were having a one day donor drive to try to find a bone marrow donor for a little girl with leukaemia.

The fabulously named Margot Martini is 17 months old and has a very rare type of blood cancer. Her consultant at Great Ormond Street told her family that he has only seen three cases of this type in 10 years. She urgently needs a bone marrow transplant  and her family who live in West London are frantically looking for a donor.

The chances of any of us being that person are incredibly slim – which makes it all the more important that as many of us as possible take a few minutes to help. The swab test is very quick and painless  - you simply register your details then roll something like a cotton bud around the inside of each cheek and it’s sent off in a plastic bag with a bar code. That’s it. The added bonus is that if you are not a match for Margot you might be a match for somebody else.

I should add that the reason we were there for two hours is that supporters had laid onMessage tree for Margot Martini face painting by Julie Clark ( who also paints barges) , balloon modelling and even a free sweet shop! Registering and swabbing took less than 5 minutes. On the way out we met Margot’s uncle who gave my daughter some pink TeamMargot hair slides – thank you!

So how can you help? The campaign to find a donor is organised at a national level by Delete Blood Cancer and you can still register online with them and they will send out a donor pack in the post. This is a worldwide campaign so anyone reading this post can help – there just happens to be a local link. But noone’s asking for your money – just a few cells and you could save someone’s life. If you want to help publicise the campaign there is already a twitter hashtag  #TeamMargot and you can contact the organisers of her donor campaign via twitter through @Swab4Margot.

If you are worried about what happens if you are a match – in most cases they will just need some of your blood! Occasionally they may need to get cells from your pelvic area but they no longer take cells from the spinal cord.

I don’t know Margot  - but it seemed such a small thing to ask and especially as a parent I couldn’t justify ignoring this appeal. I hope you will feel the same and increase the chances of saving this little girl’s life.



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