Travel: Stockholm with School-Age Kids – Overview

Gorgeous, even on a grey day

Gorgeous, even on a grey day

We recently got back from a fabulous end of school break to Sweden’s sometimes-sunny capital, Stockholm. Despite its reputation as an expensive city, we found that with a little bit of budget planning it was a great value family destination – and despite the unreliable and variable weather, still a really beautiful city packed with architectural gems for the grown-ups to sigh over.

I’ll be breaking down a few individual recommendations for places in separate posts and sharing more photos, but if this is a destination you’re thinking of going to with kids, here are some reasons to make the leap and book away. If you’re not somebody I know IRL, then it might be helpful to know that ours is a family of three with a 5yo who starts Year 1 in September.

1. Family-friendliness and fun

Snaking her way through Skansen

Snaking her way through Skansen

Kids are welcome everywhere in Stockholm, and there’s loads for them to do.  For the most part (unless – like Junibacken or Skansen – it’s particularly aimed at children), they get in free to museums and the youngest travel free on both public and some private transport. Attractions have children’s menus, and ordinary cafes and restaurants we went to were very relaxed about making minor modifications to freshly prepared food – eg leaving off dressings – to accommodate children’s requests.

As previously mentioned, there are attractions that are specifically aimed at children; I’ll write about the amazing Astrid Lindgren story centre, Junibacken, separately as well, but it’s an absolute must do. With a permanent play village based on classic Swedish children’s literature and a play house designed after Pippi Longstocking’s Ville Villekulle, it’s an absolute joy.

To make matters even more perfect, this year it’s host to an amazing 70th anniversary Moomin Valley play village, complete with Moominmama’s house, the tiny carousel from Who Will Comfort Toffle?, darting fish in the river by Snufkin’s boat, fruit falling from the trees and a glowing campfire for the grownups to sit around while the kids go mad.

Another one for the to do list is the huge outdoor cultural centre / museum / zoo, Skansen, at which it’s all too easy to lose a whole day – or at the very least half of one – meandering about.



Both of these – plus the famous Vasa museum and quite a few others – are on the royal park island of Djurgården which is very easy to get to from central Stockholm – another consideration with kids. If you’re staying near the main waterfront it’s a short ferry ride or a few miles’ walk.

Most of all, if you’re not linguistically blessed – my husband and I are both bilingual but in different languages, neither of them remotely Nordic – the stress of trying to navigate overseas is drastically reduced by the fact that everyone speaks English very well and even announcements on the commuter trains are made in Swedish and English as a matter of course.

More great suggestions – including ones for libraries that I really wish we’d had a chance to try – are in this budget-conscious Guardian article.

2. Food

Meatballs. Because of course.

Meatballs. Because of course.

Stockholm is a busy capital city, and as such every kind of food – and price point – is represented. As a family with a young child we often couldn’t plan lunchtime restaurant meals so ate in the museums, and found the quality to be high. The costs are roughly equivalent to London (eg a meal for three with cooked dishes in a museum cafe was around 400SEK or £30, but there were plenty of cheaper city-based cafes, fast food restaurants and tea houses). However, the quality was very decent and the quantity substantial, even for kids.

Afternoon tea at Chaikhana in the Galma Stan (old town)

Afternoon tea at Chaikhana in the Galma Stan (old town)

Our hotel also had a fulsome breakfast buffet, and you might find you end up eating a bit more often, particularly if you go in for the Swedish fika (afternoon coffee and cake break), but with local traditional foods such as open shrimp sandwiches, meatballs, pancakes and sweet, bready cinnamon rolls, you certainly won’t be short of things to tempt even the fussiest eater.

As for me, I was knee deep in bread and crackers – my carb-heavy happy place – and am pretty sure that after five days I was around 67% knackebrod (crispbread).

3. Transport

Ferrying to and fro

Ferrying to and fro

Cars are definitely not needed as Stockholm is a very walkable – and what isn’t is catered for by boats, trains, taxis and buses. It’s a city of mainland and islands, linked by bridges and boats, Djurgården being, as I said, the one you’ll want to spend the most time on, as it includes the Vasa museum, Junibacken, Skansen, the Tivoli amusement park (we didn’t go in but it did not look suitable for the faint-hearted!) and many more museums and galleries.

I already mentioned that Djurgården is very walkable from the mainland, and we did it in 40 minutes from our hotel which was opposite the bridge into the old town (a distance of a little over 2 miles, but with short legs accompanying us!). If anyone in the party is not up to walking or you just want the fun of the ferry, a one-way crossing is about 50SEK per person – free for under 5s, and reduced for older kids – or an all day “Hop On, Hop Off” boat pass starts at 175SEK per adult; or there are combined bus and boat options if you plan to cover a lot of ground. I would note here that I didn’t see any easy accessibility options on the boat – certainly if we’d had my mum, who uses a wheelchair, with us we’d have had to go for a commuter boat instead – but you can fold and pop a buggy on the deck.

Vasa. No pictures - and certainly none from an amateur's iPhone - can do this vast beauty justice.

Vasa. No pictures – and certainly none from an amateur’s iPhone – can do this vast beauty justice.

You can also get combined deals with the My Stockholm Pass, which includes a lot of attractions and dining discounts. We felt it was better value to pay individually – the concierge at our hotel pointed out you needed to be able to go to at least 2-3 attractions a day to make it worth it – but it depends on how much you’re intending to do.

A transport tip: Stockholm’s Årlanda airport is quite a way out from Stockholm itself; you’ll be encouraged to pick up the Årlanda Express, a 20-minute fast train straight into Stockholm Central Station, from the Sky City train station between Terminals 4 and 5. However, hop on the SL commuter train at the same station and it’s about 100SEK cheaper per person, per trip to the very same destination – and it only takes 18 minutes longer.  The trains were clean, spacious and easy to navigate, since everything is in English and Swedish. (Note: On the way out, you need the Uppsala train.)

4. Perfect for short breaks

SAS has a sense of humour

SAS has a sense of humour (meals part of an upgraded ticket, plus lounge access & fastpass security)

While sometimes the whole joy of a family holiday is in being able to go away together for a good long time – whether to Dorset or Disney World – both budgets and the constraints of annual leave and school holidays can render shorter breaks more desirable. The flight is around 2 hours out and a little more back, and that allows you to really maximise time – we arrived at lunchtime on Monday and left on Friday evening so we had pretty much the whole five days to play with.

On budget – our 5 day break in the last week of July including upgraded flights, 4* hotel and spending money came in at around 80% of the cost of our mid-September 3-key hotel break at Disneyland Paris (and that was in 2013 with the 2 days and nights free option thrown in). Now while that’s not exactly cheap, we were lucky to be able to take the opportunity to blow out a bit, and did. Using options like Air BNB, booking cheaper flights, minimising our trinket shopping and planning our meals a bit more carefully, we could have made it a substantially cheaper break. Also, had it just been me and him going we could have hit the highlights in fewer days – as it was, we dropped the pace to a 5yo’s, and stuck to one attraction and a walk around the Gamla Stan (gorgeous but touristy medieval old town) every day.

In sunny moments, there are few more gorgeous places.

In sunny moments, there are few more gorgeous places.

In all, Stockholm was definitely one of our favourite family breaks to date. Our daughter declared that, while nothing could beat Florida, this was her second favourite holiday ever – high praise indeed considering the distinct differences between a city break and a theme park extravaganza. She particularly enjoyed knocking around the old town and developed such a fondness for the Chaikhana tea house (she’s her mother’s daughter) that we ended up making three visits. Even though we ended up caught in a couple of deluges, she really enjoyed pottering around the city and exploring, and it made it a very relaxing break for us adults too.

Are you tempted? I, for one, can’t wait for an excuse to go back.

Brown rice porridge: one cup of rice, four sweet and savoury meals

Ready, set, porridge

Ready, set, porridge

Since I started experimenting with savoury porridge using oats, I knew at some point I was going to bother to try a proper, hearty rice porridge too. It is a little tiny bit of bother in the sense that it takes quite a long time to be ready; on the other hand, it needs relatively little intervention other than a quick stir every so often, so I popped it on while working from home and my husband (also working from home; he takes the kitchen while I commandeer the living room) kindly checked on it every so often while I tapped feverishly at my keyboard.

It’s tempting to whisper the word ‘congee’ here, and this take is certainly a closer relative than oats; however, as I used the only wholegrain rice I had to hand – which was basmati – it’s still not in the immediate family. Also, plenty of people make congee with white rice. Still, the principle is the same: a slow(ish) cooked rice porridge which swells the grains way past what’s desirable in a normal bowl of rice, and makes the starchy liquid a thick soupy sauce. How runny you want to go is entirely up to you.

Lining up the toppings

Lining up the toppings

The ratio I used was 1 UK cup of rice to 6 parts water, plus a dash of salt; I brought it to the boil and then simmered on a low heat for an hour or so. It was running a bit dry sooner than I wanted so I added another cup and continued for 10-15 minutes after that. You will find different ratios all over the internet, up to twice that water (and cooking time). You can only experiment with the time and patience you have. Also, yes, some sites suggest you can use your slow cooker, so do some digging.

I could have used stock or more elaborately flavoured the water, but I wanted to make both sweet and savoury dishes. I would definitely recommend using stock if you’re going for only savoury (it’s a richer flavour) but it will still be delicious without. For sweet you could include coconut or almond milk, but you don’t have to as brown rice has a natural sweetness (where do you think rice malt syrup comes from?).

So how four meals? Well, that one cup made four decent-sized individual servings of porridge, and as I’m not averse to reheating rice for the adults in the family (no, I don’t risk it with our daughter; yes, I know it’s not advisable but living on the edge here, obviously) my husband and I both had some for lunch and then I went on to have more for dinner – brinner, actually – and the last helping for lunch the next day.

Steamy goodness

Steamy goodness

Meals 1 & 2: Leftover chicken

My husband had roasted a chicken the day before, so I shredded 150g of cooked breast and stir fried this in a little coconut oil with fresh chilli, smoked garlic, mushrooms, spinach and courgettes.

To finish, I added some toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of ketjap manis, and fed us each a gloriously filling and warming dish that took less than fifteen minutes of prep and cooking time to assemble.

Who doesn't love breakfast as dinner?

Who doesn’t love breakfast as dinner?

Meal 3: Fruity brinner

I fancied something sweeter and brought the rice back to the boil on the hob with a splash of almond milk. I sliced a small apricot, a pair of strawberries and a couple of raspberries and added them to the now-sweet porridge along with a dollop of crunchy peanut butter and a little under a teaspoon of chia seeds (they add texture and tend to absorb liquid, making them quite filling).

Meal 4: Holy mackerel

I had some mackerel fillets in the fridge looking a little desperate, so while the porridge got nuked I quickly fried one in coconut oil, then used the same pan to toss around a hodge-podge of the tail ends of some 4-for-£4 packs of veggies that were going bendy in the fridge (in this case broccoli, sugar snap peas, spinach and samphire). While this tasted delicious it turned out less than beautiful, so you’re denied photographic evidence!

A 1kg bag of the rice I used costs £4.95 in my local supermarket. A cup being about a fifth of  a bag, each one of these meals cost a base of just 25p and if you use plain water it can become both main meal and a rice pudding-y, porridge-y dessert. Then it’s a question of using up anything in the fridge – poached eggs would be amazing – to go on top, and you can put as much or as little effort as you like or have time for.  Also, they’re all suitable for gluten free diets, and even the one including three types of whole fruit was still remarkably low fructose.

The next taste test will be my daughter – she’s very, very specific about porridge, which she usually likes super plain, so I’ll have to just let her taste mine and see how we go – but since it’s essentially more of a texture than a flavour I have hopes of winning her over.

Clearly I’m not breaking any new ground here – rice and oat porridges have been staple foods since these forms of agriculture was developed and continue to be eaten very widely globally – but as they’re often sidelined to very specific uses in UK households I’m enjoying playing around with flavours and textures I’ve basically ignored for years. And given the reactions of some people I’ve talked about this with, I don’t think I’m the only one. Time to bring back appreciation for some classics, I reckon.

What it’s like to be your mum, now you’re five

I should maybe write about what it is to be five, but how can I? Being

a mum to a five year old I can tell you about. I think that there
might be only one word for it: awesome. Literally. I see that

tomorrow holds so much. I watch the grown up you appearing in the
embers of babyhood you’ve blasted away behind you like a phoenix. I
remember that there was a point when you were basically a genial blob, and I
remember that there was a time when you couldn’t read and were barely
interested in toys or games. I recall there was a period when your nappies were
full and your gums empty. But now we have these lengthy and complex talks –
ideas shower from you like rain – and you ask questions and stretch out
every bit of your vocabulary, testing out words like you’re nibbling bites from
dense loaves of bread. I cling to the moments when you have daft,

babyish ideas, like when you asked me if peas were dead tadpoles. You
understand why it’s funny, and make sly jokes about your mad idea, when
there was a time not too long ago you would have been too embarrassed.

Generally, you’re a brilliantly good-natured soul, making friends easily
or so your teachers tell me – and I see it when we visit other children. I
do envy this; your easy manners and wonderfully engaging nature are things

I have never felt entirely sure of in myself, gregarious as I am. But I

love that I’ll never have to worry about you fitting in, even with your fabulously
odd sense of humour and the way you gravitate towards geekery. I admit I felt
validated when it turned out that your favourites at Walt Disney World were
every bit as edutainmenty and nerdy as mine. Spaceship Earth! You know what

you like and it’s gentle and smart and sparkly, just like you. And
over and above everything, you know that your mama will adore you, will
understand the weird fears and sharp passions, and love you as you. Always.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner: the joys of savoury porridge

How I did it, less elegantly but very deliciously.

How I did it, less elegantly but very deliciously.

I got it into my head this morning that I had to make savoury porridge. I’ve been trying to find interesting ways to get veggies into my breakfast for a while but I wasn’t in the mood for an omelette or frittata (the omelette’s slightly more sophisticated cousin).

I was also in the mood for porridge, and a couple of weeks ago I was in 26 Grains at lunchtime inhaling a gorgeous Indonesian chicken brown rice porridge, so the idea of making it savoury had obviously been in my mind for a while.

How 26 Grains did it all professional and proper like.

How 26 Grains did it all professional and proper like.

I had neither the time nor patience to make brown rice happen, but there’s genuinely no reason not to cook porridge oats in a savoury dish; after all, it’s generally the sweetness of the milk (and our habit of adding fruity toppings) that makes them taste more puddingy. While most of the traditional savoury porridge type dishes that you might think of from elsewhere in the world (such as congee) are rice based, there is simply nothing stopping you experimenting.  Inspiration and ancestry need not go hand in hand. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So after poking around the fridge and cupboards and supplementing with whatever looked interesting as we took an early morning turn around the supermarket, this is what I made. It’s a bit fast-paced but it’s super easy, all done in under half an hour and MFP tells me it only has 4g of sugar – perfect if, like me, you prefer a low-fructose diet.


(Makes one serving)

40g porridge oats
300ml water*
Vegetable bouillion powder*
85g mushrooms, sliced
A generous handful of spinach, whole or loosely torn
2 spring onions, chopped
A few leaves of basil, rolled up and thinly sliced
An egg**
Coconut oil for frying


Prep all the vegetables first, and boil a full kettle – you’ll need it both to make up the stock and to poach your egg. Make up your stock, and get water into a pan to simmer for your egg.

Start off your porridge on the hob, using the stock. This recipe uses too much water on purpose as I wanted a really soft, swollen-flaked porridge – quite different to the thick, almost chunky “sweet” porridges I prefer. Adjust this to your own preference, but if you use my amount you’ll need a longer than usual cooking time to give the oats time to absorb the liquid. You’ll need to stir this quite frequently to stop it burning, so keep the heat medium-low. This is not a restful recipe, but you’ll make up for that when you eat it.

Put the coconut oil in a pan and start it melting. As it does so, check the poaching water – when it’s right, tip in the egg (this is the method I use). While the egg is cooking, put the mushrooms in the pan to sautee in the coconut oil. I also added all but the green fronds of the spring onion as I find it too strong  to have too much of it raw, but it’s up to you.

When the egg looks done – I like it with a runny, gluey middle – fish it out gently on a slotted spoon and set it to one side to drain. Duck egg whites are a bit more rubbery and translucent, so don’t worry if you haven’t used these before. Also, it will cool a little but this will not matter at all.

Go back to stirring the porridge until it’s the consistency you want. At the same time, the mushrooms will be almost ready – chuck in the spinach towards the end to just wilt, plus half the basil to warm it through. Season.

Pour the porridge into a bowl, spooning the vegetable mix on top. Gently tip the egg onto the top of that, and then sprinkle with the spring onion ends and remaining basil. Season again to taste, and dig straight in.

Runny yolks. Not beautiful to look at but SO GOOD.

Runny yolks. Not beautiful to look at but SO GOOD.

I meant to add a squirt of ketjap manis over the top for a hint of sweetness (and just to complete the ludicrous clash of multiple cultures already going on); I forgot, and it was still the most delicious thing I’ve made for some time. Also, it could probably have done with another texture – some nuts or pine nuts, or even steel-cut oats – but I have to admit for a fondness for comforting, baby food simplicity sometimes.

This is very much a ‘substitute what you like’ type recipe – in fact, it’s not even a recipe; it’s basically an elaborate serving suggestion.

I can feel a new obsession brewing already, as I try to work out what the next wonderful combination I can squeeze onto a plate is. And of course this is far from just breakfast. I’m a big fan of all foods at all times (pizza for breakfast; Shredded Wheat for dinner), but I particularly like the little glow of smugness you get from starting off the day with a couple of handfuls of veggies. Especially on the days when you know you’re likely to finish it on a dinner of a multipack of questionably flavoured crisps.

Oh dear. This is going to be a whole Pinterest board, isn’t it?

*I would usually just use my own stock here but I wanted a lighter vegetable stock and also it was frozen and I was feeling lazy
**I used a duck egg for richer flavour as I was feeling fancy, but as with all the above this is completely optional

Tasty Tuesdays on

Free From Farmhouse

Film review: Inside Out (UK Gala Screening)

A couple of weeks ago, BuzzFeed did a rundown of the year’s movie hits and misses, defined mainly by box office take. Tomorrowland – which I enjoyed so much I blogged about it twice – performed modestly at the box office and therefore was classified in the ‘miss’ category. Inside Out, which toppled the mighty Jurassic World from its multi-million dollar perch and has been drowning in glowing reviews, would – by this reckoning – rule the ‘hit’ column. But here’s the curious thing: when it comes to essentials, Inside Out and Tomorrowland are astonishingly similar.

How so? Well, their strengths – proper, rounded female characters; an inspiring message; a beautifully realised fantasy world – are the same; their weaknesses – more emphasis on set up and world exploration than tight plotting – are also the same, although I must say in both cases I didn’t actually care if it was all brought to a mildly unresolved conclusion quite suddenly in the last ten minutes. The journeys are considerably more interesting – creatively speaking – than the destinations.

Of course I loved Inside Out. There was a lot to love. Pixar ingenuity and humour drip from every scene; the animation is glorious, and Pete Docter’s ability to drag on the heartstrings remains unparalleled. We were delighted to be surprised by Docter (!), Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger (!!) and the voice of Joy, Amy Poehler (!!!) at the screening; Poehler asked the kids if they were ready to laugh and the grown ups if they were ready to cry, because when it comes to emotions there is no man better qualified to mess with the mind than the creator of Monsters, Inc. and Up! (never has an exclamation mark concealed so many bitter, salty tears).

As the film has been out for a while in the US and the teaser trailer was everywhere for a while, I’m going to skip the plot summary and cut straight to the key things I think people should know about Inside Out – all of which are, in my opinion, excellent reasons to see it.

  • IT’S A GIRL! Aside from Merida – and that was still in the princess area, albeit not the traditional sort – Pixar has been rather short of female leads thus far. Much is done to make up for this here. In fact, I can’t remember a non-princess animated film with women on screen for such a large proportion of it. It passes the Bechdel Test in its sleep. Riley’s interests centre around her (female!) friends, ice hockey, and generally being 11 years old and a bit daft. Her emotions are of mixed gender (an interesting choice – especially as adults are portrayed as single gender), but the majority are female, and it is two key female emotions (Joy and Sadness) who steer the action.
  • It continues, as is Pixar and Walt Disney Animation’s way, to make profound statements and use animation as a device rather than a distraction. The idea that as we grow up we can no longer be piloted by pure Joy, but have to accept the role of Sadness in our lives, is, by definition, bittersweet. It seems strange to me that people still assume kids made to include children are only for children – especially as the major studios are continually putting out films with an adult audience in mind – but if that might be your reason for missing Inside Out, then you’re just plain missing out.
  • There are Easter Eggs and jokes galore – I’m not even sure I caught a fraction of them (although even my daughter’s ears perked up at the snatch of Grim Grinning Ghosts!). The credit sequence is brilliant too, so don’t be too quick to bolt up from your seat.
  • The now obligatory short, Lava, beforehand, is pretty cute.

Almost-5yo child’s verdict:

Joy was my favourite, then Sadness, then Disgust. Mama, Daddy looks kind of like Fear [he does], I look a bit like Disgust [she does] and you look a bit like Sadness [ha!]. I thought it was really funny and I liked the bit with the rocket. The bit with the clown scared me a bit.

We then spent a happy afternoon filling in the sticker book we were given at the screening, and using the discussion prompts to talk about what makes us happy, sad, scared, disgusted and angry. I’m pleased to report the child has a much harder time thinking of things that make her sad and angry than thinking of things that make her happy, which suggests that her Joy is operating at optimum levels… and my Fear hasn’t got the better of me.

I leave you, then, with the gallery of Joy – photos from the screening, some taken by the lovely Rochelle Dancel, at which we had an absolute ball. Thanks Disney!

Disclosure: I was given tickets to the screening by Disney UK and all attendees got a little bag of goodies including snacks, themed sunglasses, mood door hangers and a sticker book. This is not a paid post and all opinions are my own.

Film review: Home (Digital HD release)

One of the great advantages of my daughter now being a much more independent small person is that I’m getting to indulge a lot more of my pre-motherhood interests again. I’ve probably seen more films and read more books in the first six months of this year than I did in the three years before that; some of that is down to the fact that we now enjoy lots of those things together.

Perhaps because I’ve been writing and tweeting more about films, the kind folks at Fox Home Entertainment sent the two of us a very cute party pack and a copy of DreamWorks’ Home to watch while we celebrated the release of the film on Digital HD.

So this weekend we got our party together and settled down to watch the story of well-meaning but disaster-prone alien Oh (The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons), whose Boov brethren have colonised Earth in one of the most genial invasions ever captured on film. Attempting to make friends, Oh accidentally sends a message which could pinpoint the Boovs’ location to their dreaded enemies, and in escaping the rage of his fellow aliens takes up with a lone girl, Tip (Rihanna) -who has accidentally been mistaken for her cat, Pig, and therefore failed to be swept up alongside her mother and relocated to one of the remaining human areas of the planet. The unlikely partnership forces them to learn a bit more about each other – and themselves – in order for both of them to find the family they treasure.

Home is as genial and good-natured as its main character overall; the plot is occasionally a little meandering and chaotic, but it dashes along at a fairly breakneck pace, and the level of humour was spot on for my almost-5yo (there is one particular knock knock joke I think we’ll be telling for weeks). She was particularly charmed by the dancing scenes (“my hands are in the air like I just do not care”) and cackled gleefully at the odd helping of toilet humour.

For me, the main plus points were the small but significant nods the film made towards greater inclusivity. In a world where the bulk of big-ticket animated features is still very white and tends to be rather male-dominated (unless royalty is involved), it was a breath of fresh air to see a film where a substantial amount of screentime was given over to a sparky, intelligent girl of colour –  and one who wasn’t particularly defined by being a girl at that. Tip’s mother, desperate to find her, describes her to a Boov guard, uttering the line “she has beautiful brown skin”  – something that’s just lovely to hear. To top it all, the animation allows Tip to have a fairly normal, childlike body.

We actually missed Home in the cinema as we were off on holiday just after it was released, and my daughter was quite gutted – so to get the opportunity not only to watch the film but to do so with bunting strung up, snacks to nibble on and a garden tent to sit in (although we were indoors!) filled her with excitement. While I wouldn’t say it’s gone straight into our list of favourites, I suspect we’ll watch it again at some point as it was sweet, enjoyable and made for a fun family afternoon. I think it’s a particularly strong choice for the younger members of the family, being lighter and less developed than DreamWorks favourites like the excellent How to Train Your Dragon (and with fewer fart jokes than Shrek).

Home is available now on Digital HD.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of Home, along with a party pack, by Fox; however, this is not a paid review and all opinions are my own. 

London in summer: Fashion on the Ration at the Imperial War Museum

IMG_6755Those of you who have been here before know I like to dip my (peep)toe into vintage waters with increasing regularity; I don’t have a set era as such and quite enjoy mixing things up, but mid-century is as good a description as any – by which I mean roughly 1940-1965.

Enter the Imperial War Museum, whose Fashion on the Ration exhibition arrived – presumably by design – in the midst of a mixure of vintage hipster trendiness, the resurgence of traditional skills during a period of austerity, and the popularity of various fashion exhibitions in London (spearheaded by the V&A, whose Savage Beauty – a spectacular Alexander McQueen retrospective – is also still on, though only until 2nd August, and very much worth seeing).

IMG_6758The IWM’s exploration of 1940s street style is a short but rich, beautifully curated show, taking in the beginnings of clothing rationing in the UK – which lasted into the 1950s – and with a thorough look at the Utility clothes era. This, for those unfamiliar with this period of history, was the point at which the British government got directly involved in clothing design through the creation of affordable, long-lasting clothing that aimed to achieve greater efficiency and equality in the use of precious clothing coupons. It ended up being the basis for modern clothing and fabric quality standards – and the bright prints, use of durable fabrics like rayon and elegant but simple styling so as to use resources sparingly all contributed strongly to what we probably have in our minds when we think of “1940s fashion”.

Drafting in well-known designers of the day helped to make Utility clothes desirable – they were originally greeted with suspicion, unsurprisingly – and a particular look emerged that balanced shabby chic (when it didn’t look good to be too well turned out with a war on) with morale-boosting looks said to support the war effort (can’t have the enemy see us looking dispirited!).

What makes this collection particularly lovely is the individual element; it’s peppered with stories about the original owners and makers of the fashions on display. One of my favourites was a gorgeously cut onesie for wearing over a nightie if an air raid happened overnight. It was accompanied by a note from the original owner expressing her surprise at owning such an item, and it had something noticeably lacking from the recent resurgence in popularity of jumpsuits – a rear flap for attending to a call of nature without having to disrobe!

The exhibition also makes the point that we’ve gone somewhat full circle with fashion – after a post-war boom period of disposable, quickly cycling trends, we’ve headed back into a make do and mend-inspired, thrifty era of slow fashion. And since 1940s and 1950s fashions were often built to last, some of the original fashions of the day continue to survive and be wearable – though of course every finite resource will suffer increasing scarcity.

Photography inside is prohibited, so below is a gallery of a few details from the gift shop in case that kind of thing tickles your fancy. Standard adult entry is £10 (concessions are available), under 5s go free and the rest of the museum is free to enter and packed to the gills with things to see, so you can make a bit of a day of it. Though Fashion on the Ration is only on until the end of August, it was easy to find available tickets, so while I’d recommend advance booking,  if you haven’t and you’re in the area I’d even chance it on the day.

No disclosure needed as this was a private trip.