Sunday, 16 June 2013

Farewell Albion/Stuck in London: We’ve got a saga now

Saturday 1st June was quite an experience, one that left me with emotional highs and lows and a body that took a while to recover.

For a start it was a series of travel fails, I missed my initial(planned) train to London, was heading to fellow Dr Who podcaster David Keep’s farewell do in Crawley but had decided to stay overnight in the Capital.

Getting a later initial train wasn’t  a total disaster but I didn’t then check into my East London hotel till about 1pm and hung around there a little longer than planned so missed my first choice train at 1430 to Crawley for the meet up. I then managed to miss two further trains, for some reason the departure board wasn’t the easiest of things to read but thankfully did eventually find a train and got to Crawley station only about half an hour after the start time for the do.

Things started to look up at this point with a cheap, fast taxi ride to the pub for only £3.80. Then communication breakdown when I arrived and that british thing of not wanting to complain meant I accidently bought a beer instead of a cider, I am no fan of beer and it didn’t get drunk. Can’t help but partly blame the pub too who will go and sell beer and ciders with v similar names!

Thankfully the rest of the evening went well, there was a good sized turnout not sure of the exact figure but it was at least 18 of us. So many in fact that we spilled over onto another table. Oddly a suggestion that we join the two tables together wasn’t acted on(social apathy there?) Never mind even though this did unintentionally osterize The Pharos Project guys they seemed happy enough.

I’m not normally great at socialising when it comes to large groups but the evening seemed to go reasonably well, hopefully I didn’t go on at people for too long which can be a regular social fo par for me.

After much chat, a bit of drinking and a most enjoyable meal we returned to the more chilled(literally in temperate terms) confines of the pub garden.
I had originally planned to leave around 8.30pm for a 9pm train back to London but as Crawley is rather unfamiliar to me having only visited once before I’d sooner have not done the journey solo. No one understandably wanted to leave early so I waited for things to come to a natural end at around 10pm when Adam kindly gave me and a couple of others a lift.

After a few short minutes waiting on the platform my emotions dived into a rather dark hole as I realising what a thouroughly nice bloke we were loosing to the Americas in Dave Keep. Saturday was admittedly probably the first time I’d had a decent length conversation with the guy but I found his tastes were not unlike by own(it’s not every day I meet a fellow Danny Baker fan for example) I didn’t stand there on the platform blubbing my eyes out but I did have “a moment” and was worried that such a fun weekend was going to end on a low.

Thankfully at this point fate stepped in an Jo and Wyn walked onto the platform, they’d been a little late to the pub and had kept a fairly low key presence throughout the evening, but I was suddenly lonely and genuinely in need of some emergency socializing to lift my mood. I approached them and uttered the phase “oh well here we are the three stragglers!” and don’t think I stopped talking for about half an hour after that. Sorry guys if your reading this but conversation is kind of emotional therapy for me and your willingness to listen to this aging geek go on and on did lift my mood considerably!
Subjects ranged from tv, radio, music and song writing(I even sung to them a few self penned diddies at one point) I’m not always a good judge of character but it’s too their credit that they were prepared to listen to me and it did, to me at least develop into a quite interesting conversation(now and again my common sense took over and I listened too)

Eventually we went our separate ways and I arrived back in London, this kids is where it gets complicated!

Frustratingly I got to Victoria just as the tube was closing down for the night, don’t panic I thought there are worse parts of London to be in this is a bus station after all therefore there must still be a way back to my hotel.

Thankfully I rapidly found an information window and was able to ask the man behind it which buses I needed the first of these was the N15 which I was informed would get me as far as Canning Town(my hotel was at London City Airport) and from there I could catch another bus for the final leg of the journey.

The N15 I was informed could be caught in the Regent Street area, Victoria being a mystery to me I just kind of headed in the direction the man behind the information window had indicated and hoped for the best. I initially ended up on Park Lane a rather posh/rich part of London known for its designer stores and sports car dealerships. Some might say of my situation at this point that I was lost, no lost is not knowing where you are. I knew where I was, just didn’t know how to get to where I wanted to be. At this point my memory gets a little hazy but the next familiar place I remember stumbling across was Buckingham Palace of all things! I walked around a bit taking photos and trying get my bearings, sound in the knowledge that a) I’d seen the Centre Point buiding in the distance a few minutes before and b) The Mall nearby would take me to Trafalgar Square which is relatively close to where I needed to be.

It’s at this point that London decided it didn’t like me and as some of you may know this there are in fact two huge roads leading away from the palace, one is the mall and then there’s the other which especially at night looks near identical. The trouble with this other road is it doesn’t lead to Trafalgar Square but in fact Hyde Park Corner.

So again I was “lost” but at least if your in this part of central London roadside tourist maps are easy to find so I was(with the help of the compass on my phone) able to start heading towards the West End.

Eventually I realised I’d found Regent Street as I saw the familiar sight of the apple store, so I started looking at all the bus stops trying to find the right one for the N15. This took crossing the road in the end but I was now in the right place. They weren’t the most luxurious surroundings(there was sick on the ground…eww!) but there was an albeit badly designed seat and company, not that I was over willing to start conversations with total strangers though.

So the waiting began, half an hour went by many busses came and went none of them the N15, half an hour became an hour and I started to become rather worried after an hour and about 20 mins. I came to the conclusion a plan b was in order, among the busses that had stopped nearby I’d seen a few to Liverpool Street and thought “well at least I know there’s a taxi rank there, I can grab a cab back to the hotel” Talk about the best laid plans of mice and men!

I waited a little longer but then decided I’d have a bit of a wander afterall I was still near several bus stops so surely spotting a bus to Liverpool Street wouldn’t be impossible? It was, for some reason those busses had evaporated too! By this time it was gone 4am. Plan a had failed, plan b had failed so I resigned myself to the rather depressing plan c: wait for the tube to reopen.

I call this depressing because after checking signage outside a few stations I rapidly realised this was going to be a LONG wait even though dawn was slowly beginning to arrive in the capital.

I won’t say that central London felt scary at this time of day but equally I realised the best way to both stay safe and kill time was walk, so I wandered initially to Piccadilly Circus which was so brightly lit by advertising screens it felt like broad daylight. I stayed there a few mins entertained at first by a nearby busking sax player and then less so by a couple of guys with a beatbox radio so loud I was surprised the police patrol cars that passed every few minutes didn’t arrest them for breaching the peace!

Then I headed to nearby Leicester Square which felt less friendly but was surprisingly busy with a large if compact crowd gathered around some street dancers and a regular flow of customers to nearby food outlets who appeared to be open all night!

I probably spent the most time on Embankment as I could watch and photograph the sunrise from there and it was quiet enough to feel safe as well as being in easy reach of Embankment tube station when it eventually reopened.

The wait for the tube to reopen felt like the longest part of the night, it didn’t help that there doesn’t appear to be any 24 toilets in central London so despite my discomfort patience would be my only relief for that problem(central London’s tons of CCTV Doesn’t exactly encourage you to relive yourself behind the nearest bush or tree!)

Eventually, very slowly 6.45am arrived and I was able to enter Embankment an grab a tube to Bank for the DLR back to my hotel(it's only subsequently that I've found out that the the DLR opens nearly 90 mins earlier than the tube so I could have walked to Tower Gateway!)

Only once I got on the DLR did I risk a few sips of my water safe in the knowledge that I was fairly near to somewhere comfortable at last.

I finally got back to my hotel at 7.40am and despite having been told breakfast wasn’t till 8am I spied fellow residents eating away already.

I made a beeline for my room where both phone and ipod were put on charge and I had a much needed shower to warm up(my face was flushed red with the cold!)

After a healthy sized breakfast I checked out and caught a train home a good two hours later than originally planned but this did mean my Dad could give me a lift home.

Not sure if there’s a moral to the above tale, if my experience taught me anything it’s that London’s reputation as being dangerous at night is probably exaggerated especially when it comes to Central London but still I don’t envy anyone that’s homeless and has to sleep there.

I’m sure some of you reading this will be saying why didn’t you flag down a cab? Well to be honest even doing that appeared to be some kind of dark art, I'll reinterate that only taxi rank I even know of in central London is at Liverpool Street station and the busses to Liverpool Street had vanished too by the time I actually thought of this plan b at 4am. 

Thanks must be paid to Adam J Purcell who got me to Crawley Station, Andy Nunney who kindly bought be a cider in the pub and last but by no means last but by no means least to Jo and Wyn who hopefully enjoyed our lengthy conversation on both platform and train and may have in some small way saved my sanity for a while!

Nothing more to add, so cheers for now 


PS: You can see the photos I took here

and video of that sax playing busker here

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