For those who have not traveled via The Underground (the subway beneath Greater London), I should say that getting a stroller down to the trains & back up again can be a trial. (Hell, GENERALLY getting around London with kids can be a trial. But so worth it!) Stations reflect many different ideas/eras of design, and only recently began to offer disabled access– and most still do not. Almost all the subway cars offer a place for those with a stroller/the elderly– usually in a small section by the middle doors originally meant for luggage, but now with flip-up seats. Getting your stroller into that spot may require the use of “lifts” (elevators), stairs, and (probably) very long escalators. All the escalators are marked with signage informing users to “Stand On The Right / Walk On The Left,” which is good. Mostly, we travel as a family, and Lana and I can divide the children amongst ourselves. On the few occasions when the girls and I travel by ourselves (like when we go to meet Lana for lunch at least once a week), I use our smaller umbrella stroller, and have Finley stand immediately in front of me on the escalators, between the push-bars (this Finley-in-the-middle plan was created following a teary Finley getting left at the top of an escalator series; she was helped aboard by a kindly British lady of long years & longer legs). This works well for escalators (and lifts aren’t really a problem unless they are broken), but stairs can present a challenge. I have to carry the stroller. Have to. Can do it with one arm, but can’t carry Finley with the other (at least, not very far). And the tunnels are circular, so the sides (where you walk) are too short for her to ride on my shoulders. So Finley (with long legs for a three-year-old, but three-year-old legs, regardless) has to move under her own power. And, generally, she has to FOLLOW me on the stairs, as otherwise she ends up turning around about half-way down any given flight of steps to comment on someone’s shoes, or to say she has to rest, quote a fragment of poetry, admire her fingernails, etc. which TOTALLY stops up the works. So she follows behind, and I get to the bottom, place the stroller out of the main flow of traffic (with wheels locked), and attempt to motivate her to finish the (usually) short journey. It should be noted that people MOVE OUT in the Underground, and do not take kindly to being detained by an idiot from an upstart colony, swinging a child strapped to a metal frame from side-to-side across the steps descending through the 13 foot diameter tunnel that EVERYONE is trying to move through in BOTH directions while he shouts “C’mon, Finley, you can do it! Just four more steps! Don’t step in front of the man, honey! Stay to the right, remember?! C’mon!” So, steps can be trying. But she is game. And, hey– I haven’t lost her yet. Once you get to the platform & on to the subway itself, the only remaining obstacle is the attitude of some of your fellow travelers. Most people are fine with the stroller being left unfolded, especially if they can see that your child is asleep, you haven’t hit anyone with it on your way in, and it isn’t rush hour (all bets are off during rush hour, and you should avoid the Tube with a stroller FOR SURE.) The problem passengers, on the whole, seem to be people older than child-bearing age– old enough that their kids probably have kids. I think this is the problem– jealousy. Strollers are a generational add to the Tube (wheelchair spaces themselves are only about +17 years old– see the comments here!), and my guess is that these haters believe that if THEY had to struggle through the streets, parents TODAY should have to, as well. Don’t let them stop you, though. For everyone of them, there are four or five folks who will silently wait to see if you require help getting on or off the train, and ten people who will interact with/comment on your baby (assuming it is not acting the fool and/or screaming bloody murder).
Monthly Archives: January 2011
Coming here has been really good for all of us, I think.
Finley started ballet on Wednesday; this marks her first regularly scheduled “socializing” activity, and (fingers crossed) it seems like it’s going to be a good fit. (See details of getting to that first day below.) We are heading off on another daytrip tomorrow– Leeds Castle and Canterbury Cathedral— and I have high hopes that it will go as well as Stonehenge/Salisbury. Don’t worry, everyone– I packed Finley’s camera. The artistic musings of our three foot tall auteur will not go undocumented. (Strangers? People framed from nipple to knee? Random pictures of the photographer? I’m sure we’ll get ’em.) Hopefully it won’t be as cold as Stonehenge was (or as cold as it was today– JAY-zus!)
It has been so good to see some of our good friends here (with the promise of seeing more in the weeks to come). I think that the pace, the friends, the reduction in responsibilities beyond the family, and the improvements to our media intake (God bless the BBC. We watch much less TV here, and get so much more out of it. News? Excellent. Children’s programming? Top notch. Entertainment? High quality, and SO FEW COMMERCIALS!)
And Now– the Baatan Death March
How Finley Got To Ballet
On Wednesday, Finley, Sawyer, and I had gone into Central London to have lunch with Lana at a little café near the British Library called Albertini (a fantastic & cheap place, quite close to King’s Cross— thumbs up!). A great lunch, and nice to see Lana during the day. I had called my friend Tim, who is currently working on a project called Greenland at the National Theatre, and asked him if he wanted to meet for tea after we were done with Lana– he said “Do Come By,” and we did. So the girls and I had Tubed in to King’s Cross for the lunch meetup (one stop on the Victoria Line from our closest Tube station, Highbury & Islington), not that big a’ deal. After lunch, we walked over to Euston Station, and took the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line south to Waterloo. Seven stops, no transfers. Again, not rigorous.
For a lengthy treatise on traveling the Underground with a stroller, see this post.
We disembark at Waterloo. Up the escalator, across the station, down the steps, down more steps into the pedestrian subway that runs from Waterloo to the South Bank (under York Road, Waterloo Road, etc.), through the pedestrian subway, past the IMAX, and out into the sunlight (?) across Upper Ground from The National. Finley is fine with walking all this, and Sawyer is sleeping. We head to the Stage Door, find Tim, and walk to the Royal Festival Hall for some tea. We killed an hour quite easily. Finley played with her ‘baby,’ interrupted conversation, stuck stickers in her sticker book, and interrupted conversation. (In her defense, the interruptions were normal three-year-old interruptions, and not particularly unpleasant.) As an aside, I would highly recommend the third floor (‘second’ floor according to the British) of the RFH as a daytime place for traveling parents in London to take their kids– it had the atmosphere of a loose, informal playgroup with loads of space and food available to purchase, lots of kids running around, and a good amount of ambient noise. After an hour, we needed to head out, so we said good bye to Tim, and turned our feet/wheels towards Waterloo. The metaphorical wind began to shift. Finley became “tired.” After about five steps towards Waterloo. I put her on my shoulders, and began walking back. This is easily do-able over short distances, and was going SO easily that I shrewdly suggested we stop at the IMAX and make use of the facilities. This was initially denied, but proved to be necessary. After completing our ablutions and abstersions, I hefted her again and we continued to the station. She decided she couldn’t possibly do all the steps to come out of the pedestrian subway AND all the steps into the station proper. Or, actually, any of them. So, she remained on my shoulders (holding on to my head) as I carried the stroller up (about 27′ of vertical climb). I managed to convince her she HAD to stand in front of me on the escalator (the idea of having her on my shoulders on those long slopes while trying to hold the push-bars of the stroller really freaks me out, btw), so she rode, and walked, and rode the escalator to the platform, and did the short flights of stairs at the bottom. Pretty well. A little boot-dragging– I knew she was getting tired. We got on, and I contemplated a decision. I knew we had to transfer lines from the Northern back to the Victoria– the question was, where? At King’s Cross? Very close to the end of the journey, so less chance of her getting a seat– and King’s Cross is a busy place. Sooo– Warren Street? Sounds good. Did I remember what Lana had said about Warren Street earlier in the week? I did not. Finley rode in my lap (Sawyer asleep, again, locked into the stroller/elderly spot), and hopped off the train. Finley showed all the signs of a strong second wind. We left the Northern Line platform, and headed for the Victoria Line. Here began the troubles, in earnest. What Lana had said (and I had forgotten) earlier in the week, was that Warren Street was under “refurbishment,” and that the escalator DOWN from one set of platforms to the other had been disabled. You had to take the stairs. 124 steps. As mentioned before, moving against the flow of traffic in the 13 foot diameter tunnel of an Underground station is… suckish. I started the descent with Finley in hand, to my left, holding Sawyer across my body to the right (push-bars hooked around my forearm). I then had to move Finley behind me rather quickly, as a bunch of a$$holes suddenly needed to get down the stairs RIGHT THEN. I moved her, and walked on, trying not to throw myself (and stroller, and BABY) down the stairs, but remaining half-turned so that Finley could draw strength and calm from my cheerful expression. Perhaps that is not what she saw there. She began to slow. I could only slow incrementally. We drew further and further apart. I got to the bottom, and found that all the previously-mentioned a$$holes had been replaced by kindly strangers, helping Finley down the last ten or so steps. I mean this last statement with little-to-no irony/sarcasm. One thing the British are absolutely killer at is suddenly becoming polite & kind when a situation has evolved that can’t be helped. I am sure that most of those crowded up behind her on the steps wanted to pick her up & THROW her down the stairs (at the very least), but ALL of them gave her a steadying hand, helped her keep moving, or cheered her on those last ten steps… I actually became slightly afraid she might enjoy their attention so much that she would turn & re-mount those last ten, in an attempt to gain more approbation. This to the side, we made it down. And then, things fell a little further apart. We got on our subway, and there was a seat available for her. I needed to remain with the stroller, as it was in the entryway (no stroller slot available on this part of this particular car). Finley did not want to sit by herself. She began the boneless flopping and flailing that many parents fear more than shouting in a public situation. I played it cool– she was mostly contained, and not being too vocal. Then, she hit what was for me a new low in the annals of grossness. She forcibly buried her face in the cushions of the seat she was meant to be sitting on. A fairly common move in ones’ own home– but most homes don’t have 3 MILLION PEOPLE COMING BY EACH DAY TO HAVE A SIT ON THE SOFA FOR A WHILE. I freaked out. I don’t think I showed it in my face– but I developed mutant powers of levitation, and floated her & Sawyer out of that train & onto a bench on the platform at Highbury & Islington (where, thankfully, we had just arrived). I began a cleaning operation on Finley’s face, using Wet Wipes (can’t travel without ’em anymore) in a manner that would have made Dr. John Snow proud. Exhausted emotionally, but revived physically, we went up the three flights of stairs (one medium, two short) in short order, and took the escalator up. Finley said she was tired, on exiting the turnstiles. I, reluctantly, put her back up on my shoulders. Oh, and Sawyer? Still asleep. We made it about 100 feet (barely across the first intersection), and I knew Finley had fallen asleep. On my shoulders. This has happened before– she grabs on tighter asleep than awake, which is good, but she puts all her weight on my head and neck, rather than my shoulders, which is NOT good. I decided to push on. I had to get her home, dressed for ballet, and TO ballet in 40 minutes time. I didn’t want to risk destroying this ballet school’s chance by bringing a whinging, crying, and upset Finley to her first day. I pushed on. 0.6 miles isn’t all that far– until you are pushing the second-string stroller with a full-ish shoulder bag and a CHILD SLEEPING ON YOUR HEAD up a long, turning hill. Short version? We made it. I was not forced to immediately hit the liquor, or the medicine cabinet on arrival at home. But it was a near thing, I can tell you. I woke her at the door, lucked out (at this moment, she chose to be excited, rather than scared about the coming experience), got her out of her cold-weather things, into most of her ballet gear, and back into her cold-weather gear– and then faced a hard choice. How to get her the 0.8 miles to the ballet school? And quickly? Cleverly, I remembered the new Ergo Baby Carrier that we had purchased just before we left– you know, the one that was fit for Lana, and that I had never tried to use? I slapped it on (loosening it as I went), having taken my parka off first. I stuffed (gently) Sawyer (now awake) into it. She was totally unimpressed by my skill level / Carrier mastery. Gave me a long look/cool stare. I put my parka back on, re-slung my bag, placed Finley in the jogging stroller, and exited the house. Finley was asleep again before we hit the end of the block. Sawyer fell asleep about 50 yards after that. Both slept until we hit the robing room at the ballet school. And, I have to say, I think that nap helped make the first-day experience go smoothly. I was REALLY glad to see Lana & Eli show up, though. (Lana had come home from work, picked up Eli from school, and walked up to the ballet school.) Job done.
Postscript: It is fortunate that we VERY rarely have to travel without Lana.
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Post Postscript: Lana thinks this should be referred to as “The Death March” because it is such a long winded post.