NB: Before we begin, the reason I’m even telling you this story is because it’s a foolproof day out in London (adaptable for pretty much any major city, really) for any child from 4-10ish. OK. With that out of the way, here we go.
Celebrating M’s sixth birthday – holy mackerel, where does the time go, etc. – and her non-godmother, Hannah, asked us what she might like for a gift. I suggested a day out with Han back in London – a milkshake, a film, a train home. But Hannah doesn’t do things by halves. No sir.
She arranged to meet me and M on the steps of St Pauls at noon, on a sunny, blue day. On our arrival, she handed M a small parcel and a large envelope. The envelope contained a handmade Mary Poppins card (or just ‘Poppins’, as she and the film are known in our extended family - she is staff after all, darling) and a large birthday badge; inside the card were six red envelopes, numbered one to six. M opened the first, and found a laminated image of the birdfeed seller from Poppins. Hannah handed over a bag of bread, and we headed round the side to feed the club-footed winged rats.
Envelope 2: a laminated image of the rooftops, chimney-sweeps a-jigging upon them. Han took us into a super-speedy glass lift and up to the top of the New Change building (which we agreed is very much one of those nightmarish conglomerate-owned ‘public’ spaces - I really recommend Anna Minton’s excellent book for more on this - but it has fantastic views, obviously, and was a swell treat whoever owns the thing) and lunch looking out over the skyline of the city (and where the staff kept pulling faces at M, rather pleasingly). I also tried to embarrass M by hollering Burt’s ‘Stibbin Doime’ at passing tourists, but six-year-olds don’t embarrass easy. I then tried to swing her out over the edge instead, a la the prancing sweeps. That ought to embed the day in her memory.
Envelopes 3 (with another parcel) and 4: a chalk drawing, plus two packs of chalk; and Poppins and the kids on the backs of the carousel horses. So down to the Southbank, where we climbed aboard the carousel (Hannah, to me: ‘Oh right. You want to come on too?’ Me: [shocked face] ‘OF COURSE.’), then began our art along the riverside. We handed out some chalks to baffled onlookers, and I added fiery breath to M’s pavement dog (MAJOR ERROR, only held back by judicious use of Scuffing Shoe Sole).
Envelope 5: Mrs Banks in her Suffragette sash (M: [nearly weeping due to fiery dog debacle] ‘But I don’t know what this is!’) and a walk over Westminster Bridge, behind the Parliament buildings to Victoria Tower Gardens, and the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. I explained to M what a goodie she was, and asked her to imagine believing in the rightness of something so much that you would repeatedly go to prison for it, and I started to choke up. Why yes, I am one cool dude, thanks for asking.
Then off we went, on the longest leg of our journey yet: envelope 6, a picture of old Dick van Accent selling kites, plus a long, thin, kite-shaped parcel*. A sprint, a bus, and a long, long walk later (although the walk did include a highlight of the day. Man in Red Trousers, sunglasses on head, iPhone in hand, staring at map and blocking pavement: [bellowing] ‘Darling, I think we’re past it!’ Us: ‘Oooh, too easy.’) and we were on Primrose Hill, where M absolutely nailed kite flying (Me: [on my back with my leg in a hole, after attempting to run down hill] ‘Take the kite, kiddo, and CONTINUE MY LEGACYYYYY!’ She did) while we marvelled at the fine day.
So there we have it. A Poppins tour of London, with bird feeding, rooftop views, carousel riding, chalk drawing, Suffragette celebrating and kite flying. I recommend it. Also recommended: having a Hannah in your life, but that may be slightly trickier.
*Note about kites: Han couldn’t believe that I’ve never successfully flown a kite before. I described the many hours I’ve spent with my family dragging expensive stunt kites (unholy bastards) through the scrub of various fields like nylon dog-skeletons, and had to concede that Mr Banks had it right: with tuppence for paper and string, you can have your own set of wings AKA a cheap diamond kite is unbeatable. Literally a child can fly it. And so can I! (sometimes.)