I’m lax. And lazy. And quite frankly still exhausted from my trip to the UK on my own with two kids and lots of luggage. That’s why I haven’t blogged about my trip yet, even though it was nearly two weeks ago now. Bah. But I’m back in the typing-seat again, so here goes…
We hot-footed it around various parts of England, never staying anywhere long enough to properly unpack (or to annoy our hosts too much with my non-sleeping baby). It was a lovely trip, so nice to be ‘home’ yet ‘abroad’ at the same time. It was mainly uneventful, apart from one traumatic near-tragedy which took place on our way home…
As it was a whistle-stop tour, here is a whistle-stop summary:
On the plane at 8.00 pm. Not such a bright idea, travelling so late - Alpine Boy has been over-excited since 8.00am. But the kids are angels on the plane. Even better – the child behind us screams and shouts for the whole time, and his exasperated dad can’t cope with or control the little blighter. There’s nothing like someone else’s badly-behaved kids to make you feel good…
Off to my sister’s, where my brother-in-law is ill and has been banished to his bedroom so not to infect us all. Alpine Girl wakes us up at 3.00am. All of us. Both nights. Great.
We see my beautiful friend Sarah’s beautiful baby, and spend a good couple of hours in Tesco. I must be middle-aged because this is now my idea of a perfect day, and there isn’t even any gin involved. The next day we drag all children and a partially recovered brother-in-law round the shops, desperately trying to spend M&S gift vouchers before they expire, and delighting in the joys of Primark. (Primark how I’ve missed you. Is that so wrong….?) Alpine Boy most excited about going on a double-decker bus. Alpine Girl most excited about throwing stuff on the floor in Pizza Express. Alpine Mummy most excited about fish’n’chips on a Friday evening. Oh yeah.
Then to my dad’s, my sister stoically driving us despite having caught the lurgy from her hubby. Eating lots, visits to the shops (again), reading the Sunday papers, and taking numerous trips to parks (we don’t have many parks round here so Alpine Boy again very excited. He spent much of the week in a state of perpetual excitement. It doesn’t take much.). Perfect.
Then on the train down to London, all on my own with two kids and lots of luggage (did I mention that bit already?). Getting on and off proving to be a challenge, but hey we love challenges. Kind of.
Then across London in a taxi (black cabs are amazing – buggies just roll straight in), much to Alpine Boy’s perpetual delight. Off to work, to say hello and marvel at the view of London from the 29th floor. It’s been a while since I saw so many buildings, cars and people all in one place. Trying not to let it stress me.
Back in a black cab, hurrah. South of the river to see my friends. The day is beautiful, the sun glinting off the finished Shard skyscraper – it wasn’t that tall when I left and my neck cricks to look at it. London does have its own mountains after all.
Crossing London Bridge, pointing out the iconic Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf to Alpine Boy, brings it all back as to why I love the city. Everyone is rushing to get somewhere, so many lives criss-crossing in one place.
Then we get stuck in traffic in Elephant and Castle and I start to remember the bits I don’t like about London life …
A brilliant evening with friends I haven’t seen for ages. You can tell they don’t have kids as they take great delight in getting Alpine Boy over-excited before dinner. Naughty step is demonstrated. Alpine Girl, not to be outdone, wakes up every two hours. For the whole night. Loudly. (We were sharing a bed and the joy of that was obviously too much for her – at one point I have to build a wall of pillows between us and make myself as small as possible, hiding behind them so she can’t see me. I think I may have put my friends of EVER having children. Sorry Laura and Paddy.)
The next day, back to the City (taxi again – by this point the novelty has worn off for Alpine Boy who is now a bit blasé about the whole thing. I want to tell him he’s an over-privileged middle-class boy who doesn’t know how good he’s got it – how I had to walk 5 miles to school in worn out slippers and a piece of dry bread in my pocket when I was his age – but I can’t be bothered. He wouldn’t believe me anyway). Lunch with more friends, and another beautiful baby who I haven’t seen before. And a slow yet pleasant walk to the station (taxi-money has run out by this point), to catch the train to Gatwick. Au revoir London. C’était presqu’un plaisir.
And that’s when tragedy struck. Disaster. A near death in the family…
So, as I might have mentioned, I was travelling alone with three kids and an awful lot of luggage (I had over-packed in the first place, and had done lots of shopping, and had been given lots of lovely presents for the kids). As a result we had attracted a lot of attention on the platform at London Bridge, which was great as there were plenty of nice people to help us get in the train (I had visions of putting Alpine Boy and Alpine Girl on first then turning to get the bags, only to see the doors of the train swiftly close. I would be hammering on the carriage as it slowly pulled out of the station, my entire brood on board all alone…). Both children were particularly well-behaved on the train, which was marvelous as it meant people still wanted to help us when it was time to get off.
For a whole week Alpine Boy had been carrying around his favourite teddy, Socute (so called because, well, she’s just so cute. Alpine Boy named her. He’s good at names, you know. He once pretended to be a dog called Myfriend for a whole week). He’d been showing her the sights, introducing her to all our friends, and never letting her out of his sight. I must admit this made for a particularly endearing family picture and so I actively encouraged it, especially on public transport (emotional blackmail to elicit help from strangers, you see).
The train pulls into Gatwick station, I throw off the suitcase, hold Alpine Boy’s hand tightly and lift him over the (enormous!) gap between the platform and the train, and then turn back and safely lift out the buggy.
As I do – disaster.
As if in slow motion, Socute somehow flies out of Alpine Boy’s previously tight grip, towards that oh-so-huge gap. Alpine Boy screams, I put my foot out to catch the teddy but it is too late. She bounces away from me and falls, falls, falls into that black chasm, ending up on the tracks, alone and scared (according to Alpine Boy, later).
The impression I was trying to portray of a nice family with a responsible parent and cute children was quickly shattered as I yelled out a loud “shit” and Alpine Boy’s screams and wails intensified. But I had to get the buggy off the train – I sat Alpine Boy down onto the suitcase against a wall and screamed “STAY THERE!! DO NOT MOVE!!” (Alpine Boy was at this point giving every indication that he was going to jump down into that gap like a superhero to rescue his beloved bear.)
The buggy off, there was nothing I could do but hold Alpine Boy tightly as he sobbed into my sleeve, crying that Socute was “going to get squashed, she’s going to get squashed Mummy! Go and get her!!” I had to explain sadly to Alpine Boy that there was nothing we could do, and he held me tight as the train pulled away, squashing Socute for sure.
But no! After the train had gone I put Alpine Boy back on the suitcase against the wall and slowly peered over the edge, ready to be confronted with teddy entrails everywhere. But there she was, all in one piece, calmly looking up at me! Alpine Boy was smiling once again.
One of the nice old ladies who had stopped to help went to get a Man in a Yellow Vest. He couldn’t help us of course, it’s against health and safety to save a teddy from the tracks, you know. He called his manager, who promised to be there in three minutes with a grabber. He wasn’t there in three minutes. We waited and waited, but no.
Then the Man in a Yellow Vest came back, with bad news. A fast train was on its way through, and we had to stand well back (and hold the boy and the buggy to make sure neither of them fell in front of it). I explained to Alpine Boy what was happening and his face broke. “But she’s going to get run over”, he sobbed. “I don’t want her to get run over!” My heart bled.
With a fearsome roar and a haunting cry the monster train whooshed through the station, whipping Alpine Boy’s hair up from his head and blowing the tears from his face. The buggy shook violently as we cowered behind it, all three of us huddled together, hiding from the storm as best we could. The thunderous noise of the train was drowning out Alpine Boy’s plaintive wails, but I could feel his shoulders shake as he contemplated the sure demise of Socute.
The hurricane passed in an instant. Alpine Boy stopped crying and silently watched me head to the platform edge to take a look, a look of hope daring to peek out through his tears – Socute had survived being run over once, why not again? The optimism of youth…
I once again peered over; somehow hopeful, yet somehow not.
Socute had gone.
The tracks were empty, there was only a small cloud of dust still being blown around in the train’s aftermath. No sign of a lonely bear anywhere.
The Man in a Yellow Vest was coming back so I silently mouthed “it’s gone” to him. He muttered something under his breath and turned back down the platform.
I turned to Alpine Boy and kneeled down next to him. “She’s gone, poppet. She’s not there anymore. We’re not going to get her back.”
The grief of a four-year-old is so heartbreaking. I lifted him up and he sobbed and sobbed. It brought a tear not only to my eye but also to the eyes of the lovely old ladies who had witnessed this tragedy. They wanted to buy him a new one. They wanted to buy him hundreds of new ones. As if Socute could ever be replaced…
I finally put Alpine Boy down and we slowly made our way to the exit. As we were just about to get in the lift I looked up and there was the Man in a Yellow Vest, glowing like an angel and waving at me from the end of the platform. He beckoned me over to his mate (Other Man in a Yellow Vest) who was operating the grabber, paying close attention to all health and safety rules, as would be expected. Other Man in a Yellow Vest passed a furry bundle to the Man in a Yellow Vest, who made his way back to where I was standing. “It’s all in one piece…” he marveled, but there was a look on his face which said I should expect a big “but” after that sentence. And sure enough: “… but I wouldn’t touch it – it was found next to the cess. And I won’t tell you what goes in the cess.”
Alpine Boy had run over by this point, and was beaming from ear to ear. “She’s very dirty and poorly” I explained. “She’s got a broken arm but she’ll be OK, we’ll fix her”. I don’t know who was more relieved – me or Alpine Boy (I was wondering if it was possible for a four-year-old to cry all the way from Gatwick to the Alps. And I was not looking forward to finding out…). I managed to deter him from giving her a kiss to make it better (“no darling, she’s covered in poo…”), and we lovingly shoved her in see-through a plastic bag (which gave me the creeps a bit, seeing her squashed, dirty face peering morosely out) and into the suitcase ready for the trip home. Ordeal over.
So all’s well that ends well. Alpine Boy took great delight the next day in assisting Doctor Alpine Mummy with the washing and arm-mending operation. Socute now sports a rather fetching bandage (a temporary measure while I work out how the hell I’m going to repair a torn, melted arm that has been run over by a train – unfortunately Alpine Boy has high hopes for my surgical skills, again an optimism that I don’t share…), and Alpine Boy had a great story to tell to his teacher on his return to school. My blood-pressure has just about returned to normal, but I won’t be taking any trips to London on my own with two kids and a lot of luggage (and a teddy bear) for a long time yet…