London with a sprog In tow - the pleasures and pitfalls of a culture fix with the kids
Pussy cat, pussy cat where have you been?
I've been to London to visit the Queen
Pussy cat Pussy cat, where on earth did you find the £16.50 to get through the door?
Leaving aside the fact that you have to pay to visit a house that you technically own, a visit to Buckingham Palace with a pram is actually quite fun. If we're to nitpick, you can't actually visit with a pram, since once you've cleared the airport-style security, your pram is replaced with a complimentary baby carrier. Nevertheless, there are 3 good reasons for taking your littlies along to the summer opening of the state rooms at Buckingham Palace.
1. You get a free audio guide
If your kids are old enough, they get a kids version, which means they'll be kept entertained either by the commentary or by fiddling with the buttons. And if they aren't, you can crank up the volume on your own guide to levels where the persistent shouting of your offspring is barely discernible. It helps too, that since everyone else has an audioguide, they can do the same. I'm pretty sure I saw a number of people reach for the volume control as we wandered past.
This then lends a brilliant air of the surreal, since if you take off the audio guide, you'll be treated to the sound of shoes shuffling over lush burgundy carpets accompanied by the single shrill voice of a toddler echoing off the sumptuous John Nash-designed domed ceilings. A-da-da-da-da-da-da! No wonder her majesty hightails it for Balmoral every summer.
2. There are plenty of attendants
And they are only too keen to help you - whether it's to bring you your pram as you exit the Palace, or to shuttle you to the baby changing facilities (situated out in the gardens just by the gift shop, which stocks a full range of Buckingham Palace bathroom accessories). Of course, they're mostly there to ensure your offspring don't put greasy fingers anywhere near the flocked wallpaper or the gilt detailing. And there is a lot of flock and gilt. Gold balustrades, gold ceilings, gold-rimmed mirrors, almost everything has a touch of gold. Apart from the fire extinguishers, they're a rather downmarket brass.
The tour takes in an elegant staircase, the throne room, numerous reception rooms, the ballroom and a music room with a wonderful inlaid wooden floor and glorious views out over the finest garden in SW1. It's probably not as awe-inspiring as you imagined, but then one suspects that most tickets are bought as a chance to say 'I've been inside'
That said, the art collection is dazzling, and this year's temporary exhibition focuses on the Queen's relationship with the Commonweath. It features plenty of ball gowns and the sorts of presents that probably get stored in the attic. Our favourite: the Ghanaian Kente cloth hand embroidered with:
It all ends with a walk through the gardens. A chance to run a round a bit - though not on the grass, please - and appreciate the view of the Palace that not many people get to see.
3. If you register your ticket before you leave, you can come back anytime for a whole year.
Which gives you 12 months to organise a baby sitter, for next time.
By Tom Gray. Check our the previous adventures of our man with a pram.
The State Rooms, Buckingham Palace. London W2 3XA until 30th September. Adults £16.50, Concs £15.00, Under 5 Free. All details online.