Mum's the worst: Does the city really have no place for babies?

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The Independent Online
I am in the Natural History Museum - promoted as a family place - with my three children aged five, three and two, the latter in a pushchair. Somewhere between Dinosaurs and Mammals comes the cry:

'Mummy, I need to go to the loo.'

'Me too.'

'A pee?'

'A poo,' they whimper in unison and then you get a whiff of the baby, who's performed as if on cue. I take a breath. It ought to be simple enough.

'Back past Invertebrates,' mutters a uniformed guide. We hurry there, but it's full of workmen: Lavatory Closed.

'Try the cafe, love,' they suggest, but we find a queue as long as a Tyrannosaurus' tail. One lift, endless corridors, and many moans later, we find another without a queue, but the sign says No Pushchairs Beyond This Point. At the end of my tether,I squeak guiltily past.

'Can you leave the pushchair outside, please?' The attendant looks at us as if we are some new loathsome species. But how am I to do all the requisite lifting on and off loos, wiping bottoms, washing hands and then lifting up to towels, while my two-year-old - with a spectacularly dirty nappy - runs riot? And this is a family museum]

Don't get me wrong, we love the Natural History Museum. I've chosen to bring my children up in London partly because I appreciate the proximity and accessibility of such places. I also want them to enjoy the privilege of growing up in a truly diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society.

But, despite the endless snub-nosed, dungaree'd sweeties who today beam out from the advertising hoardings, life in the capital is not tailored to accommodate real live kids. Can I propose a few changes?

One: child-height loos in family places would be appreciated, as would matching basins and roller-towels. How many days of work a year do they keep telling us are lost due to back injury? Health Secretary, please note.

Two: couldn't such an apparently sophisticated city finally pull itself together about breast-feeding in public - at least in those places where families eat? Babies need frequent sustenance and, just because your body is producing vital and nutritious food, you should not have to stay at home or else sit staring at the sanitary towel disposal unit in the loo.

Somewhat ironically, one of London's few female statues greets Her Majesty each morning outside Buckingham Palace. It's of - you've guessed - a woman breast-feeding, and you can tell by the uninhibited look on her face that she's not cringing in the

corner of some West End coffee shop.

Three: and while we're at it, what about those statues? They excite my five-year-old, fuelling his sense of the past. But it's high time there were more females up there. Statues exist to commemorate those boring old male virtues - fighting, killing, ruling - and the only females who really get a look in are those who themselves featured in wars - Florence Nightingale, Boadicea, Edith Cavell. How about a Mrs Pankhurst column? Or a Bront memorial? And Virginia Woolf deserves something better thanthe Grill and Burger Bar she makes do with.

Four: and most frustratingly of all, there's London Transport. We've all seen the posters - Kew by Underground - a pastel of some picnickers who've allegedly stepped off the Tube to laze on the grass.

Well, it was my birthday, and my children and I fancied it. But has anyone ever actually tried taking three children of that age on the London Underground anywhere?

If you have just one kid who can walk, fine - though all those stairs do take forever if you're three years old, and even the pluckiest little one is fazed by those vertiginous escalators. Or, if you have one baby in a pushchair, well, OK, as long as you can fold the latter and you're strong enough to carry both, and your bag, on the above-mentioned escalators. Any more, and you can forget it.

Frustrated about our thwarted picnic, I rang London Transport's Press Office. So what about Mum and pushchairs, I asked?

The man pointed out that we pushchair-users are in more or less the same boat as the disabled, before adding cosily: 'But we lifted the restriction last October.'

'What restriction?'

'We now allow wheelchair-users on the Underground. Pushchairs have, of course, always been allowed.' Well, thanks a bunch.

'So, uh, how do we get on if there's no lift?' (There are, we'd just established, only 21 lifts out of more than 300 stations.)

'Well, that's up to the individual,' he coughed. 'It's their own responsibility, how they get on.'

'OK,' I persisted, fairly incredulous by now, 'but exactly how?'

'I'll send you our pamphlet,' he enthused. 'Especially written to tell pushchair and wheelchair-users which stations they can use.'

London Transport's Step by Step (well, exactly]) Guide - admits in its foreword that for those on wheels, 'much of the system is currently inaccessible'. It then talks euphemistically of providing 'prior knowledge of how many steps' people will encounter and of 'giving wheelchair-users the freedom to decide for themselves how to travel'. Some freedom. I began to understand the deep fury of all involved when the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was blocked last month.

The man tried to cheer me up by boasting that the new Jubilee Line Extension (due for completion in 1998) will be built specifically to accommodate wheels. Great news, then, for all those babies and toddlers working in Canary Wharf.

We've decided to go to Kew another day, by car. Those of us lucky enough to own one are aware we should be helping the planet by using them as little as possible. But how can we begin to do that when London Transport - which is apparently a public service - is inaccessible to such a large number of that public?

(Photograph omitted)

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