Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace was the stomping ground of King Henry VIII. This was the charming fellow with the penchant for beheading his wives. I am fairly confidant that he was a serial killer who, in this odd version of the universe, found himself on the throne and acted out his bloodlust with all the impunity that his office afforded him. I’m not British, so I think I can say that without finding myself in shackles for dissing a king, but I suspect my next visa application might get turned down if the British High commission ever happens across this blog.

Hampton Court is, by definition, a palace and as such was one of the first places we visited when we arrived in London because really the only thing that boys my sons ages are interested in are knights, dragons and cars and all that goes with those things. So a visit to a castle was a foregone conclusion. It matters not a whit that there were no dragons in residence on the day we were there, the fact is that there was a castle (palace vs. castle is a difficult distinction to make to a child) and that means there was a chance, however slight, of seeing a knight or dragon or indeed a king. If I’m honest, I may have planted a seed or two about the possibility of seeing one of the aforementioned draw cards. So a little bit of a parenting fail there if we’re keeping score.

The palace grounds were enormous and stretched out in all directions with manicured lawns and sculpted trees and bushes along meandering pathways. There were however plenty of no-go areas, specifically no stomping around in the flower beds or walking on the grass except for the ‘front garden’. There were also plenty of areas cordoned off by the impenetrable and ubiquitous rope. A device which only works on people old enough to understand it means no entry as opposed to the far more obvious purpose which is to gauge your skill at the limbo or to grab hold of and swing about wildly. My boys paid the formal use of these impenetrable barriers no mind whatsoever. My afternoon was spent running after the little guys in many of the no-go areas and at the same time constantly telling them to use ‘inside voices’, also not a very successful undertaking.

Later that day, the temperature dropped by half and it began to rain and, at one point, sleet. My boys having just come from a Southern Hemisphere summer climate were all at once blue lipped and chattered teeth. Their acclimatized cousins, who were old hands at the Palace, seemed a little bemused by the hardy Africans quivering in the biting cold.

One day I’ll be able to show my boys pictures of themselves sitting in grand fireplaces, lying in their backs in the main courtyard and running wild down an ivy covered tunnel, not to mention standing in a four-hundred odd year old doorway in the freezing cold and rain completely oblivious to the history and opulence of their surroundings.

Perhaps the pictures I took will encourage them to make the journey again under their own steam and soak up a bit of the story behind the palace (sans knights and dragons) and possibly even take their old fart parents with them.


The four by four

Getting out and about in London with four cousins aged six, four, three and two is a difficult proposition. They’re all boys too which adds an element of unpredictability and energy sapping micro management to the mix.

Herewith the detail.

We had a double stroller to get around with, not a side by side contraption mind you but one of those fancy upper and lower ones which was really quite compact for the job it did. We also had a single stroller, which was a problem in that two adults with four children and enough strollers for three of them is just bad math. Especially if all of them decided they wanted to ‘walk’ at the same time (picture what that scene would look like). So for the most part we just used the double buggy. This however was not really the most equitable little people carrier since at any given time there were at least three children that wanted to, or indeed needed to, ride in the stroller. Sometimes all four. Juggling the boys in and out of the stroller became something akin to a circus act.

The youngest of the four boys was the only one that really needed the seat, but he was the least inclined to ride in it. It took as much dexterity and will to get him into the seat as one would imagine it would take to nail a handful of custard to a tree. Then, keeping him in the seat required one to turn the volume down on the internal hearing aid for a time. Tears, wails of woe and pity, loud complaint and so on would erupt from the buggy for anywhere between five and twenty five minutes. You see, once he was in place, a battle of wills would begin where he tried to sway the argument his way to get out and I tried to sway it my way for him to stay put.

I think in the end we broke even over the course of the two and a half weeks however, it felt feel like he won more often than I did. Much, much more often.

Then there were the times where two, sometimes three, of the boys wanted to get into the one available seat in the stroller at the same time. It was like watching a prolonged game of musical chairs played out on the tubes and streets of London. If the occupant lifted his bottom out of the chair, the vacuum left behind him would immediately draw another boy into the space faster than the speed of sound. I say that because whoever happened to be displaced by this maneuver would begin to wail a nanosecond after the new bottom made contact with the seat. Almost like the sound was catching up with the event. It really was a Sophie’s choice for the boy in the hot seat though. Sitting there meant the view of things going on around them was limited, but even so much as lifting a cheek off the chair to get a better view of the sights would result in the coronation of a new king of the chair.

There were countless debates and negotiations for the crown to be passed willingly among the princes. I often caught myself looking in on those confrontations like a spectator and really, an adult stooping down to a child in a stroller to negotiate him out while his successor waited eagerly on the sidelines hopping on tired little feet like he needed to pee, looked like a scene from any one of a dozen Hollywood movies about a family with umpteen children.

In the end though we managed. But what I guess I’m saying is that we probably needed something along the lines of the buggy below. Everyone strapped in upon leaving the house with no parole for anyone at any time. That said however, getting up and down stairs at some of the tube stations without lifts would have shaved years off my life. As it is, I need a new pair of shoes.


The up up and away

Flying with children is a task best undertaken with more than one set of parenting hands on hand. Actually, a nanny and two parents would be a good idea if it happens to be a long haul flight. In the absence of those things I think a stiff drink of something from a bottle with an age restriction on it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Yes, I think knock yourself out and let the chips fall where they may.

The boys and I did an overnight flight alone recently. It wasn’t their first flight, but it was the first time on a red-eye without their mother (who was traveling on business). We had many discussions leading up to the flight during which the little guys promised to behave while on the flight with me but I suspect that one or both of them may have had their fingers crossed while making those promises because there was some dissension in the ranks when sleep time rolled around that night. We also flew in economy class which is, not to put too fine a point on it, a synonym for sardine class and we took off at a truly ungodly hour which meant I got on a pressurized tin can with two very overtired and unsettled little boys.

The goodbye mommy moment at the airport gate was, as you might expect, a little tearful. However moments later the boys were running wild through passport control shouting at the top of their voices while I was getting our documents stamped. Fortunately for me a lovely check-in clerk from the airline was herding the boys for me and ultimately helped me take them right to our seats where they were immediately stapled down.

Ok. So we didn’t use staples.

The boys and I sat together in the centre cluster of seats, occupying the first three seats from the left. I sat on the isle to prevent any unauthorized egress on that side (well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). My youngest boy sat next to me and the big guy sat on the third seat over.

The passenger that found himself on the seat to the right of us had an interesting flight (to say the least). He really was the most patient old guy who was off to visit his grandchildren and I must say was the perfect surrogate mom for us. To this person, I extend my gratitude and humblest apologies for what must have been a very long flight for you indeed.

I was as prepared as one could be for twelve hours of flying with two bundles of equal parts energy and defiance and I had a bag full of tricks to keep my boys entertained. That said, there is absolutely nothing in the universe that can keep a child stuck to a seat if they don’t want to be there. It is one of those laws of nature that one just has to accept like gravity and the propensity for peanut-buttered toast to fall face down in response to gravity.

The toys and entertainment had been carefully selected in duplicate so that there would be no disputes over who got what when they were handed out in mid air. The boys were to be trickle-fed these distractions throughout the duration of the flight, while they were awake. At least that was the plan. It was a good plan.

What actually happened though was the boys both stayed awake until at least two in the morning and then proceeded to wake up every half hour throughout the night in tears because they were uncomfortable and increasingly more tired as the night progressed. At some point they gave up opening their eyes and instead just made like starfish and slid out of their seats in tears. My night became a constant series of hugs and cuddles and tuck-inns. Eventually I sat between the boys to make sure I could catch them both before they made good their zombie escapes.

In my more delusional moments prior to flying I imagined the flight crew being more than happy to roll up their sleeves and get involved, for the sake of their own sanity and in order to prevent a lynching sentiment from swelling up amongst the passengers around us. But that didn’t happen. Instead they were strangely absent each time the little guys woke up during the night. Hiding in some nether region in the underbelly of the aircraft I would imagine. Smart girls. Very smart girls.

It was, to put it mildly, an extremely long night for me. And at one point I toyed with the idea of bursting into tears myself and demanding that the Captain come and change my nappy and tuck me in.

Then, suddenly it was morning. Blinds were opened, lights were turned on and breakfast rolled down the isles ahead of fresh-faced flight attendants offering omelets or scrambled eggs and impossibly small little plastic cups of some nameless breakfast juice. The last two hours of the flight went by in the blink of an eye and as we touched down on foreign soil, I resolved to budget for a ticket for our Aupair on the next trip.

Yes.

I also resolved to purchase a bottle of age-restricted liquid in duty free before the flight. Just to make sure, you understand.


The Big Ben

To paraphrase The Cousin a little, the reason that the levels of gun crime in the United Kingdom are so low compared to other countries in the West is because it is quite difficult to hold and fire a gun when you’re wearing mittens. By that I mean, of course, that England is cold.

In point of fact a sunny day there would be reason enough to wear winter garb in just about any country in the Southern Hemisphere. I was fortunate enough to spend some time there recently and with the boys in tow, I wore an inch off my shoes pushing strollers around the city and surrounds and running after the little guys. For the most part the weather was cool and overcast but not apocalyptically wet with rain and storms. I was quite fortunate to be spared that given that the weeks leading up to my arrival had been somewhat Noah and the Ark-ish.

That said, the boys and I were also treated to one of the finest days, weather wise, that anyone could hope for on Saturday March 29th 2014. The British Sky was a deep, clear blue. A strange object appeared in the East that day that had most of the nation in a panic for two reasons. The first was what exactly is that? It was the sun. The second was where are my summer clothes? In a chest in the roof feeding fat moths.

That day, I stepped out into what can only be described as a country full of creatures that were breaking out of their cocoons in desperate need of vitamin D. Every single Londoner was outside, walking in the parks, in the streets, along the banks of the river Thames and basking in the glorious sunshine they had not seen since some time in the last quarter of 2013.

In Africa, the day probably would have gone uncelebrated because virtually every day is like that one was. The Londoners were all quite giddy about it though and that rubbed off a little on us too. I herded the little guys down through the warren of tubes full of loud chatter and excited Brits not quite ready to shed their winter coats, but wearing strappy-tops and t-shirts just the same. Stepping out into the sunshine at the London Eye and seeing thousands of people milling about, sitting on the lawns and elbowing their way through themselves was really quite exciting.

The boys were taken by the Big Wheel but the star of the show was Ben. Ben the bell. It was all very confusing for them at first given that Big Ben is just the bell inside the Clock Tower in the city of Westminster. So instead of trying to explain, I picked a spot on Westminster Bridge and waited for Ben to identify himself. At Ten AM (sharp) Ben the bell played out a short ditty that anyone who hears it will immediately recognize as the quintessential bell ditty, followed by ten loud, clear and measured rings. London and all of its denizens seemed to take a breath. My boys won’t remember the day but I have pictures and I’ll be able to play them the sound Ben made as we posed in front of him and perhaps when they’re older they’ll be able to go back and make longer lasting memories they can carry with them (hopefully it’s when they’re old enough to pay their own way). For me though, it was a perfect moment.

After that, the excitement of Ben was almost immediately supplanted by the excitement of an ice cream in a cone. Ice cream eaten on the green grass in St. James park amongst the bare trees on a warm sunny day in London.


The while I was away

Been out of the country. Been on blog holiday. Expect new adventures to begin again on Monday. Stories from London aplenty…