Driving the kids home from an afternoon out – in the rain – we’re listening to Bob Dylan singing A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall… (“I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’. I saw a white ladder all covered with water. I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken. I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children…” and so on). After a nicely timed pause, Billie (4), says “What does he mean by all that, then?” (Of course, you’ll be wanting to click the little self-portrait for a bigger one).
A copy of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar is sold every 57 seconds. That makes it the best selling kids’ book of all time. Who knew? We like it round here, of course, especially the board book, which is indestructible as well as being a gentle, colourful and mesmerisingly-paced treat (Rosa, 18 months, is really enjoying it at the moment) I learnt this and loads more from a nice programme presented by John Hegley about the book on Radio 4 the other day.
Meanwhile, I learn from an article (which you’ll need a subscription to see) in The Economist that the retail toy trade is in big trouble, with major players (like Disney) getting out of the business all together and mega-specialists like Toys R Us shutting stores. This all fits my theory that kids are now looking less for the slightly circular thrill of a toy and more for the open and provocative experience of a narrative… Stories are big news, in half a dozen categories, from $1 Billion story-driven movie franchises (Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, Spiderman…) to epic video games and – you know – those dead tree things kids seem happy to queue all night for when they come out…
It’s the end of September and here’s a six year-old boy, an Argos Catalogue and a letter that starts ‘Hello Santa’ (Santa is helpfully provided with page numbers)…
Billie, my four year-old daughter, drew this beautiful elephant. That’s all I’ve got to say about it really… (of course, you can click the small pic for a bigger one).
One of our favourite local treats is the shabby but brilliant de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, which everyone knows as the Mosquito Museum. Here they made the first handful of Mosquitos in a hanger disguised as a barn (in case the Germans spotted it) and here they have two beautifully-restored planes and dozens of other de Havilland machines – lots of which you can climb all over – and a fascinating exhibit about the technologically-advanced de Havilland jet engines.
The best thing about the museum, though, is the gaggle of volunteers who run it, restore the planes, make the models and man the shop. They’re friendly and passionate and fascinating (and mostly pensioners). If you spot one you should stop him or her and ask about the latest project (they’re restoring another Mosquito and a gorgeous Chipmunk trainer and they just finished an amazing Moth Minor).
Half the collection’s planes are kept outdoors, so they’re pretty grubby and the interiors smell a bit like a forty year-old Morris Minor but where else can you handle the controls of a de Havilland Comet 4 airliner or flick switches in the cockpit of a Sea Venom fighter bomber? Another glorious and strange British weekend treasure. Click the little pics for bigger ones (by the way, the Moth Minor’s wings fold so that you can tow it home behind your Bentley). Lots more pics here.
The Komodo Dragon is the largest lizard in the world, a member of the Monitor family (and quite closely related to snakes). It’s been around since before the dinosaurs, runs at over 20km/h and eats 80% of its body weight in one sitting. We love Komodo Dragons (it’s only possible to say that in a house that has a six year-old boy in it). They are truly beautiful and awesome creatures. On August 11 (that six year-old boy’s birthday – check out the Komodo birthday cake made by his loving mother) we went to see the newly-arrived Komodo Dragons at London Zoo. Ten days later, one of them – the female, Nina, pictured – is dead. We’re all heartbroken.
Pages like this will one day form a sort of buried stratum from which info-archaeologists will reconstruct the texture of our time – or something. Russell’s been photographing those little rocking, beeping, coin-operated amusements they put outside supermarkets (well, anywhere actually). My kids love them, naturally enough, and I can’t get away with sitting them on an inoperative machine any more (“yes, that is all it does”)…
br>A beautiful Summer evening spent at Carter’s gorgeous Steam Fair. Original, often steam-powered fairground rides, lovely painted horses, a proper coconut shy, test your strength, ring toss… and not a video game in sight. They’re from Berkshire but they tour the whole South of England in the Summer. Marvelous.
(click the small pics for bigger ones – more pics here).