Saturday, 28 August 2010

Who said nostalgia ain't what it used to be?

There are a great many things I miss about London. One of these is the museum of childhood at Bethnal Green. If you were never there, then you must go, although for the sake of appearances it is best to take a child along. It is an outpost of the V&A, so you can imagine the standards. There is a good cafe, and the park & Bethnal Green library are just behind. If you cross the road to Paradise Row, you can see the home of Dan Mendoza, probably the greatest boxer of the 18th century. The benches in the little garden in Paradise Row are a great place to sit and watch the East End go by. I should be a tour guide...

There is a toy museum in Brussels, which is also worth a visit. I don't think it ever had a curator as such, as everything is just sort of spread out in a chaotic fashion. But then, maybe, thats the way a child would do it... 

It does of course have some typical Belgian touches, the first of which I discovered on the museum website, which announces that "We are open 366 days a year..."

This one is a wee bit off the tourist trail, but is located close to the city centre, near Metro Botanique, and is well worth a visit. A bit of advice - take a cold drink and a snack, as there is no cafe, although you can leave and go out for it and they will let you back in. Also, it has a shop which is the place to go for retro-style childrens toys. 

If anybody else has some tips on good toy museums elsewhere in Europe, please feel free to leave a comment :)

Bethnal Green:


  1. Thanks for telling us about the Childhood Museum in Bethnal Green.

    I shall certainly visit it.

    I am planning a day trip to London in the next few weeks. Whenever I do this, my first port of call is always St James Park where I like to take some bread and feed the ducks. Then sit and watch the swams gliding backwards and forwards.

    Invariably, I get delayed from leaving the park by a Japanese person thrusting a camera into my hands.

    Who needs to learn a foreign language when you can just do elaborate hand movements and smile, smile, smile.

    The Tate is my second port of call, then back to the beautiful ornate white cafe in St James Park for lunch. Delayed again from leaving the park, by a loud American explaining how to use a kids camera. "Look through the little glass panel" he instructs me" as if I'm daft enough not to.

    The V&A is my heart's delight. I could spend hours there. I always feel I am justified in having a large piece of cake in the cafe because of all this expended energy slowly walking around the gallerys contemplating great works of art.

    I am also a sucker for the gift shop. Purchasing postcards of masterpieces are a must.

    This time, I will put the Children's Museum on my visiting list.

    I have no children to take with me. Let's hope that they do not think I am a paedophile!

    Such is the fear of paedophilia in the UK that it makes all pontential contact with children suspect.

    Even an innocent visit to a Children's museum can be viewed with suspician.

    I do have a darling little guinea pig, so perhaps I should take him along, and explain to the Museaum's receptionist that I have come just to show my guinea pig all the toys!

    We have so many eccentrics in the UK that this would undoubedly be believed.

    Other countries might question a middle-aged woman taking her guinea pig for a day out to a Children's Museum, but the British wouldn't!

    In their jugement,just another eccentric menopausal spinster badly in need of a man!

  2. Concerning all things children.

    It did occur to me one day when viewing MEP's in the round auditorium, in the Parliament building, that my deceased pet rabbit, Biscuit, 'may he rest in peace', would have a great time hopping round and round those rows of seats which are constructed in a circular fashion.

    And Biscuit could hide underneath those chairs when threatened with capture, and scuttle along beneath the chairs, round and round the auditorium without fear of capture.

    Food bowls could be placed in the centre of the circle of seats, and a little tray could be placed where the Chairperson sits. There my little Biscuit could do his number one's and two's.

    Should the EU every break up, then this could be one possible use of the auditorium; which would provide an ideal safe haven for rabbits and guinea pigs to live.

    This auditorium is already used to hearing S*** spouted from the mouths of MEP's. So some more dropped all over the place won't make any difference!

  3. Any reader who has had children will probably have had, at some point, have given their children a guinea pig or rabbit,as a pet.

    If not,then you might have had a little furry friend descend on you at the weekend, when unbeknown to you, your wife has agreed that little Poppy or Onion from your children's primary school can come and stay for the weekend.

    Guinea Pigs and Rabbits not unlike politicans, like digging holes for themselves!

    Not only that, when they feel threatened by anything, they run and hide underneath anything and refuse to budge.

    Sound familiar?

    Politicians like animals of prey, often freeze, and play for dead to survive, in the mistaken belief that if they appear lifeless they are safe from their predators.

    Not so.

    Staying silent and refusing to move forward on an issue does not help in politics, neither does hiding and pretending something that needs to be dealt with isn't a problem.

    The pubic are not daft.

    Also, like guinea pigs and rabbits, politicians often when opening one of their orifaces produce S***. You might not know this, but guinea pigs and rabbits eat often eat their own excrement!

    It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "Politicians should eat their own words!"

  4. Who doesn't hold fond memories of a childhood toy?

    The particular toys that countries hold dear to their hearts, often reveals a lot about them.

    For instance, here in the UK 'Paddington Bear' has to be among the top 10 favourites for both adults and children alike.

    Introduced into British homes only in 1958, Paddington Bear has become the iconic children's toy.

    This soft, cuddly toy bear came about as a result of the book, 'A bear called Paddington', being written by fiction author Michael Bond in 1958.

    Glad in an old hat, duffle coat and carrying a battered looking suitcase Paddington Bear cuts an endearing figure that causes everyone to say "Ahhhhhh" when they look at him.

    Interestingly Paddington Bear is an 'immigrant bear, from Peru of all places. He loves marmalade sandwiches and cocoa. (the British love to take a hot cocoa to bed of an evening), and most Brits love marmalade on their toast for breakfast.

    Paddington also has good manners, which in 1958 was absolutley essential in British society. He is very polite, and always say 'please' and 'thank you' and never calls anyone by their Christian name, but calls them, 'Mr,Mrs,Miss'.

    These highly praiseworthy characteristics of 'good manners' also made Paddington Bear a good 'role model' for children.

    Unfortunately, these days footballers are supposed to be a role model for children, but sadly they rarely live up to Paddington Bear's high standards!

    No getting drunk and rowdy nights for Paddinton Bear,or driving his car too fast, and being stopped by Mr Plod.

    It is interesting that the British have taken an immigrant bear into their hearts, as for so many decades Britian has been a safe haven for so many refugees.

    The reason that Paddington Bear was given his unusual name, was that in the story, this dear little bear was found stranded at Paddington Station, which is a large, busy railway station situated in Central London.

    Not an unusual predicament to be in! Central London is a very very busy place. And it can feel lonely too.

    Fortunately, Paddington Bear was adopted by a human family called Brown, hence Paddington Bear is also known as Paddington Brown.

    Marks and Spencer a famous British store is selling adorable Paddington Bears for only £15.

    A wonderful present to take home from the UK if ever you are on a business trip.

  5. Regarding my comment regarding Paddinton Bear. To any readers who have logged on from Peru, I would just like to say, we in the UK are fully aware that in 1958 Peru, duffel coats and floppy hats were not worn by the general population.

    The fact that Paddington Bear wears this outer clothing is to reflect the cold British winter climate, where wrapping up warm, especially in 1958 (before the words Global Warming were invented) is an absolute must.

    Since 1958 duffel coats became the stable wear of children. Even today it is still worn by some people. For little girls and women you can buy them in an assortment of bright colours.

    So if you are anywhere in the world when the weather is chilly and you see someone wearing a duffel coat, think Paddington Bear, think Brit.

    As for Paddington's floppy hat.

    I know you people who come to the UK complain about the the rain here but it is just one of those things.

    I mean if you went to Russia in January, you would expect it to be cold and snowing.

    If you visited the Sahara Desert, you wouldn't say, "My oh my isn't it hot, I never expected this"!

    And would you expect on a mini-break to Iraq, not to hear any bombs go off.

    So take our drizzly weather in your stride.

    Paddington Bear did.

  6. we have a saying in the UK, 'Boys and their toys'. There's no doubt that a train set do get grown men behaving like little boys.

    They love to cheer and shout as the trains goes speediy round the tracks. They lose all track of time, and can spend hours absorbed in the this activity, totally fogetting to let their young sons to have a go at controlling the trains movements.

    But this is men! They like, little boys love to feel powerful and in command, setting these trains hurtling along the tracks.

    When they get older, some of these little boys decide to switch from controlling toy trains to people,committees, organisations, governments .....

    Back to 'daddy's train set'. Sorry, Mark's train set.

    Yes, that middle-aged grey suited serious business man is transformed into an excitable school boy!

    One cannot help but wonder should the male MEP's who refuse to talk to each other, be given a train set to play with, would they be so busy chatting away enthusiastically to one another about the trains,that they would forget their prejudices.

    Forgetting their prejudices. Now there's something to think about.

    But then again, this is what playing in childhood is essentially all about.

    Children of different religions, races, economic backgrounds; able to play togeather, interact and appreciate and enjoy each others companys.

    MEP's appreciating and enjoying each others company. Now there's something else to think about!

    What a pity a train set could not be assebled in the centre of the circular auditorium where the MEP's sit.

    They could have a 15 minute recess each day, and shout, laugh and talk to each other as they set their trains racing round the track.

    This would be great if, each MEP would be willing to share the switch that controls the trains movement.

    Therein, lie the problem!

    More arguing politicians.

    No surprises there!

    Power is hard to give away.

  7. Regarding the 'chaos' of the layout of the children's toys in the museum ...

    Chaos is an interesting and often misunderstood word.

    We usually associate the word chaos with disorder, when in fact it is not!

    Chaos means simply, a 'different order'.

    We call that which is of a different order, chaos, because it appears haphazard, with no logical pattern or sequence.

    We mistakenly think that which appears unstructured, with no logical pattern or sequence as a bad thing and thereby ineffective. Something to be wary of.

    For instance, when a bomb goes off in a city centre, there is a lot of scrambling. Ambulances, the Police, Fire Fighters and a whole host of other people rush around. Tense and urgent, yellow tapes are set up and sirens are screeching and blue white lights flash.

    The journalists always describes these situations as chaotic, suggesting therefore, that there is no order, when in fact there is.

    You just cannot recognise it.

    We mistakenly presume no one knows what they are doing in these situations, but that is untrue. People are very quick and resourceful in emergency situations and know instinctively exactly what needs to be done.

    Everything appears 'up in the air', but it is not.

    What you are seeing is 'a different order' that appears to have no order, but in fact it does.

    At times of change, any change, there is a different order of things coming into fruition.

    This is what frightens and alarms some people. Others, it gives an adrenilian rush.

    We all respond to change differently.

    Take decorating, take moving house, take children laying out their toys randomly. What you see in the rooms, in the house, is a different order; objects placed in different places, new objects that you have not seen before and everything piled up.

    All of this is completely normally and does not mean that something is wrong, is 'wrong' or this new order 'bad'.

    It's just different.

    You might not be able to find anything, but that is normal when structures are changed.

    Once you get used to this new structure; the new order, you will eventually be able to find things things quite easily.

    So it is with some children and the way they lay out their toys.

    Their sequences, and the pure randomness of the way they lay out their toys probably has structure, meaning and logic to them.

    But to you it looks a mess!

    I remember once working with a women whose desk was always full of piles of papers, and additional papers scattered underneath her desk too.

    Amazingly, she was able to find any particular piece of information instantly.

    Order can often make people feel safe, and 'chaos', disorder unsafe, unsettled and anxious.

    We presume that if we are not in control of what is happening around us, that there is no order, that indeed, there cannot be any order without our intervention and control but there is!

    Just because we cannot see it, recognise it, or understand it, does not mean order is not there.

    In the same way a structured, systematic, controlled order of extermination of human beings conducted by various regimes over the decades, cannot considered to be good, so it is, that 'chaos', an apparent unstructured situation cannot be considered bad.

    Both what appears a 'chaotic' situation and an 'orderly' situation can either be a good environment, or a bad, harmful one.

    Don't be afraid of chaos.

    It is just a different order of things.

    Good and evil can reside in both order and chaos.

    Chaos can be good!

  8. One of the most enduring toys for both girls and boys in the UK is the bucket and spade.

    It is curious, that the bucket and spade which is used to dig tunnels and sandcastles when children are on holiday at British seaside resorts is not used as a play toy in countries with desert regions where there is an abundence of sand.

    I mean, have you ever seen a child photographed anywhere in the middle east or african deserts building sand castles and digging mazes in the sand?

    No. I didn't think so.

    The nice thing about the bucket and spade as a toy for UK children is that it can be bought very cheaply. So all children, rich and poor can enjoy the experience.

    These day, children's buckets and spades are sold in a whole variety of designs and colours, and are chiefly made of plastic, which makes it light and safe to play with.

    No hard edges to hurt tiny, fragile fingers.

    This was not always the case.

    In the past buckets and spades were made of tin which could cause nasty injuries.

    I do remember my own tiny bucket and tiny spade.

    It was red and black.

    We tend to take colour in children's toys for granted. But we must remember,that colour for use in toys and fabrics too was a recent thing in the UK and reserved initially for the very rich, and then as processes became more sophisticated and cheaper to produce, were then available to the masses too.

    It was on a visit to the Jersey War Museum that this was brought home to me.

    There all and I do mean all the war equipment and clothing in the 30's and 40's were in very dull darkish colours;shades of grey, black, brown, fawn,and beige.

    No red, blues, purple, green, orange, pink.

    The only bright colour I saw in the museum was the large swastika hanging on the wall which stood out with its bright red background.

    Interestingly, the Nazi uniform which I always thought was grey, was in fact a bluey turquiose colour.

    Blue is the most expensive colour to produce and in, for instance Biblical times, was reserved only for the very rich and for royalty.

    The Nazis's were obviously sending a message by incorporating a blue dye into the colour of their uniforms. Undoubtedly in those day, it would have made it more expensive to produce.

    Jersey also has in one of its museums, a large community tapestry that was created after the 2nd World War.

    There was a tremendous amount of work and research done to make sure the colours were accurate.

    Both older children and adults contributed to the making of this tapestry.

    Tapestry in the past was a very common activity for little girls from wealthy families in the UK, and considered an essential skill and social asset.

    A lady wasen't a true lady, if she couldn't do tapestry.

    These days, sadly, little girls are rarely introduced to crafts like tapestry, needlework and knitting which is a great shame.

    This is why I think it is so important to preserve all tapestry and needlework, especially for those done by children,

    These days there is a strong emphasis on physical activity for children, and so the appropriate toys are produced to encourge this.

    Still, quiet activities like tapestry that encourage deep concentration and precison and enormous patience
    for little girls is simply not considered.

    My late father was introduced to tapestry by a nurse when he was in hospital recovering from a war injury.

    My late mother showed it to me, and it was this that started me doing tapestrys at the age of 10.

    I am 54 and still what I loved to do as a child.