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Posts tagged ‘london’

Train please, God

I called my cousin Michelle, and arranged to meet her at Green Park.

“You’re dragging Michelle and her baby in to the center of London?” said Róisín in disbelief.

“What are you on about? She’s used to it.”

By the time Róisín had finished with me I called Michelle in a torment of guilty anguish, and accepted her invitation to lunch at her home in Northfield.

Michelle still doesn’t look a day over fifteen; her two year old, Cormac, is already twice her density.

A couple of weeks ago, Michelle took Cormac blackberry picking. Cormac is a big fan of lorries, trucks, trains and anything that produces large quantities of carbon monoxide or, preferably, cement. So you can imagine his excitement when a train chuffed by beside the field.

Upon his strident demands for ‘nother!, Michelle advised him to pray to God to send a train his way. And so, her three year-old spent possibly the most passive two hours of his short life, sitting on a dried cowpat with his hands pressed together, intoning: “Train please, God. Amen.”

After two hours, Cormac started to get tearful, whereupon Michelle apprehended a passerby and desperately asked when the next train was due. Turned out there was only one a day.

“I can’t believe God couldn’t have sent the little fella a train,” muttered Michelle darkly.

With such promising capacity for pure evil, it may be hard to believe Michelle worships and praises the Lord on a regular basis. But indeed she does, and is otherwise a lovely, wonderful woman.

Long after lunch was over and Michelle and I had talked ourselves hoarse, Michelle asked if I would like a tour of their new house.

“I’d love to-“

“You can go to the bathroom,” she said.

“Oh. Er, do I have to?”

“Well, you want to, don’t you?”

“Actually, yes,” I said, surprised. “How did you know?”

“These days, I can sense these things.”

“Really?”

I’m not sure whether her newfound ability is similar to bowel-whispering, or more psychic and applicable to horse racing and blackjack.

“Poo poo?” enquired Cormac.

“No, wee wees,” responded Michelle. “That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Yes. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to keep my options open.”

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It’s Buckingham Palace, cretin

Victoria Memorial

Last Sunday, Tim and I participated in the London Freewheel, the second largest cycling event in Europe. It was one of those things I always considered doing when I lived in London, but never did. The centre of the city was closed to traffic from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London.

Minor setback: I didn’t have a bike. I was tasked with making enquiries about renting one, but I forgot. Crap, isn’t it? A writer, and the best excuse I can come up with is: I forgot. At least it’s the truth, which in this instance I will now attempt to present as ‘refreshing’.

The day before the event, Tim stood outside talking to his neighbour. Michael was attired in t-shirt and a spectacularly unflattering pair of cycle shorts. I mean, really. The Stretchy Lycra Brigade talk about cycling shorts being padded and comfortable, as if that is a valid excuse for wearing them.

ANYWAY, I didn’t fail to notice that Michael was propped against a mountain bike, so after spending some time getting acquainted, I asked if I could borrow it.

“Hi, I’m Niamh.”

“Michael-”

“Nice to meet you. HEY, any chance I could borrow your bike tomorrow?”

“Errr, I suppose. What was your name again?”

Later, I said to Tim:-

“Michael, nice guy. How long have you known him?”

“Ah, that was the first time we’ve met.”

The day was gorgeous. Tim and I cycled across Clapham Common and picked up our fluorescent bibs and armbands at the corner. Since it was a designated access point, a route to the city had been laid out along back roads. We were in a group of fluorescent people and held up the traffic for miles.

Tim; image courtesy SkySport: thanks a million.

The Brits being British, they turned out in their best suits: Wonder Woman ignored her powers of flight in favour of more conventional transport; there was a gladiator and a couple of bears; many bicycles featured bunting and foliage.

Image courtesy SkySport: thanks again.

After cycling three quarters of an hour, we came through a pair of ornate gates, beside which stood a huge fountain. Some bronze statues reclined on the bottom, overlooked by a couple of bland, marble figures, all topped by a gold figure frozen on the brink of a suicide leap.

“What is this?” I asked Tim.

He looked at me in horror: “It’s BUCKINGHAM PALACE,” he said, appalled.

Indeed, when I looked back over my left shoulder, there was a queen-sized structure.

“You might not recognise it,” continued Tim, “it’s only the most famous landmark in Britain.”

“I thought that was London Bridge?”

We cycled down The Mall to Trafalgar Square, down Northumberland Avenue to Embankment and all the way along to London Bridge and the Tower of London. It was a unique way to view all the major sights of the city: Whitehall, Nelson’s Column, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.

On the route back, Tim and I stopped in St James’s Park for 99s and spent time with a few of the 50,000 cyclists that took part.

St James’s Park

London Eye, from the park

Admiralty Arch

Onlooker

Hereby awarded the bridesmaid’s official Seal of Approval

For some reason, I thoroughly enjoyed London City this time around. I lived there before relocating to the Middle East in 1998, and had fun because I was 24 and it wasn’t Ireland and I was earning my first salary that wasn’t fake money. But after two years I was glad to move on.

After nine months in the Middle East, I passed through London. I felt completely displaced. The city doesn’t ever really change, but I had. Whilst on the surface the sights and smells were familiar, fundamentally they were not.

Since then I’ve visited London once or twice a year. I catch up with friends, sit in a park, do some shopping (mainly window-based), and look forward to leaving.

This time, it felt different. London is the same: the ever present soundtrack of sirens and car horns and wheezing bus brakes; the smell of horse dung and the acrid aroma of lightly sautéed rubber; the menacing stalk of accountants armed with The Financial Times. It is still possible to feel absolutely alone in the swarming hordes of commuters.

The Tube may be a miracle of underground engineering, but it remains a grimy pit. You are tackled to the ground by charging bankers trying to make the closing doors, and you’re thinking: “DUDE! There’s another train in ONE MINUTE! It’s not like your entire day – or the REST OF YOUR LIFE which, let’s face it, is going to be empty and meaningless ANYWAY – will be ruined if you don’t make this one.” And you still don’t say it out loud because that would be quite unspeakably, dreadfully, quintessentially rude; although the sequence of events leading to your broken collarbone and a crisp packet in your hair is not.

(I nearly talked myself out of how much I dug London there, but don’t worry: I’m back on track now.)

As usual I stayed with Róisín, who lives in Clapham with her fiancée, Tim. The day after I arrived, I arranged to meet Róis at St Bart’s Hospital. She provided Irish directions, which don’t work that well outside our homeland, so I was armed with my trusty A-Z.

When I emerged from Bank Tube Station, London looked fabulous and the bells of St Mary-le-Bow were tolling. I wandered down Cheapside breathing in the fresh carbon monoxide and marvelling at the architecture. After nine months living in a wilderness, I was completely unused to such volumes of people, and stumbled around like a human skittle, grinning like a blithering idiot high on the joys of life. It took five minutes on average to cross from one side of the pavement to the other.

When I reached St Bart’s, I reached the centre of the hospital by way of an antiseptic labyrinth.  There is a small fountain in The Square, looking a bit shabby against a backdrop of scaffolding and skips. Yet as I sat on a cast iron bench mentally diagnosing passers by, with sparkles of sunshine playing on my face, I felt ridiculously and inexplicably pleased with myself.

Two days later I met my agent for lunch, then wandered through Regent’s Park: the Queen Mary’s Gardens, the Inner Circle and the boating lake. Then I sat under a tree wriggling my toes in the moist grass and deterring dogs from weeing on me (it’s easy as long as you don’t impersonate a lamppost).

My fabulous friend Róisín looks terrific and happier than I’ve seen her in years. Tim is terribly posh and rather English. Everything is ‘jolly good’, ‘quite so’ and ‘frightfully <insert choice of adjective of no less than four syllables, unless it is the word ‘shabby’>’. He always eats at the table, sits up straight, never talks with his mouth open and doesn’t throw food.

Róisín’s new yardstick for assessing people is Tim’s reaction to them. It quickly became apparent – to me, at least – that this unit of measurement is virtually useless because Tim likes EVERYBODY. His life closely resembles a musical. (I regret to say it often sounds like one too.)

Tim would almost be too good to be true, but for a sly sense of humour which is unexpected, bloodthirsty and occasionally vicious. Therefore, he is hereby awarded the bridesmaid’s official Seal of Approval

Chances are this is a building on Baker Street

Cheapside/Poultry

Door and mysterious package

Great taste in family

Sorry about the blogpost famine. Husband and I left Auckland for Dubai on Wednesday afternoon. It has been three and a quarter days of intense socialising and administration. I got in some swimming along the beach on Friday and Saturday morning; only 1000m, which was quite enough considering I haven’t swum since leaving Dubai last December, apart from the occasional skinny-dip in the Fairy Falls pools which hardly counts. Seems I’ve forgotten how to float.

I discarded Husband and flew to London solo yesterday. Dinner with Róisín’s fiancé Tim last night, coffee with her dad this morning; I haven’t seen much of Róis, but she has such great taste in fiancés and family it hardly matters.

It’s all go, but I hope to get back in the blog groove tomorrow

Learning from past mistakes

Previously, my average public transport success rate was inching up to around 80%, but it took a bit of a knock on the Irish trip. Of course, there was the disaster at Stansted when I missed my flight to Ireland after standing in the wrong queue for an hour.  

Then I caught the wrong train to Dublin, where I was admittedly over-confident. After all, trains are much easier than airplanes. There’s less mucking about: no check-in, no baggage check, no cavity search. Often, you don’t even need a passport, which considerably reduces my potential margin for error.

 

And of course, I had LEARNED from past mistakes.  

 

Unfortunately, not enough . . . because we come to my return flight to Dubai. Again – and I appreciate that you might find this hard to believe given the incidents above – there was a surfeit of confidence happening. After all, I was equipped with a library of Hard Lessons, including:-

(1) Make sure you double-check the flight date/time, preferably prior to the flight;

(2) A driving licence is not accepted as a substitute for a passport;

(3) Get to the airport before the flight;

(4) Stand in the right queue; and/or

(5) Read the ticket;

(6) Bring the ticket;

(7) And don’t leave it in a phone booth;

(8) Or anywhere else (I haven’t actually LEARNED this; it falls more under the category ‘Near Misses’)

(9) Make sure your residency visa hasn’t expired

In fact, I figured the only lesson left is to ensure I have a visa for countries requiring one, and there’s plenty of time for that one.

That morning, I was up at 06:45hrs, packed some final bits and pieces and bade farewell to Róisín’s boyfriend, whose flat we were staying in. It was around about then that I checked my bag for passport presence and . . . it wasn’t there. You might say the presence was poor to non-existent.

Hard Lesson #10: relative proximity of passport. (Ok, so I actually learned that on a business trip, but it was over 10 years ago so it was about time for a refresher course.)

We guessed that the most likely location of the passport was Róisín’s flat, at which point I spent five minutes running around in circles screaming, which gave Róisín an opportunity to waterproof her new Ugg Boots. Seriously. I was wearing a hole in Tim’s welcome mat, going: ‘We might be able to make it to the airport via your house in time if we leave now, I mean NOW in the immediate sense of the word,’ while Róisín sprayed her Ugg Boots: ‘Just a second, I need to do the heel’.

Then we exited the door at a gallop. Róisín’s sense of time is rather Irish; she was confident we’d make the trip from Clapham South to Walthamstow Central in twenty minutes, including a stop-off for coffee.

An hour and 3 litres of cold sweat later, we arrived at Walthamstow Central and charged a taxi.

“You forgot your passport?” said our driver, slapping the steering wheel. “That’s a joke. Ha ha! Very funny.”

“You know, firstly,” I said, chillingly, “I’m not finding it all that funny, joke-wise. Secondly, I think it’s technically more a cliché than a joke.”

“Why didn’t you check your bag before you left the house?” enquired our driver.

“Good question,” said Róisín. “Niamh?”

“You should always check your bag before leaving the house,” advised our driver.

“Thanks for the tip,” I said. “<mutter: Don’t count on getting one yourself>”

“Once I picked up a woman. She was all excited. Going on holiday, you know? I brought her all the way to Heathrow. Then remembered she left her passport at home. I had to drive her back.”

“And?” said Róisín, ever idealistically yearning for the happy ending.

“She missed her flight.”

My passport was on Róisín’s living room sofa underneath a duvet.

On our way back to Walthamstow Central, Róisín rang Tim, who had checked the Emirates flights from London and established that there were seats free on the 14:15 flight. I am strongly encouraging Róisín to marry the man. One second after it opened, I rang the Emirates Service Desk and booked myself onto the afternoon flight.

Róisín didn’t slag me off once. Either the woman can’t recognise an opportunity, or she’s a saint.

The following text exchange with Andrew reminds me why I am blessed to be with him:- 

Me: Missed flight 😦

 

Andrew: Bugger. What happened? 

 

Me: Which would you believe? (a) The flight was cancelled (b) A flock of rogue sheep took over Heathrow (c) The wing fell off the airplane (d) I forgot my passport 

 

Andrew: Those dam sheep 🙂

I like to think Husband was so thrilled to see me he didn’t mind my arriving at 01:00hrs

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