On the Queen’s Knickers.

The Queen’s Knickers is an excellent name for a play, or, in fact, a book (by Nicholas Allan), which is where it all started originally. You know that it is an excellent name, because when you told the Star that’s what he was going to the theatre to see, he repeated it a few times to himself and went off to translate it for Babushka. And then every now and again would pop up out of the blue with the name, having presumably found something else to amuse himself with about it.

The Queen’s Knickers is actually part of the Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre this half term. You were offered free tickets for it, which you were delighted to accept. The Southbank Centre is, after all, fabulous even when you aren’t going inside. It looks like a multi-storey car park, all grey concrete and levels, but it’s amazing how much fun can be had going up and down the steps to see what’s round this or that corner, playing on the street furniture and the concrete, astrograssed and whitewashed play equipment, watching the skateboarders down by the river and so on, and that’s when the place isn’t swarming with under tens. You always get a bit lost when you go there, and you always come across something that’s worth the ten extra minutes trying to figure out which way Waterloo is. They outdid themselves during the Olympics, with an entire beach full of coloured sand down by the Thames. But even now you were quite convinced that the Star wouldn’t want to disappear inside to see something as tame as a play.

Imagine Festival

You needn’t have worried. That name sucked him in.

The Queen’s Knickers is a two-woman play about the national crisis that occurs when the Queen’s entire collection of specially designed underwear goes missing. There is much business with pants large and small, frilly and plain, patterned, multicoloured and the frankly weird. There are songs (about knickers). There is dancing (with knickers). There is dressing up (in knickers). There are quick changes and a vast array of characters. There is an amusing riff on Chinese whispers, which even made B crack a smile, and which the Star was quoting on the way home. There are puppets, there is audience interaction, there are puns, and best of all there is a special appearance from a very important personage indeed (go on, guess who), which the Star was very impressed by. There is a message, and one which not only justifies what could otherwise be seen as a truly impressive amount of genuflecting towards the monarchy, but which is also a slightly more interesting insight into the human condition than you usually get in improving entertainments aimed at kids (or perhaps it is just one you approve of).  And for the four year olds, who don’t care about that, there is more risqué knicker action to finish off with.

Some of the less exciting knickers.

Some of the less exciting knickers.

There was also more concrete inside the auditorium. You took a photo.

I love concrete.

I love concrete.

Anyway. It was fun. The Star, who was decidedly squirmy before you started, got into the story and his wiggling became shifts to get a better view. And when it was over you asked him if he liked it.

‘It was so funny my head nearly fell off,’ he said.

This, you feel, is about as high praise as any play is going to get.

You didn’t get to many of the other events at the Festival because you and B were distracted by the Real Food Market. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. However, as they have some live baby animals for the children to pet there, this was not a problem for the animal obsessed Star, who spent a happy half hour trying to feed straw to the lambs, piglets and calves.

Good. Now you have an excuse to go back later in the week.

Disclaimer: So I didn’t get paid for this, but I did get complementary tickets to the play from the Southbank Centre.


On musical madness

This is genuinely fascinating. Thanks to Multilingual Mama for bringing this to my attention!


Multilingual Mama

Prisecolinensinenciousol, a parody by Adriano Celentano for the Italian TV programme Mileluci is sung entirely in gibberish designed to sound like American English.

Confession: having not read the description when I first watched this, I spent ages trying to figure out what he was saying. D’oh.

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On putting children to bed

You have a confession to make. You are still putting your son to sleep. You lie next to him for ten minutes while he strokes your eyebrows and gently tugs on your nose and then he drops off. If he is really having trouble descending into the land of nod, he licks his finger first. The resulting sensation isn’t one you wouldn’t be in a hurry to recommend that other people to experience, but it seems to do the trick so hey. Sorted.

What, other people’s children do not find eyebrow stroking the perfect soother? How odd. It’s been the Star’s preferred comfort rag since he was quite small. At least he has stopped assuaging his nervousness at meeting new people* by stroking their eyebrows now, which was a phase he went though at around two and a half. There were lots of startled toddlers in Saaaaf Laaandaaan in those days, I can tell you. He’s also got the message that Papa is not keen, and that Mama would prefer not to have her nose pulled when she is trying to do up shoelaces, which is all progress too.

You do not quite know how this started, but you can probably say it had something to do with your failure to give the Star a dummy. Mind you, the Comet also never got a dummy but she does not try to smooth down any parts of your face in order to calm herself down.

No, she twiddles her hair. What there is of it. Had you known how long it would take to grow, you would never have let your husband shave it off just after her first birthday.**

She also fiddles with her own eyelashes.

Now that really is weird.

But then when you were a kid, you slept with your old cot blanket over your covers proper. And you called it your ‘sucking quilt’.

And you didn’t give it up until you were in double figures at least.

Wonder what happened to it.

*No sniggering at the back there. The Star does get nervous. He just shows it in funny ways.

**If anyone is thinking there’s a story here, there is. But not a very interesting one.

On Pancake Day 2013

You went a bit overboard on pancake day this year. Six am saw you up and making a breakfast of a stack quick and dirty blini (use self raising flour, don’t bother beating the eggwhites), albeit only because your daughter had woken you up early. Upside? The Star got to take chocolate spread covered crepes to school in his lunchbox, which is one of his favourite things to do. Downside? You did the school run with a smudge of chocolate on your forehead.

Ah well.

Anyway, then you started to think about lunch. Had to be pancakes really. That was what you had promised B. But what to put in them? It turns out that blini are and excellent way to use up all the things you have hanging about in the fridge. Who knew? Not to mention the fact that sorting out 42 different fillings neatly got you out of doing the cleaning.

Here are the savoury ones.

Top left to bottom right: mushrooms in cream, cheddar, spinach, ricotta cheese, leeks, bacon, ham, smoked salmon, brie and goats cheese. Not all at once.

Top left to bottom right: mushrooms in cream, cheddar, spinach, ricotta cheese, leeks, bacon, ham, smoked salmon, brie and goats cheese. Not all at once.

Here are what your family actually prefers. You, on the other hand, like jam and sour cream. Or real cream if you have it, which you did for breakfast this morning, thanks.

That there on the left is condensed milk. No really, try it.

That there on the left is condensed milk. No really, try it.

And here are a few of the 167 pancakes you cooked. Only a few because you all ate the rest. You had them for tea too.



The good news is in precisely a month you get to do it all again, but more so, for Maslenitsa, or Russian Orthodox Pancake Week.

Yes, their Lent/ Easter is a month behind the Western Christian Church’s one this year. No that isn’t going to be weird at all.

The Toddler’s Guide to… Paradise Wildlife Park

The Toddler’s Guide is written by Solnushka’s eighteen-month-old daughter, who is generally accompanied on her travels by her Mama, her Papa and her Big Brother, who is four and a half. She wishes everyone to know that the spelling is Mama’s.

Has Mama mentioned that my Brilliant Big Brother is quite keen on animals? She has? Then it should surprise nobody that when Mama discovered an opportunity to visit somewhere for FREE (Mama does like the free) with a promotion from a MoneySupermarket Days Out Discounts (whatever that is), she chose a zoo. The Paradise Wildlife Park, specifically.

A white tigerIt’s an interesting name, that. It suggests a certain… commercial approach to zookeeping. To Mama. And she did experience grave misgivings when as we went in we were greeted by the ‘put a pound in this ride… and this one…. and that one…. and look, there are five more over here too’ area. Mama also thinks that the rabbit enclosure plastered with advertising as the first animal attraction you see isn’t ideal. She wondered if she was going to have to pay extra for everything, and be fobbed off with orange dyed, stripily painted pet cats in lieu of your actual tigers. Although I don’t know what’s wrong with that. Cats! Woohoo!

In fact, nearly everything else, and there is a lot else, is included in the entrance price. And the animals are, Mama thinks, a very carefully chosen mix between, small and manageable, large and impressive, familiar crowd-pleasers and the full on exotic. And reassuringly well looked after. What a relief it must be to be released from the terms of your latest scientific grant meaning you need to try to convince the punters that forty-two species of slugs hiding in the leafmold are interesting. My Brilliant Big Brother really liked ALL THE ANIMALS. And the snakes. Papa thought the tapirs were pretty cool. Mama enjoyed all the big cats, especially when they roared, which they did quite often. She was also thrilled to find the roosting, squeaking bats were oddly unnerving, even as she resisted the temptation to clutch at her hair.


Me? I liked the stairs. There are stairs because there are a lot of viewing platforms and walkways that take you right over where the animals are hanging out. This is fabulous, especially for someone my height. I also loved the ostriches. This was because an advantage of the evils of capitalism approach is that Paradise Wildlife Park lets you feed some of the animals. Cabbage, mostly, which I don’t like, to Mama’s everlasting relief. There are signs telling Mama which animals you can throw bits of limp veggies at, and it definitely increases you chances of getting up close to those animals, but the ostriches will peck the food right out of the bags. Oh, how I shrieked with delight!

Feeding the tigersAnother highlight was watching some visitors feeding the tigers. Not only was there the remote but thrilling possibility that someone might get their fingers bitten off, but the Keeper who was supervising imparted quite a lot of interesting (to Mama) information about the care of tigers in captivity. Plus, the tiger stretched up really high, right on his hind legs. Coooooooooooooooool.

But enough about the animals! They also have a (free) bouncy castle! I’d have paid to get in just for that. And a variety of slides with (yes!) more steps to climb to get to them. And an actual fire engine! And an actual steam engine!! Both of which you can climb all over to your heart’s content. Papa had been so softened up by the quality of what had come before that he put a whole 20p in a slot and the steam engine roared and whistled and puffed for hours. There was a pirate ship, and an assault course, and some go carts to pedal around, and a (pay for) miniature railway, and a (pay for) crazy golf course as well as a full on (free) soft play area/ café that much to my disappointment we didn’t get to go in because we’d spent so long on all the other things.

It really is a full day out, and then some. Start early.


A couple of other things Mama seems to think are important. There are plenty of places to eat, both for those who have taken a packed lunch and for those who wish to buy something in site, hot or cold. For sheer coolness value, Mama recommends the snack bar overlooking the tiger enclosure.

The zoo, Mama says, is easy to find. This is good as she had to drive us across London to get there. Nice clear signposting and only a short ride from that big M25 road we seem to spend our lives whizzing around is just the sort of thing calculated to keep her calm and happy under these difficult circumstances.

When we arrived, we found the parking is also ample, another thing Mama seems to rate highly, even if it was a chilly January holidays day and therefore highly unlikely to be an issue. That the zoo works as a venue in winter is another of its plus points, of course. In fact, given that there are distinct signs that the place may be rammed to overflowing in summer, Mama rather thinks off-peak is the time to go, even if that means you sacrifice a few live shows or something. We always seem to miss them anyway. Too distracted by the camels.

And finally, they play you music in the toilets. Result!

LemurAnyway. The Paradise Wildlife Park was thoroughly enjoyed by a family who are quite the connoisseurs of wildlife experiences. In fact, it’s so good that Mama suggested we return sometime soon and play actual folding paper to get in. And Papa didn’t say no.

You really don’t get much more highly recommended than that.

Previous Toddler’s Guides:

London SEALIFE Aquarium

RAF Museum, Hendon


Hyde Park

On rude words.

You swear. A certain amount.

Mainly in the car. You say ‘oh BUGGER!’ quite a lot when driving around London. Also, ‘BOLLOCKS!’ and sometimes ‘You unprintable numpty! Don’t you honk at me/ cut me up/ steal my parking space/ drive at 2 miles an hour when the traffic is unusually light!’

The Star has picked up on this. You have been called aside by his teacher for a quiet word. The Star, she said, dropped his scarf on the floor. And then he said (whispering) ‘oh BUGGER!’. You looked innocent, shook your head sorrowfully and taught him to say ‘oh PANTS!’ instead. Well hey, it always worked on teenage language students.They found it hilarious enough to actually use.

Sure enough, since four year olds think ‘Poo!’ is the last word in comedy this was very successful, until your cunning came up against the difference between language learning and language acquisition.

Language acquirers extrapolate rules based on examples and apply them to new bits of language. Children go through a phase, for example, where they take the rule for Past Simple regular verbs (add, broadly speaking, ‘ed’) and apply it to all verbs, little realising that the English language is sneaky and will require them to learn off by heart whole swathes of other irregular, largely unpredictable past tense forms too. Children say, in short, ‘He writed…’ rather than ‘He wrote…’

So it should have come as no surprise that given the example of ‘oh PANTS!’, you caught your son saying ‘oh COATS!’ the other day.

And perhaps it wouldn’t have, except in the mouth of the Star, and given that comprehension is in part made up of us hearing what we expect to hear in any given context, the expletive ‘oh COATS!’ sounds a lot like…..

Yes, quite.

You hate to think what his teacher will say.

Christmas squee

Your son’s key worker assistant teacher lady pulled you over on the last but one day of school.

This rarely bodes well. Last time this happened she told you that the Star had said a heartfelt fuck when he dropped his scarf on the grubby floor. You smiled that special smile parents have when their children’s teacher admonishes them. The very bright, overly delighted one. The one that says ‘I do not resent your right to pass judgement on my child at all‘. You also feigned horror, shifted guiltily, muttered ‘appropriate communicative function’ and made a mental note to stop swearing at all the other drivers when you are in the car. Or possibly stop driving in London altogether. Yes, that would do it.

This time, however, she wanted to tell you about the Star and Father Christmas, who had paid the class a visit that day. Gave them all a rather nice book, too, which was generous of him. Being a religious school it was about Noah. But being a Church of England school it has about as much religious content as All I want for Christmas is you.

Anyway. Towards the end of Santa’s visit, your son got up and went to stare intently out of the window up at the sky. The assistant teacher lady drifted over and asked him what was up.

And the Star said ‘I’m looking for the reindeer’.