Previously on “Friends for Frances,” when we last saw Frances (pages 8-11), she watched helplessly as Cromwell and Wolsey, her not-so-welcome gentlemen callers, made themselves at home in her house and garden. She hissed and spit and deterred them not one bit. We return to the story:
Two missions shaped our time in London, the first, to support Mrs. Hughes in her exciting endeavor (a five-day course at The Interior Design School), and then to see this favorite city through Lady Baby’s eyes.
Each morning we set out with destination in mind: the London Zoo, the Museum of Childhood (dolls to play with and dress-up clothes), the Princess Diana Memorial Playground (a truly memorable, neverland wonderland of a play space), or a visit to a less familiar part of London and the brand-new House of Illustration with an exhibition about the illustrator Quentin Blake (where the favorite thing was a wheelchair ramp and set of stairs that provided 20 minutes of real aerobic joy with races up steps and down ramp).
I realize I have used the word favorite several times. As does Lady Baby. She shows you two things, like Baby Boy and Pink Baby, and asks which is your favorite? So I’ve been thinking about our London days in terms of favorites – I’m guessing some of these for her:
Paddingtons – both the station where we arrived from the countryside (announcements on the train brought glee, “She’s saying Paddington!”), and a new, small bear (named Baby Paddington, “because his mama lives at KayTee’s house”).
Vehicles to identify – black London Taxis, red double-decker buses, red mail trucks – and the very favorite – speedy motorcycles passing close by on narrow streets. “That’s a noisy motorcycle!”
Watching people while riding the tube with an endless variety of faces. Learning the litany of tube stops on the Central line: Notting Hill Gate, Holland Park, White City (meaning we were near home).
Pushing the button to signal our bus stop.
Our Bracewell Road flat – “our London house,” a comfortable, multi-leveled North Kensington home with a “playroom” (also known as dining room and living room).
Farm animals and play mat we brought from home that provided much quiet playtime and story telling for Lady Baby and Poppa.
The loaner pink baby doll stroller, and pushing it full of babies in the house or to a playground in a nearby park named Wormwood Scrubs.
The pirate ship and sand and watercourse at Princess Diana’s playground, where Lady Baby followed (and maybe coveted) an empty, blue baby doll buggy pushed through the water stream by a French toddler boy.
Egg salad sandwiches and crisps to share at Pret-a-Manger (the fresh food stops making London quick and easy eating such a pleasure).
Carrot cake as a lunch first course. Combined with big mouthfuls of scrambled egg.
Chips and fish fingers at our local pub in the evening.
An eleven o’clock in the morning performance with music (for three to five-year olds) of Judith Kerr’s book, “The Tiger Who Came to Tea,” at a real Covent Garden theatre. Lady Baby joined in the audience call: “It’s a tiger!” and stood up to stretch her “tiger paws” when the time came mid-performance.
All the stunning dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum where Lady Baby’s delight and awe proved she is indeed the daughter of Mr. Carson (a longtime dinosaur connoisseur). Excitement built as we rounded a corner to encounter the enormous moving, roaring Tyrannosaurus Rex. Lady Baby: “That’s a big dinosaur!”
Gearing up with child-size purple headphones and Mr. Carson’s iPhone to listen to the “Tiger” soundtrack while we made long tube rides or walks to the bus and tube stops.
But the greatest delight in all of London Lady Baby found in Trafalgar Square, a high-five from a life-size Mickey Mouse whom she’d never encountered before.
And my favorite memory? Perhaps “The Tiger Who Came to Tea” – such a dear book, brought magically to life. Maybe that memory will last for Lady Baby as well, and we can “stretch our tiger paws,” and speak of London days.
Interrupting the saga of “Friends for Frances” (for sure to be continued), here is Lady Baby at Heathrow Airport after an overnight flight with her parents and paternal grandparents, wearing soft purple boots, pulling a suitcase disguised as an owl, and about to embark on four days of walking in the Cotswolds, a famously scenic part of England.
From Heathrow we boarded a bus to Oxford, where our younger son and his sweet bride met us at the bus stop. We overnighted in that fabled city, and spent the next morning at the nearly 400-year old University of Oxford Botanic Garden with grass for Lady Baby to run on and ducks for her to greet.
Our route, through classic Cotswold countryside, led from Cheltenham to Winchcombe, to Broadway, then Chipping Campden, and finished in Moreton-in-Marsh – three nine-mile days and one of six, up hill and down, through villages of honey-hued stone buildings, colorful with flowers and tourists. A luggage transport service wrestled our flotilla of bags (including car seat) to each night’s B&B, small inn, or pub.
Wearing her little hiking pants and sun hat, and wielding my poles collapsed to her size, Lady Baby walked plenty. She also rode on her parents’ shoulders or in a backpack, and most often in the Bob (an all-terrain jogging stroller of much durability and flexibility). One or the other of her strong parents pushed the Bob uphill, through rutted, matted fields, and along narrow tracks and small lanes. Helped by Lady Baby’s aunt and uncle, they lifted the Bob, with sometimes snoozing passenger, over stiles and “kissing gates” (neither of which allows a cow or a sheep or a stroller to pass through).
Miraculously the weather held steady all week – morning sun, then cooling haze and breeze in the afternoon. When we lunched in the shade of huge trees, Lady Baby walked amongst us and offered “crisps” to all.
In spite of early-on jet lag sleepless nights (with Mrs. Hughes bearing the brunt of those wakeful hours), Lady Baby upheld her reputation for genial, coping resilience. Her resourceful parents seemed always ready with a diversion – a topic for conversation, a song, an animal sighting – and they anticipated snack and nap needs. (We could cover a lot of ground during an unbroken hour and half of stroller sleep.)
In Moreton-in-Marsh, at our final hotel, the tilty-floored 17th Century Redesdale Arms that once hosted Charles I, we celebrated. In the morning, we woke to a steady rainfall, and soon caught a train bound for London’s Paddington Station.
I’m holding dear some Cotswolds moments – the whole family spread out in sheep-dotted fields – twosomes shifting as different pairs held long conversations throughout the day. A pastoral, bucolic, gentle landscape of lore – and the rhythm and joy of long days afoot, with people you love.