Saturday, 14 November 2015

London Calling

One of the things about living in a village is that it will eventually turn you into a Country Mouse and a trip to London will become a major event which involves discussing travel options with your friends because:

  • Your nearest train station might as well shut from 8pm onwards given the infrequency of the service (and the fact that you need to change to get on a main line which, if timed wrong, could leave you stranded at Reading as your car waits patiently in the car park at Newbury for you).
  • Driving to a 'proper' station involves either a parking fee that will make you swear (£17.80 for 7 hours at Reading..) or a walk to your car that includes having to cross a bridge with steps so steep you'll develop an irrational fear that the man behind you is going to push you down them (thanks Didcot).

This combination of extortionate parking, irrational bridge-fears and worrying about being stranded, led to me deciding to drive to an evening event in the arse-end of nowhere (or Docklands, as it is more commonly known).  The sat nav was set, I was ready to go.

I glided along the M4 and entered our capital city under the watchful eye of giant Mockingjay and Call of Duty ads - a grim portent of things to come?  Not initially - the sat nav lady had decreed that I should experience some impressive sights first:

The Royal Albert Hall where cyclists slither at speed between cars like black lycra-clad sperm rushing to a waiting egg.  They wear no helmets and use tiny flashing red lights to alert you to their presence - a far cry from the blinding bike torches and neon clothing of the countryside cyclists that I know.  The parking sensors go mad and I wonder how on earth they maintain their balance and concentration under the assault of traffic fumes, breathtaking buildings and unpredictable manoeuvres.

The Ritz where a top-hatted doorman skips like Fred Astaire across the road to usher an elderly couple into a cab.  They are elegantly dressed but look dowdy next to his tails and epaulets.  Back on the pavement a bell boy pushes a gilded luggage trolley filled with bags from Selfridges and Harrods.  He wheels them to a discrete side door so they can be whisked to the room of someone too rarefied to be seen with their own shopping.

Image from

The Strand, strewn with Christmas lights which makes me feel like I am on a float in a Disney parade.  Even the buses are in a festive mood - great sweeps of window curve up and over the side of the them like the flash of a shoulder revealed by an evening dress.  I am in awe, but not for long....

Hyde Park Corner and Holborn await me snarled up and twisted like a spastic colon.  Lanes closed, cars too close, people oblivious to the traffic lights.  The sat nav represents major junctions as mere roundabouts which confuses the hell out of me, lanes disappear behind netting and traffic cones, signs and road markings become invisible under the weight of traffic.  I pause for a group of pedestrians who have ignored the lights.  A taxi driver properly, massively, blares his horn to inform me that it really is 'each for their own'.  I realise that I am not cut out for using my car as a plough to move people - he'll have to wait.

After a learner-driver on a moped swerves across two lanes and into my path, I find myself off course and on Liverpool Street.  Which is a cul-de-sac.  A cul-de-sac full of taxis that have formed a little Yo! Sushi style conveyor belt to allow customers into their cabs.  They are not going to move for me (not a great night for me and taxis) and I end up reversing the length of the street - unfortunately not with my left arm slung casually across the back of the front passenger seat...

A good hour later the Limehouse Link tunnel welcomes me and I eventually get to the NCP which closes in just over two hours time unless I want to pay a £50 release fee.  It has taken me 2 hours to cross the city.  I am deflated as I walk from my car to the venue but then I cross the bridge and see this:

Many people would argue that there is no beauty to be found in the financial district but there is something about seeing London lit up at night, reflected on the water, that is pretty magical to me.

My inner Country Mouse marvels at the sight and then I remember that behaving like a naive tourist at night is not a sensible thing to do and put my phone away.  The event goes well and the journey home takes only two hours door to door - it's a result but what will stay with me is the journey there.

Those two hours crawling across the city felt like a valid way to experience London - beautiful, maddening, alive, infuriating, confusing, crowded and never, ever boring.  It drove me round the twist, and I feel like I earned some driving stripes, but most of all I fell a little bit more for our capital city.  London, I love you.

Soundtrack:  London Calling - The Clash

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