|Betty on the escalator|
In reality though, the journey takes four hours, the kids get bored, fight over the iPad, and punch each other, while I bark at them, Tom sighs and we eventually turn the radio up loud enough to drown them out. However, as soon as we hit the A40 traffic on the outskirts of London, and started seeing signs for the North Circular, as always, my stress levels begin to lift.
The thick smell of car fumes, the rows of short flickering street lights near Heathrow, the old Hoover building, and picking up Magic FM on the radio... All reminders for me that we were entering one of the best cities in the world, and returning to the scene of some of my happiest memories.
As we wove our way through the narrow streets of West London, Tom and I excitedly pointed out familiar landmarks; the house I lived in when I was 23, Tom's favourite sausage roll shop, our favourite Thai takeway, and a big tree that is still causing the pavement to erupt next to the launderette. In part the conversation was designed to demonstrate to the girls just how well their parents knew this great city, but in the back of the car Dolly had found a plastic spoon and Betty wanted it.
These days, as soon as we get into London, I am always itching to get straight on the tube. The familiar worn blue velvety seats, the yellow sticky poles, the adverts for holidays in the countryside and perfume, and most importantly, the people. I try to imagine who they are, what exciting things they might have done that morning, and where they are going. In Hereford this game of people watching is far harder, because pretty much everywhere you go, you know everyone and where they are going.
As an adult, traveling by tube means either staring at your book, or your nails, or trying not to get caught staring at the person sitting opposite you. Heaven forbid if you make eye contact with someone, or raise a slight smile.
With children on a tube however, it becomes a totally different experience. People were happily offering up their seats for my girls, and chatting to them. One guy gave Dolly a hanky to wipe her nose, while someone else stopped Betty going flying as the train screeched to a halt in a station.
And this friendliness towards children isn't just restricted to the tube. People were still friendly on the escalators, on the streets, in the shops, everywhere.
It was also so blissful and urban, and such a contrast to the routine out here in the sticks, that I confidently strode off in completely the wrong direction when we came out of the tube station and we quickly got lost. For quite a long time I pretended to know where I was going because it was too much for my pride to look like a tourist, and I would rather have ended up in Epping Forest or Dorking than get out an A to Z, or ask for directions.
Eventually, however, Dolly started to grow suspicious (it was growing dark by then, and we could almost see fields) so Tom asked a friendly man in a hat where exactly we were. It turned out that he didn’t know either, but luckily we managed to find another tube station before too long and we piled back onto another train.
It wasn’t quite so friendly this time and the novelty was starting to wear off a bit for Betty and Dolly. Pretty soon we were all getting upset and shouty and people were giving us looks. I wanted to turn around and say, hey, we’re not a bunch of chav hicks, I used to live next door to George Martin, but by then the bubble had burst.
It was a lovely weekend though. Such a great place to visit, and I still sort of consider myself a Londoner even though I live miles from the smoke. London is still mine, all mine, even if I look like a clueless tourist sometimes...