What?: I’m about as interested in the army as I am in Alan Titchmarsh, but this museum has recently undergone a £23.75m redevelopment and the soft play looked promising, so I was willing to overlook my total apathy where the subject matter is concerned on the off chance that Bab might stop whining at me for five bloody minutes.
When we arrived we went straight to the cafe and shared a massive, doughy croissant while we waited for our Play Base session to start. Most of the people there were Chelsea mums with babies, all with names like Lucian and Hedgefund. I felt poor, but then let’s face it, things can’t be that bad if you’re feeding your one-year-old a croissant.
When we arrived at Play Base we were briefed on the house rules – not in the style of a shouty army major because that would have been bloody awful, but by a nice supervisor woman who was just like “look, don’t get crap on the soft play ok?” and then pretty much left us to it.
The soft play was actually pretty brilliant, with a big, squishy obstacle course laid out in the middle for little ones and a larger, loftier structure for bigger children snaking round the back of the space. Bab was inevitably much more interested in the latter because she has no idea who or what she is or what her physical limits are. Needless to say we both got stuck up there and it was embarrassing.
Away from the assault course there was also a soldiers’ cookhouse complete with wooden play food, a quartermaster’s store filled with dozens of boxes of military-themed toys and a full-sized Jeep to clamber in. All really impressive and actually one of the only play areas we’ve been to where the designers seem to have given some genuine thought to the plight of crawlers. Bab didn’t get trampled on once and only started to scream at me five minutes before the end – and I think that was just because she’d shit herself.
Where?: Next door to Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the Chelsea Pensioners. NAM is a 10-minute walk from Sloane Square tube (District, Circle) or a 25-minute walk from Battersea Park (mainline) across Chelsea Bridge.
Facilities: Multiple baby-change facilities, cute shop selling army-themed gifts and toys, lush cafe with high chairs and kids’ lunch boxes, step-free access, one-hour soft-play sessions for 0-8s, masses of crawl space.
Best Bits: I can’t stress enough how impressed I was with the super-spacious, cleverly designed, squeaky-clean play area, but the museum itself is equally arresting with its wide, open spaces and beautiful cafe. If we lived nearby I’d come here just to have a coffee and stare out the massive windows overlooking the Chelsea rooftops.
Worst Bits: My friend asked me if I’d learnt anything interesting about the army today and my honest answer was no, absolutely feck all. We did a quick sweep of the museum after our Play Base session and I’m sure it’s very informative and interesting if you give a crap about the army, but I just don’t. It’s not even really a bad thing – the fact that I’m more fascinated by dead skin than the army and still had a really great day out actually speaks volumes about how brilliant this museum is.
Cost: Museum access is free, while a one-hour Play Base session costs £4.50 for one small person and accompanying big person.
Would We Come Back?: I can actually genuinely say that yes, it was worth the 90-minute round-trip to get here and yes, we will totally be back.
Bab completely loses sight of why we’re here and spends about 20 minutes transfixed by those plastic door strip things people use to keep flies out