Thursday, 17 September 2015

Travels with my Toddler Part 1: Glasgow to Colchester via London by public transport.

This trip origionally started life as a visit to see my parents in Colchester. But I soon realised that given the very long train jouneys involved, it would make sense to break the jouney in London. Which then meant catching up with London friends, which in turn meant extending the trip by a few days to fit it all in. Leaving us with this ludicrously ambitious 7 day itinary:

Day 1: Travel to London by Virgin Pendalino- stay the night at my sisters place
Day 2: Natural History Museum with Dad Sis and London Pals. Take the train back to parents place in Colchester with Dad
Day 3: Chill out at Mum and Dads place
Day 4: Colchester Zoo
Day 5: Travel back into London, chill at sisters place
Day 6: Olympic Park with my sister and London pals
Day 7: Pendalino  back to Glasgow


My travelling companions were a 2 and a half year Jimmy and a five week old Kirsty.
Just so you know, I had intended to write some observations on the galloping pace of gentrification in London and the excelloration of working class dispossession since I last vsited several years ago.
Once I got to the keyboard, it turned into a post about how to get children safely on and off trains. Parenthood is a bit like that. All wider interests get subsumed under the immidiate practicalities of the situation. So, embracing my inner Mummy Blogger. Here is the Eccentric Seal guide to train travel with small children. 


Equipment: 

 
⦁    One Pushchair. A tatty early 90's model similar to this one, http://thumbs3.ebaystatic.com/d/l225/pict/151674555827_1.jpgwith the one big advantage that both the head and leg ends adjust forward and back, allowing it to be adjusted easily to accomodate either a baby or toddler.
⦁    One sling- The NCT Caboo, since you asked. 


Hand Luggage:

 
⦁    5 baby sized nappies
⦁    3 toddler nappies
⦁    Change of clothes for the baby- one babygrow and one vest
⦁    wipes and cream
⦁    Pad of paper
⦁    felt pens
⦁    Happyland figures
⦁    Plastic animals
⦁    3 story books
⦁    1 sticker book
⦁    Tablet PC with games loaded
⦁    keys, wallet, phone, train tickets. 


Rucksack containing:
⦁    5 babygrows
⦁    5 baby vests
⦁    2 baby cardigans
⦁    5 pairs toddler trousers
⦁    5 toddler t.shirts
⦁    2 toddler jumpers
⦁    5 toddler socks
⦁    5 adult sized t.shirts
⦁    5 pairs knickers
⦁    one spare adult sized jumper
⦁    5 pairs adult sized socks
⦁    more nappies (baby and toddler sizes)
⦁    Baby bath, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste


And of course the clothes we left the house in- jumpers coats, shoes and hats. 


Packing was a two stage process: first a list of things needed, next the packing. Everything needed to fit into one rucksack and a handbag and there obviously wasn't going to be enough space for all the clothes needed. I did a few loads of washing at Mums place. This mostly provided us with enough clean clothes. On the last day, I had run out of clean baby clothes and had to send my sister to Primark for a packet of three more vests and three babygrows to cover us for the jouney back.
 

Walking Around:

Our basic walking around configuration was:
⦁     Baby in the pram,
⦁    handbag over the pram handles,
⦁    rucksack on my back and
⦁    toddler under orders to walk by the side, holding onto the pram. 


His childminder taught him to do this. Whenever I hear someone saying that noone can look after their baby as well as they can, I remember Jimmy, on our first trip out of the house with Kirsty, automatically reaching for the pram handle and I laugh at them. Proffessional childcare is great. 


When Jimmy was too tired to walk or too naughtey to be trusted- I was able to quickly convert the pram to buggy mode and pop him in. This meant carrying the baby in a sling on my chest,  the rucksack on my back and pushing a pram at the same time. 


Getting onto trains


On the Pendalino especially, it was very busy with limited luggage space, so everyone has to move quickly.  I normally asked somone else to lift the pram (with baby) on for me, while I got on with rucksack and toddler, found a seat for the toddler and sat him down. Next put the rucksack away somewhere, pick up the baby and return to the toddler in the seat. 


Its helpful to have something to occupy the toddler with while all this is going on and this needs to be actually in your hand as you get on the train. I used a MacDonanlds Happy Meal (Or its inferior Burger King Equivilent) purchased from the station immidiately before departure. 


Its also  good if you can get a seat close to the luggage rack so you can keep the toddler in sight at all times. You can specify a preference for this when you reserve seats.
Space on the Pendalino is really limited and unfolded prams are only permitted in the wheelchair space  if not already booked by a disabled person. I was lucky enough to be able to use this space on the outward and homeward journey. I probably would have needed a second person to help fold the pram, otherwise. In general, getting on and off trains felt like a two person job. I was lucky enough to have family members drop me off and pick me up from the stations and also help out with the bags. When on my own- fellow passengers usually volunteered to help without being asked.
Since its impossible to keep hold of all the bags and children at once, I would probably use a money belt for valuables if I were to do this again. 


Being on a train

 
On short journeys around London, just being on a train was entertainment enough. Especially the Docklands light railway. Sitting at the very front, pulling out of Tower Gateway with the whole urban panorama opening up around us, Jimmy was transfixed.
Journeys between London and Colchester were short and managable. The long journey between Glasgow and London was the one I dreaded.
As already mentioned- I fed the toddler immidiately on getting on board. This was enough to keep him absorbed for the first half an hour. After that,I introduced distractions one by one, in acending order of attractiveness so there was something fresh and interesting each time he started to flag. So looking out of the window first and talking about what we can see, followed by happyland figures and animals, then felt tips and books. Tablet PC last, as an extra special treat, once he was bored of everything else.
If all else fails, going for a walk to the buffet car and back is a good distraction, although I did need to ask other passengers to hold the baby while we did this. If you start making friendly conversation early in the journey- it doesn't feel so awkward when you have to ask this favour later on.
on the way back we had a tub of dinosaur figures from the Natural History Museum and those kept us occupied for a good few hours. Obviously, table seats are needed for this sort of thing.
The baby was in my arms the whole time, which was a bit tiring but otherwise ok. We breastfed a few times and i don't think anyone noticed. On the outward journey we had to change a nappy in a very cramped toilet, with all three of us jammed in together. That was unpleasent. On the return journey, I changed Kirsty on the flat suface of an empty luggage rack by our table in order to avoid having to do this again. I was a bit concerned other passengers would find this antisocial but, in all honesty, not concerned enough not to do it. Noone said anything and i was extremely quick about it. Later on Jimmy needed a nappy change and I had to leave Kirsty crying alone in the pram while I wreastled his clothes off him in the tiny cubical. Not ideal but needs must. 


Getting Off of Trains

 
Connections needed to be managed like military operations. I found it useful to write down the approximate times of arrival and start preparing 10 minutes before that time. Packing down toys and books, dressing both kids ready to go in jumpers and coats undone. Slinging up the baby if necessary. Then unfolding the buggy (if needed) and placing the appropriate child inside. That generally leaves a few minutes to spare- which I spent sitting on the rucksack by the door amusing the toddler with action songs and jiggling the baby. The very last task as the train pulls into the station is to zip up coats, put hats on heads and swing the rucksack onto my back. 
Someone pretty much always offers to help with the buggy. If the toddler was loose- I would ask my good samaritan to take the pram off first then follow behind, lifting the toddler over the gap last of all. Then its easy enough to lead the toddler to the pram and instruct him to hold on. And off we go, in familier formation!
Moving around between plarforms is a special kind of hell on the London Underground, especially with a buggy. I think it was Euston station that required us to evict Jimmy from the buggy so that it could be carried up and down a whole bunch of steps, with help enlisted from other passengers. It was crappy- but we got through it. 


Do it again?

 
Definately! People think I was crazy to do this 5 weeks after giving birth. But it actually turned out really well and marked a sea change in my attitude to the responsibility of two kids. Before we left I'd very much been in "new mum" mode- worried about how to cope with them. After all, theres two of them and only one of me! On our return, we were a tight little crew- that knew how to look out for each other on the move, have fun in different places and bed down together at night. It was like a team building exercise.
I got to feel super smug at the 6 week check up when my midwife asked if i'd been "managing to get out much", but the truth is that the hardest thing about being out and about with kids is organising yourself to leave the front door. After that- everything is easier. This is the trip I can credit with teaching me that lesson.