Friday 1 March 2019

Aaaarrrggh! Ahoy There, Shipmates!

Taking Children by Train to East London

Last autumn we visited the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green while in London for T&T's cocktail masterclass in Shoreditch. We noticed then that the museum was well on the way to opening a special exhibit on pirates as seen in children's books, films etc and resolved to bring our two pre-school granddaughters to see it as soon as we had the chance. We finally got the chance in February when our London-based granddaughter came to stay for a weekend; the locally-based one was always with us on Mondays so we planned to take them to the exhibition together, return one to her home in London and then bring the local one home on our way home. Simple! Although nothing is ever quite that simple when dealing with little children, of course, but it did all work nicely and we all had a great day.

Both girls stayed the Sunday night and we were due to catch the 09:00 train from Stamford station on the Monday morning. I shall not bore you with the difficulty of having two such young children to stay while the hall, stairs and landing of our new house were being painted, but as you may imagine were slightly nervous about the project. Come the morning, one little girl was happy to bound out of bed and get ready for an exciting day; the other wrapped herself in her duvet and was hard to budge! With not leaving until the 09:00 train we did have enough time to get them both ready and set off for the station, taking two buggies although both girls are capable of walking but it was going to be a long day and we thought they would need help - and it's easier to look after them when they're strapped into their seats, too.

There was plenty of time between trains at the change at Peterborough, partly because we felt we needed to allow for any difficulty and partly because we wanted the best price on Advance First Class tickets: it would be easier to care for the children in the more spacious accommodation of First Class. Things went well and we used the time to buy something in Waitrose and then use the lounge at the Great Northern Hotel, as LNER's First Class ticket-holders can do. Unfortunately when we got back to the station our train was indicated as "Delayed," one of those sinking-feeling notices which tells you little and invites you to panic. I asked at the counter and was told that there had been a signal failure somewhere north of us but that trains were now running again and ours would only be about twenty minutes late, which was bearable. We went a long way round to our platform and waited in the waiting room: there is always something going on at a junction station like Peterborough, so it was not difficult to entertain the children.

We found a vacant table for four and settled in - there is no requirement to use the seats we had reserved, which were a fall-back in case of a packed train but did not make allowance for the two non-paying little ones. The train staff were really good with the little girls and made sure that they had juice to drink when we had our coffee and the Train Manager brought them each an activity book and crayons which whiled away the rest of the journey for them (and for us, helping them with them). This took me back to my childhood holiday journeys when the first stop was at the WHSmith kiosk to buy similar things for me and my sister!

From King Cross we took the Circle Line round to Liverpool Street - this was all fully-accessible and the children could stay in their buggies for this part of the trip. At Liverpool Street we changed to the Central Line for the one-stop ride to Bethnal Green; being a deep-level tube the Central Line meant using escalators and smaller carriages, so one of us took both children by the hand while the other carried the baggage (including one folded buggy) on one of the buggies. There is always baggage when travelling with small children, even on a simple day out like this one.

The Museum of Childhood is a short walk from Bethnal Green station. I'd recommend the museum to anyone: it is not just for children, and indeed the older you are the more it might mean to you. Admission is free as part of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and there is an excellent cafeteria. Indeed we began with lunch, meeting our daughter there with her baby son. So, three cousins together, which was rather nice, and the girls got to see their auntie.

The pirates display was a small and simple temporary exhibition suitable for all ages but aimed at children mainly. As an adult I was interested in the explanation about how these murderous thieves came to be stereotyped with the familiar garb so beloved of children's toys, games, books and films; the children spent a long time playing in the play area with its miniature ship, treasure chests etc and hats, coats, hooks and eye-patches.

Soon it was time to leave and make our way back to Bethnal Green tube station, catching a train straight through to White City for the short walk to the senior granddaughter's home. One child fell asleep on Granny's lap on the Central Line, the other didn't quite nod off on Grandpa's lap. So tired after a great day out. We did hit a slight snag at White City, where the train terminated: I stepped off the train through the sliding doors as usual, with luggage and both buggies, while my wife got the children ready to leave the train; the driver announced that as it was terminating everyone still on board should leave, but by the time Granny had got the girls to the doors, they slid shut. They were not trapped on the train as the doors the other side slid open to let passengers enter from the other side - they left the train and hailed the driver as he came down the platform. He came over the bridge and used a key to open the doors for them so that they could join me and we left together. A slightly scary moment but soon put right by the usual helpful attitude of the staff, although the driver did admit that it had been his fault to start with - he had no way of seeing that there were still passengers on board and needed to give them longer.

We had tea and played with Lego and then left one granddaughter with her parents and baby sister (by now having seen all four grandchildren in one day - although not all together), returning to Kings Cross via the Hammersmith and City Line with the other.

Again allowing plenty of time between trains we spent a few minutes in the First Class Lounge at Kings Cross then caught the Lincoln train back to Peterborough. Having been well-fed already I declined the sandwiches and simply had a can of Hop On Board ale by way of refreshment. We were met on the platform at Peterborough by the remaining grandchild's parents and said our farewells, then had our complimentary hot chocolate at the Great Northern Hotel before catching our train home to Stamford and treating ourselves to a taxi back to our new home and back to the chaos of a house with its circulation space all disrupted. And no children for the first time in three days!

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