Saturdays when I was a lad mostly seemed to involve either hanging around leisure centres while my parents played netball and football, or staying round my Nan’s house while my parents played netball or football.

We were three brothers and it was just how Saturdays were. We explored and played and ran about the leisure centres of Swindon, running onto the pitch during half time and trying to cadge 8p for a cup of hot chocolate from the vending machine.

At my Nan’s we’d have a bonfire, teach Nan how to play computer games on our ZX Spectrum, explore the railway sidings at the bottom of her garden and help her check the football pools when the results came in (an important job since we were all going to Disneyland if she won).

Saturdays for our girls are quite different.

The Lovely Melanie and I aren’t interested in either playing or watching sport; we don’t live in Swindon; grandparents are quite a distance away, and no modern parents would let their children have an unsupervised bonfire!

Yesterday I found myself marvelling just how different the girls’ Saturdays are to my memories, after we caught the train into the centre (of London) and had a great time at the Royal Society, for their annual open day.

Crazy shades at the Royal Society
At the Royal Society

There were demonstrations, robots, talks on how science gives us “superpowers”, stunning holograms, mind-blowing augmented reality, a display of (justifiably!) award-winning photographs, lots of hands-on science displays, and all presented by really smart and nice people.

We expected it to be fun, hoped it might be inspirational – and weren’t disappointed. It was great seeing the girls getting stuck into all the displays and chatting with the people running them. I got talking to those running the robotics and hologram displays, too – it’s nice to let your inner nerd out to play and get really in-depth and interesting answers to any questions you have.

Particularly well done to the lady giving the “superpowers” talk for keeping all ages attentive, but also for showing plenty of women talking about their careers in science and engineering. Millie and Amber probably didn’t notice the gender balance, but I did. 🙂

We stayed right to the very end (as did lots of other people) and then went to Chinatown, as promised, for Chinese food, which we all love. The girls loved the food and the place – especially the giant fluffy dragons by the door.

That’s where I looked around at my family, in a “proper” Chinese restaurant, eating Chinese food with chopsticks, and realised we would never have done this when I was growing up.

Not better, just different. 🙂

A rainy Saturday

Three hours we queued to get into the Rain Room at the Barbican Centre yesterday.

Yeah, that’s a long time.  But we had a nice day all the same.

We originally planned to see an exhibition in Old Street by Illumini, whose displays we’ve been to before.  Fortunately, I checked just before we went and it had finished two days earlier.

Then we looked up more events on Saturday and saw something about David Blaine in Brick Lane – we were about to go to that before noticing that it was only a live link-up with him in New York.


Millie jumping at the BarbicanThen the Lovely Melanie spotted the Rain Room and I noticed Cecil Sharp House had some sword and clog dancing competitions, so we decided to give both those a try – but that was before we spent three hours queuing at the Barbican. 😛

It’s kind of lucky that the Barbican is a big old place with lots of great things for kids to do while their parents sit in a queue reading their book.  Plus, it was a beautiful sunny day and the Barbican has a beautiful courtyard to sit and play in once you’ve explored the building, been to the brilliant public library, and even been politely asked to leave a conference on Paediatric Oncology that was taking place simultaneously! 😉

As I say, we ended up queuing for three hours.  Not because we really really wanted to see the Rain Room, rather once we started queuing it became a matter of pride that we were going to wait it out, and the longer we queued the more determined we were to see the Rain Room.

Millie in the Rain RoomIt was terribly ironically British – queuing for hours to stand in the rain. 🙂  Although, part of the wonder of the Rain Room was that you didn’t stand in the rain.  It’s a giant starkly lit indoor installation where it’s raining all the time, but as you move through it the rain doesn’t fall on you – it stops, so you’re in the middle of a rainstorm but staying (mostly) dry.

Here’s a picture of Millie in the middle of it (very Close Encounters, I think you’ll agree).

It wasn’t quite worth three hours of queuing time (maybe two hours, at a push), but was pretty cool.  It’s always lovely to see the girls at these sort of things, too, giving the sort of reaction that I want to but which my adult self won’t let me.

Afterwards, we went for a delicious tapas at La Tasca near Broadgate.  The girls were initially very suspicious of the food, but soon changed their tune when they discovered it was delicious!  They were even more impressed when the staff gave them a balloon each. 🙂

And if you’re interested in seeing what the Rain Room was like, here’s some dodgy phone footage, with special guest appearances from my hand.

Saturday afternoon chess club

Happy 40th birthday to my old friends Shash Khan and Chun Fan Wong, who today invited us and a select band of others up to Edgware Road to spend the afternoon playing chess in a pub.

To be brutally frank, “playing chess in a pub” wouldn’t have been my number one choice for a Saturday afternoon outing – not least because the Lovely Melanie doesn’t know how to play chess and the girls didn’t even know what chess was before today.

Millie playing chessHowever, that just goes to show what I know (nothing!) because we’re freshly returned from a delightful afternoon at the Wargrave Arms.  Millie learned how to play chess (broadly speaking), I was forced (by the vagaries of the points system employed) to play two games simultaneously – both of which I won! – and everyone had a really nice time.

And did I mention I played two people at once and won? 🙂

Mike and Dave locked in combatIt was, basically, a Saturday afternoon spent with friends in the pub – which sounded to me like a recipe for disaster with the girls in tow, since children and pubs don’t usually mix very well.  But somehow everything was fine: the girls were impeccably well behaved.  By which I do not mean they sat in silence with their arms folded all afternoon.  They ran about, joined in, ate loads of crisps and chatted with lots of people they’d never met before (even Amber!) like children do.  But they were always polite and cute and engaged – I was jolly proud of them both. 🙂

There were no bennies, no demands to play with my phone, and even though we took the tablet with us it wasn’t needed.  The Lovely Melanie, I noticed on the way home, had a bag full of children’s books – none of which were needed either.  It was such a pleasure to see both girls in a pub circulating amongst a crowd of our grown-up friends who don’t have children, with both age groups enjoying themselves and getting along.  That was the kind of thing I got into the parenting game for