What?: “If either of you are wearing anything you don’t want to get messy I’d take it off now,” said the host as I unloaded a paint-prepped Bab clad in a too-small tee and leggings she’d annihilated at one of the National Gallery’s Messy Mondays sessions. “How messy can it really get?” I thought to myself as I followed her into the venue clothed in an old jumper and leggings I still kind of liked but that I’d worn because the alternative was rocking up naked save for an adult nappy and a paper bra.
I’ll spare you the suspense: A Fine Mess is really very messy. There is paint, and flour, and brown Play-Doh that looks like turds. There are chalks and those kids’ stamper pens that leak everywhere. Your child will grab the first brush it sees and smother itself in poster paint and then cry because it went in their eye. They will seize the nearest bowl of PVA and fashion it into a hat. They will consume large handfuls of Play-Poo then throw up.
Admittedly I found it quite hard to let go of my deeply ingrained neuroses when it comes to the unclean – something that I’ve clearly passed down to Bab since this was about the twelfth activity in a row she’s spent demanding wet wipes and having a breakdown about the state of her hands. But once we’d both accepted that we were going to have to get the Tube home resembling extras from Planet Terror and had made friends with the filth, we actually managed to have a genuinely lovely time.
I particularly liked the floury play farm (though Bab was having none of it) and the inclusion of sensory elements such as the flavoured Doh (chocolate, not poo), scented oats and a big curtain of cellophane in the middle of the space. Obviously I also really liked the fact that I didn’t have to clear away the detritus at the end of the session – even if we did get funny looks the whole way home and both had slightly red-tinged hair for about a week afterwards.
Basically, if your child likes getting their hands dirty but you’d rather they didn’t redecorate the kitchen in the process then this is the session for you. Activities vary from week to week so there’s no danger of them getting bored; the people running it seemed really nice; and children of all ages up to five are taken into account so there’s plenty to occupy everyone, whether they’re running around attacking fellow toddlers with a paintbrush or rolling around obliviously in a pool of rice.
Where and When?: A Fine Mess sessions take place on Mondays from 10.30-12.30 at Hargrave Hall (Archway three minutes, Upper Holloway four minutes) and on Fridays from 9.30 to 10.20 and 10.40 to 11.30 at St George’s Church Hall (Tufnell Park 12 minutes, Holloway Road 15 minutes).
Best Bits: The organisers aren’t precious about the kids smushing the pasta into the Play-Doh or painting the plastic farm animals sick-green (although Bab did manage to escape into the cloakroom covered in red poster paint and nearly succeeded in recreating the prom scene from Carrie all over everyone’s buggies, which I assume would be frowned upon).
Worst Bits: Not great if you’re neurotic about mess, but you probably got that from the name.
Facilities: Baby changing, buggy parking, step-free access.
Cost: £5 pre-book or drop-in.
Would We Come Back?: Yes but next time I’m bringing a change of clothes (and possibly a swimming cap).
Bab goes on a painty rampage at A Fine Mess, Hargrave Hall, Archway.