The 4 Bs of half-term: Beaches, BMWs, Bergkamp and … Bayswater

Dennis Bergkamp statue Emirates Stadium

School holidays are supposed to be a chance for kids to rest and recharge, aren’t they? Instead I fear we have run Isaac and Toby ragged, and they’ll be going back to school today for a break.

We didn’t go away as such but we did have several big days out during half-term week and the two weekends that bookended it. As a family of five, we spent a day with the kids’ grandparents and uncle, went to Legoland and, to round the week off, headed to the sandy beach at West Wittering to celebrate one of our friends’ birthdays yesterday.

The boys and their mum also visited Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre in Ringwood, Dorset. Toby is obsessed with owls – his favourite soft toy is an owl named Hootie (minus Blowfish, if you know your 90s music) – so you can imagine how exciting this was for him.

But the highlight of the week was our traditional boys’ day out, where we took the train into London for a day of boys’ activities.

This started with a happy morning wandering around the BMW and Mini showrooms on Park Lane, where Toby showed off his impersonation of Dr Evil while Isaac and I explored the BMW i8, the German manufacturer’s £100,000 hybrid supercar.

No kidding, if I hadn’t frog-marched the boys back up the road over 1½ hours later, they would have stayed there all day, merrily allowing the accommodating sales staff to continue plying them with free drinks and biscuits. Seriously though, for kids who are interested in cars, it’s a great way of passing some time in London without parting with a single penny.

After a dim sum lunch in Chinatown where Toby ate his entire body weight in noodles, we moved on to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium for a tour of the ground. Now I’m a life-long Arsenal fan but the boys have yet to be bitten by the football bug, so at £20 for me and £10 each for them I was concerned about whether we would get our money’s worth from the experience.

As it turned out I needn’t have worried. The boys were already keen to give it a go but when they discovered it involved having their own personal iPod-like audio/video player to guide them through the tour, they were hooked. Geeks.

And actually the tour itself is great. From sitting in the directors’ box and the oak-panelled, art deco dining rooms and bars of the exclusive Diamond Club to exploring the home and away dressing rooms, it’s a well put-together package with some nice touches. I’ve done a number of stadium tours previously and this was easily my favourite (and not just because it’s my team).

Of course, the biggest issue is not so much the cost of the tour but how much extra you are required to spend by your overexcited sons when the tour concludes back in the club superstore. I barely got out with my credit card intact. Nonetheless, a big success – even if my gushing lecture on the greatness of Dennis Bergkamp as we stood admiring his statue outside the ground fell on deaf ears.

Beaches, BMWs, Bergkamp – so far, so standard for a dad with two boys. But Bayswater – what’s the story there?

Now, our boys are obsessed with the London Underground. They have both pretty much memorised the tube map. One of their favourite board games is one based on the Underground. Aside from Top Gear, their favourite TV show was a recent Channel 5 day-in-the-life reality series that focussed on the staff of – you guessed it – the Underground.

One of their party tricks is to be able to instantly tell you what the quickest route between any two tube stations is. So, for instance, they know Bayswater to Queensway involves taking the District or Circle line one stop to Notting Hill Gate and then the Central line one stop to Queensway. In reality, as the boys and I experienced in person, the quickest route is simply to exit Bayswater on foot and walk up the road 1½ minutes to Queensway.

It’s a tiny, trivial, geeky thing. But it delighted the boys to actually do something they had only experienced second-hand – I had previously videoed the walk with my phone to show them (yes, I am that sad) – and it gave me a huge amount of pleasure to do it with them.

More than the big stuff, it’s one of those little father/son things that makes our days out unique – and one of the reasons half-term holidays remain such a special time for me, even if we are just doing the odd day here and there. It’s the little things that matter most.

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