Manoeuvring a 15kg buggy-plus-baby combo onto a bus for the first time wasn’t my most elegant move. It was months ago now, in Wellington, and I was petrified. But now that I’m living in London and contemplating taking the buggy on the tube, I see that getting the number one from Newtown to the CBD was a journey I didn’t really need to fear.
Of course I didn’t know that at the time. My heart had been racing in anticipation all morning. What if I had to wait ages for a bus with a wheelchair sticker? Would Milin lose the plot while the minutes ticked by? What if I couldn’t lift the buggy high enough to get it onto the bus? What if I couldn’t angle it to fit into the wheelchair area? What if someone with a wheelchair actually got on? What if Milin decided to scream as if I was torturing the very depths of his soul by strapping him in for the duration of our journey? How would I get off?
As it turned out, that first journey was fine. Tony had done a little trial run with me to build up my confidence and, fortunately, my little superstar of a baby loved the bus.
Even before we sold our car in preparation for our big relocation from Wellington to London, I rarely drove it. I preferred to walk, and living in Newtown meant this was usually a valid option with the buggy.
Still, it took me a long time to brave the bus. I’d heard horror stories - one being from a friend who was simply told by a driver she couldn’t get on with her buggy. What was she meant to do? Leave her baby on the kerb and pick her up in a few hours time?
In the months that Milin and I did take the bus together, we had a mixed bag of experiences, but the journeys were mostly successful. There was a time when the back doors closed on the buggy as I was getting off - but I’m pretty sure this was because the driver hadn’t realised I was trying to get out. There was also an occasion when a stranger who had got on the pavement to help me lift the buggy off had the doors closed on him. To whoever you were, thank you so much. I never did work out how to get the buggy onto the kerb without help.
Such acts of kindness were far more common than the odd grumpy driver who huffed and puffed as I took ages to find my money and then even longer to get the buggy parked up in that tiny space that was allocated for us.
Most drivers were incredibly kind - some prompted teenagers to move out of disabled seats if they were needed as a buggy-park; others took the time to check we were safely parked up before moving off again. On the older-style buses, they were usually sympathetic as I tried to fit my fancy buggy down the aisle towards the back doors. Yes, it was marketed as the most compact one on the shelf. No, it wasn’t compact enough for the bus.
I’m yet to brave taking Milin on the tube by myself. We’re lucky enough to have flat access at the station close to our house - it’s at the other end that things become problematic. The London Underground was not designed for mummy plus baby plus buggy.
Last week, Tony and I tried a trip together - again to build up my confidence. We chose to embark on a day trip to the Tate Modern, because we would be able to get out at wheelchair-accessible Tower Bridge and not have to change lines.
Milin loved the being on the platform and watching the trains go by in the other direction. He wasn’t too bad on the tube either, and while the journey was a little long, he largely saw it as an adventure and happily accepted my bribes of biscuits.
But what we can’t do anything about is the fact that most stations don’t have lifts. Some have escalators, escalators, and more escalators. Some just have stairs. Hundreds of them. So route planning in London will, I imagine, become a carefully planned and carefully executed activity. Or, we will be staying close to home.
Very few stations in the city, it seems, are buggy-friendly. And given that in six months time I’ll be carting round a double buggy, or at least a single buggy and a baby in a front pack, the tube might become completely off-limits.
What have your experiences been on public transport, and how do you keep your little ones occupied when the journeys are long?
Follow Kiran and her family’s adventures in London on twitter @kiranchug
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