On first thoughts, a four-hour train journey didn’t seem a big deal. After all, I’m a fully-fledged adult with much experience of negotiating the British transport system and indeed many foreign ones too, all without drama and with a 100% success rate of getting to where I need to be without hitch. But there’s something about doing such a journey with a small person in tow that renders you feeling completely incompetent, and results in you spending hours planning the logistics and dreaming up all sorts of potential pitfalls, disasters and worst-case scenarios, rather like you’re embarking on a mission to the moon. The worried exchange with my parents as I announced that I was coming back on the train to see them only served to further boost my sense of incompetence at getting from A to B without disaster. It takes you back to the first time you ventured out of home on your own as a child (like, to your friend’s house two doors down), the relief palpable when you arrive back home from a solo trip into the outside world without incident.
And so it was that the Big Train Journey was meticulously planned; the trending topic in our house for weeks on end. I opted for the sling, packed exceptionally light (I mean like no spare shoes, a move so drastic and unprecedented that pre-baby I would have laughed in the face of such a ludicrous suggestion), and then proceeded to fill the rest of the suitcase to bulging with the usual baby paraphernalia plus some to cover all said eventualities. A separate day rucksack avoided the potential for an eruption of pants, nursing pads and nappies over unsuspecting passengers as I opened the pressurised container of an overfull suitcase one-handed to retrieve a clean babygrow after the inevitable poo explosion.
We set off optimistically to take on the might of the London Underground, the general public at large and negotiate two changes of train. I was pretty happy to be pushchair free on the underground and able to hop on an escalator rather than stare around blankly for hidden lifts in the middle of a busy concourse, watching everyone else course with ease towards daylight. All was going swimmingly (apart from the revelation that even the ‘quietest’ baby toys sound hideously loud in a relatively quiet pendolino carriage. Huge apologies to the lady in front who was escaping from her baby for her first adult weekend away).
However, it turns out so-called baby-wearing isn’t without its flaws: rather like when you drive a car twice the size of your usual one, having a baby strapped to your front leads to some significant misjudgements of space. I appreciated my extra width, for example, a little too late for the man I squeezed in next to on the (stupidly narrow) tube seats, who thought he was being pickpocketed by the incessantly wriggling baby legs kicking him in the thigh. Similarly, an adjusted centre of gravity and baby legs protruding at right angles make a journey down a train isle to the toilet a full-blown obstacle course, and in my case resulted in a rather too close encounter with a suit trying to do some work on his laptop. But the biggest challenge comes on arrival at the toilet. I’m not talking about the big toilets where the door open/closed/locked buttons are at a nerve-inducing distance from where you sit in your most compromised position, but the standard size toilets. You inevitably end up in far closer quarters with the toilet than ever desired as you squeeze down next to it to enable yourself to shut the concertina door, risk bashing the baby’s head on the sink as you bend to sit down/stand up, and simultaneously bang your elbows on either wall as you attempt to get your trousers back up under the sling and 20lb of sagging baby. Given these logistics and the inability to see your feet, the pool of water in front of the toilet which would usually be avoided at all costs, just in case it’s the wrong kind of leak, is sadly inescapable. Lesson learned: coffee consumption can only be on a needs must basis.