In which our reluctant hero tackles a tricky side issue of the summer holidays.
A few weeks into holibobs and, according to antisocial media, parental opinion about how things are going is divided.
In the blue corner there’s the survivalists. Having scraped through July, these everyday folk are nervously approaching the summit of Mount August, hoping to erect a flag and get down without further slips, trips or falls. They’re finding it tough going. Some time away would probably help, but with the cost of four summer nights in a grotty holiday camp roughly equivalent to Greece’s national debt, it’s not going to happen.
In the rose-tinted corner there’s the “Why did you have children if you don’t actually like children?” brigade. For them, summer is stuck in the 1950s. They actually plan their idyllic days out, which I imagine involve skipping through wheat fields, blackberry picking and supping lashings of ginger beer with their lunchtime picnics. Obviously, they find time to tut disapprovingly at the blue lot, who retaliate with a few hurriedly typed uppercuts before retreating behind the sofa to sob into a bottle of gin.
For most of us, the reality is between these extremes. Other parents are off work so you can hang out and ignore your respective kids together, instead of at home alone. You needn’t venture too far or break the bank to fill the days either. With a little effort, it’s not hard to make better, more organised friends who source fun days out and eagerly share on Facebook to help inform your own “planning.” Sorted.
I’ve spent most of the summer having a rest at work. Meanwhile, my wife is finding the holidays a breeze compared to the normal weekday chaos of drop-offs, pickups, work and pacifying tired children who, on a bad day, make the current Trump v Kim Jong-un standoff look like an episode of Topsy and Tim.
The family have got through an insane amount of activities (National Trust visits, mud kitchens, donkey riding, Samaritans volunteering, baby raving, the Wolves in Wolves wolf trail, to list but a few) without me, and seem to be having a ball. I’m almost tempted to join them. Almost.
What’s more amazing is that jobs are getting done in, around and to the house too. Tradesmen are quoting for things, the dining room has been decorated and a mass declutter has started. The house is finally pretty tidy and I’ve not had to wash or iron for weeks. My wife has even created a daily to do list which is pretty much cleared by bedtime. Scary stuff.
I don’t know quite where these recently acquired ninja skills have come from, and I’m half expecting my “Bobby Ewing” moment or a police caution for moving into somebody else’s house, but until such time I’ll sit back.
It’s not all naps and Netflix on the train for me, the humble worker, though. The dumping of tens of thousands of wandering imposters into my well-drilled daily routine causes its own almost insurmountable challenges to be, err… surmounted.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Getting to work
Actually, asides from a few uneducated people causing chaos by sitting in the wrong seats on the bus, this a doddle. There’s fewer cars on the road and I can normally get an actual proper seat on the train. Coincidentally, London Midland lost their rail franchise today. Good. Commuters 1, Everyone Else 0.
However, home time is a different prospect altogether.
Return to New Street
Birmingham New Street has been transformed from an aging concrete monolith into the world’s shiniest shiny new thing. Its mirrored surface extends so high that I can use it to clean my teeth at my desk if I get the angles right. You can’t miss it, yet from about half four onwards you can’t get near it.
The solution? A “British Bulldogs” style charge through the sea of people blocking the entrance. Who says that exposing children to the odd bit of senseless violence is always a bad thing. Useful life skills, innit?
Steam locomotion has been around since 1804. So how, in the year 2017, can anybody not understand the basic concepts of catching a train? Yet thousands of these social inadequates somehow manage to organise themselves sufficiently to descend on the station concourse every rush hour from July until mid-September.
Buying tickets, negotiating the barriers, using escalators and deciphering the information boards is simply beyond these people. How did they even get out of bed, let alone find the station?
In the absence of a handy shortcut to Platform 9¾, a slow walk with a regular “excuse me” is the only way through. Meh.
More by luck than by judgement, some of the flummoxed flashmob eventually break ranks and board a train. Further chaos ensues as they wander up and down, trying to find four free table seats at peak time.
Unsurprisingly, they are blissfully unaware of seat reservations. Look at the headrest, or look above the seat. If there’s no ticket, or the display says “available” then sit down in the first seat that you see. Else, find a luggage rack like the rest of us. It’s really not that hard.
Finally settled, they’ll drop some of their cold Burger King chips before heading off with a random little person to play toddler roulette with the “open door” button of the toilets while spending a penny.
The Bus Home
What’s the optimum time for a convoy of seven parents, three grandparents, eighteen children and enough double buggies to fill Mothercare to board a bus? Have a guess. Go on.
If your answer is “Sometime between 5pm and 7pm?” then stop reading now. You’re not welcome around these parts.
The Final Problem
Having negotiated the rest, the half mile stroll back to our house can go one of two ways. If it is raining, which it invariably is this August, then it is fine (if that makes sense?) Tick. If it is sunny, a detour is required to avoid the army of visiting chavs who gather to litter the public paddling pool at the end of our road. Hasn’t anybody told them that this is a local paddling pool for local people? Living in Codsall doesn’t give you a free pass until South Staffs let us back in their county either. The sooner the Great Wall of Tettenhall goes up, the better.
So there you go. I feel much better now. Thanks.
Fortunately, there’s only another five weeks of this daily commuting ordeal for us to survive. Maybe I should take a few days off and spend them travelling with the kids to unwind? That’ll help. Probably.