CRRRRS 496 Lasped Londoner Limps London

By Roy Mathur, on 2023-07-15, at 00:29:23--01:37:27 BST, for Captain Roy's Rusty Rocket Radio Show, Listen

(Recorded on an SM7B).

Let's ramble.

Before the pandemic, once a month I would visit London's West End. It was a semi-regular pilgrimage that began decades ago, originally incorporating a cinema trip and a bite to eat with a friend. Like most, I am stuck in the COVID rut; the same dire grinding provincial supermarket runs and walking and cycling routes, day-in-day-out. So, after a gap of at least two years, on Saturday the 9th of July 2023, having arranged a club lunch---part of my drive to expand my currently non-existent social life---I decided to make a day of it and visit as many of my old haunts as I could. Some were preplanned, others happy accidents. Incidentally, apologies for the overexposed final images from my unreliable, recalcitrant, and ailing Honor 9 Lite (recently replaced). I've attempted to photoshop them into some semblance of reality.

Before all that, I had to get there from the Home Counties some fifty miles away. A few days before the trip, I spent a frustrating two hours to book a return ticket. In a nutshell: there are too many companies offering train tickets at wildly varying prices on extremely confusing websites. Some of the sites, notoriously Avanti's, don't work at all well, with the additional irritation of hitting you with the common scam of online booking fees (495). In the end, I used National Rail's website to book an Avanti train, which also turned out cheaper.

Around 04:00 Saturday I packed my bag; badly as would become evident. I brought a mask, hand sanitiser, a cotton hoodie, a book (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe), a decades old dog-eared Mini London A--Z, a print out of my route from Google Maps, and water about sums up the important bits.

After only a few hours sleep and still very dozy, I was generously dropped off at the station (thanks Mum). A very paranoid couple, thinking I was a queue jumper, charged me as I bumbled my way through a huge bus queue blocking the station. Eventually, I negotiated my way to the departure monitors, then the barriers. As mine was an e-ticket, I waved an image of a QR code on my phone to scanners on the barriers. In theory, the whole process should streamline getting a train, though I do wonder how older people deal with the all the tech. Yes, you can still go analogue, if you enjoy waiting and paying well over the odds.

The 08:55 train was ostensibly a reservation only quiet coach. In practice, it was neither. As I boarded, I found my seat occupied. I apologised profusely at least three times, but got eventually got my nice window seat. As for "quiet", everyone was gabbling like excited poultry and music from leaky earphones permeated. The Avanti staff I had seen when boarding were conspicuously absent for the entirety of the trip. Lightning pierced the sky, thunder heralded a brief flurry, and we arrived about twenty minutes late after the high speed train slowed to a crawl after crossing into Greater London.

Did I say it was hot? It was hot and sticky. London, like many megalopolises is built on a river snaking through a marshy flood plain. It's a humid place and, despite Mayor Khan's traffic reduction measures, its cloying atmosphere will gleefully smother your mucous membranes. And so, my body soaking in the familiar goo of the Big Smoke, I began.

My route was simple, if ambitious: the Doric Arch pub, the British Museum, Hamleys, Forbidden Planet, Foyles, China Town, Leicester Square, the National Portrait Galley, Trafalgar Square, Charring Cross, the Strand, Covent Garden, Cleopatra's Needle, and St. Paul's Cathedral.

Predictably, my first stop, the Doric Arch, was closed.

Via Gower Street I arrived at the British Museum next, only to find that you could no longer just saunter in. Oh no, at both entrances you have to wait in extremely long queues in the musty tacky air. I couldn't even get to the front steps, where I regularly parked my backside on-and-off for almost half a century, as the queue starts outside the gates.

The Atlantis Bookshop on Museum Street is possibly the most famous occult bookshop in the UK. I have a keen interest in the occult, its sub-culture, and history, and this shop has history. It was even the meeting place of Gerald Gardner's Wiccans at one time. In any case, I have fond memories of the family run place and had a brief, if somewhat slightly befuddled on my part, chat with the current owner, who said I probably spoke to her mother the last time I visited.

Somehow I stumbled into Forbidden Planet. A quick a selfie and nonchalant browse at its mostly overpriced tat, and I was off.

Next stop Convent Garden, a snapshot in front of a decorative flower cart hiding a bellowing performer, and onwards.

Leceister Square! Blurry Shakespeare...

...Followed by less blurry Empire.

I stopped at Piccadilly Circus---footsore, ankle, knee, and hip sore too---for painkillers and Red Bull at Boots. On exit, I hid with others from a sudden pelting deluge.

Badly composed shots followed, to amusingly emphasise my amazing chin, at the remarkably relevantly named Man in the Moon Passage street sign.

In and out of Hamleys, through clowning cast and buzzy flying things.

Trafalgar Square!

At Charring Cross I asked a chap in WHSMith what happened to Burger King. He said it had closed even before he started work a couple of years ago. Only the sign was left. How many Spicy Bean Burger Meals had I enjoyed there BITD, while waiting for the train back to Saaf London?

I dawdled in the dampness of Embankment Gardens, where I negotiated a washed out youth orchestra on my way to Cleopatra's Needle.

At 12:32, thoroughly exhausted and squidgy from rain and sweat, I threw in the towel I wish I brought. Sod more walking, I headed for Embankment Tube to make my 13:30 lunch appointment. A particularly excellent fellow at the Tube station was very helpful in explaining how to purchase cheaper tickets by using a credit card at the barrier, rather than from the phenomenally expensive ticket machines.

Two G and Ts and an overpriced, but a convivial lunch and a nice natter later, I limped the entire way back to the Tube on failing joints.

I paused at Euston for further fortification in the Doric Arch pub. The bartender told me I must have missed their opening time by only a few minutes earlier that morning.

The return in what purported to be the quiet carriage at 18:18 was similarly ironic as on the way in. This time someone's phone blared music throughout. Mercifully, the carriage was almost empty and the trip back fast without another slowdown. Preparing to alight, I apologised for the inconvenience the music blarer suffered from having to disconnect the charging cable strung across the aisle. There were staff aboard, but again they seemed to assiduously avoid any contact with passengers. Thanks, Avanti.

I caught a cab from the station, collapsed into an oddly animated pile at home, buoyed by pain killers and Red Bulls, and excitingly babbled my adventures to slightly bemused elders.

The quest to reconnect with my city became something a death march towards the end, with me hunched over and grimacing in pain at every step. Shamefully, I also had to accept directions from kind strangers; a Northern chap, a postwoman from somewhere warm, and an Italian barber, all the while confessing I was a lapsed Londoner. The Mini A--Z was only partly useful as the small print was barely legible to my not-so-acute ageing vision. Pluses? I didn't see everything, but I saw far more than I thought I would, and though it took me a week to recover, I'm doing it again. I'll be better prepared next time. A cotton hoodie and a battered paperback are no match for Indra. (Credit to my mother for mentioning Indra, when I told her how badly London was drenched, hence the use here).