Imagine Children's Festival on Southbank

Friday, 21 February 2014

Imagine childrens festival on Southbank London

One of the most enjoyable things about having children is getting to share my favourite books.

As much as I'd like to claim to be reading the Booker list, it's more likely to be C.S. Lewis, Louisa M. Alcott or A.A. Milne with my daughters these days.

So unsurprisingly the Imagine festival on Southbank is always a highlight of the half term calendar. There's something very special about an event which gets children to step into the magical world of literature and really use their imaginations.

This year I booked tickets for a workshop with Steven Lenton, illustrator of Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam, a humorous tale of two dogs who give up their lives of crime as burglars to open a bakery.

My three-year-old Enid is suitably excited, although I'm not sure she entirely understands what we're going to. Eight-year-old Maisie is less enthusiastic, saying she just wants to 'relax' - aka watch TV and play on the iPad. But today I'm determined we're going to enjoy some cultural activities like it or not.

We're first to arrive at the workshop and take best seats in the house right at the front. I get chatting to Steven Lenton, a cheerful thirty-something with an obvious enthusiasm for the two canine characters which have brought him success.

I'd always thought you'd have to know someone to illustrate your children's book, but when he tells me the publisher matched him up with author Tracey Corderoy, it sends me into a flight of fantasy. Maybe I could be a children's author? Well, it is called the Imagine Festival after all, although I think that's meant to be aimed at the kids.

Steven Lenton at Imagine Childrens festival on Southbank

As the room began to fill with small children, I don't envy the task of keeping them engaged, but Steven, seemingly unfazed does an admirable job and seems to have a genuine affinity with children. 

Despite earlier reservations my two are really excited to be there and Maisie has her hand up for every question. After a reading of the book, Steven demonstrates how to draw the main characters and we have a go ourselves.

I've always considered myself to be rubbish at drawing, a view I try not to express to the kids in the fear of destroying their own confidence, but with the step by step instruction the drawings are quite simple and we all give it a go. Being aimed at young children, I think the level of difficulty is just about right for me.

Maisie's drawing of Slippery Sam (or is it the other one?)
When the workshop comes to an end I ask the kids what they'd like to do next - go home and watch telly, is the resounding reply. A nearby father shoots me a sympathetic look, but I'm not giving up that easily - my children WILL enjoy cultural activities if it's the last thing I do.

I march my troops blithely on to the Southbank Centre, where a number of free activities are going on. It's very packed and we have a long wait for the legendary singing lift which my girls are a big fan of. Luckily three male street dancers keep us entertained with moves which take me back to 80s body popping, only with a docking system rather than a ghetto blaster.

After scribbling on the drawing wall, sitting on beanbags reading in the Poetry Library and playing with an interactive Time Machine installation involving all sorts of whizzy buttons and lights, we're ready to head off.

Drawing wall at Southbank Centre

As much as I love the Southbank Centre, it really does get very hectic during the school holidays and I'm feeling overwhelmed by the noise and chaos. After a breath of fresh London air and a stroll along the river we head home, feeling suitably worn out after a busy day. That night Maisie tells me she really loved the workshop and is proud of the drawings she did. See, who needs iPads?

Now no summary of the day is complete without a mention of the delicious latte I had at The Ethiopian Coffee Company. I'd planned to get my caffeine fix from Eat, but walking through the Real Food Market was intrigued by a sign boasting the best coffee in the world. With a promise like that, how could I resist?

There was a choice of several different blends and I had no idea which to choose. I asked the vendor which was strongest and he explained it's not about the strength but the flavour. He set to work making me a 'magic blend' of all of them.

The Ethiopian Coffee Company at Real Food Market Southbank
He explains that coffee originated in Kaffa where the quality and variety of soil allows several different flavours to develop, unlike in Brazil, where he tells me disparagingly there is only one soil type. Nothing better than a vendor who knows his stuff.

Not being much of a connoisseur, I was sceptical about detecting any difference from my usual coffee chain fare, but I swear to God, this was the BEST latte I've ever had. It was amazingly smooth with a slight bitterness, reminiscent of really good dark chocolate. Since then I've been craving another one. If you're passing I totally recommend you to try it. I'm not on commission I promise!


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