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Archive for the ‘entertainment review’ Category

The other day we were doing one of our numerous trips to our local IGA for something stupid because we are constantly unprepared shoppers (“Honey, get your shoes on! We’re going for a walk to get a tomato!”), when the Rocket said out of nowhere, “I want to go to big movie. Big TV. Mummy had a drink. And the dog!”

This, for anyone not there at the time, was a recollection of when we took her to the flicks early this year to see Mr Peabody and Sherman, and she became fixated on my enormous cup of cola and was generally annoying. We’d put off seeing anything with her since then because no one wants to spend sixty dollars chasing a child around a dark room when you can do that for free at 3am if you want the experience, but because she’d suggested it, I thought maybe it was time to give it another go. I’m putting that mildly; what actually happened was Teach came home from work and I shouted in his face, “THE ROCKET WANTS TO GO TO A MOVIE AGAIN CAN WE GO NOW, HUH? HUH?”

Anyway school holidays are now upon us so we ended up going on Monday morning, at ten past ten, to perpetually quiet Forest Hill, and saw House of Magic. Most people I’ve told about this have stared at me blankly, because this movie’s had virtually no advertising. It’s a grim holidays for movies this spring, either way. There’s the Boxtrolls, which looked fun but the Rocket declared “too scary”, or Planes: Fire and Rescue, which is getting terrible reviews and looks like complete nonsense (and this is coming from someone who saw Cars 2 twice.) House of Magic was about a cat, and the Rocket loves cats, so off we took her.

There were maybe ten other people in the cinema, and she wasn’t even the only scrappy toddler, so I didn’t feel too guilty. And for the first half of the movie, she was great, squashed up next to her dad, watching intently. Thunder, the cat of the movie, is ditched by his family and seeks shelter in a creepy old mansion. Turns out this house is owned by Lawrence, a grey-haired magician who is also kept company by a crotchety old rabbit, a codependent mouse and an array of robots and dolls who come to life, because the house is magic or Lawrence is or something, who knows. Anyway the rabbit doesn’t want the cat to stay around for reasons that are never fully explored, and Lawrence is threatened by his dickhead nephew Daniel who wants to kick his uncle out for reasons that are never fully explored beyond “greed”. Chaos ensues, etc. It’s no Pixar film, but there are some kickass moments, especially when the camera is from the cat’s point of view, or darts around in tiny spaces. The fx are good enough, the plot didn’t make me yawn too much, and I still think it’s probably better than Planes. As for Rocket’s opinion, about halfway through she got bored, kept trying to leave, and then when we hissed at her to stay on her seat she crawled onto our laps and then tried to eat our noses. She also said, “Where’s the remote?” and, “I’m done.” But on the upside, she didn’t squeal, or run up to other people; it could’ve been worse, but I don’t think we’ll try again until next year. Next time a good children’s movie comes out (Big Hero 6, I’m looking at you) I’ll do the grown-up thing and go without one of those pesky kids.

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Oh yes, that’s right, I was in Sydney a while ago, wasn’t I? I guess I should probably finish writing that up, huh? Good idea, self.

We left our luggage at the hotel in the morning and went off to finally explore some of the more touristy parts of town. First stop, predictably, was Circular Quay; we’d been given some sage advice to take a commuter ferry for a trip instead of a tourist one. We caught one to Darling Harbour and the prices were pretty reasonable at about six dollars each for us grown-ups. The Rocket was unimpressed by the wind but thrilled by the fact that we were actually on a boat – her first non-rowboat experience – so she managed to sit at the back* of the boat with us for a decent amount of our half-hour-ish trip. And let’s face it, the reason everyone bangs on so much about ferries and Sydney Harbour is because is is BEAUTIFUL. It really is. That lapping blue water, the majestic bridge, that tingle when you see the Opera House (just like in the movies, right?), realising properly that you are in another place, and one that slaps Melbourne’s water experience right on the cheek. If you are in Sydney, take a ferry. I wish we’d gone on one every day.

So off we went to Darling Harbour. There’s a maritime museum over the other side of the harbour that looks really interesting – ships and submarines and all types of things that you can climb on – and it went on my list of “what to do here next time, and make sure there’s a next time, punk”. We ambled along the wharf, looking at the restaurants indecisively, passing Madame Tussaud’s and a zoo and an aquarium, wishing the Rocket was older and we had an endless stretch of days ahead of us to do all these things. (There’s even a “9D” movie experience, yup.) As it was, off we went along the bridge and around Sydney’s streets until we got to Westfield Centrepoint, where we came over desperately hungry for lunch, completely unable to find a food court, and so ate at Caffe Contessa, a little European-type bistro located at the end of an escalator. There wasn’t much on offer for me, but it was a very cute little cafe and I could just have toast; the service turned out to be super-friendly and helpful and I ended up with another vegan staple, the bruschetta, while Teach ordered some cheese melty thing and the Rocket got toast with jam. Turns out, it was delicious. I mean, it was bread and tomatoes and olive oil – but they got it right, and I am always having bruschetta at crap restaurants with nothing else to offer. Having said that, after we were full and happy and paid up, we took another escalator up and lo and behold there was the motherflipping food court and it was HUGE and it had EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD to eat, including an Iku which I had been desperate to try. Anyway, we laughed, we sulked, and carried on to the Sydney Tower, Sydney’s tallest building and Australia’s third-tallest building. We paid our exorbitant fee to go up the Tower, attempted the 4D movie about Sydney with flying and flames and a vibrating floor (the Rocket noped her way out of that almost immediately, but I stayed because awww yeah 4D movies), then went up a lift and bam, tall building.

I don’t know what she was shushing up here. Probably me saying, “Smile, kiddo! Smile! Smile! Pose! No, this way!”

Melbourne wins this round. Sydney Tower is fine, but maybe needs a little updating; Eureka Tower is much more glossy, and sells coffee. It was nice to look out imperially over the little people down there on the ground, and to try and get my bearings, which I couldn’t because I am hopeless at directions (chicks, amirite? Haha etc) and I always love a tower, but it wasn’t very high and I was a little underwhelmed. I mean, it wasn’t a boat, that’s for sure.

We considered taking the train back to the hotel, but really, we just wanted to walk some more, slowly down those streets one last time, poking around the stores and just enjoying being elsewhere, you know?

The Rocket didn’t manage to get in a nap, and maintained excitement levels all day long and all through our train trip to the airport and the long wait for our flight, and after a little impatience at boarding (argh! boarding) she was thrilled and happy again to be on a plane, even in the darkness that fell as we flew interstate. Then finding our car, and driving home, tired, happy, with a toddler that was, mostly, a total peach for our trip, and a city that was absolutely perfect. Thanks, Sydney – you’re ace. x

 

* Teach and I spent a minute or so trying to figure out what the back of a boat is called. “The stern? Or the bow. No, the bow’s the front. Wait. Is it the aft?” So let’s assume you don’t know either, and let’s stick with “back”.

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Having a kid changes your life in many ways (for example, today I am Sick, but instead of calling off work and lazing around drinking water and watching daytime soap operas, I am still fielding questions and insistent requests for playing and having to fend off the Rocket from kissing me so she doesn’t get sick too, which makes her cry) but one of the ways I didn’t expect was that sudden urge to make the most of my spare time made me – and this sounds vain – actually a little bit more interesting. As dithering late-twentysomethings, Teach and I had our jobs and each other and our insular creative pursuits, then we had a baby and, I guess, to remind ourselves that we were things other than parents and job-holders, we started to find other outlets. Teach joined a band, was shortlisted for an award for a comic he drew, and has just sent off the final file for his full-length graphic novel to the printers to publish. I have my podcast, I joined a book club full of pretty cool folks, and found myself part of ACWA, which handles the Ned Kelly Awards for Australian crime writing. After months of emails and demands and panic-flailing, this weekend saw the announcement of the shortlist the committee and the judges had worked hard to put together, two hours away at the Bendigo Writers Festival. Teach suggested I take myself off on the train to attend the shortlist announcement on the Saturday night and get a visit in with my very oldest friend, Rachael, who lives up there. I said no at first, because it’s what I do, and the idea of spending my first night away from my daughter was pretty overwhelming. Then I thought more about being there to see the finished product of the shortlist, and spending time with the first friend I’d ever made on my own, and then the Rocket spent a whole day annoying me and I was all: I’M IN, LET’S GO.

The train ride took around an hour and fifty minutes; in that time, I played with my phone, read a book, looked at scenery, ate chips, ate an apple after feeling bad about eating chips, and was just completely and utterly on my own. It was quite blissful, really – I’d brought a book of short stories along (this one), so I could feel like I’d finished something before taking in the passing tiny towns, enormous homesteads, and green landscapes dotted with trees, cows, hay bales, all the kinds of stickers you’d get in a book about the country. It was quite marvellous. Even better was the squeezy hug I got from Rachael at Kangaroo Flat, where she met me with a big beautiful smile and, like always, even when we hadn’t spoken by anything apart from SMS for months, it was like we had never been apart. Back at her place, with her partner and their youngest son at home merrily working on some banging and crashing that tradesfolk and their four-year-olds are wont to do, we hoovered down some lunch and then she spirited me away for a little tour.

She drove me past her work, past a vast and entrancing amount of lovely ye olde buildings, around the fountain that one colleague told me to say hello to, and then up to the Capital Theatre for a pre-event scope-out (because when you’ve known someone for twenty-eight years, you know when they are getting anxious about something, especially when she tells you, “I am feeling quite anxious about this”), then to the accompanying gallery for a brief and impressive look-see, then for a coffee at the Basement on View. It’s tucked underneath the theatre and I realised immediately upon entering that this was the type of place I wished was my local cafe. They were flat-out catering for festival-going literary types, but we found ourselves a cosy little nook in a building almost completely made up of cosy little nooks, and sat together with warm drinks and company and well, you know. It was really just the best.

Back at her place after a scenic way back, I faffed about in front of a mirror and then headed out to the event itself, which I’ve detailed better here; suffice it to say that it all went smoothly, the company was delectable and you should read all those books. A tableful of us headed tipsily out for dinner as well, attempting at first to go to Bunja Thai (lookit that glorious heritage interior in the link!) but they were too full to accommodate us, so we tripped a couple of shops up the road to Curry Garden, which, excitedly, had a little sign right there on the menu saying that there were vegan options available. (I was super pleased about that, as I’d been intending on flying under the radar on this particular culinary expedition, maybe having a spoonful of rice and saying I wasn’t hungry, just so I didn’t have to tell my new friends I was vegan, as I’d been frantically Googling “vegan Bendigo” for a while before and found virtually nothing vegan, so I couldn’t even make suggestions.) They had a special list of all the items that were vegan or could be made vegan, and we ordered three appetisers, two mains, rice and some roti I could have, along with a couple of non-veg mains too. The onion bhaji were almost worth losing friends over, and the chickpea masala and aloo palak perfectly serviceable. The service was friendly, but a bit slow; I’d still happily return.

The next morning, I deigned to leave my snuggly cocoon of a sleeping bag and declared that I would take my three hosts out for breakfast. Turns out nothing in Bendigo is open before ten o’clock on a Sunday morning – “We’re on country time, remember?” Rachael said at one point as I stared sadly in a closed cafe’s window at their warm-looking fire – so we ended up at the Pall Mall Cafe, a small but friendly cafe that does a trade in your standard big breakfasts. I just ordered toast and coffee, and the service was ridiculously fast (handy when you have a friendly but bored four-year-old crawling all over the place), and the coffee was HUGE – I didn’t even finish it, I was so overwhelmed. Nothing flash, but nothing to sneer at by any means. Across the road was a park, a playground, a lovely old bridge (seriously, I’m just saying, and this is very unlike me because I am Very Modern and Stuff, but Bendigo’s 82,000+ population gets to see much nicer architecture just everywhere than we do down in upstart young Melbourne), and a giant, gorgeous and historic-looking old school, and so we ran around in the cold for a while before heading over to the Showgrounds Market, a fairly large and sprawling market that seems to survive almost entirely on plants and counterfeit Peppa Pig merchandise. I bought stickers for the kids to be the Favourite Aunt, and I made the surprising discovery in one of the halls of Wings Japanese Homemade Bakery. Wings has cakes, mousse, doughnuts, egg tarts and the like – and about six different vegan options. I was full from breakfast but picked up a little sample of a savoury curry doughnut, which was super yum – afterwards I moaned about not buying some for the train ride ahead. It started raining just as we got out of the hall, Rachael’s son covered in icing from his Japanese cupcake, so we drove back home and retired to the couch for one last companionable snuggle before I went off to the train station again to get home.

Selections at Wings Japanese Homemade Bakery

The trip was, again, delicious in its solitude; Melbourne was wet and freezing; but when I plodded all damp and whimpering up the driveway after walking from the station I was given the loveliest, happiest smile from my Rocket through the front window, and everything was warm after all.

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We arrived in Sydney around one o’clock on Saturday. It was windy but bright, a wholesome twenty degrees, and someplace different. For one, the airport has a train. Sydney 1, Melbourne 0.

It costs about $16.40 to get an adult onto the airport line into the city proper – it’s only about three stops to Central, so I’m not sure if it’s cheaper to get a taxi if there’s a few of you. The Rocket was free, so we sucked up the thirty-plus dollars and delighted in being on a double-decker train. Our hotel was a short walk from Central, so we wheeled ourselves over and checked in. I was in charge of booking as Teach was armpit-deep in reports at the time, so I spent a few days getting increasingly agitated about how expensive it is to stay places, and not having any visual of where in Sydney is good or safe or close or fun, and panicking about the date getting closer and everything selling out and us sleeping in an internet cafe. Eventually I chose the Campbell Street Meriton Apartments, because they had an immediately available online chat and could answer all of my questions about cots and babies and stuff, and their prices seemed relatively competitive, especially for the size of the rooms. (Not that I would know. I am just awful at booking things. If it’s on sale, I’ll find out, the day after I’ve paid upfront and signed a no-refund disclaimer. It’s just not one of my skills, sadly.) Anyway, it turns out that the reason it was a bit expensive was because it’s right in the middle of the city, and quite nice; armed with a bit more knowledge I would probably stay a few suburbs further out next time and just catch a train in. Still, as Past Fiona had already paid for it and Present Fiona got to stay there, it was a nice place: a one-bedroom serviced apartment, which meant we could get the Rocket to sleep in a separate room and then go watch free Foxtel in the lounge/kitchen. For another $35 we had a cot put in the room; it was pretty small, and with metal prison bars instead of gentle white wood like the one at home we inherited from my sister. As we settled in, we tried to get her to sleep, but she wasn’t really on board with that idea. Instead we got her up and took her for a wander around.

This door to our hotel: most fun thing in New South Wales

It’s hard not to compare Sydney to Melbourne the whole time. In my mind where we stayed was the equivalent to the Spring Street end of Little Bourke, with theatres and people but narrow streets and not quite the level of excitement of the bigger streets. Sydney is cleaner, but maybe less friendly – unless it’s just that it’s unfamiliar – and has almost no street art in the places we were. There weren’t many cute little shops to go into, though there were lots of tasty-looking eateries. We strolled up Pitt St just as gale-force winds hit; hats flew off people’s heads and one person was attacked bodily by an errant newspaper. The Rocket has stopped enjoying wind and instead chose to wail, so we went into a Coles for a bit to buy some milk and cereal, then went up to Kings Comics and talked ourselves out of piles of collectible toys we didn’t need. It was nearing dinnertime, so, having previously consulted my friends online about where to go, we had dinner at Mother Chu’s Vegetarian Kitchen.

It was a patchy start; we got there at about five past five but weren’t given our mains until about a quarter to six, though we’d had some (sadly unsalted) edamame to start. The service was very friendly, however, and the Rocket just happy to be indoors. The menu mostly calls things “soy” or “gluten” instead of the usual “duck” or “chicken”, and doesn’t elaborate on the flavours. I chose crispy bean curd with mushrooms and broccoli; Teach picked a crispy gluten dish. Once they turned up, we were much more positive; the food is pretty delicious, and maybe we’d just been a bit tired and cranky. My bean curd wasn’t crispy, but it was warm and good and there was tons of it and I ate it all up, only managing to get a little of Teach’s crispy gluten before he scoffed all his too. The Rocket was happy with her bowl of rice, a bunch of edamame and some of my tofu. If I’m in Sydney again, I’d give it another shot for sure, maybe this time calling a day in advance so I could have some of their vegetarian Peking Duck, or some steamed BBQ buns, or satay sticks.

We decided to call it a night after that, and took the Rocket back to the hotel, tucked her in, consoled her, tucked her in, gave her toys, went back and picked up her toys from the floor, tucked her in, etc etc for all eternity until she finally slept. Then we ate candy and watched terrible television until we were sick, because if there’s one thing we do well, it’s knowing how to waste being in a different city.

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Last Saturday, some dear friends of mine threw themselves a celebration of their love, in Sydney. They’d kindly flown down to celebrate the similar shindig Teach and I had for our tenth anniversary a few years ago, and we’d been wanting to take the Rocket on a plane for a while, so when we received the invite we threw caution to Sydney’s gale-force winds and booked ourselves some flights. Then I set to becoming anxious.

Kids on planes can send opinion columns completely bananas. They should be quiet – no, they should have their own section – no, they should NEVER FLY. Just whatever you do, don’t ever make anyone around you aware of the fact that sometimes the people we share this planet with aren’t attuned to their needs. Don’t get me wrong, I sure as hell didn’t want to spend any of my international flights next to a kid who screams for nine hours straight, but what do you do? If a kid’s gotta get overseas then they gotta get overseas; it’s not like flying is anything but cramped and annoying anyway, and yet it is a complete and beautiful miracle that we can do it at all. What I’m trying to say is: get over it.

Anyway despite all the above I still made extensive and panicked plans about How To Stop The Rocket From Having Any Negative Emotion during the flight. Luckily, she adores planes – we live under a flight path so every time we go outside we can usually see them, and we point and shriek excitedly at them – so she was already super keen on the whole thing. For about a month beforehand, she would wake up every morning and I’d say, “What are we doing today?” and though the answer was generally “swimming”, “Gymbaroo”, “park” or “three coffees” she would always give me this tiny smile and say, “Plaaaaaane?” So, excitement about flight, check.

I booked the flights for her awake-times, 12pm on the way out and 5:30pm for the return, so she would be rested and happy. The return was a stupid idea of course, because I thought smugly to myself, she will have had her afternoon nap and will be so very happy, and didn’t think until we were already in Sydney that of course you have to check out of your hotel in the morning and thus she had nowhere to nap. The upshot is she didn’t sleep, but was so thrilled about going on a plane again that it didn’t really matter.

Then I packed our bags. She has a rocket backpack (you name it, she has it with a rocket on it) and I nicked it from her and filled it with super excellent things to keep her occupied. Here is what it contained:

Side pocket 1:

– water bottle (FYI, those sippy-straw ones will spill over during the flight due to air pressure in the cabin making water come up the straw, but it’s pretty funny)

Side pocket 2:

– Matchbox dragon car

– Hot Wheels digger

– Little People Batgirl car

Front pocket (aka snack central)

– jelly babies to chew on during takeoff (on the return flight this was a free lollipop she got given at a candy store)

– little apple-flavoured rice cakes (bizarrely popular for something pretty dull)

– animal-shaped biscuits (“Do you want an animal biscuit?” “DOGGY!” “You ate all the doggies.” “BAAAAA!” “You ate all the sheep. Have a butterfly.”)

– Sweet William chocolate (neglected)

– muesli bar

– different type of muesli bar (the first option is always wrong)

– no fruit because I wasn’t sure if you could take fruit interstate. I still don’t know. If you can I would’ve packed an apple to make me look like I am Very Healthy At All Times, then she would’ve thrown peel all over the floor.

Main pocket

– new books:

a) Sam’s Sandwich, which has food fold-outs and a rhyming story and gross bugs in sandwiches, and was totes perfect

b) Where’s Maisy?, Oh god, who knows, what if she is missing FOREVER??

c) Some book about catching a plane that did not hold her interest in the least despite being, you know, quite topical

(I also bought Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs including an actual bucket full of dinosaurs and secreted it in my carry-on luggage in case of a giant screaming crisis which never eventuated; I have since hidden it and will bring it out at some future desperate moment.)

– favourite teddy of the moment (she’s not really attached to any of her 87,000 stuffed toys – sometimes she NEEDS to take one to the park but it is usually abandoned on the slide after three minutes. Luckily her most recent semi-favourite was bag-sized.)

– small, blank notebook

– two sheets of stickers

– new crayons (they broke immediately. Don’t buy crayons from the Reject Shop.)

– *cough* a Nintendo DS (so, yes, she is only two, but I upgraded to a 3DS because I am a small child who LOVES things in 3D, and the trade-in on my old DS Lite was only $20, so we thought we’d keep it for the kiddo. Then a few weeks ago we were at EB Games and she found a copy of Cookie’s Counting Carnival for less than ten bucks, and I was all, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and it turns out the worst that can happen is a kid screaming, “COOKIE MONSTER!” all day because she is now a gamer at 2 1/4 years old. The games we have are pretty simple – counting, moving things around the screen, pointing at shapes, etc. Most of them are probably available in similar form for your smartphone/tablet but it’s nice not to worry about her deleting everything important like your Two Dots scores.)

a) Cookie’s Counting Carnival (Has actually improved her pattern recognition. Is short. Don’t pay more than $10 for it.)

b) Ready, Set, Grover (Better graphics than above, and only $6. Teaches “healthy habits”, apparently but not really. Not quite as good or easy.)

c) Dora Saves the Mermaids (Ugh I hate all Dora things, she is the worst. Sadly, this game is absolutely perfect: easy games, doesn’t care if you get everything wrong, teaches her three Spanish words. Pretty short but I don’t really feel bad about panic-spending $19 on it the day before we flew out.)

So that was quite a lot of things, but if I hadn’t just been given a book voucher it would’ve been a handful of half-chewed opshop books, and my iPhone, and stickers and snacks. We didn’t actually get through everything: I hid the bag after we landed and re-presented it to her on the way back with the rest of the things. That held me in good stead.

ONTO THE FLIGHT. She was happy and excited for the drive in, and the bus trip from our long-term parking. She didn’t mind the short-ish queue to check in our one bag. We were early (rare for us) and went to get some chips and watch the planes take off for a bit. Then through the scanners, to the gate. The departure lounge was probably the most tedious part for her because I hadn’t planned for it and she was getting excited because the plane was RIGHT THERE, so we walked to the end of the gates and watched the planes meander around and take off and be loud.

We’d prepared her for things to be very loud and noisy, and that it was supposed to happen and was pretty funny, really. Watching the planes was probably helpful, and she didn’t seem scared.

Once kids hit 2, they have to get their own seat; I’m not sure how fares usually work, but we flew Virgin and they charged a full fare for her seat. Apparently on long haul flights it’s about 50-75%. Before that age, they sit on your lap. For the very first time, I let someone else have the window seat and put her in it. Actually, I took the aisle seat, because the last time I flew, at 7.5 months pregnant, I freaked the hell out and started crying, thinking we were going to die and I had endangered her. (It was a calm and fine flight; I blame hormones.) I thought her much calmer father was a better seating partner. She was thrilled when the plane taxied around the tarmac, saying, “Plane moving!” and beaming. It found its runway, revved up, then sped up: this was when she panicked a little, leaning into the brace position we’d just taught her and looking a bit scared, but ten seconds later as the plane took off, we said, “Your tummy is going to feel pretty funny!” and she laughed, then settled in her seat with her book and didn’t fret for the entire flight. I didn’t panic either, seeing her brave little happy face. If a two-year-old can deal with a plane, a thirty-two-year-old probably can too, right?

I asked some friends before the flight for advice and stories. The resounding piece of advice from my mothers group was “Food and iPad”; one friend told me a story of his son on a plane running up and down the aisles before tripping, hitting his head and bleeding everywhere, then sitting in his chair and kicking the seat in front of him the whole flight. Luckily the Rocket’s feet don’t reach the seat in front, but she was just divine, happily playing and reading and eating and looking out at the clouds and sky. When we prepared to land, we prepped her for the hilarious upcoming bouncing, and as the people in the aisle across from us held onto their armrests and gasped at the bumping, the Rocket just laughed and bounced herself around yelling, “Wibble wobble!” Then we landed and she clapped the plane and I can’t even tell you my utter relief.

I don’t like offering advice because, as a general rule, I don’t know what I am talking about. But I think telling her all the plane things were going to be funny and hilarious worked out well for us. It’s easy, natural and fine to fall into the way of saying, “I know, it’s scary, isn’t it? I’m here, it’s fine, I love you, hold my hand,” and we did say she might be scared but it was all supposed to happen and was a fun type of scary, and there she was, happy, surely with popping ears but not a peep about it.

The return flight went much the same way; I hadn’t learned my lesson and she was a bit, er, rambunctious at the departure lounge, so next time I’d give her something new for that little wait, I think, though it prepared all the other people around us for a scene that never actually eventuated, so that was nice.

So there you go. That was our first time with a kid on a plane; it will probably have ruined us for every subsequent time, when she is a complete jerk. The flight was only for an hour, and I don’t know how people keep kids happy for an international flight (my sources tell me phenergan, but see your doctor for such things, and the Rocket’s Gran says she gave it to her son on a flight once and instead of sleeping he stayed awake having panicked hallucinations, so, you know, that could happen.)

But don’t let other passengers cramp your style. Take your kid on holiday, or to visit your family, or just for funsies. Your kid has just as much of a right to fly as anyone. Vive le avions*, punks.

 

*Google translate tells me I got this wrong but it can sod off. Avions vive, indeed.

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eureka skydeck

In case you’re wondering why the roads are quieter and all the kids movies have just come out at the cinema, it’s now school holidays in Victoria. This means Teach is around, so I am a very happy camper: I’ve gone out for lunch with some friends and I didn’t have to shoo away their grabby hands on my food (too much), and brief supermarket visits for two items is less traumatic because one of us can just wait in the car, and all kinds of similar things that I used to take for granted. We usually throw in a few touristy things, though we’ve been slack these holidays – all I can remember of last week is that we went out for donuts a lot – but today we spent the morning at the pool watching eight-year-olds steal all the kickboards and sit on a big pile of them like miniature evil overlords, and after the Rocket’s post-swim epic nap we decided to go and show her the city from the top of the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere: Eureka Tower. We’d been years before on our own and had a surprisingly great time up there – we even did the Edge Experience, where they send you out in a glass cube and you’re all cool about it until the opaque floor clears and then immediately you know you will fall to your death – so we thought we’d take our little Rocket up there and see what she thought.

It was a beautiful day to be in Melbourne. Sunny, mild, t-shirt weather if you enjoy dressing impractically like I do. We caught the train in, and walked over the Southbank Footbridge which, it turns out, is now covered in love locks. We sat and had snacks by the Yarra, watching the boats and helicopters, and looking fruitlessly for ducks.

To go to the top of the tower is $19.50 per adult, less for kids and nothing for kids under four. The 88-floor ride up lasts thirty-eight seconds (they are the fastest lifts in the southern hemisphere) and your ears pop maybe three times – to the Rocket’s credit, she didn’t seem concerned, but did want to be picked up for the last twenty or so floors. Up there, the views of my beloved city are phenomenal. I could spend hours up there, circling around and rediscovering landmarks from a different angle. We did worry that the Rocket would immediately panic and need to be removed (Teach has had this experience during excursions before), but she wasn’t worried at all, and seemed to enjoy herself very much, and made friends with the stacks of other toddlers that were wandering fearlessly around the place. Her favourite part was the lit-up words on the floor that tell stories and explain which direction is east/west; she spent most of her time walking on them. We didn’t go out on the Edge, as they dramatise the whole thing with loud clanking sounds to make it more scary and effective (which it is), but we did take her to the supremely windy outdoor section, which has an airlock and everything, and which she screamed about as soon as we went through the door. We left, she yelled, “More windy!”, so we went out again, and she yelled, “No windy!” so we went back in, and she yelled “More windy!” so we went back out, and she yelled “No windy!” so we went back in, and the next time she yelled “More windy!” we had finally learned our lesson and just stayed inside. I got a coffee from the tiny little cafe front and it was a) actually very well-priced for tourist-destination coffee and b) pretty lovely, and not even searingly hot so I didn’t have to carry it around awkwardly for an hour, so, good work Eureka barista. There’s a baby change table in the accessible toilets as well, which was handy. We were probably up there for more than half an hour; we watched the sunset and it was just magical.

After we came down, we traversed the path to Crown Casino, passing by fire-twirling and friendly buskers and depleting all our change. Crown is a place I loved when I was a young adult; it was newly built and shiny and so very grown-up, with all the gambling and the booze (though I spent most of my time there either at the arcade, the movies or the Warner Brothers shop that used to be there.) I loved the lights, the opulence, the drama; the one and only time I skipped an entire day of school was to go there and watch Star Wars: Episode 1 (hey so mum if you’re reading this, I totally didn’t, I’m just trying to look cool for my friends). We haven’t gone there much in the years since we became old and uninterested in dropping upwards of seven dollars a night on the pokies, and it had changed – gone was Warner Brothers and candy stores, in was Paspaley and stores with glittering entrances. Still, there were the main ingredients we were looking for: the fountain display just off the hotel’s foyer, which we watched for a while, a food court to supply us with some takeaway felafel kebabs and pizza, and a lovely winding outdoor seating area so we could watch the columns of fire while we ate dinner. Teach and the Rocket went outside while I waited for my food to be cooked, and when I went outside and looked for them, seeing their heads together as they started in on their dinner, illuminated by the lights of the city and the Yarra dark and flowing behind them – I stopped for a moment and just enjoyed it, my little family, out for a little trip in the city.

So we timed our dinner for the flame show on the columns along the Yarra promenade, which was a good idea, until the fire did its most dramatic, big and hot blast whereupon the Rocket burst into immediate and horrified tears, causing everyone around us to laugh affectionately as she wailed, “Mummy hug!” and I held her tight. It happened again, she screamed louder, and so I took her inside until the show stopped and she calmed down, the poor poppet. After we finished eating, and she was feeling better (despite having caused another nearby kid who had coped fine with the fire to burst into tears over her anguish), she and Teach shared an ice cream cone as we meandered back to the station.

We didn’t get home until almost nine o’clock. On the train, she had melted into her father’s arms, rubbed her eyes and asked him to sing her a song, which we do to go to sleep, so he whispered Baa Baa Black Sheep for a while as she lay on his lap. She was sweet and lovely the whole time, and even forgave us the Great Fire of 2014. I know from experience these days very rarely work according to plan – but that just makes a day like today easier to appreciate as it unfurls in front of you.

 

Eureka Skydeck

7 Riverside Quay

Southbank

website

phone: 9693 8888

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I’ve always had this kind of building dread for the parties that lie in my future due to the Rocket. Teach and I are not 24 Hour Party People, or, let’s face it, Twice A Year Party People; we tend to celebrate our birthdays with dumplings and a movie. I love people, but I am still a socially awkward penguin who gets nerves before any type of catchup with more than two people, afraid that I’ll say something dorky, or look like a dweeb, or other emotions I should have left behind in primary school. So we’re not good at parties; I don’t know what I’m going to do when the Rocket is old enough to make demands about places and friends, apart from hope that we’re rich enough by next year to pay for a party planner to make some kind of Pirate Astronaut Butterfly Lion Extravaganza. And then there’s attending all these parties; how much do you spend on a present? Does the kid wear a foofy frock? Will all the other mums sit around smoking and judging me on the colour of the Rocket’s hair ties? AM I RIDICULOUS?

The answer to that last question is, always, yes. We were invited to a party for one of the Rocket’s little friends – I’ll call her Curly on account of her amazing hair – and it was a) fun, b) full of normal people, and c) totally something I grabbed the leaflet for on our way out. We went to Lollipops in Forest Hill, a giant, shiny-new play centre that I’d only peeped in at after going to the movies, and which had seemed enormous and terrifying. But we received our invitation, dressed in our nicest climbing outfits (have you tried to climb in a party frock? It does NOT work), and away we went.

It cost us nothing as we were there for Curly’s party, but usual entry fees on a school day run at around $9 for a two-year-old and $3.50, I think, for an accompanying parent. There was a party room set aside specially, with bright colours, cute little chairs, and a special elaborate throne chair for the birthday kid. We kicked off our shoes (and by the way, it’s both a requirement and a good idea that everyone wears socks – they sell them for $3 if you forget them) and dove into the toddler area. Basically everything in Lollipop’s is squishy, so there were some oversized squishy blocks, a squishy castle that led to a slide, a ball-pit underneath, and assorted children to squeal excitedly at. It held her attention for a solid fifteen minutes until she decided to scurry over to the part for the older kids opposite and watch her other friend June go down the super terrifying giant slide with her mother. While I stared in terror, June’s mother told me it wasn’t as bad as it looked, and then led us on an adventure up to the top. And eep! Such fun. I don’t know what I thought was underneath all those foam beams and slides (snakes? spikes?) but it’s just a cleverly built, boxy, multi-level maze of different things to climb and do. Another ball-pit here (the Rocket lives for ball-pits), a few spinny poles there, some clambery ladders, a wheel to spin, stuff to jump over, ropes to climb, swinging bags, stairs, parts to squeeze through – then suddenly BAM, you’re at the top of the slide, and the Rocket’s saying “no slide! no slide!” and you’re all, “It’ll be fine, let’s hold hands,” and then you go down together and as soon as you reach the bottom she yells, “MORE SLIDE!” and runs immediately back into it all.

Over the other side, there’s a spider maze for older kids only; behind that, there’s a noisy and fun part drowning in foam balls, with a variety of air machines which means you can watch the balls float, send them up a pipe to fall into a trough, shoot them out of a cannon, or fire them from some guns up high. I wish I’d taken pictures, but I was too busy enjoying myself.

There’s a huge cafe area for exhausted guardians, with tons of snacks for young and old (veg-capabilities not checked out, but the parties cater for allergies if necessary so you never know.) The party was catered by the centre, and there were a bunch of sandwiches, chips, muffins, fruit, and crackers. (You can pick the healthy option, which Curly’s mother did, or the one that gets you party pies and cocktail franks.) There was water, and Curly’s mother baked some super little chocolate cupcakes and all the children sang and smiled and ate and smeared food everywhere. It was grand. (And, for anyone interested, runs at around $170+for eight kids, and around $15 for any additional kid: more info here.) The Rocket wept when I asked her to eat some rockmelon, but June’s very lovely big sister Belle gave her a hug and kiss to make her feel better, and I felt a thousand times better in turn.

Before we left, I noticed that beyond the sea of high chairs in the cafe, there is a totally real pirate ship ride – one like you see at Luna Park, though obviously scaled down. So basically, we were there for about two hours, and still didn’t explore everything. It was fun for everyone, the birthday girl seemed very pleased with her day, there is basically no way your kid can injure themselves, and – best of all – there is no way for them to escape; when you go in, your kid gets a numbered wristband and you get a card with the same number, and you have to match up when you leave, so no one can run off with your kid. We even got a lollipop on the way out. So, thanks Curly’s mum – you held a party that succeeded in making the Rocket’s very first friend-party a triumph, and now I want to drag Teach back there and shoot him in the butt with some foam balls too.

pretty great picture from the Lollipops website, clearly taken before the children ruined everything with their squalor

Lollipops Playland

Level 3, Forest Hill Chase

Canterbury Road

Forest Hill

website

phone: 9878 1110

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This week my little Rocket turned two. I own two baby books with the purest white untouched pages you’ve seen, but I’ve documented her journey from our discovery of her as a sesame seed in my belly to now fairly well online and in a few journals scattered around my house when I needed something non-human to vent or emote onto. A decent amount of the day was spent looking at pictures of her as a tiny baldy baby and a bigger baldy baby and a tiny baldy toddler and then now, as a curly-haired decent-sized toddler-kid. Things were sometimes hard at the start. Sometimes they were boring. Sometimes – well, always – they were tiring. And now, at two, I cannot believe the magical little creature she’s become. Sometimes things are hard, like when she throws her food on the floor and then laughs like an tv-movie villain; sometimes things are boring, like when I have to push her in the swing for four million hours or watch the Space episode of Yo Gabba Gabba because she loves the Rocket Ride song so much; sometimes it is physically demanding but no longer am I tired from lack of sleep, except when I stay up too late watching and making fun of Machete Kills. But oh, she is so much fun, I can’t even tell you. She laughs, she jokes, she hides, she calls my name, she sits on my foot and hangs onto my leg as I haul her around the house giggling, she pours me pretend tea from her tea set, she climbs into her cardboard rocket and peeps out the window saying “hellooo!”, she races her Matchbox cars all over the house, she demands I read her books, she counts to ten without saying eight, she high fives everything she can, she swims, she laughs, she flies in with her arms wide for hugs, she dances, she draws, she picks terrible outfits from her clothes drawers, she hides behind poles that are some five-centimetres wide. She’s the best, even when she refuses to eat my elaborate meals and trashes my house and screeches in frustration when I can’t understand what she’s saying.

For her birthday we celebrated with our family on the weekend; snacks, balloons and hugs in the park. While I was at work the night before, Teach made her a cake, dyed the icing green, then drew train tracks on it with an chocolate pen from Coles. We’d bought her a birthday-themed Thomas the Tank Engine train: a Thomas covered in streamers with a cake on the back. Press the cake, it plays the TTTE theme song. Two candles, two sparklers, and a kiss on the cheek. She chased her cousins around and screamed with laughter.

On the day itself, I was at a bit of a loss in the morning, so I took her to Little Creatures in Balwyn. I hadn’t been back since she could walk, and she had great fun bullying some older kids into sitting where she told them, while they in turn stole toys off her and everyone shouted and cried. Still, such is life at a play centre, and she liked playing in the Duplo room and the house room the best, lugging her wonky-eyed baby doll in its baby carrier over to the Lego car and dropping it head-first into a pile of blocks.

After her nap, she woke up to a few lovely present deliveries from friends and family, which was lovely except you try shoehorning a kid away from her beloved new picnic set to go outside. My folks came over and we went on a fruitless expedition to Cocco Latte (closed for an emergency, but open today when I went back) and Acorn Nursery (closing earlier than I expected, so we slammed down our coffees, looked at the fountains and gave up on parks to head back.)

When Teach got home from work, we decided to go out for dinner, which, let’s face it, was more for us than for her. We went to Chadstone so we could hit up Wagamama – there was literally no one but us there at the start, which meant she was free to shout for a while, but she also got rice everywhere and upended her orange juice on the table, so, you know, good work at acting childish on your second birthday, I mean sheesh. Still, the waiters didn’t mind, my meal was delicious and while we forgot to order a free kids meal they threw in her juice on the house.

Appetites sated, we went to Timezone, because there are lots of bright lights and buttons to press. We got a $20 card and played any game she looked remotely interested in; some we didn’t even have to pay for, like the Dance Dance Revolution-type one where she got up on the platform and danced like crazy with the fun-loving people on screen. She boshed some crocodiles, rode a train, hit some lights, drove a car, went on a rat race, and then scored some bubbles and a miniature basketball with all our tickets. She had a blast; we were happy to see her so happy.

The year before, we’d had a little friend party at a park near work, where the Rocket had just learned how to stand up on her own. This year, we headed to the same park after work for an ice cream in the sun. We sat on the grass near another little girl who crawled excitedly over to see us. It turned out she’d just turned one, and to see her next to the Rocket was incredible – a year in a kid is such a long time. As the kids high-fived each other, the mother said, half-laughing, “Does it get easier?” and like I told her then, it really really does.

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Today’s weather was, at its peak, 44C. (That’s 111.2F, for those of you playing in America or similarly ass-backwards countries.) It was Melbourne’s fourth day in a row that hovered around or above forty degrees, and we had exhausted our usual ideas (the pool, three different shopping centres, ice cream, Yo Gabba Gabba marathons) and were sad that we couldn’t get onto the holiday activities we’d thought of. Today, sick of being stuck inside, we decided to just go out anyway, and drove to the National Gallery of Victoria (or NGV, for those of you playing at home where you don’t have time for long words.)

We’d usually catch the train, but Melbourne’s Metro/PTV/whatever network usually decides to lay over and die on days this hot, so we took the car and a fistful of change for parking meters. Happily, we found $2/hr parking just opposite NGV down the lattice of streets between the trusty brown Yarra River and the Botanic Gardens, and managed to slot ourselves in under a great bushy tree. (FYI, we amused her on the drive first by giving her a container full of ice to chew, and once she’d poured that over her seat I read her The Noisy Book, which is much fun.)

Even the walk to the NGV was great; dappled shade on the ground, sprinklers to run into and then panic about getting wet in, nude statues to not really be scandalised by, ducks splashing around. Better still, we encountered a Play Me I’m Yours piano, and bashed on the keys terribly because, sadly, I am the most skilled piano musician in our little family and I can only play Chopsticks. The Rocket very much enjoyed telling me which key I had to play, because she is very bossy.

Finally, we extracted her from all the amusements on the way and made it all 100 metres from the car to the gallery, and just oh, what a great time we had. Walking on the wall around the fountain; throwing coins into the water; touching the water wall outside and getting wet. Inside, displays of air plants glued to plastic buckets making a giant white pergola; over to look up at the beautiful stained-glass ceiling and say “Whoaaaa” in delight. Then we went into a bright merry room and played a game called Trugo, which I didn’t believe was actually a real thing until just then when I Googled for a link–for this version, you face away from the goal, bash a ball between your legs with a big foam mallet and the ball, if you’re good at it (none of us were), hits the goal, which is made up of chimes. Much loud, many fun. Then, actual artworks; the Rocket loved all the short films, didn’t touch or break anything (hallelujah), and got to participate in an artwork by adding bird stickers to a mural. There were ping-pong tables set up near the cafeteria, and there were kids just everywhere, so we didn’t feel like the only people who brought a guest that likes to yell “WHOA!” whenever she goes into a new room. Her favourite thing was, of course, the light-up floor which she and a stack of other children danced about on with abandon. Teach, who read the information on the wall (I usually would too, but this was my first time escorting a baby to a gallery and I was just grateful she didn’t set the place on fire), told me that the idea was that the lighting was deliberately chosen to be flattering so you would lose all inhibitions. All I know was that when the Rocket said, “Mummy, here,” and pointed at the dance floor, was that I did so without hesitation.

Somehow, that all took up an hour, and we already had to leave to avoid a parking fine. We watched a guy make beautiful music on the piano outside the gallery, touched the water wall a hundred more times, said goodbye to the ducks, and raced over some crunchy leaves to the car. On the way home, with the Rocket already asleep in the back, we stopped at Merry Cupcakes for a Vanilla Ice and a Rose Tyler, and a takeaway coffee for me, and despite the ridiculous, appalling, fire-breathing heat, we had a really beautiful day. Good work, Melbourne. Sometimes you can be alright.

 

The National Gallery of Victoria

180 St Kilda Rd

Melbourne

website

Lots of flat surfaces, toilets and parents rooms for everyone, lots of stuff to do, applause all round.

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Hello friends! Welcome to the year of our robot overlords 2014, which we happily rung in playing board games with our pal Dani. And, not to brag, but out of five games of Space Invaders Jenga and one game of Risk, I won every single one. I mean, I’m trying to be humble, but you gotta admit, I’m actually pretty incredible. (Or, more likely, that will be the high point, intellectually, of my year.)

Teach is on holidays, so we are cavorting all over Melbourne, doing Fun Kid Stuff. A few days ago, we woke early and chipper and Teach suggested we go to the Collingwood Children’s Farm. Like the zoo, a farm can be a bit of a tricky idea when you’re vegetarian. I am big on animal rights and welfare, and the idea of paying to see animals which, in an ideal world, would just be cruising the city streets and catching trams like the rest of us, is an awkward one. By paying to see caged animals, am I enabling a future in which this never changes? And while the zoo has conservation going for it (the Melbourne Zoo singlehandedly brought a stick insect back from extinction, and it’s not even a particularly attractive animal), the farm clearly doesn’t, because I’m pretty sure cows, sheep and chickens are not an endangered species. On the other hand, is it vital for children to see properly where the food they eat comes from, rather than think of it as an abstract concept, beef separate from cow, etc etc? Look, I’m definitely not here to judge on wherever you fall–and I clearly went–just kind of discussing how maybe this could be an uncomfortable situation to put yourself in if your ethics fall on the side of Don’t Eat Those Guys, I Mean Look They’re Adorable.

So parking (if you can’t score a free one outside) is six dollars that you have to pay in coins before you enter the carpark. Then, you follow a rather cute little pathway to the reception area, where you pay–it was $16 for a family pass–and then you are free to explore the farm as you wish, though the first place you pass is the cafe (http://www.farmcafe.com.au/, it looked and smelled delicious but I couldn’t see much for vegans there though they may be able to adapt something).

The farm is enormous. Seriously, in the horse pasture, I looked up at the other side of the river, the beautiful hills, and thought that it must be prime real estate. There is a lot of space, and it’s used well–you don’t feel you have to walk too far to the next exciting thing. First, we brushed a cow (you could also milk them but, you know, as someone who’s been milked herself, I am happy to never ever do that. Still, the milk goes to the calves, or any other orphan lambs or kids that are around). Next, we cuddled a guinea pig. I also worried about them, because the guinea pigs are in cages but you can take them out and hug them, then put them back, where they are immediately taken out and hugged again. It’s all very nice, and it doesn’t happen all day–there are certain times, otherwise they are left alone–but I just felt bad about it, even though the animals seemed happy enough. What happened next made me realise where my discomfort lay; we were walking when Teach spied some kids huddled in a corner. They’d trapped some chickens against the fence and were holding them down, and a boy was, he thought, about to poke at them with a stick. Teach explained that chickens don’t like to be cornered like that and that maybe they would peck if they were in a panic. The kids said nothing but when Teach turned they backed away and the chickens ran free.

See, the problem isn’t really the idea. The farm obviously treats its animals very well, with lots of space and love and food and comfort. Education is also an important idea that they serve very well. What is horrible is that kids can be completely awful and as parents, you need to be aware at all times what your kid is doing, because maybe they could be poking a chicken with a freaking stick.

Anyway, after that we followed a path to the horses (past a sign that said watch out for snakes, but we didn’t see any). The Rocket was very happy about that, saying “More horse!” as we went to look at each one as they hung out in their stables eating brunch. They were very big and they said neigh and stuff, OKAY  FINE, I admit it, I hate horses, they are ENORMOUS. At the end was a donkey with the sneezes which was pretty hilarious.

Around there were some sheep having a wander, so we went and touched their wool and the Rocket was just about dancing in excitement, changing her refrain to “More baa!”. There I took my one picture to remember the day. We also saw a peacock, which, you know, didn’t end well when we tried to teach the word to the Rocket and she just yelled “COCK!” for five minutes until eventually being coached into “PEEK!”. Further on were the goats, which were her absolute flip-out favourite even though she was too scared to touch them. We went and stood near them a lot and pointed and laughed at them. Hopefully they weren’t too offended.

Also we saw a cat that hissed and went to see the pigs. After pointedly not touching anything because I didn’t like to, the pig ran excitedly up to the fence I was behind and I thought, it loves me so I guess I can pat its bristly snout. So I reached my hand in and it bit me. Not painful, but super gross. Lesson learned. Wipes liberally applied.

There are also geese and ducks and bees and earthworms and tractors, and you can bring your dog as long as you keep it on a lead. And, of course, there are other kids, which the Rocket always loves.

In conclusion, because this got long (what a surprise, I’m usually so succinct), the Collingwood Children’s Farm is beautiful, good value for money, in a nice, picturesque location, and there are heaps of high chairs and benches near the cafe, and I don’t know if I’ll go back, though I’m sure the Rocket would love to. Maybe if they make a rule that kids have to be on leads as well, then we’ll talk.

Collingwood Children’s Farm

18 St Heliers St

Abbotsford

phone: 9417 5806

website

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