Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Taking children on the train? Here's what you really need to consider.

And so, it's Valentines day and my friend and I are taking our children over to Manchester for an overnight stay (without husbands) so that we can see Peppa Pig on stage the next morning. We are so romantic. But it's half term and Peppa is only on for a couple of days.
East Midlands Trains

We decide, somewhat foolishly you might think, to take them on the train, partly because we have been getting a fair bit of snow over the peaks and we didn't want to get caught out and partly because it just seemed to be the easiest option.  At least it did.  Before that marvellous thing called hindsight.

We drive five minutes to the station in my mate's 7-seater, supposedly stopping off for a bottle of wine en route (click here for why I came away empty handed and won't be shopping with Tesco again anytime soon)

Then we all climb into the train just after midday.  We have packed lightly knowing that we'd need to carry everything.  I think we did pretty well.  My mate had one medium trollycase and I had one dispatch bag.

I feel the need to elaborate on that point for a moment to stress the momentous nature of it.  My mate had one medium trollycase - for an overnight stay for herself and her three daughters (five, three and three).  I had one dispatch bag for myself and two daughters (five and three).  That's pretty impressive packing for women! All we took were toothbrushes, PJs and clean pants (that's knickers by the way, not trousers).

We also had a separate picnic bag and a single pushchair (buggy) just in case the little ones got tired.

My first tip for travelling with children on the train is definitely to pack efficiently. You don't have enough hands for the children, never mind for bags as well.  A dispatch bag that you can slot over your body leaving both hands free, or a rucksack, are probably the best two options.

My second tip is to ensure 'before' you get on the train, that you are stepping into the carriage that has a large enough storage space for your pushchair.  It turns out that East Midlands Trains aren't that great for storage space!  It took ages to find a slot to shove the thing.  In fact their website doesn't even appear to mention them, though cycles, luggage and even pets are covered, so presumably they don't expect anyone to need them.  Mother's with babies be warned.

Our next problem was sitting down.  Remember, there are seven of us.  The carriage wasn't particularly full, but of course the four table areas, which seat four each, all had a single person sat in them.  All other seats were in pairs.  Now my friend is excellent at multi-tasking, but even she couldn't manage to sit in block of two seats with three children.  So we really needed to get around a table.  Did any of those individuals already sat at the tables offer to move?  Of course not.  We were struggling to get five children sat down safely and within eye shot of us and no-one even thought to say; "would it help if you sat here?".  We were, on this stretch of the journey, lucky that the next station was only five minutes away and lots of people got off.  You can imagine how fast we jumped onto the table that become free.  I'd still not even sat down myself until this point to keep eyes on them all.

So finally the five girls are sat around the table eating their packed lunch (still in only four seats of course - it's lucky they are fairly small) and we are sat just behind them so that we can see everything, and they can pass us their rubbish between the seats.  The rest of the journey was pretty good.  They ate, we chatted.  Time passed pleasantly. Third tip - take a packed lunch!

It's only when you have to get off the train that the panic sets in and stress levels peak.  Particularly when, just five minutes earlier the youngest decides she needs to toilet and we all find ourselves down by the exit doors, kids nearly falling over as the train does that slowing down thing is does before stations, and panicking when the toilet door rolls itself shut automatically with the youngest in there on her own.  You can't hold it open either - I tried.  So we were lucky to get her finished and dressed just in time to get off the train.  I'm seriously tense now.  Nervous that we've left something behind (coat?, child?)  In the words of McNulty (The Wire) we 'front and reared' them: my mate getting off the train first and helping them down, me following to ensure no-one got left behind and bringing the pushchair with me.  You won't be surprised that there were no members of staff on hand to help, despite the massive gap between the train and the platform and the tiny legs that had to jump over it to get off.

So fourth tip, if I'm honest, is don't get on a train unless you have a much improved ratio of adults to children than our measly 2:5.  It's a real shame though, because they do love it.  It's just so stressful for the adults.  I was terrified they were going to somehow fall off the platform.  I spent most of my time simply re-counting them.

Trains are great at getting you from A to B, at doing it without you having to drive, or park, or navigate town centres in a car.  What they are not great on is remembering who their customers are and what their customers need.  Maybe if they addressed that shortfall and thought about how their trains could be more child friendly, they could encourage more people to use them.

And next we had to find the MetroShuttle...more on that later with our antics at Peppa Pig Live (here)
And had to brave the train home again.  Find our why I had to consider censorship on the train ride here.

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