Last month, with Lewis’s 12th birthday fast approaching, we were faced with the annual dilemma of what to buy the boy who has everything? Having not long been Christmas there was nothing that he needed, or even wanted, and although he is growing up fast I still wanted to give him something rather than the envelope of cash that he will most likely receive in the coming years. And knowing that Lewis has been desperate for a trip to London we decided that now was the time to venture to the Big Smoke and see the sights. And I for one was terrified.
I have been very honest about my battles with panic and anxiety, I freak out in a busy supermarket let alone the capital city. I carefully compiled a risk assessment in my head, the fear of terrorist attacks being at the forefront of my mind, but also so many other things to worry about. There was the worry of the train, of derailing, hijackers and head on collisions. There was the worry of the tube, of bombs, fires, suicidal passengers and freak earthquakes. The worry of the streets, of pick pocketers, muggers and murderers. You can imagine, I was really looking forward to this trip!!
And yet off we went, armed with our map and a selfie stick (which I also secretly believed may double up as a weapon!) and with the false bravado of a mature, sensible adult we took the Virgin Train from Manchester and in just over two hours, as we stepped off into London Euston, our sleepy little town up North felt like a very long way away!!
Thankfully we had brought Gaz along for the trip, or else we would still be at the station, crying and rocking in a corner having no idea where to go, what to do or how to get out of there! And despite my previous refusal to go on the tube, we found ourselves jumping on it to find our way to the apartment, which a friend had kindly sorted. And I’ll be honest with you, after a few sprays of Rescue Remedy, the tube was actually not that bad. Contrary to what I had seen and heard, there was a distinct lack of body odour or raging psychopaths, and we arrived at our apartment in one piece, clutching a bag of chips having already made the mistake of asking for gravy, and being looked at as though we had just landed from Mars!!
Our apartment was lovely, over in Sussex Place just a few minutes walk from Hyde Park. After dumping our bags, the first on our sight seeing tour was the park itself, an expanse of greenery amongst sky scrapers, taller than we had ever seen before. We had been so lucky with the weather, blue skies and sunshine, and in no time at all I forgot all about my worries and seeing the look on Lewis’s face was just priceless. He didn’t stop talking the whole time, “Look at that!”, and, “Wow can we go there?!” and that, the smile on his face, was the very reason why I knew it was all worth it.
As we made our way to Buckingham palace, Lewis’s eyes like saucers, we fought our way through to the gates and peered our heads in like the tourists we were. “Which one do you think is the Queens bedroom?” Lewis asked, “And do you think there’s stuff in every room?”.
From Buckingham palace we walked to Trafalgar Square where we collected our tickets for the The Original Tour, bought using our Tesco Club Card vouchers for four times their value. There was so much to see in that area, shops to mooch round, buskers to stand and watch, and the atmosphere to soak up. Lewis loved the M&M store which smelt AMAZING!!
After a walk through Leicester square, where we saw the paparazzi and the red carpet all ready for a film premier, we found ourselves at Covent Garden where we wandered around the shops and enjoyed the sunshine. We had already booked in at TGI Fridays, at Lewis’s request, and we all tucked into our food with the kind of hunger that only comes from having spent the day walking the streets of London.
After our meal we made our way to the Theatre Royal where we had tickets to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A firm favourite for all three of us, we really hoped that it didn’t disappoint. And it absolutely didn’t!! I have never seen a production like it, the costumes, the scenery, the use of technology and special effects. It was truly astounding, and even more so for the fact that Lewis sat beside me, a huge smile on his face, completely enthralled in the show and afterwards turned to me and said, “Thank you! That was amazing!!”.
By the time we made our way back to the tube station, our feet agony and our legs aching, I was far too tired to panic about the dangers of the tube at night, where in my imagination all of the muggers and murderers came out to play, and with just a short walk back to our apartment we were tucked up in bed by 11pm. And wow did we need that sleep!!
The next day we were up bright and early as we had tickets for The Sky Garden which had been playing on my mind for the previous week. I won’t lie, I am TERRIFIED of heights, so much so that I have been known to panic, feel as though I am going to pass out, and end up sat in a corner with my head between my legs, sipping on water. As we approached the building and I saw the height of it, my heart was literally beating out of my chest!
I have to admit, I felt much happier after the thorough baggage search and as we entered the lift I was secure in the fact that I was probably in the safest place in London at that point in time! And as we emerged from the lift and I prepared for a panic attack, the only thing that took my breath away was the view, it was completely and utterly breathtaking.
We had a full hour up there, taking in the view, looking through the telescope and spotting the tiniest of buildings on the horizon, and feeling as though we were in a whole different world. And weirdly, it wasn’t scary in the slightest!
Our next stop was a sightseeing cruise, included with our tickets from the Original London Tour. As we sailed down the river Thames, the sun beaming on our faces (so warm I even took my coat off, those who know me will tell you that this never happens!!), Lewis between us, it was the most relaxed I have felt in a long time. And slowly but surely I found myself falling in love with the city a little more and wondering why we haven’t been there more often.
Lewis was mesmerised by West Minster and Big Ben, the places that he has seen on the television but never with his own eyes. He asked questions, he excitedly chattered away, and he didn’t flinch when I put my arm around him, gave him a cuddle and told him that I love him so very much.
In the afternoon we did the open top bus tour, the most perfect way to see London, listen to the commentary via the headphones and actually learn some really interesting facts about London. We sat, in comfortable silence, our faces turning pink in the sun, and with the greatest view of the city, we watched the world go by. It was so lovely, so relaxing, so utterly perfect, until that moment when a low flying pigeon decided that NOW would be the time to relieve themselves…..right on Gaz’s forehead!! Lewis and I were hysterical with laughter, struggling to breathe as I scrabbled for my camera to capture the moment before he had the chance to clean himself up, (a photo which Gaz was reluctant to let me share!) And sat there, all three of us creased with laughter, tears streaming down our faces as we slapped our thighs and threw our heads back with wild abandon, that, right there and then was one of my favourite moments. Although admittedly, probably not Gaz’s…..
By the time we came to sit down for a meal we had pre-booked at Zizzi’s, courtesy of Tesco Club Card vouchers, our feet have never been so sore! We must have walked for miles and were so grateful when our food came that we devoured it without stopping for breath. As we sat there, our tummies full, recollecting the events of the two days, I realised just how much we needed this, the three of us. Because as much as Lewis never complains about the younger three needing our attention, there are times when it is important to give Lewis attention in his own right, to take him to places and to experience things that are more suited to his age, thing that are special, times we can make memories that aren’t centered around screaming babies, emergency nappy changes and Disney Princesses.
And as we prepared to say our Goodbyes to London, I actually felt really sad. Although I have been there previously, I have never seen it through the eyes of my child, with someone I love, and that, I think, makes all the difference. Plus, and it might sound silly to those who have never experienced anxiety, but I felt proud of myself for facing my fears and refusing to allow the crazy thoughts in my head to ruin a wonderful experience for me. It was a major step forward, and one which I shall remind myself of often.
And as the train pulled away from the station and Lewis lay his head on my shoulder, I wrapped my arms around him as he slept. I smoothed my hand against his cheek and dropped my lips to kiss his brow, and I freeze framed all of these moments, every second of our trip, every smile, the sound of his laughter, the look of amazement in his eyes, and I knew that those memories would last forever.
Especially the one about the pigeon…….