As part of our travel with children week, Ross McGovern recounts one particularly fraught journey with kids in tow.
Travelling with children is hard enough at the best of times, but my trip to the ecumenical community of Taize in France with a four-year-old was particularly ill-planned. I’d seriously underestimated her capacity for road travel and unbenown to me she was developing something that would require crushed-up French antibiotics (serve with jam to taste) later in the week. Here’s how our journey to France unfolded – or should that be unravelled….
5am Board coach. Rosie informs bus that she feels sick. Passengers smile indulgently.
5.05am Coach stops to allow Rosie to vomit copiously into the street.
5.15am Coach reaches motorway. Sleeping passengers treated to high-volume Super Mario music until the offending gadget is found and disabled by an increasingly stressed dad.
6.30am After a while lost in her game, Rosie realises we’re on a motorway and decides she wants to play punch buggy. It’s hard getting rules across to a four-year-old and the best I’ve managed is to teach her to punch people every time she sees a car.
7am Coach pulls into motorway services. We disembark, Rosie pretending she’s playing the zombie-slaughter arcade games while I buy some painkillers. At this point of the journey I make a foolish decision, and allow her to accept a packet of sweets from an elderly passenger who clearly hasn’t had children in a very long time.
7.45am After three headcounts which fail to locate me and Rosie, we’re found in the cafe where I’m trying to convince her to put her shoes back on. We board the bus in hysterics with only the prospect of sweets to encourage Rosie.
8am With hindsight I should really have read the packaging. When it says “excessive consumption may produce mild laxative effect” it’s really talking about adults. Nobody has thought about what happens if a four year old girl consumes the entire packet in five minutes.
8.15am Rosie goes off like a lawn sprinkler and is bundled quickly into the toilet. The bus driver protests that it’s not designed for solids, but (a) we’re not really dealing with solids here and (b) confronted with the alternative and its effect on the cheerful coach upholstery, he backs down. In fact he quickly requests that we stay in the toilet until we find another service station.
8.30am We and several others passengers who’d been seated near us get off the bus to go and clean up a bit in the service station toilets. I have a fresh change of clothes for Rosie and she’s quickly returned to mint condition. Other passengers, not having expected this necessity, have to make do. I offer round baby wipes.
9am Back on the coach. Passengers no longer smiling indulgently.
10am Coach approaches Dover. The ferry ride should be an easier time – Rosie will love being on a boat, and she’ll be delighted to think that she’s going to a foreign country. Er… Oh God.
10.10am Feverishly check passports.
10.15am Sheepishly phone passport office.
10.45am Fellow passengers devastated to see us trudge off towards the station for an impromptu trip into London for emergency passport for Rosie. Strange sound of singing as coach pulls away.
12.15pm Arrive in London. Throw all the money we have at a taxi driver until he takes us to passport office, which turns out to be so near Victoria Station that he should be done for fraud. We are welcomed into the passport office by a lovely smiley lady who is very sympathetic and tells us, smilingly and sympathetically, that we’ll have to wait about two hours.
1.15pm Rosie has had all the entertainment she can get out of wriggling under seats and she begins to climb things.
2pm Passport issued. It looks stupid and costs a fortune. We clatter back to the station in time to see the train pull away, and then make a quick beeline for the tube in case we can get the Eurostar from St Pancras instead. London being London, it’s rush hour all day and it’s hard to hold onto Rosie’s grubby little hand in the melee. Nonetheless she thoroughly enjoys seeing the tube and delights in the stories of werewolves I tell her about the tunnels. Commuters less impressed but we make it to Euston and the walk to St Pancras gives us the capital’s very special version of fresh air – our last for some time.
3.31pm Eurostar pulls expensively out of St Pancras with us both feeling quite relieved. Rosie falls asleep on my knee. I fall asleep on her head. We both dribble.
6.47pm PARIS! The air in the terminal is sweet with the smell of freshly baked croissants and cheeses. Not really. It’s another terminal. We follow lots of arrows and Rosie complains. Then we board a bus and we’re at Le Gare de Lyons. From here, in theory and according to the Taize website, it’s a cinch to get to Taize, requiring just two second class TGV tickets to Mâcon-Loché.
7.53pm We just scrape aboard the last TGV. The prospect of spending the night in the Gare de Lyons sounded good to Rosie but less so to me. Rosie declares once again that she feels sick, and we eat the remains of our second packed lunch. The good news is that the coach passengers will all be sleeping the night away on the coach, which is even worse. Serve them right for looking at me funny when my daughter puked on them.
9.30pm We stumble out into the warm night of Mâcon-Loché TGV station with an air of expectancy and are alarmed to find that there’s no bus. In fact there simply won’t BE a bus until tomorrow. I’d love to put this down to timetable failure but the fact is, the last connection simply hadn’t occurred to me. You’d think Rosie might have reminded me but she seems more interested in sleeping.
10.30pm After some awkward phone calls we get a taxi, which costs 100 Euros and takes half an hour. The air when we finally arrive in Taize is genuinely warm and Rosie only throws up a tiny bit more. The Brothers are kind enough to let us pay later in the week once we’ve had time to do some telephoning and get some more money onto the debit card. They also welcome us with timeless patience in Olinda, the family building, despite our arrival some 12 hours ahead of our coach.
The rest of the week is serene and peaceful, and Rosie plays with children of various different nationalities without any trouble over language. They all simply jabber at one another in what they imagine to be a serviceable version of the other’s tongue. Once Rosie’s asleep, I nip down to the chapel under the building and sit for a few moments in the cool. I’m a confused sceptic at the best of times but if anything ever deserved a prayer of thanks, it would be a journey with a child successfully completed.
Have you attempted a long coach or train journey with children? Share your anecdotes and advice below.