I’m writing this from an underground train on the Northern Line, heading towards Waterloo. Earlier today, we got the bus from Kennington to Euston. You may be forgiven for thinking that this is all we do every Saturday – obsessively shuttle up and down between NW1 and SE11, in hope of settling week-old grudges. But no, there is something different about this Northern Line. For one thing, it just went overground, something our normal line doesn’t do until around Hampstead Garden Suburb. Secondly, it’s filled with unfamiliar stops – Sandhills, Bank Hall, Bootle. There’s not a non-caucasian in sight and instead of the usual jumble of accents and languages there’s only the one – Scouse. We appear to be in Liverpool.
And, in the words of Talking Heads “you may ask yourself, how did I get here?” And the answer is that when we got to Euston, we chose not to head straight back down again, in a comedy and convoluted way…instead, we got on a Pendolino train to Liverpool Lime St, with the end aim being to get to Southport. Liverpool may be Land of my Fathers, but Southport is Land of my Brother, and we’re off to see him, his wife and their baby daughter CousinZ.
1) Book a ticket for your 4-year-old
I love saving money. Who doesn’t? And it is fab-i-oso that I don’t need to pay extra for a child that is not yet 5. But not buying a ticket means you can’t reserve a seat, and therefore run the risk of having a sprawling preschooler on your lap for 2 hours. Booking 3 seats of a 4-seat table meant that even on a packed train, no-one tried to sit next to us. It was worth the extra £8/way.
2) Know where the toilet is
Sound advice for any child-related outing, but sitting next to the loo makes things so much easier. I noticed the ducky-signed changing table on my first visit there and wondered whether Eva would give me a chance to try it out. I’ll let you figure out the ending to that one.
3) Be prepared
I packed more snacks than anyone could ever possibly need for a few hours’ journey and we still could have done with more. Dog-shaped biscuits (not dog biscuits) went down well with Roo and he enjoyed his sticker book and Octonauts magazine. We were attempting to travel light, but that didn’t really happen.
Virgin Trains have the best feature ever for those with a soon-to-die CrapBerry battery – Charging points at every table. We used those a lot. The mythical kids’ packs never materialised, but we did get some free snacks later after a rumble with a buffet car man (see below.)
5) Know your limits
The aisles on the Virgin trains will fit a lightweight, narrow pushchair down but only just. Our old one wouldn’t have had a chance. And it won’t work if you have a balloon and/or a carrier bag attached to it either.
The “long” bit where you cover half the country will seem to go relatively quickly. The local train where you cover the last few miles will go on forever. There is no logical reason why. As a pretty Scotsman once said “wibbly wobbly timey wimey”
7) Children WILL foil your plans
If you want your children to sleep on the train, don’t let them both sleep in the afternoon before. Self-explanatory really, and failure to comply will result in a drifty-eyed boy just as you’re pulling into the station. Having said that, if anyone knows how to keep children awake without poking them with a sharp stick do let me know…..
8) Discreetly breastfeeding a toddler
If you’re hoping that no-one on a crowded train will notice that your breastfed baby is actually 15 months old, dressing them in a baby-pink babygro helps make them look younger. Letting them hop down from your knee and wander off down the aisle saying “aya!” to everyone ruins the illusion somewhat.
9) Fun with blinds
Blind goes up, blind goes down. Repeat. Ad infinitum.
Don’t spend so long writing a list of tips that you fail to notice you’re almost at the terminus. Unless your kids like being flung off the train in a rather hasty manner…
And now I’m finishing this on the return train from Manchester to Euston and I have one bit of advice to offer anyone who works in the buffet car of long-distance trains. Remember that episode of Friends where Rachel and Joey are having a heart-to-heart and the annoying waiter comes over to banter with them, before concluding “not that kind of table”? Watch that. Absorb that. Put it into practice. If a tired-looking mother with a baby boards your train and your hot selection consists of one single mushroom panino, break it to her gently. Don’t just say that you’ve been working for 10 hours and have sold £800 of sandwiches, so you must be doing something right. If she grudgingly agrees to buy one of your 10-hour old sandwiches, don’t badger her about not making it a meal deal. She wants mango juice. If the mango juice isn’t part of the deal, that’s OK. She’ll understand that. Don’t make puppy noises and tell her how inexplicable her decision is. At this point, she has told you several times how hungry she is, and all this banter is getting in the way of her eating. Just process the damn sandwiches. And whatever you say, make sure it’s not “Don’t hate me”. That ship may have sailed.
Are we nearly there yet?!