Cha gio in Smithfields


Tuesday 12th May

So the boy is starting school in a few short months and I shall miss him greatly.  Who will I share that post school drop-off pot of tea with? Who will operate the food processor when I’m making soup? And who will give me a big thumbs up when I create another winning smoothie?

To make the most of these last few months, I decide we should do one special thing a week, starting with a day trip to London. Ok, so this benefits me more than Ollie because I get to see two old friends, but I’m sure he’ll enjoy the train ride. 

Thanks to my travel anxiety we actually arrive at the station twenty minutes early. Maybe anxiety in other areas of life would benefit me on the punctuality front?  I have packed Ollie an activity rucksack. By the time we pull out of Norwich station at eight thirty we have already played Snap, Bear Hunt memory game and he’s eaten the entire contents of his snack box. 

He finds a pair of headphones in his bag. They are for the emergency iPad – just in case I need a break….

“I want to play something now!” he demands. We’re not even at Diss yet. This wasn’t the plan, but then again I haven’t drawn breath since I got up, let alone had a sip of tea. 

I shut my eyes for a few short minutes before the shouting starts. Ollie can’t hear himself speak due to the headphones, so he bellows out enabling the whole carriage to hear his every word. He can’t get onto level four of his game and needs my help. It still hasn’t sunk in with him that his mother is not only rubbish at computer games, but fundamentally opposed to them. 

I try, unsuccessfully, to help him gain level four entry (just to get some peace), but it’s impossible. The little man in green has to jump from one moving platform to another. 

“Oh you’ve killed me, mum! You’ve really killed me!” wails Ollie at the top of his voice, as the little man falls to his death thanks to my incompetency. 

People in suits look up sharply from their devices. I’m just hoping this isn’t the quiet carriage we’re in. Out of desperation I ask the Sun reader sitting next to Ol if he can help.

“Excuse me, are you any good at computer games? My son is stuck on level three of Lep’s World.

The man gives me a strange look over the top of his newspaper. I realise that without explanation, Lep’s World, could be mistaken for having something to do with leprosy, rather than a game involving Irish leprechauns which this is. 

In London we rendezvous in the cafe at The Barbican. Babies Sonny and Frank sit in their pushchairs, while Ollie picks raisins out of his scone. We adults catch up on the last few months, starting with the election. I could sit here and talk all day but Ollie needs the toilet, so I’m pulled away from a very interesting discussion to stand in a disabled toilet.

Ollie has grown wise to what the signs mean: he refuses to go in the Ladies, and I refuse to go in the Gents, so we compromise and use the disabled loo. Much to Ollie’s delight, it contains a full-length mirror so that he can stare at himself admiringly whilst sitting on the loo. I, on the otherhand, am consigned to staring at the wall six inches from my face. Every attempt to turn around is met with cries of:

“Don’t look at me, mum! Turn away!”

Have I really come all the way to London to stare at a toilet wall, I wonder after ten minutes have gone by? I know you can’t rush these things but I’m panicking about all the chat that I’m missing out on.

To keep Ollie entertained, we walk to the nearby Museum of London. A new one on me. I’m impressed that Ollie is so fascinated by all the displays of bones and pieces of flint found under the streets of London, but after two rooms of this, I’m hankering after the gift shop. 


I virtually have to drag him there with promises of a souvenir or two. I go mad and end up carrying a basket around because there’s so much I want to buy. There’s a Sherlock Holmes display and a suffragettes one. I buy my dad, fellow Conan Doyle aficionado, a whole Holmes gift set which will be sent out to Madrid (dad -pretend you haven’t just read that…). Then I start on the suffragette merchandise. 

Meanwhile, Ollie has done the whole store and has chosen his heart’s desire. It’s not the replica gold coins, which I would’ve put money on, nor the Paddington bear keyring. What he really wants (and ends up getting because he’s wedged it onto his chubby little finger) is an obscenely large heart -shaped diamond ring for £2.00. He purchases this alongside a sour cherry candycane, and wears it with pride for the rest of the day. It makes going to the toilet, washing his hands and operating the iPad, very difficult, but he will not be parted from it. Next time he comes, he tells me on the train home, he’d like a sapphire one. 

For lunch we go to Smithfields and pick at random a Vietnamese restaurant. They look delighted to see us coming with our two pushchairs and three children under the age of four; Ollie leads the procession with his huge diamond ring. 

As soon as we order, baby Frank springs into action and does endless crawling circuits of the restaurant. At one point I wonder if Rachel (his mum) has left for good, but she returns sporadically to shovel another mouthful in before having to race off again. 

I’m delighted to see that much of the menu is dairy and gluten-free. I nervously order the Cha gio (a lot of accents missing there), which are crispy pork spring rolls. I haven’t had spring rolls for years because of the gluten factor. These ones taste so crispy and delicious and downright amazing dipped in peanut sauce that I have to call over the waitress AGAIN to check that they definitely don’t contain gluten. Apparently they are wrapped in rice paper which is something I need to get hold of as soon as possible so I can recreate them. 

Ollie and I also ordered a fresh apple, mint and lime juice each which re-ignites my determination to find our juicer (not used in ten years) which was last seen in the garage.

We get the 1600 train home. It’s packed but we’re happy and full. Ollie wants to know where we’re going tomorrow. He is under the misapprehension that we will be having a ‘special day’ together every day from now till September…….


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