london in five days (V)

Our final day in London started bright and early for Lucas and I, like pre-7am early, which, for me, is unheard of when we’re home, because I go to bed so late. But here in London, fatigued from the day and with no Internet to while my nocturnal hours away, I’d been going to bed before midnight. Ordinarily, if I were up at that ridiculous hour, I’d be a groggy, grunting lump shuffling listlessly across the floor. But this time around, possibly owing to the fact that we were in London (yay!), as well as the fact that I likely had sufficient sleep, I was uncharacteristically alert, perky almost. And I hadn’t even had breakfast yet.

I put on my blue flowered polyester dress, the last clean item of clothing I’d brought. Up to that point, I’d always worn it over leggings, because British weather only occasionally gets hot enough to go sans leg-coverings, and it hasn’t been that hot since I bought the dress last year. In this heatwave, it goes without saying that I was going to go bare-legged. However, I didn’t account for the fact that the dress was, um, a bit short. After I put it on, I kept tugging at it, hoping that it was at least covering vital parts of my anatomy. Lucas very helpfully suggested that I could put on my navy blue shorts under it and his brilliant idea saved me from much potential embarrassment, as well as having to take small, dainty steps for the rest of the day. After donning the shorts, he said I looked more confident. Ha!

The early start meant that we could get everything packed up before Ares and Raspberry were awake. It also meant that we could chat with our one flatmate — a law student from Nottingham named Catherine who was on a two week work placement — before she left for work. She worked long hours and would return late, so we only really saw her at night when we were making dinner or cleaning up. Raspberry enjoyed talking with her and promised to make her a picture before we left. She drew one of balloon people, inspired by a balloon in the shape of a number five, that we saw on our train to London.

If there was one thing I liked about the apartment (besides the fact that the bed was a lot comfier than our own), it was meeting fellow travellers. I’d talked quite a bit with the Slovenian guy before he and his girlfriend left. We’d see each other in the kitchen, as he prepared a no-frills breakfast or did his dishes. He seemed quite nice, as he’d recount the places they visited, sightseeing the way we did, but probably in a cooler, edgier, we-don’t-have-kids-in-tow sort of way. Oh, and they hit up plenty of musicals too, which isn’t exactly our cup of tea. He offered us the sunscreen he bought just before he left, but we didn’t need it. I didn’t really get a chance to chat with the Korean girl who’s an art student from Seoul, although Lucas did. The day we first met her, she gave Raspberry a small package of chocolate biscuits, which she devoured while we were out at South Bank. Raspberry, who forms attachments quickly and easily, wished she could keep in touch with Catherine. We had to explain to her the concept of fleeting friendships, and how you can’t really form long-term friendships with everyone. I’m not sure if she quite understood though.

It was so hot the night before that Ares slept topless and Raspberry slept bottomless.

Ever since the day we were locked out of the apartment and I took Raspberry to the playground across the street, she’d been asking to return to the park so she could work on her calluses walking across the chain bridge (inspired by Ramona’s World). We gave her a lot of “we’ll see” answers (yes, yes, I know, parent-speak for “no”) as we were out morning to evening every day, leaving little time to spend at a park that, in my opinion, wasn’t very good to begin with. However, in response to the zillionth request the day before, we’d said that we spend a little time at playground in the morning, when we leave. And so, we did just that. Lucas commented how it was a good thing we’d had an early start, so we wouldn’t be terribly rushed, as we sometimes are.

We found a busted tennis ball in Hyde Park the day before. Ares loves balls and it’s his ball now.

Ares fearlessly climbed to almost the top of the ladder. Meanwhile, Raspberry had been nervous about climbing it and was certain she couldn’t do it. Sigh.

Because we’d eaten out the evening before, we weren’t going to do so for lunch. Rather, we went to Sainsbury’s, where Lucas stayed on a bench with our bags while I scrambled around with Raspberry, trying to find food for our lunch. We emerged with four apples, a bag of clementines, four croissants (two almond and two chocolate), and two tubs of yogurt. As we packed the food up, I think the reality of this being our last day in London really hit Raspberry and she got really sad and teary that we were leaving. It took a bit to calm her and we promised to look into getting her a souvenir online upon our return home.

Our plan for the morning involved spending some time at the Grant Museum of Zoology, going to the British Library so Lucas could get an article that’s impossible to acquire anywhere else, and swinging at the giant birdcage we saw at King’s Cross on our first day. Granted, it wasn’t going to be as exciting as our other days, but it was going to be a muted last hurrah.

As luck would have it though, the plan for the remainder of our time in London veered off-track. We took the tube to Euston Square, with the intention of going to the zoology museum first. Except that when we got there, the lights were all off, signalling that it was closed and didn’t open until 1pm. One p.m. — almost the time we were supposed to be on our train home. “Nooooooooooo!” I howled tragically. I thought about dramatically falling to my knees, but I was pulling a suitcase. This is what I get for assuming that the museum had regular museum-ish hours and would be open all day rather than just for the afternoon. I can’t believe my mistake.

Well, this obviously meant we had plenty of time to be at the British Library then. The plan was for Lucas to go inside to get his article and for me to hang out in the garden with our luggage and the kids. He went in, Raspberry balanced on the edge of a raised flower bed and Ares examined flowers and ants. So far so good. Except Lucas emerged soon after. As it turns out, it’d take anywhere between a few hours and a few days to retrieve the article, so getting it at that point wasn’t an option. Great. Just great.

With our plan for the day more or less foiled, I really wanted to see if there was anything else we could do in the area, since there was about two hours until we had to catch our train. Lucas, exhausted from all our London adventures and from carrying the busted suitcase (which still contained some of our stuff), wasn’t too keen on going very far. On one of our many maps, I noticed a listing for the David Roberts Art Foundation and Gallery. David Roberts?! As in one of my favourite illustrators?! How did I not know about this gallery?! Obviously I had to go. On the map, it was a straight route from Euston station, where we were leaving from. I reasoned that it wouldn’t be that hard to get there, but neither Lucas nor Raspberry seemed too interested, so I let it go. It was starting to drizzle by this time, so we decided to head over to King’s Cross, rather than remain idle under a shelter at the British Library.

Raspberry and Ares examine an ant up close.

This ended up being the only thing we did that we planned to do — revisit the enormous birdcage that we saw on our very first day. Lucas stayed in King’s Cross station while I took Raspberry across the street to swing in the birdcage. She waited patiently while an older Chinese woman pushed her granddaughter on the swing. I felt bad waiting there, as I’m sure the kid would’ve loved to swing for longer. Raspberry had her turn as the raindrops started becoming larger, so we went back inside.

I kept thinking about the David Roberts Gallery and how I really wanted to make the best use of our last hours in London, so I suggested that I could hightail it there and back, with time to spare for our train. No one else was interested, so Lucas said they could hang out in Euston station while I went, as long as I returned by 12:30pm. Done and done!

We walked through King’s Cross-St Pancras, where Raspberry stopped to pick up samples of salad in mini cups, and I returned our Oyster cards for a refund. I’d liked to have kept them for our next trip, but Lucas reasoned that we could use the money now.

Walking over to Euston station thereafter, we had to cross a busy street without the aid of traffic lights. We stood on the strip of median together with some other pedestrians as vehicles, including large trucks whizzed inches from us. Two ladies waiting to cross with us pulled me in closer, “Someone with a baby on their back shouldn’t be so close to the traffic.”

I left Lucas and Raspberry in the large darkened hall on Euston station and sped-walked toward Camden, where the David Roberts Gallery was. It seemed easy enough, just straight up the street. I estimated it’d take me about ten minutes. I walked alongside the station, listening to the female voice announcing the trains. The train station gave way to a postal facility, then a quiet residential area with a funeral home and soon enough, I was right on the edge of a bustling neighbourhood, with loads of restaurants, shops and some very annoying construction that prevented me from crossing the street quicker than I wanted. I kept checking my watch, making sure I had enough time, and cursed my short legs and my feet for not having the ability to move quicker. Ares, now asleep on my chest, slumped on my shoulder, oblivious to my mild stressing out. I walked up the road, past all these restaurants that made me hungry, trying to look out for a sign for the gallery but alas, there was nothing. Finally, I decided to turn back, since the map told me I’d gone past where I was supposed to be. Not to mention, I didn’t have much time left. As I backtracked, I noticed a sign for the gallery, tucked away in an alley. I was elated by this serendipitous last-minute find.

But my glee was short-lived when upon entering the gallery, I realized that it was merely a contemporary art gallery and there was absolutely nothing to do with David Roberts, the illustrator. If I didn’t have a train to make, I might’ve given the gallery a cursory browse, but there was no time for that, as I had five minutes to make it back to the station, so I could be back at the time I promised. [Upon doing a quick search when I returned home, I learn that the David Roberts Foundation and Gallery refers to an art collector. But of course.] Walking back to a place you know always feels and probably is quicker than when you’re walking to an unfamiliar locale. I may not have made it up to Camden in the ten minutes I’d thought but I sure made it back to the station in that time. Before we boarded the train, I helped Raspberry pen a quick postcard to my parents while Ares couldn’t get enough of a dog sitting beside us.

If our day wasn’t already going to plan, the train trip home was just icing on the cake. The train left the station late, due to the guard arriving late. He’d just come off another train, one that’d hit someone, and they didn’t have any additional crew. Once the train got moving, we thought that at least the ride home would be uneventful. Ha, what were we thinking?! Due to signalling problems, the train had to be diverted a different route to get to Crewe, thereby adding more time to our trip (apparently, a rodent chewing through the cables was to blame for this).

It would’ve been all right, except that both Raspberry and Ares were beyond restless. They’d eaten all they’d wanted to eat, and read all they wanted to read, and of course, Ares wasn’t having a second nap, because that’s not what he does these days. He spent a good amount of time shrieking, much to the irritation of the other passengers around us. There was a guy sitting together with us in our four-seater and he seemed friendly, rolling his eyes good-naturedly every time the guard made an announcement about a further delay. He soon snuck over to the empty seats across from us, because I’m sure he didn’t want to deal with the shenanigans that come with two kids (even though he said he had four of his own, but of course it’s different when it’s a stranger’s kids). Lucas was beyond annoyed with Ares’ screaming, and I’m certain another guy across from us gave us the evil eye a couple of times, while he tried to get some shut eye. I took Ares on a wander to the shop, and the guy working there very kindly gave me a couple of kids’ activity packs, which kept Raspberry and Ares’ attention for a little while.

We arrived in rainy Liverpool, over an hour late, our nerves frayed from the past three hours on the train. The guard, a tall guy in suspenders, half-rimmed glasses and slicked back hipster hair, apologized and admitted forlornly that “it’s been a very bad day.” I felt bad for him, coming off a train that hit someone and having to deal with the mess of the trip we were just on. At least we weren’t sitting near him, with our fidgety kids. We trudged uphill home, in the light rain, sad that our five days in London were over, but beyond relieved to finally be home.

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