This time last week I was getting ready for my first train trip to London in more than 20 years.
I'm not a fan of London and even though it's only 200 miles away and just over 2 hrs by train, I've probably only been half a dozen times in my life. It's not that I'm some sort of 'country boy' who prefers the wide open spaces to the hustle and bustle of a big city. Well maybe I am, a bit.
It's more that London does nothing for me really. Once you've been to the famous tourist places, there is little point in going back to see them again....and again. Having said that, the places that would interest me and keep me happily entertained and educated for weeks on end, would be the museums and art galleries and I think London has a few of those !
But when you only have a few hours, as Daffy and I had last Thursday, then going into a museum would've been a total waste of time. She has posted about it on her blog, with photos of a few of the places we went to, so that gives me a perfect excuse not to do the same - as we were mostly standing next to each other taking very similar photos.
Anyway, I drove to her house at 9:30am where I left my car and we waited for the 10am taxi to arrive to take us to the railway station. The taxi was late and I know for a fact that it wasn't due to the driver stopping off somewhere to freshen up a bit after a long overnight driving session.
I have honestly never had to endure a personal hygiene smell like it and as I was sitting right behind him, I got the full force of it every time we went around a corner which meant the driver had to open up his armpits. OMG if Saddam had had this guy in his employment, he could've simply placed him out in the Iraqi desert and personally wiped the coalition forces off the map. He was a human WMD and 20 long long minutes later, we staggered out of his taxi and took great gulps of the sweet clean air at Leeds City Station - and that's not something you can say every day ! I won't mention his nationality but lets just say Saddam wouldn't have needed an interpretor.
Knowing what train food can be like, we bought sandwiches at the station and I settled for a very healthy cumberland sausage, bacon, egg and tomato sandwich freshly created at 8:40am that morning - it said so on the wrapper. I only mention that as it was guaranteed to have been created within 3 hrs of purchase and as it was 10:30am, I was happy to buy it even though it was the last one on display.
Train travel can be quite relaxing and stress free but 2 elements of our trip sorely tested those benefits. First of all, the seats were a cross between those in a cheap cinema and those on a Ryanair flight. Maybe these old soft buttocks have been spoiled by my luxurious leather reclining chair (where I admittedly spend a lot of my time), but I was not comfortable for much of the time on that train.
Then there was Daffy who, bless her heart, was telling me the names of every tree and flower species between Leeds and London. I was glad there was no spot test when we got to Kings Cross as if it's one thing I'm good at, it's forgetting the names of all species of trees and flowers, usually seconds after being told them.
Thankfully none of the aforementioned trees had shed any leaves on the lines and so we arrived in London on time - actually it was 40 minutes 'early' in my mind as I'd got the arrival time wrong ! How good was THAT ?
With Zone 1 and 2 tickets in hand, we headed down into the bowels of the underworld (or The Underground as it is known in London) and 3 stops later on the Piccadilly Line, we resurfaced at Covent Garden. It was 1:30pm and we'd left Leeds at 11:05am. Not bad at all.
Daffy has posted a photo of one of the two 'silver people' who were doing their thing near the garden of covant. Not much grass around and no flowers so really it was very much like my own garden ! As she posted a photo of the male (who had decided not to be a typical standing still silver person and was, in fact, quite animated), I will post one of the woman.
Well I THINK it was a woman but under all those clothes, makeup and silver paint, who knows. I assume she was 'playing' a very stationary character from the Wizard Of Oz or maybe she had just slapped on too much silver paint and had dried out in the June sunshine.
Either way she was rock steady - all except for her eyes. I know these street people want every tourist to put some money into their cups or cans or bathtubs, in the case of the more optimistic ones, but she hadn't reckoned with this Northerner.
I was quite prepared to discuss the merits of plastic or a check/cheque or even PayPal, but the very nature of her 'act' was stacked against her.
Her eyes were going like ping pong balls during the Chinese Olympic Table Tennis Trials and I suspect she was looking from me to her tips tin and back again in the faint hopes that I'd drop in a few coins.
She didn't know me very well !
Nearby, her animated friend was doing strong business as he was interacting with the passing tourists and when you have one by the hand and pull them a few inches from your silver face, it's very hard not to make some money - if only to get your hand released.
Witchy woman had a lot to learn.
We moved on into the market area where we were faced with the usual stalls selling all things London/England. Of course most tourists believe the two are the same but as we were in London, I can't moan that there was no tat featuring images of Leeds Town Hall or even a Leeds United footy shirt. Lets be fair, it's hard enough to find any of those in Leeds.
No we were well and truely in the home of crap UK trinkets which were not in the slightest bit embarassed that they were all made in China or Korea. Even the replica Pearly King and Queen outfits were made in foreign parts and authentic cock-a-knee products were sadly absent.
One stall did stand out though and that's why it has gained an entry on my blog.
This was the Life-Like Project stall where rather than waiting to have a bust or face mask done after you've passed on, you can have a sort of cheap version done while you wait - and best of all, while you're still alive to enjoy it !
A fantastic selling point, I'd have to think.
No doubt some people still turn up with a dead relative who booked a mask sitting but passed away before making it to this London stall. I'm sure Mr. Gainino would rush off a quick mask under the circumstance but would probably draw the line if the deceased customer had been cremated. Not a lot to work with in that case.
Each mask was remarkably detailed and was an excellent likeness of its new owner. I just found it hard to work out what you'd do with it but then again, what do people do with the caricature drawings and sketches they have done when visiting any popular major city ?
The ultimate ego trip I guess.
Resisting the urge to buy a lighter, pencil, glasses case, keyring or fridge magnet with a St. George's Cross on it, we wandered out of the market, into the bright sunshine and headed for the next famous location, Leicester Square. Indiana Jones was showing at the Odeon and judging by the prices, he was appearing in person. I could've bought a gallon of petrol for the price of a matinee ticket.
Ok I admit it has been a long time since I went to the cinema but come on ! And you don't even get a short anymore. Add a bucket of popcorn and a drink and you could see why Harrison Ford uses a solid gold walking frame these days.
Next we walked along some of the streets in Chinatown in order to get to the next tourist trap, Piccadilly Circus. This route took us past one of those huge public toilets where for 50p, you can step inside a lavatorial cathedral for a set period of time and if you dally too long, the door will slide open and reveal more than your red face to a waiting world. Daffy stumped up the 50p and disappeared into this tardis like crapper and I stood on guard, ready to cover her blushes in the unlikely event that she did, in fact, dally too long. She didn't.
And so, light of bladder but with gurgling stomachs, we arrived at Piccadilly Circus and several dozen photographs later we'd had enough of that and walked the short distance to Trafalgar Square. By now it was after 3:30pm and we'd set a time of 5pm for getting to the hotel where the movie preview was to take place. Oh yes I haven't even mentioned the movie here as, after all, you were expected to read Daffys blog for the reason for us being in London in the first place. Don't be so lazy. Go there if you haven't already.
It was raining slightly when we got to Trafalgar Sq. and so we didn't hang around for long. Just as we were heading down to the river and The Houses Of Parliament, we had to cross the road and while checking to make sure we weren't going to be run over by some over zealous taxi driver, I saw this pink limo heading my way.
Now I know a limo is fairly common in London - we even have a few in Leeds - but I'd never seen a bright pink one before.
Not even in LA or Vegas.
Sorry for the name dropping !!
But like I said at the start, I decided that these blog photos of our London trip would not be the standard tourist ones and so, I think a photo of a pink limo exiting Trafalgar Sq. fits the bill.
Down by The Thames we stood in front of The Houses Of Parliament and The London Eye and generally behaved like tourists again. As indeed we were. I helped out a few couples and threesomes who wanted to be photographed before these giants of the London scene and all I have to say is that if digital cameras get much smaller, you'll soon need to use the end of a biro to press the shutter. I've seen bigger snuff boxes.
By now it was 4:35pm, we were starving and our turnaround time had arrived. We traded The Thames for The Styx and once again entered the depths of the tube system. We popped up on Tottenham Court Road and I did very well by not going into any of the numerous electronic shops that run its length. Just before 5pm we were inside the Charlotte Street Hotel making sure everything was set up and running on time for the movie screening at 6pm. It was and so we went across the road to a Thai restaurant and ordered a couple of tasty meals that we now didn't have to eat in a rush.
And so here is the last of my 4 non touristy photos I've picked from the 143 that I took and the 79 taken by Daffy.
I'd ordered pork fried rice from the pineapple section of the menu as I get something similar from my excellent local Chinese takeaway in Leeds and thought I knew what to expect.
I did NOT expect them to split a pineapple, scoop out one half, fill it with a ton of pork and fried rice, top it with cucumber, tomato and tiny pieces of crispy onion and present it to me on a plate that barely held the pineapple.
I was glad we were just across the road from the hotel as this monster needed careful eating or else bits would be flying everywhere. I did good. I finished the lot. Well apart from the pineapple shell of course but it WAS a shell I left when, at 5:50pm, we crossed the road and made our way to the screening room of the Charlotte Street Hotel.
The seats were like armchairs and the movie was very good and the 30 or so guests enjoyed it enormously. The producer thanked us for coming, I inwardly thanked her for paying for it all and we settled into the hotels guest drawing room for some coffee and relaxation after the exertions of the day and prepared for the train journey back to Leeds at 9:30pm.
A short tube ride and we were at Kings Cross once again. This time we had seats at a table and across from me was a young girl. Ahhhhhhh at last you say. We wondered when this post was going to mention a girl on a train ???
Well that's it actually. She was very bored and even more boring. She was making her weekly trip to Leeds to see her boyfriend and moaned about everything. She had 4 magazines but they bored her. She opened a pack of false nails and started fixing them to her well chewed natural ones and then got bored with doing that too. She huffed and puffed and definitely didn't like the Australian girl across the way who had a loud voice and personality to match. Her boyfriend sent a few text messages and she even moaned about that.
But she couldn't stop us from having a grand return trip to Leeds and then a taxi drive (with a much sweeter smelling driver) to Daffys house where I'd left my car. 18 hours after getting out of bed, I was back in it again.
And with so many highlights, what was the most memorable ? Well apart from the evil smelling taxi driver, it had to be that toilet.
I mean only in London does it cost you 50p (pee) to spend a penny !!