I used to make frequent visits to London pre-son – I worked there for a time so commuted daily to our fair capital and, following that, made regular trips to see friends, have jaunts and attend events.
Admittedly I’m a little out of practice, but overall I thought I had the whole ‘big city’ thing pretty well sorted. That is until this week – we took our son (nearly three) on his first proper trip to London to visit Big Ben and my eyes have been well and truly opened – I have been ‘doing’ London all wrong.
To save you from the same embarrassing mid-trip realisation I urge you to take heed readers – leave your quiet done-this-before nonchalance on the platform and take not another step in the Big Smoke without first complying with the following guidelines of London Etiquette:
Uniform –first things first, you need a London-specific outfit. Shun subtlety here. Opt for something that really screams LONDON. Refer to it only as your ‘London top’ and refuse to wear it at any other time unless you can be guaranteed that you are actually going to London.
Preparation – parents can be flighty and parents frequently say they ‘don’t have enough pennies for that’, normally icecream. I strongly advise taking matters into your own hands and packing a ‘London bag’. Do this weeks, if not months, in advance – at the very first whiff of the London idea to be on the safe side. Pack wisely – pennies, Swashbuckle jewels, a small spanner and a ticket should do it.
On the Train – it is a sad fact that many of your fellow passengers may be confused as to where they are, where they are going and what they are doing. You must step in with some loud, important and frequent announcements ‘Mummy, we are on the train!…That woman is getting on the train!…That man is on the train too!…We on the Southampton to London Waterloo train!’
This is of the utmost assurance to those lost souls, but it’s a balance…you don’t want to alienate them with your superior grasp of the situation. Make your announcements, give a few moment’s pause for the information to sink in and then follow loudly with ‘where are we going Mummy?’.
Activity – in the run up to the big day your parents may make muttering about ‘ooo we could do this, go here, visit that, see them’…aquariums and transport museums may be mentioned. Instil a sense of ‘lets just go and survive’ in the people who gave you life by sleeping terrifically badly in the nights leading up to the trip. You will mercifully find yourself simply going to London, walking round the block and coming home again.
Safety First – London can be a dangerous place, channel your espionage abilities for this one. It’s important to put people off the scent from your true mission of sauntering round the block. If anyone, anyone at all – be it a uniformed guard, a fellow train passenger or a family member – asks what you are going to be doing in London you must be consistent and LIE. Stare until they repeat the question. While staring, think. Think of what you know about London, look at your uniform, then declare: ‘we are going on a London bus’.
Photography – Your parents may want to mark the occasion of you meeting Big Ben with various photo opportunities. Thwart. Look away, shake your head so you’re blurry, look grumpy, gurn.
IF you find yourself in an inevitable spiral towards a ‘celebratory family selfie in front of Big Ben’ here’s what you need to do: refuse to be held by anyone other than the more capable selfie-taker thus orchestrating the taking of said selfie by the parent who will struggle. You will have successfully paved the way for a lovely picture of half of each of your parent’s heads, a very tiny Big Ben peeking in the top right corner and NO toddler whatsoever.
Clock Problems – Big Ben is all well and good, but if you find yourself in his vicinity you will not fail to notice a clock on Westminster Abbey that IS NOT WORKING. Do not be fobbed off into believing otherwise. This clock has only one hand and is emphatically not working. Make it known that you are on to this – demand a closer look and remind your companions of this strange not-working clock throughout the rest of the day and in the days following your visit. The very fabric of your understanding of horoloy will be challenged and this must not go un-noted.
Statues – you’ll see many statues adorning the streets and squares of the little bit of London you’ll get to. It is vitally important that you stop in front of each one, find out the name of the person depicted then re-enact their pose. If there is a horse involved you must not continue on your journey until the proper name for their steed has been imparted…‘Horsey’ will not cut it.
Station forecourts – stations are busy places; people seem rushed and some a little anxious. Keep everyone on their toes with a well-timed incident. Sit quietly and calmly as your pushchair is wheeled into the cramped aisles of the London Waterloo M&S. Eye up your target; reach out an arm and…there goes that bottle of champagne. Note with interest the gasps of fellow shoppers and the speed with which Mummy runs to the sandwiches and pretends not to know you or Daddy. Show no remorse, the only acceptable utterance in a moment like this is a loud cry of ‘WHOOPS! said Mr Clumsy!’
Bidding Farewell – it is incredibly important to deliver the correct and proper salutations in life. You are back on the train and have made your passenger announcements, all that’s left are your goodbyes: ‘GOODBYE LONDON’…‘GOODBYE LONDON EYE’…GOODBYE. Simple really. Ensure this is delivered at regular intervals and so that London can hear you until the train reaches Eastleigh – next stop Southampton Central.
For more toddler etiquette pop here.