As I sit here and type, my feet are throbbing, my head is pounding and my stress levels are just starting to calm down from their earlier crazed state. Along with this feeling of utter exhaustion, I also now have a new-found respect for teachers, teaching assistants and any member of staff that deal with children as a job. The reason for my current state of mental and physical health is due to the fact I have just returned from a school trip with my 6-year-old twins class to the Tower of London!
As most of you know I have twins, a boy and a girl. Non-identical, in looks and definitely personalities. As their class approaches the end of the infants they were treated to a big excursion with the whole of their year. An educational visit to the Tower of London. We live in a London Borough, so it’s a fairly manageable journey of around 45 minutes to our destination and with it being the last school trip of their young years before Juniors, I decided to put myself forward as a volunteer. I have attended a few school trips in my time as a parent but not many ‘big trips’ as my eldest was in infants when the twins were babies so I missed out quite a bit. However, I still fully expected that today I would mainly be coasting along behind the teachers, able to look at the various exhibitions with my only responsibility being the holder of the coats or something similar. How wrong I was!
Each parent helper were given a team of 6 children and my team included my twins. I knew the other kids in my team by name but not much more than that. As they eyed me up to see what sort of ‘helper’ I was going to be, I also had a split second decision to see what type of ‘helper’ I would decide to be. Should I allow them to use my Christian name? Was I expected to be authoritarian or more ‘down with the kids’? How much can you raise your voice at a child that isn’t your offspring and how much ‘knowledge of history’ was I expected to impart with them? First job was to assemble my team into pairs, this was no mean feat despite it appearing an easy task. Firstly, I had 3 girls and 3 boys so one pair would have to be mixed, this was a no deal situation with my daughter! Secondly, I was hoping to sit my son with the most immaculately behaved child in the year as once he has an audience he will perform his best material be it a dance, a song or a joke to get a laugh. Finally, I picked the pairs that seemed to work for me and then the children rearranged themselves anyway!
We are very lucky as the children have exceptional teaching staff, they are well organised, sympathetic, have a constant air of control and good humour, perhaps an intravenous drip of Valium as well? There were plenty of teachers and parent helpers amongst the children so we were capable in numbers and headed off up to the big smoke on our local council coach AKA a sauna on wheels. The journey was fairly pain-free, managed to resist the urge to eat the packed lunch on the way there and avoid vomiting into the seat tidy. Thankfully, the kids were fine as well!
My hubby is a police officer in the bomb squad and in his 20 year career he has made a wide circle of work mates. This can be good and bad in equal measures. A bad example would be when we had our mini-honeymoon in a posh hotel in Kent (as we had 3 month old twins and a 4-year-old so had to put a proper honeymoon on hold). This night away was the weekend after our wedding, where as parents of twins we hadn’t slept a whole night in 3 months so really really needed it! So when we entered the hotel restaurant I wasn’t my usual cheery self when greeted with a Policeman’s Ball and lots of hubby’s mates joining us for drinks! However, a good perk would be that an ex-copper mate of hubby’s, called Jimmy, is now a Beefeater at the Tower of London, which meant hubby gave him the nod about our visit and we were able to arrange for the children to meet and greet with him.
We arrived at the Tower and it was hot! As usual us Brits constantly moan about the lack of good weather and the minute the sun peeks out of the clouds we all melt. But the Tower was breathtaking and we soon soldiered on. I found myself trying to engage my group with nuggets of history as they all started to give me the slip with the expanse of the River Thames beside them. I managed to lead them over to Traitors Gate, which was in the general direction we wanted to be heading towards and explained to them (wrongly probably) how crooks were taken through here by boat to the dungeons. With their interest back in play, I waffled on about some other exaggerated facts and we safely made it inside the castle walls.
Our first stop was the darkly lit rooms containing the Crown Jewels. As we queued to get to the main attraction, again, I treated my team to interesting (hopefully true) facts about how King Charles and fellow gentleman of his time grew their hair as a sign of wealth. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the crowds of tourists and other schools made their way through the corridors so we could feast our eyes on Her Maj’s best bling. There was lots of oohs and aahs, mainly from the parents, but the children were impressed too and we found a dusty corner to draw some pictures of the crowns for their fact files. I was feeling fairly confident with my team. I had raised my voice a few times as they tried to disperse and found my best option was to guide them much like sheep with outstretched arms in order to keep them in check. I swear one of the little girls was wearing an invisibility cloak because as soon as I did my headcount of 6 she was always missing and when I frantically called her name she appeared next to my elbow as if she had been there the whole time!
Hubby’s friend Jimmy became a bit of wild goose chase. Having only his name and the knowledge of his job title, I was left to harass other Beefeaters, asking them if they were Jimmy and they in turn sent me onto the next one. Eventually, the children were just randomly shouting ‘Jimmy’ at anyone in uniform hoping that he would appear. I was starting to think that he had got wind of 90 children on his tail and was hiding out in the staff room but thankfully he did find us during our lunchtime on the grass and he was great with the kids. Especially as they were instructed by their fact files to ask a Beefeater a question, Jimmy was then treated to a Spanish inquisition 10 minutes of random questions fired at him such as, “Where is your gun?”, “What would you do with a sword?” and “Do you eat only beef?”. Reading through one of my teams factfiles she had put down as her question to the Beefeater : Question- Where is Jimmy? Answer-At the West Gate. I asked her about it and she said that was the question she had asked the first Beefeater on the way in!
It was a super informative day and I think although the kids were a bit overwhelmed with history, they enjoyed it too. My team was great, even though my son does tend to take on a Tasmanian Devil approach to historical places with me removing him from various sculptures and my daughter always gets a bit tearful with loud noise/crowds/not having the partner she feels entitled to and I had to then walk the rest of the way round with her attached to my leg whilst trying to continue my sheep herding technique with my team. I did spend a portion of my day shouting out the 6 names in my group, not that they misbehaved much, but with big crowds there are always opportunities to get lost. I now feel like I have form of Tourette’s and even though I’m at home now, I still feel the impulse to shout their names every 5 minutes and to keep checking for the little invisible girl. I’m sure this effect will die down eventually. All in all, it was a very successful day and if you ever find yourself at the Tower for a school trip and the children’s interest is wavering, just bring up Henry VIII, tales of beheaded wives always holds their interest!