Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Tiny Catastrophies

So my son is FIVE now and I'm a bit out of touch with what's going on in the world of the tinies. I went to see my friend Emma for her birthday this week and I realised just how much. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that she has been breastfeeding for TWO YEARS. She is very tired, and she has one child who is two and one who is six months.

She said to me that she thought that I'd somehow got it right what with working freelance, and living on my own and having only one child. Unfortunately, when it comes to being an adult, and having children, I don't think there is a right. I think there is an okay - this for me is when i am doing my work in the day, and not making my poor son entertain himself while I try to meet a deadline as he's having his breakfast.

Emma's talk about 'getting it right' made me think of Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook which I've been reading for the last month. The book's protagonist, Anna, has a lot to say about being a unmarried women raising a child. Despite being written in 1962, elements of it are a remarkably accurate portrayal of the way things are, and the way they feel for me at least, as someone with out a husband guiding my fate, or what have you.

Using the device of several different 'notebooks' which interweave to form the novel, Lessing looks at life from different angles. For me, one of the most interesting of these is the diary which charts her political life and her wrangling, in a hugely authentic way, with party politics and the constraints and limitations of being part of an organisation.

This part of it feels connected to my life too, as although I'm not joining a political party, I've just returned to the huge organisation that it The University Of Manchester to study for an MA, part time.

To be honest, having had a somewhat idealised vision of what this experience would be like, the reality is quite a shock. I'm not exactly conversant with either detailed research, or academic writing and the main thrust of the course involves trying to come up with an angle to look at an issue or practitioner (relating to, in my case, contemporary art / performance) and then write about it from that angle and hopefully, come to some academia-shaking conclusion as a result.

Like many people who dream of escaping real life in university, I had thought that it would be a breeze. That hours and hours in the library, in the company of Immanuel Kant or Jacque Derrida, Jacques Lacan, or any number of these other writers upon whom all the academics seem to base their work on, would be like, fun, and that I could just think about stuff I liked and that would be enough.

Of course, back in the real world, its not quite like that. You don't get funding for doodling about doing something that you just like. Studies need a purpose, and need to contribute to the wider body of knowledge out there in good way. YEP. Unfortunately, I'm just not quite sure what i can bring to the table.

In the meantime, here is an interesting quote I found, which sums up domestic (and of course academic) life rather succinctly... Its written by the German editor, cultural critic, and writer, Siegfried Kracauer;

'One must rid one's self of the delusion that it is the major events which have the most decisive influence on people.' he says. 'They are much more deeply and continuously influenced by the tiny catastrophies which make up daily life.'

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Manchester Family Friendly Film Festival

I've just received an email telling me that The Manchester Family Friendly Film Festival will be taking place across the city this August.

There will be a selection of films showing at venues across the city, such as Victoria Baths, Urbis and Cornerhouse, which have been made over the last 50 years. Unfortunately, as my son hates all films, we will not be attending. I managed to scar him for life, I think, by taking him to see Ratatouille, aged 3, followed by that one with Eva the robot in it. We had to leave both screenings after less than 10 minutes.

Anyhow, for those who can attend, this years festival looks set to be a winner, with several day-long special events including...

Magic and Monsters Day
A day of storytelling, magic shows, monster-related craft activities and screenings of
Wizard of Oz and The Dark Crystal. There will also be a live 50min magic show with Magic Philip (who has apparently.... entertained Brooklyn Beckham), facepainting AND a filmmaking workshop.
11 Aug, 10-5pm, The Dancehouse, £5, ages 6+

Dance Day
Enjoy screenings of High School Musical (U) and Swedish musical Kidz in Da Hood (PG), and sign up for one of the following workshops; Break Dancing, Ballet, Street Dancing. Kids can learn routines from High School Musical and the day finishes with a performance.
13 Aug, 10am-4pm at The Dancehouse Theatre, Tickets £5, Ages 8 +

ET in Spinningfields
Twilight showing of spooky extraterrestrial drama, or, as I was taught in film school, a take on the Jesus story. Yes... he even ascends to heaven at the end.
16 Aug, 8-10pm, Spinningfields, free

Click here to book tickets and see the full programme.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Videogame Nation at Urbis and Play Out! at Salford Museum

Get this: a new exhibition at Salford Museum and Art Gallery about playing out, which takes the form of the least fun flyer EVER. I mean, who'd have thought of employing grey and smog as colours to advertise your new show - which (surely?) is designed to appeal to families at a loose end during the summer holidays?

Wouldn't you rather go to this?

Yes, this image is advertising Videogame Nation at Urbis.

Videogame Nation looks like the craic, doesn't it? Play out! on the other hand, looks about as much fun as swine flu.

Young Arthur liked it a lot when we went. He's been twice now and managed to play on pretty much everything, when the big kids to let him have a go, that is.

Weirdly, it's not got any of the games that I had for my Spectrum ZX+ when i was a kid; stuff like Henry's Hoard and Horace Goes Skiing and Chuckie Egg, but it's got loads of Amstrad stuff, and early detective games. Recommended for a rainy day.

I'll review Play Out! shortly. In the meantime, here is what the website says about the new show.

'This summer, Salford Museum is transforming one of their galleries into a play street. Come and play out all day in the street without cars, and in the back yards and alleyways. Play street games, with balls, bikes and round the lamposts - and find out more about Salford's very own special play streets!'

Reading this, I deduce that it's an exhibition about what is outside your house - the street - only sanitised, and de-weathered.

'Playing out' is something I've been coming to terms with lately. My son, Arthur, has just learnt to ride a bike, and so he can whizz up and down the street on his own. He cycles off to certain points that I let him reach, and then turns around and cycles back.

This usually goes on when I am inside, cooking, cleaning or doing someting that could be regarded as entirely pointless if he was hit by a car. It's impossible to watch your children all the time, but it's impossible not to worry, isn't it? In fact, I'm beginning to see the logic behind Salford Museum's new show...

Monday, 29 June 2009

New kids party venue arrives in Chorlton

Apologies for the delay on posting here... I've been working full time bleurgh... anyhow, I've also written this feature on Partytime UK a new party shop, and all around kids party venue, just next to Marble Beer House in Chorlton. Click here to read online, or see below.

Partytime UK

Ruth Allan checks out a new Chorlton kids shop and cafe

Where is it?

Partytime UK
53-55 Manchester Road

Tel: 0161 881 2525
Open: Mon to Fri 8.30am-5.30pm, Sat 10am-5.30pm


With a name that sounds like an adult chat line, I wasn’t sure what to expect when Confidential's editor asked me to pop down and review a new shop called Partytime UK in Chorlton. I’d noticed its large silver lettering as I’d driven down past Chorlton Baths several times though, so it was good to have a reason to check it out.

As it turns out, the new venture is not a saucy hotline. Instead, it’s a spacious shop which will sell party stuff when it’s properly open and, just next door, the Mad Hatter’s Café and kids party venue is part of the same business too.

Angela Amponsah is Partytime’s owner, and over a coffee on the café’s terrace, she explained that she was ending a family-raising career break to get back into the party business.

"Not many places do good stuff for kids," she told me, "and my background is in parties – balloons, weddings, planning, organising, you name it. I’m a bit of an expert, and I wanted to get stuck in again."

What does it sell?

The shop was not quite ready to open to the public, but Angela gave me a tour of the goodies that you are going to be able to buy when it launches proper – which should be some time in the next month or so.

As you’ll see from the pictures, the stock is largely professional, party-type stuff: teddy bears, happy birthday candles, wedding favours, and mildly humorous glasses that say rude words on them.

Angela promised that she was going to get more kid-friendly gear in too, along the lines of Mario Brothers and Angelina Ballerina plates, banners and balloons. I got quite excited when I heard this, as I’ve scoured the city for Mario kit to make my young man’s birthday, and have come home empty-handed.

It’s early days, and the café is still a bit of a work in progress too. When running properly, it’ll offer smoothies, coffee, cakes, salads and soups. Some of this is available at the moment, such as the soup, which is, according to Angela, “made by a chef who used to work at Piccolinos", and changes daily. I didn’t try it, although I did try an Americano coffee (humorously weak) and a carrot cake (seriously good).

Why go there?

Hosting a kids party at home is a bit like opening a can of hot Coke in your lounge; there is no predicting where the sticky stuff will land. To avoid cleaning bills, it may be worth booking your next one at Mad Hatters Café.

Parties are available from 5.30pm Mon to Sat, and all day on Sundays. You just have to fork out a minimum of £5.99 per child which covers “healthy food and a cake" according to Angela.

I thought it would be a pleasant place to have a party; decked out in bright, bold colours, Mad Hatters looks like a big, pink cake, an impression which is heightened by the pictures of big, pink cakes on the walls and counters.

The floor space is broken up into a sofa seating area, an outside terrace section and a little boothy bit at the back. With its kid-friendly menu and attitude, it reminded me a little of the café in nearby children’s play centre, Head Over Heels.

Not somewhere to nurse a hangover, perhaps, but a good lunch option if you’re in the north Chorlton vicinity with the family. And, when it’s finally open, the shop looks set to be a good bet for anything party-related too.


A niche venture, showing promise.

Fun extras such as a smoothie cocktail bar, karaoke, clowns, party activity leaders, and anything else that you think will stop them from pulling each other’s hair out are available at extra cost.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Dance To Wayne Hemmingway's Disco

Liverpool Tate has something special going on right now.

It's a new sculpture show over two floors, and while the content may be a little unhinged / random (Dan Flavin, Gilbert & George, Picasso, Carl Andre, Antony Gormley... you name em, they're here) there is an excellent experience for all the family in the section called 'Sculpture... remixed'.

Yup, i know it sounds like a painful effort on the gallery's behalf to get with the kids, but it actually works - and it actually works something like this:

1. Arrive at free show & head up to 'sculpture remixed'
2. Apply wireless headphones, which are playing some excellent disco (n.b. apply your own headphones first, before applying to other family members)
3. Make your way through a black felt curtain into a room of sculptures, dominated by a massive 70s underlit and flashing disco floor in the centre.
4. Read sign on said floor which says 'Dance Here'
5. Do it.

It's totally amazing, dancing in an art gallery. I was smiling like mad and so was Arthur. It was like going through Alice's tiny door into the wonderland. AND IT WAS FREE. Plus, the staff at Tate are saints - that, or extremely bored. I mean, members of the gallery team where chasing us around, desperate to explains everything to Arthur.

One guy even spent 15 minutes showing him how Antony Gormley makes his body-works, a process which involved him lying on the floor, mouthing at his fist to express the agony of the long-held posture.

I've never had a better experience in a gallery - and not just because this poor guy was rolling on the floor for our entertainment - although that was obviously pretty cool - it was just a brilliant experience.

Fortunately, its on until April 11 2010, so there's no rush.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Paper plane flying: not a waste of time

This week a Japanese man has broken the world record for paper plane flying. His latest paper plane flew for nearly 30 seconds. Check out the story here. It's proof that having a hobby isn't a waste of time, after all this guy has made a career out of it, and he's got funding to the tune of over half a million to send out paper planes from space. What a wizard!

Monday, 20 April 2009

Holiday Accomodation

Right. If, like me, you have about 10p with which to go on holiday, where you stay is a really big issue. Hotels are well expensive, camping is okay, but it's darn chilly at Easter still, and bed and breakfasts are a right mixed bag.

Here are a few things I learned on this past two week break.

a. If you want to go camping, remember the poles.

Yes, we tipped up on Easter Saturday night at this lovely campsite called Side Farm, which is in the Independent's top fifty campsites of all time. It was full, so we drove on, and found another one near by, whose name escapes me, but which resembled a place where cars go to die. They were parked everywhere, as if abandoned. It looked like the scene at the start of M Night Shyamalan (who, incidentally, wrote the Sixth Sense!)'s The Happening, only with tents.

Having found a place to abandon the Passat, we started putting up the tent, only to discover that the poles were not within. This was really disappointing to everyone, and we ended up huddled not around a camp fire, but around a Ginsters pastie, and sleeping at the Premier Travel Inn at Junction 44 of the M6. It wasn't a good start to the trip.

b. If you want to stay in a hotel, book in advance.

The Radisson hotel in Glasgow is five stars, and it's lovely. It's got these amazing lifts, which you can look out all around, and over to Glasgow Central Station from. It's pretty good, and it's under £70 a night, including breakfast, I think, if you book it as one of the 'mystery hotels' on lastminute.com. The same applies to Manchester I'm told. Apparently, you often get the Radisson as the 'secret hotel'.

c. Not all B&Bs are the same.

Ohhh no. We stayed in two; this one just outside Oban, and an almost completely unmarked one in Tobermory (pictured). The first cost £171, somehow, and the second cost £30. Despite the fact that the towels smelt vaguely of fannies, I would head straight back to the Tobermory one in a flash; the old owners left their door open for anyone to walk in, and had these cute, woodlined loft rooms - ours had an amazing view over Tobermory harbour (incidentally, Tobermory is where they filmed the forementioned BBC series, Balamory. It can't do wrong, in my book) - and it was very good value.

The Oban one was clean, with good views, but it was located in, what I suspect is a barely converted 80s-style old folks home, and it was extremely expensive for what you got. Dinner, for example, was £20 a head, for what amounted to some soup, and a very average chicken casserole and some overcooked vegetables, while the room was £85, which was more than the five star Radisson in Glasgow.