Let me just start by saying that I love you. I may be a small town girl, but my heart belongs to you. I love your vibe, your diversity, your opportunities. It means that I’m willing to forgive a lot. You’re expensive, you’re over-crowded and you’re keen to pander to Russian oligarchs. But I do still love you.
But, London, why do you make it so very hard to get around with young children? On the surface it seems that you like children. Your museums, your parks, London Zoo, fountains that you can splash in, Hamley’s, the magic of Kensington Palace, the gore of your history…there’s so much to bewitch children. But beneath, at your rumbling heart, on the Underground, you seem to despise families with young children.
By far the quickest way to get around the city is the Tube. London, you have a mysterious way of eating into time as it is. An hour can disappear in a heartbeat. And you’re a city that demands fluidity. Why, then, make it so hard to get about?
Just look at all of those stations on the Tube map. Do you know how many of them are step-free? Maybe you know (I hope you’re ashamed if you do know). But I shall tell you anyway: 66. Just look at that map again. It’s not many, is it?
Oh, but of course, there’s an improvement plan in place. Yes, 22 stations to be made accessible by 2021 is going to make things so much easier. (Excuse me whilst I face palm.)
Still, it could be worse. I could be disabled and using a wheelchair rather than simply having to use a buggy for a few years. At least it means that I can use the escalators. Not that I should. Well, not without folding it. Sorry, London, but clearly you’ve never had kids. How am I meant to manage a folded buggy, the baby/toddler that would otherwise be restrained inside and accompanying baggage? Not to mention orchestrating such a manoeuvre without causing a giant backlog of commuters behind me? Sorry, but I’ll take my chances and balance it somewhat precariously with a vice-like grip.
Still, it’s still not the worst prospect. No, that’s being confronted by a flight of stairs. Do you know how awkward and unwieldy it is to carry a pushchair complete with occupant up and down stairs? Clearly not.
I wanted to cry when face with a sign at Old Street station today that simultaneously pointed to the Northern line I needed and warned of a 100-step descent? Luckily for me a woman clocked my aghast face and let me know that I could use the escalator and just walk around to the platform.
And that’s what you’ve got on your side, London: some wonderful, generous residents. People regularly moan at how insular and unfriendly Londoners are. I couldn’t disagree more. No matter where I’ve been, no matter how busy the time of day, there has always been someone willing to step out of their bubble to help me. Noodles sits royally like a king on a sedan chair as people, male and female, young and old and from all walks of life help me carry him up and down the endless stairs. Thank you, London, for the people who live and work and play within your boundaries.
It’s because of these people that we can find space onto Tube carriages even when they’re crushed beyond maximum capacity. Even when space is a premium people will accommodate all that they can. You should be incredibly proud of them.
Maybe I’ve got you wrong. Maybe your awkwardness is benevolence in disguise. If so, your disguise is a good one. Is it all part of a plan to get families to walk more? When it’s a beautiful, sunny day with time to kill there’s nothing better than strolling through your streets. You get a sense of each neighbourhood, able to see the diversity of all that you have and yet how they connect. It’s healthier, it’s less stressful and there’s more for the kids to see. (My stroll today took in taxidermy and tattooists – the conversations with the children become very colourful very quickly. Is that what they mean by broadening horizons and opening minds?)
But is isn’t always sunny and time isn’t always on our side. To turn your back on the needs of young families doesn’t mean that we don’t have needs. And so we suck it up and struggle on. Thanks for that.
It’s a good job that you are such a wonderful city and getting about is only a part of the deal. We had a joyful day despite our transport struggles. Without you, London, our experiences would be a lot more constrained. I love you and I love that I have children who love you too. I just wish that the love extended as far as getting about.
Yours, with love
The Gluestick Mum