Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival

The Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival 2018 is on now (until Saturday 27 January).

Here’s a post I wrote a few days ago with all the details.

And below are some photos.

As we discovered, it’s worth a visit whatever the weather because, if it’s raining, there’s a large number of installations under cover at the Crossrail station and you can always make another visit to see the rest.

If lights are your thing, don’t forget there’s only one more day to view the Lumiere festival at sites around central London (details here). There are some lovely looking things, but central London in the evening with a one-year-old and a four-year-old isn’t for me right now…

This one was my favourite…



Lights at the end of the tunnel

No 31 Intrude Amanda Parer (from

Just what we need during these post-Christmas, grey, gloomy days – light!

Tomorrow sees the start of the Canary Wharf Winter Festival which, in previous years, has been a great hit with everyone in my household from the youngest to… er… me.

It runs from Tuesday 16 to Saturday 27 January 2018 and it’s free. There are as many as 33 light sculptures (often combined with music/sound) located throughout Canary Wharf. In my experience, here’s the best way to enjoy some or all of them.

  1. First download the map here.
  2. Work out what you want to see and a route that lasts a toddler-friendly period of time

For me, that means not seeing all the sculptures. Or not in one visit anyway. I tend to look for ones that are interactive, big or interesting in another way. I’ve only had a quick glance through the programme, but here are some that stand out.

  • No 1 – Sonic light bubble. Just look at it!
  • No 10 – Pixels. Illuminated blocks you can build with.
  • No 31 – Intrude. Giant rabbits? I don’t need to know anything more. I’m there.
  • No 32 – Sunlight graffiti. Make graffiti using light – yes, okay then.

Make your way to Canary Wharf as darkness falls. (From about 5pm – it’s extra fun for toddlers to be out ‘late’).

There are a whole ton of places to eat or pick up snacks (For more info, click here).

Christmas Eve reading

It’s Christmas Eve!!!

It’s the most exciting night of the year.

Will they ever go to sleep? Perhaps a book will help…

Here are some of our Christmas favourites:


  1. The Nutcracker by Alison Jay – there are many versions, but we’ve read this one for the last two Christmases (or is it three) because the illustrations are lovely and mouth-watering.51RYy891r8L._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_
  2. Stickman by Julia Donaldson – Stickman meets a stuck man in a chimney. Who could it be?51Gr+CyRh6L._AC_US436_QL65_
  3. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs – get your toddler to ‘read’ the pictures and tell you the story.51QSuylSXXL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_
  4. Twas the night before Christmas – lots of version of this one too!61uF3hZk3WL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_
  5. One Christmas Wish by Katherine Rundell – we got this one from the library and fell for the beautiful illustrations.51Ceb67hbFL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_
  6. Christmas with Princess Mirror-Belle by Julia Donaldson – Two Christmas stories for older pre-schoolers.51VsCLRhx3L._AC_US436_QL65_
  7. Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr – a talking Christmas tree startles Mog.61JOzl4FMVL._SX452_BO1,204,203,200_
  8. Snow is my favourite and my best by Lauren Child – I love Charlie and Lola, so we’re reading Charlie and Lola. Okay?515eMzbZhPL._AC_US436_QL65_
  9. How the Grinch stole Christmas by Dr Seuss – contains some useful wisdom (see tomorrow’s post)


Free swimming

You probably know this already, but children aged three and under swim for free at swimming pools throughout Tower Hamlets that Better Leisure run. Once they turn four, you’re supposed to cough up (usually £4 or so), but did you know there are still opportunities to swim for free?

I couldn’t find any mention of it on the Better Leisure website, but:

  • On Saturday, you can turn up at your local pool and swim for free as a family from 12 noon afterwards.
  • On Friday, any Tower Hamlets resident can swim for free from 9am onwards.

To get your free swim, you need a pay and play membership card, but these cost just a few pounds a year. You can wrestle with the Better website and join your local swimming pool here, or pop along and speak to staff.

  • It’s not free, but women and girls can swim at women-only sessions for a small fee (currently £1.05).

Here’s the best list I’ve been able to find about free swimming in Tower Hamlets.

Enjoy your (free) swim!

Advent calendars

I’m not a big fan of chocolate Advent calendars. I’m not sure why. Perhaps last year’s error of leaving my (then) three-year-old unsupervised on the first day of Advent with a Frozen calendar served as a warning. By the time I came back in the room, every single door had been opened and there were figures and bits of card strewn everywhere.

If it had been chocolate, there would have been none left. That’s for sure.

Anyway, it led to me having a look at other kinds of Advent calendars and there are some lovely ones.

A little late for this year. Or ridiculously early for 2018, here are some that caught my eye. Most of them have the advantage of being at least partly re-usable.


Lego City Advent Calendar

There are quite a few Lego Advent calendars, including one that enables your child to build a Christmas scene. There’s also a Lego Friends version and a StarWars one.


One of the Playmobil Advent Calendar

This Playmobil advent calendar is rather fab. They have a few different versions too.


Paw Patrol Advent Calendar

Tiny pups and other models. Okay-ish. But doesn’t really say magical Christmas to me.

All of these are available from Argos and I’m sure many other places.


Crayola activity Advent calendar

I was quite tempted by this one with art materials in as we are heavily into colouring at the moment.


My Little Pony Advent calendar

This is the Advent calendar the four-year-old would like me to have bought, but I didn’t. Contains stickers and stamps. Underwhelming.

These two are both available on Amazon.


This one is from Not on the High Street

This is the Advent calendar I’d have bought if I’d been organised enough to get things to put in the pockets. It’s totally reusable too. As I said last year, ‘I’ll do that next year. Definitely’.


Eric Carle’s Dream Snow Pop up Advent calendar

I was very tempted by this one – there’s a pop up Christmas scene that you can add to. Looks quite special doesn’t it?

Magical and memorable


It’s a winner.

In the end I went for this one. You get a tiny book each day which, by Christmas Eve, has delivered the charming tale of the Nutcracker. It’s been a hit so far.

These last two are also on Amazon and I’m sure elsewhere.


Jump. Jump. Jump.

Photo from

The four-year-old and the one-year-old may be the most frequent visitors to the new trampoline park in Stratford, Zap Space, to date, but I’m late to the party and made my debut at the weekend.

So here’s what you need to know.

If you live a hop, skip or a jump away from Stratford and have a toddler who likes to bounce on a trampoline, it’s the place for you. Make your way to Zap Space in the knowledge that you’ll come away with a tired and happy toddler.

It’s actually designed for all age groups and is open 9am-9pm every day (way past a toddler’s bedtime). It’s the mornings that are devoted to Little Zappers aged five and under. Check the timetable here.

As far as I can tell, just the downstairs is open during the Little Zappers sessions, so that’s trampolines, a foam pit and a balance bar. For younger children, there’s a small soft play which kept my one-year-old very happy indeed. Better still, at the moment at least, the baby soft play area is free (they may start to charge at busier times).

For the trampoline park, you pay on the door (or book ahead online) and you get a one hour session. If your toddler is trampoline crazy, there is a multi-pass option that helps you make savings.

There’s a counter selling food and snacks in the main area (there are tables, chairs and high chairs), but there’s also a nicer, lighter cafe (with a wider menu, I think) that you can also access from Stratford High Street. It’s called The Old Town Bistro and is also run by Zap Space.

I enjoyed our trip to Zap Space because it was a really easy way to keep two little ones entertained on a rainy day and get some energy well and truly burnt off. On the plus side, there are lots of cheerful, friendly, polite and helpful staff making sure everyone is having safe fun.

I have a few gripes based on the fact my four-year-old wasn’t that keen on the trampoline and would have preferred the climbing area. Sometimes she’s been allowed to use it, but at the weekend she wasn’t as it was included in the bit that was closed. Only one child was allowed in the foam pit at once, which was terribly safe, but not much fun.

Like I said, if your child loves the trampoline, it’s for you. If they like soft play more generally, there are better places to go.

My favourite remains the East London Gymnasium, which you can read about here.

All the information about Zap Space is here, including entry costs which is currently £8 for a Little Zappers session.