Day trips to London with my Dad are some of my most treasured memories. An hour train journey saw us rolling into St Pancras with a whole day to fill with London’s offerings. Dad led the way through London’s tubes, stopping before any ticket barriers so that he could give me my ticket before collecting it back off me on the other side. It was a big moment when I was trusted to keep the ticket safe myself.
We always went to at least one of the big museums or galleries like the science or natural history museum. One time we climbed the 311 steps of the Monument to the Great Fire of London. Dad took a photo of me holding the certificate in front of the Monument. He gave me this picture in a silver frame for my 21st birthday captioned with “It is about achievement – taking the steps to the top”. Whenever I’m confronted with an intimidating set of stairs I remind myself that I’m a certified stair climber and also that I’m in my twenties and training for a half marathon so an intimidating set of stairs shouldn’t really exist.
One of my favourite memories is of choosing a toy in Hamleys. Hamleys has seven floors of every toy imaginable so choosing just one is a challenge. Once I had narrowed down the search to the cuddly toy section, Dad held up two cuddly toys at a time and let me choose which I preferred. The winner could then take on the next challenger. I can’t remember how long this process took but I eventually settled on a golden puppy with brown floppy ears that I named Sam. Sam is also the name of my boyfriend but he didn’t have to go through the same method of selection. This nicely illustrates what has been Dad’s parenting style over the years; he never tells me what he thinks I should do, just helps me to examine the options.
One time he took me and my sister to an art installation in a London council estate where the walls of one of the flats had been coated in blue copper sulphate crystals. The photos of us in that flat are hilarious because of our strange noughties styling choices and stern expressions. I used to find it embarrassing to pose for photos in public while Dad took his time to find the right light and composition. Admittedly, he was also probably waiting for my teenage face to offer up something that more closely resembled a joyful expression.
It’s not a day out with Dad unless you’ve temporarily gotten lost or had to partake in some medium-to-high stakes running to catch a train. One time we were running along the platform at St Pancras when Dad tripped up and ended up flat on the floor.
Dad took us to the Rainforest café and Hard Rock café but we had one of the best dinners of our lives eating KFC sat on the floor at St Pancras station. We were hungry after a day of walking and learning and waiting to catch the train back home. Hunger is the best sauce, as they say in Belgium.
Dad visited me in London last year. We met at London Bridge and went to the nearby pub for lunch where we chatted about his numerous websites and amateur photography pursuits. Dad ‘checked in’ at the pub on Facebook while acknowledging that few people ever ‘like’ these kind of posts. He says it acts as a good record for him to remember the places he has visited. After a slightly chewy beef sandwich we got on the Northern Line up to Hampstead Heath.
We marched up to Parliament Hill and found the gap in the trees through which you can see an impressive view of the London skyline. Dad ventured closer towards the edge of the hill to take some photos using his fancy camera. I told him to be careful, a necessary reminder any time he goes off to take photos because he suffers for his art and it’s not always intentional. My sister once tried to take a photo of Dad while he himself was taking a photo through a rock formation and when she checked the photo in the digital display she found that he was no longer in the frame. He had fallen over just before the camera click and sustained a grazed knee.
We wandered around Hampstead Heath talking about mindfulness, the meaning of life, artificial intelligence and my siblings. It is a curious quirk of my Dad’s that if he is emphasising a point, he may well just stop walking and gesticulate until he’s finished his piece. It is as if processing lofty thoughts causes the motor signals to switch tracks from his legs to his hands. We also talked about the half-marathon we both planned to run the following month. I spectated as he ran the Leicester half-marathon the previous year and the full marathon that year. Watching my 63-year-old Dad run a marathon in the knowledge that I’d struggle to run 5k gave me the necessary motivation to get fit.
We endured another loud tube journey back to London Bridge and walked along south bank towards Waterloo. We noticed pinks and oranges creeping into the sky with the setting sun so we went up the steps of Blackfriars Bridge and Dad set up his camera in one of the viewing posts. After a few shots facing the sunset, he turned his camera around towards the traffic lights at the end of the bridge. He had me shouting to him further down the road when I saw a bus coming so that he could take the perfect photo when it reached the lights. Hunger trumped artistic ambition when several minutes passed by without a bus. Dad put the camera away and we marched further along south bank for a suitable eatery.
It was quarter to nine in the restaurant before we got the bill and decided to head back. Dad had a train to catch and he didn’t want to risk falling on his face again to get there in time. I led the way to Waterloo and we said our goodbyes where the signs for the Northern and Jubilee lines diverged.
I will always look forward to days out with my Dad. I look forward to taking my own child to London one day and wondering what they will remember of our trips.