The alarm on my mobile phone ripped into life at 6am this morning, and woke me with a start. I was in the middle of an intense dream about something or other - I remember wanting to go back to the dream, but can't remember what on earth the dream was about. I watched the clock tick for half an hour before eventually dragging myself out of bed, and rubbing my eyes before stumbling downstairs towards the shower, and knocking on our eldest daughter's bedroom door.
"Time to get up"
She was already awake. I'm not entirely sure how. It could have had something to do with her hamster getting a new cage the night before, and pretty much partying all night - putting in a few miles on his wheel, kickingsand bath all over the place, and trashing the bedding. I'm pretty sure he would get banned from most hotel chains.
Half an hour later we stood in the kitchen munching toast, glugging coffee, and watching the minute hand on the clock slowly tick towards the moment we would need to leave to catch the train. Twenty minutes after that we stood in an orderly queue at the train station, waiting for the man with the ticket machine to sell tickets. I'm pretty sure he was going for the world record slowest sales of tickets - by my reckoning it took him ten minutes to sell four tickets.
We did get a ticket. Eventually.
An hour later - after almost forgetting to change trains en-route - we arrived at Paddington Railway Station in London, and jumped into the morass of people drifting through the station like an overflowing river. It hadn't occurred to me before that Miss 16 had not seen London on a typical week-day before. Even though we are in the depths of the school holidays, the armies of commuters marching purposefully, impatiently, and angrily this way and that was still an impressive sight to behold.
Thankfully the worst part of the morning rush had already passed by the time we descended into the Underground network, and our journey to South Kensington was uneventful. For the first time in recent memory we saw no buskers, and thankfully no lunatics spouting jibberish either (the drug addict talking to himself about necrophilia is still fresh in my mind from our last visit to London).
Minutes later we found ourselves following the crowd through the pedestrian tunnels that lead to the museums. Various walk-ways lead off to the Natural History, and Science Museums, but today we were heading for somewhere else entirely - somewhere I had never been - the Victoria and Albert, or as it is more commonly known, the "V&A".
I'm not entirely sure of the history of the museum, and can't quite be bothered to look it up right now (it's been a long day), but I can tell you that the V&A specialises in art, design, and culture - it's crammed to the rafters with collections illustrating the history of art and design from all over the world. After talking my daughter into walking the long way around the building to the front (purely to get good photos), I think it's fair to say she was blown away by the towering arches and columns that rose before us.
For the next two and a half hours - after submitting our remarkably empty bags to be searched - we wandered from room to room around the museum, and saw all manner of sculptures, paintings, textiles, and every-day items from the four corners of the world. The rooms covered regions of the world - Korea, China, Japan, Asia, India, and more. The Japanese collection was of particular interest because we had visited the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum earlier in the year - a special display case showed one of his original "Great Wave" prints alongside a plethora of everyday items that have copied it's image over the years. Everything from fans, to pencil cases, bottles, newspaper headlines, and more had been plastered in the famous wood-cut image.
There's only so many hours you can wander around a museum before your feet start to tire. It just so happened that we timed our walk through the early 20th century scultures to coincide with elevenses, the sun coming out, and the central atrium of the museum presenting itself to us through a side door. We quickly found a nice italian man making coffee, ordered a mocha and a cappuccino, and found a place to sit next to the shallow oval pool outside. We raced to eat the most expensive chocolate raisins in the known universe before the sun turned them into a puddle of goo, and tried not to be too annoyed by small children running past in the pond. When one of them fell on his ass and limped off towards his parents soaked to his underwear we struggled to keep our composure.
After elevenses we decided to search out one of the many flights of stairs around the building, in order to see what exactly the "metalwork" collections were. And that's how we discovered perhaps my favourite thing of the entire day - it turned out the stairwells were painted in much the same manner as the Sistine Chapel in Rome. I took endless photos of the ceilings, walls, and even the floor as other visitors wandered past, seemingly oblivious. I shook my head at their ignorance, and carried on taking photos. You might think one or two people might have looked up or down to see what I was taking photos of, but no.
Turns out "metalwork" really means "more gold and silver than Smaug the Dragon had collected" - except this gold and silver had been worked into ridiculous objects to be given as gifts between nations, statesmen, or politicians over the last few hundred years. A line of diamond and gold encrusted snuff boxes from the late Russian royal family explained exactly why there is no longer a Russian royal family.
It was now early afternoon, and my partner in crime (who is coeliac) was starting to complain about being hungry. She is often hungry - it's a side effect of the condition - her body doesn't absorb nutrients in the same way as the rest of us, meaning she tries to eat little and often to combat it. Of course trying to FIND gluten free food if you haven't brought any with you is another matter entirely. Except we have an ace hidden up our sleeve - Sushi. As long as she doesn't touch the soy sauce, she can eat nearly anything on a sushi restaurant menu.
Half an hour later - after another train journey - we arrived at "Itsu" - one of the various Japanese fast food restaurants dotted around central London. I didn't used to be a big fan of Sushi, but I have to admit - it's growing on me. While away with work earlier this summer I bought it most evenings from the nearby supermarkets because it's both healthy, and filling. There are only so many pizzas or burgers you can eat in a given week (I know you're laughing about that preposterous statement).
So what to do after our late lunch? Well it just so happens that we were in Covent Garden - and just down an adjoining road, you join Shaftesbury Avenue. Exactly opposite the road junction you come out on stands the biggest comic book store in the country - "Forbidden Planet". So that's what we did for the next hour - looked at figurines we can't afford, toys we have no reason to even think about, and perused thousands upon thousands of comic books, and graphic novels. I came away with a copy of "Seconds" by Bryan Lee O'Malley - the guy that wrote the "Scott Pilgrim" books. Miss 16 came away with the first volume of "Rick and Morty". She snorted with laughter most of the way home while reading the opening chapters.
We both nearly fell asleep on the way home. Thankfully the trains all connected wonderfully, but the hours spent on our feet, allied with a late night last night, and an early start this morning had caught up with us. I fought off the tiredness while Miss 16 lost the battle, and slept soundly. I woke her with a start as we approached our home station, and told her I took a photo of her dribbling (I didn't really).
I sometimes wonder if the children will remember these days out in London when they are older - if they will do the same with their own children one day. I remember visiting the Natural History Museum when I can have been no older than six or seven years old - the memories of that day have always stayed with me. The clearest memory is of the Triceratops that stood in the main hall by the entrance once upon a time - and realising that the dinosaur I was so good at drawing was about the same size as a family car. It blew me away.
If you would like to see some photos captured during the day, rather than clog the blog up with them, feel free to visit my Instagram account. I busied myself with uploading a few to while away time on the journey home, while keeping half an eye on my sleeping accomplice.