What?: Not a toddler hangout per se (and definitely not a baby one unless by some miracle they happen to be asleep), but a pretty hilarious way to kill half an hour in a space that’s small enough for you to be able to keep an eye on them and where they can’t do too much damage to themselves or the objects around them.
Part museum, part amusement arcade, Novelty Automation is home to around 20 homemade (mostly by owner Tim Hunkin) machines, each one available to play in exchange for between one and three of the special tokens that can be purchased for 50p (or less if bought in bulk) from the museum counter.
There’s Autofrisk, the machine that feels you up with red rubber gloves before punching you in the crotch; Test Your Nerve, where a model Pitbull dribbles disconcertingly realistic ‘drool’ onto your hand before completely losing its shit with you; The Chiropodist, who will gladly caress any foot brave enough to enter the ‘treatment bay’; and Instant Eclipse, which is exactly what it sounds like and definitely not one for claustrophobes.
Not all the machines are this invasive of your privacy – in fact, conversely, some allow you to become the voyeur, from the celebrity paparazzi game where you fly a drone around a mansion hoping to catch a glimpse of film stars in compromising positions to guest machine The Dream, which offers a peep into someone else’s Freudian nightmare.
Babu particularly liked the money-laundering game and managed to bag an (OBVIOUSLY FAKE) billion-dollar note for her claw crane-manoeuvring skills – which were admittedly quite heavily aided by her Dad, but still. She also enjoyed the Microbreak three-minute armchair holiday (until she didn’t anymore and loudly demanded to be freed from its tastelessly upholstered clutches), and the Expressive Photobooth, which for the modest sum of three tokens bestowed us with four distinct images of us looking ‘abandoned’, dazzled’, ‘enchanted’ and ‘reincarnated’ (the latter of which was just a photo of some middle-aged bloke we didn’t know).
I’m not going to pretend that your toddler will be capable of operating any of these machines on its own – with the possible exception of Barry’s Love-Line, featuring the voice of Barry White, which may or may not be wildly unsuitable anyway – but older ones will have a giggle watching your reactions to this quirky cluster of contraptions. If they don’t and the whole thing goes tits up then Coram’s Fields is a five-minute walk away.
Where?: Novelty Automation is located at 1A Princeton Street, a six-minute walk from Holborn station.
Best Bits: It’s all pretty great if you’re into art and weird stuff.
Facilities: Step-free access.
Would We Come Back?: We already have – and definitely not for the last time.
Bab shows off her billion-dollar note at Novelty Automation, Holborn.