Review – The Worst Witch, Royal Theatre Northampton (show seen, Sunday Dec 9)
THEY are pretty tough to impress, ten-year-old girls. They’ve just reached that eye-rolling, arm-folding kind of age. Gone are the days when they’d fall about at a fart noise or a silly face. Three of them – my daughter and her two […]
Category Archives: Parenting
If you’re a parent in Northamptonshire be sure to drop in to Old Scout’s Rugby Club tomorrow afternoon (Sunday July 15) for tea, cake and chatter about parenting.
This is the launch of the Parent Project, which will see two young mums collect the experience of other parents to write a new play. The project also hopes to bring together folk in the same boat, and relieve some of the loneliness that may be felt by those enjoying the task of bringing up young children.
The project will lead to a show in collaboration with Warts and All Theatre.
Click the link to find out more and book a free ticket to the launch
Our youngest, Bonnie, had been to five festivals before her fifth birthday.
Due to our largish family, it was always cheaper to do a festi-hol, but by 2014 the elder ones had started to get jaded and wanted to do ‘normal’ holidays. We did like the masses and had a couple of short trips to Spain and a drive through Europe.
Then Camp Bestival announced Fat Boy Slim and Tears for Fears were headlining for 2016 and I couldn’t resist.
So here we are again, blazing sunshine, our trusty 20-year-old Japanese Bongo van and an awning propped on a windy hill in Dorset.
So far we’ve watched the kids make a den in the Dingly Dell, shoot crossbows with the Tudors, stuff their faces with posh ice-cream and organic salad (and chips) and enjoyed acts as eclectic as Turin Brakes and Mr Motivator.
Two days to go, so far, so good!
Festival fever – after Glastonbury, here’s your round-up of festivals for summer 2016 in Northants and beyond
(Originally commissioned for Northants Herald and Post)
THE British weather is as unpredictable as ever, which can only mean one thing: it’s the start of the festival season.
As the mother of all music festivals, Glastonbury, has just taken place in all its muddy glory, we bring you a round up of some of the hundreds of UK festivals in Northamptonshire and beyond and some advice for those thinking about going for the first time with the family.
If you’re travelling with babies and toddlers, festival camping can be daunting, but a couple of fun days in a festival field can be easier to handle – and cheaper – than having to fly abroad in school holidays.
You need to accept that everything might not be operating-theatre-sterile for a couple of days, but there’s little that can’t be sorted with a multitude of various wet wipes.
A travelcot may seem like a heavy thing to lug to your campsite but it will allow peace of mind if your smaller offspring are prone to wander.
Take a tent that you KNOW how to put up in advance and if possible, invest in your own small trolley or wheelbarrow. Days can involve a lot of walking and it’s easier to entice a squealing toddler into a blanket-lined barrow than an unwieldy buggy that’s lost a wheel. Pack a set of warm clothes for evenings as it can get chilly (all-in-one rainsuits for kids are worth bringing) and give loads of time to get to stages for a favourite act.
Inevitably you won’t see everything on the line-up – sometimes you’ll just need to chill out with the kids and listen from a distance for your own sanity’s sake. Letting your bigger kids off the leash to wander without you may feel like a worry, but it’s an essential part of growing up and you should make sure they have a watch and regular meeting points. Don’t rely on phones as signal and battery life are usually limited.
Rucksacks and bumbags work better than handbags, cashpoints will be on site but be prepared to queue and pay fees, and you’ll probably survive with lots of socks but just two pairs of footwear – trainers and wellies.
If you’re bringing food, but only want to cook with minimal effort, a camping stove and kettle, cereal bars, tortilla wraps and noodles weigh little and can save you a fortune on festival food. Disposable barbecues are great if allowed and packet bacon will last a couple of days in a coolbox. Tea bags, coffee and UHT milk will feel like luxuries and you’ll be glad you invested in that multipack of earplugs from Boots.
Festival line-up for summer 2016.
Glastonbury, June 22-26, Pilton, Somerset. SOLD OUT.
Featuring: Muse, Adele, Coldplay, Foals, Beck, ELO
FOLD (Freak Out Let’s Dance), June 24-26, Fulham, London.
First year of this Chic and Nile Rodgers curated weekend, with Beck, John Newman, Alison Moyet, Thompson Twins
Love Supreme, Lewes, July 1-3
Featuring: Grace Jones, Burt Bacharach, Lianne La Havas, Kelis
British Summertime with Barclaycard, Hyde Park, London, July
This sees various big names for all music tastes play throughout the month, including Massive Attack, Kendrick Lamar and Jamie XX, Patti Smith, Carole King, Florence and the Machine, Take That and Olly Murs, Alabama Shakes and the Mumfords.
Northampton Town Festival, Racecourse, Northampton, July 2-3. FREE.
OK, so not strictly a music and camping festival, but the first year the town show and hot air balloons have been on the Racecourse for some time. A huge festival of family fun over two days.
Tannerfest, Loddington, Northants, July 9.
A firm fixture on the Northants music scene, this small but perfectly formed event is a laid-back day out for all the family.
Wireless, Finsbury Park, London, July 8-10.
Featuring: Calvin Harris, Chase & Status, Jess Glynne, Disciples, J Cole, KYGO, Boy Better Know. wirelessfestival.co.uk/
Electric Daisy Carnival, Milton Keynes Bowl, July 9
Massive dance music event featuring headliners Avicii, Axwell, Martin Solvig.
Lovebox, Victoria Park, London, July 15-16.
Featuring Jack Garrett, Major Lazer, Diplo, Kano, Stormzy, Jungle, Chet Faker.
Secret Garden Party, Huntingdon, Cambs, July 21-24.
Featuring: Primal Scream, Air, Caribou
Camp Bestival, Lulworth Castle, Dorset, July 28-31.
The little sister of September megafest Bestival and a favourite of our clan, this is a great place to kick off the school holidays and start festivaling with the family, and you’re quite likely to see former music stars chilling out with their own young ‘uns as well as the world’s largest bouncy castle. This year’s line up features Fatboy Slim, Tears for Fears, Squeeze, Katy B, Bananarama and Jess Glynne, with turns from Dick and Dom and Mr Tumble.
Green Man festival, Brecon Beacons, Wales, August 18-21
Featuring Belle & Sebastian, James Blake, Warpaint and Laura Marling
V Festival, Staffordshire and Chelmsford, August 20-21
H&P Ed is feeling very old; he attended the first one of these back in ’96. The big names are flying in for this year’s V Festival with Justin Beiber, Rihanna, Sia, David Guetta, faithless, the Kaiser Chiefs, Little Mix and All Saints on the list.
Atomic vintage festival, Sywell Aerodrome, Northants, Aug 20-21
This 1950s-themed festival features music, pre-1963 cars and hot-rods, lots of food ideas and stalls, set in the aerodrome and surrounds over two days.
Reading and Leeds festivals, August 26-28.
The traditional after-exam-results experience for teens, this year’s line up across the two cities includes The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Fall Out Boy, Foals, Disclosure, Vaccines, Eagles of Death Metal and Biffy Clyro.
Shambala, Kelmarsh Hall, Northants, Aug 25-28.
This is a lovely family festival with a real eco-ethos and a huge sense of humour. Dressing up is encouraged and while the stages usually feature less-well-known but excellent musicians, they’ve brought in the 80s soul divas Sister Sledge to headline on Friday. The circus and arts fields are always amazing.
THIS week I was asked to talk about whether it was right that a mum, whose 16-month-old toddler was throwing a full-on tantrum, was asked to leave a John Lewis store after a complaint from a customer. No, of course it bloody wasn’t.
Apparently, a customer complained about the crying noise to a member of the menswear department who then asked the frazzled new mum to leave.
I’m pretty sure this was a one-off by a member of staff who was either inexperienced, having a bad day, or simply moronic. What he should have done is walk the stupid moaner off the premises, not the mum.
Oh yes, I know it’s pretty irritating when a kid cries in a public place. It’s MEANT to be annoying, to get grown-up human beings to pay attention to a child who might be in peril. But this wasn’t in a restaurant, or a bar, or a library. No one goes shopping for the peace and quiet.
So hey, Mr John Lewis customer, why don’t you walk away for a few minutes and come back when the tantrum’s over rather than throwing your toys out of your pram and COMPLAINING? Clearly when you wanted your own way as a kid, your parents must have pandered to your every whim, instead of leaving you to bleat and cry until you realised it was pointless, and did what you were ruddy-well told.
Yes, I’ll happily admit to bribing and threatening my offspring to get them to stop them kicking off in public, but a 16-month-old? Too young to understand I’m afraid.
The only thing you can do as a parent with a screamer is ride it out, or carry them bodily somewhere else to distract them. I did have a particularly effective hard stare that would silence my older sons (not Bonnie, she just didn’t care), but not at this age. You can lose a finger trying to strap a wriggly, screaming pre-schooler into a buggy, or get kicked in the face by flailing feet. Parenting the under-fives is like an extreme sport. Done daily.
Trust me, most parents are also swearing under their breath when toddlers throw a paddy in public. It’s not a situation anyone enjoys.
So get over it, shoppers-without-babies. Walk away, put your headphones in, have some empathy. Because it’s these screaming kids, mine included, who will be working all hours to prop up the economy in a few years time, so you can have a pension in your old age. Move on tantrum police, there’s nothing to see here. . .
MY 12-YEAR-OLD son is looking simultaneously horrified and delighted. His eyes are saying, “Get her off me!” while his mouth is showing a wide smile. His cheeks are being held adoringly by someone who could pass as his granny, but who is actually a complete stranger.
This mild-mannered mugging in the supermarket is not unusual for my children. They were once the subject of a weekly newspaper column, which detailed their early years and my often chaotic parenting. And unbeknown to them, they still have fans. Readers who saw them appear in print as chubby babies, naughty toddlers, and mischievous teens who still recognise them, although the column stopped when the paper ceased being a daily a few years ago.
“Look how you’ve grown!” beams the friendly stranger, leaving Billy unsure whether to thank her or correct her; because in his head he’s not grown enough, being one of the oldest but tiniest in his year at school.
Meanwhile the lady has moved on to ruffle the hair of eight-year-old Bonnie, now looking like a fully-formed human being rather than the wobbly toddler the reader remembered. “And don’t you look like your mum?” she asks. Bonnie has become used to this observation and doesn’t yet see it as the worst thing on earth (although no doubt that will change). I chat to the lady a little longer, filling her in on what our older two are doing and thanking her for keeping track of My Bloke’s career as editor of another paper.
As we bid our farewells to carry on shopping, Bill and Bonn start to question me along the lines of: Who the hell was that and why does she know so much about us? (They had been much younger when the columns ran and possibly thought that all children had their photos taken on a weekly basis.)
We carry on the discussion back at home with the elder sons, Jed and Dougie, now 18 and 16 respectively, who make sure the younger two understand that THEY were FAR more famous in their day, as they had their tantrums, birthdays, school applications, parents’ evenings and every other form of embarrassing scenario detailed to the public at large on a weekly basis for more than a decade. Cheek-tweaking by strangers was a weekly occurrence for us, not just a one-off, they claimed.
But how would they feel now if I’d kept writing about them? My change of job from full-time journalist to university journalism lecturer meant that I didn’t really get to discuss parenting mid-range teens. It would have been just as they hit the door-slamming years, and I would have had perfect source material for a parenting column, with topics like girlfriends, puberty, under-aged drinking, learning to drive, going abroad on their own or, critically at the moment, exams. But is it fair to expose the lives of your children as a paid job?
Social media would possibly have exacerbated their embarrassment even more, because ten years ago they wouldn’t have been so ‘shared’ via Twitter and Facebook, although they were online.(They don’t have their own social media open to us, quite wisely.)
Feedback was generally pretty good on the column, readers wrote letters and emails sympathising or sharing their own stories, and often it would be grandparents as much as parents who read it, because they could see how attitudes and styles of bringing up kids had changed so dramatically.
Unlike the plethora of parenting advice books, the column wasn’t there to lecture anyone about the best way to bring up kids, but to share experience and tips. Well, that was the intention anyway. I did get relatively regular letters written by someone claiming to represent the entire population of a nursing home who apparently detested me and spelled this out in no uncertain terms. Then there was the mother who wrote to tell me that she was so appalled that I didn’t give out party bags at one particular birthday that she was GLAD her children did not know mine. Ouch.
I’ve always found it curious how hate-mail tended to be from women, who you’d think would be more supportive of the sisterhood. But no, I’m afraid the most zealous critics were female. At least I can say they were engaged enough to be bothered to actually write, buy a stamp and take it to the postbox. Today we’d call them trolls.
Is writing about your own children in advice columns over-sharing? (And yes, of course I’m aware that I’m sharing their lives again, as I’m writing this right now). Is there a difference between parenting advice columns and the ubiquitous Facebook posts of the landmark events (or otherwise) of proud parents?
OK, so I did sit up in bed and write a column for the newspaper about the arrival of our new baby daughter on the day she was born. But because readers had spent nine months following the saga of my fourth pregnancy it seemed only fair to give them the conclusion. And to be frank, I was so pleased that having a home birth had been such a monumentally better experience than going into hospital, I wanted other people to understand there was nothing to be scared of. Plus, I was slightly off my head on post-partum painkillers.
If there was a story in the news about a particular parenting issue, like childcare, or health issues, I’d usually have experienced it one time or another, and knew how lonely, confusing and demoralising those early years as a mum can be. Jed and Doug are only 19-months apart in age, and like chalk and cheese, so I’d had a pretty intensive apprenticeship as a working parent, at a time when you were only allowed 3-6 months maternity leave. By the time Billy and then Bonnie came along, I had four children under ten and had given up caring what people thought of me.
I just wanted to tell people all the things I wish I’d done differently. Or even, and we probably don’t do enough of this, detailing parenting tips that had actually worked.
Today the urge to write about the offspring is somewhat offset by being able to share pictures and updates to family and friends via Facebook (which I try and use just for personal stuff). I will occasionally get asked to write the odd thing for a parenting site or magazine and happily rant away on BBC Radio Northampton whenever they are short of a guest with forthright opinions on bringing up baby.
Jed is now 18, just coming up to his A Levels, learning to drive, playing rugby, going out on the town and looking at universities. yes, terrifying, I know.
Dougie is almost 17, in the year below, doing AS Levels, playing first-team rugby (his team are in the Nat West Schools final at Twickenham in nine days time, and he’s fighting to get back from his first ever injury).
Billy , now 12, has started ‘big school’, also plays rugby, and does street dance, loves to cycle like his looky-likey dad, has successfully ingratiated himself with the sixth form at school, despite being a year seven.
Bonnie, now 8, doesn’t seem the slightest bit bothered that she’s the only one left at primary school, where she does gymnastics, yoga, recorder, ocarina, swimming and unlike her brothers, has never had a bad report. She’s girlier than you might expect (so much for nature/nurture) and somehow rules the roost. They are often hilarious and sometimes idiotic and make us incredibly proud.
Meanwhile, if you see my kids out and about, don’t be afraid to give them a tweak of the cheeks. They love it, really.
This is galanthus ikariae Bonnie Scott, a snowdrop named after my daughter when she was a baby in 2008.
It was grown by famed snowdrop guru Jim Leatherland in Northamptonshire, and I thought I’d lost it. But buried among some overgrown hardy geranium, with a couple of flowers and its stripy leaves, there it is, nearly eight years on and still alive!
I must split it and move it once it’s G finished flowering, this time writing down where it is!
Review of Cinderella, with John Partridge and Cbeebies’ Sid, at Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 2015
Cinderella Review, Derngate theatre Northampton.
THERE’S a tradition with many families at Christmas that shows more faith than going to midnight mass – and that’s booking a year in advance for the Derngate panto.
Lots of Northamptonians do it – after all, the Derngate pantos are fairly traditional and you should reasonably expect something with a famous face, some sparkly costumes and the requisite number of ‘He’s behind you!’s.
They are always Qdos productions, a vast entertainment group who put on commercial, traditional pantos, usually with at least one celebrity turn, up and down the country. Next door at the Royal you’ll find something a little less panto and a little more ‘Christmas play’, and this year it’s the Snow Queen.
If it’s dames and double entendres you’re after, Cinderella has those in abundance. Ben Stock and Bobby Delaney as the Ugly Sisters give it the full-on panto dame routine, with amazing costumes and good comic timing. But they get rather pushed into the chorus by ex-Eastender and rumoured Big Brother contestant John Partridge as Prince Charming, whose stripping and whooping and winking make you think that Cinderella would be furiously swiping left on the fairytale version of Tinder.
When Partridge started singing, and he can certainly carry a tune, my 7-year-old turned to ask: “Is it the interval soon?” She and her 8-year-old friend fidgeted far more than they usually do at the theatre while our 12-year-old, trying his hardest not to sound un-cool, asked if some of the jokes were really suitable for kids, “as it isn’t even like you have to work out what they really mean, it’s just rude stuff.” Then he went back to playing games on his phone.
I’ll admit I was watching through gritted teeth through quite a lot of Cinderella, as young actress Rachel Flynn battled to be heard above her braying prince and the whiney Buttons, played by Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Danny Posthill, whose main talent was rapid-fire impressions.
There was a big cheer from the audience when Cbeebies favourite Sid (Sloane) appeared, and he made the cheerful most of his role as the prince’s servant and sidekick Dandini. The beautiful glittery costumes and athletic dance moves of the girl dancers got our seven-year-old back watching and the audience seemed to be whooping along with it all. Either that or they’d been wise enough to have a proper drink beforehand.
There is an intended ‘wow’ moment involving a mechanical horse, some bubbly snow and some stage flying work, but I’m afraid I couldn’t stop laughing at the horse’s gammy leg.
I’ve been to a lot of pantomimes over the years and despite the jokey reputation for it being a long way from high art, the writing has to be good to carry the clichés and flamboyance that comes from having to recycle much-loved stories and carry slightly-famous non-actors.
With Cinderella I got the feeling that the production bosses just couldn’t be bothered this year. Stick some faces up there, work some good dancers into a few routines, call the local dance school for some sweet kids for the chorus, find someone off a TV talent show that at least the teens will recognise and shove in some fart jokes. Work them all solid for a couple of months and take the cash that people effectively pledged without knowing what they were really going to get.
If you’ve already got tickets, or were thinking of going, don’t let this put you off. But if you can, make sure you drop into the theatre’s new Bar Hygge beforehand, for a ‘quick stiffener’. There you go Qdos scriptwriters, you can have that one for next year.
THERE’S a bunch of four and five-year-olds running up and down the steps in the bar area of Royal & Derngate, completely oblivious to everyone around them. The game escalates quite quickly into Slide-Down-The-Steps-On-Your-Tummy.
Oh, and they are all girls, most dressed in very sparkly dresses.
Our seven-year-old Bonnie has settled herself up onto a bar stool and is looking down on them, literally, while shaking her head: “Ah, reception kids,” she sighs, sounding more like a pensioner than her own grandparents. She’s read the blurb about the show we’re waiting to see and seen that it’s for under-fives – and she’s seven.
We’re here, Bonn and I, to see one of the Royal & Derngate’s famous ‘immersive’ shows for children. These are often linked to the Royal’s annual Christmas show and this year it’s Oh no, not snow! which references The Snow Queen, playing to rather larger audiences upstairs.
Oh No, not snow! (which will become ONNS for the purposes of word count) is being held in the Underground at R&D, an innovative space that allows directors to make sets as ‘rooms’ which the audience can walk through as part of the show.
The story has already started as the audience of kids and carers walk through to put away their coats. Sam (played by Max Gallagher) introduces himself and gets the smaller members of the audience to rip up paper to make snow.
Then his mum arrives and tells him to take his ‘friends’ (that’s us) to help tidy his bedroom.
What follows is a journey through a couple of self-contained rooms (I don’t want to spoil the surprise with too much detail, but there is a ‘wow’ moment) with the audience of parents and pre-schoolers in tow.
Director Chris Elmer-Gorry has created a delightful introduction to the fantasy world of theatre for the under-fives in ONNS, and I think it’s a real strength of R&D that they create these ‘tasters’ of theatre for the very young.
There are moments where the tiniest tots, oblivious to the fact there is a story being told, get involved in the action, and the actors, particularly Kate Hearn as Polly, do well to manage and ad-lib around their impromptu cast members. Sometimes the children are invited to help the cast in certain tasks, and sometimes they just join in anyway, and it’s up to the skill of the performer to manage the situation without breaking the flow, as there’s already no ‘fourth wall’ of traditional theatre.
I’ve reviewed several of these immersive shows over recent years and in this case Bonnie, aged 7, was totally engrossed in the action and the story.
There are a couple of songs that went on marginally too long for some of the kids, who I watched chucking ‘snow’ in strangers faces instead. I think the age of the children, set at under 5, could go up to six or seven, but I’d also put a limit on the number of adults coming with each child, because at times it seemed that there were just too many big people in the room closely stalking their offspring, rather than sitting back and letting them join in the action with the other children.
Oh No, Not Snow runs in Derngate’s Underground until January 3, with limited tickets available from the Box Office on 01604 624811.