Our flat isn’t huge. I mean I’m not complaining that two parents working twenty hour days, one of whom received a ransom load of inheritance from a generous ancestry, are only able to afford a smallish, comfortable space in Zone 2 of London. That would be the ultimate in middle class problems and we all know that middle class problems are pretty much the worst kind of problems imaginable: not only because they are trivial but because they have the same relative moral value as fraudsters’ promises and Daily Mail opinion pieces. So I’m not complaining about the gentrification, that I clearly am a part of, that is ruining my area. Those pieces sit festering on my hard drive as I rationalise my own hypocrisy. I am not complaining about the endless procession of cafes staffed by arts students who remind me of my lost dreams, which have proliferated along the highways and side streets. That is not my agenda.
What I’m trying to say is that me and my unidentified toddler son love to get out and about when we can, exploring London with an Oyster Card, nappy bag and a sense of shared camaraderie that grows from my inability to recognise that he is not just a toddler but a superhero in training. When we stay at home my little boy likes to use his imagination and play games, which means he makes a mess with all his toys while denying that he has done a poo, which means I have to clear them up while he sleeps after a traumatic nappy change because his attempts to clear up are endearing but woefully inadequate. The upshot of all this is that we go out a lot so that I don’t have to clear up or ever change his nappy. Basically, I have one form of laziness that trumps all of my other forms of laziness and, as a result, I spend most of my time with my son going on trips, excursions and jollies around London. Most of them are cool with him so long as he gets to walk, sing songs and loudly request snacks. Some of them really blow his mind because they hit his hot buttons, his nascent childhood desires for entertainment and adventure. I give them to you:
1. A boat on the Thames
When the weather is fine . . . .”Isn’t that expensive?” I hear you say. “It’s relatively inexpensive,” I answer. “Jonny, you’re a liar,” you all scream in unison. Well no, actually. I’m not talking about an exclusive tourist trap boat that charges tens of pounds for the privilege of someone telling you which one is Tower Bridge and what the London Eye is while about six hundred teenagers take selfies. I’m talking about the boat you can ride with your Oyster Card that goes up and down the river all day that is virtually empty during the daytime: the MBNA Thames Clipper. It is amazing! We have taken it a couple of (hundred) times – I know all the stops, all the landmarks, everything. We gazed at the churning water, marvelled at the tiger mural inside and then marvelled at the water again before having hot baby chocolate. Go check it out and socialise with informed tourists, other parents and river-faring staff who have to tie a rope. My son looks set to be a sailor.
2. The Horniman Museum
I know what you’re going to say. “London’s full of wonderful museums.” It is. “What makes the Horniman so special?” you say. Well. As well as being free and interesting, it is set in grounds that are like toddler heaven. My boy spent half an hour enjoying an extreme slope, copying the school kids doing roly-polies down the hill and then spent another half an hour throwing the ball uphill and giggling after it and that was all before he discovered the outdoor instruments, which are so cool even reserved adults have to try them. I let him run free so I can play about with the xylophone and stuff then we meet up to go inside. The museum itself is pretty cool. We obviously spend a lot of time in the music room, where you can play all different kinds of instruments because I am training my son to do all the things I have yet failed to do, but the aquarium is a hit too because of the range of exotic and native fish.
3. The Tate Modern
Do you like art? I’m not sure if I do but I sure do love the Tate Modern. You’re by the river, which means you can’t go wrong. As my little one’s interests include stair-climbing, noisemaking and cool things that make him laugh, this museum is a perfect place. As we entered the Old Turbine Hall he happily pushed past lines of school kids being told to stand in order and ran down the slope. This was definitely his type of place. At the bottom of the turbine hall was a set of stairs that he couldn’t refuse and then, in the bowels of the building, were some wicked audio installations that made him sing and join in. BUT they were so loud that this didn’t annoy any serious artsy folks and made his day. There is also a big river next to it and they have art upstairs, so – culture.
4. Peckham Rye
Now, I’m not being lazy here because I am a ten-year Peckhamite. This is probably the best park South of the River because it has all the diversity you could need: ducks, Japanese Garden, nature reserve, streams, open parks, doggy zones, non-doggy zones, climbable trees and all kinds of ball games (Aussie Rules, Rugby, Football). It’s also pretty chill. There’s no insane dogs, van driving park keepers or angry kids and, if there are, there’s enough space for everyone to chill out enough that it doesn’t matter. The cafe serves good food and this is my son’s home from home right now because there are diggers building an uber-playground, by which I don’t mean a slip-n-slide for Uber drivers, that will be finished just in time for him. Of course, South London is blessed with parks so big up the town planners for that one at least.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but I thought I’d drop a little knowledge for the Dads. Peace.