Our mission today: to seek out new shoes for three of our expedition members. This will be the first time crew members BoyN and BoyJ have had shoes as they have recently mastered the technical skills needed for walking.
Terrain: Hard going. Today we will need to transit the area of ‘Oxford Street’ in order to reach our planned goal of ‘the Clarks Shoe Shop’ – which is the only shop in the vicinity that will give us our 10% TAMBA (twins club) members‘ discount. We expect to encounter seasonally migratory herds of shoppers, indignant retail employees, and obstacles of varying degrees on the ground.
Method of travel: Bus, tube, taxi (depending on state of nerves on point of expedition embarkation). We will be using our perambulation vehicle engineered by Messrs Maclaren & Co, augmented by a ‘Buggy Board’ for three year old BoyT.
07.00: Roll call, and First Mate Him Indoors readies himself and sets off on independent mission to Acquire Money in Exchange for Labour, leaving myself in charge of today’s mission. The youngest crew members are fed their gruel rations, and BoyT engages in insubordinate backchat regarding nutritional value of gruel versus buttered croissants. It thus becomes necessary to threaten withdrawal of various recreational items to induce him to eat his rations. After an attempt to shower self whilst simultaneously entertaining the crew, I succeed in dressing and inserting BoyN and BoyJ in today’s transportation. BoyT proves more of a challenge, as he has decided that one does not require protective clothing (or any clothing) to embark on a mission outdoors, and, after a countdown, enforced dressing is required. Compounding effect of this is that BoyT also requires enforced exit from base, as has decided to abort mission on behalf of us all.
10.20: Exterior of base camp. BoyT lies on pavement in protest at my pulling rank and affixing ‘Buggy Board’ to vehicle myself. (BoyT is apprentice engineer, but now is not the time). After much discussion he is persuaded onto it, and we set off on mission. As we are behind schedule (and, frankly, I am minded to abort mission as it is becoming psychologically dangerous) I decide the mission must push on post-haste: and manage to attract a taxi to convey us to our destination.
Once pushchair is finally ‘bashed’ into the cab, and BoyT is unwillingly affixed to seat with safety harness, we set off, immediately to be engulfed in a contra-flow /roadworks scenario of previously unknown proportions.
11.00: Taxi regurgitates us finally at the top of Oxford Street, and not before time as BoyT has been kicking, squirming, and generally fidgeting fit to burst . We are extracted of £30 for our 3.41 mile journey, and proceed into the shop. After finding lift, and descending to basement shoe shop, myself and BoyT sit on stools and await consultation with a shoe specialist. After 5 minutes of sitting, and after attempting eye contact repeatedly, we are approached and asked if we ‘want somefink?’ I explain our mission for the day, and hope for salvation. BoyT is about to raid the shop’s supply of weaponry, so we tie him down and start with his feet. The fitting goes well, but BoyT decides he must inform himself of the workings of the Foot Measuring Device whilst his choice of footwear is brought. It transpires that only one pair of shoes in this, one of the major shoe stores of the Metropolis, fit BoyT, so we agree to go with them, and BoyT is allowed to continue to wear his new shoes. Next we move to BoyJ, who is only too keen to show off his walking skills, and prances off down to the toy section, followed by BoyT. I retrieve both boys and return – to find that our assigned foot expert has been distracted by questions from a rival expedition, and is about to start to measure the feet of said crew! We manage to re-engage her, and I try to generate sympathy for my plight at the same time as projecting authority ; and a feeling of responsibility on her part as we are clearly buying THREE pairs of shoes. This is only partly successful. Foot expert now ‘measures’ BoyJ’s feet, and goes off to find him some footwear. On return she has only one pair of shoes that might fit him. They don’t. Another expert joins us, and we now move on to speculation about ‘ordering in’ shoes; requiring another expedition to ascertain correct fitting. I explain (quite clearly I feel, through the tears) that I won’t be coming to Oxford Street on my own with three toddlers voluntarily EVER again, and we all look at the floor. Eventually one of them says that they might fit in the ‘cruising’ shoes. I am momentarily excited at the prospect of special maritime shoes, but I then realise that they are talking of shoes for apprentice walkers. We decide to go for this option, and the only three pairs of shoes that may fit are duly brought forth for BoyJ. BoyJ seems pretty darned pleased with his shoes, so we let him keep them on.
Briefly pausing to retrieve BoyT, who has gone AWOL; I decide to strap him on the vacant seat in our perambulator, and swap BoyJ for BoyN, who is the last on the list. Our foot expert, again re-directing attention from the feet of a young interloper, now moves to measuring BoyN’s feet. It is as if she has not noticed that he is an identical twin, and may have similar feet to BoyJ, and I have to physically stop her from taking back all the shoes she brought out for BoyJ to the stock room. Unsurprisingly, BoyN’s feet are an exact match for his twin, so we select a pair from the two remaining pairs in the shop that might fit him, and send him wobbling off to the sock section. Whilst this has been going on, BoyT has managed to requisition all the spare protective clothing for all crew members, and is experimenting with a sartorial version of a cat-o-nine-tails: with the buttons in place of knots. The whirling coat looks set to blind at least one of our crew if he lets it go, and I am just in time to confiscate it. I have to decide whether or not to release BoyT in the interests of general safety, but I decide to keep him where he is despite the screaming and kicking. Whilst I have been dealing with BoyT, BoyN has exercised his new running expertise, and is currently examining all the girls shoes from the shelf, and considering their nutritional value.
As we have now measured and fitted all crew members, we are ready to move on to the paying phase of the expedition, and our consultant plonks the shoes on the counter and wanders off in the direction of a less challenging customer. I await the chance to give my money to someone. When this happens, I have to explain the whole discount idea, and discover that the membership card I thought would grant me 10% off is in fact expired. The assistant goes off to phone and establish my genuine status as Captain of a Family Including Twins. Luckily this seems to work, and we are now actually in a position to leave.
11.40: I wisely realise that there is something of a need for changing of undergarments in the younger crew members. Once in the ‘family room’ I also note that I could do with a trip to the latrine myself, having drunk a fair amount of coffee in preparation for this expedition, and it having now done its job in getting me here. I am extremely dismayed that ‘family room’ does not include toilets, and am pretty seriously glad that I decided to regress BoyT’s training in the use of toilets for the purposes of this trip.
12.00: We now exit the shop into full-on lunch time herd migration on Oxford Street. The way is also blocked by hazards varying from white hot burger bars to roadworks in the pavement. The whole of one side of the street is blocked; bar a gap exactly corresponding to the width of our vehicle less 2 centimetres or so. I am pretty sure I can ram it through without the aid of a machete, but I haven’t bargained for the unstoppable migratory herds. After an interminable wait at the side of said gap, I realise there is nothing for it: “PLEASE CAN SOMEONE GIVE ME A BREAK” I yell at the top of my voice. This actually works, and I squeeze though the gap, staggering past the blank, staring faces of the confused hordes as they whinny and scrape their hooves on the ground in impatience.
12.10: We are now past our strictly timetabled luncheon break, and I can feel the hunger starting to bite on the younger crew members. We are battling through the crowds, and now we have to run the gauntlet of the Front Windows of Selfridge’s. I find this very difficult given the challenge of the expedition so far, and the low moaning by my side of ‘where-are-we-going-can-I-have-a-biscuit’ is really making the merits of a detour very attractive. I decide that spending our funds on an essential Anya Hindmarch handbag may be good for morale, but could ultimately be counter-productive, so I make a very difficult strategic decision to carry on past.
12.30: As no prospect of a sandwich shop in the vicinity, I decide to trust in my navigational skills, and turn off the main thoroughfare onto a side street. My orienteering seems to pay off, and many street cafes hove into view. I now take a unilateral decision to compound our financial expenses for the day, and buy sanity in the guise of pizza for everyone; partly because I know this will avoid mutiny, and everyone will eat it; and partly because I am now at the end of my Captain’s resources, and require a glass of Red Wine to avoid a full blown cardiac arrest. This is all very well, but I cannot see any single establishment that looks like I may be able to negotiate our vehicle within its confines in any way which may end up with my being able to go to the toilet, and this is now a pressing need. Eventually I decide that hunger trumps toilets overall, and we manage to order and receive rations and grog for all of us.
13.15: After thoughtfully strewing the pavement with half-eaten morsels of pizza, fighting the urge for more wine, and pretending not to notice the much more refined expeditions around us comprising young, thin women on missions to buy Anya Hindmarch handbags, we are finally ready to undertake the journey home. As I finally flag down a taxi, BoyT decides now is the time to have a full-blown campaign of dissent , and lies on the pavement in front of our perambulator in the manner of a suffragette in front of a horse. I am tempted to run him down, but resist, and put up a show of great understanding and patience. A small crowd has now gathered, partly to watch the tantrum, partly to see the twins; and a woman is trying to catch my eye. Eventually I get to the point of actually having loaded the pushchair into the taxi, and am about to employ my manhandling skills on BoyT, when said woman approaches me, taps me on the shoulder, and says ,in a triumphant manner, “You’ve got your hands full!”
Somehow I avoid releasing the full force of both barrels of my pent-up wrath, and smile wanly at her – as I do every time I get this same comment at inopportune moments. I calmly get in the cab, sit beside my screaming crew members, and think wistfully of the pleasures of buying shoes…….
Mission conclusion: We arrive home, having achieved our goal; and with no casualties. On evaluating the overall effectiveness and economic value of our mission, the situation looks less clear: although all crew members now have footwear, the cost to our morale and nerves has been great; and the cost to our finances even greater. Apart from the £40 in taxi fares, we were obliged to purchase victuals and wine on our journey totalling £20.90. The cost of crew footwear was £68.40. Although our discount amounted to £7.60, one can only conclude that this is a minor saving, given the gruelling challenges of the mission itself.
Designer, mum of crazy boy #1 and identical crazy twin boys #2 & #3, + parrot, partner, and house in SE London. Jessica views life through high-density design-tinted lenses. She looks up in occasional surprise to find that three children have appeared – as if by magic – then remembers all the hard work. Founder of boroughbabies yahoo group and contributor to lots of twin-related publications, online and off. Can be found in the twittersphere at @jessevershed.