A Dad's View 21: Still a city boy at heart
Getting back to nature is all very well in short bursts, but the lack of facilities makes Tom Dunmore realise he's still a city boy
It's day-trip season, and we've finally made it out of the city. Ava's ahead of me, scrambling up Box Hill like a mountain goat, while Lise drags Erik up behind me. I'm in the middle, foolishly attempting to push a buggy up a 50 per cent incline.
'Daddy, I'm going to roll down the hill!' shouts Ava. 'Noooo!' I holler, but too late – she's barrelling, out of control, down the hill towards the road at the bottom.
For a moment, I'm paralysed: do I abandon the buggy and risk it tumbling onto my wife and son, or drag it with me and hope that I can still intercept Ava's roll before she reaches critical velocity?
I opt to throw it on its side and rush across the hill, but lose my footing and begin my own, unintentional descent.
By the time I regain consciousness, Ava is standing over me, prodding me with a stick, and Lise and Erik are picking their way through the avalanche of snack food that was once our picnic. This day-trip stuff is tougher than I imagined.
I grew up in the countryside, and always planned on returning to the rolling fields when I had children. But even with babies, London's lure proved too strong, with its multitude of nurseries, soft-play centres, cinemas and museums.
When it comes to getting back to nature, venturing further than the local park has been a challenge of epic proportions.
Admittedly this is our own fault: thanks to a combination of laziness, poverty and a vague sense of environmental responsibility, we don't own a car. This was a badge of pride when I was childless – but now it's simply the mark of a masochist. Fellow parents invariably meet the news with a mixture of pity and incomprehension.
'Well that must be... cheaper?' they say, trying to divine the method behind my madness.
But I know they're really thinking, 'So you're the social pariah who brings screaming babies onto the Underground and rams oversized buggies onto packed buses?' Yes, that's me. Sorry.
There are benefits to being car-free, though. Lifting kids, buggies and bags up and down steps is guaranteed to keep you in shape. Plus you quickly learn the art of travelling light – we're masters at packing four lives into a single, 20kg suitcase. Best of all, you avoid that soul-destroying process of trading in your sexy, two-door sports car for a hulking, nappy-packed people carrier.
But getting back to nature without a car is a serious challenge.
It's not just the physical exertion of hauling supplies around with a child on your shoulders – it's the military level of planning required. Snacks, changes of clothes, waterproofs, train tickets and – most important of all – remembering to load the iPad with movies for the journey. And not just any movies.
Because last month's favourite will inevitably become this month's turkey for our fickle little critics – and they'll need no encouragement to let everyone else on the train know this too.
It's not easy to meet the eyes of fellow travellers when your children are dissolving into hysterics over the merits of Cinderella III and Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse.
But when we finally reach the top of Box Hill, follow the trail, climb the trees, eat the sandwiches and fight the bees, it all seems worth the effort. 'Maybe we should move to the country,' I gush, before Lise reminds me that I panic if I'm more than five minutes away from a 24-hour supermarket.
'One step at a time,' she says, just as Erik rushes past and falls face first into the sandwiches. 'One step at a time,' I agree.