Sunday just gone I had a day out in London with my oldest grandson George, who’s ten. It was his birthday back in July, when I promised him a day out, just the two of us, but life’s been so damned intense this year that the second Sunday in September was the first chance we got to go. He chose London. He wanted to see Buckingham Palace, he wanted to go to the Imperial War Museum, he wanted to go on a boat ride up the Thames, and he wanted a Pizza lunch.
Oh, to be an age when such things would satisfy. I looked forward to the day, and then there we were. All of a sudden Saturday evening had become Sunday morning. We went to a local hotel for a good breakfast which was free on account of the fact that the manager’s a bit soft then headed for the railway station to catch the 9.04 to Victoria. I’d already ascertained that the IWM is not currently looking its best because of a redevelopment for next year’s centenary of the Great War, the one where my grandfather got gassed, so I told George that we probably should visit next year. He agreed. I just hope that George will not be so blase about the fact if ever I get attacked with phosgene. My grandad survived until 1971, but his circulation was never the same. They kept amputating bits of him, from the ground up.
So, upon arriving at Victoria, we strolled up the road to the palace, which pleased George. We took a few photos and then checked out the Victoria memorial. Nice lions, was the general verdict. I told him that I’d once read that there were about 10,000 statues and representations of lions in London. He wasn’t as impressed as I’d been. We walked back to Victoria along Constitution Hill. George’s bladder was beginning to rebel against the bottle of Dr Pepper that he’d drunk on the train journey. I explained that he’d have to wait until we got back to the station and he was less than happy. The poor boy was beginning to suffer quite badly and his posture and gait were becoming affected, so as soon as we got to one of the small green parks near Grosvenor Place I told him to hide under a bush and pee for England while I stood guard. A huge sigh of relief from under the bush was followed by a small steaming rivulet. ‘Grandad, that was close’ he said as I brushed small pieces of bush debris from his hair.
We decided to have a spin around the underground while deciding where to go next. We were sitting by the doors on the District Line tube to Blackfriars when an elderly couple got on at Westminster. The man peered at George, who immediately told him ‘I’m allowed to sit here, I’ve got mild learning difficulties’. The man and his wife walked past, bemused. I asked George why he’d said that.
“You shouldn’t lie, Chicken Jawj! What learning difficulties have you got? You haven’t!”
“Yes I have,” he replied. “I like to sit by doors.”
“Enough of that, young man” I told him.
After surfing the tube for a while, we decided to have a trip down the river to Greenwich, so we went to the Westminster pier and queued for thirty minutes for the boat cruise. The Thames is a very brown river. I’d told George that I wanted to sit up on the open top deck where I could get some photos of the city from the river, but he won the argument and we sat in the warm and dry, under cover. George smirked as he ate an ice cream. As a baby and a toddler, he was a skinny, runty creature not much given to eating. Now, although still quite skinny, he constantly shovels food down his throat, and I struggled to keep up. We got to Greenwich and spent a couple of hours a-wandering and exploring the Cutty Sark. A good day out. We went down the steps and walked under the river through the foot tunnel, which I had never known to exist until we found it that day by accident. We climbed the 87 steps up to the north bank of the Thames, took a couple of photos of the Cutty Sark across the river, then walked back again to the south bank. It’s all quite a good antidote to the ongoing intensity of everyday life. The ride back up river to Westminster was relaxing. I had a coffee, George had a can of coke, a packet of crisps, some oreos he’d secreted about his person and another ice cream. ‘Hungry, Chicken Jawj?’ asked I. He nodded.
He wanted burger for lunch now, not the Pizza he’d originally asked for. It was George’s day out, so a burger is what we had. It’s all calories, and we both needed them. The afternoon was getting on. We decided on Trafalgar Square as a good place to see before going home, so we jumped the tube for Charing Cross. We agreed to visit the National Gallery as well, but then found that it closed at six, and it was by now less than a quarter of an hour short of that time. So, we’ll have to go again to see the gallery another day. We got to Trafalgar Square and George asked me to take his photo pretending to feed one of the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column.
A small, loud and confused group of homosexualists had commandeered the plinth on the side facing the National Gallery, waving rainbow banners, a Solidarnosc flag and shouting a lot. The crowds of tourists, to their credit, largely ignored them. You couldn’t really tell what they were shouting about anyway. George asked what the red and white Polish flag was all about. I was tempted to give him a quick resume of the struggle of the Gdansk shipyard workers in the 1980’s, and in order to explain the wider context, about how socialism inevitably exploits, corrodes and betrays the working classes and how the whole of Eastern Europe was crushed for decades under the worst possible political system ever devised, but I thought no, he’ll learn soon enough. So I told him they were all just a bunch of tosseres. He nodded, sagely. We went round to the back of Nelson’s column where he scrambled up the granite monolith so I could get some good photos of him with his hand then his head in the Lion’s jaw. Then I took a photo of him looking dreamily into the distance.
When he climbed down he skinned his shin on the granite step.
“Grandad! I think I’ve broken my leg!” he exaggerated, loudly and through tears. He’d barely broken the skin. A couple of people turned to look.
“What are you lookin at?” George asked them. “Haven’t you seen someone get disabled before?” I lifted him down, spat on my finger and wiped away the almost non-existent blood. He soon recovered.
On the train back home, a woman sat opposite us. She was in her seventies and was wearing a couple of thousand pounds worth of clothes and jewellery that would have made a person without her constant scowl and with twenty less years probably look quite hot. She just looked desperate. She had a loud, tasteless Moschino bag on the seat next to her, and she refused to move it despite the carriage being full. George kept asking me why she wouldn’t move her bag when people asked. I had no rational answer, so I told him she was a witch. He then told me that she kept looking at him and mumbling. I told him no matter, ignore the provocation and read his book. He kept glowering at her. She kept mumbling. As the train pulled into Haywards Heath the witch unzipped her bag. A horrible little ginger dog stuck its head out and blinked. The witch bent over and kissed it.
“Grandad! How cu-u-ute. The witch kissed a squirrel!” said George, as the entire carriage, as though on command, went suddenly and bone chillingly silent. I just looked out of the window and pretended to be somewhere else.