Friday, July 30, 2010

On my bike

I have just registered for the new London bike hire scheme, which launches today. I was spurred on as I noticed several docking points while driving (whoops! Not very green) through Islington yesterday. There seemed to be a mass last minute exercise going on to 'bike up' all the docking points with the rather clunky looking machines that we will soon be able to ride.

Style should be the least of your worries when riding a bike, however of late it has become an activity that you need to be seen doing round these parts, preferably on a modish single speed bike or retro granny model. No need for bicycle clips either as trousers as worn drainpipe tight this year.

I doubt the  Barclays machines will go down particularly well with the London Fields massive as you will look as cool as a Tory on a bike. However, I was excited enough to register at about 11 last night, and am now waiting anxiously for my access key to arrive.

The scheme works by allowing you to pick up one of thousands of bikes from docking stations around the capital. You pay £3 for the key, rather like your Oyster card and then pay as you go. The first 30 minutes are free, so it may be possible to cross London by planning your route carefully and swapping bikes as you go. However the scheme is cheap enough at £1 per day, although there is higher rate if you don't have credit in your account. A full year's membership costs £45, which you'd struggle to buy a bike for anywhere - even in the thief's market of Brick Lane.

It is as yet unclear where all of the docking stations are. The website promises to locate them on a map, but they weren't there last night when I looked - not even the ones I spotted off Pentonville Road and next to Islington Sainsbury's. It will be something of an own goal if we don't have them in the Olympic boroughs as part of the bid has been about a green transport policy for visitors - as long as you are not a member of the IOC, which seems intent on traffic free carriage to the Lea Valley in special lanes.

For me, it will be an opportunity to get back on two wheels. I haven't had a bike for ages as there is not really room to store it in the flat. The only problem is that I doubt they come with kids seats. Maybe some enterprising sort will develop a quick release version that can used with hire bikes.

These sorts of schemes have been in action for a while in many European cities, such as Paris and Frankfurt. The key to their success, according to my sources, is speedy reallocation of bikes so they don't simply disappear from high traffic sites, such as railway stations to the periphery of the scheme. That, and removal and repair of any duff machines. I suspect there will be plenty of need in the early days as cycling novices, such as me, and local vandals put them through their paces. Overall though, what's not to like?

In depth report coming soon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sugar Sugar

Like many first time parents, we did a lot of things by the (smug middle class parent's) book: breast feeding for a year (not me, obviously); weaning on nutritious pulped food; avoiding exposure to TV; no sweets. Jeez, we were smug.

The no sweets thing was something that I was particularly keen on, having seen the havoc that the introduction of 'treats' can have on a healthy eating regime. Mainly to myself actually. As a Scottish child of the Seventies, I was raised on the newly available convenience foods and sweeties.

(My mum was, and remains a marketing man's dream. My sister and I used to be able to accurately guage what we'd be having for dinner by checking out what new ads were breaking that week. You could guarantee that mum would trial any new innovations as soon as they hit the shelves.)

So when it came to HackneyChild, I was determined that he should be given the best dietary start. In this I was helped by my wife, who had a completely different upbringing to mine, in that she was deprived of sweets to such an extent in the early days that the first time some kindly soul gave her jelly babies, she started playing with them, thinking they were dolls.

That story always stuck in my mind. To this day I have a massively sweet tooth, brought on in no small part by the kind of food my old Scottish grannie thought suitable for growing laddies - treacle and syrup sandwiches for example. White bread, natch! Or just a straight up sugar sandwich. I didn't stand a chance.

Anyway, I thought we'd done pretty well keeping J's exposure to the white stuff to a minimum. I used to weed out the nasties from the birthday bags he was given at his nursery, but really it seems to have been all in vain. After a delayed start, he has taken to all sorts of sweet things like a demon - cakes, ice cream, chocolate, biscuits, are his 'favourite thing' as he terms it.

I know there is some debate about how bad sugar is for kids and whether it really does turn them bonkers, but today's evidence look daming. After being particularly good, his mum bought him an ice cream which he liked lots thank you very much. After that, it seemed as if he had been swapped for an evil twin. He wanted to chop off his brother's head and kick him downstairs, he wanted to SHOOOUUUT, wouldn't have an afternoon nap despite being very tired, he was crying and stumbling about like a miniature drunk.

Being the good and consistent parents we are, we have told him that he is NEVER having ice cream again. That should sort him out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Thumbs up for Lollibop

Children and festivals don’t mix. It’s a fact that some parents choose to ignore in the relentless pursuit of those hazy, lazy, carefree pre-children days. Give it up guys – they’re never coming back.

Maybe the organisers of Lollibop are on to something. The event, which was held for the first time on 17-18 July in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington, offered a decent day’s entertainment that kept both ankle biters and their minders entertained.

Billed as the Big Bash for Little People, a telling addition might have been (and harassed parents). Yet the overall feeling of the event was that it was fun, lively and safe, and those attending looked pretty relaxed. It helped that Sunday was a glorious day, but the whole tone of the event was designed to put visitors at ease. Arriving just after noon I heard the security guys on the gate telling some curious onlookers that only adults with children could come in. The wrist bands for children and reminder to write on their name and phone number was a nice touch, and made it feel more like a school outing.

Indeed Lollibop had a pleasantly home made feel to it, which is not bad for a festival put together by a professional events company – I hope I’m not damning Continental Drifts with faint praise, it’s meant to be a compliment. The old Stoke Newington festival was gloriously uncommercial and a great example of community involvement. I’m sure it’s a touchstone for these kind of events.

The site was pretty big but pleasantly not too crowded. Not such good news for the organisers I’m sure, but great for parents and children who were able to take advantage of the activities without waiting for too long.

There was plenty to get excited about (if you were four years old) and to be thankful for if you were a bit older. A small petting zoo complete with pony, goats, sheep, stoat, and er goslings (help me here), was a big hit. As were the obligatory bouncy castles and craft activities. I loved the clean loos (complete with loo paper and a flower) and baby changing and feeding facilities.

Mums and dads could also enjoy a crafty pint from the ‘adult crèche’ located near to the music stage. My highlight of the day was the Bikini Beach Band, whose surf rock version of Popcorn is still playing in my head. Another nice touch was the opportunity to purchase ear defenders for youngsters. It wasn’t that loud, but it showed consideration for the audience.

Other highlights included walkabout entertainment such as a scrap yard challenge horse, stilted fairies, a troll and Alice in Wonderland characters. You could also head to the Miniscule of Sound, mini niteclub, watch some Babyoke (baby karaoke), see the bubble man, dance to a Latin beat, enjoy some comedy, dress up or take part in a sports day. And, as they say, much, much more.

As a paying event, the big question has to be, was it worth it? I didn’t pay for my ticket, and would probably have baulked at the £53 on the day cost of family entry. However, compared to an afternoon at the cinema, bowling or even swimming, it was competitively priced, and positively cheap compared to taking the kids to see Arsenal at the nearby Emirates.

The problem for the organisers is that Hackney is blessed with so many great free events during summer. I had seen elements of the show, such as the Albion pirate ship and soft play area at recent free events in London Fields for example. The nearest comparison with Lollibop is probably Paradise Gardens in Victoria Park, which was completely free. Of course, it was largely funded by the local authority and it may be that there as the council looks to make savings, it is less able to fund such feel good activities.

Will enough people pay for Lollibop to make it viable in future? Only time will tell. We certainly felt it was a great day and would welcome it back next year, even if we had to spring for the tickets this time.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Secret Garden

Actually, it's not that secret, but today I paid my first visit to the funkily named Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. This is a two-year project to create a community garden in a neglected urban space.

Despite sounding like a dance move of years gone by, the Dalston Eastern Curve was in fact a junction link for the recently reopened rail line at Dalston Junction.  For years, it's been a forgotten slice of land tucked away between derelict buildings, a faceless shopping complex and a congested thoroughfare.

That started to change last year with an arty project called Dalston Mill. It had quite lofty aims - I'm not really sure if I understood them, but it made a fascinating place to visit with an inquisitive toddler. Behind these anonymous black fence posts they are growing wheat - behold and marvel!

You couldn't actually eat the wheat due to contamination caused by fly tipping over the years, but it was an interesting project in many ways.

Leap forward a year and the DECG (could that catch on as an acronym?) is almost up and running. I popped in there this afternoon and found a group of lovely people who seemed very excited by the prospects. Speaking to one lady, she said how they hoped to get schools involved, wanted people to come along and plant things, to have semi outdoor events and solicited my advice on what toddlers might want to do in such a space.

J was in kid heaven just being let loose with the hosepipe. Can he do that every day? It was like our bedtime Magic Garden stories (copyright Dad) brought to life.

I hope it works out. It's such a great idea - and one that I hope is not seriously being linked to Cameron's vacuous Big Society notion, as here. My cynical side wonders if it will end up being nothing more than a nice hideaway for the local drunks. I'm sure that won't happen, especially if they get a little cafe in there - parents of Hackney will come flocking.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Maybe it's these austere times, but I've found myself entering a lot of competitions recently. I lack the dedication of the full time comper - the person with a house full of toasters and tea towels, three cars in the drive and the promise of four foreign holidays a year. All because they are on first name terms with lady luck and have a punning way with 10 words or less tiebreakers.

Having spoken to a few compers in my time, I realise that it's practically a full time job for some (the retired mainly). But I also know from past experience that many competitions don't attract that many entries. I worked on a magazine once that had a monthly prize draw for a travel prize. The prizes were pretty decent - spa weekends, hotel breaks, travel vouchers, tickets to sporting events - yet regularly failed to get into double figures of entries. At the same time, we had several regulars who would enter every month and sent in elaborate hand made postcards to increase their chance of being pulled from the presumably bulging postbag. My favourite was one entrant whose postcards were in the shape of teddy bear's heads, complete with fake fur, beady eyes and a sound chip in the nose that played the Teddy Bear's Picnic when squeezed. She never won!

But I have, thanks to my good friends at Hackney Hive. We will be attending this weekend's Lollibop, a big outdoor event for kids in lovely Clissold Park. I'm not quite sure what to expect, but the lineup looks good, so if the weather holds - Sunday looks the better bet - it should be great.

Now all I need is to find a local website that's running a competition for High Voltage.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Carry on regardless

In certain cultures it is customary that babies are not put on the ground for the first year of their life. Trust me on this - I'm a bit shaky on the details, but I have Metro-level knowledge it happens in Bali. Maybe it works in extended families, but three months into Hackney_Child 2.0's life, it is getting pretty wearing for the distinctly nuclear Holiday family.

He is a pretty massive wee thing and doesn't take that kindly to being put down. This can mean carrying his impressive bulk around for hours on end while he dribbles down your aching left arm (I favour that side). I fear I will end up like one of those lopsided crabs that develops a massive claw to compensate for the loss of the other one.

As well as refusing to be put down, he also doesn't see why you should sit down on duty. What difference it makes to him I cannot tell, but the moment bum touches seat, his back starts to arch and he squirms and squeaks until you resume the upright jiggling position. It's like handling a large and chubby eel. I remember when I was a kid my dad told me that the only way to stop an eel wriggling was to make a cross in the ground and lay it on the axis. As I recall it didn't really work that well on the elver we'd caught, but the thought remains.

It's beginning to affect me physically. Today I found myself jiggling involuntarily when he started crying even though I wasn't carrying him. People look. I'm also developing a rather splay footed dad walk that is partly designed to rock the bairn and partly aimed at slowing down my progress as Number One Son is usually dawdling some distance behind complaining of having 'empty legs'. This means swapping lumpen baby for his older sibling, who usually regains his energy levels once perched on my shoulders and commences to try and compress my neck into my chest by bouncing up and down on it. The only compensation is that they are both growing at such a rate that one day soon, they will be carrying me.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


On my way to the pub I noticed a lady picking fruit from a tree in the local playground. I stopped to chat. She was eating cherries, which seem to have arrived at a perfect state of ripeness today. They tasted lovely - sweet, yet slightly tart and smaller than the supermarket offerings

Returning home later, I noticed another tree heavy with fruit where some of the local kids were handing out scrumped cherries from a Tesco bag. Everyone seemed happy and relaxed at this shared bounty. It reminded me of the time I discovered some edible chestnut trees in Victoria Park. I was running along the canal side one evening and spotted a Chinese lady filling bags with something. The next day I revisited the spot with my son and we were given a bag of chessies by a fellow forager.

I had great plans for them - some sort of cake - but unfortunately I left them sitting in a bag in the lobby and they went mouldy.

It's nice to know that even in the heart of London, you can still get a bit Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I'm going back for more tomorrow. They'll be gone by the weekend.

If you don't want to know the score, look away now...

I watched my first World Cup game in a bar tonight. It's been nigh on impossible to sneak a visit to the boozer for 7.30 kick offs as it's smack in the middle of bath time. Tonight, thanks to the beneficence of Mrs Holiday, I was able to watch the Spain v Germany at one of my locals. She put both of the children to bed tonight, which was beyond kindness.

Back at the pub, it was standing room only. This didn't completely surprise me as I'd passed by during the Germany v Argentina quarter final on Saturday and it was hopping. Now Hackney is a very cosmopolitan area, but there was big love going out towards Deutschland - it was as if they were the home team. Which they may well have been - I suspect there are more Germans in the borough than Argentinians (although possibly not Brazilians, as we have a Brazilian butcher on Mare Street).

In fact there are some interesting Germanic links in Hackney. The German Hospital, just up the road from us is a reminder of an early wave of immigration to London. More recently, as Iain Sinclair's Hackney history reminds us, the borough has been a haven for political extremists such as Baader Meinhoff member Astrid Proll. She worked for a while at the Lesneys Matchbox factory in Homerton.

I'm not sure of Spanish links, but there seemed to be plenty of 'Viva Espana's' in the air tonight. Of course, many of these may have been coming from locals. There was a great atmosphere, which was probably because it was not an England game and there was no need to gnaw your fingernails to the bone. Not that I would - I'm Scottish. I've no fingernails left.

Anyway 1-0 to Spain seems to set up a cracking final on Sunday. Whether I'll be allowed out to play or not is another matter.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Splash it all over

This has been a fantastic week of weather although I've been fretting about work enough not to enjoy it. Yesterday however, Mrs Holiday and I went to Greenwich for the afternoon with the two kids and a friend and her two. The plan was to take in lovely Greenwich Park, let the boys stretch their legs and then have lunch in a bar in the grounds of the Naval College.

As it happened, we didn't get much beyond the first patch of grass. This was being watered with an array of sprinklers, which J's pal Other J (let's call him OJ for short) headed for like iron filings to a magnet. J swiftly followed and it quickly became apparent we wouldn't get much further for a while. The two of them stripped off and swooped and hollered around the sprinklers for the best part of the next hour before a reluctant break for lunch and then back for more running around in their pants and getting soaked. All to the soundtrack of soloists practising in the Trinity College of Music which overlooks the garden.

It reminded me a bit of the films we see of New York kids playing in water hydrant spray - the nearest they get to the seaside perhaps (although Coney Island isn't that far away). It also reminded me how good children are at coming up with their own entertainment and that perhaps parents are sometimes guilty of trying too hard to entertain them. Mind you, that was before they started to daub themselves with mud, at which point the laissez faire approach ceased.

Both J and OJ had smiles a mile wide playing in the spray, as did most of the people who wandered past. It was so hot I'm sure that a few of them wouldn't have minded a cooling drench themselves. When we get a garden I think I'll have to invest in a hose and sprinkler pretty quickly - here's hoping for hosepipe ban free summers.

Actually, I've just remembered another water feature that would be well worth a visit. This has been outside the Royal Festival Hall for the past few years. Wonder if it's there this year.