On the buses

Last week’s Father/Son Grand Day Out took Isaac and I to Legoland. This week we ventured all the way in to London for a transport-themed adventure.

Life is simple when you’re a five-year old. Isaac’s to-do list for the day comprised the following: see buses, ride on buses and trains, eat pizza, visit M&M’s World.

In the morning, we caught the tube to Covent Garden and headed straight for the London Transport Museum. Unlike most of London’s major museums, admission isn’t free (if you’re an adult), but it’s still well worth it. Isaac and I spent a happy couple of hours climbing in and out of buses and trains both old and new. He operated a tube train simulator and got to sit behind the steering wheel of a couple of buses. And, of course, there was the obligatory trip to the gift shop where, predictably enough, he bought himself a new notebook and some pencils so he could write about his day. (Yes, my son is a geek – although sadly he didn’t share my love of the Apple Store enough to stay there for more than 90 seconds. I’m sure that’s a case for putting him up for adoption in most civilised countries.)

All aboard!

All aboard!

After a quick stroll over to Leicester Square to refuel at Pizza Hut, we braved M&M’s World. Which is to say that I braved the Cathedral of Confectionery Consumerism while Isaac – like every other kid in there – hared all over the store pointing at things and screeching “Dad, can I have that?”

At the risk of getting all puritanical for a minute, the amount of money that is forked over in this store is (a) obscene and (b) makes the first day of the Harrods sale look like a small village fete. And it’s not just parents pandering to their children. What I assume are normally perfectly sane childless adults appear to lose all semblance of fiscal responsibility when faced with the opportunity of purchasing all manner of garish, cartoonish tat bearing the M&M logo. Post-recession austerity may still be a reality – but not here.

Don’t get me wrong. Regular readers will be aware that I’m a great believer in the curative powers of retail therapy, particularly when it comes to gadgets and good food. But I considered it a moral victory that we emerged half an hour later having purchased only a couple of packs of personalised stickers for Isaac and Toby.

Better still, the pair of us later emerged from the Disney Store – which is to Isaac what the Apple Store is to me – without me having to open my wallet at all. But in between we had the best part of the day, for both of us. There is something magical about sitting on the top deck of a double-decker bus that appeals to the small child in all of us. It particularly appealed to Isaac, whose view of London was suddenly transformed from waist-height surrounded by crowds of bigger bodies to an elevated vantage point where he could take in everything: buildings, other vehicles, the swarm of humanity that is Regent Street and Oxford Street on even a comparatively quiet afternoon. I have to admit his enthusiasm rubbed off on me as we chatted away about traffic, buildings, what all those people were doing, the congestion charge: “What is it? Why do people have to pay? Does everyone have to pay it? Does the bus driver have to pay it? What about van drivers? Or a man with a breakdown truck? What if a breakdown truck is carrying a van – does someone have to pay then?” For anyone who has ever watched the BBC comedy Outnumbered, Isaac is Ben.

He was so keen about staying on the bus that he was happy for us to bypass the Disney Store (as long as we came back later) and continue on the bus all the way to West Hampstead. That took us through the back streets of West London including along Abbey Road and past the world’s most famous zebra crossing. I tried to explain to Isaac about the Beatles, but he merely turned round to me and said, “Like the Volkswagen?” Obviously I’ve been much more successful teaching him about classic cars than I have classic music …

Where's a Beatle when you really need one?

Where’s a Beatle when you really need one?

After doing the return bus trip to Oxford Street, we piled into the Disney Store for the aforementioned spend-free visit. Seriously, I should get an award for that – it’s like the 12 Labours of Hercules (lifelike action doll with fully articulating limbs yours for just £29.99), but with an excitable puppy dog yapping at your heels the whole time.

Having saved my cash there, I then took him to my idea of a shop: Selfridges Food Hall, which is to normal supermarkets what Harrods is to Poundland. There we rounded off our day with me giving him a guided tour of all the fresh food displays – he’s a sucker for fish counters – and some proper Italian ice creams.

And then we went home. It was a big day out for us, but a fun one. And the fact that he fell asleep mid-sentence in the car on the way home with a grin on his face said it all. As the eldest of three, he so rarely gets time focussed solely on him and so often is called upon to be the responsible big brother. I think he enjoyed a chance just to be him for a change, without compromise or responsibility. And I enjoyed being there to share it with him.

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17 thoughts on “On the buses

  1. What a brilliant day! I live in London and used to take Boy1 into central all the time until I was too pregnant with Boy2… Now I want to go again but think we’ll have up wait until we’re past the toddler who runs in to roads phase!!! :)

    • I know what you mean. We’ve only started wandering in with all three kids in the last year or so – it’s just enough of a big trip (especially when you’re outnumbered) to make us think twice – but we’re starting to get the hang of it. One-on-one with Isaac (who was five at the time of this post) is a doddle by comparison!

    • Honestly, it was nothing to do with me. I think he was so overwhelmed with all the possible choices that in the end he couldn’t decide on something he absolutely had to have. So naturally I took advantage of his indecision and whisked him off elsewhere before he had a chance to change his mind!

    • M&M World is a remarkable place. I dislike it and have no problem keeping my wallet in my pocket, but even apparently sane adults seem to spend fortunes on expensive tat for themselves there – never mind buying stuff for kids.

      I was very proud of Isaac that day. We went in and he had a great time nosing around the store, but I had told him he could spend up to £10 and he ended up foregoing the usual sugar-filled trappings to buy two books of personalised stickers – one for himself and one for his brother. Considerate and within budget! (He’s already better than his father on that one …)

      As for buses, I do understand that. We got seats up on the top deck and with a bit of patience soon bagged the front seats. From up there he got an entirely different view of London than he would ever have been able to at ground level where he’s peering from waist-height around taller adults. He has eyes like a hawk too, so he takes every little detail in.

  2. Totally with you on M&M world, but my kids loved it, even though I wouldn’t spend any money. Awful place.

    Next time you’re in London take the Thames Clipper down to the O2, ride the chairlift over the Thames and then get the DLR back to Tower Bridge – great fun and not too expensive if you have a Travelcard.

    • Thanks – that’s a great idea (that I’ve now stored away for the Easter hols). I’ve done the Clipper and the DLR myself but never with any of the kids, and I’ve never done the chairlift. Never mind the boys – I’m excited about that!

  3. Sounds like he had such a fun day! And speaking of Lego, did you catch the Lego Movie? My 7 year old daughter and I loved it. We were laughing all the way through!!

    • Both our boys get very excited at M&M World, but they’re also remarkably good at not demanding too much. Unlike some grown-ups I have seen there …

  4. Oh, my kids would love that museum! My mum recently took my daughter out for the day and all she wanted was to ride on a bus (poor deprived child that she is!). She managed to get the top front seat, and was so excited by it all. It’s the little things that make their adventures, isn’t it? We’ve not got an M&M’s world, though I have visited one before kids and know what you mean, but the Disney Store tends to get us!

    • The Disney Store is popular with ours too. Isaac was thrilled just to be on the top deck of a bus, and when we eventually made it to the front row he was beside himself.

  5. I avoid the Disney Store as much as possible-in fact if I’m honest I avoid shopping with the children as much as possible! Rotten aren’t I?! it’s easier to go shopping now with my eldest though as she has her own pocket money so I can say, ‘well if you want it, you have to buy it’ and it’s amazing to see what was once a ‘must have’ turn into a ‘I don’t want’….Sounds like a lovely day though and my son would really enjoy the transport museum in Covent Garden very much :)

    • I know what you mean about avoiding the Disney Store. I’m glad our kids appreciate when they are treated and realise they can’t have a fortune spent on them every time we go into one of these places. We usually buy something small – a notepad, say – and beat a hasty retreat.

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