‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with T.’
‘Yes, Mummy! How did you guess?’
‘Just a hunch love.’
So there we were, 4 people to 2 seats, in the wrong place as our tickets had reservations at opposite ends of the carriage, iPad-less, fun-less but definitely not childless. The train was steadily filling up with commuters, business people and returning holiday makers. A lovely old lady read my son’s forlorn expression as he was squished into the arm-rest and promptly provided him with a piece of paper and a pen to draw with, my toddler girls were starting a game of ‘driving the train’, we were glum, down, but certainly not out at this point.
The colouring books came out, you know the ones I’d remembered to put in the bag. Not like the iPad, nope, that was still in the kitchen, the very kitchen we were hurtling up a train track to Yorkshire away from. Evidently, the colouring pens must have been right next to them on the kitchen counter.
‘Why have we got colouring books with no colours?’
[Under breath] ‘Because your mother is an idiot’
‘Because I forgot them.’
My son and oldest daughter looked at each other with the ‘she’s definitely lost it this time’ look and continued to politely attempt to colour in using a biro and a handwriting pen. My youngest and I were having a standoff by this point: her, kicking the chair in front and then being removed from the seat for kicking the chair in front and then climbing back onto the chair to resume kicking the chair in front. Repeat for 34 minutes. Her kicking got so *enthusiastic that I had to threaten her with the worst punishment I could muster in this scenario…sending her to The Naughty Carriage. This of course was met with a delighted ‘OK!’
I made a big deal of explaining why I was taking her to The Naughty Carriage (for the tutters) continued to refer to it as The Naughty Carriage (against the advice of every parenting book I’ve leafed through or been told about – I’ve never bought one: clearly) and marched her to the noisy bit where the doors were. She loved it. Laughing, singing, running away from me, waving, wobbling over, peepo: you name it. She had more fun in The Naughty Carriage than she did the last soft play centre I had paid a ridiculous amount of money to take her to.
After deciding the youngest was definitely having too much fun in The Naughty Carriage, I dragged her back to her seat on the promise of doing some drawing. I walked the 10 feet or so to retrieve the handwriting pen from my oldest daughter in exchange for a sticker book…my heart sank.
A brief aside about my three year old; she’s brilliant. She’s funny, she is kind, she’s got a wicked sense of humour; her imagination is out of this world. But just occasionally, very rarely, she can be really, really naughty.
In the 5 minute timeout with my youngest (during all of which I could see my son and eldest daughter perfectly well) I had failed to spot the fact that she was working hard to graffiti the (recently kicked to death) back of the chair in front with my handwriting pen. The comprehensive effort would rival Banksy, it was so dedicated. To my horror the ticket inspector was just 3 seats away and my daughter was wearing as much pen as the seat; I needed to act fast!
Furiously wet-wiping the back of the seat I gave the ‘quiet bollocking’ to my daughter, the hissy hushed telling off that spits venom and is so ineffective I may as well have done it in Latin. I was firing out all the usual threats coupled with mentions of ASBOs and Young Offenders Institutes which must have flown over her 3 year old head faster than the train itself. By the time the inspector came, the seat was pretty much back to normal (wet wipes can fix anything it seems) and the lady was polite enough to sift through all 14 ticket stubs I’d just handed her rather than wait for me to do it myself.
‘Why haven’t you sat in your reserved seats?’
‘…Because they’re at opposite ends of the carriage.’
‘No… See?’ She showed me the ticket stubs and suddenly it dawned on me: I’d picked up the return journey ticket when I was looking at the seat numbers: both journeys had seats next to each other.
Cue: the walk of shame to the correct seat trailing a half-eaten picnic, a son still whinging about the missing iPad, a 3 year old daughter with the weirdest ink markings you have ever seen and an over-excited 2 year old who thinks she’s getting another turn in The Naughty Carriage.
A timely visit to the carriage from a member of the Transport Police caused the newly revealed 3 year old Banksy to go into ear-piercing meltdown. Immediately, I regretted my ‘if a policeman had seen what you’d done to that seat, boy oh boy would he be cross’ element of the hushed telling off. I had to hold back my son from grabbing the officer to hand his sister in to the authorities, as he walked past, my daughter, sobbing was furiously dragging her sleeves over her hands to hide the offending pen marks.
I was relieved when she said she needed the toilet, a stretch of legs and change of scenery would do them (and me) the world of good.
Now, due to an number of train cancellations, delays and rail works; the train was now packed. People filled the aisles, the disgruntled passengers I’d just ejected from my correct seat were less than forthcoming in moving aside to let me past- the children however, squeezed through with relative ease. I was awkward and apologising and took a while longer. They were about 3 strides ahead of me, all 3 shoving and elbowing through to be the first sibling to press the lit-up button. My son got there by a hair’s breadth.
Everything went into slow motion all of a sudden; his arm thrown forward to ensure he was first – like a sprinter in a photo finish of a 100m race. As his hand whacked the ‘open’ button of the sliding toilet door, a second hand (this one adult) moved to stop him… accompanied by ‘NOOOOOO… There’s someone…’ and that was when the door began to slide, the lady outside the toilet realised she was too late to warn him; slowly, like some bizarre revelation of the star prize on a game show from the 80’s, came the image of the little old lady (who had just before lent my son a pen and paper) sat on the toilet, for all the packed carriage and standing-room-only passengers to see.
Have you any idea how long it takes one of those doors to close again?
It’s a really, really, really long time.