On the buses

Where's a Beatle when you really need one?

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.