I’ve spent five of the past six days in London – two by myself and three with Lily and Katie. On Friday evening I took the train from Leamington to Marylebone, to spend a weekend visiting a friend. Upon arrival I was treated to a tour of the BBC at New Broadcasting House and I got to sit in with the production team making the News at Ten. It was an incredible experience to see the news being made and observe the interactions between the directors and producers behind the scenes and the newscaster in the studio and reporters reporting live from – on that night – Kos, Calais and Cleveland.
Over the course of the weekend my friend and I strolled along the South Bank, took the clipper to Greenwich, went to a rooftop open air cinema showing of Top Gun (woohoo!!), ate lots and walked lots. We discussed dreams and plans, the current state of the books we’re currently writing, and I returned to Leamington Spa on Sunday night feeling rejuvenated and with my enthusiasm for my writing in overdrive.
I had Monday to do laundry and repack and then the girls and I were off to London again on Tuesday morning for three days of sightseeing and visiting another London friend and her family.
The girls had never been to London before and were beside themselves with excitement – and a little nervous to boot. They each requested to see different things. Katie wanted to see Buckingham Palace and Lily Big Ben.
We arrived in Victoria Coach Station at lunchtime and strolled down to Buckingham Palace. Katie was thrilled by the palace and by the soldiers in their tall bear skin hats. As we sat on the steps of the Victoria Monument, gazing at the Palace as we ate our lunch of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, Katie said ‘I can’t believe I’ve seen a real palace and real soldiers for the first time today’. Lily took a great interest in the Victoria Monument, although I think her image of Victoria is somewhat skewed from watching the movie Pirates, where Victoria is a bug-eyed psychopath bent on eating all the world’s rarest animals!
From Buckingham Palace we walked through St. James’ Park, stopping at a great little playground, where the girls removed their sandals and played in the sand. From there it was St. Margaret’s Chapel and then the Palace of Westminster where Lily got as close as possible to Big Ben. She loved that she had to crane her neck when she was up close! At Horse Guards the girls were partly intrigued partly terrified by the soldiers in their funny uniforms and their regal horses. We were lucky enough to be there for a changing of the guard. They’ve been talking about it ever since and the spectacle is not likely something they will soon forget.
Of all the things they got to do in London, Katie’s favourite was when all three of us rode horses on an old-fashioned carousel in Jubilee Park. The last time I was on one of those was outside the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. in 2000! Another highlight for the girls (and for me) was a troupe of street performers in Jubilee Park, whose acrobatics and limbo performance was jaw-dropping.
By the time we reached our friend’s house in Kingston we were all tired and hungry, but it didn’t stop the girls and my friend’s two children staying up way past their bedtime because they were all having so much fun together. My friend and I stayed up way past our bedtime too, but when you only get to see good friends every couple of years, there’s always lots of catching up to do.
The next day we all went to London together and following a picnic lunch in Hyde Park we spent the afternoon at the Natural History Museum. We saw the dinosaurs and the geology displays, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Already I’m thinking about another trip to London in the autumn, once the school term has begun, when the museum will be less busy, and we can explore even more of that amazing place.
The next morning we said farewell to our friends and I planned to take a boat out to Greenwich and take the girls to the Observatory. Alas, by the time our train arrived in Waterloo the heavens had opened. We had no raincoats, no umbrella and all three of us were wearing our sandals, so walking anywhere in Greenwich suddenly lost its appeal.
I took them to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square instead, only to discover that the staff were on strike and the queue to get in was vast. We had to get out of the rain, so we ran into the National Portrait Gallery around the corner. It turned out to be mostly lovely – apart from an overzealous security guard who didn’t want people (including us) eating their lunch while sitting on the floor outside the overcrowded cafe. There were good activities for children and I got to visit parts of the gallery I hadn’t been to before. Lily impressed me by pointing to a line-up of busts of 19th Century men and saying ‘Isn’t that one Charles Darwin?’! (Her interest in Darwin also comes from watching that same movie, Pirates!)
We stepped out of the gallery in mid-afternoon just as the pedestrians of London were putting their umbrellas away, so I showed the girls around Trafalgar Square, pointing out the fountain where I cooled my hot tired feet during a heat wave seven years ago when I came to London with a little nine-week old Lily-embryo in my tummy!
All too soon it was time to catch the bus back to the Midlands. The girls were both fast asleep within minutes of getting on the bus, but somewhere found the energy to tell Daddy and Grandma all about their adventure when they finally got home last night.