Sightseeing days

Thursday evening in a rental car you drove the clan East for three and a half hours in late daylight. Gabalfa Interchange in Cardiff to the North Circular at Chiswick without a single obstacle. The Severn bridge aproached from the Welsh side: monumental pylons under a level ceiling of cloud darkening into distance.

Kids awake in time for arrival at Yeye and Nainai’s. Delighted to see their friend Whisky the cat. Sentiment not returned.

Bought a hot tea

in Wiltshire. Still warm

100 miles later

London as tourists on the Friday. The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. As in the Paddington picture book. One troop of guardsmen entered the palace forecourt and another exited 45 minutes later. Little happened in between. The kids viewed and queried from shoulder-tops. Scarlet tunics, bushy bearskins, mirror-polish black boots. Occasional outbreaks of synchronized stamping and rifle-slapping triggered by sergeant-majorly shouting.

The dense and multinational crowd of onlookers spilled off the pavement and slowed traffic on the processional boulevards. The wander through Green Park and St James Park provided geographical context. Didi held Yeye’s hand much of the way.

Eating brioche and apple by the lake under a leaden skey. The clan was besieged. Opportunistic grey squirrels darted along the back of the bench past didi’s head, over the armrests and out from underneath. Craning for a bite and leaping clear when a foot was poked their way. A patient drake shuffled among them, reaching out for a pinch of crust when his turn came. Later a passerby showed his bloody thumb where a squirrel had bitten at more than was offered.

A sandwich shop in Queen Anne’s Gate then across the bridge to County Hall. Waiting there: a reconditioned WWII-era amphibious vehicle, converted inside for bus seating and painted yellow all over. London Duck Tours.

A drive through traffic taking in some of the conventional sights of the city. Waving out of the side to smiling pedestrians. Splashdown via the slipway in Vauxhall next to the already weather-stained MI5 building. Floating low in the water Beatrice cruised downriver to Westminster Bridge then back, beating against the current at a net speed of about 1 knot.

Trivia nuggets from the comically amateur (his schtick) tour guide: the Thames, for all its estuarine murk, now the cleanest major city river in the world; the Houses of Parliament have adopted around 1.5 million Acts of legislation since the 16th century; Big Ben, the bell, weighs the same as an elephant.

Didi slept through the water-borne portion of the tour. Complained later that the bus hadn’t gone into the river as promised.

Via long long London Underground escalators and tube trains to a private gallery in Old Bond Street. Exhibition of drawings, some with splashes of watercolour, by Egon Schiele. Females in repose. Forceful lines, detail at a minimum. Everything bared.

Back to North London by red bus, front seat upper deck. A long pleasant evening cooking dinner, whiling away time in the garden, being entertained by the buoyant barmy antics of the kids.

Swaying round corners

half-asleep on the top deck

headed home

Saturday: venturing back to the South Bank for the London Aquarium. This one a nod to the kids’ favourite TV programme, Octonauts. Half an hour queue then 90 minutes traipsing dark narrow corridors below ground.

A highlight: manta rays easing around their shallow open-top pool at feeding time. Said the commentator: their sixth sense allows them to see electromagnetic activity in the heart of a predator.

A pair of tiny seahorses coiled their tails wistfully around a clump of waving watergrass. There was a sea-turtle. Three or four man-size sand sharks in a multistorey tank. Piranhas loitering suspended. A giant spider crab scuttling across a sea floor. Carnivorous starfish that everyone got to stroke. Jellyfish, anemones and tubeworms. Towards the end some penguins hemmed into a Truman-Show simulation of Antarctica, politely milling about on a fibreglass ice-floe as two keepers dispensed dead fish.

The South Bank buzzing with Catalans in town to support Barcelona. Beyond the Big Wheel the embankment was chock-full of statue-performers. The kids giggled at the home-schooled acrobatics and ball-tricks of a troupe of African guys. A sandy beach had been laid out along one stretch of the embankment. Hard to tear them away.

The latest family cold virus was closing in. Back in Tottenham you crashed on the sofa-bed for a couple of hours.

The kids pumped themselves into a jubilant frenzy. Whisky roused himself resentfully from the warm spot, slouching off and out through the flap in the back door. Yeye, working on his sudoku, increasingly impatient. Nina waving a wand and alternating between Good Mermaid and Bad Mermaid. Nainai giggling as she gets turned into a pillow then back again. Didi meanwhile face down on the floor, swimming around saying I’m a manta ray I’m a manta ray.

You take Yeye to watch the big game on pub TV. The Catalans moving the ball around with trademark precision, United barely getting a toe in. Yeye said: from time to time it looks as Barcelona is the only team on the pitch. Football as science. Football as chess. Maybe football as a whole new game. Barcelona won 3-1.

Later in the evening, kids abed and asleep, you see a contented-looking Whisky in the Kitchen with Yeye and Nainai. He’s slowly slaloming between their legs, back in command of his turf.

At the aquarium

A relief to be spared

the octopus eye

Sunday: over to Nana’s for scrambled eggs on toast. A walk to the top of Parliament Hill. Views across the city spread. Back down between the ponds. An unscheduled diversion into the holiday weekend fairground, just gearing up for the day. A couple of rides for the kids, a few minutes on bouncy castle slide.

The drive back West. Picnic on a grassy slope overlooking the surprisingly scenic car park at an M4 service station near Reading.

All of you coughing, voices reduced to croaks.

Didi’s hair

is chestnut silk, behind him

a kite rises

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