I try and learn from everything. My recent trip to London highlighted how the warning about the gap between the train and the platform should be extended to include ‘please also mind the gap between your previous experience of using the underground as a single person, and your present status of using the underground with a child in tow’. I thought I was well prepared – however, there were a few things I’d overlooked…
Remember your girth:
Thinking I’d avoided all hassle by travelling light enough to cram everything into a rucksack – dodging the physical and mental pain of dragging a wheeled suitcase up hot crowded staircases, whilst trying not to lose my child. I gave myself a nod of pride as we witnessed a lady run onto the tube with her wheeled suitcase – only to have the doors close on the extended handle of the case and trigger her to go into a state of shock. I strained and grunted, along with very determined man in a grey suit, as we prised the doors open before we hurtled towards the tunnel, avoiding the lady’s Louis Vuitton being sent flying, leaving her with nothing but a designer plastic handle, and memories of her luggage. What I didn’t remember is that I was a little bigger in girth with my rucksack on – which proved both uncomfortable and embarrassing when I ushered my little boy through the exit of the tube, and the exit gates trapped me by the back – attracting full attention by setting off a really loud security alarm. This was not cool.
Don’t get robbed:
I thought I had this one in the bag: only take a fiver in cash and sandwich your bank card between two other cards in your purse – so that it can’t get cloned. The plan isn’t quite that straight forward though, as the southern city pace sees you swiping your bank card at the tube entrance and being swept through the gates, chucking your card between your teeth, grabbing your child and diving on the escalator handrail. During one of these tube dashes, my card was cloned – brought to my attention via a call from the fraud squad. My mid-monthly pay date meant that they caned my bill money for September. It went on media, sports stuff and computer games – from Chadderton to Shangai. The conversation with the fraud squad was equally as funny as it was heartbreaking. They went from ‘we’ll refund everything’ to ‘we’ll refund some but can’t stop all of them’ to ‘this is a loan we’ll take back off you if we can’t prove it wasn’t you’ – an echo of every contradictory and inconsistent conversation I have to endure with my ex. But best of all was the bank’s suggestion: “maybe it was your son?” What? Stealing my bank card at five years old and purchasing a weights bench, adult TV subscriptions and a Playstation, through Chinese, Canadian and UK websites…?!
Explain the escalator rules:
Stand to right – I remembered this one, and we nailed it. What I didn’t think to say was to step off escalator at the bottom. I watched my son stare at the floor, put his feet together and deliberately let the end of the escalator bring him to a stop – almost domino-ing the tight queue of people behind us. ‘What are you doing?!’ I screamed. To which he replied: ‘Daddy taught me to do it’. Well that figures.
Explain that there will be lots of trains:
We transition from tube tunnel to the end of the line, where we hit the open air. Thirty seconds in and my son screams, alarming many fellow passengers: “a train! A train! Mummy look – there’s another train!” He’s shrieking and tapping me like I’m a games console joystick, as if it was a lifetime opportunity that I would miss if I didn’t witness it there and then. And this occurred at one minute intervals for the next six stops – with the utter awe that trains in London appear significantly more frequently than they do in the Peak District. Whilst there was a clear communal surprise at the abundance of excitement in our otherwise silent tube carriage, I think our fellow passengers were eventually quite endeared by the degree of appreciation and joy of the London transport system.
Don’t openly fear terrorism (or accidentally voice your relief as you get off, to someone getting on the tube…):
At midnight, the night before we were due to travel, I developed a crippling fear of a re-occurrence of the underground bombings – given that we are due to go underground at the same time as they had occurred. I decided to get up at 5.30am and we completed the journey back to the mainland station with reasonably controlled anxiety on a very quiet tube. We then met a friend who commutes into London – I know he only ever gets a cab so I voiced my fear over the tube at rush hour, and my relief that we avoided it – to which I then develop the worst case of shoe-in-mouth, as he replies that a road is closed and he’s just about to get the tube instead – at the very time I had stated was the time I was relieved to have avoided due to FEAR OF DEATH. Oh no… I back pedal, and list all the things I love about the tube – the smell (this is true, it’s up there with petrol), the sounds, the adverts, the nostalgia – until I think I should just shut up.
All in all, we got away lightly – I think back to a tube ride years ago when I watched (through tears of laughter) as a kid of about two years old was kneeling up sideways on his seat and had grabbed the hemline of the suit jacket of the very posh man next to him and was tugging at it with all his might, levering it under the armrest of the chair. The kid’s dad and the suit man just sat pan-faced and the kid broke a sweat as he heaved with all his might – seeing how high he could pull the material. It remains one of the funniest things I’ll ever see – but largely because it wasn’t my child (and because no one else was laughing). And there were a few lessons learned: next time I’ll wear my rucksack on my front, leave my bank card at home and hide a tenner in each of my socks and bra cups. I shall ensure there are pre-warnings distributed about escalator etiquette and train frequency, and I shall remember to be tactful to other commuters, in the face of death-risk-related-anxiety.
And it was a vast improvement from the days I boarded with a bottle of White Lighting, played truth or dare and got the first tube back the next morning, doing the ride of shame whilst dribbling onto the suit of the person sitting next to me…