Apologies in advance peeps, for I thought it was time I wrote a tips post.
Yes, a tips post.
The sort of tedious diatribe where someone sees fit to give you their pearls of wisdom on a subject that you probably know more about than they do.
I have read some classics in my time: tips on breastfeeding your baby, for example, written by someone with no medical qualifications or experience, and whose dubious tips were completely in opposition to all current medical advice. Tips on fertility treatment, from someone who’d never had it, and my all-time favourite tips post: tips on being a working parent, by yes, you’ve guessed it, someone who doesn’t work.
So ladies and gentlemen, I throw my hat, the Hat of Tips, into the ring with these jokers, and I give you the first in my #SingleMumTips series (there may be others, consider yourselves warned): Tips on Being on a Train With a Toddler.
I am quite qualified on this one, you see. I may not be a train driver, nor the person who checks the tickets, nor even the unfortunate one who has to try and steamroller everyone with a trolley full of shortbread biscuits on those Cross Country trains that stop at every station in Britain with only two carriages that always seem to be filled to the brim with approximately two thirds of the UK population at any given time, but I do travel by train a lot. I’ve even got a season ticket of sorts with Great Western (got to support the local team, if not the cheapest). And this half term I have been on no less than two long train journeys with Piglet. I may be a carless pleb, but this carless pleb likes to travel, and she will damn well make sure she does it, public transport beware.
So without further ado, here be the tips. Close your ears, all ye train drivers, ticket collectors and trolley-pushers of Britain, for I speak for my experience alone.
1.) Book a ticket in advance.
Easier said than done, this one, for I hate knowing what I’m going to do months before I actually do it. I feel like it really sucks the joy out of life. What is half term for, if not an unexpected jaunt to the Midlands with a two year old? We just love impulse buys and crazy spur of the moment trips in this house, but we don’t love spending loadsamoney on a train ticket just because Mummy forgot (again) that super off peak tickets are only valid out of London after 7pm and that means hometime two hours post bedtime and potentially being murdered in cold blood by an irate businessman on a cut-throat commuter train after finding oneself unintentionally in the Quiet Coach with a screechy overtired toddler. Also, just so you know, there are only so many times you can sit on the floor in that scary bit in between the carriages all the way from Bristol to Birmingham and pretend it’s a “fun adventure.”
2.) Find some tolerant fellow travellers
Difficult one this. I would usually recommend steering clear of anyone with a laptop who looks like they are using it for “work” purposes, but I did recently find myself on a Friday night commuter train heading out of London wedged in between two of these, toddler in hand, having Thomas and Friends forcibly served to him on a small iphone to try and placate the screeching and climbing, only to have one of them lean over and admit he had a six month old, and was interested to see what might be in store in future. “NOT TRAINS,” I replied. “I DO NOT RECOMMEND TAKING THEM ON TRAINS.” He replied that Piglet seemed to be handling it just fine. THANK THE LORD ABOVE FOR THOMAS AND FRIENDS. Probably best to record that statement, as you’ll not be hearing it again. Also, late night trains full of drunkards can be surprisingly positive experiences. Drunk people have an unusually high tolerance level for small children throwing used train tickets on the floor and then persuading them to pick them up again so they can do it again, and again, and again ad infinitum.
3.) Take repeated trips to the buffet car
This, my friends, is the big advantage of taking the train, overpriced and overloaded as it invariably is, over taking the long distance coach, the latter being misery itself, and I know, as I once had to share a National Express with a man who claimed to be a street entertainer from Covent Garden, and whose entertainment consisted of shouting “Stop the coach! I need a wee wee!” at the driver until she pulled on to the hard shoulder and called the police. So far, no one has ever done this on the Great Western as toilets are usually provided, although we were once stuck for twenty minutes just outside Reading whilst a violent Welshman was restrained in a headlock. That was no fun I can tell you. Luckily this was pre-Piglet. Now, post-Piglet, the buffet car is the main attraction. When you get bored of looking at the same old seat in front, and there are only so many times you can pull the seat tray down and up again before it gets old, you just take a little wander to the buffet car. Latte for Mummy, bit of fruit cake and you’ve wasted ten minutes of a two hour journey straight away. And then you only have to spend the next forty minutes trying to avoid scalding a small child. #Winning.
4.) Take a fold up pushchair
Bit obvious, this one, but it’s only this week that I discovered that the wee fold-up actually fits in the overhead compartment. Seriously #Winning. Just make sure you don’t leave it in the sliding doors as they are closing while you chase the toddler down the aisle. It still hasn’t quite recovered from that one. Those doors just keep closing.
5.) Treat it as a learning experience
At the moment, we are working on vocabulary. “COWS!” I shout enthusiastically as we spot out of the window things that are only normally observed in books. “SHEEP! HOW DO SHEEP GO?” Dutifully, Piglet does the requisite animal noises, and says “choo choo!” cutely every time we spot another one. In times of desperation, it will work for thirty seconds at best, before you have to start repeating yourself. There are only so many things that can be spotted in the average rural vista, but think of the gains for the child’s attention span. They’ll get used to sitting still for two hours eventually, right?
Disclaimer: I was not sponsored by any train company for this post. They all hate me for being a menace to society by taking a toddler on their trains. However, if anyone wants to give me free train tickets, I’m all ears. Also, you might have noticed that these tips are tongue in cheek. I’m an expert on precisely nothing, but I do like trains, and to prove it, here’s a shot I actually put on Instagram of celebrity Class 43 Sir Kenneth Grange, usually to be found being papped by men in anoraks at the end of the platform in Swindon.