“Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.”
William Shakespeare, “Hamlet” (Prince of Denmark – but strangely enough not a tragedy in this case)
Several months ago, younger son (R) who is fifteen started corresponding (if that’s the correct word) via Skype with a girl called Anna who is Danish. At first he told me that she went to the same junior school as him but moved to Denmark when she was seven, however he has subsequently admitted that she is Danish through and through. Now, by walking into rooms unannounced. I have caught sight of her on Skype and she is a genuine teenager and quite pretty.
A couple of months ago they hatched a plan. She was coming to London with her school on a trip and they arranged they would meet up. By chance British teachers were going on strike on the day they had arranged to meet and so therefore R’s school would be closed. Well, that’s lucky, otherwise I’d have had to ring up and pretend he was sick.
And then her friends also started Skype-ing R so now he had three Danish girlfriends and he started saying he had to bring them all presents, not just one each but TWO each. One girl wanted pink and green nail varnish. One was very into Harry Potter and we happened to have two copies of one of them so she was given that so she could practice her English plus a bookmark/light. And Anna was given a Union Jack hipflask (as being very English) and a horse’s head mask (no, I don’t know, either).
I was a bit concerned about the Danish teachers’ reactions, how they would take to a 15-yr-old English boy stalking them but the only way for me to contact them would be through the kids so I couldn’t see that happening.
He wanted to go by train but that would have cost £51 return (at least) whereas the coach was only £18.50. He wanted to catch the 5.00am coach which would get to London by 8.00am to give him time to meet them at their hotel by 9.00am. On the Saturday before I sent him down to walk to the coach station to make sure he knew where it was and which bay his coach would go from.
Print out tube map, bus map, map of Victoria coach station, printout of birth certificate (on the coach 14-yr-olds have to be accompanied, 16-yr-olds have to buy adult ticket, so therefore he needs to prove he’s 15 to get a child’s ticket but not need to be accompanied, gosh this is so complicated!). Give him letter “to whom it may concern” saying who he is, how old he is, how I’ve given permission for this tomfoolery, etc and here’s all my phone numbers.
The night before he had various phone calls from the girls in London which indicated that the following day’s itinerary was being reorganised. Jokingly I said they must have got wind of R turning up, but he said the girls had told their teacher he was coming and he was going to be an honorary Danish student for the day! In retrospect I think this was to avoid teachers’ rallies going on in London, but it meant he didn’t know where they were going (the original first stop was St Pauls).
We checked his bank card the night before in case I had to transfer money to him in an emergency. He hadn’t used the card for several months and it appears to have been cancelled. Whatever – it didn’t work. Okay – here’s some cash, it’s for an emergency (I’ve yet to see this come back by the way).
Get up at 4.00am. Make bacon sandwich. Take your travel sickness tablets. Bye. There are so many things that could go wrong from this point.
Empty dishwasher. Empty washing machine. Put another load on. Wait until 5.00am to get a text saying “I’m on coach. It’s moving.” Go back to bed. Takes another hour to get back to sleep.
Get up at 8.00am because I have an appointment at doctor’s at 09.00am and by now he should have arrived at Victoria Coach Station and needs to walk up to Victoria Rail Station to buy a one-day Travelcard. It’s then going to take him 45 minutes to walk across Hyde Park to meet them at their hotel.
Look at travel website. M4 closed between Swindon and Hungerford due to accident involving car transporter. Long delays expected.
08.35am R calls to say he’s just arrived at the coach station and where is the rail station? Give him directions. He says he’ll have to run once he’s got the Travelcard as he’ll only have half the time to get to their hotel. I can see him playing catch-up all day.
08.45am – having left map of area on computer screen, tell his father he’ll have to give him directions if he rings up and set off for doctor’s.
08.55am – En-route to doctor’s I get a call saying “I’m not quite sure where I am”. Tell him to ring home and speak to his father.
09.25am – Get home from doctor’s to find that the girls have rung R and said they’re setting off from their hotel but don’t quite know where they’re going yet so will ring him when they know. Dad thinks he’s just waiting at Hyde Park Corner to find out where to go next.
Ring R who is actually somewhere in the middle of Hyde Park but doesn’t quite know where. We are reduced to can you see the sun, where is it? to ascertain that he is heading north.
R says Anna’s phone number doesn’t work so he can’t ring her and she hasn’t rung him yet. Take her phone number and say I will try and ring her. This is great, isn’t it? Son somewhere in the middle of Hyde Park, girls have gone somewhere (who knows where) and they seem to be un-contactable by phone.
I now realise that the phone number isn’t long enough so understandable that it doesn’t work – but what to add? It starts 45… and I wonder whether that’s the equivalent of us being +44… Try adding a couple of 00s on the front and it rings and a girl with a foreign accent answers. Phew! She says that R is not answering his phone (hope that’s just because he’s in the middle of the Park) and that they’re going to Camden Market shopping.
Ring R back and tell him her real number and to ring me once he’s reached the edge of the Park.
09.55 – Okay he’s got as far as Lancaster Gate and has rung the girls who will be in Camden for three hours and will meet him “under the blue sign”. Give him instructions to get the Central Line (the red one) to Tottenham Court Road and then change to the Northern Line (the black one) to Camden Town. No, you can’t ring me when you’ve done the first bit because there won’t be any signal down there. The boy’s never done Tubes before.
10.25 – He’s made it to Camden and the girls have found him.
And breathe. At last I can get on with my day.
15.45 – Text R “where are you?”
“You ought to start thinking about saying goodbye and finding your way back to Victoria”.
“I think I’d like to stay here for a few hours more. What time’s the last coach?”
“About seven” (I lie. There’s no way he’s catching the last coach)
“Well can you check?”
“Yes, there’s one at seven”
17.45 Ring R. I can hear girls giggling in the background. “Where are you?” “In their hotel room”. Now R has done two school trips to Germany and one of the golden rules was no mixed sexes in rooms, let alone foreigners who have only just turned up on the day. Apparently Leif (the teacher) is fine with him, has been chatting with him all day. The trip seems to consist of 13 girls and 2 boys so probably quite keen to get a male take on things by now.
18.00 R rings to say he’s outside in the street now – how do you get to Victoria? Tell him to get on Central Line at Queensway, go west for one junction to Notting Hill Gate and get Circle Line anticlockwise to Victoria. He can’t see tube station. Well what can you see? Eventually him doing real life and me doing Google Streetview coincide and he finds the station. (That’s the trouble with Streetview, you don’t know how old it is and how much has changed since then. Scaffolding certainly has.)
18.30 He’s got to Notting Hill Gate, can’t find Circle Line. Has come up to street level to phone. Tell him to find a station person and ask how to get to Victoria. There’s really not much else I can do to help him. When he gets to Victoria rail/tube station he’s still got to get to the coach station and then get his return ticket validated. (I booked an open return because I knew there was no way I could guarantee he’d get a specific coach.)
18.50 Text him to say “Guess you’re getting the 8pm coach then”. Answer “yup”.
Arrange that his older brother will pick him up at coach station at 10.30pm which still doesn’t work as by then his phone had run out of charge and they missed each other. Finally picked up halfway home which is where he’d walked to.
Postscript: I have just been told “You know at the end of year 11, people go on holiday?” “What, you mean they go to Newquay, get pissed and their parents are called by the police to pick them up at two in the morning, or else they’ve jumped off a cliff and are in hospital?” (I’d just like to add at this point that my two elder children went to Newquay and this didn’t happen to either of them).
“Well I’d like to go to ….” (Yes, you guessed it. Denmark – or as his father would say ‘Pastryland’)
As I said when I was at my doctor’s appointment that morning, “just don’t take my blood pressure”.