Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memories to Last a Lifetime

Last full day in England and we had a lot of stuff to pack into it. We had to clean up the flat and pack our suitcases so we were ready to be out the next morning no later than 7:00am to get to Gatwick. After tidying up for about 45 minutes (with Declan bouncing off the walls) we got ourselves together and went out for our last day of exploring in London.
I decided that we should pay a visit to Buckingham Palace as we had not been there as of yet.

The flat was only a 10 minute walk from the Royal Mews so we legged it over. Declan was amazed at how big everything was and loved being able to climb up no the Victoria Memorial Fountain. That was until a police officer told me that he should get down as it wasn’t safe. I thought that funny considering some of the other activities I watched people doing but in the end he has a job to so whatever.

The Queen was in residence so Declan waved at the castle in case she saw him which I thought was incredibly cute. We tossed some of my loose change into the fountain to lighten my pockets since I hate bringing coins back from abroad and headed off through St. James Park.

The whole area was under construction since we were only 3 weeks away from the Royal Wedding so there were paths that could be taken and paths that were forbidden. It also seemed that there were a large amount of school groups in the area and I have to say that I am amazed at how inconsiderate some of those punks can be. They walk 5 abreast on a path and expect you to walk around them. I wasn’t having any of it and shouldered through two separate groups almost dropping one kid when he realized that I wasn’t moving.
Declan was so busy running through the grass he never noticed thank goodness. I tried to keep him off the grass because they can be really testy about that sort of thing but in the end it was no use. He was in his element and loving it.

We eventually made our way to Charing Cross Station and boarded a train for Sidcup to have one last visit with my Grandmother before having dinner with my Uncle and his family. I was looking forward to both as I hadn’t seen my Uncle Tim since my Grandfather passed and I have always enjoyed speaking with him and his lovely wife Carol.

Upon arrival at my Grandmother’s we were ushered in and had a wonderful visit. We were able to Skype Andrea’s parents so that she was able to actually see Rhys while he was awake and smiling which I think she really appreciated. Declan was content to sit on the floor and watch a movie on the laptop between having little chats with Grandma and eating as many of her oranges as he possibly could. I don’t think that afternoon could have gone any better.
When Tim and Carol arrived to take us over to the restaurant Declan immediately took to them. Walking over to the restaurant was funny because they were more concerned about him than I was. I know what his limits are and how adventurous he can be but I also know that he is sensible and cautious.

We had a wonderful meal with Tim, Carol and her daughter Leanne and her family. Declan enjoyed meeting more cousins and was sat with their two daughters who fought over who was going to play with him. It was funny to watch to say the least. We had a wonderful meal with good conversation and were able to catch up as best as possible which was really nice. By the time all was said and done we got back to the flat around 8:30pm that night and had a relatively early night.

I am not going to go too far into the flight home as it was a bit of a nightmare and in all honesty it would take too long. Needless to say, we were delayed for over 5 hours and had boarded, disembarked, re-boarded and then sat in an airplane with no power over that whole time. The only saving grace about that whole experience was that Declan was amazing. He took it all in stride and never real got upset about the whole thing. If I had been travelling on my own I probably would have lost my mind but for him it was just another part of the whole adventure. How could I get upset with that? So didn’t.

It’s been just shy of two months since we had our big trip. I have called it my first real opportunity to be alone with my son, my first father-son trip and an exceptional opportunity for my oldest son to meet his Great-Grandmother as well as others in his family. I feel as though I was able to provide him with some sense that he is part of a family that is bigger than what he has here which was my goal. I was able to show him that although family may be far away in miles they can be close to heart. I think that he understands that in his own way since he still speaks of his cousins and the fun that he had playing with them. He asks me occasionally if I remember that day he played in the park with his cousins, or if I remember when we went to Great-Grandma Carroll’s flat. I don’t think that I can ask for anything more of this trip than that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To the Tower with Him

We were coming into the homestretch on our trip and I was beginning to really miss home. Declan had a couple of nights where he was really tired and while we were laying in bed together he cried that he missed his Mummy and his Rhys and that he wanted to go home. I explained that we would be going home soon and he would calm down and eventually drift off to sleep.

Skype had been a lifesaver throughout the trip. Andrea and I talked almost every day online and Declan was able to see her and Andrea’s parents on more than one occasion which I am sure helped.

We had a big sleep in on Wednesday morning and eventually decided to get our day going. It was probably the crummiest day that we had, weather-wise, but we decided that we were going to go to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London for a few hours.

When we got out off the tube at Tower Hill we were able to see the Bridge as well as the Tower grounds. Declan was immediately impressed with the “Castle”. We walked along the Thames toward the bridge and up toward the bridge deck. The breeze on the bridge was pretty strong and a bit cool but we soldiered on toward the museum area. Before we arrived Declan saw the Tower again and looked like he really wanted to be there instead. I asked him which he would prefer; going up to the top of the bridge or going into the “Castle”? The castle it was.

It had been about 8 years since I had been to the Tower area and it has completely changed since I was there last. We made our way to the booking area to get our tickets and then went through the entrance gates.

I have to admit I never had a real desire to go into the Tower grounds as I didn’t really feel it would be that interesting. I was wrong. The Tower of London was incredibly impressive. My only complaint? Too many stairs! The place is a warren of stairs and passages and I swear that Declan wanted to climb every one of them. We were up and down throughout the whole grounds. He loved it! I loved it! I even got a picture of Declan sitting on Henry VIII’s garderobe!

We did a quick jaunt through the building that houses the Crown Jewels and Declan pretty much just ran through it all. He wasn’t interested in seeing tiaras and rings and baubles. That’s okay though we just ran around pretty much.

I love to see the history of things like the Traitor’s Gate (which to Declan was just a huge wishing well) and the graffiti that is on the walls inside some of the buildings. They house some intricate carvings that were made by some of the most famous political prisoners in history. It was great to get an up close look at these.

I actually found out later that my Grandfather used to take his lunch break strolling along the Thames the same way Declan and I did. When my Grandmother told me this I felt a connection to him that was really powerful. We were walking in his steps even if they were from 30 years ago. I don’t have a ton of memories of my Grandfather (Grumpies) but he was always a large presence in the background of my upbringing: Primarily when we were out of hand and his name was invoked to explain what would have been done if we were his kids.

In speaking of him with my Father and Uncles over the years there has always been a sense of wonder about him. This was a very human part of his life that my Grandmother shared with me. I was incredibly grateful for it.

Once we left the Tower it was a quick jaunt over to St. Paul's. I wanted Declan to see the Church as it is such an icon in the London skyline. It was spitting out slightly so we didn’t stay too long. We sat on the steps and had a quick drink and then I let Declan have a run around the Churchyard so that he could chase the pigeons. He was in heaven (excuse the expression) and I watched him actually chase the pigeons into a group of school kids which made me laugh.

We had an extremely full day and decided to call it a night a bit earlier than normal. This was primarily because we were going to have one more full day of fun before we had to pack up and get ready for the flight home.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Day 5

This was the second most important day in the trip next to visiting my Grandmother (no offense to anyone else that we visited). Declan and I were going to WEMBLEY to see England v. Ghana. For anyone who knows me this was the pinnacle of football for me. Wembley is the cathedral of international football and I was going there with my son. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it still.

Since the game was going to be a late one we
got up early and had a good run around London. I decided that since we had been doing everything for me so far I would surprise Declan with a trip to Hamley's Toy Store. This store has been there for over 250 year
s! It is 5 stories of crack for kids! Declan loved it. We spent over an hour in there just looking and playing with stuff.

We also decided that this was where Declan would find what to get Rhys. It took about 45 minutes and many different ideas but eventually Declan decided that Rhys would love a train from a show called Chuggington. He was right too! Rhys loves the thing.

After all the excitement I was able to convince Declan that we should have nap without much difficulty.

We woke up with
enough time to get ourselves ready for the big game and headed to the tube. After 3o minutes we arrived at Wembley Park station and got off. We walked down Wembley Way and I was blown away at how brilliantly the stadium is framed from

It took about 15 minutes to walk to the stadium and we went in to get our tickets. Once they were picked up we went to the shop and looked around for some England gear. Declan was adamant that he did not want a shirt but I was able to get get him a scarf. I was able to get a great England Shirt for next to nothing and they put on the England v. Ghana crest for free! It looks fantastic!

We grabbed some grub and waited for the gates to open. We were first in line at our gate. Once in we took 5 escalators up to our seats and had a great view of the pitch.

The Ghanaian fans were incredible and though they were a minority you wouldn't know it from the noise they made. Once God Save the Queen beganit was mesmerizing. Goosebumps and tears in the eyes territory. So cool.e at our gate and really excited to get in. Once in we went up 5 escalators and got to our seats. It was so freaking cool to be in Wembley while it was empty.

The game itself was great. It was end to end with both sides getting great chances. England's first goal was even scored by a Carroll! How awesome to have a Carroll score the first goal I ever witnessed live at Wembley.

Declan was right into it as well. There was a little boy in front of us who knew all t
he songs and Declan just copied him and sang along with him for the game. H
We left with about 10 minutes remaining because I wanted to avoid the massive sea of people trying to get to the tube. We made it in no time and the train was pretty empty. We got home by about 10:00pm and hit the sack. It was one of the most fulfilling days we had of together.e was so good and I was so proud of him. We were in a crowd of 90 000 and he didn't even care. He loved it!


I had decided that by Day 4 we should spend some time in London itself. I absolutely love the city and wanted to start wearing the soles of shoes a bit walking around. By this point Declan had got himself a great routine going. We would get up, get dressed and head to Victoria Station. He would get pancakes at McDonald’s since that was the easiest and we would set out from there.

This day was different because we were meeting a friend of mine and her daughter at the Museum of Nature for a day of fossils, dinos, science and fun! Declan and I got a jumpstart on the day and were in Knightsbridge by about 8:30am and we weren’t meeting up until 10:00am so we just walked around and waited for the Museum to open up.

Once it did we couldn’t wait for out guests so we just took a quick look at the dinosaur exhibit. It was amazing! To really experience it you walk up a flight of stairs and there is a catwalk that overlooks the whole exhibit with dinosaurs suspended from the ceiling and also just tall enough that you can look them eye to eye. Declan was mesmerized! We went back out to the lobby and were able to meet up with my friend Natalie and her daughter Keya which was great because she is about 7 years old and really interested in walking around with Declan. We went back to the dinosaur exhibit and walked around the Museum for probably 2 hours. I don’t think anything quite captured Declan the way the dinosaurs did but he was pretty interested in the massive Blue Whale that they have as well as the hands on exhibits that they had.

We made our way over to the Science Museum and saw planes, cars, trains and old steam engines that the kids just used as climbing devices. We grabbed a quick lunch and continued on for a bit before decided that it was too nice a day to be stuck inside. We made our way to Hyde Park and the wonderful stretches of green grass which were so verdant compared to the dead brown we had at home. We walked the length of the park and into Kensington Gardens where the Diana Memorial Playground was. The remarkable thing about this park is that it is built around a massive pirate ship that the kids can climb all over. And I mean ALL over! I remarked to Natalie that you would never see that at home. The first time a kid fell the Parks Department would be sued and the ship would be tore down. The kids were in heaven climbing all over the place.

Lucky for me, Natalie brought her camera along and took some lovely shots of Declan and I which I am attaching to this post. She captured some great ones. THANKS NAT!

Eventually we had to take leave of our friends and Declan was pretty crushed that he couldn’t play with Keya anymore. She actually protected him from some kids who were kicking his sand castle in the hull of the pirate ship. She was so good with him and gave him such a great run throughout the day. Declan has since asked if he can play with Keya again some time. I hope he has that chance.

The weather was fantastic for us on Monday and we took our time meandering back to the flat for a bit of a late meal. After that it was in bed to watch Wall-E before we both passed out.

England Day 3!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my vacation with Declan was the opportunity to get to know my son a bit better. I was able to really see what a remarkable little guy we have. On Day 3 of our trip we went to Blue Water mall near Dartford to visit with some of our extended family.

We arrived at Greenhithe and were met by Rhiannon and her boyfriend Maurice who then took us to the mall to meet everyone else. Maurice was awesome with Declan and they got into a conversation almost immediately about Optimus Prime! You can tell Maurice is comfortable around kids and I think he genuinely enjoyed talking to Declan.

When we got to the mall it was short hop to Pizza Express (amazing pizzas!) and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive. Eventually we were joined by my Aunt Pam, Cousin Meghan (Rhiannon’s sister), my cousin Daniel and his boys Charlie and Isaac as well as his Mum Shelley.

It was a big table of family! There was a lot of catching up and anecdotes about family exchanged throughout our meal and then we decided to go outside and let the kids have a stretch. The mall has a great little play area that we let the boys run around for about an hour. Declan loved playing with Charlie and Isaac and still talks to me about that afternoon and how much he had with his cousins.

It was great to see my Aunt Pam as I haven’t seen her since I was around 6 years old. I have fond memories of meeting her when she visited Canada with my Uncle Mike. She was great with the boys and bought them all a round of ice cream after they played.

The day seemed to run incredibly fast and Declan and I had to get home, but not before he bought himself a little present. He had been given some pocket money to spend on himself and decided he wanted to buy a plane. We found one after some searching and he immediately asked that I open it up so that he could play with it. He has it in his playroom at home now and flies it all over the house. Brilliant day had by all!