Tag Archives: Theatre

A Winter-themed weekend

For the 4th year in a row, I found myself not only in London, but also spending a little time at GOSH during the weekend closest to G’s birthday. Thank goodness that this year there was no admission attached to what is fast-becoming a December tradition, instead, just like last year, our reason for going was the December meeting of the GOSH YPF and with both G and M now active members of the YPF, we decided to make a weekend of it and round off the birthday celebrations in style, whilst gently kicking off our Christmas ones as well.

In the lead up to a previous YPF weekend, I was lucky enough to stumble across the Travelodge in Hounslow, which has quickly established itself as our destination of choice whenever we need to head to London for the weekend. A lot more affordable than central London prices, it is a short walk away from a secure car park and both the East Hounslow and Hounslow Central tube stations, making it an easy commute into GOSH in particular as all are stops on the Piccadilly line. This close to the end of term, we were able to take advantage of the fact that the out-of-school activities have now finished and headed to London on the Friday evening once G and M’s school day was over, and even managed a reasonable night’s sleep before our busy winter weekend began.

It started with our morning commute to GOSH, where we dropped G and M, both kitted out in their Christmas finery, for a YPF meeting filled with a whole host of activities and treats, including a hotly challenged Christmas quiz. Once the children were settled, Mike and I set off on foot towards Covent Garden and spent our day meandering the streets, exploring the shops and even managing to pick up the odd present or two as well. We stopped for a light lunch at the amazing Cafe in the Crypt at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, just off Trafalgar Square. This is fast becoming one of our favourite spots whenever we are in London as the food they serve is simple, yet delicious, they serve a few allergy-friendly snacks too and is a place I would heartily recommend to anyone looking for a peaceful break from the busyness of London itself.

Lunch done, we started our trek back to GOSH along Shaftesbury Avenue and stumbled across this group of festive, charity bike riders as we turned the corner towards our final destination. It really was a sight to behold as we were surrounded by Father Christmases as far as the eye could see and lovely to watch excited small children wave and shout out Christmas greetings as the cyclists sped past.


There was one last stop I wanted to make before we met G and M and that was at the Baileys Treat Stop pop shop located not far from Covent Garden. It was only open for 2 weeks and I was determined to take advantage of our trip and pay a visit there for a Baileys-inspired hot drink. The queue was long and it took over 40 minutes to finally get into the shop itself, though our patience was well-rewarded by the plethora of treats that was brought out to keep those waiting happy – chocolate eclairs filled with Baileys-infused cream, cups of popcorn and chocolate covered Baileys fudge and toffee. I finally made it to the front of the queue and having never tried their Pumpkin Spice version and not fancying a treat-laden hot chocolate, I decided to customise a Pumpkin Spice latte instead. I think the server was a little disappointed with my rather tame selection of “just” chopped nuts and wafer straws, but despite his best efforts, I held firm to my decision, which I maintain was absolutely the right one. However, the latte itself was incredibly disappointing and absolutely not worth the time and money I’d spent to get it. What I hoped would be a small Christmas treat for me really wasn’t and we wasted close to an hour with that detour.

However, the rest of our Saturday went according to plan and was a fantastic ending to G’s birthday celebrations. Both children had a great day at the YPF meeting and came away with some small and unexpected gifts and treats. G was really keen to have a Chinese meal for dinner and so we chose to double up M’s medicines throughout the day and then allowed him to relax his diet for the evening. Mike and I had done scouting around Chinatown during our day and we headed to the Feng Shui Inn for a few carefully selected dishes which the whole family enjoyed. From there, it was just a stone’s throw away to the Prince Edward theatre where we were treated to the delights of Agrabah, the fantastical quirks of the Genie and the addition of a handful of new songs to Disney’s Aladdin. This was G’s choice of show and I knew she’d enjoyed it when she asked at the end if we could see it again! It was an amazing production and we were incredibly lucky to see Trevor Dion Nicholas in the role of the Genie, a role he was reprising after a successful stint on Broadway.

Sunday morning saw another tube ride into London, though this time our destination was the Tower of London where we had booked an ice-skating session on the rink set up in the moat. Both children were keen to have a go at skating once again and Mike was just as excited. It took a little while for G and M to find their feet, but they were soon off and even attempting to get around on their own, away from the barrier. The session only lasted 45 minutes, but that was more than enough for all of us and M and I even left the ice a few minutes early due to the uncomfortable hire skates we were wearing. All in all, we had a fantastic and fun-filled family winter-themed weekend and it felt like a fitting end to what has been a long school term.


An unexpected day off!

As a parent of a child with a chronic illness, one of the unexpected challenges you have to cope with is finding people you trust to take on their care, even for a short while.  It can be difficult to entrust your child and their needs to anyone other than immediate family and, for Mums in particular I suspect, that may mean you end up doing almost all of their care by yourself.  The opportunities to have that much-talked about and desired “me-time” are often few and far between and, to be frank, if you do manage to grab some, it’s usually at the cost of not spending it with your significant other at a point when time together is most needed.  shipsIn the 6 months since M had his tube, Mike and I have become like those proverbial “ships that pass in the night” as we juggle work commitments, school timetables, extra-curricular activities and those few social events that have helped keep us sane.  Any time we have managed to spend together has revolved around appointments or meetings about M and the constraints of school hours.

We are extremely blessed that we do have an amazing support network surrounding us, which pulls together to ensure that we are able to keep going to work and can even occasionally both be out on the same evening, albeit often at separate events.  helpMy days are made easier by the fact that M’s school have so willingly shared my burden and responsibility by ensuring there are members of staff who know how to take care of his feeding pump and tube, meaning that I don’t have to be there every minute of every day.  Without a doubt, their decision was made easier by the fact that I work less than 5 minutes away and they know they can call whenever they need to, but those phone-calls have been few and far between.  My Mum lives close enough that she has been able to continue the routine of picking G and M up from school a couple of times a week, allowing me to work my hours and has been willing to provide some invaluable school holiday care for us too.  We even have a babysitter who was willing to learn about the tube and whose GP parents, less than 5 minutes away, were an added bonus for the couple of hours we’ve needed once or twice.

Last week, we had an amazing offer from good friends – in fact, those GP parents I’ve just mentioned – which astounded us and gave us a break from routine that we haven’t enjoyed since last December.  It all started at the beginning of half-term, when an unexpected text arrived on my phone as I was in the middle of convincing M to help me clear out and clean the pit he calls his bedroom:

Hi, we wondered if we could look after the kids for you on Bank Holiday Monday so that you can have a bit of time for yourselves.  Let us know what you think. O x”

Then there was a flurry of messages between us as I sat on M’s floor, overwhelmed and close to tears at the kindness of these friends.  Not only were they offering to take G and M for a couple of hours, as I originally thought, but in fact wanted to look after them for the whole day and take them to a local wildlife park that I knew my 2 would love.  They sorted out food, were not phased by the pump and tube and even claimed to be excited at the prospect of having G and M as their guests for the day.  What was even better was that the children were as thrilled as their hosts at having a day out too; and what a day they had!  For the rest of the week, it’s been endless tales of marble-run competitions, playing in the hay barn, seeing the animals and the zip-wire in their back garden.

timeoffAs for Mike and me, well, we had our day together and enjoyed every moment.  It may not have been the adrenalin-filled adventure experienced by our children, but we had time to buy some much-needed bits and pieces for the house, enjoy coffee and cake mid-shopping trip and lingered over a late lunch not constrained by complex food allergies and a restaurant of our choice.  We didn’t get to the cinema as we had originally hoped we might, but thanks to my Mum, we got our night out at the theatre the following weekend instead – I know, two dates in one week, unheard of!  Most importantly, we were able to spend precious time with each other without worrying what G and M were up to and without waiting anxiously for my phone to ring.

London: our whistle-stop tour

With our appointment at GOSH over, we then focussed our attention on the activities we’d chosen for the rest of our London stay.  We had narrowed down our choices from the lengthy starting point created by G and M and suggested that each child chose 1 activity each that they really wanted to do on this trip: be that museum, park, art gallery or tourist attraction.  G quickly settled on the Imperial War Museum, M picked the London Eye and Mike and I agreed on booking tickets for a show as well as attempting to complete the amazing “Shaun in the City” sculpture trail.  It was, without question, an ambitious plan, but with some careful planning and the agreement of both children that the amount of walking required would far outweigh the maximum moaning I was prepared to accept, I was confident we might just be able to squeeze it all in.

Imperial War Museum

imperial-war-museum-aburtThis has been on our “hit list” for quite some time, but our previous 2 attempts to visit had both been scuppered by an extended closure to prepare the exhibits marking the centenary of the start of WWI last year.  With nothing to stop our visit this time, we travelled across London via tube and finally convinced our pair to head inside after the requisite hundreds tens of photos had been taken of the impressive naval guns at the front entrance.  G was keen to work her way through the WWI exhibits, whilst M had a yearning for learning more about being a spy and Mike was intent on seeing the Holocaust display.  I had allowed a full day for our visit and we certainly needed it.  There was an incredible mix of posters, photos, short films, interactive displays, war memorabilia and oodles of facts to work our way through and the children were able to dip in and out of the information as they wanted.  We lasted until mid-afternoon before G and M started to flag, interest was lost and we made our way back to the apartment for a little downtime before we headed out for dinner.

The Railway Children – near Waterloo Station

rcIn the run up to our visit, M had spotted an advert for “The Railway Children” and was keen to see the show.  As this was a perfect opportunity to watch a play, rather than the musicals or pantomimes we usually attend, we agreed to get some tickets and had great seats near to the front of the seating area.  M and G loved that the characters came out to talk to the audience before the play started and were enthralled throughout.  I won’t spoil the experience – but it does include a real steam train and the most amazing staging I’ve seen in a long time – and would definitely recommend going to see this fabulous classic if you have the chance.

London Eye

IMG_0746This has quickly become an instantly recognisable icon on the London skyline and is actually something the family has done before.  Every time we head to GOSH for an appointment, M begs for a trip on the Eye and every time I say no, not least because it’s actually nowhere near the hospital and our regular visits are almost always somewhat tight on time.  Having given them free rein to choose one thing they each really wanted to do, it was no surprise that this was M’s selection.  The 30-minute revolution offers spectacular views across London and both children were fascinated with trying to pick out various buildings they knew from the pod.  I was also impressed with the thoughtfulness of the member of staff directing people into the waiting lines.  You can easily end up queuing for around 20-30 minutes, which is never ideal when you have children in tow and definitely not when one of them is sporting a litre feeding bottle and pump on his back.  This lovely lady spotted us in the queue with M and invited us to enter via the fast-track system instead, stating it was “.,just too chilly..” to be standing around waiting.  Of course we all realised that M and his tube were the real reason behind her kind offer, but appreciated her not making a fuss about it and simply offering us an alternative that would make life a lot easier and our experience a lot more fun.

Shaun in the City sculpture trail

Just one of the many Shauns we found

Just one of the many Shauns we found

Yet another sculpture trail to echo a multitude that have been seen across the UK over the past few years, including the Paddington Bear one we dipped into whilst visiting the poppies at the Tower of London last November.  This year’s trail was based on Nick Park’s popular character, “Shaun the Sheep” and featured 50 sculptures, each individually decorated by a host of celebrities, found at strategic locations around the capital.  The sculptures were split into 5 groups – 4 distinct trails and then 5 “lost sheep”, who were not particularly close to any of the other ones – and most were close enough together to allow us to attempt to find nearly 40 of them in one day.  G and M’s aim was to find and be photographed with all 50 before our trip was over and we managed it, though with very little time to spare before we needed to catch our train home.  These London sculptures are only in place until 25th May and then there will be 70 Bristol counterparts during July and August.  Later in 2015, all 120 will be auctioned to raise much-needed funds for children’s hospitals across the UK through Wallace and Gromit’s Children’s charity.  We loved following the map before finding ourselves in parts of London we wouldn’t normally visit and there’s a real camaraderie between fellow Shaun-spotters you come across along the way.  You can find out more about the “Shaun in the City” trail here.

Stomp – Ambassadors Theatre

Our final treat was unplanned, but was definitely a winner.  Every time we travel up, or down, the escalators at tube stations, G and M love to look at the advertising posters that adorn the walls.  If you ever hear cries of “Seen that one…and that one…but we haven’t seen that,..yet!“, then it’s a fairly safe bet that we are somewhere in the vicinity.  Stomp is one of those productions that they’ve been longing to see for quite some time, but we’ve been reluctant to go because G, in particular, doesn’t cope well with loud noises.  Our search for Shaun led us into Leicester Square and the hordes of theatre ticket booths that can be found there.  For those not in the know, these sell last-minute tickets for many of the numerous shows being performed in London at any given time and often represent great value for money due to the discounts they give.  We decided to see if we could get some discounted seats for Stomp and were delighted to have the choice of 4 prime seats on the second row of the circle.  The children were a little shocked to learn that there was no interval in the performance, but were even more surprised at how quickly that 1.5 hours passed notably as they were left wanting more.  The skill of the performers is phenomenal, especially when you realise that you hear no words and no music for the duration of the show, but are totally absorbed by the percussive masterpieces they produce.  Another fantastic show that we’d highly recommend.

We even managed a trek across Tower Bridge on our travels

We even managed a trek across Tower Bridge on our travels

So, it was definitely something of a whistle-stop tour of the capital for us this April, but a great break that we won’t forget for a while.


What a performance!

honkM’s love for the performing arts is something I can really relate to, having spent most of my formative years loving nothing more than singing, dancing and acting whenever possible. Both he and G regularly attend our local Stagecoach theatre school and have not only grown in confidence, but have also developed skills that will stand them in good stead in whatever career path they choose to follow.  G is not a natural performer, but her continued hard work, dedication and determination to be the best she can, has seen her win the lead role of “Ugly” in this term’s performance of the musical, “Honk”.  This isn’t a musical I’m familiar with and I’m looking forward to seeing the chosen extract in a few weeks’ time with my daughter in the starring role.  If her enthusiasm is anything to go by, it will be a fantastic experience.

G has also been spending time focusing on her clarinet and has two big events coming up over the next few months.  The first takes place at the end of March and that’s her Grade 1 clarinet exam.  She has been practising at home as well as at school and I delighted that she is confident enough to take the exam.  Secondly, she is once again performing in our local education authority’s music concert, which brings together instrumentalists from across the county to perform at a local music venue.  She loved doing it last year and is looking forward to playing in it soon.  G has had several pieces of music to learn for these occasions, but she’s determined to perform well at both and is working hard at perfecting the music as best she can.

Courtesy of swanwickhall.derbyshire.sch.uk

Courtesy of swanwickhall.derbyshire.sch.uk

M, on the other hand, was born to be on the stage and demonstrates a natural flair and understanding for direction in his classes.  He loves to take any and every opportunity to perform that comes his way.  It provides him with a focus away from his ill-health and he has had to develop a stamina to perform, no matter how his body is behaving.  After all, as we all know, “the show must go on“.  M is passionate about the stage and would love nothing more than a career on it; but he is also surprisingly realistic that not everyone can succeed and has talked extensively about what other opportunities the theatre could offer him in the future.

Over the last few months, two amazing opportunities have come M’s way and it’s been great to see him keen and able to make the most of both of them.  The first was offered by the Ellen Kent Opera Company, who were looking for child extras to be part of two operas they were performing at our local theatre and approached M’s Stagecoach school to find them. M was, unsurprisingly, desperate to be involved and was selected as 1 of 4 children who would perform a special dance during the performance of Aida.  He had 5 half-hour training sessions to learn the routine and the small group then had just one run through on stage with the orchestra on the evening of the performance itself.  We were nervous as to how M would cope with the extra rehearsals, his nerves and the stamina required, especially given how poorly he was in the run up to Christmas; but we needn’t have worried.


Like the consummate professional he aspires to become, M worked hard, remained focused and gave a fantastic performance on the night.  The prospect of dancing on a “real” stage in front of a full house (approx. 2,000 people) didn’t phase him at all and we were all so proud to see him shine.  He stayed true to his character of a child slave in Ancient Egypt throughout his time on stage and Mike, my Mum and I all commented that we have never seen him remain so still and so focused for so long in his life.  It was our first experience of opera and we all enjoyed it, even G, who has asked to go and see another one in the future.

oliverIn contrast to this professional production, M has also been working on a local am-dram production of hit musical, “Oliver!”.  He is playing the part of “Nipper”, the cheeky youngest member of Fagin’s Gang, a part that, quite frankly, was made for him.  He takes part in every rehearsal with gusto, even though there have been occasions when he has been crying in pain less than 2 hours earlier.  I am amazed at how much M’s determination to succeed in this role has over-ridden any feelings of pain and discomfort that have been haunting him earlier in the day.  He has picked up the songs and dance routines quickly and now, as the final few weeks of rehearsals are ahead, he’s working on perfecting them as much as possible.

I am so proud of both our young performers and am looking forward to watching them doing something that they so obviously enjoy over the next few weeks.


Feeling normal

Courtesy of evotivemarketing.com

Courtesy of evotivemarketing.com

One of the hardest parts of M’s EGID journey is that he no longer feels like a normal child and is massively aware that he stands out from the crowd.  Every day is filled with numerous medicines to be taken, carefully planned meals, aches, pains and a constant awareness of needing to make sure he gets to the toilet on time.  As I’ve alluded to before, M is incredibly self-conscious about his condition and spends a great deal of time worrying that he will be picked on or bullied because of his illness and restricted diet.  He has a tendency to isolate himself in group situations with his peers, though he will spend hours chatting to any available adult who’s prepared to listen.

We refuse to let his chronic illness get in the way of his life any more than is necessary, so he goes to school, takes part in after-school clubs and has friends home for tea just like all his friends.  However, every new thing he participates in has to be carefully assessed and I spend a lot of time talking to teachers and organisers about M, his condition and the consequences they might have to deal with.  We have been lucky that we have never come across anyone who isn’t prepared to work with M’s needs and accommodate them so that he can take part.


A recent week has been a perfect example of how wonderful it can be when M can feel like part of the crowd and not stand out for being so different.

Both G and M have been attending our local Stagecoach theatre school for a number of years and enjoy performing.  They were lucky enough to be part of the 25th Anniversary celebrations for Stagecoach back in March and took part in a massive performance of CATS at the Birmingham Indoor Arena.  We are also avid theatre-goers and love nothing more than seeing a musical on stage.  When I heard that the Youth Music Theatre Academy (YMTA) were running a drama workshop for a week this summer and that they were going to be learning and performing routines from a hit West-end musical, I knew I had to sign the 2 of them up.

G and M have been excited about this opportunity for weeks and, since the start of the summer holidays, have been counting down the days until the course began.  By some strange quirk of fate, Mike and I had booked tickets to take them to see this show on tour the weekend before the workshop began, long before we even knew about the course and it was the perfect introduction to the week.  What made the performance even more special was that some of the cast members were coming out to teach on the course during the week and we spent the interval musing over who the kids might get to meet.

The only grey cloud on the horizon was the difficult time M was going through with his health in the lead up to the course.  By the Thursday of the week before, it was evident that he wasn’t going to find the week easy and I needed to be on site with him for those “just in case” moments that might happen.  Fortunately, Jo (the course organiser) had no issue with my presence and welcomed me and M on board with an excitement that meant a lot.  When you have a child who’s chronically ill, then it’s these little acts of inclusion that make all the difference.

I spent the week sitting quietly with my trusty laptop, tablet, mobile phone and books in a corner tucked away from view, armed with snacks, coffee and anything and everything M might need.  The children knew I was there as a security blanket for them both, but I wasn’t an ever-present reminder that there was anything wrong, especially to those who were meeting M for the first time.  He sang, danced and acted his heart out, learning new routines, perfecting familiar songs and most of all, having an amazing and fun time.  We managed his medicine and his toileting with the minimum of fuss and I doubt that any of the other children really realised that there was anything different about him.

Courtesy of www.oscars.org

YMTA – this Oscar’s for you!

The Friday performance to the parents was fantastic and a real testament to the talents of those who had happily given of their time that week to teach the youngsters some new skills.  We were amazed by how much had been achieved in such a short amount of time. My thanks have to go to Jo, Rosie, Joe, Holly and Zach, who didn’t let M’s EGID phase them, but supported and encouraged him every step of the way.  He had an amazing time and can’t wait for the next workshop to be arranged!  Best of all, M had a week where his health didn’t stop him from taking part and he was able to feel and be as normal as any other child who was there.