London in a Day!

Trying to do London in a Day is difficult. Trying to do London in a Day with a toddler is approaching madness!! London is a wonderful place to spend the day, but was it good with a toddler… maybe not!
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The first question we had was how to get there – plane, train or automobile?! Well, plane costs upwards of £100 per person from Leeds Bradford to Heathrow. Once you clear security and get into the city from Heathrow, you don’t gain anything in time. Train costs about £100 per adult and under 5’s go free if you’re willing to share a seat with them.

Therefore, we decided to go by car and took the economical decision of hiring one for the day. It cost around £40, not including petrol of around £40. So after picking the car up at 8am, we did the lengthy journey down the M1 to London. After a service station stop, all in all, it took 3 hours 30 minutes to get to Stanmore tube station. Heidi was entertained by a portable DVD player, but it did get a bit hairy at times. Fortunately she had a sleep on the way down!!

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(hire car from Enterprise)

Stanmore is one of the few tube stations where there is a decent sized car parks. It is very close to the M1 and as it is at the end of the tube time, it is easy to get on the trains. Is it easy to navigate the Underground with a toddler and pram? Not really, but I was expecting worse! Getting into the city was easy enough but moving around the stations was difficult – but not impossible. To be fair, the “natives” were understanding of the pram and ensured that there was enough space to get on/off. The tube was very, very busy at times and so if you have a nervous child, it might not go very well. However, Heidi was amazingly alert, calm and entertaining!

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One of the keys was planning which stations had lifts and which didn’t. By using the lifts, you tend to see the back corridors of the stations which you never see! However, the lifts aren’t everywhere and so chances are you have to go up an escalator or two. You are best to carry your child and fold the pushchair and hold it. Obviously, this is very much difficult if there is just one of you.

So, having got into central London at 2pm – what do you do with a 2 year old?? Well, surprisingly, there is very little to do! There are no children specific museums and very little for toddlers at all! There seems to be more towards Greenwich/Docklands and that might be a better place to go next time.

We knew we only had 4 hours or so before having to head back so we decided to cut down the travelling as much as possible, and decided to do the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. Except there was a problem. There were massive queues (this was a Tuesday in August). As a result, we went into the Victoria and Albert Museum, for not other reason than it was quieter and we wanted to do anything!

The V&A is not child friendly at all and I wouldn’t go back at all. But because of the open spaces and “interesting” artwork, it did allow Heidi to wander around and be visually stimulated (I think!) We lasted 30 minutes and by that time, the queues in the Natural History Museum had died down and we ventured in. It was very busy but we spent about an hour in there looking at the various exhibits. There was a very child-friendly exhibition in the basement around animals which resulted in Heidi pretending to be a tortoise after touching a tortoises shell! The queue for the dinosaur exhibit was unbelievable and we didn’t try to go in.

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After an hour in the Natural History Museum, we walked down the road to the Science Museum. Perhaps the most toddler friendly place, we only made it on the ground floor and managed to watch a live show about bubbles which was really good fun (and educational-ish) Had we done it again, perhaps we would have spent all afternoon here. One good thing about London is that there are plenty of free toilets in the museums etc. There were excellent nappy changing facilities throughout.

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As evening drew on, we made it to Westminster in time to hear Big Ben chime 6 O’clock, which was more by luck than judgement. However, we should have planned this as it was pretty cool for a 2 year old! If possible, try to go to Westminster on the tube as when you leave the station, you instantly see Big Ben and it is a sight to behold.

We ended up walking along the South Bank to Waterloo. This is a particular favourite due to the street entertainers there and the good atmosphere that can be generated down there. Again, an excellent place for toddlers! We found a “suitable” restaurant for tea (not many are overly family friendly – and certainly no Wacky Warehouses!) before walking back on the more sedate North Bank to Westminster and the Tube back to the car.

All in all, we got back to the car at Stanmore at 8pm and didn’t get back home until 12.30am – a very long day!! Heidi was asleep all the way home which was a relief, although the drive back for me was a challenge due to the long day!! Doing London in a Day is tough!

Was it enjoyable? Yes!

Would we do it again? Yes!

Would we do it differently? Absolutely!

It was worthwhile, as 4 months later, Heidi still remembers certain aspects of it, which shows that the day carried some really good memories for her.

How would we have done it differently? We should have set off in the early morning to make the most of the time and concentrated our time on the Science Museum and maybe Buckingham Palace/Hyde Park. However, you live and learn and so if this helps someone out in the future, the blog has helped!

UPDATE! We have been to London quite a few times since and you can read the following blog posts:

Discover Children’s Story Centre

London Attractions Guide

Continue reading London in a Day!

Dads Involvement in Parenting

Inspiration for this post came from a Twitter conversation started by @DadandTwo about the level of dad involvement in playgroups and it did really hit home with regards to playgroups.

Working Monday to Friday means that most of my playgroup interaction comes at a weekend with Rhythm Time. This is a weekly group where you sign up in advance for the term and as such you have stability and as such, it is easier to talk to people, mainly because you know you’ll be spending the next 10 Saturday mornings together! There are a good mix of parents who come, but still probably a 70:30 split between mums and dads. This is a bit strange as given that it is a Saturday class, both mum and dad must work Monday to Friday and so you would have thought that dad would want to spend time with their child at a class… – I realise that is a huge stereotype and assumption!

Compare this to a weekday class that I sometimes attend – I am the only dad on 90% of the time. I remember on Tuesday drop-in class, I was the only dad out of 40 children/parents and yes, it was daunting at times.

At the time of writing, I am 31, white man – in British society, I have never been in the minority. Yet for the first time in my life, I was – in a church hall in Leeds!! It wasn’t pleasant at all. I felt like I was a foreigner, an alien, even though I was a dad having a day off and going out and about with my little girl.

This cannot be right.

As a society, we must do more to promote dads interacting and going out and about with their children. The wonderful thing about social media is that you see examples of such dads doing this and it is brilliant. However, they are shining lights in a sea of darkness.

But what can be done?

The shared maternity leave is a good start, but given what Mum has to go through throughout pregnancy, it can only go so far. We have to go further, we have to change the culture of society and challenge the preconceptions of parenting. If we can change the culture around smoking, we can do anything. A promotional campaign encouraging dads to get involved with children would be a good start, to challenge existing behaviours.

However, it must go further… Big business targets their products for mums and not dads – how is that encouraging dads to get involved? When was the last time you saw dad and child on a baby product? I realise that companies are looking after their own business and market research plays a huge part in all this, but it is a sign of the society and culture that we live in.

However, dads must take responsibility themselves. You only get one chance at bringing out a particular child and you must grab it with both hands. The formative years are so important. Yes, working full time is difficult and tiring but going out and about with your child is uplifting and energising. You will both benefit from it and the memories will last so much longer than most other things you would have done instead.

You might ask “What are you doing to change this?”. My situation is slightly different to the norm, but I work Monday to Friday 9-5 with little scope for flexitime etc. I am on a decent wage and financially it doesn’t make sense for me to drop my hours (for many there is the issue of the glass ceiling…)

As a result, I have 2 days off a week and my annual leave. On my weekends, myself and Heidi are inseparable going here and there and everywhere, as well as attending the aforementioned Rhythm Time on a Saturday, so she gets her social interaction with children her own age.

On days where I have annual leave during the week, we do the same. We go out to places and drop-in playgroups and it is difficult. Parenting is difficult. Life is difficult. But I would do whatever it takes for Heidi to have a good day and as she enjoys playgroups, I can put up with feeling out of place for a couple of hours…

As a footer, if you’re wanting a survival guide to playgroups, this link is so much better than what I could write:

http://manvspink.com/blog/playgroups-a-survival-guide-for-dads/