At the Aquarium…
In the spirit of Desperate Housewives, imagine Brenda Strong’s voice… “Bren and Sunshine went to Innocent for a coffee morning, where Bren realised his daughter was already embarrassed by him, 11 years earlier than he thought… then, as they navigated London to get to the aquarium, he realised why…” And, against the spirit of Desperate Housewives, this will be the last post on our epic journey to London. Now, put the gun down and read on!
Well, we finally made it to the Aquarium. It was about 3.45, and Sunshine was covered in Smoothie bits, face paints and a discarded ice cream. I had reservations for the Rainforest Café at 6.30. And I had no idea how to get there. But I had a little money in my pocket and a fistful of tissues, which I dutifully, granny-like spat on and wiped her face with.
“Daddyyyy! That’s Dis GUSTING!” she said, in her best Peppa Pig voice.
We push in through the door. A kindly lady telling us we didn’t need to join any particular queue – which seemed obvious, even to me, given that there were two queues, four cashiers and plenty of space/room for everyone. It is an aspect of London tourism that I notice every time. People have a job to do (of course). In their job, they seem to have guidelines (or perhaps, strict, unbreakable, ‘your-fired-if-you-don’t-abide-by-them’ rules) that tell them how their job should be done. And they do them that way, whether it makes sense or not.
Sunshine (2 and a half) was in for free (bonus!). For somehere near, but not quite £20, I got a ticket for myself and a stern warning: “You are welcome to use a camera, but there can be no flash photography”.
We were sent down a hallway, at the corner of which was a backdrop to one of those “I was at this attraction” photo services. It was a 3D thing, with a rock display at the front for that believable (?) “I’m in the middle of all these fish!” effect.
Here it begins, I thought. Sunshine loves getting her photo taken (something I abhor), and to have it so that she’s with the fishies? There’s no way I can say no to that. Twenty years hence, it would haunt me…”Daddy,” she would say, inexplicably speaking and looking the same, despite being 22 “my therapist says I crashed the car and trashed the house because you denied me an opportunity to self-express photographically at a key attraction twenty years ago…” All these decisions. Not for the first time, I wished my wife were here. Abandon hope, all ye dads who entertain two year olds without the supervision of a registered mother.
“Daddy! Daddy!” shouted Sunshine, running up to the display, looking in behind the rocks. Her face dropped. “Daddy?” she said, turning her head to my bustling form, dragging the pram which was half folded around me. “All the fishies are GONE!”
“No, they’re not” I assured her. I turned her round the corner where a “Woooooooo” worth every penny (and more) of that £20 was uttered. A sharp turn right, and we walked up to a large, round open-topped tank, where many, many fish swam. Some even jumped from the water. I nearly had a woo moment of my own. I do wish I could tell you the names of all these fish, as well as their genus, phylum and what have yous, but I was summarily dragged from one part of the tank to another to say hello to all the fishies that mattered. There was signage, interesting information, and even a sort of quiz game thing for youngsters installed around the tank. But none of this was of interest to a two and a half year old. That said – if you had older kids as well, they could be well entertained and informed (god forbid “educated”) as well. We looked at the little fishies, then the big fishies. Then one of the rays jumped over the surface of the water, Sunshine screamed and we both ran down the next corridor.
Where the next “Wooooo” was heard. I’ll spare you all the “Wooooos”; take it for granted they came with every turn we made. Whether it was to illuminated jellyfish, or wall tanks of crazy fish, darting here and there, or more subdued tanks of smaller, quieter and altogether more philosophic creatures. This Woooo was for the walls, which were tanks. Not quite – but to all intents and purposes (and especially to anyone under 5ft tall), pretty much the same thing. Whole scenes of underwater life, living as it does. It was remarkable.
And then you turn around, and see what I can only imagine is a tank of maybe 2 storeys, maybe more, in height. This was my woooo. A giant turtle glided its way through the middle water; other fish sniffed at the floor and sharks circled in a menacing timidity (they were, after all, in a big tank!). We went over and looked over, up, down – both Sunshine and I enchanted by these creatures of the deep. Right here, just a few meters away from all the noise and traffic of London. “Look Daddy!” said Sunshine, pointing to a hammer head shark gliding in circles up and down around the tank. “Looooook!”
It turned downward, swerved toward us and ascended in one swift motion. I was in the middle of Woooo, as Sunshine shrieked, running to the other side of the room, back to the more timid fish-in-the-wall. Some of the other folks laughed, some turned with a sort of have-a-go hero look on their faces (”Who can I beat up to fix this?”) and someone from the aquarium came rushing in. Sunshine was red faced, her head in my shoulder as I, red faced explained the Shark Incident to the staff member, who chuckled it off.
We went on, around the winding corridors and met my only complaint of the whole experience. Half way through the aquarium path is a jelly shop. You know, all the 1p sweets (or at least that’s how I know them), available for something like £1.50, as much as you can fit in a smoothie like plastic cup with lid. I had another 20-years-hence moment and remembered how much I happened to like sweets when I was young. I fished around my pockets for change (sorry, couldn’t resist), and we went to the wall of plastic containers to find the jellies that princesses or Peppa Pig or the like might eat. I don’t mind the jellies – and even said this to the woman who sold us the sweets – it was the size of the container! If Sunshine ate all the sweets that fit into it, she’d surely end in a bad sugar-driven lunacy, with the standard associated vomiting (this, my non-medical degree diagnosis). The lady shrugged, and I shrugged and Sunshine chewed on a jelly and said “Come on Daddy”
We eventually left the aquarium some 90 minutes after we entered – which is pretty good going with a two and a half year old, tantrum free. Next, I had to find the Rainforest Café.
Reciting an old song I learned as a child in my head (Ask a policeman!), we found our way from Westminster up to Piccadilly (a decent walk, which worked well with Sunshine, who had spent so much time with her head under a roofs and roadways all day).
But by the time we got there, Sunshine was fading. We went through a shop full of merchandise (the only caution I’d give – Sunshine went straight for the teddies, as children will!) to a booth where they took your booking. I gave the lady there my name and told her we had a booking. They only keep tables for 15 minutes. She walkie-talkied down to someone who said “What time did they book for?”
“Well, what time is it now?”
“Oh. Right. Well. You better let them down then” That London tourism-by-rules thing again (although to be fair, they were packed). The lady sent us down the stairs, where we entered a prosthetic Jungle, right there in the middle of the city. There were vines and trees, animal and jungle noises all around. A starry night was picked out on the ceiling with spotlights. A bar area had some people waiting for tables. Some turning themselves into monkeys as they did, but not too many (this seemed strange to me, as I really was only there for the sake of a two year old – going to a theme restaurant like this wouldn’t be my idea of a hot date, no matter how tropical the rainforest). We were led in through various tables perhaps built by Tarzan, while a large monkey groaned in our direction and an Elephant trumpeted our entrance (or, that’s how I would have it). Whatever about Sunshine, I didn’t know if I’d make it through dinner at this point. We had a great meal all the same, although Sunshine didn’t quite last the pace. She got a good deal for herself: they did a ‘pack’ thing, which included the standard colours and book, a face mask, some cards and other bits and pieces.
I think I paid aroung £15 for that, which came with a dinner, desert and drink. Pricey, but it was the middle of London, and (had she not been tired), I’m pretty confident it would have kept her entertained for the length of time it would take to eat a dinner. As it happened, I myself had time only to eat a burger before Sunshine herself asked to go home. She was tired, and ready for bed. I’d love more space to give The Rainforest Café a decent review: the food was good, the price was good enough, given that it was centre of London. It was a spectacular way to round off a hectic, misguided and altogether unforgettable day in London.