When Thomas Met the Flying Scotsman

I can pinpoint the moment that Thomas fell utterly in love with trains. He was 18 months and 2 days old. I remember  it that exactly because we took him to meet Thomas the Tank Engine at the Spa Valley Railway in Kent. (Tickets were free for children up to 18 months of age. I classed 18 months and 2 days as close enough to 18 months to be free!)

He was mesmerised by all of the trains, not just his namesake. Steam and diesel alike, they all lit his little face up. It was that day that we bought him his first wooden Thomas train (Thomas, naturally) which was the start of what is now a simply vast collection. The wooden train, and its track, quickly became his favourite toy, one that he would not go anywhere without. To this day, train tracks still criss-cross the floor of playroom on a semi-permanent basis.

The love developed to encompass the trains that run through the local station just a few minutes from our house. For the longest time he referred to the Class 475 Southeastern trains as “Seventy-Two train” and we never did get to understand why! But the sight of these very ordinary commuter services rushing through the station filled him with a joy that literally made him jump up and down. We’d make daily stops to watch them, supplemented by endless You Tube videos. Riding a train was his favourite thing to do, eve if we just rode to the next town, got out and came back. Downtime was filled with train books, both fiction and non.

Thomas the Tank Engine was his biggest love for a long time. Each morning started with an episode (or four!) and we worked our way through the entire library of stories. But gradually the obsession has expanded. He has a particular fondness for the Shinkansen Bullet trains and can tell you in great depth about how they were engineered (as a result we’re off to Japan next year to ride them). Other favourites include the Eurostar, Virgin Pendolinos and the old Intercity 125 HSTs. He doesn’t just love to watch and to ride on trains, he loves to know how they work. He can tell you about everything from pantographs to Pandrol clips, how a steam engine works to how the wheels stay on the rails. He rates the standard of his day by how many trains he has been able to see. When he says that he wants to be a train driver, I completely and utterly believe him.

He doesn’t just like trains. It is an obsession. A love affair.

One of his favourite trains in the last 18 months or so has been the Flying Scotsman. We’ve watched endless documentaries about her most recent restoration and he is a walking encylopedia of facts about LNER Gresley Class A3 4472 (aka Flying Scotsman). He even asked for the Flying Scotsman in cake for his fifth birthday (I obliged, as best I could).

When we heard that the Scotsman was coming to the Bluebell Railway, close enough to home for an easy day out, we knew that we had to take Thomas. Unfortunately both Ian and I were at work on the day tickets were released, but it was Grandpa to the rescue as he painstakingly refreshed the page and kept his patience, finally securing us tickets to ride behind Scotsman between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead in the very first carriage.

It wasn’t Thomas’s first visit to the Bluebell Railway, but it was definitely the most exciting. We kept it as a secret until the day before, which was probably just as well because I think he’d have been beside himself having to wait much longer.



We were booked on the second service of the day, and the Scotsman had already left Sheffield Park on her first run by the time we arrived. However there was plenty more to explore.

Typhoon – a one third scale model of the Flying Scotsman, normally found at the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in Kent, was at Sheffield Park. The two engines were last together at Kings Cross in 1927, where they were described as ‘The Giant and the Dwarf’. We weren’t able to stay right to the end of the day when they were drawn up alongside one another, but Thomas had a good chance to explore Typhoon, even sitting in the cab.





We also had the opportunity to walk underneath a steam train and get up close with all the pipes, springs and wheels. It was hard hat territory! And there was plenty to explore in the engine sheds outside too.


We then got to visit the cab of one of Bluebell’s permanent Southern Railway steam engines, and Thomas even allowed to stoke up the fire with coal and wear the drivers cap!


We were back with Typhoon when Thomas spotted what he had been waiting so patiently for…

… the Flying Scotsman herself!







We crossed over to the platform and climbed aboard for our trip to East Grinstead and back.





Thomas (as all of us) spent a fair amount of time with our heads out of the window, enjoying that beautiful steam train smell and trying to avoid smuts of soot in the eye. The route was lined with people waving at tis iconic engine puffing her way past. (We waved back, or course!)

Thomas could not wipe the grin off his face. He turned to look at me, as we pulled out of the station, and said “I can’t believe we’re on the Flying Scotsman!” His joy was utterly infectious!

All too soon we were back at Sheffield Park. There was still plenty more to look at, including the permanent Southern Railway exhibition. Thomas had a chance to move the signal levers, ad learn how they worked, as well as dressing up in a drivers outfit.


(We need this sign for people entering our house – the trains are everywhere!)

All too soon it was the end of our day.

Thomas’s verdict?

“That was the best day ever. I loved it so much.”

Can’t say more than that!

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

The Preschool Express

This post is destined to be a few poorly composed and poorly focused phone-camera snaps that might, on first glance, leave people wondering why on earth I’ve bothered to share them. But to me, they represent something big. They represent a moment of our week that has been an absolute staple, week-in, week-out, but which now, sadly, will be no more. And while it may seem unfathomable now that I could forget, I know that human memories are deeply fallible. So whilst the pictures may not be Pintrest-worthy, or or any way aesthetically pleasing, they and their accompanying story are important to us because they detail something that I don’t want to risk not remembering.

For the last three-and-a-bit years I’ve been walking to work with a little detour, to drop Thomas at his nursery. To begin with, Thomas sat in his pushchair, kicking his legs with glee at all that he could see. Later he’d hop in and out of the pushchair depending on how tired he was (or how much of a hurry I was in). There would be ritual demands to stop as we passed the station, in order to watch the trains. We’d have to wait at the Pelican crossing until Thomas could be the one to push the button, and then he’d jump up and down with excitement at the appearance of the green man. Then, for the last nine months or so, since we’ve ditched our pushchair, Thomas has walked raced at top speed there and back. And predictably we’ve been organised in to a train formation for the journey.

There have been stops off at convenient lamp-posts in order to “fill up” with (imaginary) coal or water. We’ve had to stop at the steam works numerous times to “fix” Thomas. And woe betide us if we aren’t in the right order (Daddy is the tender, Mummy is the coach. Until we lose Daddy at the station, then we become a Southeastern electric train!) And if we aren’t following the “tracks” on the path (the lines where the path has been previously dug up for cabling to everyone else, but definitely “tracks” to Thomas) we’ll be told in no uncertain terms that “trains can’t go on the road”.

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The evening walk home was the opposite in reverse. Once I regained my driving licence last year, Thomas took to asking with trepidation when I picked him up if I had the car, and insisting that he wanted to talk, come rain or shine. He gathered a collection of admirers at the pub around the corner from nursery. The same group of people who would often be outside smoking and would cheer as they saw him race around the corner, pumping his “pistons” and tooting his “whistle” with me in hot pursuit, struggling with multiple bags and his latest artwork offerings flapping in my hand.

As of next week, it’s all change.

There will be no more preschool express train.

Thomas’s new preschool is located just under a mile away at the wrong end of town for my work. In order to get him there in time and myself in to work by 8.15, I’ll have no choice but to drive him there (and yes, I know this is neither environmentally friendly, nor particularly healthy for my son, but needs must.)

I will miss these moments in our day, now matter how foolish I may look as the back end of a train, all whilst trying to instill road safety advice and consideration for other pedestrians. I’ll miss the times where I can barely keep up equally as much as the times that I have to keep encouraging a dawdling child to continue moving in the right direction. I’ll miss him popping out of the bus shelter shouting “boo” when I’m lagging behind.

But next year, once Thomas starts full time school, I’ll have the time to walk him there twice a week. Maybe, just maybe, he won’t yet have lost his passion for “being a train”and we’ll once again be able to reinstate this very ordinary moment in our lives.

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mummy daddy me

A Snapshot of Life at Three and a Half

Ignoring completely that it’s a long time since I wrote anything at all here, it feels like forever since I wrote to, or for, or about Thomas specifically. That’s partly for the sake of some degree of privacy, and not wanting this space to just be a blow by blow account of his every milestone as it unfolds. It’s also because I’ve preferred to record aspects of our lives as a whole family. And, of course, not least of all it’s because I’ve been rather wrapped up in my own emotional state in the last couple of years. But whatever I want from this blog and my online presence, a reason to document the things I don’t want to forget about my precious only son is still foremost amongst them.

And so here we are, at three-and-a-half-and-a-bit-more.

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And first and foremost: The kid can read. I’m not plonking this here in any attempt to brag about my son, because I only know that not all three year olds can read with the fluency that Thomas can because other people keep banging on about it, but for all I know, perhaps most of them can. However, it would be wrong to say that I’m not a little bit proud of him. He’s the boy who remains completely obsessed with numbers to the point that I was afraid he wouldn’t find the same joy in the written word. So to have him be so utterly determined to decipher the world around him by reading words, and to be so keen to read books to himself and figure out the story from the symbols on the page is absolutely heart warming.

He’s been trying to read for a long while but fear of being seen as a “pushy” mum, never mind not really knowing anything about phonics or how to go about helping him led me to keep pushing the issue aside, hoping to hold him off until he goes to school at the end of next year. But his frustration at being able to read numbers but not letters soon led to some pretty epic tantrums. I couldn’t blame him. The closest thing to knowing how he felt for me was thinking of visiting countries that don’t use a Roman alphabet, and therefore being unable to even guess what so many words around me said. It’s no wonder kids get overwhelmed. Thomas would look heartbroken as he sat on his bed with a book and said “I want to read. I can’t read the words. Please teach me to read.” It seemed cruel to say no to something he wanted to understand so badly.

So, after a quick crash course for myself, off we went. Within two weeks he’d mastered all of the most common phonemes and the art of both blending and segmenting. Since then he’s raced his way through Julia Donaldson’s Songbirds books and many of the Read Write Inc books. Everywhere we go he points out letters and sounds and reads words he recognises. Every conversation is punctuated by him declaring the sounds that the various objects we are discussing begin with, or segmenting a particular word to figure out how it is spelled. Seeing him decoding so many things in the world around him has been an amazing journey for us too.

All I can hope is that this is just the beginning of a life long love affair with the written word, reading and writing.

The love has numbers has not gone, either. He mastered counting to one hundred earlier in the year, and the idea of one more and one less. he can now recognise a group as being a particular number without the need to count them out, which makes playing dice games much, much easier! He’s currently absorbed in basic addition, subtraction and sharing of numbers. His ability to manipulate numbers, however, far outstrips his drawing and writing ability. So many of the paper based number activities involve drawing more of something. For example, he knows that if you have two buttons and add two more you will have four buttons, but he cannot draw two more buttons next to the ones on the page for love nor money! I’m wondering if writing and drawing will be the next big interest in the same way that reading followed counting!

Just in case anyone is worried that I chain Thomas to a desk to practice reading and number puzzles, don’t worry, he’s still very much an over enthusiastic, boisterous handful of a little boy. He’s still as obsessed with trains as ever and still wants to be one at every opportunity. He makes us line up to be tenders or coaches and race along the “rails” on the pavement, stopping to open our doors and let in passengers, or fill up with coal and water at every other lamp post . We visit rooms in the house picking up and dropping off various toys that stand in as passengers. He will tell anyone that will listen about how stream trains work and we still watch plenty of videos of trains on You Tube. In fact “can I have a video?” is one of the most oft heard phrases in our house right now.

His other absolute favourite game right now is hide and seek. Not that he’s any good at it, mind you. He wriggles and giggles to give the game away long before we’re even in the right room, but that joy he gets from both “hiding” and seeking is immense and evident from the face-splitting smiles. He could also play “snap” for hours and “Can I do an app?” is another frequent refrain.

We get plenty of standard pre-school behaviour too, and some that I’m concerned is not so standard. He’s a deeply particular person who wants things exactly so. What Thomas doesn’t realise is that we aren’t capable of reading his mind and we don’t always understand how he is imagining that something will work. He gets so frustrated if we don’t do or say exactly what he wants, even if he has not made it clear what that is. One middle of the night meltdown involved the order in which we went in to his room and left and what exactly we each needed to say to him. At three in the morning on the fourth wake up call of the night, is was easier and faster to try to comply, but even that took a long time and left me back in bed with my mind wondering to how he will ever cope in the world when people don’t do things exactly as he wants. It is as simple as being bossy (although he is that) or wanting to be in control (ditto) but more that he seems to genuinely believe that something terrible might happen if things don’t happen as he envisages.

On a similar vein, he is very ritual led. He doesn’t have particularly rigid overall routines, but there are certain specific sequences that mustt be played out. Lately we have to pretend to race him to do certain things – such as take his clothes off for the bath, turn the television off, go up the stairs – and then pretend to be upset when we “lose” (which is not helping his competitive “me first” streak at all!) We have a very rigid sequence of things which have to be done at bedtime and any deviation means we have to go right back to the beginning.

I’m telling myself this is all normal, and it, too, shall pass.

After all, his sleep is better. He generally actually stays in bed now, and goes off to sleep well more than half of the time. We’re up at some point in the night pretty much every night, but it’s often only once which is a big improvement. He’s still an early riser and we often see 5am, however we did put some renewed effort in to the Gro-Clock and a sticker chart. he got a sticker each day he stayed in his room until the sun came up and these days it’s often 6am until we hear “Mummy and Daddy come and play with meeee! It’s morning”

Ah yes, sticker charts. there are a lot of “incentives” in Thomas’s life right now. I prefer that term to “bribes”. I see it as teaching him that things can be earned with hard work, and effort, and doing things you don’t necessarily want to. After all, the vast majority of adults go to work primarily to get paid! Whilst Thomas will talk to anyone and soon round up a bunch of kids of all ages at the park and have them under his control in a game of “Shops” or “Postmen” or “Trains” he can be quite physically timid – afraid of climbing or new slides and things like that. We’ve used offers of treats to get him to try the things we know he will actually love, like the water slides at Center Parcs. We’ve also had sticker charts for everything from staying in bed, to dressing himself and trying new foods.

Yeah, that. Eating is still a bit hit and miss. Overall he’s more adventurous than he was. He has now earned a total of three new trains for trying fifteen new foods in the last six months, which I think is pretty amazing! They’ve included things like kidney beans, lamb and green beans. In fact, last month he happily ate first one green bean, then nine more with no fuss at all, which a few months ago would have been unthinkable. It brings the vegetable count to peas, carrots, sweet corn, corn on the cob (his favourite) and green beans. I’ll happily take that. (Fruit is going less well. We’re stuck with apples, tinned peaches and anything pureed. Ah well, perhaps eating pureed fruit from pouches will be a future adult craze!)

Other than all of that, he’s just a rally fantastic little boy. He talks non-stop to anyone and everyone. He has a fantastic sense of humour and really gets jokes now. He runs (or now skips, often hand-in-hand with me) everywhere and I’m unsure if he knows how to walk! He still loves his bike and is a balancing pro now. He’s too smart for his own good at times. (Doing “Stranger Danger” at preschool the staff expressed concerns that he was quite happy to keep going off with “strangers” whilst they were acting it out. On the way home he brought the subject up himself told me all about how you should never go with someone you don’t know, or accept things from them and recited the “rules” perfectly. I asked him why, then, he had gone with the “strangers”. He gave me such a withering look and said “Mummy that wasn’t a stranger, that was ” I had to admit he had a point!”)

On the one had he has a great attention to detail and brilliant memory, remembering things from two years ago with clarity I cannot always match. Sometimes he’ll become engaged in an activity for so long that time seems to stand still. And he can be incredibly patient if waiting for something that neither he, nor we, can control, such as the start of a show. On the other hand, he often has a typical short attention span and cloth ears. Often he wants everything “now” especially if that is my attention.

Of course, I don’t begrudge him that. He’s my only one. My special son. His smile brightens my day and stills my heart all at once. I still love him more than I can find the words for. in fact, I’m not sure the words for it will ever come, even if I should live to be one hundred and one.

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Santa Special

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When your son is a complete train obsessive and your local heritage railway run dedicated festive services, there is really only one option of where to go to meet the big man in red. Add the fact that we took Thomas on the local “Santa Special” service last year – and it’s fair to say that he really loved it – so why take the chance of going elsewhere and having an overwhelmed pre-schooler on our hands when we knew this would be a massive hit?

So last Sunday we set out bright and early for Eridge station to join the train in what could easily become a family Christmas tradition. We enjoyed the lovely log fire in the waiting room, and hot chocolate (or orange juice, in Thomas’s case!) in the buffet car before the train pulled in to take us on our way.

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This year, in contrast to last year’s set up, Father Christmas actually visited each child on the train to have a few words and give them a little gift. (I won’t spoil the surprise in case anyone is going on the same trip, but it’s a decent quality item with plenty of play value.) Father Christmas then posed in his sleigh in the engine sheds at Tunbridge Wells. This actually worked very well as it meant each child got two opportunities to see him (and this would be helpful with a child prone to getting shy, overwhelmed or otherwise potentially distressed) and it also cut down the waiting time in the engine sheds as each family was only posing for photos, rather than also getting their gift and chatting to Father Christmas for a while.

Thomas is at a really perfect age for becoming completely wrapped up in the magic of Christmas. Although he’s normally full of questions about “why” or “how” it hasn’t occurred to him yet to be anything other than completely absorbed by the magic of the season. I know that we won’t have that long until it begins to fade, so I want to clutch it hard whilst it is here. Seeing the look on his face when the big man arrived in our compartment was one of those moments I’ll treasure.

Thomas very sweetly whispered to Father Christmas to remind him what he had written in his letter, and Father Christmas was happy that he’d come on his train ride, given that he wants trains for Christmas!

He also very happily climbed aboard the sleigh for photos, which was something I’d been unsure that he would actually want to do!

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IMG_6631(That is my mum, hiding behind Thomas!)

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IMG_6723(Father Christmas climbing back aboard the train for the return journey)

We then got the train back to Eridge, complete with a visit from a balloon modeller (yes, the same guy again!) Thomas was suitably impressed with his sausage dog that had eaten a single sprout! We also had delicious mince pies, and a train shaped shortbread for Thomas, included in the ticket price.

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Thomas absolutely loved the train ride, quite apart form seeing Father Christmas. He spent a good deal of the time with his face out of the window shouting about the trees, tracks, animals and steam that he could see.

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He wasn’t too happy about leaving the train when we got back to Eridge, but we had a table waiting in a local pub for a delicious lunch… and The Polar Express to watch (again) when we got home!

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We went on The Spa Valley Railway Santa Special Service but paid for our own tickets and all thoughts are our own. I can highly recommend this trip, especially if you have a little train enthusiast, and similar service operate at other heritage railways across the country.

A Christmas Trip to Brussels by Eurostar

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I’ve loved Christmas markets for many years. Since the first time I experienced a “proper” European extravaganza of wooden huts, mulled wine and kitsch wares for sale. I can’t even put my finger on why wandering around in the freezing cold, browsing items from Christmas decorations and candles to chocolate and bakeware, is so exciting. Perhaps it’s the inherent festiveness in all the twinkly lights, sparkling decorations and Christmas music. Or maybe it’s just the lovely mulled wine after all!

We haven’t “done” a Christmas market since Thomas was born though. The thought of schlepping a small baby around in sub-zero temperatures suddenly made it lose its appeal. And then he got bigger, but I just didn’t think he would enjoy it. After all, he’d not be allowed any mulled wine!

But this year was different. And as with many things in our lives right now, it all came down to trains. Earlier this year, the Eurostar became Thomas’s overnight favourite train. He was obsessed with watching YouTube videos of them, and spotted pictures of them in the newspaper, the Hornby catalogue and the travel agents’ windows. Then, he started asking to go on the Eurostar. He understood completely that they go through a tunnel and he referred to them as “the trains that go under the sea.” So, call it my first defeat at the hands of pester power, but we began to consider a quick European trip. Ian immediately suggested Bruges, a beautiful city I’ve travelled to many times. The only problem with getting the Eurostar to Bruges is that means changing trains in Brussels. I suggested that we just do Brussels instead. And since we’ve been to the Christmas market there before and thoroughly enjoyed it, I also suggested we make it a Christmas market trip. It was easy not to think about the cold back in August!

So last Tuesday we got up bright and early for the short drive to Ebbsfleet. And it’s fair to say that Thomas absolutely loved the Eurostar. We opted not to get a separate ticket for Thomas. Children under four can travel free if sitting on an adult’s lap and we knew he’d want to be on us in order to get a better view out of the window. The tunnel portion is less than thirty minutes of the whole journey, so there is plenty to see! It turned out to be a good decision as I really doubt he’s have sat in his own seat for long. Once we arrived, he also loved catching a tram (“Tram! Tram! Tram! Tram!) from the station to our hotel.

The rest of the trip, however, his enjoyment was less clear cut and we suffered more than a good day’s quota of threenager meltdowns. We’d booked in to the Hotel Meininger via Expedia. As is usual, we weren’t able to check in until the afternoon, but we dropped our bags in to the left luggage room and then headed out for a wander around and to get some lunch. It turns out, though, that we perhaps hadn’t adequately managed Thomas’s expectations of the trip. Although we’d told him we would be staying in a hotel overnight, and had him help pack his bag Gruffalo Trunki, he was incredibly cross that we weren’t getting a tram straight back to the station to get the Eurostar home. In hindsight, getting up so early whilst also still recovering from a cold and a week of extra-poor sleep added to his grumpiness. Despite rarely using one at home, we’d taken the pushchair as we anticipated a lot of walking, and I was pleased that Thomas elected to take a nap, as I thought that was ease the strops. But here was my second mistake. I’d known it would be cold. Brussels is so near, yet slipping outside the jet stream, surprisingly much colder than home. I’d dressed Thomas in a vest, long sleeved T-shirt, wooly jumper, thick coat, scarf, hat and mittens. But the one thing I’d not taken was a blanket. And it turns out sleeping in a pushchair in freezing temperatures can make you really cold. So when Thomas awoke, far from being refreshed, he was a bundle of renewed grumpiness.

Fortunately an indoor fondue lunch and a spin around the big wheel cheered him up a bit, but after that we were subjected with renewed requests to get back on the Eurostar. We decided to head back to the hotel to see if our room was ready but the screaming reached such heights on the walk back, accompanied by vociferous complaining about a “hurty head” that we found ourselves in a Belgian pharmacy purchasing the equivalent of Calpol. (Yes, the pharmacist did ask if I was sure I didn’t want suppositories! And interesting they dose exactly by weight, meaning the syringes are marked not only with mls, but with weight markings. I don’t have a clue how much Thomas weighs – the pharmacist must have been performing internal eye rolls by now – but fortunately it clearly stated that it contained 32mg/ml allowing me to calculate the correct dose by UK dose standards. It turns out to be slightly more concentrated than its UK counterpart, and, according to Thomas, significantly LESS tasty!)

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The return to the hotel helped. Not only did it allow us all to get really warm, Thomas clearly felt much more settled and finally said he didn’t want to go home yet! The hotel was certainly comfortable, if basic. It seemed very new, modern and clean. There was no bath, only a shower, in our room, and no fancy additions such as a kettle. It was a very large space though, with a large double bed plus a sofa doubling as a single bed for Thomas. The hotel had a bit of a hostel feel, and there were certainly several large groups of teenagers staying. Accordingly there was a “Guest Kitchen” and a 24 hour bar. It was a good price, and easily navigable from the Eurostar terminal and, with Brussels being pretty compact, all the main central areas. Perhaps best of all though, we had a view of the canal and a busy tramline and road, so Thomas could spot barges, trams and bendy buses from the window!

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In the late afternoon we headed back out and Thomas had a lot of fun looking at all the Christmas lights as we explored the Grand Place and surrounding areas before promptly falling asleep in his pushchair again. Two naps in one day is unheard of, so I knew he must really be feeling under the weather. We took the opportunity to have some dinner while he slept. When he eventually woke up we headed over to the main Christmas Market in Place St-Catherine. Since Thomas had missed dinner and was clamouring for food, we let him pick what he’d like to try. The choice was a fresh crepe filled with Nutella, which he polished off!

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Ian and I were both pleased to see that the carousel we’d loved on our last trip here in 2008 was still there. It is an amazing work of art. In the place of traditional horses are all sorts of whimsical things to sit on, including an octopus and a snail, a dinosaur, a submarine and a hot air balloon. There is an aeroplane suspended high up with its own little staircase to board it. And perhaps best of all, a rocket ship which “launches” as the ride spins, rising high enough to pass through the canopy atop the carousel. Last time we were here we were childless, and could not participate, so coming back with our won child to ride felt just a little bit magical. We opted not to suggest the rocket, however. On that last trip a little girl was sealed in (they secure the door to stop children falling out) and promptly began to scream as the rocket took off! Thomas chose the steam ship to ride in, and totally adored it. As seam poured from the funnels halfway through the ride he shouted “Wow. Look! Steam. Steam from the funnels!”

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We didn’t want to push our luck whilst Thomas was in a good mood, so we clued it a night not long afterwards.

Our previous experiences of all sleeping in one hotel room have not gone exactly smoothly (walking up and down the corridor more than 100 times pushing an over tired and excited child in a pushchair to get them to sleep, anyone?) But tiredness was definitely the theme of the day, and Thomas actually settled really well, leaving me with the opportunity to catch up on a few chapters of my book before we turned in ourselves.

The following morning we headed out to cafe we remembered from previous visits for a breakfast of waffles and hot chocolate. I was anxious to avoid a repeat of the previous day’s melt downs and avoid too much market browsing or shopping. The only trouble was that we hadn’t really done an awful lot of planning for this trip beyond getting the Eurostar and visiting the markets. Thomas suggested the solution by begging to be allowed to “go on the Brussels underground pleeeeeease.” So we caught the Metro out to the Atomium, which none of us have visited before.

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The Atomium is one of those slightly fascinating buildings, a giant molecular structure rising out the surrounding parkland. Several of the spheres are open as part of a tour of the building, which starts with the observation deck at the very top. It also includes a couple of spectacularly long escalators, and plenty of room for Thomas to run around. As you can see from the pictures, the weather was exceedingly grey and damp!

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We then caught the Metro back to Place St-Catherine for more Christmas market browsing. We managed an impressive haul of chocolate, new Christmas decorations and a tin wind-up train for Thomas.

There was also plenty of Vin chaud drunk, and a family sized portion of Churros consumed, an absolute must before getting the Eurostar home again!

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Overall we did have a good time, despite some moments of frustration from Thomas . The Eurostar worked very well. We won’t hesitate to take another trip on it and would recommend it as a means of transport to parents of young children, especially if they happen to be train obsessed. But I think our next trip needs to be either a little warmer or involve less long periods outside! Of course, you can’t control getting ill around the time you go away, but I would certainly change Thomas being under the weather and us all fighting off colds if it were in my control! I suppose I’d also be a little less busy and stressed in the run up to going away, and do a little more planning, even if the trip is for less than 48 hours! But I still love Brussels as a destination, and have no doubt that we’ll be back!

Thomas Turns Three!

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So Thomas, you’re three!

It’s amazing to think that just over three years ago you’d yet to take a breath in this world. But now, you’re very much here in glorious, unmissable four dimensional technicolour. I think it’s fair to say that you’re already determined to make your mark and make sure that everyone knows you’re here. You have opinions, and you’re not afraid to share them.

I actually can’t overstate this. You’re so vivacious, with an infectious enthusiasm for life. You chat non-stop to everyone – even strangers. You tell them about your trains, or trains in general. You tell them what you did yesterday. Or what you had for lunch. You tell them about your mummy, your daddy, your house and your car. And you’re so interested in everything. You look around you, taking it all in and asking questions that sometimes blow my mind.

You’ve always been a wriggle pants and a fidget bum, and that much hasn’t changed. You are pretty much always moving, even in your sleep. (Sleep which you still don’t like much – your answer to tiredness is to run around even more!) Your speeds are still “stop” at which you dawdle incredibly slowly, examining every last minute detail in your vicinity, or “go” which means full pelt, top speed, as fast as you can, be that on two feet or the two wheels of your beloved balance bike. Everywhere we go you can be heard shouting “Let’s be a train” and we follow lines where the pavement has been dug up (“get on the rails mummy”). You’re usually the engine. Of Daddy is with us he’s usually the tender. I’m invariably a coach. We’re most often steam trains, but lately we’re increasingly asked to be Pendolinos – your new favourite. We have to stop at stations, (or because the road has been dug up, or the imaginary signal is red) open our doors, let the passengers on and then you “whoo whoo” as we take off again, snaking our way through the town in a line – I do wonder what people think of us!

Speaking of “whoo whoo-ing” you’ve got a little fan club at our local station. When we sit and watch the trains – usually on a Friday evening – you “whoo” loudly as the train dispatchers blow their whistles. They all know you now, and you’ve caused at least one to burst in to fits of laughter with your exuberant whistle blowing.

You’re still obsessed with your wooden train track and your collection of trains. You love to make your “Thomas Wooden Railway Collection” videos, emulating some favourites on YouTube, where you line up all your trains and tell us who they are. We’ve given you your very first proper electric train set for your birthday, and it’s definitely fair to say it’s a hit!

Despite your unwavering train love, there’s also some room for other obsessions. Toy Story is one. And role playing as a doctor is another. For some reason your diagnosis is always “Bees” and we’re cured by tweezer extraction of the offending critters! In fact, role play in general is big thing. You devise tea parties for your toys (although insist there must be actual water in the kettle and tea pot!) and you act out stories you imagine with your trains, cars or other models. The insight in to your mind from these games is amazing!

Your other new love is numbers. You learned to read all of your numbers up to 20 several months ago, and you’ve since worked out by yourself how to count higher by adding the numbers to twenty. Everywhere we go, you point out numbers, which makes a trip to the supermarket painful! You’ve now started wanting to write them, and your pen control really astounds me. You’re also making strides to decode the world around you by reading. You can sight-read an impressive number of words and spell your name. You can also read many letters individually, although you currently know a mix of phonic sounds and letter names – the hazard of learning in the Internet age, I think!

Above all though, you’re still my funny, smiley, cheeky little boy. Since you’ve learned to crack jokes, we hear your laugh even more, and my heart still melts where your face cracks in to a grin and your dimples emerge. (The fact that the jokes have a disturbing tendency to involve poo or willies is something I’m overlooking for now. You are only three, after all!) it’s hard to argue with that cheeky grin when you barter for more biscuits, or present a convincing argument as to why you need ice cream.

And inside, there is still my cuddly little boy. I absolutely adore that you love cuddles so much. And then when I kiss you, tuck you up in bed and tell you that I love you, you always lift your head and say “I love you too Mummy.”

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A Day at the Museums

The Museums in South Kensington – most especially The Science Museum and The Natural History Museum – were staples of my childhood. I remember many a school trip – soggy sandwiches and broken down coaches included- and family day out spent happily at both, so it’s natural that they were both on the list of “Family Days Out To Look Forward To” before Thomas was even born. However, with one thing and another, we hadn’t actually got around to taking him until last weekend. And having now taken him, I’m glad that we waited a while. We were able to go without a pushchair in-tow (which simplifies everything) and Thomas was properly interested in so much that was on offer, participating not just in the interactive areas for young children, but also asking questions about everything he could see.

Having asked Thomas if he wanted to see rockets or dinosaurs first, we headed straight to the Science Museum. I had heard the same advice over and over again that the main areas to go with little ones are the basement and the fourth floor, but of course that wasn’t accounting for Thomas’s obsession with steam and engines. The enormous working steam engine in the entrance hall captivated him for so long that I began to think we’d never get away. It was only the promise of more engines that succeeded, and he was in seventh heaven when he discovered “Stephen” (Stephenson’s Rocket) “Billy” (Puffing Billy) and “Emily” (a great big steam engine with a passing resemblance to “Emily” from Thomas and Friends) plus plenty of others. We spent a good while on a gallery which housed a number of small scale models of trains and other machines. At first he was a bit put out that they weren’t moving, so he was absolutely ecstatic to discover that some of them did indeed move if you pushed a button! The cars and space rockets were also a huge hit with Thomas, and of course, there was plenty to interest me including old dental units, an early radiographic machine and a three dimensional model of pig insulin. But visiting museums with kids is very different to visiting them without: your own interests get rapidly sidelined, of course!

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We didn’t make it to the bubble show that everyone has been raving about, but we did see a rocket show up on the fourth floor that Thomas really enjoyed. It was probably pitched at slightly older children, with explanations of Newton’s Laws of Motion, complete with audience participation demonstrations. However, the show was extremely well done in that it also kept Thomas’s attention throughout without dumbing down. To my surprise he found hydrogen explosions absolutely hilarious, and was not at all phased by the loud bangs or rockets being flung across the room. (This is the kid who still covers his ears if a particularly loud car approaches, and screams blue murder if anyone dares to use a hand dryer in his vicinity!)

We also spent quite a bit of time in the Pattern Pod, where the interactive floor was a big hit, and also in the Garden in the basement.

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We headed to the Natural Museum in the afternoon, although to be honest, Thomas was already showing signs of being pretty tired and possibly a bit over stimulated. However we’d made the mistake of mentioning that he could see a dinosaur, and he damn well wanted to see it! Dinosaurs are another area of unpredictability with Thomas. He sometimes cowers in fear at anything dinosaur related on television, but at other times loves it. The diplodocus in the entrance hall was definitely loved. So much so that he begged to “see more dinosaurs now”. However, when we got round to the entrance to the main dinosaur exhibit, he got very unsettled – probably because it’s quite dark and noisy – and asked to go. We decided to cut our losses and head home before a great day ended up with a massive meltdown.

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He has asked all week about the dinosaur, though. And for the first time in ages, I chanced putting Andy’s Dinosaur Adventure on Cbeebies on for him. The last time he saw an episode several months ago he screamed until it was turned off. This time thought he was very excited by seeing “the big dinosaur skeleton” and seemed to get quite in to it. So I think we’ll be back to the Natural History Museum again before long!

As the mark of a good day. Thomas actually fell asleep on me on the train home. This is the kid who never, ever sleeps during the day unless he is utterly worn out. It’s become my goal to get him so tired on days out that he sleeps happily, and this time it worked! Definitely a good day had by all.

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