Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Natural History Museum

Cosmo riveted by dinosaurs
You'll have to bear with me on this one, but one of the many great things about The Natural History Museum is (are? who'd guess I have a PhD in English Literature...) the ceilings. No, really. While everyone else is looking at the dinosaurs, I'm looking up. And so's Cosmo for that matter - not that he has any choice in the matter. For their first six months, babies rarely get to see anything engaging because they have to lie-flat. Thus, I'm thinking the Natural History Museum with its lovely patterned ceilings must be a treat for Cosmo. Certainly he was memorized for hours - okay, minutes - but he found them more interesting than the dinosaurs anyway (see photo...)

The Natural History Museum is another fabulous and free museum, once again offering a great day out for the new mother who's sick and tired of the four walls at home. There are plenty of benches on which to perch to feed your baby or a great cafe by Benugo (is there any London museum without a Benugo...?). The picnic area in the basement is also a popular area for mothers to have a quick sit down and a feed, although when I went it was difficult to find a quiet spot amongst the 30,000 kids on school trips.

If you fancy solitude, there's a semi-private nursing room just off the main hall with comfy chairs and footstools. It's a great facility (much better than the neighbouring Science Museum) but could easily be made more cosy with a lick of paint. At the moment, the decor is a cross between a prison visitor's waiting room and my first room in a student halls of residence. Why someone hasn't at least stuck up a poster of a dinosaur, I don't know. Maybe I'll try a little guerrilla decorating myself next time...

Cosmo looking rightly subdued
Would a lick of paint hurt?

Sunday, 24 February 2013


One bedraggled new mother in my NCT class said without Ocado she would have killed herself. She said it with a perfectly straight face. The thing is although it might seem an inconsequential part of everyday life, navigating the narrow aisles of a supermarket can be a very real ordeal for an incompetent mother. Indeed, I found it a nightmare before I was a mother. All those pushy, rude, sweaty people. And that's just the staff.

But with baby and pram in tow, supermarket shopping takes on a whole new level of hideousness. All those ankles to run into. Where to put the shopping? How to quell the crying baby? What to do when 'baby brain' robs you of remembering your pin number? Where's Dale Winton when you need him?

The answer: Ocado. Pure and simple. Home delivery groceries service, brought right into your kitchen. Furthermore, they stock a whole range of essentials for the new mother like nappies, nipple creams, breast pads etc. I don't know that I would have killed myself without it, but it has made my life as a new mother an awful lot easier.

John Lewis, Oxford Street

A sink alongside the baby change unit. Huzzar!
Ah, John Lewis! Everyone knows John Lewis in Oxford Street is the place to go for new mums, don't they? Don't they? Er... nope. I thought I knew John Lewis pretty well as I'd spend six months of my pregnancy buying up their store. But once again, I'm the last to know that it's famed for its baby-friendly facilities.

Throughout the store, signs point you in the direction of the "Parents Room" on the fourth floor where they apparently have a rest area for exhaused parents (are there any other kind?), private nursing booths and excellent baby change facilities. I say apparently because on the two occasions I've tried to use the Parents' Room, there's been a queue for the nursing booths. (I'll not get into the discussion of who on earth  queues for a nursing booth... evidently other people's babies are more polite than Cosmo...)

So what to do? Find a comfy bed and get on with it? Tempting but no. I'll let you in on a little secret... John Lewis has an un-signposted Parents' Room on the fifth floor, which due to it's un-signpostedness has plenty of room. You don't have a completely private booth, but you have a screened off area with comfy chairs and a table. On the other side of the screen there's an area for bottle feeding with bottle warming facilities - how nice is that?

It doesn't stop there. The baby changing area is probably the best I've seen. Not as plush as Harrods, but very well designed with a sink alongside. Hurray for not having to pick up your baby with pooey hands!

This Parents' Room is alongside the cafe / restaurant 'The Place to Eat'. This is one of the best places for an incompetent mother to grab a bite. Why you ask? For one very good reason: the staff always offer to carry your tray. Nowhere else in London has someone offered to carry my tray. Staff in empty restaurants have watched with blank stares as  I precariously balance a bottle of water and a croissant on a tray crashing the Bugaboo into chair after chair. Not so here.

"Can I help you to your seat with that?"
"Yes, surely you can, kind sir, thanking you kindly."

Such a small detail can not only alter an incompetent mother's decision on what to have for lunch (starter, lunch and pudding? Hey, I'm breastfeeding don't you know...) but whether to have lunch  at all. So three cheers for John Lewis. We'll be back.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Kensington Gardens


At my NCT “Early Days” course last week, a mother of a 7-week-old baby revealed that she goes on daily 2-hour outings to Regent’s Park to run up the hills. Let’s take a moment to consider the words ‘daily’ and ‘run up hills’. Never right in any context, but for a mum of a 7-week old baby? I literally had to sit on my hands to stop myself throttling her.

Anyhoo, it got me thinking about how important park life is to new mothers, especially incompetent ones like myself.

In many ways parks are perfect outings for incompetent mothers. For starters there’s tons of room, so little risk of crashing into anything (as a kindly lady in Notting Hill delicately put it last week, “You need driving lessons for that thing, love…”) And if you need an emergency breastfeeding session, there’s plenty of benches to plonk yourself down on. Yes, it might be pissing it down and you’ll probably be cosying up with the local nutter (or the slightly unnerving “Pigeon Woman” if you’re in Kensington Gardens), but at least you can get your screaming baby fed without suffering the disapproving looks of cafe diners or fellow Tube passengers.

I live right next to Kensington Gardens, the northern gateway to Hyde Park – the biggest green space in central London. While it's a stunningly beautiful park even in winter, the facilities are not great. For example, at the northern end there are toilets with baby change facilities in the disabled toilet. But as far as I can see, they're permanently locked. There's a button next to the entrance saying 'Push for Assistance'. Well I did, but assistance did not arrive. 

In the summer, it's a great place to picnic, but in winter the eating opportunities are slim picking. For some reason the Royal Parks closes its stall by Lancaster Gate so you're pretty much have the choice of the sausage stall next to High Street Ken or the posh and hopelessly serviced Orangerie at the Palace. Neither is ideal for a new mother, who usually likes the option of a warm sit down (sausage stall is al fresco) and walls that don’t endlessly echo the potential screams of a newborn (Orangerie is echoy). Still, The Lido and the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen is a short walk away and both offer good step-free access for buggies. But regardless of this - and most importantly - the park offers new parents an opportunity to get out of the house, stretch the legs and hopefully knock out the littlun with a good dose of the closest thing we have to fresh air in London.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Wholefoods, High Street Kensington

Mid-morning cakes amid empty tables
Who doesn't love Wholefoods??! All those cakes. I believe they sell other things too, but I've never seen them cos I'm too busy staring at the cakes.  Pre-Cosmo, I was well aware that Wholefoods was a great place for buggy-pushers because my local branch (High Street Ken) was chocker with them.

Wholefoods is one of those places where the facilities and staff attitude lives up to their company's ethos. When I met up with some NCT friends there last week, Cosmo spent half the time howling (who was I to know I have a blocked duct and wasn't getting any milk? Whoops...)

If I'd been by myself I'd've scarpered quick sharpish - nothing raises an incompetent mother's  stress levels than a crying baby in an enclosed crowded space. (It's not that competent mothers don't have babies that cry, it's just they rightly accept and get on with it...). But when you're with other people, you have to try to pretend you're competent or at least trying.

I was relieved that when a staff member came over it wasn't to boot me out, but to coo at Cosmo until he stopped crying. Magic.

As well as having a family friendly vibe, Wholefoods puts on regular events, including a fortnightly Babies Club (10am-11am) where, rumour has it, they serve free juice, tea and... wait for it... CAKES. Naturally, if there's a cake involved, and a free one at that, I'll be there (purely for the purpose of this investigative blog, you understand...). However, as an incompetent mother, I turned up on the wrong week and learned that even if I had been there at the right time, I would have needed to to book. (I thought it was a drop in...). I'll do a separate post on the Babies Club if I ever get there at the right time. They also host Monkey Music class for babies at 2.30pm on Tuesdays. Sadly this clashes with Cosmo's feeding time, but hopefully I'll get to a class elsewhere and report back...
Comfy chair with coat pegs and magazine

Practicalities for feeding:

Wholefood has great facilities for breast or bottle feeding, and very good baby change. The 'Room With a View' is usually a quiet place to sit if you'd to escape the restaurant floor which can get very crowded. However, if you wish to nurse in complete private there's a little room tucked away in the basement for just such a purpose. As the restaurant floor gets so crowded at lunch I'd definitely head to the Nursing Room. However, morning time is great for an incompetent mum to get her first cake fix of the day - before noon, the place is pretty much empty so plenty of room for the buggy and a relaxed atmosphere for feeding. Furthermore, there's no witnesses to your 9am cake scoffing.  

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

National Gallery, Trafalgar Square

Cosmo had been nagging me for weeks to take him to see the two Rembrandt self-portraits in The National Gallery in an effort to determine once and for all whether the illusion of depth really is owed to the painter's reputed binocular vision or whether it's just nonsense. (He determined it was all just nonsense...)

All London museums offer a great day out for incompetent mothers, but the National Gallery is particularly good. There's tons of space and a sparsity of doors so it's easy for even the most incompetent buggy-driver to get around. Even better, if you're baby's in a sling, you might find them transfixed by all the paintings. I didn't think Cosmo would take any notice, but he seemed to really enjoy staring at the faces...

The National Gallery welcomes breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere, so feel free to sit down in front of a Picasso. However, if you don't want to add to the bare breasts already on display, there's a nursing room with change facilities on the first floor of the Sainsbury Wing. It's quite well hidden so ask security if you can't find it.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Serpentine Bar & Kitchen, Hyde Park

Serpentine Bar and Kitchen

What numbnut had the bright idea of putting an Xcelator-style hand dryer into The Serpentine Bar and Kitchen baby change toilet? The startling ear-splitting noise is enough to put the heebie-jeebies up a grown-up let alone a baby. Maybe they thought scaring the shit out of babies would be helpful under the circumstances...

To be fair, it's not like TSK is the only one. These fancy dryers are dotted all around London. I've taken to wiping my hands on my trousers. Amongst the stains of vomit and poop, it hardly matter if people think I've wet myself as well.

But SB&K has other things going for it that make up for the dryer...

Like any place which serves good food (and this one does) in a good location (the south end of the Serpentine lake), it gets horrifically busy. So really, I can only recommend going outside of traditional meals times, preferably on a winter's weekday. But if you get there when it's emptyish, it has a very friendly vibe and is popular with buggy-pushers stopping off during a walk in Hyde Park. There's a number of tables with room enough for a pram alongside and you'll have no problem with elbow room if you're feeding. Plus, if you're feeling really self-conscious about your crying baby or breastfeeding you can sit outside on one of the numerous tables as I did with my first visit with Cosmo....

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Tara Lee's Baby Yoga

Let me get one thing straight. I’m not a yoga person - never have been, never will be. I make concrete look flexible. I kid you not when I say I can’t even do child’s pose. I look like a giant, wobbly 'S', quivering under the effort to get my bottom anywhere near my heels. (One instructor took it upon herself to sit on my back to get my bottom to lower. It didn't work; my thighs and stomach stubbornly refused to magically disappear...) During pregnancy, I flitted from class to class trying to find one where I would fit in – and by ‘fit in’ I was looking for a class of plus-sized ladies who cannot do and do not like yoga. 

I didn’t find it.

Why, you might ask, was I committed to finding a class when I don’t like yoga? A valid question. Well, I like the idea of yoga. All that breathing and oneness with your body, Mother Earth and quasi spirituality. What's not to like? Plus, everyone said it’s the thing to do in pregnancy.  Forgo the epidural and just do hip circles. It’ll make labour a breeze. Oh yes. Labour. A breeze. I tell you, its difficult to do hip circles when your legs are locked into stirrups in an emergency ventouse delivery, and doctors - for some reason - don't like it when you try.

Any road up. We've gathered I don’t like yoga. I can’t do yoga. So what better first class to take baby Cosmo to that Baby Yoga at The Life Centre in Notting Hill?

Photo stolen from Tara's wesbite
While I still can't claim to be a bonafide yoga convert, there are several things that keep me coming back to Tara's class. In no particular order:

1. The Vibe - Having done pregnancy yoga, I'm accustomed to being the only person in the class who looks like the back end of a bus and Tara's class is no exception. Its Notting Hill after all; everyone has a flat stomach and back in their pre-pregnancy skinny jeans. But the difference is, this class has a welcoming vibe (unlike some I could mention... cough, cough, Primrose Hill, cough...). As well as overlooking the fact I still look six months pregnant, no one in Tara's class seems to care that my hair hasn't been washed for a week or that I am attempting to pass off vomit-stained pjs as yoga pants.

2. Tara Herself - She's beautiful. I could sit and watch her all day if she hadn't taken out an injunction against me. Plus, she has a vibe that all yoga teachers should have: soulful, kind and zen-like; a calming anchor for a room of mothers tearing their hair out with screaming babies.

3. Music - Google Anni B. Sweet's 'Take on Me'. It's now one of mine and Cosmo's songs.

4. Massage - Get this: at the end of the class, if there's time to spare, Tara and her assistant go round the room asking if yogies would like a shoulder or foot massage. Yes please, yes I would. 

5. Cosmo Time - While the first half of the class is dedicated to normal yoga the rest is 'Baby Yoga' which involves swinging, stretching, singing and dancing with your baby. I can't say Cosmo is totally convinced (except the 'toes to nose' bit which he finds hilarious) but I totally love it.

But what I love best about Tara's class is that nobody really cares if you don't do the yoga. The exercises are almost manageable for an incompetent like myself but if you feel like sitting out (which I frequently do) you can just hold you baby and watch. One of Tara's wonderful assistants might flitter over and offer to hold your crying baby while you strike a pose but I always turn them down, playing up the role of obsessive mother rather than the lazy arse that I am. And, like all classes for babies, nobody cares if your baby cries. Because everyone's baby cries. No dirty looks, no stress, no embarrassment. Just lots of sympathy and lots of opportunities to make new friends. It's an incompetent mother's dream. 

So, at the end of the class, I might not have done much yoga but I come out feeling all the better for a good stretch and a better, more grounded person. A better mother even. And that in itself is worth an awful lot more than the £15 PAYG fee.
Note on the practicalities:
A small downside is a lack of disabled or roomy toilets. However, the class is so friendly no one minds minding your babe while you nip to the loo. Classes can get crowded, so arrive in good time.