Light at the end of the (tube) tunnel

For a while after Kara was born, travelling anywhere further than the other side of Newbury with our three kids was an enterprise which involved more complicated logistical arrangements than a polar expedition, with a similar probability that not all of us would return with all limbs (and certainly not all tempers) intact. Thankfully, with the boys now six and four and Kara approaching 21 months, travel is becoming noticeably less fraught.

That was then

Wind the clock back to pre-Christmas 2012 when Kara was barely seven months old, and a family outing into London to see the Christmas lights was a little bit like that episode of Outnumbered where the Brockmans go to visit a city farm.

Only in our case there was much more swearing. Or, at least, that strange parental thing which substitutes four-letter words with elaborate ciphers which require a supercomputer – or a too-sharp-for-his-own-good five-year-old – to decode.

Here’s how an apparently simple trip in to central London suddenly becomes a nightmare when three young children are factored in to the equation:

  • Managing a combination of car and tube journeys (start and end stations carefully selected to avoid line changes) around three kids with short attention spans, and with two of them requiring naps at different times.
  • <Negotiating escalators and stairs when there are more children than adults, and one of them is in a buggy which require two adults to get up steps. (Thankfully there's always a kind soul who will help out.)
  • Negotiating the Christmas shopping hordes on Oxford Street while ensuring two hyperactive boys never stray from arm’s reach.
  • Buses – getting on and off them with three kids and a buggy, and splitting the travelling party so that the infant remains on the lower deck while the boys head to the top.
  • Frequent toilet stops, nappy changes and a second nap for Kara.
  • Carrying Toby once he becomes too tired to walk any further. (He wasn’t quite three at that time, so it didn’t take long.)
  • Managing the reverse trip to get home with three over-tired children nearly as close to the end of their tether as their parents.
Isaac was knackered at the end of the day, but you should have seen his parents ...
Isaac was knackered at the end of the day, but you should have seen his parents …

On that particular trip, we were fortunate that we met up in London with my parents and brother, who provided much-needed extra hands and eyes to keep everyone together. We would really have struggled to cope on our own, particularly at such a busy time of year. But even so it was an exhausting day, even though it was a lot of fun.

This is now

Over the course of a couple of subsequent trips into London (and holidays to France and Italy) over the past year, all three kids have matured significantly. Isaac is a sensible six-year old who keeps an eye out for his siblings. Toby doesn’t need an afternoon nap any more and has built up his walking stamina. And Kara’s down to one nap, although she’s less inclined to just sit in the buggy all day. The cumulative impact of all these changes is immeasurable.

All this meant we journeyed into London on Saturday to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family without getting frazzled before we’d even arrived. As a result, lunch was a relaxed affair and we were able to have proper conversations during the afternoon without constantly having to prevent World War III or a reenactment of The Great Escape taking place. (Toby would make a fine Virgil Hilts, aka the Cooler King, by the way.)

Chinese New Year meal
Not that we need an excuse for a big family meal …

We’ve also refined our logistics for getting into London. Nowadays we’re more likely to either drive all the way in to London or find stations in the inner suburbs with car parks or decent on-street parking. North Ealing on the Piccadilly line is a personal favourite – it’s easy to get to from the M4 and is just half an hour and a single train ride from Leicester Square.

For the first time, really, there is light at the end of the proverbial (tube) tunnel. A full-on family trip into London has become something to actively look forward to and enjoy rather than something to merely cope with. It opens up whole new horizons for possible day trips. I can’t wait to start planning our next one.