Southbank’s Festival of Love

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Yesterday morning, Joni and I got up early for our first trip into town without Rich. This may sound like a simple task but when you have a big heavy buggy to lug up and down stairs, potential mid-journey meltdowns or nappy disasters and a baby who likes to feed a lot – it takes some planning. Basically, disaster could strike at any time.

Fortunately, the 91 goes from Crouch End – where we’re staying – all the way to Trafalgar Square. So we hopped on and Joni had a feed which, along with the vibrations of the bus, lulled her into a deep sleep for the duration of the journey. I sat reading my book: Blueprints for Better Girls by Elissa Shnappell – a great collection of short stories about women and girls – waiting for that meltdown, or nappy disaster, but it didn’t happen.

We got off on The Strand, walked through a bustling Charing Cross station and over the Golden Jubilee bridges – posing for a photo, bopping to the steel drums and then delighting at the discovery of a lift to take us to ground level – and walked down the river to the BFI.

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We met our friends for a coffee then the three mums pushed the three babies back towards Southbank Centre, feeling like a power buggy brigade. Feeling like those mums. But whatever – spirits were high, the sun was shining and the babies were all being lovely and smiley and calm.

As part of Southbank’s Festival of Love, the Heartbreak Hotel – a 70s motel – has been set up in Festival Village, under Queen Elizabeth Hall. The theme is the brainchild of Lyn Atelier – and Walthamstow’s neon sign maker-extraordinaire, Chris Bracey, designed a whopping bright sign for it:

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We had a soda water at The Department of Cheer, a pop-up bar, though the strong smell of mint and ginger suggested a mojito might have been the drink to opt for if you’re not a breastfeeding mum. But they did their best to jazz up our non alcoholic drinks with fresh lime. That was after walking through The Museum of Broken Relationships

I’ve wanted to see this touring exhibition for years. The curators ask people to donate relics from past relationships that they no longer have any use for. So there are kinky handcuffs, an unworn hand-sewn wedding dress, shoes, a wedding ring and lots of other memorabilia.

With each object, the previous owner has scribed a note explaining the significance. Some are so sad – tales of broken hearts, lost love and adultery abound. Some are humorous (the ones about sex). But all touch a nerve, because most of us have been in that position when a relationship ends: what to do with the photos, presents, letters – burn them? Keep them in a box? Donating them to this museum seems like a good option, as you’re letting go – but without the rage of destroying your material memories, or the secretiveness of keeping them stored away.

On the same floor, there’s an installation homage to the problem pages of 70s teenagers. Dear Cathy and Claire: an Exhibition of Letters to Jackie Magazine’s Famous Agony Aunts is exactly what you’d predict: lots of letters. But they’re displayed in a mock 1970s office – brown with patterned wallpaper, typewriters and desk lamps. And they’re rather funny to read.

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After a discussion about what we’d each done with the physical remnants of past relationships, we headed to Canteen for lunch before going our separate ways.

Joni slept most of the day – just waking for feeds and to have a little look around – and I was pleasantly surprised by all the lifts and ramps, which make Southbank really accessible and buggy-friendly. It wasn’t until we reached the front door that she began to CRY so I hurriedly pulled the buggy in, slammed the door and tended to her, feeling grateful that she’d held out all day.

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