United Kingdom | England | Thames Valley and Chilterns
May 5, 2009
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Reading by Railcar

With the Kids

Hasta la vista, baby!
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We live near Reading - someone has to. To be fair, it's not nearly as bad as I remember from my teenage years: beer malt pong by day, and blowing chip wrappers and spilt Special Brew (and worse) by night. Still, the journey's one I've made dozens of times, hundreds probably. So when I needed to do a shopping trip, how to make it special for Ben and Sam?

I decided to leave the car at home and take the train. Despite the distance being less than 20 miles, I'd never done this before - chiefly because a change is required at Basingstoke. But with Ben in full-on Thomas-mania mode, Sam with no choice, and me with a whole free day, this seemed the time to try. Thus it was that I rocked up at our local station just after cheap fares o’clock, parked the car, extracted the buggy, installed Sam, lectured Ben at length on the perils of stepping over the yellow line, fitted the buggy-board, checked nappy, bottles, coats, toy cars, book and shopping list, and set forth.

Pleasant surprise number one was that, with both boys under five, the fare for all three of us was under six pounds - less than half a day’s car parking in central Reading. Surprise number two was how easy the change in Basingstoke was. Every platform was accessible by lift and a perky two-carriage diesel-railcar was waiting for us when we reached the little platform round the back were the Reading branch line peeled off.

The journey was pleasant if not heroic, through a comfy countryside of green fields and little coverts in the first flush of spring. As we rattled along, Ben stood on the seat to gaze out the window. We spied a circling buzzard and a fox running across a meadow, but his main delight came from the whoosh of passing trains and, on reaching the branch line, the intricacies of level crossings. Sam, meanwhile, slept - until he decided he was hungry. Balancing bottle and powder on my knee as we bounced and jostled was more of a challenge than I’d bargained for, but eventually it was done - and Sam quieted once more.

Despite the change, we reached Reading in a mere 45 minutes - no longer than it normally takes us to drive and park. Emerging from our rail-car cocoon, the bustle and busyness of a big mainline station hit full tilt; torn between awe at the coming and goings of the sleek Inter-Citys, and little-boy fearfulness at the thronging crowds, Ben was happy to be steered fairly promptly out onto the street.

Shopping duly done, we headed home a couple of hours later. This time, though, Ben was plain exhausted, content to slumber on my knee as the villages and hamlets rolled by. Journey completed, he just about staggered into his car seat and had to be carried straight to bed when we got home.

By next morning, however, we all agreed our trip by train had been a grand adventure. We'll by off again soon - though this time perhaps to somewhere little more exciting than Reading's Oracle Shopping Mall.

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