And by ‘shit’ I don’t mean possessions, though that’s also a very real concern when travelling with an infant. No, I’m talking about your patience, your sanity, your will to live – all of which tend to be in very short supply when attempting to move around the capital with a resentful moppet in a pushchair.
You might be squashed into a sweaty Tube carriage at rush hour with 500 other commuters and your buggy-bound urchin in tow but make no mistake, you are totally on your own. Your offspring has absolutely no appreciation of what you have to go through to get them from A to B while they sit back in their sheepskin-lined chariots and scream at you because you didn’t pack enough toddler snacks, and you will get zero sympathy from your fellow Londoners who pretty much just hate you for introducing unnecessary noise/people/eye contact into their commute.
It would be so easy to just sit at home and watch daytime TV while you wait for your ingrates to flee the nest, or at the very least start school, but then you’d miss out on all the amazing shops, activities and hangouts the city has to offer, plus you will gradually start to lose the plot until one day you’ll realise that not only do you know the identities of the entire Twirlywoos family but you’ve rewritten their theme tune to feature you and your child. So take a deep breath, get up off the sofa, load up the Bugaboo, top up your Oyster and read our top 10 tips for enduring a cross-London jaunt avec enfant terrible.
- Invest in a lightweight buggy: We have a GB Pockit, which holds the Guinness World Record for ‘smallest commercially available folded pram’. It has a tiny fold, can be popped in a (large) backpack and is so lightweight (4.3kg) that even lil’ me can hoist it and Bab up and down stairs without so much as a wheeze. The more expensive Babyzen Yoyo is slightly heavier (6.2kg) but still suitable for solo Tube use by a reasonably strong adult, plus it has a recline and comes with a rain cover, unlike the Pockit, which is basically the buggy equivalent of the bit at the end of the first Terminator film when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s flesh melts off to reveal an unsightly, lumbering metal skeleton. Not the prettiest or hardiest stroller in the world but it does the job.
- Stop giving a shit about your fellow commuters: I don’t mean be an arsehole, but rather get used to the fact that people are going to act like you’re basically Satan for bringing your child onto their personal train, parking your buggy in front of their personal seats and breathing their personal subterranean air. Commuters are dickheads. Even if they’re perfectly nice people the rest of the time, when they are commuting they are the worst kind of twats. Just remember that the Tube is for everyone and you have as much right to be there as that knobhead in the suit and winklepickers who pushed past you to get a seat and who probably works at Foxtons. Don’t be tempted to apologise for your existence or other people’s lack of patience, even if your kid is being a little shit. You’re all just trying to get home.
- Take the Ginger Line: The Overground has a rather annoying habit of skirting around the capital rather than getting right in there like the Tube does, which is a shame because it’s an infinitely pleasanter way to travel. If you can use the Overground then do it – the trains are much more spacious than underground ones and can be accessed by lift from most stations, and since they mostly run overground (the clue being in the name) there’ll be plenty of lovely scenery to distract the buggy monster. The DLR offers a similarly pleasant experience if you’re heading that way, plus if you manage to bag the front seat then the sprogs can have a giggle pretending they’re the driver, which literally never gets old.
- Avoid rush hour: It goes without saying but if you can avoid the Tube between 4.30 and 7pm then, for your own sake, do. Rush hour with a buggy is hell on Earth. You won’t be able to move down the platform, you won’t fit on the train, you definitely won’t get a seat and everyone will tut at you just for existing, as if your stress levels weren’t already through the roof. We generally completely ignore this rule due to awkward nap times and frequently find ourselves on the busiest section of the Northern Line at office chucking-out time, wishing that someone other than Jeff Goldblum would hurry up and invent some kind of teleportation system.
- Be a mobile minibar: Snacks are the key to a stress-free day out. I recommend Organix Goodies Puffcorn, Ella’s Kitchen Raisin & Oat Cookies and Little Dish Pop Pops. I always worry that fellow travellers are judging me for feeding my 15-month-old pre-packaged snack food and find myself aiming the ‘no junk promise’ label at their faces, but to be honest who really cares. I might actually start offering her crack in front of people just to see what happens. Anyway, these guys are really delicious. I consume a lot of toddler snacks since Bab will only eat what I’m eating and I’d rather she didn’t chow down on Snickers bars and Monster Munch at this point in her young life. By the way, this post is in no way sponsored by Organix, Ella’s Kitchen or Little Dish, though if any of them would like to forward me some samples for research purposes then that’s absolutely fine.
- Get to know the step-free stations: Even if your home and destination stations don’t have lifts, knowing the best places to change lines can take the edge off a tense Tube mission. King’s Cross is a good step-free interchange, even if the Byzantine lift system is a bit confusing, and I’m a big fan of Canada Water for changing from the Ginger to the Jubilee. Certain stations are an absolute no-go, particularly at certain times of day (hi Bank), so get to know which ones they are and then avoid them like the plague.
- Use the disabled carriage: Some Tube lines have special disabled cars that are easier to board from the platform and have dedicated wheelchair-parking areas by the doors. Obviously give any disabled people priority here, but if there’s space then by all means utilise.
- Familiarise yourself with the Tube map: When you’ve lived in London long enough you develop a kind of Tube map synesthesia where when you hear the words “Oxford Circus” you literally just see blue, red and brown – that and, you know, HELL. This can be very useful when you’re in a rush to get places but don’t have time to stand around studying the wall map while your child pelts you with half-chewed satsuma segments.
- Add some bells and whistles to your buggy: If your child is anything like mine they will automatically hate anything specifically designed for them to play with, but it still can’t hurt to decorate your bumper bar with a few shiny things to wave in their faces when the whining awakens your urge to kill.
- Prep your undercarriage: This isn’t anything to do with bikini waxes or sanitary towels, but rather making sure you have a well-stocked buggy basket. Always carry a big bottle of water, a rain cover, some kind of raincoat/pac-a-mac situation and a lovely picture book and you will be absolutely fine – or at least slightly less suicidal than if you don’t.
Bab reads The London Noisy Tube by Marion Billet