London with the kids

A trip to London with three small children: the big shebang, the final frontier, a Grand Day Out Involving One Billion Potential Disasters. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do with the kids for years and finally, this February half-term, the stars aligned: no one was ill, Hub had the week off and best of all, most of the South East seemed to have already had their half-term break. I looked up the weather forecast, gathered supplies, charged tablets and questioned my audience to ascertain the best options for Things To Do. When the answers seemed to orient mostly around modes of public transport, we decided to go for one of those open top, double-decker bus tours. Luckily there were quite a few options to choose from; for its duration and price, we decided on this one. Train times were looked up, travel ticket prices were exclaimed over, I checked and double checked that kids under five don’t seem to need to pay for anything much… deep breaths were taken… and a train ticket, tour bus and entry to the Science Museum were all duly booked. I planned every single step of the day meticulously – taking screenshots of the routes between each destination, working out which stations were closed, which had lifts for the buggy, where might we be able to grab a sandwich between attractions… We told the kids they would be going on a train, an underground train, a bus and then another bus, train and train. And that we were visiting actual London where the Queen lives and some of the country’s most iconic buildings and monuments are situated… and yes, that did amount to two buses and four trains. They were bloody thrilled.

The big day dawned. I packed changes of clothes, we wrapped up warm and took along four bottles of water (not enough, as it turned out) and a lunchbox of snacks (mostly enough, except the chocolate). Wearing sensible shoes (I’d been bitten HARD by my Doc Martens on a very different trip to London a few weeks before), we drove to Wokingham and parked at the station (£8 or so for all day but less hassle than getting a bus with the buggy). We boarded the first train of the day. We were PSYCHED. Well, the kids were psyched. I was worried. Hub was irritatingly unruffled.

We managed to get to Waterloo without any more serious incident than an intensifying pressure on certain bladders, upon which we discovered the happy news that one no longer needs to pay 30p to use the toilet (when did that happen?!) We found our way down to the tube without getting swallowed by the terrifying escalators (think it was B2’s first time on one in her defence… and B1 is just nervy. Can’t think where she gets it from) and made it across to Piccadilly Circus in time to catch our tour bus and eat our M&S sandwiches whilst waiting for departure. So far so good.

The Tootbus runs a special 45 min tour for kids featuring the central attractions – Trafalgar Square, Downing St, Big Ben, over Westminster Bridge and around Lambeth, back over the river to Buckingham Palace, Green Park, all the super-posh Pall Mall buildings and so forth. The traffic was a bit stop start but the jokes were excellently cheesy and the kids had a great time. B2 scored a record number of waves from strangers, B3 enjoyed spotting all the pictures on the pub signs (we all learned that the tradition was to hang signs of pictures because in the old days most people were illiterate) and B1 was just over the moon to be on a real life, open-top double-decker eating an egg and cress sandwich.

After the tour bus we made our way across the city to South Kensington, aka museum land. There was a slight hiccup catching the bus across (South Ken station is currently closed on the Piccadilly Line so we didn’t bother with the tube) in that I’d made sure we knew exactly which one to catch (14) but its frequency didn’t correspond with any of the digital signs on the bus stops… Also one of the drivers did that annoying thing where they pulled up in an empty, not-in-service bus, waited for 10 mins and then decided to become the one we (and about four other groups waiting at the stop) needed just as it was pulling away again. As I explained nostalgically to B1 as we walked along Piccadilly towards the next stop, this sort of thing used to happen to me all the time back when I lived in London, only it was the 12 to Dulwich Library and I tended to be carting shopping bags rather than children. In any case, we eventually spotted another bus heading our way and hopped on without further incident.

Next stop: the Science Museum. I will never cease to be impressed that so many incredible museums in London are free to visit. Not only does it make them so accessible, it feels far less of a waste when you’ve got three kids who are already flagging a bit and only really interested in playing in the downstairs ‘Garden’ area before having a snack and heading off home via the room with the Really Big Trains.

There were so many exhibits I’d have loved to explore further, but at this point B3 had bruised his face having a paddy after B2 pressed the button he was going for on one of the interactive displays, all of them were varying degrees of wet from playing with the water exhibit, B2 was complaining of foot exhaustion and even B1 was starting to droop. Needless to say, we will definitely be back to the museum quarter once they’re older.

Back to Waterloo we traipsed, hopping off the tube at Embankment so we could walk across Golden Jubilee Bridges (B3 at this point had succumbed to exhaustion and we were extremely relieved we’d brought the buggy, even though Hub did have to lift it bodily down and up several flights of stairs). B2 declared her feet were Very And Extremely Ache and in Imminent Danger of Dropping Off Entirely around the time we entered the station and, after a quick pastry-based snack as we waited for our train, we were able to board in good time to grab seats. Unfortunately, the train ride proved less of a novelty on the way home as well as being pretty busy and there were a few hairy moments when B3 made his displeasure at the whole enterprise and its lack of TV a little too known… but otherwise it was fine.

We got back to Wokingham around 6pm and headed to a restaurant for dinner despite both me and Hub wondering if we might be tempting the Fates of Good Behaviour. As it turned out, the stars did another rare alignment thing and all three kids behaved beautifully. No one cried, no one snatched or yelled, everyone ate their food, there were no spills, B1 politely requested sorbet instead of ice cream with her pudding all by herself (a huge deal for my Little Miss Shy) and they were all quite happy to use the colouring books provided while we waited for food, nary a screen in sight. Four different people came up to tell us how impressed they were and it’s safe to say we were feeling pretty smug as we trundled back to the car.

Of course, the disruption to the norm meant B3 had a really awful night and woke us up many times before deciding Enough Sleep Had Been Had at 5am the following morning. All three were tired and irritable the next day… But it was worth it. The big shebang had been… shebanged. London with the kids: tick.

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